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Next: 5. Reservation of Pyramid & Muddy LakesContentsPrevious: 3. Wars & their Causes

Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883) by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins


My grandfather was very sick at that time. My brother was away two days and my grandfather was very low, so they had to send to him to come back. As soon as he came, word was sent everywhere that their mighty chief was dying. In two days’ time we could see the signal-fires of death on every mountain-top. My brother came back and told his people that it was true that their own white brothers had killed the men for their money. The way they were found out was this: They were playing cards for the money, and one of the men lost his. There were five of them. They were almost fighting about the money, and two men who were out hunting heard them, and went near enough to hear all. One of the men went to town to bring some one to arrest them, and the other staid to watch them. The one that lost his money said:—

“If you won’t give me back my money I will tell of you. Are you going to give me back my money or not?”

They all swore at him, and told him if he did not stop talking they would shoot him. Then the sheriffs came and took them and all the money they had. Two of the men told how they got the Washoe arrows and placed them in the wounds, as if the Indians had killed them. This is what brother told his people; he said, “This is what our white brothers told me to say to you.”

Our people gathered from far and near, for my poor, poor grandpa was going very fast. His beloved people were watching him. It was the most solemn thing that I ever saw, before or since. Now he sent for a dear beloved white brother of his, named Snyder. My brother went for him. When he came my poor, dear grandfather called him to his bedside and said to him:—

“I am now going to die. I have always loved you as if you were my dear son; and one thing I want you to do for me.”

He said to my father: “Raise me up; I want to see my children.”

My father raised him up, and while he was looking around him his eyes fell on me and my sisters. He just looked at us, and he said to the white man:—

“You see there are my two little girls and there is my big girl, and there are my two boys. They are my sons’ children, and the two little girls I want you to take to California, to Mr. Bonsai and Mr. Scott. They will send them to school to ‘the sisters,’ at San Jose. Tell them this is my last request to them. I shall soon die. I shall never see them in person; they have promised to teach my two little girls when they become large enough.” He looked up and said, “Will you promise to do this for me?”

The white man took my grandfather’s hand and promised to do as he asked. My grandfather then bade him good-by, and said, “I want to talk to my own people.” When he was gone he looked at my father and told him what he must do, as he was to be head chief of the Piute nation. He cautioned him to be a good father, as he had always been, and, after talking awhile, he broke down. We all cried. He remained in that way all night and every one watched him. Next morning about ten o’clock, a great many of our people came. The doctor was called to lay hands on him, and try to bring him to; but all efforts were in vain, so nothing could be done but watch him, which was done all day. Night came on, and still the watch was kept up. At midnight, which was told by the seven stars reaching the same place the sun reaches at midday, he turned and twisted without opening his eyes. The doctor said, “He is dying—he will open his eyes in a minute.” Ten minutes passed, when he opened his eyes in his usual bright and beautiful way, and his first words were:—

“Son, where are you? Come and raise me up—let me sit up.”

My father raised him up. Then he called mother, saying:—

“Bring all the children.” Mother awoke my sister. I was not asleep, small as I was. I lay awake, watching for fear he would die while I was asleep. We gathered around him. He looked around to see if there were any others but his family present. He saw the white man, the same one that had promised to take care of his little girls. He pointed to his feet when we gathered round him and motioned for him to cover them and he did so. Then he said:—

“I’ve only a minute to spare. I’m so tired; I shall soon be happy. Now, son, I hope you will live to see as much as I have, and to know as much as I do. And if you live as I have you will some day come to me. Do your duty as I have done to your people and to your white brothers.” He paused, closed his eyes, and stretched out. My poor mother, thinking he was dead, threw herself upon his bosom, but was aroused by the doctor’s saying, “Hold on, —the spirit has not left the body.” My mother rose up, and of course, all of us were crying, “Poor grandpa! Poor grandpa!” Then he recovered himself again, and, opening his eyes, said:

“Don’t throw away my white rag-friend; place it on my breast when you bury me.” He then looked at his wife as if he wanted to say something, but his voice failed. Then the doctor said, “He has spoken his last words, he has given his last look, his spirit is gone; watch his lips,—he will speak as he enters the Spirit-land”; and so he did, at least he seemed to. His lips moved as if he was whispering. We were then told by the doctor that he was in heaven, and we all knew he was. No one who knew him would doubt it. But how can I describe the scene fiat followed? Some of you, dear reader, can imagine. Every one threw themselves upon his body, and their cues could be heard for many a mile. I crept up to him. I could hardly believe he would never speak to me again. I knelt beside him, and took his dear old face in my hands, and looked at him quite a while. I could not speak. I felt the world growing cold; everything seemed dark. The great light had gone out. I had father, mother, brothers, and sisters; it seemed I would rather lose all of them than my poor grandpa. I was only a simple child, yet I knew what a great man he was. I mean great in principle. I knew how necessary it was for our good that he should live. I think if he had put out his hands and asked me to go with him, I would gladly have folded myself in his arms. And now, after long years of toil and trouble, I think if our great Father had seen fit to call me with him, I could have died with a better opinion of the world.

In regard to the doctor’s saying, “He will speak as he enters the Spirit-land,” I wish to say it is the belief of my people that the spirit speaks as it goes in. They say if a child has a mother or a father in the Spirit-land, he will cry as his soul enters.

Such a scene I never had seen before. Everybody would take his dead body in their arms and weep. Poor papa kept his body two days. Now came the burial. Everything he had was put into the grave with him. His body was put into blankets when it was ready to be put into the grave, and after he was buried, six of his horses were killed. Now, my dear readers, I do not want you to think that we do this thing because we think the dead use what we put in; or, if we kill horses at any one’s death that they will use them in the Spirit-land. No, no; but it is the last respect we pay our dead.

In the spring of 1860, my sister and I were taken to San Josť, California. Brother Natchez and five other men went with us. On our arrival we were placed in the “Sisters’ School” by Mr. Bonsai and Mr. Scott. We were only there a little while, say three weeks, when complaints were made to the sisters by wealthy parents about Indians being in school with their children. The sisters then wrote to our friends to come and take us away, and so they did,—at least, Mr. Scott did. He kept us a week, and sent word to brother Natchez to come for us, but no one could come, and he sent word for Mr. Scott to put us on the stage and send us back. We arrived at home all right, and shortly after, the war of 1860 began in this way:—

Two little girls about twelve years old went out in the woods to dig roots, and did not come back, and so their parents went in search of them, and not finding them, all my people who were there came to their help, and very thoroughly searched, and found trails which led up to the house of two traders named Williams, on Carson River, near by the Indian camp. But these men said they had not seen the children, and told my people to come into the house and search it; and this they did, as they thought, thoroughly. After a few days they sorrowfully gave up all search, and their relations had nearly given them up for dead, when one morning an Indian rode up to the cabin of the Williamses. In those days the settlers did not hesitate to sell us guns and ammunition whenever we could buy, so these brothers proposed to buy the Indian’s horse as soon as he rode up. They offered him a gun, five cans of powder, five boxes of caps, five bars of lead, and after some talk the trade was made. The men took the horse, put him in the stable and closed the door, then went into the house to give him the gun, etc. They gave him the gun, powder, and caps, but would not give him the lead, and because he would not take a part, he gave back what he had taken from them, and went out to the barn to take his horse. Then they set their dog upon him. When bitten by the dog he began halloing, and to his surprise he heard children’s voices answer him, and he knew at once it was the lost children. He made for his camp as fast as he could, and told what had happened, and what he had heard. Brother Natchez and ethers went straight to the cabin of the Williams brothers. The father demanded the children. They denied having them, and after talking quite awhile denied it again, when all at once the brother of the children knocked one of the Williamses clown with his gun, and raised his gun to strike the other, but before he could do so, one of the Williams brothers stooped down and raised a trap-door, on which he had been standing. This was a surprise to my people, who had never seen anything of the kind. The father first peeped down, but could see nothing; then he went down and found his children lying on a little bed with their mouths tied up with rags. He tore the rags away and brought them up. When my people saw their condition, they at once killed both brothers and set fire to the house. Three days after the news was spread as usual. “The bloodthirsty savages had murdered two innocent, hard-working, industrious, kind-hearted settlers;” and word was sent to California for some army soldiers to demand the murderers of the Williamses. As no army soldiers were there just then, Major Ormsbey collected one hundred and sixty volunteers. and came up, and without asking or listening to any explanation demanded the men. But my people would not give them up, and when the volunteers fired on my people, they flew to arms to defend the father and brother, as any human beings would do in such a case, and ought to do. And so the war began. It lasted about three months, and after a few precious ones of my people, and at least a hundred white men had been killed (amongst them our dear friend, Major Ormsbey, who had been so hasty), a peace was made. My brother had tried to save Major Ormsbey’s life. He met him in the fight, and as he was ahead or the other Indians, Major Ormsbey threw down his arms, and implored him not to kill him. There was not a moment to be lost. My brother said,—

“Drop down as if dead when I shoot, and I will fire over you;” but in the hurry and agitation he still stood pleading, and was killed by another man’s shot.

Some other friends of my brother, Judge Broomfield and servant, and a Spaniard lived in a small cabin about twelve miles off. They were not fighting against us, and my brother defended their lives and risked his own. He stood at their cabin door, and beat back the assailants with a club, and succeeded in driving them off. But my uncle and cousins were so angry with him for saving white men’s lives that they whipped him with a horsewhip. We all knew my uncle loved us. He was always kind to us; but I never could love him again as I had done after he whipped my brother,—my noble, patient brother, who bore his uncle no ill-will, but was satisfied that he had saved the lives of his friends.

Brave deeds don’t always get rewarded in this world.

There was another occasion when my brother saved the life of his friend, Mr. Seth Cook, of San Francisco, and of six others; but as I do not remember all the particulars I will not attempt to relate it. Mr. Cook had often given my brother valuable assistance, and he is still living, and can tell the story of his escape from death himself.

The regular troops at last reached the ground, and after fighting a little while raised a flag of truce, which was responded to by my brother, and peace was made, and a treaty giving the Pyramid Lake Reservation to my people. I have no way of telling any of the particulars. The reservation was given to us in 1860, and we were to get large supplies as long as we were peaceful; but though there were thirteen agents there in the course of twenty-three years, I never knew of any issue after that first year.

Among the traditions of our people is one of a small tribe of barbarians who used to live along the Humboldt River. It was many hundred years ago. They used to waylay my people and kill and eat them. They would dig large holes in our trails at night, and if any of our people travelled at night, which they did, for they were afraid of these barbarous people, they would oftentimes fall into these holes. That tribe would even eat their own dead— yes, they would even come and dig up our dead after they were buried, and would carry them off and eat them. Now and then they would come and make war on my people. They would fight, and as fast as they killed one another on either side, the women would carry off those who were killed. My people say they were very brave. When they were fighting they would jump up in the air after the arrows that went over their heads, and shoot the same arrows back again. My people took some of them into their families, but they could not make them like themselves. So at last they made war on them. This war lasted a long time. Their number was about twenty-six hundred (2600). The war lasted some three years. My people killed them in great numbers, and what few were left went into the thick bush. My people set the hush on fire. This was right above Humboldt Lake. Then they went to work and made tuly or bulrush boats, and went into Humboldt Lake. They could not live there very long without fire. They were nearly starving. My people were watching them all round the lake, and would kill them as fast as they would come on land. At last one night they all landed on the east side of the lake, and went into a cave near the mountains. It was a most horrible place, for my people watched at the mouth of the cave, and would kill them as they came out to get water. My people would ask them if they would be like us, and not eat people like coyotes or beasts. They talked the same language, but they would not give up. At last my people were tired, and they went to work and gathered wood, and began to fill up the mouth of the cave. Then the poor fools began to pull the wood inside till the cave was full. At last my people set it on fire; at the same tittle they cried out to them, “Will you give up and he like men, and not eat people like beasts? Say quick —we will put out the fire.” No answer came from them. My people said they thought the cave must be very deep or far into the mountain. They had never seen the cave nor known it was there until then. They called out to them as loud as they could, “Will you give up? Say so, or you will all die.” But no answer came. Then they all left the place. In ten days some went back to see if the fire had gone out. They went back to my third or fifth great-grandfather and told him they must all be dead, there was such a horrible smell. This tribe was called people-eaters, and after my people had killed them all, the people round us called us Say-do-carah. It means conqueror; it also means “enemy.” I do not know how we came by the name of Piutes. It is not an Indian word. I think it is misinterpreted. Sometimes we are called Pine-nut eaters, for we are the only tribe that lives in the country where Pine-nuts grow. My people say that the tribe we exterminated had reddish hair. I have some of their hair, which has been handed down from father to son. I have a dress which has been in our family a great many years, trimmed with this reddish hair. I am going to wear it some time when I lecture. It is called the mourning dress, and no one has such a dress but my family.

Next: 5. Reservation of Pyramid & Muddy LakesContentsPrevious: 3. Wars & their Causes

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