Riddle was one of the first Native American women acknowledged by the United States Congress for her actions in time of war.
In 1891 Congress granted her a pension of at “the rate of twenty-five dollars per month” for her courage in battle during the Modoc War, an eight-month-long war between the Modoc tribe and the United States government in Southern Oregon and Northern California from 1872 – 1873.
Winema “Toby” Riddle was a Modoc women born in 1848. She proved her courage early in her life when as a child she saved a canoe full of children from rough waters in the river. This earned her the name Winema, which translates to Woman Chief. She married a white settler, Frank Riddle when he moved to California for the Gold Rush.
Riddle was one of the few Modoc women of the time to learn English and her husband was one of the very few Americans to learn to speak the Modoc language. When the Modoc War broke out in the 1870s the couple used their bilingual skills as an asset in negotiating peace between Riddle’s tribe and the American government. One key moment Riddle played during the war was when she alerted the peace commission of a Modac attack and saved the life of Peace Chairman and former US Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, Alfred Meacham.
After the war Riddle and her husband traveled the country, bring the plight of the Modoc people and other Native America tribes to the public. They embarked on a lecture tour where they discussed the war and Riddle’s role in saving Meacham’s life and bringing a peaceful end to the conflict.
The pension granted to Riddle in 1891 meant she became one of the few women to receive a pension by a congressional act. She was acknowledged as a key peace negotiator and mediator between the two cultures.
Today, the Winema National Forest in Oregon is named after her.
Want to learn more about women who were first in their field? Check out the Women’s Museum of California’s collection of digital timelines.