Cover image for Sarah Winnemucca
Sarah Winnemucca
Zanjani, Sally Springmeyer, 1937-
Publication Information:
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 366 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
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E99.P2 H699 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This book is the triumphant and moving story of Sarah Winnemucca (1844--91), one of the most influential and charismatic Native women in American history. Born into a legendary family of Paiute leaders in western Nevada, Sarah dedicated much of her life to working for her people. She played an instrumental and controversial role as interpreter and messenger for the U.S. Army during the Bannock War of 1878 and traveled to Washington in 1880 to obtain the release of her people from confinement on the Yakama Reservation. She toured the East Coast in the 1880s, tirelessly giving speeches about the plight of her people and heavily criticizing the reservation system. In 1883 she produced her autobiography--the first written by a Native woman--and founded a Native school whose educational practices were far ahead of its time. Sally Zanjani also reveals Sarah's notorious sharp tongue and wit, her love of performance, her string of failed relationships, and at the end, possible poisoning by a romantic rival.

Author Notes

Sally Zanjani is on the faculty of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is the author of A Mine of Her Own: Women Prospectors in the American West, 1850--1950 (Nebraska 1997) and other works.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

A tireless advocate for the Paiute Indians and the granddaughter of Truckee, who guided John Charles Fr‚mont across the Great Basin to California, Winnemucca (1844-1891) was the author of Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883) the first book "by an Indian woman, the first by an Indian west of the Rockies, and one of the earliest by an Indian west of the Mississippi." Having grown up amid the wars, massacres, removals and betrayals that devastated the Paiute despite Fremont's assurances, Winnemucca struggled "to find a place for herself and her people in the world [white men] had snatched away." Founded on Zanjani's (A Mine of Her Own: Women Prospectors in the American West) painstaking examination of civil documents, private papers and newspapers, this meticulous account details such pivotal events as Winnemucca's interpreting services for the American army, her quarrels with usually corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs agents, her impassioned lectures, her unsuccessful trip to Washington to plead that the Paiute be allowed to return to Oregon, and her journey to Boston, where under the auspices of Elizabeth Peabody and Mary Mann she wrote her book and met Boston's intellectual and social elite. Unfortunately, the prose is flat when it isn't Winnemucca's, and the story is hemmed in by nervous caveats "if," "maybe," "probably." Even new details lack vitality in this account, which will primarily interest scholars. Photographs not seen by PW. (Apr. 20) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Here, the prolific Zanjani (A Mine of Her Own) chronicles the life and times of one of the most significant Native American women of the 19th century. Sarah Winnemucca (1844-91) was the daughter and granddaughter, respectively, of Paiute chiefs Winnemucca and Truckee. Her course in life followed these two leaders closely in attempting to help the Paiute adapt to increasing influence and pressure from Anglo expansion. With authority, Zanjani details the progressive effects of the settlers on the Paiute through Sarah's eyes and life experiences. Sharing her father and grandfather's belief that to survive the Paiute must peacefully coexist with the white man, she became a Bureau of Indian Affairs interpreter at Camp McDermitt in Oregon. She also dedicated her life to pursuing fair and just treatment for the Paiute people by the U.S. government. To this end, Sarah journeyed to Washington, DC, and other major Eastern cities, speaking publicly of the injustices against the Paiute people, and wrote her autobiography, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883). Zanjani's excellent history of this remarkable woman is recommended for all public and academic libraries. John E. Dockall, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Zanjani (political science, Univ. of Nevada-Reno) brings together period writings and historical accounts in a thoroughly documented biography of a brilliant individual considered, along with Pocahontas and Sacagawea, to be one of the most notable Native American women in history. Sarah Winnemucca, late-19th-century Paiute leader and educator, wrote Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883), the first book in English by a Native American woman. In print and lectures, Winnemucca exposed corrupt reservation policies, carrying her crusade from Nevada to San Francisco, Boston, and Washington DC. While believing in the power of literacy, she resisted the notion that education must eradicate the "Indian" in the child; she opposed the removal of children from their families for schooling. Winnemucca was often guided by revelation but eschewed messianic movements (including the Ghost Dance). Her life was marked by physical hardship and dangerous exploits. She and her tribe battled for cultural survival in an already harsh environment. Her service as a scout won respect and criticism from both US military and Paiute tribal factions, while her dashing personal appearance served her well on the stage during a brief era of American fascination with "Indian princesses." Upper-division undergraduates and above. V. Giglio Florida Atlantic University



Chapter One The World of the Paiutes "Many years ago, when my people were happier than they are now" As a child Sarah Winnemucca's name was Thocmetony, meaning "shell flower" in the Paiute tongue. Her memory began with terror and flight. In the late fall (possibly of 1848), her band camped by the Humboldt River, where the men fished and the women gathered grass seeds for winter food. When they heard that a party of white men were approaching, everyone began to run. The Paiutes knew that white men often killed Indians on sight. Worse still, they had heard that white men were cannibals. In the winter of 1846-47, a party of white travelers stranded and starving in the high mountains on their way to California had turned to eating each other and their Indian guides.     Knowing what they knew, and fearing worse, the Paiutes ran for their lives, the gray brown of their rabbit-skin tunics barely visible in the gray blue of the sage plain and the gray purple of the mountains beyond. But little Thocmetony was too frightened to run. Her mother, Tuboitony, with Thocmetony's younger sister on her back, urged the child onward, but Thocmetony's small brown legs seemed frozen and refused to obey. Thocmetony's aunt, also struggling with a terror-stricken little girl, suggested burying the two children in the earth and returning for them later. If the girls slowed their flight, the whole band might be killed and eaten. Frantically, Thocmetony's mother scooped up the sandy earth and smoothed it back into place over her daughter, leaving the little face exposed but hidden and shaded from the sun by sagebrush. So small a child, so little disturbance in the earth. If she made no sound, the white men would never find her. The two women cautioned Thocmetony and her cousin that if they heard noises they must not cry out lest they be killed and eaten. Then the two mothers raced away to catch up with the rest.     "With my heart throbbing and not daring to breathe, we lay there all day. It seemed that the night would never come," Thocmetony later remembered. We can readily imagine the terror of that child immobilized in the sand. Afraid to make a sound. Afraid that she felt the thunder of galloping hooves vibrating through the earth. Afraid that her parents would never return ("Oh, father have you forgotten me. Are you never coming for me?"). Afraid that they had hidden her too well to find her again. Afraid of all the creatures that prowled and slithered over the desert, but most of all of the dreaded white men. When night came she finally dared to cry, and she sobbed as though "my very heartstrings would break." Sounds of footsteps and whispering reached her ears. Death or life? More frightened than ever, Thocmetony lay still as a stone, except for the heart that beat so wildly she thought it would "leap from my mouth." At last she heard her mother's voice. Strong hands hurriedly dug away the earth that surrounded her and lifted her from burial to be happy once more in the arms of her parents.     Not only would fear of white men mark the beginning of her memory but Thocmetony's life would be lived in reaction to them. She would endlessly ricochet between terror and attraction, fury and admiration, rebellion and acceptance, hope and despair. In her eyes, "They came like a lion, yes, like a roaring lion, and have continued so ever since." She would always revolve around them as she struggled to find a place for herself and her people in the world they had snatched away.     Thocmetony was born on the cusp of the white invasion. In 1844 -- the probable year of her birth -- the white owls, so called by the Paiutes for their bearded faces and pale eyes, had scarcely penetrated her homeland. For a short time, Thocmetony would know traditional Indian life, and she would write an invaluable primary source on the old ways of the Paiute people in the Great Basin. That it was the first book to be written in English by an Indian woman shows the extraordinary height of her achievement.     For some four thousand years, the lives of the Paiutes had been shaped by the harshness of the Nevada desert. Little rain falls in the land between the Sierra Nevada and the Great Salt Lake. For many months, a merciless sun bakes this arid world, and the traveler unversed in desert survival can easily dehydrate and die. By custom, Paiutes meeting on the trail greeted each other not with the equivalent of "hello" but with uduta hada ("It's hot"), an observation valid for much of the year. In winter, when icy winds whistle and snow often mantles mountain and valley, few travelers met on the trails because the Paiutes stayed close to the fires in their lodges. Theirs was a universe where dust devils twirled and mirages shimmered on the horizon, a place of sage and greasewood plains, burning white alkali flats, and ranges of juniper- and pinyon-studded mountains. Nowhere could one travel beyond the sight of the mountains, and Thocmetony's people traveled far indeed in their seasonal wanderings in search of food.     In the aboriginal period, they seem to have had little sense of themselves as a single people, an Indian nation of Paiutes. Yet they knew well where the boundaries lay between their territory and the lands of other nearby Indian peoples: Washo Indians, speaking a language entirely different from theirs, clustered in the Carson Valley and Truckee Meadows at the base of the Sierra; California Indians on the other side of the great mountain range, where a few of the more daring Paiutes sometimes traveled to trade; Bannocks, sharing a common speech with the Paiutes, in southern Oregon and southwest Idaho; Shoshones, in northeastern Nevada, living much as the Paiutes lived, and speaking a language similar to theirs and yet impossible to understand. Farther south, beyond the Shoshone and near the Colorado River, lived another people who were similar yet not the same. White men, whose ways were ever mysterious, would call these people the Southern Paiutes, although their language was different from the Paiutes of northwestern Nevada.     Relations between the Paiutes and these other peoples seem to have been peaceful as a rule. They rarely had time for such luxuries as raids or warfare, being much engaged in the struggle for survival. Unfamiliar with the ceremonies, the campfire stories, the laughter, and the sweeter side of Paiute life, explorer John Charles Frémont, in an early encounter with the Paiutes, saw only the struggle: "In this wild state the Indian lives to get food. This is his business."     The names and organization of the Paiute bands reflected the primacy of survival. Because life depended on the joint efforts of a group working together cooperatively, the family was the essential unit, and families often shifted their allegiance from one band to another. Each band derived its name from the principal food source in the area where most of the year was spent. The Kammidika-a (Jackrabbit Eaters) lived north of Pyramid Lake; the Kuyuidika-a (Cui-ui Eaters), so named for the prehistoric black sucker fish they ate, clustered around the delta where the Truckee River flows into Pyramid Lake. This region, together with Honey Lake to the northwest, was the homeland of Thocmetony's band. Eastward lay the domain of the Kibidika-a (Ground Squirrel Eaters); farther south were the Toidika-a (Cattail Eaters) and several other bands. All together, an estimated twenty-three Paiute bands roamed the vast territory from the Owens Valley in California through most of western Nevada and into southern Oregon and Idaho.     Necessity kept these bands small in size and flexible in their responses to shifting conditions. The amount of grass seeds or ground squirrels at any given spot was not enough to feed a large concentration of people -- or a small one -- if the group stayed too long in one place. Thus the bands remained loose clusters of families, perhaps one hundred to two hundred individuals, that followed seasonal food supplies. They convened in larger gatherings only on special occasions when the desert's infrequent bounties could feed a large number at once: the annual fish spawning in the Truckee Delta, the mud hen hunt at the Humboldt Sink, an antelope hunt, or the pinyon nut harvest in the mountains in a good year.     As survival dictated the size and naming of the Paiute bands, it also influenced their leadership. Anthropologists Julian Steward and Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin have observed, "There are few native people in the world who were so unorganized as the Northern Paiute ..." and scholars agree that the concept of chieftainship was alien to the Paiutes, only developing when whites demanded a central authority they could deal with. The bands did, nonetheless, have a respected male figure, a headman, whose authority depended upon the force of his personality and his ability to persuade others to agree with his proposals. The elders, sitting in a circle and smoking with the headman, reached some decisions, but in general councils, the entire band participated in decision making, including women, who sat in the second circle but were permitted to voice their opinions.     Authorities other than the headman led some of the band's activities. For instance, a rabbit boss took charge of the rabbit hunt, in which the Paiutes stretched long nets across the plain and drove rabbits into them to be clubbed to death. The dance boss, "He Who Knows Many Songs," supervised ceremonial dances; the shaman healed the sick and spoke his visions. Sometimes functions overlapped. Old Winnemucca, Thocmetony's father, who had the power to charm antelope to their death in a hunt, served as headman and antelope shaman. He also prophesied on occasion and related myths to his people that explained their troubles. Some said he could heal bullet wounds. More than fifty years after his death, old men still spoke of his extraordinary shamanistic powers.     If she had been born a century earlier, Thocmetony's life would have been very different. When she reached maidenhood, she would have stopped playing with the naked children modeling little animals from the clay of the riverbanks and hunting them with toy bows and arrows, mimicking the work they would soon grow up to do. Wearing a skirt of grass or shredded sagebrush bark or a winter tunic made from woven strips of rabbit skins, she would learn the work of a woman -- first, how to gather fuel. A large pile of wood demonstrated a young woman's desirability as an efficient wife. How to make a shelter for the family of sagebrush and pine boughs in the mountains and a round lodge of woven cattails (a kahnee ) at the edge of the marshes where the desert rivers died. How to split fish with a stone knife and dry them in the sun. How to dig roots for food and collect the eggs of water birds along the shore. How to cook a cattail pollen cake and sieve buckberries into a sharp flavorful paste. How to collect ripe, black Indian rice grass seeds, separate them from their husks, and grind them. How to harvest and roast pinyon nuts when the band made their annual autumn journey into the mountains. And how to weave baskets of reed and willow beside the fire while winter winds tore at the fragile tule lodge: fine-woven narrow-necked water jugs sealed with pitch; cooking baskets, also pitch-sealed, in which the women stirred hot stones from the fire to heat the food within; broad flat baskets for collecting seeds beaten from the tall rice grasses; large conical burden baskets in which the women carried household necessities when the band moved thirty to fifty miles in search of a new food source. Baskets of many shapes and kinds for a multitude of tasks. The skill Thocmetony developed as a glove maker suggests that had she been born in an earlier time she would have woven admirable baskets.     Physically mature and accomplished in the skills of a woman, the girl became the special charge of her grandmother until she married. Looking back many years later, Thocmetony wrote of the spring courtship ritual, the "Festival of Flowers." Each day the girls would walk together in the hills to see if the wildflowers after which many of them had been named had started to bloom. The young men shared in the atmosphere of expectation until, at last, the headman would indulgently announce: "My dear daughters, we are told that you have seen yourselves in the hills and the valleys in full bloom. Five days from today your festival day will come. I know every young man's heart stops beating when I am talking. I know how it was with me many years ago. I used to wish the Flower Festival would come every day."     On the appointed day, each girl gathered her namesake flowers and wove them into wreaths and crowns. Then they marched along and danced, each girl singing about herself in the persona of her flower while her swain danced and sang by her side: "I am so beautiful! Who will come and dance with me while I am so beautiful? Oh, come and be happy with me!` I shall be beautiful while the earth lasts. Somebody will always admire me; and who will come and be happy with me in the Spirit-land? I shall be beautiful forever there."     Other aspects of courtship were less romantic and laced more with the symbolism of practical necessity. A young woman might offer a man she favored a gift of food. Seizing her wrist instead of taking the food was the sign that he preferred her. No higher mark of favor among a people ever intent upon survival could be imagined. If a young man sought to win a girl, he demonstrated that he was a good provider by bringing game he had killed to her family's dwelling. All night he sat outside the lodge. If the girl changed from her usual sleeping place beside her grandmother to make her bed beside her mother, his suit had been rejected and he came no more. But if she continued to sleep in the same spot, he came back each night, bringing his kill and moving his vigil a little closer until at last she opened her arms to him and took him into her bed. Without public ceremony, the marriage was sealed. In her great-grandmother's day, the energy Thocmetony brought to every task she undertook would no doubt have produced large piles of fuel that demonstrated her desirability as a bride. Whether she would have encouraged the courtship of a good provider is more difficult to guess, for she showed a certain weakness for the ne'er-do-well with a handsome face.     Thocmetony's unusual capabilities would have led her to become extraordinary in any time period in which we can imagine her. Not a headman, for that position was closed to women, but she surely would have spoken out eloquently and persuasively in council. She would have made a marvelous teller of tales to children, hypnotizing them with her burning black eyes and the music of her words, as they sat around the evening fire. They would see Itsa, the trickster coyote, prance through firelight and shadow and learn from his misdeeds, for among her many accomplishments, Thocmetony was a gifted teacher. She might have become a shaman, as women could do, drawing her power from a spirit animal, chanting, raising eagle feathers over the sick before their souls traveled too far to be retrieved. The shaman's powers were sometimes inherited, and Thocmetony's father had been a great shaman, as well as a headman. Even in her own time, Thocmetony dreamed visions of things to come.     When the years turned her at last into a tubitson , a bent, old woman with white hair, mahogany skin wrinkled as a walnut, and eyes dimming from the smoke of many lodge fires, she might have been the aged woman of unusual powers sent by the band with an advance party to their traditional pinyon grove. While green pinyon cones roasted in a pit, she would cast handfuls of dirt to charm away the ghosts of the East, the West, the North, and the South so that the pinyon nuts would ripen and the people would not hunger. Then she would descend from the mountains with the others, bringing these first nuts and a small tree so that the pinyon-nut prayer dance could begin. When an old woman grew too feeble to keep up with the band on their necessary peregrinations, they abandoned her, letting her die. The more fortunate eiders died among their people and were buried in unmarked graves.     So it had been, season after season, year after year. But this was not to be Thocmetony's life. The world of the Great Basin Indians was about to change forever with the coming of white people, beginning with the early trappers and explorers. Fur trapper Jedediah Smith made the first passage in 1826, traversing the tip of what is now southern Nevada on his way to California, returning by present Ebbetts Pass over the Sierra and crossing the desert with great difficulty. Peter Skene Ogden, a Hudson's Bay Company trapper, stripped the Humboldt River of its scanty beaver in 1828-29 and made friendly contact with the Indians. Trapper Joe Meek, by contrast, ventured into the Great Basin in 1832 and casually shot an Indian (probably a Shoshone) on the mere suspicion that the man intended to rob his traps. The kind of cultural ethnocentrism that equated different with dangerous and bred misunderstanding operated on both sides. Annie Lowry, a half-Paiute woman, related that an Indian hunting party had stoned two white travelers to death near the Forty Mile Desert for no better reason than "knowing it was not right for men to be so different from themselves."     Violence on a larger scale erupted when the Indians confronted frontiersman Joseph Reddeford Walker in 1833 during his journey to California. As Annie Lowry heard the story, confirmed by sources in the Walker party, Captain John, a Paiute leader, had persuaded the Indians to treat the white men with friendship. Young men from all the bands in the vicinity gathered in a holiday mood and, according to Lowry, had no intentions more hostile than making a bold show and trying on the white men's hats. Many of the young Indians had never been away from their families overnight. They spent the time playing games, telling stories, and painting their bodies with bright geometrical designs. When the young Paiutes approached the next morning, Walker and his men mistook them for a party of Shoshones they had previously frightened away with a display of marksmanship -- shooting at ducks and peppering a beaver-skin target. Misinterpreting the advance of the throng Lowry described as the "smiling, prancing, high-stepping Paiutes" for an attack, thirty-two of Walker's men surrounded the Paiutes and opened fire. The Indians, who had never heard guns before, at first mistook the noise for thunder. Thirty-nine Paiutes died, and the rest ran away howling through the tall marsh grass.     When the Walker party passed through the Humboldt Sink the following summer on their return trip from California, another bloody encounter with the Paiutes ensued, but on a smaller scale, this time with fourteen Indians dying. Apparently, the large number of Indians, the uncertainty as to their intent, and the uncontrollable fears of the men in Walker's party produced these massacres. Yet the longterm effects of Walker's passage far outweighed the deaths of the young Indians. The harshness of the terrain and the paucity of beaver had insulated the region from all but a few white contacts, but Walker established the feasibility of an emigrant trail across the Great Basin to California.     Although Thocmetony's band, the Kuyuidika-a, probably heard of these unhappy incidents when bands gathered and exchanged news at the Pyramid Lake fish spawning or the Humboldt Sink mud hen hunt, her grandfather Truckee and her father, Winnemucca, both pursued a policy of peace and friendship with white men. Thocmetony described Truckee's first encounter with them as it had been related to her. When news arrived that a party of white men traveling east from California was nearing his encampment on the Humboldt Sink, Truckee expressed delight that his "long-looked for white brothers" had finally come. With a small group of his leading men, he approached the white men's camp and was sharply ordered to stop at once. Truckee cast down his rabbit-skin robe and raised his arms to show that he had no weapons, but the white men would not allow him to come near. Truckee gazed at them sorrowfully. For several days he and his men followed the party, camping near them by night and traveling within their field of vision by day, in an effort to gain their trust. "But he was disappointed, poor, dear old soul," observed Thocmetony.     After this rebuff, Truckee remained hopeful that his "white brothers" would soon return, but he felt obliged to repeat a traditional tale to his people to explain white men's cold behavior. In the beginning, he told them, the first man and woman had four children, a dark-skinned boy and girl and a white pair. Soon the children began to quarrel, and their fighting made the household so unhappy that their parents realized they must be separated. First Man had great powers. He had no need to hunt because he could call the game to him. He could also transport his children to another place with mere words. "Depart from each other, you cruel children," he said. "Go across the mighty ocean and do not seek each other's lives." The white boy and girl disappeared; the dark-skinned pair remained to become the progenitors of the Indians.     Truckee ended the tale by repeating his wish to love the white men as he loved each member of his own band and by exacting a vow from his people: "I want you one and all to promise that should I not live to welcome them myself, you will not hurt a hair on their heads, but welcome them as I tried to do." The people agreed and returned to their work. In the hard times to come, many may have wished that First Man would appear once more to reinstitute the separation.     During the 1840s Truckee succeeded in establishing the relationship he had sought with white men. He became a "famous guide," in the words of one anthropologist, when, in the late autumn of 1844, he showed the way to the Stevens party -- the first to successfully cross the mountains with wagons. Without Truckee's help the party might have frozen or starved to death in the Sierra. He served as guide for several other emigrant parties and acquired from them the name by which we know him. Truckee, according to Thocmetony, means "alright, very well," quite possibly the answer the emigrants frequently heard from the old chief in response to their requests. The emigrants named the Truckee River in his honor and presented him with a tin pie plate, which he greatly prized and wore as a hat. When they learned the plate's intended use, Thocmetony and her grandfather saw this as a good joke. The members of another band, who evidently resented the growing prominence of the Kuyuidika-a leaders above their headman, ridiculed the pie-plate hat as an example of the old man's naivety.     In January 1844 an important traveler arrived in the Great Basin and expressed the horror at the barren desert landscape that many emigrants later felt. Approaching Pyramid Lake from the north with his exploration party, Frémont wrote, "The appearance of the country was so forbidding that I was afraid to enter it." Frémont camped beside the reed kahnees of the Kuyuidika-a, highly praised the taste of the two- to four-foot-long "salmon trout" they gave him ("superior, in fact, to that of any fish I have ever known"), and tried unsuccessfully to recruit an Indian guide for the mountain crossing. Since Thocmetony relates that Truckee and Frémont met at present Wadsworth, a distance upstream from the lake, their encounter probably occurred during Frémont's second journey across the Great Basin in the autumn of 1845, when he did not visit Pyramid Lake -- if it took place in Nevada at all. Although Frémont usually related his Indian contacts with considerable interest, he makes no mention of this meeting.     An initial meeting in California is also possible. When Frémont launched the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846 to take California from the Mexicans and advance his own position, Truckee had traveled to California with an emigrant party. Truckee and several other Paiutes, along with some recruits from other tribes, joined Frémont's motley army for the march to conquer Los Angeles. When Truckee returned to Nevada in the autumn of 1847, he had seen wonders far exceeding the tin pie plate that he had once gathered his people together to admire. He had made important friends, and he had come to understand the true source of white men's power. Shortly afterward, he returned to the "beautiful country" of California.     Although Truckee refused to deviate from his policy of peace and friendship toward whites, the condition of the Paiutes rapidly grew more desperate. In 1845 the Humboldt Trail leading across present Donner Pass was already so well traveled that Frémont called it the "emigrant road," but with the discovery of gold at Sutter's mill in 1848, emigrant traffic over the trail increased to a flood. In 1849 traders established Nevada posts during the travel season to sell fresh animals and necessary goods to the emigrants. Soon the posts became permanent, and ranchers began laying claim to the Great Basin's few watered and fertile valleys.     This white intrusion seriously disrupted the ways by which the Paiutes had wrung a precarious living in an arid and inhospitable environment over the millennia. Whites' livestock consumed the grasses the Paiutes depended upon for seed food. Whites burned Indian food caches. Whites, seeking fuel and timber, began cutting down the pinyons from which the Paiutes harvested nuts. Whites killed the game and sometimes the Paiutes themselves. An estimated two-thirds of the Paiutes died in this way during the period of white contact. When he headed the Kuyuidika-a during Truckee's absences in California, Winnemucca had foreseen all this and more in a terrible prophetic dream. After the same dream came to him for three nights, Winnemucca knew the spirits had spoken and he must tell his people. According to Thocmetony, he called a convocation at the Carson Sink in the spring of 1847. She would have been nearly three, rather young to remember the event so clearly, which suggests a later date for the convocation, an earlier birth date for her, or a description related to her by others (a device she sometimes uses in her narrative without differentiating from events she witnessed herself). Thocmetony later recounted how the men of the band rode out singing a welcoming song to greet Winnemucca and his family. Winnemucca decreed five days of games and entertainment before he would speak, for the number five had a talismanic significance to the Paiutes. He may have also seen it as a kind of final fling.     The people enjoyed themselves more than they ever would again. They hunted rabbits, fished, played games, raced horses, danced, and ran footraces. When the allotted time for these diversions had passed, Winnemucca told his dream. He said, "I dreamt this same thing three nights, -- the very same. I saw the greatest emigration that has yet been through our country. I looked North and South and East and West, and saw nothing but dust, and I heard a great weeping. I saw women crying, and I also saw my men shot down by the white people. They were killing my people with something that made a great noise like thunder and lightning, and I saw the blood streaming from the mouths of my men that lay all around me. I saw it as if it was real."     Winnemucca advised his people to flee to the mountains -- far from the emigrant trail -- where they could live on fish, rabbits, and pinyon nuts. All day the old women spoke among themselves, turning over Winnemucca's warning. That night one of the other shamans called a council, and the men gathered. Five times the pipe the), smoked passed to the right. Next they sang five songs taught to the shaman by the spirits. Then the shaman went into a trance while the men continued to smoke in silence. After a little time had passed, a sound from the shaman's lips like faraway crying broke the stillness. When he emerged from the trance, the shaman sobbed and confirmed Winnemucca's terrible dream. Whites would kill a great many Paiutes with their guns. Hundreds more would die from a "fearful disease" that would come from the white men. But some Paiutes would survive.     "We all wept," Thocmetony related, "for we believed this word came from heaven." Copyright © 2001 University of Nebraska Press. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Prologuep. 1
1. The World of the Paiutes: "Many years ago, when my people were happier than they are now"p. 5
2. The San Joaquin: "Rag friend"p. 20
3. Genoa: "Our dear good friend, Major Ormsby"p. 42
4. The Pine Nut Mountains: "I felt the world growing cold"p. 55
5. Winnemucca Lake: "It is a fearful thing to tell, but it must be told"p. 68
6. Camp McDermit: "Can you wonder that I like to have my people taken care of by the army?"p. 90
7. Winnemucca: "I would willingly throw off the garments of civilization and mount my pony"p. 114
8. Malheur Reservation: "I cannot tell or express how happy we were"p. 128
9. The Bannock War Begins: "I, only an Indian woman, went and saved my father and his people"p. 146
10. The Bannock War: "I had a vision, and I was screaming in my sleep"p. 169
11. Yakama Reservation: "I am crying out to you for justice"p. 189
12. Washington DC: "This which I hold in my hand is our only hope"p. 202
13. Fort Vancouver: "For shame! For shame! You dare to cry out liberty when you hold us in places against our will"p. 219
14. Boston: "I pray of you, I implore of you, I beseech of you, hear our pitiful cry to you, sweep away the agency system"p. 236
15. Lovelock: "Education has done it all"p. 255
16. Henry's Lake: "Let my name die out and be forgotten"p. 284
Epilogue: Sarah Todayp. 299
Notesp. 307
Bibliographyp. 347
Indexp. 357