Sarah Winnamucca-Paiute Pioneer
As Strong as the Mojave Desert
A desert is described as a dry, barren, sandy region. Life in a desert is hard. In the 1800’s there might have been rabbits, fish, ducks or mud hens. There were roots, berries and an occasional deer. Enough for a race of people the survival? Not really, yet there is a race of people who have and are still struggling, but are surviving. A people of the Mojave Desert.
The Paiute Indians
The Paiute Indians. The Paiutes of the 1800’s survived by going where the food was available. They are described as highly successful botanists. They followed a trail lead by the nuts, berries, and weather. The women worked to feed the group in the summer. They fed them on fresh berries, roots, nuts and gruel. The women would dry chokeberries, pound them into paste and make them into flour in preparation for winter. The men made bow, arrows, and traps for the winters. They dug in, literally, for the winter and the men hunted the few animals available. The main source of food was the pine nuts. It is small nut and it takes a lot of them to make a flour and then bread, but they are very nutritional and high energy.
You will find mention of the Paiute people in literature at many national parks such as; Mesa Verde, The Grand Canyon, Bryce National Park and more as these people traveled the canyons of the Midwest.
There are three main groups of Paiute Indians; Northern Paiute, Owens Valley Paiute, and the Southern Paiutes. Within the Paiutes there are many smaller family groups or colonies.
In the Northern Paiute group, is a colony called Wuna Mucca. They are a part of the Uto-Aztecan language group. They are the colonies that had the most contact with early settlers of Mojave Desert area. The Wuna Mucca group is from the Northwest Nevada area. They lived and moved around the Humboldt river.
The name Wuna Mucca was changed to Winnamucca when it written down for record. The Winnamucca Indian Colony is located just straight South of McDermitt which was a fort. It was later made a school and now is a part of the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation.
There is a woman who was born to the Northern Paiute Tribe also known as PITU, along the Homboldt river in October 1844. Her name was Sarah Winnemucca or Shell Flower. Sarah Winnemucca wrote the first known autobiography written by a Native American woman. The books title is Life Among the Paiutes: Their wrongs and claims and it is copyrighted 1883.
Sarah, an author, was born and raised where the little girls were carried around in baskets called a tumpline from berry bush to pine cone tree. At about fourteen she made her own twinned basket cap and carried her own tumpline. She spent many hours collecting pine nuts, chewing hides and drying berries. When she was not chewing hides she could chew “chewing gum” made from a reed that was not very sweet. She learned the way that would take her from berry, to nut, to root. She played the shinny game which is played with sticks and a sort of double ball of two knots of buckskin tied together by buckskins braids or juggled pebbles in the air or played a game with pebbles and stones, a game similar to “jacks.” She wore a skirt she had learned to make from sage brush. She was Paiute in every sense of the word.
Then the government started schools for the Paiutes. She went to school, learns the three “R’s” and how to speak the white man’s tongue. She became a translator for the American military and traveled with them. She met a man, fell in love and married into the white man’s culture.
She went to the government and spoke on behalf of her people. She lived somewhere between the white man’s world and the world of the Paiute. She was an educator who was trying to educate the Paiute about the new settlers and trying to educate the white people about her people. If Sarah had not worked to educate both worlds the Paiute could well have become non-existent.
In 1891 Sarah went to be with her ancestors. She had spent her adult life teaching, speaking, traveling and writing. She was leaving a legacy so her people would not be forgotten.
Reorganization Act of 1934
The Paiutes, in the Reorganization Act of 1934 were recognized as an independent tribe. They were allotted lands and provided money for buying cows and purchasing water rights. Documentation of this tribe in the 1934 Relocation Act recorded them as established in 1917, that they had Home sites, owned 340 acres, and that there was a population of 38 souls.
The Paiutes sold off this land because they were in need of money and did not know how to farm. They knew how to pick berries, pine nuts, dig roots, make flour, and hunt. They moved onto a property provided by the Mormon Church and worked as unskilled laborers, seasonal farm workers, and workers for the railroads.
In 1954 President Eisenhower signed into law Public Law 762, a bill terminating the Paiute as a tribe recognized by the United States government. This happened because they had sold their lands, began drinking heavily, and were nomadic by nature. The government gave them a deadline as to when they would need to have an established governing body. They would form of a council consisting of the men, older women of the tribe and worked toward a consensus. In 1980 in answer to the 1934 Reorganization Act the Paiute constructed a constitution and established a governing body.
The people group, called Paiute, which the federal government had terminated, was left to care of local authorities from 1957 to 1975. They were totally ineligible to receive services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There were less than 800 total Paiutes in 1975. In 2006 there a little over 800 tribal members. Not all Paiutes were counted as tribal members. They were considered culturally endangered and still are in the endangered zone even in 2015.
It is often written that they are a hard working people. They are survivors, first in a harsh desert and then in a culture unknown to them. They have been terminated, left to the care of local authorities, and still they survive. Having once been a family groups of nomadic people. They are educating their children and using their skills to improve the way of life for future Paiutes. They are a productive people in our culture.
There was trade with other people groups in the 1800’s, but nothing compared to what it provides for the Mojave Desert today. In 2015 revenue in Mojave Desert comes from tourism, minerals and taxation on gambling. Over half of the needs for survival of the people in the 2000’s comes from outside its natural resources.
Mojave Desert is a hard land in which to live. It is a land without many natural resources. States like Utah, Oregon, and Nevada have made ways to make a living. The Paiutes of this desert have continued because of people like Sarah Winnamucca. If she had not made her people known to the government in the late 1800’s. Could the race of people been lost forever? It is sure possible.
Civil Rights Activist
Sarah Winnamucca was seeking civil rights for the Paiutes. The rights guaranteed to the individuals by the 13, 14, and 15th amendments to the Constitution of the United States and by other acts of Congress. She had an active policy of taking positive action to noble end, the survival of her people. She is not listed as a civil rights activist for the Native Americans, but she was one in every sense of the definition.
Bronze Sarah Winnamucca
In 2005, a statue made by Benjamin Victor, was placed in Emancipation Hall, in the U. S. Capital in Washington D.C. The statue is, Sarah Winnamucca, representing the state of Nevada. Sarah, a strong woman, born in the dry and barren Mojave Desert, whose legacy kept her people from being forgotten by writing a book and educating the public.