The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: About 1829
Died: December, 1925
Maiden Name: Dabuda
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Native American (Washoe Tribe)
Married: Assu, Charlie Keyser
Children: Two; died in childhood
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Carson City (Ormsby County)
Major Fields of Work: Basket Weaver
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother, Household servant
Dat-So-La-Lee was a Washo (or Washoe) Indian woman who was born near the place that became the mining town of Sheridan in Carson Valley . She was also known by her given name Dabuda. Her birth date is believed to have been 1829. Her father’s name was DA DA uongala and her mother’s name is unknown. Dat-So-La-Lee lived in and around Carson City , Carson Valley , and Lake Tahoe
Sometime around 1899 Dabuda became known as Dat-So-La-Lee. This nickname suited her nicely. It was musical like her weaving.
Records provided by Dr. S.L. Lee indicate she was first married into the family of “Lame Tom”, who was called Assu and possibly died of consumption. No children from Dabuda’s marriages apparently survived to adulthood.
In her earlier years, Dabuda washed clothes and cooked for the miners and their wives. In 1871, she went to the mining town of Monitor in Alpine County, California, and worked for the Harris Cohn family. She worked as a servant.
In 1888 Dat-So-La-Lee married Charlie Keyser, who was part Washo and took his name from the family which owned the Keyser and Elrod Ranch in Nevada ‘s Carson Valley . At this time she took the name Louisa Keyser. Charlie was twenty-four years younger and an expert arrow craftsman.
Louisa came to Abe Cohn’s attention in 1895 when he bought four willow-covered bottles she had made. He later became her sponsor, business manager, and press agent. In 1899 her baskets were being carefully recorded, in a ledger separate from the family’s business ledger, by Amy and Abe Cohn who recognized how skillfully they were made.
Dat-So-La-Lee and Charlie led a comfortable life with Abe and Amy Cohn. From 1895 until Charlie’s death in 1928, all of their expenses were taken care of by the Cohns. They traveled to Lake Tahoe every summer where Cohn had provided another home for them near Tahoe Tavern and Louisa (Dat-So-La-Lee) traveled extensively with the Cohns to arts and crafts exhibits. In return for their providing room and board, the Cohns received Dat-So-La-Lee’s baskets. For pleasure she liked the games the Indians played with wood or bone dice hidden in the hands or under baskets and the new games of chance the white men brought to Nevada . Sometimes she played late into the night.
Dat-So-La-Lee is probably best known for her degikup or “day-gee-coop” baskets. This type begins with a small, circular base, extends up and out to a maximum circumference, then becomes smaller until the opening at the top is roughly the same diameter as the base. She wove baskets for Cohn’s Emporium for approximately thirty years until her death in 1925. It is now generally accepted that some of Louisa’s designs were inspired by other weavers, probably Pomo and Miwok Indians. Most of her designs were her own. She used symbols like words to tell a story.
Dat-So-La-Lee lived during a time that saw an enormous amount of change for her people. She used her hand print, which was copyrighted, to certify bills of sale. The receipts included the hand print, a description of the basket, stitches to the inch, design, and time involved in its construction – a lovely gesture devised by Abe and Amy Cohn.
Dat-So-La-Lee was a member of the southern Washo group associated with Carson Valley and Alpine County. Her native people of the Great Basin , the traditional Washoe homeland, have been making baskets for several thousand years. The “Hokan” speaking Washo people apparently entered the Great Basin of the American West via a California route perhaps as many as 4,000 years ago. Though the Washo inhabited areas of eastern California , the tribe is more commonly associated with western Nevada . According to Jane Green Hickson,
“Before the white men came, the Washoe camped by the shores of Lake Tahoe and Washoe Lake, on the banks of the Truckee, Carson, and Walker Rivers, and near springs in the Pine Nut Hills.
For food, they hunted rabbits, antelope, and mud hen, fished the lakes and streams, brought back fly larvae from Mono Lake , hiked to the western slope of the Sierras for acorns, collected seeds from the grasses, and gathered pine nuts.
The men did the hunting and fishing and made arrows, tools, and blankets; while the women gathered and prepared the plant and insect foods, tended the children, and made baskets.”
Esther Summerfield, writing for the Nevada State Historical Society, says, in part:
“Myriads of stars shine over the graves of our ancestors. Dat-So-La-Lee had seen some 96 winters, mostly in the Carson Valley , when death came. Last of the famed Washo basket-weavers, her unexpressed dreams and her love of beauty were woven into her masterpieces. Her baskets were unsurpassed for their artistic conception and symbolical significance. She gathered all known materials, with the aid of her husband. This work was tedious and required careful attention. Her materials were cured, seasoned and tied up ahead for the next year’s work. She was among the last of those Washo weavers whose ancient art had been practiced by countless generations.
Her memories and her visions are beautifully woven into her baskets and will live on to remind us of the history and unique tribal artistry of her people, the Washo Indians.”
Dat-So-La-Lee died in December 1925 and was buried at the Stewart Indian cemetery in Carson City.
Researched and written by Marcia Cuccaro. Posted to web site January 2016.
- 1829 – Dabuda born to Washo people about this time.
- 1840s – Dabuda married Assu.
- 1844 – Dabuda (16) and nephew see white faces.
- 1848 – 1852 Dabuda and Assu welcome two children during these years.
- 1858 – 1860 Dabuda’s and Assu’s children died about this time.
- 1850 – 1900 Traditional 10,000 year old Washo way of life destroyed –
Dabuda (31 to 71) jerked from Prehistoric Age to Frontier America.
- 1871 – Dabuda (42) worked as servant for Harris Cohn.
- 1870s – Assu died of consumption or exposure during this time.
- 1877 – Dabuda (48) worked at Elrod – Keyser Ranch.
- 1888 – Dabuda (59) married Charley Keyser, took Louisa as English name.
- 1895 – Louisa promised all of her baskets to Abe Cohn for a house, food and clothes.
- 1899 – Louisa given nickname “Dat-So-La-Lee”.
- 1899 – 1914 Considered Dat-So-La-Lee’s (70-85) classical phase of weaving.
- 1919 – Dat-So-La-Lee (90) traveled to St. Louis , Missouri by train with Abe Cohn, his wife, and an Indian girl to the Arts and Crafts Exhibition.
- 1925 – Dat-So-La-Lee died (96); buried at Stewart Indian Cemetery near Carson City, Nevada.
Sources of Information:
- Burton , Henrietta K., “A Study of the Methods Used To Conserve the Art of the Washoe Indian Basketry.” Unpublished manuscript. May, 1932.
- Chase, Don M.; Purdy, Carl; McNaughton, Clara. Basket-Maker Artists . Sebastopol , California , 1977.
- Cohn, Abraham. Papers. Nevada Historical Society, Reno.
- Cohodas, Marvin. “The Breitholle Collection of Washoe Basketry.” American Indian Art Magazine. 9. Autumn, 1984.
- Codohas, Martin. “Dat-So-La-Lee and the Degikup.” Halcyon , A Journal of the Humanities. 1982.
- Codohas, Marvin. “Washoe Basketry.” American Indian Basketry Magazine. July 2, 1983.
- Codohas, Marvin. Washoe Fancy Basketry 1895-1935. The Fine Arts Gallery of the University of British Columbia . 1979.
- Hickson, Jane Green. Dat-So-La-Lee, Queen of the Washoe Basketmakers. Popular Series #3. Nevada State Museum, December 1967.
- Kern, Norval C., Jr. “A Presentation of Sculpture: A Synthesis of a Design Alphabet Derived From The Art Forms Of A Primitive People,” Ed. D. Diss. New York University , 1969.
- Mack, Effie Mona. “Dat-So-La-Lee, World-Renowned Washoe Basket Weaver.” Parts 1, 2. Nevada Magazine. February-March 1946.
- McNaughton, Clara . “ Native Indian Basketry .” The New West. October, 1912.
- Obituary. Carson City Daily Appeal. January 29, 1934.
- “Scrapbook.” Number 194-G-22. Nevada State Museum . Carson City, Nevada.
- Westergard, Dixie . Dat-So-La-Lee: Washo Indian Basketmaker. Reno, Nevada 1999.