Toc-me-to-ne, an Indian Princess

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We called her Sarah Winnemucca, but her real name was Toe-me-to-ne, which means shell-flower. Have you ever seen these flowers growing in an old garden among their many cousins of the Mint family? Well, Toe-me-to-ne loved them of all flowers best, for was she not herself a shell-flower.

Her people were Paiute Indians, and they lived in every part of what is now the great State of Nevada.

Toc-me-to-ne had a flower name, so she was allowed to take part in the children’s flower festival, when. all the little girls dance and sing, holding hands and making believe that they are the very flowers for which they are named. They wear their own flowers, too, and after they have sung together for a while one will dance off on the grass by herself while all the boys and girls look on and she sings

I am a daisy gold and white,
Somebody catch me-me!

The grown-up people watch, too, as their children play, and Toe-me-to-ne was never happier than when, light as a bird, she danced and sang her shell-flower song:

See me! see me, a beautiful flower.
Give me a hand and dance.

Then after the plays and dancing the children had all sorts of good things to eat, and the flower festival was over for a year.

Only three times did Toe-me-to-ne take part in the flower festival, for when she was quite a little girl her grandfather, Chief Winnemucca, took his family and went to live in California, and when they came back she was almost grown up.

Her grandfather was very fond of her, and called her sweetheart, so she was sad and lonesome indeed when he left her and went to the Happy Spirit Land; but she did not forget his last words to her before he went. “Sweetheart,” he said, “do not forget my white brothers; be kind to them and they will be kind to you and teach you many things.”
In California the old chief gave to his grandchildren new names-Natchez, Lee, Mary, and Sarah, and Sarah learned to speak fairly good English. Later, when she came to Pyramid Lake, she played with Mr. Ormsby’s children and learned to speak better English. Besides this Mrs. Ormsby taught her to cook and sew and to do housework.

When Sarah was fifteen years old she made the long five-Hundred-mile journey to California once more with her brothers and sister and her grandmother. Her brothers took care of cattle for good Mr. Scott, who had known and loved Chief Winnemucca, and he gave them good wages, several fine horses, and two ponies for Sarah and Mary to ride. The sisters had always ridden bareback like Indian men, but when Christmas came Sarah was surprised to find a beautiful Mexican sidesaddle from her brother Lee, and she learned to ride like the white ladies, and was very proud and happy.

Now the Piutes always would wander about. They lived by hunting and fishing, not by farming, and so they moved from place to place wherever there was game. When they were in the mountains rough white settlers came to Pyramid Lake and caught almost all of the fish with nets, so that there were no fish when the Indians returned. This made the Indians angry, and so trouble began. All this time .Sarah was in California, her father, Chief Winnemucca Second, and her mother
were in Nevada, and she often heard good news from them ; but one spring when she was seventeen years old two Indians’ came bringing the news from her father that he was in the mountains and wanted all his children to come to him, but especially Sarah.

Starting on their ponies they began the journey, riding beside the wagon where the grandmother rode. It took twenty-five days to reach Carson City, but here their father and mother met them, and next day all went to see Governor Nye, where Sarah told in English what her father, the chief, wanted to say.

Governor Nye was very jolly and good, and when he knew how things really were he told the white settlers not to interfere with the Indians, and sent soldiers from the fort to drive the rough men away. So Governor Nye and Chief Winnemucca became good friends as they never could have been but for little Toc-me-to-ne and her bright interpretations.

For the next year Sarah talked both Piute and English, and settled many little troubles. She was called friend both by the Indians and soldiers, and her father d she thought often of old Chief Winnemucca’s words and kept peace with their white brothers.

But just as storm-clouds gather, so whispers came that there would be war between the soldiers and the Piutes. One day some old men were fishing in a lake when cavalry soldiers rode up and fired at them. The Indians ran to their tepees near by, but the soldiers followed and hurt some of them. The captain of the soldiers thought they belonged to a band of bad Indians, and as he spoke only English none could explain. As soon as they understood the dreadful mistake, of course, every one was very sorry and did what he could to make it right. One of Sarah’s little sisters was badly hurt, but Chief Winnemucca and Sarah only spoke sadly of the “Lake¬†Harvey trouble,” and were still friendly to the white people.

About this time Sarah came down to Muddy Lake to help her brother Natchez, who was sub-chief there. Nearby, Mr. Nugent, the Indian agent, had a big store, where he sold all sorts of things. Now Uncle Sam did not allow agents to sell shot and gunpowder to the Indians, but one day Mr. Nugent did sell some to a Paiute Indian. The Indian rode away across the river very happy, but soon one of Mr. Nugent ‘s men met him. He saw the shot and powder and in English told the Indian to give them up. Of course the Indian could not understand and tried to ride on, then the white man fired and shot him. The dreadful news spread among all the Indians and they were very angry, and said Mr. Nugent must die, because they believed he had let the Piute have the powder and then sent his man to shoot him on his way.

Angry Indians rushed to Natchez and frightened women and children gathered around Sarah, but they both mounted their swift ponies and hurried away to save the agent’s life if possible. The river at the ford was high. Sarah’s pony stumbled in the swift current and threw her off, but her brother helped her to remount, and in her wet clothes, she galloped on to Mr. Nugent’s house. When Sarah saw him she cried to him to get quickly away or the Indians would kill him, but he replied that he was not afraid and called to his men to get their guns, saying he would show the rascals how to fight. Natchez and Sarah begged him to go away till they could quiet the angry Indians, but he would not and told them to leave him. There was nothing else to do, but at the ford they met the angry Indians and stopped them. Natchez called a council in his tepee, and here he and Sarah succeeded in quieting the excitement for a time. Soon afterward word came that two white men herding horses near a place called Deep Wells had been shot by the brothers of the Piute Indian who bought the powder. Then Mr. Nugent went to Fort MeDermit to get soldiers to punish the Indians.

Now when the agent asked for soldiers the captain, who was a wise man, decided to know the truth first, so he sent two friendly Indians with a letter to Sarah. This is the letter:

MISS SARAH WINNEMUCCA : Your agent tells us very bad things about your people killing two of our men. I want you and your brother Natchez to meet me at our place to-night. I want to talk to you and your brother.
(signed) CAPTAIN JEROME,
Company M, 8th U. S. Cavalry.

The Indians were terrified when Sarah told them what was in the letter and said: “Write, write; you may be able to save us from a dreadful war.” Sarah had nothing to write with, but she said: “I will try,” and with a sharp-pointed stick and some fish blood scratched off this letter:

HON. SIR: My brother is not here. I am looking
for him every minute. We will go as soon as he comes in. If he comes to-night we will come sometime during the night.
Yours,
S.W.

The messengers were hardly gone when Natchez and his men returned. They took fresh horses and he and Sarah started for the fort. She says: “We went like the wind, never stopping till we got there.” When they arrived, the wicked agent was with Captain Jerome, but Sarah told the whole story, and the Captain treated them well and promised to do what was right. Then the brother and sister, tired as they were, rode back to their tepee on Muddy Lake. The next day a good officer and some soldiers came and camped near them. The soldiers gave the Indians food and guarded them while Sarah and Natchez held meetings with their people and showed them how kind the soldiers had been. After this, because of the bad ways of Nugent, the commander at Fort McDermit had Natchez and many Indians come to the army post and pitch their tepees. Sarah lived with her brother and his wife, and was the interpreter and peacemaker; and she persuaded the chief, her father, to get together as many as possible of the wandering Piutes and bring them to the fort.

Sarah was sweet and handsome and very quick and able. When she grew older she married one of the young army officers, but later he went East and she returned to her own people and lived on the Malheur Indian Reservation. Here she was always called “the Princess” because of her influence over her people.

It was in 1878 that the Bannock Indians started on the warpath in Idaho and, joining the Malheur Piutes, fought the white people wherever they went. This was called the Piute and Bannock War. The Princess, Sarah Winnemucca, was riding near Fort Lyons, Idaho, when she heard of the trouble. She was on her way to a railway station at Elko, Nevada, hoping to go to Washington to try and have some wrongs put right on the Malheur agency. When she heard the news she at once turned back and went to the sheep ranch near Boise City, and when I heard she was there I telegraphed to Captain Bernhard who was nearby with some soldiers, to ask the
“Princess” to go as a messenger of peace to the angry Indians. She said she would go, and, taking with her some true Indian friends, she rode, in a day and a half, over one hundred miles. She was approaching the Indian camp in the dark and wondering how to get in unnoticed when she heard a sound. She called and an answering sign showed her it was an Indian. To her surprise and delight it proved to be her own brother, Lee Winnemucca. They had a long talk, and Sarah changed her
usual neat dress for an old skirt and Indian blanket, painting her face and pulling a shawl over her head like the squaws. Then she went straight into the Indian camp and to her father’s lodge among the fighting warriors who never thought for a moment of what she was there for. When she saw her father she had a long talk with him in the Piute language, and begged him not to have war with his
white brothers. Of course the Bannock indians could not understand what she said, so they suspected nothing. As soon as it was dark Sarah went out quietly into the woods and waited. One by one Chief Winnemucca and his family with many of his followers stole out of the camp and joined her. Then she guided them to the sheep ranch, and there I met them three days after I had sent my telegram. With her sister-in-law Mattie for a companion, this Indian Princess, Sarah Winnemucca, became my guide, messenger, and interpreter till the close of that fearful Piute and Bannock War.

She did our government great service, and if I could tell you but a tenth part of all she willingly did to help the white settlers and her own people to live peaceably together I am sure you would think, as I do, that the name of Toe-me-to-ne should have a place beside the name of Pocahontas in the history of our country.



MLA Source Citation:

Howard, Oliver Otis Famous Indian Chiefs I have Known. University of Nebraska Press. 1908. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 28 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/toc-me-to-ne-an-indian-princess.htm - Last updated on Jul 13th, 2012


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