An Indian Princess Story
January 5, 1884 — Friends’ Meeting House, Baltimore MD
[Princess Winnemucca, daughter of the chief of the Piute Indians, delivered her first lecture on the sufferings of her tribe, at the Friends’ Meeting House, Lombard st, last night. There was a large audience, and the Indian Princess not only interested her hearers, but moved a number to tears by her simple eloquence in describing the terrible suffering members of her tribe experienced while traveling from Malheur reservation Oregon, to the Yakima reservation, Washington Territory. The princess was dressed in her native costume, which was elaborately embroidered with beads and worsted. She wore her hair flowing down her back, but left off her war paint. She began by telling how comfortably her tribe was living on the Malheur reservation, when their agent received a letter from Washington asking if they would give up their land. They replied that they would not sell, for they were happy and living at peace, and instructed the agent to write to the President. She then told how Judge Curry, who wanted the land, schemed to get it.]
He sent his brother-in-law, who kept a saloon in Canon City, to Washington, and, as you white people say, he was born again there. He experienced religion. Of course, since was he born again, he got to know the President, and he was appointed agent of our very reservation. When we heard the news thee was great sadness. The agent we had was a good man, and had done much good for us. They told us a better man was coming to us, and he would bring us something better to our “civiliseness.” We did not think so, for any man who keeps a saloon — a fire-water house — is not a good man. When the news came, my father took me to Camp Harding, and there we saw Major Green. We asked him, “Why did our good agent go away? We did not want fire-water about the reservation, it would make our young men go to rack.” Major Green said he could do nothing, but he would write. He did so, but it did no good. Our people were broken-hearted: they would not work, and everything dropped off. But our good agent did not speak against the new one. He told us to work, and do all he told us to do. The new man came July 1st, and that fall all my people were sent away from their reservation, and they were starving. The five hundred head of cattle put on our reservation for us were scattered and gone, and my people got none. Although reports were made against the agent, he lived happy. One year passed. My people tried to live by catching fish, but they could not. Then the Bannocks swept over the country, and thirty foolish young men of my tribe joined them, and through their deeds my people lost their reservation.
By force we were moved away. Soldiers were sent for and I was told to gather my people together. I did, going form place to place, and in one month’s time the President’s order came to Major Cochran to move all my Indians across the blue Mountains and Columbia River to the Yakima reservation, Washington Territory. Our condition at that time was terrible. We were ragged, half-starved, and had nothing. Major Cochran, in the kindness of his heart, did the best he could for us. He dressed the men in soldiers’ uniforms, but he had no clothes for the women. So we began the march from Camp Harding. Amid all that snow and cold it took us one month to go three hundred miles, for at times we could only go five or six miles a day.
Many a time I would see a poor woman come into camp crying, and the civilized women would laugh at her. Why was she crying — because she was tired or cold? No; but because her baby was lying in her arms frozen to death! Old men left in wagons over night perished in the cold, and next morning were dumped out on the road with nothing to cover them but the snow.”
Thrown away as you would treat a hog! When we arrived at Yakima we were turned over like a drove of cattle — so many men, women and children. Then we were put in an old shed out in the snow. You have often seen a shed like it, but none worse. There my people were kept prisoners for two or three years. Then we boast of the freedom of this country. The negro, Chinaman and every foreigner is welcomed here, but your own hand, your doors, your hearts are turned against us. Broken down, we are worse than the negro, whom you fought for and set free. I only ask you to let us be free and live on the lands where we once hunted and were happy. I only ask for a home for my kindred. How long will you set your heart against me? It is better that we be exterminated at once, as you have often said, than to starve to death. Trample me and mine under your feet no longer. Give us people to each us to read. We don’t want money, for we can’t carry that away with us. We don’t want your money or your beautiful poems, only a little land to raise potatoes. I have lectured often before, but I have never asked for money, but since I have been adopted to it I can’t sleep in your houses or eat with you for nothing. I could go into an Indian wigwam and live there for nothing, but you ask for money, and, as I said, since I have been adopted to this lecturing I have written a book to sell.
[Then the Princess described this book in a most original fashion. She asked those present to sign her petition to Congress, asking for land for the Piutes, and many did.]
Source: Baltimore American, January 6, 1884, 4, co. 4.
Also: “Another Eloquent Lecture by the Champion of Her Race — A Beautiful Story of the Traditions of her People.” In The Newspaper Warrior: Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins’s Campaign for American Indian Rights, 1864-1891, ed. Cari M. Carpenter and Carolyn Sorisio (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press), pp. 202-204.