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Born in about 1844 near the Humboldt Sink, Sarah Winnemucca was the granddaughter of Captain Truckee, a Paiute leader who served as a scout for John C. Fremont (and namesake of the Truckee River). Her father was Chief Winnemucca, after whom the town of Winnemucca was named.
Sarah Winnemucca was unique among 19th century Native Americans in that she had attended school. For a time, she lived with a white family in Stockton, California, and was fluent in English, Spanish, and three Indian dialects. After returning to Nevada, she became involved in a dispute with a local Indian agent, who was cheating Indians. This was the start of a lifelong crusade to improve how Indians were treated.
In 1878, Winnemucca lived in Southern Oregon and was alerted to the local Bannock tribe’s plans to attack several settlements. Fearing her tribe would be drawn into the fight, she rode 233 miles to her father to urge him and other Paiutes not to get involved. While the Paiutes did not join in the Bannock war, the government sent many to a reservation in Yakima, Washington. After a visit, Winnemucca was so disturbed by the conditions that she embarked on a series of lectures to draw attention to her people’s plight.
In 1883, with the help of sympathetic friends, she published, “Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims.” it is believed to be the first book ever written by a Native American. For the rest of her life, she continued to speak out about injustices against Native Americans. She died in 1891. A statue of Sarha Winnemucca can be seen at the Rotunda in Washington, DC with its twin featured in the Nevada State Capital Building.