Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins – Advocate and Author

by Nancy J. Farrier

Sarah Winnemucca, daughter of Chief Winnemucca, granddaughter of Chief Truckee (Chief of the whole Piute Nation), spent her adult life making people aware of the plight of her people. During her life, she worked as an educator, military scout and interpreter, and advocate of Native American Rights. Her book, Life Among the Piutes, by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, published in 1883, details the treatment of her people at the hands of the government. (For research, I started reading her book and couldn't put it down.)

Born sometime in 1844, Sarah was given the name, Thocmetony, which means shell flower. In her early years in Northern Nevada, the Paiutes and Washos were the only people inhabiting the area. Sarah talks in her book about the spring Festival of the Flowers where all the girls who had flower names would search to see if their flower was in bloom. They would gather the flowers and make wreaths, crowns or scarves to wear as they danced. As they walked, or danced, they would sing to themselves. The young men would often dance alongside them, especially if they were a sweetheart.

Shell Flower
Here is what Sarah would sing: “I, Sarah 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. Somebody 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!” (Life Among the Piutes, pg. 43)

She recalls the time when her grandfather, Chief Truckee, first saw white people entering their land. His excitement can be seen in his recorded words, “My white brothers, — my long-looked for white brothers have come at last!” Chief Truckee’s gestures of peace were ignored and despite trying many times to extend friendship to the white people, he finally gave up, hoping the next party to come through would be friendlier. His hope came true in following years when Captain Fremont and his troops accepted his friendship. Chief Truckee and his men helped fight in the Bear War to defeat the Mexican army and win California for the United States of America.

When Sarah first accompanied her grandfather to California at age six, she was frightened of the new things she encountered: beds, chairs, unusual food, bright-colored dishes. Her grandfather insisted that Sarah and her sister become members of Major Ormsby’s household when Sarah turned thirteen. By fourteen, Sarah had acquired five languages. At sixteen, Sarah and her sister, Elma, attended a convent school in San Jose, CA—a request her grandfather made on his deathbed. The sisters weren’t allowed into the school officially, but Sarah continued to learn.

Lewis Hopkins, Sarah's Husband
In 1872, Sarah went to Washington D.C. to speak out on behalf of her people, who were suffering injustices at the hand of Indian Agents on the reservation. In 1880, she again pleaded their cause before the Secretary of the Interior and President Rutherford B. Hayes. She gave more than 400 speeches on behalf of her people.

In her book, Sarah says the following of her grandfather, “I can imagine his feelings, for I have drank deeply 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.” She lived out this desire to the best of her ability.

I am amazed that such a young girl learned languages so quickly and had such determination. How about you? Do you speak more than one language? Have you ever given a speech or spoken for a cause you felt strongly about?

Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and one grandson. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing, Nancy.

    1. Thank you, Britney. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

  2. I found this post fascinating. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Really interesting and I have NOT spoken in public for a cause other than to teach a Bible study or speak at a ladies' function. Sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Thank you, Sharon. Teaching Bible study or speaking at a ladies function can be challenging. How fun that you did this.