Sarah Winnemucca's Practical Solution of the Indian Problem A Letter to Dr. Lyman Abbot of the "Christian Union"
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PRACTICAL SOLUTION OF THE INDIAN
A LETTER TO DR. LYMAN ABBOT
OF THE “CHRISTIAN UNION.”
ELIZABETH P. PEABODY.
JOHN WILSON AND SON.
PRACTICAL SOLUTION OF THE INDIAN PROBLEM.
To Dr. Lyman Abbot, Editor of the Christian Union:—
Because you so cordially announced Sarah Winnemucca’s“New Departure,” a year or more ago,as the Christian Union’s solution of the Indian problem,I send you this Report that I am now desirousto make to the public, unofficial and official, of herprogress. The distinguishing characteristic of thisNew Departure is that, instead of being, as usual, apassive reception of civilizing influences proffered bywhite men who look down upon the Indian as aspiritual, moral, and intellectual inferior, it is a spontaneousmovement, made by the Indian himself, fromhimself, in full consciousness of free agency, for theeducation that is to civilize him.
Sarah Winnemucca’s idea is an inheritance fromthat remarkable chief of the Piutes, Captain Truckee,who in 1848, for the first time, discovered that therewere white men in the world! In the first chapterof her “Life among the Piutes” Sarah tells of hismeeting with General (then Captain) Fremont in themountains of Nevada, who accepted his profferedguidance on the unaccustomed way, and with whomhe and a dozen of his braves went down to California,where the wonders of civilization burst uponhim, firing his imagination, before his self-respect hadbeen wounded and his heart discouraged, as is theusual Indian experience, with an unquenchable ardorto share these glories.
He and his braves were able to do Fremont servicein the affair of Mariposa and the immediately followingconquest of California, for which they weredecorated, and so respectfully and kindly treated byFremont that the old chief’s heart was completelywon; and he clung to his “white brothers,” as hepathetically called them, to the end of his life, althoughimmediately on his return to Nevada he wastold of those terrible emigrations that had rushedacross it “like a roaring lion,” as Sarah phrases it,striking terror into the souls of the women and evenof the brave men, who could not understand thewanton and unprovoked cruelty with which thesewhite savages shot all Indians down as soon as theywere seen, as if they were wild beasts. But he persistedin calling them exceptions to the end of his life.
The artless autobiography of the first chapters ofSarah’s book gives the key to her career as reconcilingmediator for the mutual understanding of thetwo races. She was educated for it by her grandfather.That she has actually become this, is shown byan article from the “Daily Alta California,” of July24, which I have just received; and I beg that youwill insert every word of it here:—
“We have referred already to the school for Indian childrenestablished in Nevada by the Piute woman, PrincessSarah Winnemucca. Her efforts have seemed to us todeserve encouragement. Travellers through Nevada whohave seen the squalid crowds of Indian children at thestations taking eagerly scraps of food offered them at thecar windows, may think that the regeneration of those peopleis impossible. To change this opinion it is only necessaryto consider the case of Sarah Winnemucca, who, when herchildhood was long past, first had opportunities for education,and improved them so well that her attainments commandthe respect of all white people who know her. What educationhas done for her it may do for a majority of the childrenof that tribe in which she was born a Princess, a Chief’sdaughter. She is very active for her people, and loses noopportunity to urge them forward in the path to civilization.Recently she sent a message to those Indians living in InyoCounty, in this State, urging them to send their children toschool. A copy of this letter was sent to the School Trusteesof Inyo, and we invite the attention of our readers to it.She says:—
“‘Brothers and Sisters: Hearing that you are about tostart a school to educate your children, I want to say a wordabout it. You all know me; many of you are my aunts orcousins. We are of one race,—your blood is my blood,—soI speak to you for your good. I can speak five tongues,—threeIndian tongues, English, and Spanish. I can read andwrite, and am a school teacher. Now, I do not say this toboast, but simply to show you what can be done. When Iwas a little girl there were no Indian schools; I learned undergreat difficulty. Your children can learn much more than Iknow, and much easier; and it is your duty to see that theygo to school. There is no excuse for ignorance. Schools arebeing built here and there, and you can have as many as youneed; all they ask you to do is to send your children. Youare not asked to give money or horses,—only to send yourchildren to school. The teacher will do the rest. He or shewill fit your little ones for the battle of life, so that they canattend to their own affairs instead of having to call in a whiteman. A few years ago you owned this great country; to-daythe white man owns it all, and you own nothing. Do youknow what did it? Education. You see the miles and milesof railroad, the locomotive, the Mint in Carson, where theymake money. Education has done it all. Now, what it hasdone for one man it will do for another. You have brainssame as the Whites, your children have brains, and it will beyour fault if they grow up as you have. I entreat you totake hold of this school, and give your support by sendingyour children, old and young, to it; and when they grow upto manhood and womanhood they will bless you.’
“It is hard to find in all the literature of pedagogics astronger appeal to a primitive or any other people to availthemselves of the benefits of education. Exceptionally goodin its language and logical in its presentation of reasons, itconstitutes not only advice to her own tribe, but it is thefinest of all the genuine proofs of the capacity of the Indianintellect. We cannot help feeling that such a woman deserveshelp, and that her work should command support farbeyond the lines of her own State. If each of the tribescould furnish only one such woman, of equal culture, sincerity,and energy, their joint influence upon the future of our Indianswould be greater than all the armies that can be put in thefield. The Federal Government should consider her and herwork. She has defended her people against the rascallytreatment of its agents, but with a rare discretion has never,therefore, inflamed them against the whites. She has constantlypointed to civilization as desirable above all things,and has taught them that return to their old ways is foreverimpossible.
“We believe that the Indian Department should found anIndian school in Nevada and put Sarah at the head of it.The cost would be small compared with the value of the experiment,and surely it would command the sympathy of allright-minded people. She has ample culture, and she knowsthe Indian character thoroughly, while it is easy to believethat her example will be of great value in encouraging herpupils. When Indians have a white teacher there mustnaturally seem a great gulf between them. The pupils mustoften despair of ever approximating the learning which theybelieve came as naturally to the white man as the color of hisskin. But when an Indian teacher like Sarah can say tothem, ‘I learned this, I am an Indian, and you are as goodas I am; what I learned is as possible and as easy to you,’there must be in it a superior encouragement. We do notknow whether there is on this coast any organization that ischarged with the interests of these humble people. Webelieve Mrs. John Bidwell has done something in her vicinitytoward advancing them, and she may be known to the Eastfor her good work. If there be an organization it shouldbring this matter to the attention of the Government, to theend that this Indian woman may have facilities equal to herenergy and to her noble spirit. It won’t hurt the whites anyto give their gentle and philanthropic sentiments free play in amatter that is full of interest and of genuine Christianity.”
Without stopping to tell of the circumstances ofher life, inward and outward, that have broughther to the point of her present undertaking,—thoughto do so would give new meaning andinterest to it,—I hasten to say that a year and ahalf ago, when it seemed as if the conditions shecraved were to be despaired of, Senator Leland Stanford,who came into relation with the Piutes in 1863and personally knew their exceptional character, spontaneouslydeeded to Sarah’s brother, Chief Natches,one hundred and sixty acres of land near Lovelocks;and a few of the friends of Sarah at the East, towhom she had fully communicated her idea and whatshe wished to do, advanced from their own privateresources barely sufficient capital to enable Natchesto get his land surveyed and in part fenced andplanted, and Sarah to open her school for his children,and those of some other Piutes wandering inthe neighborhood seeking chance jobs of work. Shebegan instructing them in the English language, whichshe had grown up speaking in her equal intercoursewith both races.
Our idea in giving this aid, without which the landwould have been no boon, was to give Sarah thechance to begin her experiment independent of theagency at Pyramid Lake, which, like the large majorityof Indian agencies, prevents civilization byinsulting and repressing that creative self-respect andconscious freedom to act, from which alone any vitalhuman improvement can spring. We wanted thatthere should be no pretext of favors received, for theagent, who naturally enough is her personal enemy,to interfere or meddle while she, with a few of herpeople, began a self-supporting, self-directed life on theground of their inherited domestic moralities, which,in the case of the Piutes at least, are very pure, asshe had demonstrated to us in her lectures and byher own remarkable personality, thus making ahealthy wild stock of natural religion on which tograft a Christian civilization worthy of the name,which might rebuke and correct that which certainlydisgraces it now on our frontiers. But all that wedid for her still left her with broken health andnumberless hardships to contend with, which wouldhave crushed any less heroic spirit.
She began her school in a brush arbor, teachinggospel hymns and songs of labor, that she interpretedin Piute; and as soon as the children could speak andunderstand some English she began to teach them toread and write it, also to draw and even to cipher,sending us through the post-office specimens of theirwork and of their sewing. And in February wewere surprised with the following letter, which camesoon after one from herself, in which she describedthe unexpected visit, and said that Captain Cookmade a speech to the children (which she interpretedto them in Piute), telling them that when he was aboy he had not such advantages of education as theywere enjoying. This letter I immediately sent to theeditor of the “Boston Transcript,” who published itwith his own indorsement as follows:—
A PRINCESS’S SCHOOL.
Miss Elizabeth P. Peabody has had her heart cheered—notthat it has ever faltered in that generous trust of whichonly noble natures are capable—with the following unexpectedtestimony to the faithfulness of the Piute “Princess”Winnemucca to the cause of uplifting her people. Otherfriends of the Indian have turned against her, but MissPeabody has persevered in supporting this most remarkablewoman through every kind of cruel and scandalous assaultupon her character by those interested in having the poor,dispossessed remnants of the peaceful Piutes left naked totheir enemies. This is surely trustworthy testimony:—
Lovelocks, Feb. 25, 1886.
Miss Peabody,—A few of the principal residents ofLovelocks, having