Native American Leader
Sarah Winnemucca, Native American of the Paiutes Tribe, is often remembered as a champion of the rights of indigenous peoples. Sarah spent her life working toward obtaining the return of tribal lands to their native people.
Sarah Winnemucca was born in 1842 the daughter of Chief Winnemucca, leader the Paiutes, an Indian tribe native to Nevada and California. As a child, Sarah lost many family members in the Paiute War of 1860, doing much to mold her into the peacemaker she became.
As Sarah grew into adulthood, she used her language skills to help her in the role as peacemaker. Sarah, having a good knowledge of English, used the language skills that she learned in convent school to work as an interpreter in an Army camp, but later joined her tribe, which was removed to the Malheur reservation in Oregon in 1872. At this reservation she assisted Samuel Parrish with his agricultural programs as well as working as an interpreter and a teacher. Mr. Parrish’s replacement refused to pay the Paiute for their farm work, causing the Bannock War. When the Bannock War broke out in 1878 Sarah once again offered her services to the Army. Upon learning that her father and other tribesmen had been taken captive by the Bannocks, she volunteered to enter Bannock territory, serving as an army scout. While in the territory she was able to free her father and other hostages and see them safely returned to their tribe.
After the Bannock War, Sarah began to speak out, describing the plight of her people who were exiled from their homelands and forced to live on government Indian Reservations. She also spoke out against the unjust treatment Native Americans received at the hands of dishonest Indian agents. She began a lecturing tour in 1869, traveling in California and the East. Her speeches drew much attention and she was eventually introduced to President Rutherford B. Hayes who promised to return her tribe to their native lands. Despite legislation passed by Congress that enabled the return of the Paiute land to its people, the legislation was never enacted.
Besides her work in regards to the return of native lands to their tribe, Sarah wrote a book Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims bringing attention to the plight of Native Americans. She also established Nevada’s first school for Native Americans in 1884.
Despite all her efforts on behalf of Native Americans, Sarah Winnemucca remains a controversial figure with the Native American community. In 1994 Sarah Winnemucca was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
This excerpt was taken from the book HISTORY’S WOMEN – THE UNSUNG HEROINES by Patti Chadwick. This book is available in ebook format at https://historyswomen.com/product/historys-women/