Title: Paiute Princess
Author: Deborah Kogan Ray
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
May Contain Spoilers
Born into the Northern Paiute tribe of Nevada in 1844, Sarah Winnemucca straddled two cultures: the traditional life of her people, and the modern ways of her grandfather’s white friends. Sarah was smart and good at languages, so she was able to link the worlds. As she became older, this made her a great leader. Sarah used condemning letters, fiery speeches, and her autobiography, Life Among the Piutes, to provide detailed accounts of her people’s turmoil through years of starvation, unjust relocations, and violent attacks. With sweeping illustrations and extensive backmatter, including hand-drawn maps, a chronology, archival photographs, an author’s notes, and additional resource information, Deborah Kogan Ray offers a remarkable look at an underrepresented historical figure.
I have had Paiute Princess on my TBR for a while now, and after reading Black Elk’s Vision, I was inspired to pick it up. Sarah Winnemucca’s life is told through vivid, lush illustrations that accompany the moving prose of her life. From her early childhood gathering food with the women of her tribe to her struggles to keep her traditional way of life from being erased by the encroaching white settlers, all Sarah wanted was the peaceful life her tribe had enjoyed for generations. This was not be to, however, and she was forced to watch as her people were moved from their tribal homelands to reservations. Once on the barren lands allotted to the Paiute tribes, they suffered from the corruption of the men running the Indian Agency. Hardship and hunger became her new way of life, and Sarah used every scrap of cleverness she could muster to lobby for aid for her people.
I am not sure how to rate this book, because it made me feel many, many emotions, mostly sadness and despair. Once again, I wonder how I would have handled the cruel fate handed out to Sarah Winnemucca and her people. They were stolen from, lied to, and left without the resources to provide for themselves after their land was taken away, often after the murder of women, children, and the elderly. This chapter in the story of this nation makes me angry and upset because I know that we are better than that; we are supposed to be the good guys. After learning about the struggles Sarah faced, and the courage she displayed, I doubt that I would have been as clever and resourceful as she was. Could I have been an Army scout, riding into danger and helping the people who were responsible for stealing my way of life away from me? Could I have left my family for extended periods to study with people who viewed me with suspicion and dislike? I don’t think so.
The story ends on a hopeful note, but after reading the included information at the back of the book, it was clear that Sarah was not accepted in either the world of the Paiute or the world of the white settlers. She walked firmly between the two, searching for a place where she belonged. Her grandfather was a wise man, but not even his initial acceptance of the settlers and his letter of friendship from explorer John Charles Fremont could save the tribal lands of his people. I think what bothered me the most about this picture book was learning that, after fighting for the rights of her people, Sarah died in 1891. She was 47. The government was still enacting legislation to liberate the traditional homelands of native peoples and forcibly stamp out their cultures. This continued until 1934. This bothered me. A. Lot.
Review copy provided by publisher