Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims
by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, 1883
FIRST MEETING OF PIUTES AND WHITES.
I was born somewhere near 1844, but am not
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,
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!"
He immediately gathered some of his leading men,
and went to the place where the party had gone into
camp. Arriving near them, he was commanded to halt
in a manner that was readily understood without an
interpreter. Grandpa at once made signs of friendship
by throwing down his robe and throwing up his arms
to show them he had no weapons; but in vain, -- they
kept him at a distance. He knew not what to do. He
had expected so much pleasure in welcoming his white
brothers to the best in the land, that after looking at
them sorrowfully for a little while, he came away quite
unhappy. But he would not give them up so easily. He
took some of his most trustworthy men and followed
them day after day, camping near them at night, and
travelling in sight of them by day, hoping in this way
to gain their confidence. But he was disappointed,
poor dear old soul!
I can imagine his feelings, for I have
from the same cup. When I think of my past life, and
the bitter trials I have endured, I can scarcely believe
I live, and yet I do; and with the help of Him who notes
the sparrow's fall, I mean to fight for my down-trodden
race while life lasts.
Seeing they would not trust him, my grandfather left
them, saying, "Perhaps they will come again next year."
Then he summoned his whole people, and told them this
In the beginning of the world there were only
two girls and two boys. Our forefather and mother
were only two, and we are their children. You all know
that 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 form each other, you cruel
children; -- go across the mighty ocean and do not
seek each other's lives.'
"So the light girl and boy disappeared by that
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 that 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 what to welcome them. I want to love
them as I love all of you. But they would not let me;
they were afraid. But they will come again, and I
want you one and all to promise that, should I not
live to welcome them myself, you will not hurt a
hair on their heads, but welcome them as I tried
How good of him to try and heal the wound,
how vain were his efforts! My people had never seen
a white man, and yet they existed, and were a strong
race. The people promised as he wished, and they all
went back to their work.
The first year came a great emigration, and camped
near Humboldt Lake. The name of the man in charge
of the trains was Captain Johnson, and they stayed three
days to rest their horses, and they had a long journey
before them without water. During their stay my
grandfather and some of his people called upon them,
and they all shook hands, ...
The third year more emigrants came, and that
summer Captain Fremont, who is now General Fremont.
My grandfather met him, and they were soon friends.
They met just where the railroad crosses Truckee River,
now called Wadsworth, Nevada.
The following spring, before my grandfather
returned home, there was a great excitement among my
people on account of fearful news coming from different
tribes, that the people whom they called their white
brothers were killing every body that came in their way,
and all the Indian tribes had gone into the mountains to
save their lives. So my father told all his people to go
into the mountains and hunt and lay up food for the
coming winter. Then we all went into the mountains.
There was a fearful story they told us children. Our
mothers told us that the whites were killing everybody
and eating them. So we were all afraid of them. Every
dust that we could see blowing in the valleys we would
say it was the white people. In the late fall my father
told his people to go to the rivers and fish, and we all
went to Humboldt River, and the women went to work
gathering wild seed, which they grind between the rocks.
The stones are round, big enough to hold in the hands.
The women did this when they go back, and when they
had gathered all they could they put it in one place and
covered it with grass, and then over the grass mud.
After it is covered it looks like an Indian wigwam.
Oh, what fright we all had one morningto hear some
white people were coming. Every one ran as best they
could. My poor mother was left with my little sister
and me. Oh, I never can forget it. My poor mother
was carrying my little sister on her back, and trying to
make me run; but I was so frightened I could not move
my feet, and while my poor mother was trying to get
me along my aunt overtook us, and she said to my
mother: "Let us bury our girls, or we shall all be killed
and eaten up." So they went to works and buried us,
and told us if we heard any noise not to cry out, for
if we did they would surely kill us and eat us. So
our mothers buried me and my cousin, planted sage
bushes over our faces to keep the sun from burning
them, and there we were left all day.
... With my heart throbbing, and not daring to beat,
we lay there all day. It seemed that the night would
never come. Thanks be to God! the night came at last.
Oh, how I cried and said: "Oh, father, have you
forgotten me? Are you never coming for me?" ...
At last we heard some whispering. We did
dare to whisper to each other, so we lay still. I could
hear their footsteps coming nearer and nearer. I
thought my heart was coming right out of my mouth.
Then I heard my mother say, "'Tis right here!"
I was once buried alive; but my second burial
be for ever, where no father or mother will come and
dig me up. It shall not be with throbbing heart that I
shall listen for coming footsteps. I shall be in the
sweet rest of peace, -- I the chieftain's weary daughter.
Well, while we were in the mountains hiding,
people that my grandfather called our white brothers
came along to where our winter supplies were. They
set everything we had left on fire. It was a fearful
sight. It was all we had for the winter, and it was all
burnt during that night. My father took some of his
men during the night to try and save some of it, but
they could not; it had burnt down before they got
These were the last white men that came along
that fall. My people talked fearfully that winter
about those they called our white brothers. My
people said they had something like awful thunder
and lightning, and with that they killed everything
that came in their way.
This whole band of white people perished in the
mountains, for it was too late to cross them. We
could have saved them, only my people were afraid
of them. We never knew who they were, or where
they came from. So, poor things, they must have
suffered fearfully, for they all starved there. The
snow was too deep.
My father got up very early one morning, and
told his people the time had come, -- that we could
no longer be happy as of old, as the white people
we called our brothers had brought a great trouble
and sorrow among us already. He went on and said, --
"These white people must be a great nation, as
they have houses that move. It is wonderful
see them move along. I fear we will suffer
greatly by their coming to our country; they
come for no good to us, although my father said
they were our brothers, but they do not seem to
think we are like them... What do you all think
about it? Maybe I am wrong. My dear
there is something telling me that I am not
wrong, because I am sure they have minds like
us, and think as we do; and I know that they
were doing wrong when they set fire to our
winter supplies. They surely knew it was our
And this was the first wrong done to us by our
Very late that fall, my grandfather and my father
and a great many more went down to the Humboldt
River to fish. They brought back a great many fish,
which we were very glad to get; for none of our people
had been down to fish the whole summer.
When they came back, they brought us more news.
They said there were some white people living at the
Humboldt sink. They were the first ones my father had
seen face to face. He said they were not like "humans."
They were more like owls than any thing else. They
had hair on their faces, and had white eyes, and looked
I tell you we children had to be very good, indeed,
during the winter; for we were told that if we were not
good they would come and eat us up. We remained there
all winter; the next spring the emigrants came as usual,
and my father and grandfather and uncles, and many
more went down on the Humboldt River on fishing
excursions. While they were thus fishing, their white
brothers came upon them and fired on them, and killed
one of my uncles, and wounded another. Nine more were
wounded, and five died afterwards. My other uncle got
well again, and is living yet. ...
After all these things had happened, my grandfather
still stood up for his white brothers.
Our people had council after council, to get my
grandfather to give his consent that they should go and
kill those white men who were at the sink of Humboldt.
No; they could do nothing of the kind while he lived. He
told his people that his word was more to him than his
son's life, or any one else's life either.
"Dear children," he said, think of your own words
me; you promised. You want me to say to you, Go and
kill those that are at the sink of Humboldt. After your
promise, how dare you to ask me to let your hearts be
stained with the blood of those who are innocent of the
deed that has been done to us by others? Is not my dear
beloved son laid alongside of your dead, and you say I
stand up for their lives. Yes, it is very hard, indeed; but,
never-the-less, I know and you know that those men
who live at the sink are not the ones that killed our men."
While my grandfather was talking, he wept, and
women, and children, were all weeping. One could
hardly hear him talking.
After he was through talking, came the saddest
The widow of my uncle who was killed, and my mother
and father all had long hair. They cut off their hair,
and also cut long gashes in their arms and legs, and
they were all bleeding as if they would die with the
loss of blood. This continued for several days, for this
is the way we mourn for our dead. When the woman's
husband dies, she is first to cut off her hair, and then
she braids it and puts it across his breast; then his
mother and sisters, his father and brothers and all his
kinsfolk cut their hair. The widow is to remain
unmarried until her hair is the same length as before,
and her face is not to be washed all that time, and she
is to use no kind of paint, nor to make any merriment
with other women until the day is set for her to do so
by her father-in-law, or if she has no father-in-law,
by her mother-in-law, and then she is at liberty to go
where she pleases. The widower is at liberty when
his wife dies; but he mourns for her in the same way,
by cutting his hair off. ...
It was late that fall when my grandfather prevailed
with his people to go with him to California. It was
this time that my mother accompanied him. ...
The first night found us camped at the sink of
and the second night we camped on Carson River. The
third day, as we were travelling along the river, some of
our men who were ahead, came back and said there
were some of our white brothers' houses ahead of us.
So my grandfather told us all to stop where we were
while he went to see them. He was not gone long, and
when he came back he brought some hard bread which
they gave him. He told us that was their food, and he
gave us all some to taste. That was the first I ever tasted.
So we travelled on to California, but did not
more of our white brothers till we got to the head of
Carson River, about fifteen miles above where great
Carson City now stands.
There was a house near where we camped.
grandfather went down to the house with some of his
men, and pretty soon we saw them coming back. They
were carrying large boxes, and we were all looking at
them. ... My mother said there were two white men
coming with them.
"Oh, mother, what shall I do? Hide me!"
I just danced round like a wild one,which I was.
was behind my mother. When they were coming nearer,
I heard my grandpa say, --
"Make a place for them to sit down."
Just then, I peeped round my mother to see them.
gave one scream, and said, --
"Oh, mother, the owls!"
I only say their big white eyes, and I thought
faces were all hair. ...
I imagined I could see their big white eyes all
long. They were the first ones I had ever seen in my
DOMESTIC AND SOCIAL MORALITIES.
Our children are very carefully taught to be good.
Their parents tell them stories, traditions of old times,
even of the first mother of the human race; and love
stories, stories of giants, and fables; and when they ask
if these last stories are true, they answer, "Oh, it is
only coyote," which means that they are make-believe
stories. Coyote is the name of a mean, crafty little
animal, half wolf, half dog, and stands for everything
low. It is the greatest term of reproach one Indian has
for another. Indians do not swear, -- they have no
words for swearing till they learn them of white men.
The worst they call each is bad or coyote; but they
are very sincere with one another, and if they think
each other in the wrong they say so.
We are taught to love everybody. We don't need to
be taught to love our fathers and mothers. We love
them without being told to. Our ninth cousin is as
near to us as our first cousin; and we don't marry into
our relations. Our young women are not allowed to
talk to any young man that is not their cousin, except
at the festive dances, when both are dressed in their
best clothes, adorned with beads, feathers or shell,
and stand alternately in the ring and take hold of
hands. These are very pleasant occasions to all the
Many years ago, when my people were happier
than they are now, they used to celebrate the Festival
of Flowers in the spring. I have been to three of them
only in the course of my life.
Oh, with what eagerness we girls used to watch
every spring for the time when we could meet with
our hearts' delight, the young men, whom in civilized
life you call beaux. We would all go in company to
see if the flowers we were named for were yet in
bloom, for almost all the girls are named for flowers.
We talked about them in our wigwams, as if we were
the flowers, saying, "Oh, I saw myself today in full
bloom!' We would talk all the evening in this way
in our families with such delight, and such beautiful
thoughts of the happy day when we should meet with
those who admired us and would help us to sing our
flower-songs which we made up as we sang. ...
At last one evening came a beautiful voice, which
made every girl's heart throb with happiness. It
was the chief, and every one hushed to hear what he
"My dear daughters, we are told that you have
seen yourselves in the hills and in the valleys,
in full bloom. Five days from today your festival
day will come. I know every young man's heart
stops beating while I am talking. I know how it
was with me many years ago. I used to wish the
Flower Festival would come every day. Dear
young men and young women, you are saying,
'Why put it off five days?' But you all know that
is our rule. It gives you time to think, and to
show your sweetheart your flower."
All the girls who have flower-names dance
together, and those who have not go together also. Our
fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers
make a place for us where we can dance. Each one
gathers the flower she is named for, and then all weave
them into wreaths and crowns and scarfs, and dress up
Some girls are named for rocks and are called
rock-girls, and they find some pretty rocks which they
carry; each one such a rock as she is named for, or
whatever she is named for. If she cannot, she can take
a branch of sagebrush, or a bunch of rye-grass, which
have no flower.
They all go marching along, each girl in turn
singing of herself; but she is not a girl any more, --
she is a flower singing. She sings of herself, and her
sweetheart, dancing along by her side, helps her sing
the song she makes.
I will repeat what we say of ourselves.
Winnemucca, am a shell-flower, such as I wear on my
dress. My name is Thocmetony. I am so beautiful!
Who will come and dance with me while I am so
beautiful? Oh, come and be happy with me! I shall
be beautiful while the earth lasts. Some boy will
always admire me; and who will come and be happy
with me in the Spirit-land? I shall be beautiful
forever there. Yes, I shall be more beautiful than
my shell-flower, my Thocmetony!" Then, come,
oh come, and dance and be happy with me!" The
young men sing with us and they dance beside us.
Our parents are waiting for us somewhere to
welcome us home. And the we praise the sagebrush
and the rye-grass that have no flower, and the pretty
rocks that some are named for; and then we present
our beautiful flowers to these companions who could
carry none. And so all are happy; and that closes
the beautiful day.
... the courting is very different from the courting
of white people. He never speaks to her, or visits the
family, but endeavors to attract her attention by
showing his horsemanship, etc. ... She is never forced
by her parents to marry against her wishes. When
she knows her own mind she makes a confident of her
grandmother, and then the young man is summoned
by the father of the girl, who asks him in her presence,
if he really loves his daughter, and reminds him, if
he says he does, of all the duties of a husband. He
then asks his daughter the same question, and sets
before her minutely all her duties. And these duties
are not slight. She is to dress the game, prepare the
food, clean the buckskins, make his moccasins, dress
his hair, bring all the wood, -- in short do all the
household work. She promises to be "himself,"
and she fulfills her promise.
... the father pronounces them man and wife.
They go to a wigwam of their own, where they live
till the first child is born. This event also is
celebrated. Both father and mother fast from all
flesh, and the father goes through the labor of piling
the wood for twenty-five days, and assumes all
his wife's household work during that time. If he does
not do his part in the care of the child, he is considered
an outcast. All this respect shown to the mother and
child makes the parents feel their responsibility, and
makes the tie between parents and children very strong,
It means something when the women promise
their fathers to make their husbands themselves.
They faithfully keep with them in all the dangers
they can share. They not only take care of their
children together, but they do everything together;
and when they grow blind, which I am sorry to say
is very common, for the smoke they live in destroys
their eyes at last, they take sweet care of one another.
Marriage is a sweet thing when people love each
My people have been so unhappy for a long time
they wish now to disincrease, instead of multiply.
The mothers are afraid to have more children, for
fear they shall have daughters, who are not safe even
in their mother's presence. ...
Our boys are introduced to manhood by their hunting
of deer and mountain-sheep. Before they are fifteen or
sixteen, they hunt only small game, like rabbits, hares,
fowls, etc. They never eat what they kill themselves,
but only what their father or elder brothers kill. When
a boy becomes strong enough to use larger bows made
of sinew, and arrows that are ornamented with eagle
feathers, for the first time, he kills game that is large,
a deer or an antelope, or a mountain sheep. Then he
brings home the hide, and his father cuts it into a long
coil which is wound into a loop, and the boy takes his
quiver and throws it on his back as if he was going on
a hunt, and takes his bow and arrows in his hand. Then
his father throws the loop over him, and he jumps
through it. This he does five times. Now for the first
time he eats the flesh of the animal he has killed, and
from that time he eats whatever he kills but he has
always been faithful to his parents' command not to
eat what he has killed before. He can now do whatever
he likes for now he is a man, and no longer considered a
boy. If there is a war he can go to it; but the Piutes, and
other tribes west of the Rocky Mountains, are not fond
of going to war. I never saw a war-dance but once. It
always the whites that begin the wars, for their own
selfish purposes. The government does not take care to
send the good men; there are a plenty who would take
pains to see and understand the chiefs and learn their
characters, and their good will to the whites. But the
whites have not waited to find out how good the Indians
were, and what ideas they had of God, just like those of
Jesus, who called him Father, just as my people do, and
told men to do to others as they would be done by, just
as my people teach their children to do. My people
teach their children never to make fun of any one no
matter how they look. If you see your brother or sister
doing something wrong, look away, or go away from
them. If you make fun of bad persons, you make
yourself beneath them. Be kind to all, both poor and
rich, and feed all that come to your wigwam, and your
name can be spoken of by every one far and near. In
this way you will make many friends for yourself. Be
kind both to bad and good, for you don't know you own
heart. This is the way my people teach their children.
It was handed down from father to son for many
generations. I never in my life saw our children rude
as I have seen white children and grown people in
The chief's tent is the largest tent, and it is
tent, where every one goes who wants advice. In the
evening the head men go there to discuss everything
with their people, as a father would in his family. Often
they sit up all night. They discuss the doings of all, if
they need to be advised. If a boy is not doing well they
talk that over, and if the women are interested they can
share in the talks. If there is not room enough inside,
they all go out of doors, and make a great circle. The
men are in the inner circle, for there would be too much
smoke for the women inside. The men never talk without
smoking first. The women sit behind them in another
circle, and if the children wish to hear, they can be there
too. The women know as much as the men do, and their
advice is often asked. We [the Piutes] have a republic as
well as you. The council-tent is our Congress, and
anybody can speak who has anything to say, women and
all. They are always interested in what their husbands
are doing and thinking about.
The chiefs do not live in idleness. They
their people, and they are always poor for the following
reason. It is the custom with my people to be very
hospitable. When people visit them in their tents, they
always set before them the best food they have, and if
there is not enough for themselves they go without.
The chief's tent is the one always looked for
visitors come, and sometimes many come the same day.
But they are all well received. I have often felt sorry for
my brother, who is now the chief, when I saw him go
without food for this reason. He would say, "We will
wait and eat afterwards what is left."
I can't tell about all Indians; but I know my
are kind to everybody that does not do them harm; but they
will not be imposed upon, and when people are bad they
rise up and resist them. This seems to me all right. It
different from being revengeful. There is nothing cruel
about our people. They never scalped a human being.
WARS AND THEIR CAUSES.
I will now stop writing about myself and family and
tribe customs, and tell about the wars, and the causes of
the wars. I will jump over about six years. My sister
and I were living at this time in Genoa with Major
Ormsbey's family, who took us as playmates for their
little girl. While with them we learned the English
language very fast, for they were very kind to us. This
was in the year 1858, I think; I am not sure. In that
year our white brothers had their houses all along
Carson River. There were twenty-one houses there in
our country. I know all the names of the people there
in our country. I know all the names of the people that
lived in them. ... All these white people were loved
by my people; we lived there together, and were as
happy as could be. There was no stealing, no one lost
their cattle or their horses; my people had not learned
to steal. We lived that way in peace for another year;
our white brothers gave my people guns for their
horses in the way of trading; yet my people never said,
"We want you to give us something for our land."
Now, there were a great many of our white brothers
everywhere through our country, and mines or farms
here and there. The Mormons came in a great many
wagons and settled down in Carson Valley, where
now stands the great Carson City, as it is called.
The following year, 1859, we were yet living with
Major Ormsbey, and mother and father were down
at Pyramid Lake with all our people, ...
Late that fall there happened a very sad thing,
A white man who was dearly beloved by my people
started for California to get provisions for the winter, as
they all did every winter. Mr. McMullen took a great
deal of money to lay in large supplies, for they had a
store about thirty miles down Carson River. Two of
them, MacWilliamss and McMullen, went off the same
night, and camped in the mountains. Some one came
in the night and killed them both, and after they had
shot them with guns or pistols, they placed arrows in
the wounds to make it appear as if Indians had killed
them. The next day news came in ...
That same afternoon thirty men went to get the
bodies of the two men. They brought them in, and the
arrows too. Of course everybody said it was the Indians
that killed them. My brother, Natchez, and our cousin,
who was called young Winnemucca, and one hundred
others were sent for. In two days' time they came. My
brother was then peace-chief. Major Ormsbey asked if
he knew what tribe of Indians those arrows belonged to.
My cousin toldhis white brothers the arrows belonged
to the Washoes. So our good father Major Ormsbey
said to my brother, --
"Will you help us to get the Washoe chief to come
in and give up the men who killed the two white men?"
My brothers said they would help to find the men that
killed poor John McMullen. So that evening my people
had what they call a war-dance, the first one I had ever
seen. A great many white men and women came to see
them, and Lizzie Ormsbey kept saying, "Where is
Natchez?" He was dressed up so we did not know him. ...
My cousin was the war-chief. He sent five
bring in the Washoe chief. The next morning they came
in with about ten Washoes. As soon as they came in
the white men gathered round them. Major Ormsbey
showed the arrows, and asked them if they knew them.
The Washoe chief, who is called Jam, said, "You ask
me if these are my people's arrows. I say yes." Major
Ormsbey said, --
"That is enough." He said to my brother
"Tell Captain Jam that his people have killed
and he must bring the men and all the money, and they
shall not be hurt, and all will be right." The Washoe
chief said, --
"I know my people have not killed the men,
because none of my men have been away; we
are all at Pine-nut Valley, and I do not know
what to think of the sad thing that has happened."
Poor, poor Washoes, they went away with very sad
hearts. ... Six days after, the Washoe chief came in with
three prisoners. One of the prisoners had a wife, the
other two had none, but their mothers came with them.
The white men gathered round them and put handcuffs
on them to lock them up in a small house for the night.
Next morning all the white people came to see them.
Some said, "Hand the red devils right off," and the
white boys their stones at them, and used most shameful
language to them. At about three o'clock in the
afternoon came thirty-one white men, all with guns
on their shoulders, ... One Washoe woman began to
scream, "Oh, they have come to kill them!" How they
did cry! One could hear the poor things miles away.
My brother went to them and told them not to cry.
"Oh, dear chieftain, they did not kill the white
-- indeed they did not. They have not been away from
our camp for over a month. None of our men were away,
and our chief has given these three young men because
they have no fathers." One of the young girls said,
"You who are the mighty chieftain, save my
poor brother, for he is all mother and I have
to hunt for us. Oh, believe us. He is
as you are. Oh, tell your white brothers that
what we tell you is true as the sun rises and sets;"
and one woman ran to my cousin, the war-chief,
and threw herself down at his feet and cried our,
"Oh, you are going to have my poor husband killed.
We were married this winter, and I have been
with him constantly since we were married. Oh,
Good Spirit, come! Oh, come into the hearts
this people. Oh, whisper in their hearts that
may not kill my poor husband! Oh, good chief,
talk for him. Our cruel chief has given my
husband to you because he is afraid that all of us
will be killed by you,"
and she raised up her head and said to the Washoe chief,
"You have given my innocent blood to save
your people." Then my brother said to the
Washoes, "These white men have come to
take the three Washoe men who killed John
McMullen and MacWillliams to California
to put them in jail."
Just then one of the women cried out,"Look there,
they have taken them out. See, they are taking them
away." We were all looking after them, and before
brother got near them the three prisoners broke and
ran. Of course they were shot. Two were wounded,
and the third ran back with his hands up. But all of
Oh, such a scene I never thought I should
see! ... The
wife of the young man threw herself down on his dead
body. Such weeping was enough to make the very
mountains weep to see them. They would take the dead
bodies in their arms, and they were all bloody themselves.
I ran to Mrs. Ormsbey crying. I thought my poor heart
would break. I said to her, "I believe those Washoe
women. They say their men are all innocent. They say
they were not away from their camp for a long time,
..." Mrs. Ormsbey said, --
"How came the Washoe arrows there? and the
chief himself has brought them to us, and my
husband knows what he is doing." ...
When we got home it was winter. There was
much snow that we stayed in the mountains where now
stand the great city called Virginia City. It was then
our Pine-nut mountains. Some time during the winter
the Washoe chief came and told us that the white men
who killed McMullen and MacWilliams were caught. ...
CAPTAIN TRUCKEE'S DEATH.
Our people gathered from far and near, for my
poor grandpa was going very fast. His beloved people
were watching him. It was the most solemn thing that
I ever saw, before or since. ...
The doctor said, "He is dying -- he will open
eyes in a minute." Ten minutes passed, when he opened
his eyes in his usual bright and beautiful way, and his
first words were: --
"Son, where are you? Come and raise me up
me sit up."
"Bring all the children." Mother awoke my
was not asleep, small as I was. I lay awake, watching for
fear he would die while I was asleep. ... Then he said:
"I've only a minute to spare. I'm so tired';
I shall soon
be happy. Now, son, I hope you will live to see as much
as I have, and to know as much as I do. And if you live
as I have you will some day come to me. Do your duty
as I have done to your people and to your white brothers."
He paused, closed his eyes, and stretched out. My poor
mother, thinking he was dead, threw herself upon his
bosom, but was aroused by the doctor's saying, "Hold
on, -- the spirit has not left the body." My mother
rose up, and of course, all of us were crying, "Poor
Grandpa! Poor Grandpa!" ...
Then the doctor said, "He has spoken his last words, he
has given his last look, his spirit is gone; watch his lips,
-- he will speak as he enters the Spirit-land"; and so
he did, at least he seemed to. His lips moved as if he
were whispering. We were then told by the doctor that
he was in heaven, and we all knew he was. No one who
knew him would doubt it. But how can I describe the
scene that followed? Some of you, dear reader, can
imagine. Every one threw themselves upon his body,
and their cries could be heard for many a mile. I crept
up to him. I could hardly believe he would never speak
to me again. I knelt beside him, and took his dear old
face in my hands, and looked at him quite a while. I
could not speak. I felt the world growing cold; everything
seemed dark. The great light had gone out. I had father,
mother, brothers, and sisters; it seemed I would rather
lose all of them than my poor grandpa. I was only a
simple child, yet I knew what a great man he was. I
mean great in principle. I knew how necessary it was
for our good that he should live. I think if he had put
out his hands and asked me to go with him, I would
gladly have folded myself in his arms. And now, after
long years of toil and trouble, I think if our great Father
had seen fit to call me with him, I could have died with
a better opinion of the world.
In regard to the doctor's saying, "He will speak
enters the Spirit-land," I wish to say it is the belief of
my people that the spirit speaks as it goes in. They say
if a child has a mother or a father in the Spirit-land, he
will cry as his soul enters. ...
In the spring of 1860, my sister and Iwere taken
San Jose, California. Brother Natchez and five other
men went with us. On our arrival we were placed in
the "Sisters' School" by Mr. Bonsal and Mr. Scott. We
were only there a little while, say three weeks, when
complaints were made to the sisters by wealthy parents
about Indians being in school with their children. The
sisters then wrote to our friends to come and take us
away, and so they did, -- at least, Mr. Scott did. He
kept us a week, and sent word to brother Natchez to
come for us, but no one could come, and he sent word
for Mr. Scott to us on the stage and sent us back. We
arrived at home all right, and shortly after, the war
of 1860 began in this way: --
Two little girls about twelve years old went out
the woods to dig roots, and did not come back, and so
their parents went in search of them, and not finding
them, all my people who were there came to their help,
and very thoroughly searched, and found trails which
led up to the house of two traders named Williams, on
Carson River, near the Indian camp. But these men
said they had not seen the children, and told my people
to come into the house and search it; and this they did,
as they thought, thoroughly.
After a few days they sorrowfully gave up all
and their relations had nearly given them up for dead,
when one morning an Indian rode up to the cabin of the
Williamses. In those days the settlers did not hesitate
to sell us guns and ammunition whenever we could buy,
so these brothers proposed to buy the Indian's horse as
soon as he rode up. They offered him a gun, five cans
of powder, five boxes of caps, five bars of lead, and after
some talk the trade was made. The men took the horse,
put him in the stable and closed the door, then went into
the house to give him the gun, etc. They gave him the
gun, powder, and caps, but would not give him the lead,
and because he would not take a part, he gave back what
he had taken from them, and went out to the barn to
take his horse. Then they set their dog upon him. When
bitten by the dog he began halloing, and to his surprise
he heard children's voices answer him, and he knew
at once it was the lost children. He made for his camp
as fast as he could, and told what had happened, and
what he had heard. Brother Natchez and others went
straight to the cabin of the Williams brothers. The
father demanded the children. They denied having
them, and after talking quite awhile denied it again,
when all at once the brother of the children knocked
one of the Williames down with his gun, and raised
his gun to strike the other, but before, he could do so,
one of the Williams brothers stooped down and raised
a trap-door, on which he had been standing. This was
a surprise to my people, who had never seen anything
of the kind. The father first peeped down, but could
see nothing; then he went down and found his children
lying on a little bed with their mouths tied up with rags.
He tore the rags away and brought them up. When my
people saw their condition, they at once killed both
brothers and set fire to the house. Three days after
the news was spread as usual. "The blood thirsty savages
had murdered two innocent, hard-working, industrious,
kind-hearted settlers; and word was sent to California
for some army soldiers to demand the murderers of
the Williamses. As no army soldiers were there just
then, Major Ormsbey collected one hundred and sixty
volunteers and came up, and without asking or listening
to any explanation demanded the men. But my people
would not give them up, and when the volunteers fired
on my people, they flew to arms to defend the father
and brother, as any human beings would do in such a
case, and ought to do. And so the war began. It lasted
about three months, and after a few precious ones of
my people, and at least a hundred white men had been
killed (amongst them our dear friend, Major Ormsbey,
who had been so hasty), a peace was made. My
brother had tried to save Major Ormsbey's life. He
met him in the fight, and as he was ahead of the other
Indians, Major Ormsbey threw down his arms, and
implored him not to kill him. There was not a moment
to be lost. My brother said, --
"Drop down as if dead when I shoot, and I will
fire over you;" but in the hurry and agitation he
still stood pleading, and was killed by another
RESERVATION OF PYRAMID
AND MUDDY LAKES.
This reservation, given in 1860, was at first sixty
miles long and fifteen wide. The line is where the
railroad now crosses the river, and it takes in two
beautiful lakes, one called Pyramid Lake, and the one
on the eastern side, Muddy Lake. No white people
lived there at the time it was given us. We Piutes have
always lived on the river, because out of those two
lakes we caught beautiful mountain trout, weighing
from two to twenty-five pounds each, which would
give us a good income if we had it all, as at first. Since
the railroad ran through in 1867, the white people have
taken all the best part of the reservation from us, and
one of the lakes also. ...
In 1865 we had another trouble with our white
brothers. It was early in the spring, and we were then
living at Dayton, Nevada, when a company of soldiers
came through the place and stopped and spoke to some
of my people, and said, "You have been stealing cattle
from the white people at Harney Lake." They said
also that they would kill everything that came in their
way, men, women, and children. The captain's name
was Wells. The place where they were going to is
about three hundred miles away. The days after they
left were very sad hours, indeed. Oh, dear readers,
these soldiers had gone only sixty miles away to
Muddy Lake, where my people were then living and
fishing, and doing nothing to any one. The soldiers
rode up to their encampment and fired into it, and
killed almost all the people that were there. Oh, it
is a fearful thing to tell, but it must be told. Yes, it
must be told by me. It was all old men, women and
children that were killed; or my father had all the
young men with him, at the sink of Carson on a
hunting excursion, or they would have been killed
too. After the soldiers had killed all but some little
children and babies still tied up in their baskets, the
soldiers took them also, and set the camp on fire and
threw them into the flames to see them burn alive. I
had one baby brother killed there. My sister jumped
on father's best horse and ran away. As she ran, the
soldiers ran after her; but, thanks be to the Good
Father in the Spirit-land, my dear sister got away. ...
THE MALHEUR AGENCY.
... After I got home, as I was sitting in the doorway, I
heard such a scream! I looked round, and to my horror
saw our agent throw a little boy down on the ground by
his ear and kick him. I did not go to the rescue of the
little boy, but sat still. At last the boy broke from him
and ran, and the agent ran after him round the house.
But the little boy outran him. He looked over at me
and saw me looking at him. He then came towards me.
I hung my head, and did not look up. He said, "Sarah,
that little devil laughed at me, ... I will beat the very
life out of him. I won't have any of the Indians laughing
at me. I want you to tell them that they must jump at
my first word to go. I don't want them to ask why or
what for. Now, do you understand what I am saying?"
I said, "Yes, sir, I will tell them." I said, "Mr. Reinhard,
that little boy never meant to laugh at you. He thought
you were saying something nice to him, and another
thing, he cannot understand the English language. I
am your interpreter. What ever you say to me I am
always ready to do my duty as far as it goes." ...
"Did the government tell you to come here and
us off this reservation? Did the Big Father say, go and
kill us all off, so you can have our land? Did he tell
you to pull our children's ears off, and put hand-cuffs
on them, and carry a pistol to shoot us with? We want to
know how the government came by this land. Is the
government mightier than our Spirit-Father, or is he
our Spirit-Father? Oh, what have we done that he is to
take all from us that he has given us? His white children
have come and have taken all our mountains, and all our
valleys, and all our rivers; and now, because he has given
us this little place without our asking him for it, he sends
you here to tell us to go away. Do you see that high
mountain away off there? There is nothing but rocks
there. Is that where the Big Father wants me to go?
If you scattered your seed and it should fall there, it
will not grow, for it is all rocks there. Oh, what am
I saying? I know you will come and say: Here, Indians,
go away; I want these rocks to make me a beautiful
home with! Another thing, you know we cannot buy.
Government gave. We have no way to get money. I
have had only two dollars, ..."
... Every agent that we Piutes have had always rented
the reservation out to cattle men, and got one dollar
a head for the cattle, and if my people asked whose
the cattle were, he would say they belong to the Big
Father at Washington, and then my people would say
no more. ...
THE YAKIMA AFFAIR.
"Sarah, I have some news to tell you and I
want you to keep it still until we are sure if
it will be true."
I then promised I would keep it still if it was not too
awful bad news.
He said, "It is pretty bad." He looked at
me and said
"Sarah, you look as if you were ready to die. It is
nothing about you; it is about your people. Sarah, an
order is issued that your people are to be taken to
Yakima Reservation, across the Columbia River."
I said, "Major, my people have not done anything,
and why should they be sent away from their own
He [Major Cochran] then replied, "Sarah, I am
heartily sorry for you, but we cannot help it. We are
ordered to take your people to Yakima Reservation."
It was just a little before Christmas. My
only given one week to get ready in.
I said, "What! In this cold winter and in
all this snow,
and my people have so many little children? Why, they
will all die. Oh, what can the President be thinking
about? Oh, tell me, what is he? Is he man or beast?
Yes, he must be a beast; if he has no feeling for my
people, surely he ought to have some for the soldiers." ...
Oh for shame! ... 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 plans 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. ...
We travelled all day. It snowed all day
We camped that night a woman became a mother;
and during the night the baby died, and was put
under the snow. The next morning the mother
was put into the wagon. She was almost dead when
we went into camp. That night she too was gone,
and left on the roadside, her poor body not even
covered with the snow. ...
All the time my poor dear little Mattie [Sarah's
sister] was dying little by little. [She died that
... Gen. McDowell, in the last army report issued
before he was retired from the service in California,
and which he sent to me after I arrived in Boston,
wrote an urgent appeal to the government to do justice
to these my suffering people, who had been snatched
from their homes against their wills.
Among the letters from the officers, in the Army
Report, are two or three from Father Wilbur. He
says he should be much relieved if the Piutes were
not on his reservation. They have been the cause of
much labor and anxiety to him. Yet he does all he
can to prevent their going away. What can be the
meaning of this? Is it not plain that they are a source
of riches to him? He starves them and sells their
supplies. He does not say much against me, but he
does say that if my influence was removed my
people would be contented there. This is as untrue as
it was in Reinhard to say they would not stay on the
Malheur Reservation. While I was in Vancouver,
President Hayes and his wife came there, and I went
to see them. I spoke to him as I had done in Washington
to the Secretary [of the Interior], and said to him, "You
are a husband and a father, and you know how you
would suffer to be separated from your wife and
children by force, as my people still are, husbands
from wives, parents from children, notwithstanding
Secretary Schurz's order." Mrs. Hayes cried all the
time I was talking, and he said, "I will see about it."
But nothing was ever done that I ever heard of.
Finding it impossible to do any thing for my people
I did not return to Yakima, but after I left Vancouver
Barracks I went to my sister in Montana. After my
marriage to Mr. Hopkins I visited my people once more
at Pyramid Lake Reservation, and they urged me again
to come to the East and talk for them, and so I have
[Editor's note. After that Sarah Winnemucca travelled
the USA, giving over 400 speeches on behalf of her
people. In the course of this effort, she submitted the
following petition to the US Congress:]
"Whereas the tribe of Piute Indians that formerly
occupied the greater part of Nevada, and now diminished
by its sufferings and wrongs to one-third of its original
number, has always kept its promise of peace and
friendliness to the whites since they first entered their
country, and has of late been deprived of the Malheur
Reservation decreed to them by President Grant: --
"I, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, granddaughter of
Captain Truckee, who promised friendship for his tribe
to General Fremont, whom he guided into California,
and served through the Mexican war, -- together with
the undersigned friends who sympathize with the cause
of my people, -- do petition the Honorable Congress
of the United States to restore to them said Malheur
Reservation, which is well watered and timbered, and
large enough to afford homes and support for them all,
where they can enjoy lands in severalty without losing
their tribal relations, so essential to their happiness
and good character, and where their citizenship, implied
in this distribution of land, will defend them from the
encroachments of the white settlers, so detrimental to
their interests and their virtues. And especially do we
petition for the return of that portion of the tribe
arbitrarily removed from the Malheur Reservation,
after the Bannock War, to the Yakima Reservation on
Columbia River, in which removal families were
ruthlessly separated, and have never ceased to pine
for husbands, wives, and children, which restoration
was pledged to them by the Secretary of the Interior
in 1880, but has not been fulfilled."