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

About the Author

Sarah Winnemucca while lecturing in Boston, oil-tinted photograph, Granger Collection
Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins
while lecturing in Boston
Oil-tinted photograph
(Granger Collection)
Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, born as Thocmentony “Shell Flower” “somewhere near 1844” at Humboldt Sink, Nevada (then claimed by México as part of Territorio de Alta California). Her parents were Poito (Chief Winnemucca or Old Winnemucca) and Tuboitonie. Her maternal grandfather was Captain Truckee “Good,” a Winnemucca Northern Paiute chief who fought with John C. Frémont during the Mexican-American war. Her grandfather introduced her to California and Nevada immigrants who taught her English. As she also knew Spanish and several Native American languages, she served for an interpreter for the military and various Indian agencies, and also worked as a teacher’s aid.

The Bannock war in 1878 proved disastrous for the Winnemucca band. Although only a minority was involved in the uprising, and most fought against it, the entire band was relocated during winter to the Yakima Reservation, Washington state. The Indian Agent there kept food and clothing intended for them.

The Winnemucca people approached Sarah during this period asking for her to travel to Washington, D.C. and appeal for their rights. In 1880 she went to Washington and spoke with Secretary of the Interior Charles Schurz and President Rutherford Hayes. Their promises were soon forgotten, but on subsequent travels in 1883 and 1884, Sarah gave over 300 lectures in the Eastern U.S. With encouragement of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Massachusetts senator Henry Dawes, and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, she wrote this autobiography. IT was the first book written in English by a Native American woman. Although Sarah was a better public speaker than writer, the words are still forceful and are more readable than the stilted prose then popular in the Victorian era. Her lectures helped increase awareness and sympathy for the plight of Native Americans.

In 1884, Sarah Winnemucca opened and ran a Northern Paiute school near Lovelock, Nevada, using royalties from this book and donations. However, she ran out of money and was never able to get Federal funding. Her husband, Lewis Hopkins, died of tuberculosis October 18, 1887. His disease and gambling left her with little money. After his death, and sick herself, she went to live with her sister Elma. Sarah died October 16, 1891 at her sister’s home near Henry’s Lake, Idaho.

Sarah Winnemucca statue by Benjamin Victor, 2005
Sarah Winnemucca statue
by Benjamin Victor, 2005
Sarah Winnemucca was a strong woman among two male-dominated societies. Because of her work as an Interpreter, and her relaying lies and broken promises of the U.S. Government and their Indian Agents, some of her fellow people viewed her with distrust. Resentment and suspicion caused others to spread lies about her. Nevertheless, she was a tireless and selfless worker for her people and helped raise attention for her people’s plight on the East Coast. She felt that her people can run their own lives without government interference. In 2005 Sarah Winnemucca was honored with a statue in the U.S Capitol. Each state sends two statues to the Capitol, and Nevada choose her to represent their state in 2005.

Bibliographical Information

Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins “Thocmentony” (1844?-1891), Life among the Piutes: their Wrongs and Claims (self-published, 1883), Edited by Mrs. Horace Mann (Mary Peabody Mann), sister of educator Elizabeth Peabody and wife of educator Horace Mann. LCCN 02018431. 268 pages. 19 cm. Brown, green, red, or blue cloth with black Greek key ornamental border on top and bottom of front cover and spine; title stamped in gilt. Gilt lettering on spine. Graff 1950; Paher 888; Rader 1927; Smith 4618. Library of Congress call number E99.P2 H7.

Available on microfilm produced by Research Publications: Western Americana (1975), reel 268, no. 2656 and History of Women (1976), reel 455, no. 3374.

Digitized by Dan Anderson, December 2005. These files may be used for any non-commercial purpose, provided this notice is left intact.
    —Dan Anderson, www.yosemite.ca.us

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