Early in Sarah Winnemucca’s autobiography, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, she refers to a letter her grandfather called his “rag friend.” Her grandfather treats this letter with the reverence of a sacred object or a beloved human friend. This “rag friend” comes to stand for any application of indigenous ways of communal knowing and textuality to the institutional white writing within the text. By focusing on the ways that letters function as relational, embodied text-beings—or fail to function due to the dishonesty of their white authors—within Winnemucca’s autobiography, this essay explores the rapidly adapting ways the Northern Paiute tribe came to cope with the written culture of American settlers. Because of her particular embodiment of Indianness, Winnemucca is able to embody her tribe and their stories (oral or written) in a way inaccessible to white authors. Winnemucca stands for her nation as an actual living-and-speaking text through her writing and lectures— the human embodiment of her grandfather’s “rag friend.” Viewed through the lens of the “rag friend” as a Native reclaiming of white writing, Winnemucca’s career as a writer and lecturer becomes a search for successful active collaborative authorship with the white American print culture of the late nineteenth century.


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pp. 292-313
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