Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paiute Princess

Paiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca is a tale I hadn't heard before. Which instantly made it one I would read to the end. Interwoven in the tale of her life were excerpts from her speaking engagements delineated in italics. Most of us have heard of Pocohontas and Sacagawea, but never Sarah Winnemucca, Thocmetony. Her grandfather, Chief Truckee, made peaceful contact with white men early on during the gold rush years in Nevada. An explorer he encountered, John Charles Fremont, gave "Captain Truckee" a "rag friend". This was what Chief Truckee called the piece of paper that he showed other white men written by Fremont to explain to others that Truckee was a friend. Sarah's grandfather understood the power of the written word to communicate powerful ideas. This one piece of paper changed the course for the Paiute people and Sarah Winnemucca in particular. Her grandfather valued her education and recognized her talent for understanding other languages, including English and Spanish. He encouraged her to learn and embrace white culture. Which she did. But she also recognized the value of retaining her own people's culture and tradition during a time when they were being "civilized" by settlers. She recognized the injustices of the reservation system. She wrote letters to government officials, newspapers, and the army. She had a speaking tour that lasted four years, explaining the plight of her people to sold out crowds across the country. Her written word, her spoken word, the power of her communication on behalf of her people was more than her grandfather could ever have predicted.

Deborah Kogan Ray (who lives outside Philadelphia...are you even surprised at this point?) did a masterful job of bringing this story to life both in words and pictures. The color palette matches that of the western landscape of the time. The depiction of the girls being buried beneath sage brush to hide from settlers was stark and unsettling in a most meaningful way. Following a book like "Little Dog Lost," the text seemed dense, but for a topic so new to many, that also seems necessary.

Paiute Princes: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca
ISBN: 978-0-374-39897-2
Published 2012 by Francis Foster Books
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review it.
I plan to add this book to our school library collection.

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