Sarah Winnemucca

Sara Winnemucca

You can read several articles about her life, contributions & present day controversy.

Pauite Teacher, Lecturer, Scout, Interpreter & Civil Rights Worker
Split by ideologies in life, Nevadans now share hall Geralda Miller RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL 3/9/2005 For more coverage and lots of pictures, go to

With her right hand extended holding a shell flower and the skirt of her native dress swaying, Sarah Winnemucca has found her way back to Washington, D.C., which a former University of Nevada, Reno history professor says has “delicious irony.”
The statue of Sarah Winnemucca, a 19th-century Pauite who was a teacher, lecturer and a scout and interpreter for the Army, will be dedicated today in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
The statue is the second to represent Nevada.  U.S. Sen. Patrick McCarran, who served four terms from March 4, 1933 until his death Sept. 28, 1954, was honored with the first statue in 1960.
There are great polarities between Winnemucca and McCarran.
While Winnemucca, the first American Indian woman to write her autobiography, was fighting for the rights of her people, McCarran fought a long fight to take land from her tribe.
“He tended to demean Native Americans,” said Jerome Edwards, professor emeritus of history at UNR. “He thought of Native Americans as second-class citizens.”
State archivist Guy Rocha said McCarran was a very powerful senator who channeled a lot of money to Nevada. And with the threats of the Cold War, he was very popular.
“There still would be a very vocal neo-conservative position of this country that would say he was a hero and still is a hero,” Rocha said. “McCarran had people who worshipped him. He represented conservative American values.”
Winnemucca, whose name as a child was Thocmetony, opened a bilingual school in Lovelock and lectured for peace and equal rights across the country. During the Bannock War, she served as a scout, guide and interpreter for the Army.
“And she did all these things she did on her own,” said Sally Zanjani, who wrote the biography “Sarah Winnemucca.”
“I can’t think of anyone who compares to Sarah Winnemucca, certainly no Indian woman.”
As spokeswoman for the Paiute band called the Kuyuidika-a that inhabited around Pyramid Lake, Winnemucca traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1880 and met with President Rutherford Hayes and Interior Secretary Carl Schurz.
“What she wanted was peace between the races,” Edwards said of Winnemucca’s dialogue that was often misunderstood by both whites and American Indians.
Winnemucca married two white men, Zanjani wrote.
Edwards said: “Whites thought she (Winnemucca) was too native and Native Americans thought she was too white.”
Zanjani said that “Winnemucca did not lose heart and hope.”
“I think that Sarah Winnemucca is someone who without any doubt that we can be proud of. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Sen. Pat McCarran. I think it’s great that Nevada has someone like Sarah Winnemucca to counterbalance him.”
A.J. Liebling, in his book “A Reporter at Large: Dateline: Pyramid Lake, Nevada” detailed McCarran’s personal attempt to protect five Italian immigrant families that claimed some of the best agricultural land at Pyramid Lake.
Michael J. Ybarra devotes a chapter to this endeavor in his recently published biography, “Washington Gone Crazy, Senator Pat McCarran and the Great American Communist Hunt.”
Rocha said McCarran believed the American Indian was the loser to pioneers who fulfilled their quest of manifest destiny, the concept of expansion and land acquisition in the United States.
“His point of view was the Indians should be grateful for what they got as a conquered people,” Rocha said. ” And he had a lot of supporters.”
McCarran understood the Italian immigrants because his father was an Irish immigrant who built a homestead ranch in 1862 alongside the Truckee River.
From 1937 to 1954, McCarran introduced a bill on the first day of each new legislative session to “give the disputed land to the squatters for a small fee,” Ybarra said in his book of the nine bills. “And as long as legislation was pending, the Justice Department could not evict the families.”
McCarran also was a close associate of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who Edwards said was “ruthless” in his methods of dealing with alleged Communists. However, McCarran, an ultra-conservative Democrat, was a powerful advocate for Nevada, Edwards said.
While Winnemucca’s historical reputation has “resurrected,” Edwards said, McCarran’s standing has declined in the past 50 years.
“She was a woman of great stature, and I think Nevadans should be proud she is in Statuary Hall,” he said. “I’m not saying that the Pat McCarran statue should be hauled down, but it is deliciously ironic.”


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Statue honors Paiute woman who led fight for equal rights
Geralda Miller RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL 3/9/2005
Dorothy Ely says she is afraid of the airplane ride to Washington, D.C., but still could not miss seeing the statue of her great-aunt, Sarah Winnemucca, placed in National Statuary Hall.
“I think it’s great and I want to be there,” said Ely, 69. “It’s very moving.”
She is not alone.  Many, including 26-year-old sculptor Benjamin Victor, are excited that the effort to make Winnemucca the second statue from Nevada to sit in the Capitol is almost accomplished.
Today, there will be a dedication of a statue depicting Sarah, the daughter of Chief Winnemucca, who fought for equal rights for her people.
“I can’t wait,” said Victor, of Aberdeen, S.D. “I’ve never even been to D.C. and to go for something like this — I’m a bit star struck.”
A year out of college, Victor’s first commission will be alongside works by the master sculptors he studied. He says he feels like the kid who dreams of meeting basketball great Michael Jordan and finally gets to look up at him in awe.
“It’s your greatest feeling,” he said. “The piece itself is more deserving than I am.”
Carrie Townley Porter, who proposed the idea to the Nevada Women’s History Project five years ago and was part of the selection committee, said Nevadans will be proud when they travel east and see Winnemucca.
“Putting Sarah back in Washington to be a light for Americans will be the greatest history accomplishment of my life,” she said.
The endeavor, from drafting the bill and getting it passed by the state Legislature to raising the necessary funds, was not easy, she said.
“We worked hard to get the bill passed and we did,” Porter said.
Former Assemblywoman Marcia de Braga sponsored the bill, which was signed by Gov. Kenny Guinn on May 29, 2001.
Initially, $100,000 was attached to the bill to pay for the statue.
“However, that year there was a tight budget,” de Braga said. “So I removed the money. I just wanted the bill regardless and hoped we could find a way to raise the money.”
There were some who questioned why Winnemucca was chosen, instead of another political figure.
“It was hard to argue the fact that Sarah Winnemucca accomplished so much,” de Braga said. “She was picked not as a Native American but because she was Nevada’s first public woman.”
Winnemucca lectured to whites at home and across the country seeking justice for the Paiute people. In 1880, she met with President Rutherford B. Hayes and other officials in Washington, D.C., about the poor conditions of her people.
“Sarah’s weapon was her eloquent tongue,” said Sally Zanjani in her biography “Sarah Winnemucca.”
With the bill passed, the next challenge was to raise money. There never should have been opposition to the statue but there was, De Braga said.
“There was some controversy among Native Americans,” she said.
The book says some people did not like the fact that Winnemucca married white men and called her an “assimilationist.”
“Some see her as a “traitor” who sold out her people during the Bannock War and even cost Paiute lives,” Zanjani said in her book.
However, Zanjani said that conclusion did not hold up.
And the controversy did not stop the Nevada Women’s History Project from going around the state to raise money.
“We envisioned that this should be a citizens’ project, ” Porter said. “We wanted people to have a sense of ownership in that statue that represents Nevada. That they helped put that statue there.”
One of the first donations came from an elementary school in Schurz, which Porter said held a read-a-thon and raised $26.
The Sarah Winnemucca Elementary School in Reno collected $700, Porter said.
“And we were told the smallest donation was one cent,” she said.
Then Nevada first lady Dema Guinn, who was part of the selection committee, stepped in and helped raised money not only for the statue in Washington but enough to have a full-size statue in Carson City.
“I did go after some people that I encouraged to give some money,” Guinn said. “This is such an important thing. This is about history. This is about what Nevada is all about.”
Winnemucca is the fourth woman to be placed in the hall, which Guinn said makes this an extra-special honor for Nevada.
“We had strong women and she was one of them,” Guinn said. “Her drive and dedication to me, I just marvel at that.”
She said she also marveled at Victor’s ability to capture the essence of Winnemucca.
“I think people will walk in and their eye will go straight to Sarah,” Guinn said.
Victor agrees.  The proclaimed perfectionist, who spent almost four months at a foundry in Colorado with his statue making sure every step of the process went flawlessly, proudly says Winnemucca will stand out from every other statue in the hall.
He was there bending the fringes on the bottom of her dress to look windswept. Even the warm-brown patina finish had to hit the light just so.
Victor, who will be the hall’s youngest sculptor, says the other statues are static.
“Sarah is in motion. And that will set her apart from every sculpture in the hall,” he said. “I think everyone when they see it is going to be surprised and happy with it.”
The statue of Winnemucca had to be in motion to depict her life as an activist and the enthusiasm she had, Victor said.
The irony is that Winnemucca now will stand permanently where she begged for, but was denied, help for her Pyramid Lake tribe.
“She believed she was a failure when she died,” Victor said. “She died believing she had failed in her causes. Here we are 100 years later realizing she is their equal.”
Although it will be sad to say goodbye to the woman he has spent the past year with, Victor says he wouldn’t want to keep her.
“She needs to be out there in D.C. where she always traveled,” he said. “She was there in her lifetime trying to make a difference. And she will be making a difference forever in the Capitol. That’s pretty cool.”

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Sarah Winnemucca statue installed today in D.C.
DAVID C. HENLEY  Lahontan Valley News  March 9, 2005
Four years of hard work on the part of former Fallon Assemblywoman Marcia de Braga will come to fruition today when a statue of 19th century Native American Nevada leader Sarah Winnemucca is installed in the U.S. Capitol Building.
“It’s wonderful news that all of our efforts to have Sarah Winnemucca’s statue erected in Washington have finally paid off,” said de Braga, who sponsored the 1991 bill in the Nevada Legislature authorizing the selection of the noted Native American’s statue to be erected in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
Following the approval by the Legislature and governor four years ago, a selection committee was organized to locate and commission a sculptor to craft the statue, she said.
After interviewing many candidates, the committee chose Benjamin Victor for the assignment.
He designed and sculpted in bronze the six-foot statue of Winnemucca which will be unveiled and installed today in Statuary Hall which, since 1960, has housed the statue of Patrick McCarran, a Nevada U.S. senator from 1930 until his death in 1954 in Hawthorne while delivering a political address at the El Capitan Club.
Each state is allowed two statues in the U.S. Capitol building, and for many years there had been conjecture as to whom the second statue would represent until de Braga proposed the Sarah Winnemucca legislation. Following the Legislature’s approval for the Winnemucca statue, several Nevada organizations spearheaded efforts to raise funds for the statue, as the Legislature appropriated no money.
Led by the Nevada Women’s History Project, approximately $200,000 was raised to pay Victor, de Braga said.
“Sarah Winnemucca was my choice for the statue because she was Nevada’s first public woman, a Paiute who founded schools, wrote books, and traveled to Washington on many occasions to successfully lobby Congress on behalf of her people,” de Braga added.
The ceremony today, which will be held at noon Washington, D.C. time, will be covered by C-SPAN and will be attended by all five Nevada congressional representatives, leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and Winnemucca’s great-grandniece, Louise Tannheimer, 86, of Portola, Calif.
Tannheimer was chosen to represent the Winnemucca family and the Paiute tribe because Winnemucca, although she was married three times, had no children.
Although Winnemucca (1844-1891) had been raised to fear white people, she was self-educated and learned English, Spanish and three Native American dialects after traveling throughout the West with her grandfather, Chief Truckee, who assisted Gen. John C. Fremont in freeing California from Spanish rule, and her father, Chief Winnemucca, who also joined white politicians and military figures to seek peaceful solutions to white and Native American disputes.
Statuary Hall, which since 1864 has housed marble and bronze figures representing leading figures from the nation’s states, will contain 98 statues with the installation of Winnemucca’s statue today.
Only New Mexico and Wyoming lack two statues. The most recent statue to be placed in Statuary Hall is that of Sacagawea, representing North Dakota, a Shoshone who was the interpreter for the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1804 and 1805.
She also served as the expedition’s guide and has been honored by having a river, peak, mountain pass, and monuments in North Dakota, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho named for her.
With the inclusion of the Sacagawea and Winnemucca statues, eight women will now be represented in once all-male dominated Statuary Hall.
When Nevada’s Sen. McCarran statue was unveiled, and dedicated on March 23, 1960, speakers at the ceremony included Cardinal Francis Spellman, Nevada senators Alan Bible and Howard Cannon, the state’s sole Representative Walter Baring, Gov. Grant Sawyer, Lt. Gov. Rex Bell, Senate Majority Leader (and future, president) Lyndon Johnson, and Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen.
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate’s minority leader, said Sarah Winnemucca’s statue “will be a welcome sight and I am proud that she will represent our state in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection.”
Nevada Sen. John Ensign stated, “Sarah Winnemucca was a tireless advocate for Native Americans, a dedicated teacher, and a noted author and educator.”
Former Assemblywoman de Braga said that Winnemucca had traveled the state seeking justice and education for Native Americans, including visits to Churchill and Pershing counties, and established a school for Indian children in Lovelock.
De Braga stated that in 1991, when her bill passed the Assembly and the Senate authorizing the statue of Winnemucca be approved, the Native American leader’s great-grandniece Louise Tannheimer who will attend the Washington ceremony today, was present at the State Capital in Carson City.
De Braga said Tannheimer told her following the approving legislation that a “good omen” that day had occurred just before the final vote had been taken.
“Louis told me that as she was entering the Capitol Building, she saw an eagle feather lying near its entrance,” de Braga remembers. “That feather will bring us good fortune today,” de Braga recalls Louise Tannheimer telling her at the time.
Today, 45 years after the installation of Sen. McCarran’s statue as the first to represent the state of Nevada in Statuary Hall, de Braga agrees with Tannheimer’s prediction. “Yes, it was a very good omen,” de Braga said Tuesday.