Sarah Winnemucca

The road most likely traveled…

In 2000, my move to California from Wisconsin included a cross county drive in a red Volkswagen Jetta, and an impatient one-year-old golden retriever who would cry on the hour for baby carrots.  The journey took 3 days and a night in Frisco, Colorado and Winnemucca, Nevada.  Not having a cell phone and just a map, it’s a miracle we made it safely.

I had planned to make it past Winnemucca but it was late at night, and fires had closed the highway ahead.  As a result, I pleaded with the last hotel to let me stay with my dog.  The clerk said there was one room left and thankfully we didn’t have to sleep in the car.  Little did I know that the name of the city Winnemucca held such important historical significance.

Winnemucca was named after Chief Winnemucca, who is the father of an amazing woman.  According to the state of Nevada: “Sarah Winnemucca (1844-91) was one of the most influential and charismatic American Indian women in American history.  Born near the Humboldt River Sink to a legendary family of Paiute leaders, at a time when the Paiutes’ homeland and way of life were increasingly threatened by the influx of white settlers, Winnemucca dedicated much of her life to working for her people.”

Winnemucca worked for the rights of her people as an educator, translator, advocate, messenger, scout, peace-maker, defender for human rights, and first Native woman to author a book (Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims).  The Paiute name for Winnemucca is Thocmetony which means “shellflower.”  Today it’s still not known why she picked Sarah for a first name.

Sarah Winnemucca: “I was born somewhere near 1844, but am not sure of the precise time.  I was a very small child when the first white people came into our country.  They came like a lion, yes, like a roaring lion, and have continued so ever since, and I have never forgotten their first coming.  My people were scattered at that time over nearly all the territory now known as Nevada.  My grandfather was chief of the entire Piute nation, and was camped near Humboldt Lake, with a small portion of his tribe, when a party travelling eastward from California was seen coming.  When the news was brought to my grandfather, he asked what they looked like?  When told that they had hair on their faces, and were white, he jumped up and clasped his hands together and cried aloud–“My white brothers–my long-looked for white brothers have come at last!”

I saw an incredible bronze sculpture of Sarah Winnemucca on a recent trip to Washington DC in the Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.  A twin statute sits at the Nevada state capital in Carson City.  It reminded me of the night stayed in Winnemucca, NV and the travels west.  As a result, during this Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to acknowledge a strong woman.  A courageous, and hardworking individual that was an important part of history but remains mostly unknown…

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