The first inhabitants of Carson City have been here for at least 9,000 years. They are the Native Americans, known as the Washo. They inhabited the "Mountains that formed the eastern and western boundaries: to the east, the boundaries followed the Pine Nut and Virginia Range; to the west, they lay along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Honey Lake to the north and Sonora Pass to the south roughly marked the limits of Washo land. The center and heart of Washo territory included Lake Tahoe and the upper 20 valleys of the Walker, Carson, and Truckee Rivers." (Wa-She-Shu: A Washo Tribal History)
According to Washo tradition,
"The Maker of All Things was counting out seeds that were to become the different tribes. He counted them out on a big winnowing tray in equal numbers. West Wind, the mischievous wind, watched until the Maker had divided the seeds into equal piles on the basket. Then he blew a gust of wind that scattered the seeds to the east. Most of the seeds that were to have been the Washo people were blown away. That is why the Washo are fewer in numbers than other tribes." (Wa-She-Shu: A Washo Tribal History).
With the people coming out West in the 1800s, the numbers of the Washo dwindled even further, as the white man brought diseases, took land and livelihood from the Indians.
One of Carson City's famous Washo to survive and thrive was Dat-So-La-Lee. As a young woman, she met John C. Fremont in 1844 as his party came into Carson Valley. He gave her three brass buttons as an apology because his horses had scared her. She was about 16 at the time and married to her first husband Assu. (Biography of Dat-So-La-Lee).
They had two children together, the children later died of white man's diseases, and her husband later died of consumption (tuberculosis). She managed to find a job keeping house with the Cohns and helped raise their son Abe.
When she was no longer able to do housework, she relied on her Native American abilities to weave baskets.
The Carson Morning Appeal features an article on April 5, 1900, entitled "Basketry - Abe Cohn is Showing a New Industry." It goes on to say "For several years past Abe Cohn, proprietor of the Emporium in this city, has been collecting and selling Indian baskets, and during that time Mr. Cohn has not only made a splendid collection, but has revived the industry among the Indians in this vicinity.
"The art of basket making has been almost lost, as Mr. Indian has preferred an old tomato can to the dainty woven and water tight basket in his culinary department. The first baskets collected were of ancient make and now have a value on account of their age, many of them having been made years before the white man disturbed the tribes in their art of making home utensils.
"A number of mahalas (Native American women) remembered the art and by being paid good prices for their tedious work, have again worked the art up to the old perfection and the Emporium now has a number of specimens on hand that are wonders in their neat weave and odd designs."
Dat-So-La-Lee was making baskets for Abe Cohn's shop. These baskets were very desirable both in Carson City and for tourist trade. On Sept. 11, 1904, the business had expanded with basket collections exhibited in Tahoe City. "There is never a stranger of means who visits this city, but that part of the time is spent in the Emporium collection department, while many have volunteered the information that Mr. Cohn's collection is one of the best in the world. The average Nevadan sneers at the fad, but when the work is looked over carefully, the art fully defined and the time of construction figured it is surely one of the finest of handcraft and an art that has not been successfully counterfeited by anyone or by machinery."
Her name is never mentioned in these articles, but Abe Cohn took good care of her and even built a house for her next to his, and paid for everything she needed. She and her husband, Charlie Keyser, lived there. The house still exists in Carson City at 331 Proctor St.
In 1919 Abe Cohn took Dat-So-La-Lee and his wife to the Industrial Exposition in St. Louis. She was to perform basketweaving. She enjoyed this fame and Abe Cohn sold many of her baskets there. An advertisement in the Carson City Appeal on Dec. 9, 1919, says:
In sending a Christmas gift to your Eastern friends a
Washoe Indian Basket
Fine Navajo Blanket
Will be appreciated more than any other gift.
Call at Emporium Company's Store
and see what they have to offer.
Carson City, Nev. A. Cohn, Pres."
On Dec. 7, 1925, the Carson City Daily Appeal, mourned her passing as follows: "Dat-So-La-Lee, weaver of the most perfect pieces of handicraft in Indian basketry, died at her home... With her was buried today one of her Indian cherished baskets valued at $1,000. This was in accordance with her wishes. She was over ninety years of age, the exact date of her birth being unknown."
Her legacy lives on in her baskets so meticulously woven. As told by Dat-So-La-Lee's great, great, step grandson Tod Cline, "In reality Dat-So-a-Lee didn't die. She lives on through her baskets, whose symbols carry the legends of the Washo tribal life. She can be envisioned today as one views her masterpieces..." on display at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.
• Information for this article came from the Carson Daily Appeal April 5, 1900, Sept. 11, 1904, Dec. 9, 1919, Dec. 7, 1925; from Dat-So-La-Lee, Washo Indian Basketmaker by Dixie Westergard; Wa She Shu: A Washo Tribal History; Nevada Day Program 1971; My Own Dat-So-La-Lee by Tod Cline.
• Sue Ballew is the daughter of Bill Dolan, who wrote the Past Pages column for the Nevada Appeal from 1947 until his death in 2006. She is president of the Carson City Historical Society and a docent at the Nevada State Museum.