Sarah Winnemucca, Whose Paiute Indian Name Is Thocmetony Or Shell Flower, Dies

Sarah Winnemucca, whose Paiute* Indian name was Thocmetony or Shell Flower, died at her sister's home in Henry's Lake, Nevada on October 14, 1891.

Winnemucca was the first Native American woman known to secure a copyright and to publish in the English language. Her book, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, is an autobiographical account of her people during their first forty years of contact with explorers and settlers.

Born "somewhere near 1844" in the Humbolt River and Pyramid Lakes area of western Nevada, Sarah Winnemucca was the daughter of Chief Winnemucca (Po-i-to) of the Northern Paiute people. Her grandfather, Chief Truckee (possibly Tru-ki-zo in Paiute) guided John C. Frémont during his 1843-45 survey and mapmaking expedition across the Great Basin to California. The friendships which Chief Truckee formed with the Frémont party provided an opportunity for his granddaughter to be educated in the household of William Ormsby of Carson City. Sarah Winnemucca soon became one of only two Paiutes in Nevada able to read, write and speak English. At the behest of her grandfather she became a translator for the U.S. Army and, later, for government Agents at Malheur Reservation, designated a reservation for the northern Paiute by a series of Executive Orders issued by President U. S. Grant. Later she served in this same capacity at the Yakima Reservation.

Sarah Winnemucca (born Thocmentony, Paiute: Shell Flower) (ca. 1841 – October 17, 1891) was notable for being the first Native American woman known to secure a copyright and to publish in the English language. She was also known by her married name, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, under which she was published. Her book, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, is an autobiographical account of her people during their first forty years of contact with explorers and settlers.

Sarah was a person of two worlds. At the time of her birth her people had only very limited contact with Euro-Americans; however she spent much of her adult life in white society. Like many people of two worlds, she may be judged harshly in both contexts. Many Paiutes view her as a collaborator who helped the U.S. Army kill her people. Modern historians view her book as an important primary source, but one that is deliberately misleading in many instances. Despite this, Sarah has recently received much positive attention for her activism. She was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 1993, and in 2005 a statue of her by sculptor Fredrich Victory was added to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol.

For shame! For shame! You dare to cry out Liberty, when you hold us in places against our will, driving us from place to place as if we were beasts.”

— Sarah Winnemucca Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, p. 243-244. 1883.