Russell Means: Renegade, Patriot, Freedom Fighter
by William Norman Grigg
Confined to a barren prison camp in Washington, the displaced Paiute Indians were dying. The Interior Department had promised to send rations, but they never arrived. After being exposed to the elements during the winter of 1880, fifty-eight of them had died – including thirty children – and many more were seriously ill.
James Wilbur, the pious fraud who served as Indian Agent at Fort Simcoe, wouldn’t exert himself to see that his prisoners were cared for, and wouldn’t permit them to migrate to more hospitable surroundings.
Sarah Winnemucca, daughter of the renowned Paiute chief of the same name, had gone to Washington to lobby Interior Secretary Carl Schurz for relief. In May she returned with a written promise that the department would arrange for the Paiutes to relocate to Lovelock, Nevada, where they could at least obtain food. When she arrived in Yakima, however, Sarah was informed that Wilbur had received no instructions from Washington.
Sarah called a public meeting in which she recited, in detail, the broken promises that had been made to her. In short order Sarah was summoned to a second meeting with Wilbur, who intended to slap her down for impudently assuming that a promise to an Indian meant something.
“Your people were content here until you came back and stirred them up,” Wilbur insisted, condescendingly rebuking Sarah of “putting the devil into their heads.”
That accusation came from a well-fed hypocrite who – in the classic “Indian Ring” tradition – was growing wealthy by embezzling money and supplies promised to the pitiful, dying people over whom he presided.