While many fascinating and notable people have lived or traveled along the historic California Trail, few are as engaging and inspiring as the Nothern Paiute Princess, Sarah Winnemucca. You can learn more about Sarah – her life and tribe – when you visit the California Trail Interpretive Center.
Born Into A Changing World
Sarah Winnemucca was born sometime in 1844, the daughter of Chief Winnemucca, and the granddaughter of the famous Chief Truckee. She befriended many of the early white settlers and emigrants along the trail west. Sarah was born just a few years before the infamous Gold Rush into California, and her earliest memories are the influx of travelers to her region.
She said, “I was a very small child when the first white people came into our country. They came like a lion, yes, like a roaring lion, and continued so ever since, and I have never forgotten their first coming.”
Life At The Mormon Station
Sarah traveled to a white settlement at the age of six, with her grandfather, Chief Truckee. The experience unsettled her, as she was unfamiliar with the food, furniture, and habits of the emigrants. At age thirteen, she was sent to live with Major Ormsby at the Mormon Station. Within one year, Sarah had become fluent in five languages – English, Spanish, and three different Native American dialects.
Her time at the Mormon Fort would allow her to understand this new culture in a way that allowed her to navigate two different cultures. She would use this to become a spokesperson for her people later in life.
A Native American Activist
Sarah went on to become an interpreter, an educator, an author, and an activist. She traveled to Washington, D.C., to make a case for the protection and preservation of her people. She served the government during the Bannock war and saved her father, Chief Winnemucca.
Eventually, Sarah opened the Peabody’s Institute, a school for Native American children near Lovelock, Nevada. Throughout her life, Sarah was a tireless advocate for her people.
Sarah Winnemucca: The Northern Pauite Princess
Sarah was a strong and fascinating woman. While she is not always as well-known as some other Native American women, she was just as notable for her bravery, skill, and intelligence.
- Her given name was Thocmetony, which means “shell flower.”
- Sarah became an interpreter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Fort McDermitt in Oregon.
- Sarah was married twice and left both husbands due to poor treatment.
- Sarah was considered a Princess because of her lineage.
- She was a public speaker and fierce advocate for her people.
- She is a published author. Her book, Life Among the Paiutes was published in 1883.
Step Into California Trail History
At the California Trail Interpretive Center, you can learn about the people, places, and events that shaped westward expansion in the 19th century. People like Sarah Winnemucca and the Nothern Paiute tribe are a vital piece of history. Plan a visit to Elko, NV today, to step into California Trail history and experience life on the trail for yourself.