Wuzzie Dick George
At a glance:
Wuzzie George, a Northern Paiute woman, learned Paiute tribal customs from her grandmother. She then spent an important part of her life teaching and demonstrating her skills and knowledge, thus preserving those tribal traditions. She also preserved Paiute customs through her work with Nevada anthropologist Margaret Wheat. Wuzzie was born sometime between 1880 and 1883 to Sam and Suzie Dick. She was born somewhere in the Nevada mountains during a pine-nut gathering expedition in the fall. Her Paiute name was Wizi?i, meaning "Small Animal," which is pronounced similar to Wuzzie, the white man's version of her name. Her ancestors were of the group of Paiutes called "Cattail-Eaters."
During her childhood, she lived near "Indian Village," about 60 miles east of Reno near the Carson Desert. The Nevada towns of Fallon and Stillwater are now located where Wuzzie spent most of her life. Wuzzie's grandparents, who were known as Stovepipe and Mattie, played a major role in shaping her life.
During the 1880s and 1890s, the Northern Paiute Indians were adopting some of the white ways and working for white people. Wuzzie's father, Sam Dick, worked for a rancher named Charles Kaiser herding sheep, building fence and working as a general ranch hand. This is where he learned to speak English. Wuzzie's mother, Suzie, washed dishes at John Sanford's hotel in Stillwater. While her mother worked, Wuzzie spent her days with grandmother Mattie, who taught Wuzzie the traditional skills of the "Cattail-Eaters."
Wuzzie and Grandmother Mattie began each day by gathering greasewood for the hotel's kitchen stove. In exchange, they were given breakfast. Afterwards, they spent their days walking to the sloughs and rivers to fish. They gathered berries and tules, dug roots, and collected pine pollen and honeydew from the cane. Wuzzie learned to make the baskets that were used to carry water, berries, nuts and seeds, and her grandmother taught her how to gather duck eggs and hunt ducks.
While they worked, Grandmother Mattie told Wuzzie stories about her life and her tribe's first contact with whites, such as this one:
"Before the  war at Pyramid Lake, the Indians lived in tule houses for miles along the Carson Slough. Indians lived everyplace. Smoke all over when Indians built their fires in morning. That's what my grandmother said. When soldiers threw poison in river lots of them died. Killed lots of them. After that, not so many. My people in the mountains that time. That's what my grandma and grandpa always say. Stay over there on the mountains all winter, make house over there on mountain. That's why they never catch it, the poison. We call that place, where Indians died, 'people's bones'... "
When Wuzzie was ten years old, her parents separated. Wuzzie moved away from her grandmother and went with her mother, Suzie, to the Ernst ranch. There she worked for white people for the first time. Her job was to iron towels, and being a small child, she had to stand on a box to reach the ironing board. She also watched a herd of sheep. Her wages were ten cents a day, which she spent on candy at Jim Richard's store. Mrs. Ernst talked to Wuzzie while she worked, so Wuzzie began to learn English.
When her mother died, Wuzzie's father took her to live with his mother in Virginia City. She was not there long before she was moved to Carson City to enroll in the new Indian School. Her father removed her from school after just six months, fearing an epidemic of measles would harm her. "That is why I never got my schooling," Wuzzie told Margaret Wheat. Her father took her home to Fallon and she returned to her grandmother's instruction.
Later, she went to work at a restaurant owned by a Chinese man. It was there she met Jimmy George and they married a year later. After the restaurant burned, Wuzzie went to work in the home of Marge Harmon, a job she continued off and on until 1928.
Wuzzie and Jimmy had eight children together, and five survived to adulthood. Jimmy worked as a ranch hand, but he had another important calling as a medicine man or shaman. For about forty years, Jimmy worked as a doctor and treated more than 1,000 people. Wuzzie traveled with him and served as his interpreter until he lost his powers in the mid-1950s.
About that same time, Wuzzie and Jimmy began working with anthropologist Margaret Wheat to document their Paiute culture. Wheat's book, Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes, features Wuzzie harvesting pine nuts, making cradleboards for babies out of willows and working with her husband to make a house of willows. The book also shows traditional Paiute fishing with hand-made harpoons and making items like a boat and duck decoy out of cattails and tules, cordage for nets out of hemp, blankets from rabbit skins and clothing from soft plant fibers.
After her husband died in 1969, Wuzzie continued to work with Margaret Wheat and to teach her cultural traditions through demonstrations at local schools. She traveled to the Idaho State Museum to build a house out of cattails. Her work was featured on film and many of the items she made are still in the Nevada State Museum in Carson City and the Churchill County Museum in Fallon. In addition, Wuzzie's children and grandchildren learned many of her skills.
Wuzzie was reportedly 104 years old when she died on December 20, 1984. In her lifetime, she lived with a grandmother who told her stories of the Northern Paiute's first encounters with white settlers. As she learned Paiute cultural traditions at her grandmother's knee, Wuzzie also watched the "white people bring electricity, cars, airplanes, telephones, world wars and space travel into her world." Through it all, Wuzzie guarded and saved the traditions of "the old ones" and passed them on to future generations.
Biographical sketch by Victoria Ford. Revised by Lois Kane, May 2010
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