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A Carson Valley event honors some of Nevada’s most influential American Indian women.
Photo: Courtesy Douglas County Historical Society (Susie Dick)
On Saturday, March 24, the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center hosts the Women in History Reception, a special program celebrating historical female figures who played vital roles in shaping the cultural heritage of the Silver State. The free event features discussions of five women—Sarah Winnemucca, Dat-so-la-lee, Sue Coleman, Susie Dick, and Clara Frank—all members of some of Nevada’s American Indian Tribes, and Diana Borges’ Chautauqua presentation of Winnemucca.
The Carson Valley Museum, as well as Genoa’s Courthouse Museum, is operated by the Douglas County Historical Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and sharing of the region’s history and cultural heritage.
Sue Coleman’s mastery of Washoe basket weaving follows in the tradition of Dat-so-la-lee. The only living member among the five being honored during the Women in History event, Coleman’s interest in baskets came as the result of a promise to her dying mother to learn the tradition and honor her culture and family.
The award-winning basket weaver shares her craft in frequent demonstrations, which are also rich with details of Washoe traditions and history and anecdotes from Coleman’s experiences while growing up in a traditional tribal family.
Perhaps the most widely recognized of all of Nevada’s American Indians—female or male—Sarah Winnemucca spent much of her life in a somewhat political role, acting as a liaison between her culture and that of Nevada’s white miners, pioneers, politicians, settlers, and soldiers. Born in 1844, the daughter of famed Paiute Chief Winnemucca was named for the shellflowers that were in bloom at the time of her birth, Thecmetomy. Her more famous moniker was bestowed later in her life.
Sarah was very close to her grandfather, Chief Truckee, who saw to it that she received an education that would serve her in the quickly changing world. Sarah learned to read, write, and speak English while attending school in San Jose, California, and living with Genoa’s Ormsby family.
The U.S. Army later hired her as an interpreter and guide, where she played a vital role in preempting disputes in the nation’s western march toward Manifest Destiny. Sarah was the first American Indian woman to author a book in English, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, and taught Paiute and Shoshone children English. Read more about Winnemucca here.
The most prolific and well-known basket weaver in perhaps the entire country, Dat-so-la-lee was born in 1829. Her Washoe name was Dabuda. Her skills in basket making were evident at an early age. She lost her first husband and two children to disease and eventually remarried, taking the name Louisa Keyser.
Around the mid-1890s, she sold a basket in Carson City for a few dollars; that basket ended up being worth several thousand dollars. The great value of the basket encouraged its purchaser, Abe Cohn, to provide Dat-so-la-lee (a nickname that she earned around the same time) with a small house, basket-weaving materials, food, clothes, and a small salary in exchange for her baskets.
Nearly blind in her final years, the master artist is said to have created many of her later baskets primarily through feel and years of practice. The tight stitching and intricate symmetrical designs of Dat-so-la-lee’s baskets made them very valuable. Many survive today in museum and private collections in Nevada and across the country.
Susie Dick was born of both Paiute and Washoe heredity around 1874. An employee of Carson Valley’s esteemed Dangberg family for many years, Dick utilized the willows and other vegetation that grew near the Dangberg Ranch’s stream to build her traditional baskets.
Her basket-weaving prowess and cheerful disposition gained local celebrity in and around Carson Valley, and her longevity—Dick died in 1966, and, since her exact date of birth is unknown, estimates of her age range from 90 to 101 years—even caught the attention of Reno’s ABC affiliate, KOLO 8 News, which interviewed her in November 1960.
Born around 1876, Clara Frank was another of Nevada’s long-lived American Indian women. The Washoe tribal elder was a celebrated traditional singer and oral historian and lived to be 100. Below, Frank gives a prayer for pine nuts in her native language.
Women in History Reception
Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center
1477 U.S. Hwy. 395 S.,
Gardnerville, NV 89410