Women of the Owyhee

Author: Karly Foster  |  Published: March 6, 2024  |  Category: Profile

Dive into a journey of empowerment and inspiration as we celebrate Women’s History Month with profiles on the remarkable contributions of four “Women of the Owyhee.”

Through these profiles, you’ll discover the journeys of advocates past and present, and you’ll appreciate the extraordinary efforts of women who championed the Owyhee Canyonlands. Their stories not only elevate the voice of the land but also resonate with those who continue to advocate for its preservation today.

Read on below to learn about the four women and their contributions to Oregon’s Owyhee.




Found only in North America, where it is the most common wildcat, the bobcat takes its common name from its stubby, or “bobbed,” tail. The cats range in length from two to four feet and weigh 14 to 29 pounds. Bobcats mainly hunt rabbits and hares, but they will also eat rodents, birds, bats, and even adult deer.

Latin name: Lynx rufus fasciatus





Badgers are generally nocturnal, but, in remote areas with no human encroachment, they are routinely observed foraging during the day. They prefer open areas with grasslands, which can include parklands, farms, and treeless areas with crumbly soil and a supply of rodent prey.

Badgers are born blind, furred, and helpless. Their eyes open at four to six weeks.

Latin name: Taxidea taxus


Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

“Protecting public land is part of my spiritual being. It’s central to my identity to be in wilderness and to see it protected.” Durlin is proud to protect public lands for future generations, saying, “The highlight of my childhood was our family’s weekend outdoor trips. I look forward to my grandchildren having similar experiences outside in their lifetimes, and it wouldn’t be possible without ONDA.”

Sarah Winnemucca

Sarah Winnemucca, born in 1844 into the Kuyuidika—a band of the Northern Paiute tribe—emerged as a pivotal figure in the struggle for Native American rights and cultural preservation in the American West. Hailing from the region that is now southeastern Oregon and northern Nevada, Winnemucca was not only a prominent activist but also an author, educator and interpreter. Growing up, she experienced firsthand the devastating effects of European-American settlement on her people, including displacement from ancestral lands throughout the Owyhee Canyonlands and northern Great Basin.

At a young age, Winnemucca learned multiple languages, including English, Spanish and several Native American dialects. This multilingualism would later prove invaluable in her efforts to bridge cultural divides. Winnemucca’s journey toward activism began with her education at a convent school  in California, where she gained insights into Western culture. This experience prepared her to be able to span the divide between her own native culture and the dominant society, allowing her to advocate for her people’s rights with greater efficacy.

Winnemucca accompanied her people to the Malheur Reservation in Oregon in 1872, where Indian Agent Samuel Parrish administered fair treatment. Unfortunately, his replacement by a more hostile agent prompted Winnemucca to look to Washington, D.C., to advocate for her people amidst mounting concerns on the reservation. However, her plans were sidelined as she assisted U.S. troops as an interpreter during the Bannock War of 1878, when she negotiated the release of native captives and ultimately saved her father’s life.

In the years following, she committed her life to tirelessly lobbying government officials, delivering more than 400 speeches to further the cause of her people, and wrote extensively to raise awareness about the injustices faced by Native Americans. In 1883, she became the first indigenous woman to publish a memoir in the United States with her book, “Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims.” Her autobiography provided a poignant firsthand account of Northern Paiute peoples’ struggles and resilience, amplifying their voices on a national stage.

One of Winnemucca’s most notable achievements was her efforts to improve conditions for her tribe and other Native communities. She established several schools for Native American children, including on the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, on the Oregon-Nevada border, aiming to preserve native culture while also providing students with a Western-style education.

Winnemucca’s legacy as a fierce advocate for Native American rights and cultural preservation continues to inspire generations, cementing her as a significant figure in both Native American and American history. Her contributions to the preservation of her culture and land empower us to pursue permanent protection of the Owyhee Canyonlands that would also preserve cultural and historic resources and values of importance to tribes today.

Winnemucca’s story should inspire people to learn more about the history and present-day culture of the Northern Paiute, Shoshone and Bannock people who trace their history to the Owyhee Canyonlands and throughout the northern Great Basin. To appreciate whose ancestral lands you might visit in the high desert, check out this helpful Native Land digital map to geolocate indigenous territories, treaties and languages.

To continue learning about Sarah Winnemucca’s life and legacy, enjoy this three-part educational digital storybook series based on her autobiography.

Julie Weikel

Julie Weikel’s commitment to safeguarding the high desert is unparalleled. With her involvement in innumerable campaigns and initiatives aiming to protect defend and restore Oregon’s high desert, one might mistake her for an Oregon Natural Desert Association employee! However, her tireless volunteerism and advocacy extend to even before ONDA’s inception.

Weikel’s roots are in the ‘ION’ country, where Idaho, Oregon and Nevada converge, and where the Owyhee watershed sprawls across the northern Great Basin. She spent her formative years on the outskirts of the Owyhee Canyonlands, developing an intimate connection with the landscape that inspires her deep reverence and tireless advocacy today.

Julie walks her horse near Three Forks. Photo: Dan Holz

For more than 40 years, Weikel practiced large animal veterinary medicine in eastern Oregon, cultivating a profound understanding of the Owyhee’s inhabitants, history, terrain, waterways and wildlife. Throughout her career and beyond, Weikel has stood for the incredible importance of conserving the natural wonders of the region.

Having spent a lifetime in the high desert, she has educated generations about the many habitats and myriad native and endemic species found in the Owyhee. Weikel has also traveled extensively to speak on the importance of conserving the Owyhee, including several trips to Washington, D.C., urging decision-makers to protect this national treasure. This land is so important to her, she even has children and grandchildren bearing the names of various features of the Owyhee!

One of her most recent and notable contributions to the Owyhee Canyonlands arose from her years of service on the Southeastern Oregon Resource Advisory Council. Alongside ONDA, the council was instrumental in shaping a new federal management plan for the Owyhee  that specially protects more than 400,000 acres of public lands across the landscape.

The natural values of the Owyhee have long been safeguarded by their remoteness. However, Weikel has also recently witnessed industrial development and incompatible land use encroaching on the Owyhee, forever altering the landscape, imperiling the river, fragmenting wildlife migration pathways and diminishing habitats.

“I used to think this country was doing a darn good job of protecting itself, and it didn’t need any help from me. But I don’t think that anymore. Permanent protection is about understanding how rare this is and understanding that we need to take care of it, and it won’t just happen on its own,” Weikel shared in a recent short film highlighting the Owyhee as the greatest conservation opportunity in the American West.

Weikel’s call to action serves as a resounding alarm for us all, as industrial development, proposed mines, unmanaged recreation and climate change claw at the edges of this irreplaceable landscape. In answer to her call, take action by signing the petition requesting for permanent protection of more than one million acres of Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands—before it’s too late.

Learning from Women of the Owyhee such as Julie Weikel—and sharing in her leadership and passion for the landscape—is truly an honor for us here at ONDA. Just as we can only do this work thanks to visionaries like her, we also depend on you, the ONDA community, who fuel this vital work. Thank you for your enduring commitment to conserving the lands, waters and wildlife of Oregon’s Owyhee and the high desert.

To learn more about Weikel’s adventures in the Owyhee, read her guest blog on our website, “Owyhee Beckoning,” as she rides along taking in the landscape as viewed from between her horse’s ears.

Judy Trejo

In the chronicles of Native American heritage, the name “Judy Trejo” echoes with the resonance of tradition and the cadence of ancestral songs. Hailing from the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada and renowned for her culturally rich musical mastery, Trejo’s lineage also extends across other northern Nevada Paiute Shoshone bands of the Owyhee Canyonlands. Since childhood, Trejo carried forth the ancient melodies of her ancestors; she was a profound song-weaver, vocalist and storyteller, as well as an author, educator, herbalist, social worker and preserver of cultural and historical traditions for the Northern Paiute and Shoshone people.

Judy Trejo nurtured the very essence of her people. For more than two decades, she dedicated herself to educating first and second-grade students at the Walker River Reservation in Schurz, Nevada. Trejo shared the sacred tongue, traditions, ceremony and culture of the Shoshone-Paiute across the West, including at the collegiate level. Some of her academic contributions include anthologies of traditional stories such as “Coyote Tails: A Paiute Commentary.” Many literary sources cite her for not only her traditional academic contributions, but also for correcting the misrepresentation of her people and dispelling myths and harmful stereotypes. Another gift she imparted to the Owyhee was communicating her Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge as the author of a comprehensive guide on medicinal and edible plants of the region titled, “Medicinal and Edible Plants of the Paiute Indians.”

However, it’s in music where Trejo’s legacy sings loudest. Her albums, “Circle Dance Songs of the Paiute and Shoshone” (1997) and “Stick Game Songs of the Paiute” (1999) serve as timeless echoes of her cultural legacy. Among her musical accolades is the prestigious INDIE Award from the Association of Independent Music Producers, bestowed upon her in 1988 for her poignant recording, “Tubvan dau ya” (Pinenut Blessing Song), in the Native American category. Her second album, “Stick Game Songs of the Paiute,” was named best historical recording at the 2000 Native American Music Awards.

Trejo wasn’t merely a musician; she was a guardian of tradition. Recognizing the fragility of Paiute Circle Dance songs, also known as Ghost Dance songs, she embarked on a mission to preserve them in their purest form. Consulting elders from Owyhee, Elko, McDermitt, Walker River, Battle Mountain, Nixon and Fort Hall, she ensured that the essence of these sacred tunes, stories and traditions were saved for generations to come.

Trejo’s songs are enchanting. Her transcendental vocals accompanied by the heartbeat of the hand drum encapsulate the unique landscapes of the Northern Great Basin. Rattle quivers incite chills, while Trejo’s a capella reverberations—oftentimes with the accompaniment of her daughters—can reduce the listener to tears. Her music sounds like a meadowlark calling across a soft sagebrush breeze, its tune carried between a clay-baked slot canyon. Listen to Trejo’s discography and allow yourself to be transfixed into another desert dimension. From classic hits like “Wovoka” and “Whey Di Ah Hehniya (Bear Dance)” to playful Native anthems such as “Rabbit Guts,” “Licka Ma Leg” and “What Are You Crying About,” there’s a melody to resonate with any audience.

We continue to be humbled by the powerful women voices like Trejo’s whose cultural preservation carries through generations. Learning from Paiute and Shoshone leaders like Trejo reminds us of the inextricable link between humans and our environment. We are not inseparable from our earthly existence and the teachings we learn from the land; whether they be captured in song, story or even a feeling one experiences, they are worth protecting.

Our campaign to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands will preserve not only the waters, wildlife and lands of the Owyhee, but also the voices, traditions and future lifeways of those who have called the Owyhee home since time immemorial.

Sign the petition today and join the chorus of voices calling for permanent protection of more than 1 million acres in for the Owyhee Canyonlands. Your action will help secure the greatest conservation achievement in the American West.

Bonnie Olin

Bonnie Olin’s advocacy and love for the Owyhee Canyonlands is contagious. If you ever have the chance to meet her or attend one of her presentations, she will take you on a journey through the Owyhee, transfixing you with her appreciation and adoration for the wonders of this special place.

Olin first ventured to the Owyhee in the early 1990s with her partner, Mike Quigley, on an intrepid, week-long inflatable kayak trip down the South Fork of the Owyhee River. Ever since this bold first encounter with the landscape, she has returned for countless hiking, backpacking, kayaking and rafting trips. She has now explored, written and advocated for conserving the Owyhee Canyonlands for decades—and with each endeavor, her passion for this expansive landscape has only grown. She has become a leading voice for protecting the Owyhee’s incomparable beauty.

Olin’s tales of her expeditions are captured in her book, “The Owyhee River Journals,” which might be the best modern, intimate account of adventure and reverence for the Owyhee Canyonlands published today. This truly wild and exciting compilation of stories immerses the reader into the rivers, streams, canyons, gullies, spires and uplands of the Owyhee as Olin recounts her trips with Mike, who also captures their reflections with his photography of the landscape throughout. From close encounters with rattlesnakes, to uncovering hideouts of notorious Wild West bandits, to poetic memories of the Owyhee’s grandeur Olin makes the elusive Owyhee accessible through her cherished narratives.

Her book highlights even more than her escapades through what she calls “the Big Quiet,” a name that captures the uncommon solitude offered by the region. Her retellings are a time capsule of a place so rare, so fleeting in today’s world, those unfamiliar with the area will be truly mesmerized and shocked that such a vast, thriving world exists in this hidden corner of southeastern Oregon. Olin’s profound love for the land shines through in her evocative prose, weaving together the rich tapestry of the Owyhee’s history, ecology and spirit.

In the description of her Journals, Olin writes, “One would wonder why we would choose to call this recreation when reading about the difficulties of a major portage, the hours of physical effort exerted to just get ten miles downstream, and all the physical discomforts of being exposed to the elements 24 hours a day. But the beauty and grandeur of these canyons are beyond my ability to describe them and the physical effort and endurance required to see them is the price of admission. They are one of America’s last best places.”

We encourage you to enjoy chapters of her journals as an audiobook voiced by Olin herself, available for free on her website. It will inspire you to not only want to find the elusive Owyhee for yourself but also join the author in becoming an advocate for saving this place. In addition to the fantastic resources in her book, Olin’s website, Owyhee Media, offers a plethora of resources on the Owyhee. Here you’ll find notes on the natural, cultural and historic values preserved in the Owyhee Canyonlands, as well as resources to support your own adventure in the region.

Olin at Iron Point. Photo: Mike Quiqley

Olin’s decades of curiosity and commitment to the Owyhee is commendable. She has toured all over Oregon and the West to share stories of the Owyhee’s lands, waters and wildlife with others. She has been a leading voice for every effort to protect the Owyhee over the last 30 years, including our current campaign to designate an Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument.

You can join Bonnie Olin to advocate for Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands by signing the petition to permanently protect this landscape. We are grateful for her leadership and for sharing the Owyhee with the world so others will be moved to protect these public lands for all to enjoy, now and forever.


Celebrate the enduring legacy of these women by advocating for Oregon’s Owyhee today. Your action fuels ONDA’s Owyhee Canyonlands campaign, an effort to protect more than one million acres of rugged canyons, rolling sagebrush grasslands and rushing rivers in southeastern Oregon now facing imminent development threats.

Support ONDA’s campaign at www.ProtecttheOwyhee.org.