Sarah Winnemucca (Tocmetony, meaning Shell Flower) was born in 1844 in the Nevada region where her people the Paiute nation lived. At that time the Northern Paiutes and Washos were the only inhabitants in western Nevada. Sarah’s father was Chief Winnemucca and her grandfather Chief Truckee.
When Sarah was younger word came that white settlers were coming into the Paiute nation and her grandfather Chief Truckee called them “ his long lost white brothers” and welcomed them, according to Sarah in her book, Sarah Winnemucca, Life Among the Piutes. While her grandfather welcomed the white travelers, Sarah’s father did not trust and urged the people to stay away from these people. Sarah grew up hearing two different views of the white people which she later in life used to try and understand what was happening to her people.
When Sarah’s grandfather took her to California she was afraid of the many different things she saw, such as beds, chairs, and the food. Her grandfather made arrangements for her sister and for Sarah to live and work in Major Ormsby’s home at Mormon Station, now Genoa, Nevada. During that time she acquired five languages; three Indian dialects, English and Spanish. Sarah continued her education at her grandfather’s request in San Jose, California with the Catholic nuns.
The major event that caused Sarah to remain with her people and stay away from the white people was the placement of the Paiutes on reservations. As with many other tribes, all hunting and fishing and free roaming for plant gathering ceased. This created many economic problems for the Paiutes which Sarah could see was not helped by the Indian agents placed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
While Sarah Winnemucca married two times and divorced, she spent most of her time working for better treatment for her people. First, as an interpreter and later by traveling to Washington, D.C. to advocate for improvements for her people. Promises were made and later broken. When Sarah took word of the promises back to her people and they were later broken, it caused her people to distrust her.
Sarah continued to work to gain support for the Paiutes. She traveled to the East Coast and gave speeches about the plight of her people. She married Lt. L.H. Hopkins who later died of tuberculosis. Sarah continued her efforts to educate the children of her tribe and opened a school called Peabody school after the sisters from the East Coast who supported her efforts in education.
When Sarah Winnemucca died in 1891 she had been an activist for her people, an author and worked tirelessly to bridge understanding of two cultures. She wrote and published a book during a time when women were not accepted as authors.
She was given numerous awards, posthumously by the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Award and later a school in Washoe County School District is named in her honor, the Sarah Winnemucca Elementary. However, the greatest honor paid to her was the recent dedication of a statue in her honor in Washington, D.C. and a replica of that statue was dedicated and resides in Carson City, Nevada, the capitol of the state.
Books with more information on Sarah Winnemucca:
"Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims", New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1883.
"Sarah Winnemucca (American Indian Lives)", University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London, 2001.
The lesson on Sarah Winnemucca’s life can be duplicated from the Core curriculum Standard of * United States Government and Citizenry, 2002, 09-06-00-00-020 Standard 3, the same as used for Annie Wauneka.