The Newspaper Warrior: Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins’s Campaign for American Indian Rights, 1864-1891

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The Newspaper Warrior - Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins's Campaign for American Indian Rights 1864-1891Edited by Cari M. Carpenter and Carolyn Sorisio
University of Nebraska Press (2015)
348 pages

Review by Cathleen D. Cahill

 The Newspaper Warrior is an apt name for this volume. In it Carpenter and Sorisio have gathered numerous newspaper articles by and about Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, the famous Northern Paiute activist, speaker, author, and educator. Winnemucca is best known for her book, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883), and the editors argue that the newspaper articles augment our understanding of her biography as well as the evolution of her arguments and activist strategies in important and revealing ways. 

They frame the book with a 30-page introduction that gives an account of Winnemucca’s life and activism, and also situates the newspaper articles within conversations in the fields of American Indian studies and literary studies. The remainder of the book offers reproductions of articles from newspapers across the United States with titles such as “Indian Bureau Alarmed,” “The Piute Princess Dispelling Eastern Ignorance,” “Sarah in the City,” and “A Piute Bride.” The articles cover roughly 30 years of Winnemucca’s life, from her 1864 performance in San Francisco to her death in 1891. Most of them are clustered between 1879 and 1887, the years during which she toured the United States giving lectures, published her book, and established her multilingual school for Native children—the Peabody Institute.

Newspaper articles are increasingly available through digital databases, but not everyone has access to them. Moreover, gathering all of these articles into one place offers some valuable insight. As the editors argue, they fill gaps in our knowledge of Winnemucca’s biography, but more importantly, they enlarge our understanding of her engagement with her American audience. The descriptions of her speeches, costumes, performances, interviews, and her own articles all reveal a woman actively negotiating the press and the American public’s ideas about Indians. They emphasize that she did not spring onto the public scene with her 1883 book, but rather that the book was “merely an extension of the intercultural oral and written exchanges that defined her entire adult life,” much of which played out in the press.

This book will be of interest to anyone wanting to know more about Winnemucca and the times in which she lived. It is a good companion to Life Among the Piutes, but can also stand alone as the articles by Winnemucca offer a look into her arguments and appeals while those by non-Natives are full of details from the late 19th century, ranging from the prejudice Native people faced to political debates over Indian policy. While the editors have provided some definitions or additional information in footnotes, it is not fully annotated.

Cathleen Cahill, Ph.D., is an associate professor of history at the University of New Mexico and author of Federal Fathers and Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933.

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