CRC Information

Life Among the Piutes Book Cover

Reproduction of
LIFE AMONG THE PIUTES: Their Wrongs and Claims
By Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins

Grades: 6th and up





Sarah Winnemucca, Nevada Paiute, daughter of Chief Winnemucca, granddaughter of Captain Truckee, gives first hand accounts of being a Paiute Indian in the mid 1800’s.  Through stories of her childhood she gives accounts of the first settlers to cross the Sierra’s into California, as a pre teen living with a white family in Genoa Nevada and the abuses toward Native girls/women, and as an adult she recounts her years as Military interpreter working for her Paiute people and the government.  In first person she tells how the western “Indian Wars” started and what she and her people did to keep peace and how the government responded.

 Before you start:

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This book is a photographically reproduced edition of the 1883 original.

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Native peoples have very detailed oral histories, which are passed from generation to generation.

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This is an autobiography that is edited by Mrs. Horace Mann, but written by the Sarah Winnemucca herself. She is noted as being the first Native American Woman to secure a copyright and publish a book in English.

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You might want to look into the laws that were prevalent in the US during her life time to see what coincided with the incidents that took place.

Here is a Timeline for the Paiute people

•1830s - First contact between the Wada'Tika and fur trappers in the Harney Valley.

•1860s - Increased non-indian settlement leads to negotiations between the Paiute people and the government for a place where they could maintain their old ways of hunting and gathering.

•1872 - September 12, President Grant established a 1.8 million acre Malheur Reservation, the boundaries of which were soon reduced, first because of pressure by settlers to increase grazing lands, and then due to the discovery of gold

•1878 - The Bannock War: Many Paiutes fell victim to the war between the government and the Bannock Tribe, despite the fact that most Paiutes did not participate. At the end of the war, the surviving Paiutes suffered their own "Trail of Tears" as they were removed from the reservation and moved to Fort Simcoe, Washington.

•1880s - Because there were no longer any Paiutes living on the reservation, it was opened up to public use, and settlers promptly began to graze cattle and homestead within its boundaries.

•1887 - Allotment Act: The Paiute were invited to return to the Malheur Reservation or onto tribes' reservations in Washington, Oregon, or Nevada. Those who overcame their suspicions and returned to Harney County received 160 acres of unirrigated alkali desert impossible to farm.

•1935 - A 771-acre "New Village" was acquired for the Tribe by the federal government. Title to the land was finally received from Congress in 1972.

•1968 - The Paiutes were finally fully recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

•Today - The Burns Paiute people are in the process of recovering their tribal identity through a tribal research project which includes conducting oral histories with tribal elders and analyzing historical photographs and records. A 1982 video entitled "The Earth is Our Home" explores ancient Paiute traditions.

 Passages to Think About:

Page 6 –
”In the beginning of the world there were only four, two girls and two boys.  Our forefather and mother were only two, and we are their children.  You all know what a great while ago there was a happy family in this world.  One girl and one boy were dark and the others were white.  For a time they got along together without quarrelling, but soon they disagreed, and there was trouble.  They were cross to one another and fought, and our parents were very much grieved.  They prayed that their children might learn better, but it did not do any good; and afterwards the whole household was made so unhappy that the father and mother saw that they must separate their children; and then our father took the dark boy and girl and the white boy and girl, and asked them, ‘Why are you so cruel to each other?’ They hung down their heads, and would not speak.  They were ashamed.  He said to them, ‘Have I not been kind to you all, and given you everything your hearts wished for?  You do not have to hunt and kill your own game to live upon.  You see, my dear children, I have power to call whatsoever kind of game we want to eat; and I also have the power to separate my dear children, if they are not good to each other.’ So he separated his children by a word.  He said, ‘Depart from each other, you cruel children; - go across the mighty ocean and do not seek each other’s lives.”

“So the light girl and boy disappear by that one word, and their parents saw them no more, and they were grieved although they knew their children were happy.  And by-and-by the dark children grew into a large nation; and we believe it is the one we belong to, and the nation that sprung from the white children will some time send some one to meet us and heal all the old trouble.  Now the white people we saw a few days ago must certainly be our white brothers, and I want to welcome them.”

 A Paiute creation story explaining the reason why Captain Truckee wanted so badly to work with the Settlers, and why Sarah was educated in the white way and worked so closely with the whites.

 Page 39.

                  “ Now, my dear reader, there is no word so endearing as the word father, and that is why we call all good people father or mother; no matter who it is, -- negro, white man, or Indian, and the same with the women.”

 This is a good definition of why Sarah refers to people who help the Native peoples in a kindly manner (with honesty and trust), as father or mother.  It does not imply that the natives are childlike or unqualified to make their own decisions… it is a term of endearment only given to those who have proven themselves.  Although why the term “Great Father” was given to the presidents I do not know.

 Page 207.

                  “Oh, for shame!  You who are educated by a Christian government in the art of war; the practice of whose profession makes you natural enemies of the saves, so called by you.  Yes, you, who call yourselves the great civilization; you who have knelt upon Plymouth Rock, covenanting with God to make this land the home of the free and the brave.  Ah, then you rise from your bended knees and seizing the welcoming hands of those who are the owners of this land, which you are not, your carbines rise upon the bleak shore, and your so-called civilization sweeps inland from the ocean wave; but, oh, my God! Leaving its pathway marked by crimson lines of blood and strewed by the bones of two races, the inheritor and the invader; and I am crying out to you for justice, - yes, pleading for the far-off plains of the West, for the dusky mourner, whose tears of love are pleading for her husband, or for their children, who are sent far away from them.  Your Christian minister will hold my people against their will; not because he loves them, -- no, far from it, -- but because it puts money in his pockets.”


Page 214.

                  “I say, my dear friends, the minister who is called agent, says there will be or there is a time coming when everyone is going to give an account of all he does in this life.  I am a little afraid the agent will have to give an account of himself, and say, “I have filled my pockets with that worthless thing called money.  I am not worthy to go to heaven.”  That is, if that book you civilized people call the Holy Bible is true.  In that, it says he who steals and tells lies will go to hell.  Well, I am afraid this book is true, as your agents say; and I am sure they will never see heaven, for I am sure there is hardly an agent but what steals a little, and they all know that if there is a God above us, they can’t deny it before Him who is called God.”

 Both of these passages are Sarah’s descriptions of the Indian agents appointed by the US department of War to protect, educate, and civilize Indian peoples by such means as: Christianizing, Instruction in Farming and industrialization, and Issuing of government funded rations.

 Sarah gives several first hand accounts of the horrible accounts that took place during the Westward expansion and the Gold Rush.  The abuses that Native women had to endure, the indecisiveness of the government over proper policies to protect or exterminate Native peoples that drove the Native peoples to drastic survival means.

  Page 219.

                  “You, Great Father of the Mighty Nation, my people have all heard of you……

Oh, good Father, have you wife or child?  Do you Love them?  If you love them, think how you would feel if they were taken away from you, where you could not go to see them, nor they come to you…..”

 This is part of a speech given to Secretary Schurz at the Whitehouse in the winter of 1878-9 by Subcheif Natchez Winnemucca, to help his people escape the harsh conditions of the Yakima Reservation.  Mr. Schurz intern gave Natchez and Sarah a letter that they thought would allow them to move their people back to the Malheur Reservation.  Mr. Schurz never forwarded his promised letter to Agent Father Wilbur at the Yakima Reservation, and there for Sarah was not allowed to move her people to their homelands.

 There are many more passages in this book that are very good, but these happen to be the ones that left the biggest impression on me.  I recommend this book highly.

Marlette Grant-Jackson – ITEPP-CRC

More Resources

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe

Sarah Winnemucca
Today in History

Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe