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| by Rebekah Irwin

Special Collections

Sarah Winnemucca (Thoc-me-tony or Thocmetony in her native language) was a Paiute Indian born in present day Nevada in 1844.

Fluent in English, Spanish, and three Indian dialects, she was an influential interpreter, lecturer, author, and impassioned advocate for Native American rights. During a single East Coast speaking tour she gave three hundred public lectures.

Portrait of Sarah Winnemucca

In 1883, she wrote Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, the first published autobiography by a Native American woman.

Middlebury owns a first edition copy, signed by Sarah Winnemucca.

Life Among the Piutes
Middlebury’s copy of Life among the Piutes, with an inscription by the author: “With Love and Truth, Princess Sarah Winnemucca, Feb 7th, 1884.”

Through her life, Winnemucca spoke directly to white Europeans, denouncing their mistreatment of Native peoples:

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.

Our bookish celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day started on Instagram. Check out Leslie Marmon Silko’s Sacred Water here.

Photo credit: Sarah Winnemucca in 1883 taken during her East Coast lecture tour, from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.