EXCERPT: The Newspaper Warrior

An excerpt from The Newspaper Warrior: Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins’s Campaign for American Indian Rights, 1864-1891 edited by Cari M. Carpenter and Carolyn Sorisio (June 2015). 



“Winnemucca’s role as advocate made her the mightiest word warrior of her time.” —LaVonne Brown Ruoff

In his groundbreaking collection of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft’s writings, Robert Dale Parker argues: “Indian writers left far more writing than literary historians imagine. If we look enough, we will find it. So far, we simply have not looked enough.”1 Certainly this is the case when it comes to the public texts by and about the Northern Paiute author and activist Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins.2 Her 1883 Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims was republished in 1994 and is now excerpted in major anthologies of U.S. literature, signifying interest in her historical legacy and literary production.3 Nonetheless, there is a paucity of texts available from the bulk of her public career—those recorded in and created through newspapers. This collection closes that gap by presenting a selection of newspaper items by or about Winnemucca, from her 1864 performances in San Francisco to her death in 1891. The majority of the material dates from the years 1879 to 1887, during which Winnemucca lectured hundreds of times in the eastern and western United States, published her book, and established a multi- lingual school for American Indian children.4 These news articles, letters to the editor, advertisements, book reviews, and editorial comments flesh out the history of one of the nineteenth century’s most important American Indian activists and authors. Because many of the archives are new to scholars of Winnemucca, they fill numerous holes in her biography, from the extent of her collaboration with her husband Lewis Hopkins and with Elizabeth Palmer Peabody to her activism on the lecture circuit and in the classroom. In presenting them in one volume, we hope to contribute to the “compassionate criticism” Craig S. Womack calls for, one based upon archival sources and committed to particular historical moments and events, yet one with global and comparative implications.5

As this collection makes clear, Winnemucca was well aware of the power of newspapers; they could both assail her reputation and provide a national platform for her activism. In the second half of this introduction we consider in more detail how she negotiated the local and national press, especially given the news media’s stereotypical images of American Indians. That she paid attention to the circulation of news about her is suggested by a February 1880 Silver State article claiming that she sent a dispatch “threatening to have the heart’s blood” of a western editor whose story representing her as drunk and violent was picked up by New York papers.6 On another occasion she allegedly threatened the life of a newspaper editor who had reported that she was drinking after a lecture: a threat that led to her arrest.7 These instances are particularly dramatic, but as this collection makes clear, Winnemucca was not to be trifled with in newsprint.

Given the privileging of the book in literary studies, it is tempting to view Life among the Piutes as the ultimate achievement of Winnemucca’s career and to read these newspaper items as supplemental to her book. Certainly editor Mary Peabody Mann hails its publication as “the first outbreak of the American Indian in human literature,” and Peabody, who reviews Life with Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor, claims that both books “initiate a new era for the Indians.”8 If Winnemucca’s book is viewed in isolation, then it is understandable why critics such as Philip H. Round represent her as “ushered into print and polite society” by Peabody and Mann and to understand the relationship among the women as replicating a pattern wherein “Euro-American cultural entrepreneurs” claim to discover American Indian literary works in a manner similar to the discovery of natural resources.9 However, once Life among the Piutes is understood in the context of Winnemucca’s life-long engagement with newspapers and evolving skills as an activist, it becomes less convincing that her book “ushers” her into print or polite society and more arguable that it is merely an extension of the intercultural oral and written exchanges that defined her entire adult life. Winnemucca did not spontaneously enter print in 1883. By the time Life was published, she had honed her rhetorical messages based on thirteen years of sustained media contact and several intensive lecture series. The newspaper accounts provide a much more nuanced and complete understanding of Winnemucca’s lecturing content and style; they also serve as primary documents worthy of analysis in their own right. They can help contribute to critical conversations within American Indian Studies, such as what constitutes authorship; authenticity as related to American Indian identity; the implications of performing American Indian identity to non-Native audiences; the politics of translation in relation to colonization; and debates over the implications of American Indian authors advocating assimilation.10

This collection is not an attempt to provide an exhaustive record of all newspaper accounts by or about Winnemucca; the large number of articles and the evolving efforts to make historical newspapers available online make such a task impossible. We include various articles referenced in early biographies of Winnemucca as well as newly discovered pieces that shed light on aspects of her life and literature. We have prioritized those items that enhance or challenge the existing biographical record, elucidate the production and reception of Life among the Piutes, emphasize Winnemucca’s struggle for favorable and fair newspaper representation of herself in particular and American Indians in general, and demonstrate her use of performance and the news media as modes of resistance. The nature of print media in the second half of the nineteenth century was that much of the content was reprinted. When it seems noteworthy, we have included information about where particularly popular articles reappeared.11

We begin this introduction with a brief overview of Winnemucca’s life and activism in relation to the newspaper record and then follow with a consideration of how the newspaper items might best be understood in the contexts of representation, performance, and resistance. In the three sections that follow our introduction, we include works both by and about Winnemucca to reflect our belief that such inclusiveness best represents the collaborative practices of American Indians in the nineteenth century, many of whom worked alongside non-Natives in articulating their activist agendas. In doing so we depart from the traditions of both the “as-told-to” narrative and the project that imagines the American Indian author existing entirely apart from non-Native communities. Neither model, we believe, adequately captures the dynamic life and activism of Sarah Winnemucca.


A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff, “Three Nineteenth-Century American Indian Autobiographers,” in H. David Brumble, Redefining American Literary History, ed. A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff and Jerry W. Ward Jr. (New York: Modern Language Association, 1990), 251–69.
1. Robert Dale Parker, “Introduction: The World and Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft,” in The Sound the Stars Make Rushing through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, ed. Robert Dale Parker (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), ix.
2. From this point on we follow most scholars in referring to her as Sarah Winnemucca for consistency. Yet it should be noted that Winnemucca typically used the name Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins after her marriage to Hopkins.
3. See Nina Baym, Jerome Klinkowitz, Arnold Krupat, Mary Loeffelholz, Jeanne Campbell Reesman, and Patricia B. Wallace, The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 7th ed., 5 vols. (New York: Norton, 2007), and Paul Lauter, general ed., The Heath Anthology of American Literature, 5th ed., 5 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).
4. There is no consensus about whether the term “Native American” or “American Indian” is preferable. We tend to use the latter.
5. “The Integrity of American Indian Claims (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Hybridity),” in Jace Weaver, Craig S. Womack, and Robert Warrior, American Indian Literary Nationalism (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006), 91–178.
6. “The Princess Sallie,” Silver State, February 16, 1880, this volume, 121. See also “Her Own Work,” Silver State, February 17, 1880, this volume, 121.
7. “The Princess Sallie,” Silver State, February 16, 1880, this volume, 121.
8. Mary Elizabeth Mann, “Preface,” in Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883; repr., Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1994), 2; Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, “Review of Current Literature,” Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine, November 20, 1883, this volume, 197–99.
9. Phillip H. Round, Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663–1880 (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 179. In his analysis Round draws upon Pierre Bourdieu.
10. Regarding authorship, see Eric Gary Anderson, “Indian Agency: Life of Black Hawk and the Countercolonial Provocations of Early Native American Writing,” esq: A Journal of the American Renaissance 52, no. 1–2 (2006): 75–104. See also Hilary E. Wyss, Writing Indians: Literacy, Christianity, and Native Community in Early America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000). Regarding authenticity, see Paige Raibmon, Authentic Indians: Episodes of Encounter from the Late-Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005); Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays: A Tribal Voice (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996); Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994); Richard Scott Lyons, X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); Weaver, Womack, and Warrior, American Indian Literary Nationalism, 91–178. Regarding performance of American Indian identity to non-Native audiences, see Vizenor, Manifest Manners; Malea Powell, “Princess Sarah, the Civilized Indian: The Rhetorics of Cultural Literacies in Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins’s Life among the Piutes,” in Rhetorical Women: Roles and Representations, eds. Hildy Miller and Lillian Bridwell-Bowles (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005), 63–80; Malea Powell, “Rhetorics of Survivance: How American Indians Use Writing,” College Composition and Communication 53, no. 3 (2002): 396–434; Robert F. Berkhofer Jr., The White Man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present (New York: Vintage, 1978); Brian W. Dippie, The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1982); Joshua David Bellin, The Demon of the Continent: Indians and the Shaping of American Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001); and, Susan Scheckel, The Insistence of the Indian: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). Regarding translation, see David Murray, Forked Tongues: Speech, Writing and Representation in North American Indian Texts (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991). See also Eric Cheyfitz, The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from the Tempest to Tarzan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). Regarding assimilation, see Siobhan Senier, Voices of American Indian Assimilation and Resistance (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001). See also Ed Whitley, “‘The First White Aboriginal’: Walt Whitman and John Rollin Ridge,” esq: A Journal of the American Renaissance 52, nos. 1–2 (2006): 105–39.
11. The editors plan to develop a website to be updated with additional articles as they become available.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s