Close up of Nevada Writers Hall of Fame medal

Sarah Winnemucca

1993 Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Inductee


Sarah Winnemucca, a granddaughter of Paiute Chief Truckee and daughter of Chief Winnemucca, was born in the Humboldt River-Pyramid Lake region at a time of great change for the Northern Paiute Nation. Introduced to Caucasians at age six, she could speak five languages by age 14, including Spanish and several Indian dialects. She became fluent in English while living for awhile with the Ormsby family at Mormon Station (now Genoa, Nevada) and took the name "Sarah" during that time. In 1871, Winnemucca began working as an interpreter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Fort McDermitt on the Oregon border. She married her first husband, Lt. Edward C. Bartlett, that year. When that marriage ended, she rejoined her tribe at the Malheur Reservation in Oregon, where she worked as an interpreter and teacher's aid from 1875 to 1878. Her experiences with the U.S. Government, losing relatives during the 1878 Bannock War, and the forced relocation of the Northern Paiute people to various reservations compelled Winnemucca to dedicate the remainder of her life to bettering the lives of her people. Following an oral tradition, Winnemucca gave more than 400 speeches to gain support for the Paiutes. She went to Washington, D.C. in 1880, representing the Kuyuidika-a band of Paiutes that lived around Pyramid Lake, and met with President Rutherford Hayes and Secretary of the Interior Charles Schurz to lobby for the release of the Paiutes from confinement on the Yakama Reservation in Washington Territory. Later she founded an innovative, bilingual, non-government school for Native American children in Lovelock, Nevada.

Her autobiography, Life Among the Piutes, was the first ever written and published by a Native American woman. She is considered one of the most influential and charismatic Native American women in history. She died at Henry's Lake, Idaho, on October 14, 1891, thinking herself a failure because the U.S. Government broke its promises concerning her tribe. She was the first woman to be honored with a Nevada state historic marker. In 1994, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. Also that year, the Washoe County School District named the Sarah Winnemucca Elementary School in her honor. "It Can Be Done," a documentary prepared for the Nevada Experience program for Channel 5 PBS, was first broadcast in 1994.

In 1864, Congress established the National Statuary Hall in the Old Hall of the House of Representatives in the United States Capitol and authorized each state to contribute two statues of its distinguished citizens to the collection. Pursuant to Nevada Assembly Bill no. 267 of 2001, the Nevada Dept. of Cultural Affairs and the Nevada Women's History Project worked to have a statue of Sarah Winnemucca placed in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C. In April 2003, Nevada First Lady Dema Guinn invited the Nevada Women's History Project to hold a "Pink Tea" at the Governor's Mansion in Carson City to raise funds for the Sarah Winnemucca statue. Sculptor Benjamin Victor, the recipient of a Jean Ford Research Grant, was commissioned to create the bronze statue for the U. S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall. The dedication ceremony for the statue was held at the National Statuary Hall on March 9, 2005. The Spanish Springs Library in Sparks, Nevada, was presented with two statues of Winnemucca on October 30, 2005.