Winema 18361920

Charles M. Bell (18481893)
Albumen silver print, c. 1875

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Winema earned her adult name—which means “strong-hearted woman”—for an act of bravery at age fourteen. In addition to displaying great courage, she also defied expectations throughout her life. Refusing to marry a Modoc man chosen for her, Winema instead wed a Kentucky miner who had come west with the gold rush.

In this relationship, her command of English greatly improved, and when tensions between the Modoc and U.S. authorities escalated during the early 1870s, she stepped forward to serve as an interpreter and later a mediator between the two sides.

Although warfare ultimately broke out, she earned widespread recognition for saving the life of a government official who came west to negotiate a peace settlement. Following the conclusion of the Modoc War, Winema traveled to Washington, D.C., where she met President Ulysses S. Grant and attended a parade held in her honor.