Sarah Winnemucca was born at Humboldt Lake in Nevada. Her father was a Paiute chief. When she was a young girl, her grandfather, who was on good terms with whites, took her to Carson City to be educated, and she soon became one of the very few Paiutes in Nevada to be able to read and write in English. After the first Paiute War, Sarah and her family moved to the Malheur Reservation, which was reserved for the Paiute and Bannock people. Sarah took a job teaching and interpreting for the local Indian Agent, Samuel Parrish, who was generally liked by the residents. After four years, Parrish was replaced by William Rinehart, who refused to pay the Paiute for their agricultural labor, and conditions on the reservation greatly deteriorated. In 1878, everyone on the reservation left, and the Bannock began raiding white settlements, triggering the Bannock War. During the war, Sarah acted as an interpreter for the army and helped track the Bannock. She personally helped her father and 75 other Paiute escape from the Bannock camp. Unfortunately, when the white soldiers came to remove the Bannock to the Yakama Reservation in Washington, they didn’t distinguish between the Bannock and the remaining Paiute, and they were all taken together. Sarah devoted herself to campaigning for the right of the Paiute to return to their old reservation, Malheur. She wrote memoirs and pamphlets (she was the first Native person to publish works in English), which were noted for their eloquence. She went on a speaking tour in California, which was very well-received, and even made a trip to D.C. to argue the case for her people to federal officials. Unfortunately, while the officials promised to help, they never provided the funding. Meanwhile, the Indian agent at Malheur started a vicious smear campaign against Sarah, accusing her of being a drunkard and a prostitute. However, the military men who had served with her defended her and attested to her brave character. She continued to lecture around the country, and in her later years opened a school for Paiute children. She is a controversial figure today, but thankfully, many people still remember her as a courageous and outspoken woman, and not an alcoholic.
Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims by Sarah Winnemucca
Pine Leaf and Running Eagle are two examples of Native American female-bodied two-spirits. (In Native American culture, a two-spirit is someone who possesses both a masculine and feminine spirit.) Pine Leaf was born a member of the Gros Ventres tribe, but at age 10 she was abducted by Crow warriors and grew up in the Crow tribe. When she was still very young, she vowed to kill 100 enemies in battle. Though her dress and appearance were reportedly very feminine, she took on a male role in the tribe, leading raids against enemy Blackfoot. Eventually, she was made a part of the Council of Chiefs and became known as “Woman Chief.” When the Treaty of Laramie was signed in 1851, she gave up her warrior ways and became an advocate for intertribal peace. She was ambushed and killed by the Gros Ventres in 1854.
Running Eagle was born Brown Weasel Woman of the Blackfoot tribe. Like Pine Leaf, she rejected traditional female activities and trained in the arts of war. After saving her father’s life when his horse was shot out from under him during a raid by the Flathead tribe, she officially began the path of the war chief. She achieved all of the requirements of war chiefhood (successfully leading a war party on a raid, capturing an enemy’s weapon, touching an enemy without killing him, and stealing an enemy’s horse) in one raid against the Flatheads. Shortly after, she went in a spirit quest and took the name Running Eagle. She was killed by the Flatheads in 1850.
The Ways of My Grandmothers by Beverly Hungry Wolf
Five Indian Tribes at the Upper Missouri by Edwin T. Denig