Sarah Winnemucca played a major role in shaping development of the American West, and especially what is known as the I.O.N. country: The Idaho, Oregon and Nevada state junction. During her lifetime, Sarah became well known as an Indian activist and educator. Her influence on Indian interests was unprecedented.
Sarah Winnemucca, daughter of the celebrated Chief Winnemucca of the Northern Paiute tribe and granddaughter of Chief Truckee, was born about 1844 near the Humboldt River in western Nevada. She spent much of her childhood and early adulthood living among white settlers and soldiers. She learned the culture of the Europeans during that time, and applied that knowledge upon her return to Nevada as an adult. "The old ways were gone forever." she told her fellow Paiute. "Your survival depends upon education because ignorance is the Indian's greatest enemy."
Taking an active role on behalf of the Northern Paiute tribe in this area of great transition, Sarah traveled extensively all over what would become the United States giving lectures describing reservation conditions, and addressing inequities in federal Indian policy and corruption by government agents. For about two years she ran a school that she herself established for Northern Paiute children near Lovelock, Nevada. This was the
first effort toward self-determination in Indian education. In addition, Sara wrote a book about her life: Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. The book was likely the first written by an Indian woman in the U.S.and its territories.
Sarah's influence in I.O.N. country, her home area was especially strong. Sara acted as interpreter for the military from 1866 through 1875 at Fort McDermitt, Nevada and Camp Harney, Oregon. In 1875 she moved on the Malheur Reservation in Oregon. She continued interpreting through 1878, as well as working as a teacher's aide. In 1878 the Bannock War broke out and she worked for the military again as interpreter and courier. Throughout these years, there is evidence that she capitalized on her position as interpreter, acting as an advocate for the Northern Paiute tribal interests (Fowler, 2003).
In 1880 Sarah traveled to Washington DC to petition for release of Paiute prisoners being held in Yakima. Washington, and for restoration of the Malheur Indian lands. That effort bore no fruit, but she continued her lecture tour throughout the Eastern states. Sarah Winnemucca's efforts took her to the homes of some of the most prominent Americans of the time, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Massachusetts senator Henry Dawes, and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and her sister Mary Mann, the wife of Horace Mann.
Her efforts were rewarded when these people (the rest is obscured)
Sarah Winnemucca was an unusual women for her time. Monuments have been dedicated to the great Indian chiefs; books have been written of their exploits and screenpays perpetuate their legends. Very little fanfare has attended Thoc-me-to-nay, "Shellflower", the woman who had a direct and lasting impact on the political stage of 19th Century Indian affairs. Among her own people there were those who opposed her accommodations to Anglo-American culture, but she was clearly acting throughout her life in what she believed to be their best interests. Her achievements were limited only by the times in which she lived.
The faint road running east-west across the current U.S. Highway 95 is the old Hill Beachy Stage Road, or I.O.N. cutoff. Sarah Winnemucca used this road on her diplomatic missions within the lands of the Paiute tribe.
A fine few of the lands that Sarah Winnemucca so frequently traversed can be seen from this location: to the west is Steens Mountain; to the east is the Owyhee Mountains; to the south is Blue Mountain and the Santa Rosas in Nevada, and to the north is the Owyhee Upland country and the Owyhee River canyon.