The Queen of My Self

On Thanksgiving, we always tell the story about how the native people helped the pilgrims to survive and ultimately thrive in the new world. This is well and good, but there are so many other inspiring stories that could be told about the many purposeful, powerful Native American women who influenced the formation of this country.

I recently came across Woman Spirit, a fascinating web page by Julia White, of Cherokee and Sioux heritage. She writes:

 “From the beginning of time, Native women have been a driving force in their cultures. When the explorers came to the shores of North America, they provided valuable information and services, which still carries their mark today. Sadly, little has been written about these women, and little is known.”

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, this week I will share in my own words some information that I gleaned about exceptional native Sheros thanks to Julia White’s research.

Kaitchkona Winema

When she was young, Winema was called Nonooktowa, “the strange child,” because she had no fear of man or beast. Strong and athletic, she led an adventurous life, hunting grizzly bears, fighting beside the men in battle, and skillfully handling canoes in white water rapids.

The California gold rush brought more and more miners and settlers onto Modoc land, raising the tension level between the two groups. Winema married a Kentucky miner named Frank Riddle and worked tirelessly as interpreter, negotiator and peacemaker to avoid war.

The government removed the Modoc forcibly from their California home onto a reservation in Oregon. The Modoc who fled the hated reservation were pursued by government forces. Though they resisted fiercely, the Modocs were almost completely exterminated.

Washington sent a peace commission to get the Modoc back on the reservation. But the Modocs had experienced too much treachery by the government and reacted with hatred and mistrust. A plan was hatched to defy the white government by killing the three peace commissioners.

Winema discovered the plot and rode out to warn the commissioners of the danger. The head of the delegation, an army general, refused to take the warning by an Indian woman seriously. He was killed, as was his second in command. The third commissioner, Albert Meacham, was injured and Winema managed to get him out of the camp and save his life.

This attack led to the Modoc War. The conflict continued for nearly a year before the Modoc were finally defeated, their leaders executed.

Despite the vicious attack he survived, Meacham was a dedicated champion of Native rights. Determined to tell the full story of the events which led to the Modoc War, he produced a lecture-play entitled “Winema,” a tribute to Winema’s courage and humanity.

He formed a troupe of players — Winema, her husband, her son and a number of other Modoc — and took his act on the road. The group enjoyed a highly successful 7-year long tour of the East.

The Winema National Forest in South Central Oregon is named for her.

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

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