The Paiute Princess

09 March 2005, Wednesday:

I was there when Sarah Winnemucca’s life-sized bronze statue was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda. The only other Indian woman that shares that honor is Sacagawea, who led explorers Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean. As the schoolchildren and citizens across France and America had donated whatever they could to pay for the Statue of Liberty, the citizens of Nevada, from schoolchildren to senior citizens, had raised money for Sarah’s statue.

It was a big day and hundreds of people were there. Among them were a large group of Nevada Indians, including Louise Tannheimer, grandniece of Sarah; and Ralph Bums, a Pyramid Lake Paiute who gave a blessing in the tribe’s language. Washington’s top leaders made remarks, as well as Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn who, with his wife, Dema, had helped raise money for the project. And there was a very excited delegation from the Nevada Women’s History Project, who had first proposed the idea of a statue.

Striking a pose remarkably like the Statue of Liberty, Sarah’s extended right hand held a shellflower, symbolizing her Paiute name of Thocmetony (“Pretty Shell Flower”). Her left hand held a copy of her book, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, the first book written in English by an American Indian woman. But, unlike the other statues in the hall, Sarah appeared to be in constant motion; the fringes of her native dress seemed to sway with some unfelt wind.


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Sarah Winnemucca
Pyramid Lake
Nevada Women’s History Project
Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims