Sarah Winnemucca

Sarah Winnemucca

Sarah Winnemucca

Sarah Winnemucca

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

To an author accustomed to pursuing the unknown story along the roads less traveled, Sarah Winnemucca looms above the historical landscape of the Great Basin like Mount Everest—and poses a similar challenge. Now that racism and the effort to crumple Sarah inside the cage of an alien Victorian morality have faded, her achievements stand forth more strikingly than ever, as do the qualities that made her unique and moved her father, Chief Winnemucca, to declare to his people at the end of the Bannock War, “None of us are worthy of being chief but her.”

Some Indian women, such as Sarah Winnemucca, have played important roles in the saga of American history, but when Sarah is compared to her two most famous predecessors, Pocahontas and Sacajawea, significant differences emerge. Sarah began her career as one component in a broad family effort in which her grandfather, her father, and her brother Natches worked toward the same end. By contrast, Pocahontas, whose friendliness toward the British colonists was often at odds with her father’s hostility, and Sacajawea, who was kidnapped as a girl by an enemy tribe and married to the French Canadian fur trader and interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, lacked family support.

Sarah, more than these earlier Indian women, created her own role. When Pocahontas was scarcely more than a child, her sympathy with and interest in the colonists led her to be a negotiator for them with the Indians. She also saved lives and on several occasions brought Indian provisions to the colonists when starvation stalked the Jamestown outpost. Still, the expansion of her role beyond these early kindnesses was . . .

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