Born circa 1844 in what is currently referred to as Nevada in Paiute territory, Tocmetoni (Sarah) Winnemucca became the first Native American woman to produce a published book, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883). Her writings, valuable for their description of Northern Paiute life and for their insights into the impact of white settlement. She was the daughter of the Chief Winnemucca and granddaughter of Chief Truckee. She learned English and Spanish as a child, in addition to three Indigenous dialects. In the 1870s, these abilities led to her serving as an interpreter at Fort McDermitt and then on the Malheur Reservation. As a spokesperson for her people, she gave over 300 speeches to win support for them, and she met with President Rutherford B. Hayes and Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz in 1880.
After the Bannock War of 1878 — during which Winnemuccca rescued a group of Paiute that included her father — some Paiute were forcibly relocated to the Yakima Reservation. Winnemucca, who had already seen how Natives were at the mercy of corrupt reservation agents, decided to advocate for Native American land rights and other systemic improvements.
In 1879, Winnemuccca lectured in San Francisco. Her work included powerful statements such as: “For shame! For shame! You dare to cry out Liberty, when you hold us in places against our will, driving us from place to place as if we were beasts.”
She secured thousands of signatures on a petition calling for the promised allotment of reservation lands to individual Paiutes. Congress passed a bill to that end in 1884, but once again promises came to nothing. From 1883 to 1886 Winnemucca taught at a Paiute school near Lovelock, Nevada. In 1886 her husband died, and ill herself, Winnemucca moved to a sister’s home in Monida, Montana, where she died in 1891. Despite setbacks of the unfulfilled U.S. obligations Winnemucca always continued to advocate for her people and their right to their ancestral homelands.