Sarah Winnemucca was a woman torn between two worlds. Born the daughter and granddaughter of Paiute chiefs, she strove to be a bridge between her people and the old ways and the encroaching white man. She died believing herself a failure, but history proves otherwise.

Sarah was born on the Humboldt River in Nevada sometime around 1844. Her father was Chief Winnemuuca, leader of his band, and her grandfather, Chief Truckee, was chief of the entire Paiute Nation. She was given the name Thocmetony, which means "Shell Flower" in the Paiute language. She was raised traditionally for the first few years of her life, but when she was five or six, the white man started to move through her peoples' lands. Life was changed forever for young Sarah. She writes of the coming: . 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 have continued so ever since, and I have never forgotten their first coming." Her grandfather welcomed the whites and did all he could to help them, later befriending General John C. Fremont and helping him in the Bear War against Mexican control of California. Her father, however, didn't trust the whites and warned his people to be wary of them.

When Sarah was six, she accompanied her grandfather on her first trip into the white world and learned to enjoy such luxuries as china dishes, soft beds and new foods. At age thirteen, her grandfather arranged for Sarah and her sister to live with Major Ormsby's at Mormon Station, now Genoa, Nevada. By the time she was fourteen, she had acquired five languages, three Indian dialects, English and Spanish. Both of these visits ended however, when Sarah could no longer tolerate the abusive treatment of the whites towards Indians. Sarah did return to the white world at age 16, fulfilling a deathbed request of her grandfather's that she be educated in a convent school, Convent of Notre Dame at San Jose, California. That ended as well when the administrators of the school bowed to pressure to exclude Sarah and her sister because of their Paiute blood.

Soon after Sarah returned to her people, the Paiutes were forced from their lands onto a reservation. Her people were relocated several times, first to the Pyramid Lake Reservation in Nevada, then the Malheur Indian Reservation in Oregon, and finally to Yakima, Washington. Sarah began working as an interpreter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, during this time, which gave her an insight into the treatment of her people under the BIA agents. When Samuel Parrish, an agent who treated her people fairly and with respect, was replaced in 1872 by an unscrupulous agent, problems on the Malheur Reservation began to mount, and Sarah decided to travel to Washington DC to speak to the President on behalf of her people. She wasn't able to make the trip until 1880, but when she spoke before Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz and President Rutherford B. Hayes, they were moved by her words. Eventually, Sarah did receive promises of improvements for her people, which were later broken by the government, eroding Sarah's stature among her people. Despite the fact that many of the Paiutes distrusted her and shunned her, Sarah dedicated the rest of her life to bettering the lives of her people. She gave more than 400 speeches to gain support for the Paiutes. She was assisted in this endeavor by the support of Elizabeth Peabody and Mary Peabody Mann, two East coast sisters who believed in Sarah's cause.

Sarah wrote and published a book in 1883, the first book written by an Indian woman. It is called "Life among the Piutes" and is a powerful book. Drawing from her Paiute background and her understanding of the white world, Sarah attempted to make both sides understand the conflicts. It was one of the first books about the whites' settlement of the west that was written from a Native American's point of view. At was an incredible achievement for Sarah, the writing of a book in a language not her own, and then getting it published in an era where women, even white women, were not expected to have any say in the running of anything outside their homes. Posthumously, she was awarded the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Award for her book from the Friends of the Library, University of Nevada, Reno.

In 1884 Sarah Winnemucca established Nevada's first school for Native Americans. It was named "Peabody's Institute" after her benefactors and was located near Lovelock, Nevada. Her brother Natchez organized construction of the building. She was assisted in operation of the school by her husband Lt. L. H. Hopkins, and when he died of tuberculosis she was forced to close the school down. She herself died on October 17, 1891, of tuberculosis at the age of 47.

Sarah Winnemucca is now remembered as a champion of the rights of indigenous peoples, however she remains a controversial figure within the Native American community. Some feel that she "sold out", that she turned to the white mans' way of life, forsaking her traditional ways. Sadly, Sarah believed at her death that she had been betrayed and abandoned by both her people and the United States Government. It wasn't true. As a result of her work, Congress eventually approved a grant of land in Nevada for Indian use.

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