LIVING ON THE LAND
DAT-SO-LA-LEE: WASHOE WEAVER
AUTHOR: Amy Stover
HISTORICAL TOPIC/ERA: Washoe Indians; Dat-so-la-lee/late 1800s-early 1900s.
GRADE LEVEL(S): 4-5
TIME REQUIRED: Two 60-minute sessions (individual weavings may take longer)
BACKGROUND: Dat-so-la-lee is widely recognized as one of the greatest basket weavers and
designers among the Washoe people. Born in 1835, Dat-so-la-lee’s given name was Dabuda. She
married a Washoe man named Assu, and had two children, neither of whom lived to adulthood.
She later married Charley Keyser in 1888, and took the name Louisa Keyser. However, in the
late 1860s, she formed a friendship with a Dr. S. L. Lee of Carson City, where she earned the
nickname Dat-so-la-lee and this name stayed with her the remainder of her life.1
Dat-so-la-lee learned the art and skills of traditional basket making during a time when
the Washoe women were forced to weave in secret. In 1851, the Washoe tribe was attacked by
the Northern Paiute tribe, who themselves were displaced from their homeland when the white
settlers forced them into the Carson Valley during the California Gold Rush. The Paiute defeated
the Washoe and imposed two penalties upon them; 1) the Washoe could not own any horses, and
2) could not weave baskets. The idea was that the Paiute wanted to eliminate all competition in
order to sell their own baskets for profit.2
This proved to be a great blow to the Washoe people, who were living in near poverty by
1895. To help her people, Dat-so-la-lee took some glass bottles that she covered with weavings
into a clothing store in Carson City, owned by Abraham and Amy Cohn. The Cohn’s were
surprised that the Washoe women had continued to weave despite the ban, and quickly
recognized the quality of Dat-so-la-lee’s work. They purchased all of her baskets and asked her
to make more. Over the next 25-30 years, Dat-so-la-lee worked as a maid for the Cohn’s and
created baskets in her spare time. Mrs. Cohn took very detailed notes about each of Dat-so-la-
lee’s baskets, including in her ledger the starting and finishing dates of her baskets and issued
certificates of authenticity with each sale. She took photographs and wrote pamphlets to promote
Dat-so-la-lee’s work. The Cohn’s provided food and lodging for Dat-so-la-lee and her second
husband, Charlie Keyser, and even took them to their store in Tahoe City, where Dat-so-la-lee
sold to tourists. She also traveled with them extensively to arts-and-crafts exhibits.3
Dat-so-la-lee’s baskets contained unique and detailed designs. Her baskets were woven
with tiny stitches that were pulled tightly into a coil, some that used up to 36 stitches per inch.
Her geometrical designs were small and repetitive, and included lines or triangles. She is well
known for three types of baskets: the singam (a square ended or blunt cone shape), a mokeewit
(cone shaped burden basket), and her best known design, the degikup (day-gee-coop) where the
1 NA, “Dat-so-la-lee”, Native American Rhymes, Retrieved June, 25, 2007 from
2 NA, “Dat-so-la-lee”, 2007
3 NA, “Dat-so-la-lee”, 2007
basket begins with a small, circular base, extends up and out to a maximum circumference, and
then becomes smaller until the opening at the top is roughly the same diameter at the base. Dat-
so-la-lee grew blind in her later years, but continued to experiment with design and color. She
died in 1925 at the age of 90 and buried in the Stewart Indian cemetery in Carson City. It is
believed that she made nearly 300 baskets in her lifetime. Many of these are on display in
various museums across the county, though not all are listed in the Cohn ledger. Just five years
after her death, one of her baskets sold for $10,000 and still others have netted as much as
History standard 5.4.5 and 5.5.5 – Identify Nevada’s Native American cultures,
Geography standard 2.4.5 – Choose an historical figure and locate the place and region on
which they had an impact
Geography standard 4.4.2 – List reasons why people move to or from a particular place
Reading standard 4.4.6 – Read and follow multi-step directions to complete a task.
Reading standard 4.5.6 – Read and follow multi-step directions in order to perform procedures
and complete tasks.
Listening and speaking standard 10.4.1 – Contribute to and listen attentively in conversations
and group discussions
STUDENT LEARNING GOALS:
Students will describe the life of Washoe basket weaver Dat-so-la-lee.
Students will describe, analyze, and interpret images of Dat-so-la-lee’s baskets.
Students will identify and discuss similarities between four images of Dat-so-la-lee’s baskets.
Students will create a piece of three-dimensional artwork, using given materials.
Dat-so-la-lee Power Point presentation (linked)
Photograph of Dat-so-la-lee, obtained from the Nevada Historical Society Eth-00088 Datsolee
Three jpeg photographs of Dat-so-la-lee’s baskets, obtained from the Nevada Historical Society
archives [no catalog numbers available] Basket 1, Basket 2, Basket 3
Jpeg image of postcard of Dat-so-la-lee baskets, personal collection. Photograph for postcard
supplied from the E.S. Curtis Photogravure Collection in the Stewart Indian Museum.
Book Dat-So-La-Lee, Artisan by Gayle Ross (optional)
Chart paper, markers
Yarn or raffia of various colors
16 oz. plastic cups – 2 per student, one cut, the other to be used as a guide. (You will need to
make cuts down the sides of the cup, from the rim to the bottom, but not through the bottom. It
must be an odd number of cuts in order for the weaving to come out right. The cuts should be
4NA, “Dat-so-la-lee”, Native American Rhymes, Retrieved June, 25, 2007 from
about half an inch apart, and parallel. Try to make the cuts straight. If your cut is jagged, cut off
any edges that will make weaving difficult.)
For Further Reference
Contact the Great Basin Basket Weavers to set up an in-class presentation.
SETTING THE STAGE:
Day One - Give students a brief overview of Dat-so-la-lee’s life, using the information presented
in the background sections above. Similarly, you may choose to read from the children’s book
Dat-So-La-Lee, Artisan by Gayle Ross, which outlines the life of this great Washoe Indian.
Discuss significant points throughout her life. Invite your guest speaker from the Great Basin
Basket Weavers to speak to your class about the contributions of Dat-so-la-lee. Share a variety of
baskets with students. Discuss the different basket weaving techniques (see
http://www.nmai.si.edu/exhibitions/baskets - click on techniques, tools, and workplaces for more
Day Two – Review information from the previous lesson and the guest speaker. Use Power Point
presentation. While viewing the photographs of Dat-so-la-lee’s baskets, lead students through the
steps of describe, analyze, and interpret. Form questions such as: “What do you notice?”, “What
is your eye drawn to in these pictures?”, “Who do you suppose took these pictures, when and
what were the reasons?”, “Why was this piece created?” “What do you think is important about
this piece?”, or “Why is this important for us today?” Also help students to look for similarities
between the photos of her baskets. Point out how Dat-so-la-lee made her baskets (tiny stitches
pulled into a coil) and the materials she used. Review the other weaving techniques Native
Americans used, such as the one they will demonstrate in their project.
Day One – Working in groups of four, allow students to investigate the baskets. Have students
brainstorm answers to the following questions: What materials do you think were used to make
this basket? How could you use this basket? How old is the basket? Where do you think the
basket was made? Have each group record their information on chart paper. Once the students
have had enough time, ask each group to select one speaker to report to the entire class. Discuss
responses and questions as they arise.
Day Two - Explain the weaving project to students. 5 Show teacher generated or past student
examples. Show students the materials and discuss how the “artist” created the piece and the
5 Project idea adapted from http://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/lessons/elem/sue-baskets.htm
patterns used. Allow students a chance to brainstorm pattern ideas for their basket upon viewing
the available materials. Demonstrate weaving. Pass out pre-cut plastic cups. Allow students a
chance to gather yarn or raffia colors, based on the pattern they wish to create. Begin weaving
the strip under, over, under, over, tucking the end on the inside of the cup. Spread the paper cup
strips apart and curl them if you want the basket to be wide or rounded. When you end one strip,
tuck the end on the inside of the cup, under a previous roe. Continue weaving to the top. Students
may help each other as needed. Students continue working until baskets are completed.
Complete a paper weave if you feel the plastic cup activity will be too difficult for students. See
Take students to the Nevada Historical Society, 1650 N. Virginia St., Reno, NV 89503, (775)
688-1191, ext. 223 to view the collection of Dat-so-la-lee’s baskets.
Take students to the Douglas County Museum and Cultural Center, 1477 US Highway 395 N,
Gardnerville, NV 89410, (775) 782-2555.
EVALUATION OF STUDENT LEARNING:
Participation in class discussions, student responses to questions and completion of the weaving
will be informally evaluated through essential questioning.