Native Writer Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove is an important native writer to understand
because she experienced and wrote about the conversion and
assimilation period in Native American history. She lived and
wrote when American Indian children were being removed from
Reservations and placed into boarding schools for indoctrination
and assimilation into white society. Her writings document the
loss of identity and unfair treatment experienced especially
by mixed bloods. Mourning Dove’s father was Okanogan and her
mother was from the Colville tribe and a white father.
Mourning Dove was born in the decade when federal policies
turned toward assimilation, because it was assumed at the time
that distinct Indian cultures would die out by the end of the
twentieth century. At her birth she was given the Christian name
Christine. Her Indian birth name may have been Humishuma (Mourning Dove), but no verifying records survive. Her
mother, Lucy Stuikin, was either a full-blooded Colville or of Colville and Arrow Lakes descent. Her father,
Joseph Quintasket, was of Nicola and Okanogan descent on his mother's side, and there is reference to his
father's being an Irishman named Haines or Haynes who worked for the Hudson Bay Company. The family history
becomes more confusing and complex, however, as the same Haines/Haynes is listed as Mourning Dove's father on
allotment records. Mourning Dove grew up in the family of Lucy and Joseph Quintasket near what is today Kettle
Falls, Washington, on the west side of the Columbia River, on the Colville Reservation.
Mourning Dove was the oldest child; her sisters Julia and Mary Margaret were born in 1891 and 1892,
respectively. Mourning Dove was placed in the Goodwin Mission School of the Sacred Heart Convent at Ward,
Washington, in 1895. Punished for speaking Salish and locked in a stairwell closet for misbehaving, she returned
home ill within months. Nonetheless, she went back to the mission and was enrolled there, on and off, for four
years. When federal funding for religious instruction for Native students was cut in 1899, she continued her
education at the newly formed Bureau of Indian Affairs-sponsored Fort Spokane School for Indians in 1899-1900.
The school was composed of converted military barracks at the confluence of the Columbia and Spokane Rivers.
Mourning Dove's baby sister, Marie, fell ill and died on 29 April 1900. Her mother died at age thirty on 8 May
1901, and Mourning Dove's brother, Johnny, who was four or five, died on 8 July 1902. When Joseph Quintasket
married a twenty-five-year-old woman, Cecelia Williams, Mourning Dove, who was then the primary female
caretaker, traveled on horseback to Jennings, Montana, with thirteen-year-old Julia and twelve-year-old Mary
Margaret to visit their maternal grandmother; a brother, Louis, remained with their father. Then the girls were
separated. Julia stayed with her grandmother and eventually married a rancher; Margaret was sent to an aunt in
Curlew, Washington; and Mourning Dove arranged to work as a matron in exchange for room and board and the
privilege of attending classes at the Fort Shaw Indian School outside Great Falls, Montana.
Mourning Dove had traveled as far east as she would ever go, and she had chosen to pursue a white education.
While at Fort Shaw she signed her name as Christine Haines, and she spent four years not only assimilating
herself but also helping other Indian children assimilate. On 31 July 1908, having adopted the nickname "Christal,"
Mourning Dove married Hector McLeod, a mixed-blood who was one-eighth or one-fourth Flathead Indian, in
Kalispell, Montana. While they lived in Ronan, the newlywed couple established a livery-stable business in Polson,
Montana. As Christal McLeod, Mourning Dove was as close to an assimilated white identity as she would ever come.
Her marriage was not easy: Hector was an alcoholic and was also abusive. Mourning Dove was hospitalized after
one of his violent outbreaks, and, whether through damage inflicted by her husband or sterilization by a doctor,
she would never be able to bear children. In 1912 she left her husband and moved to Portland, Oregon.
Probably in late 1912 she traveled to Calgary, Alberta, where she attended two years of business school to learn
typing, shorthand, and composition skills. By 1914 she had a typed draft of Cogewea and twenty-two Okanogan
legends in transcription. At that juncture, Mourning Dove met Lucullus Virgil McWhorter at the Walla Walla
Frontier Days Celebration; she was in a singing and drumming group McWhorter had hired. As McWhorter was
transcribing Yakima legends at the time, Mourning Dove was urged by a mutual acquaintance to draw on
McWhorter's expertise to edit and help publish her collection. She was between twenty-six and thirty-two, and
McWhorter was fifty-four. The letters from their nineteen-year collaboration and twenty-two-year friendship
provide extensive information about the tensions she experienced in finding her voice as an author and about the
process of working with collaborators.
The earliest years of their correspondence, from 1914 to 1920, show that for her family Mourning Dove was an
unattached experienced worker and was needed by everyone. She was constantly pressed with invitations to visit,
which were always requests for help. Her writing was considered a hobby by her family, and none of them believed
that her desire to write was more important than their needs. For McWhorter, on the other hand, there was no
question that Mourning Dove's writing should be of primary importance.
J.P. MacLean, McWhorter's elder mentor, had even higher expectations for Mourning Dove. He urged McWhorter
and Mourning Dove to write their Yakima and Okanogan legends both in English and in the appropriate Indian
dialect, although no lexicons of such dialects existed at the time. Moreover, MacLean wanted to arrange a
speaking tour for Mourning Dove in the East, beginning in Ohio and going on to Philadelphia and Boston.
McWhorter and MacLean wanted Mourning Dove to address the wrongs done to Native Americans; they wanted
her to transform the racial biases of the day through her personal presentations as well as her writing.
Mourning Dove's response was to try to meet the needs of everyone. In 1915 she helped her sister Mary
Margaret in Canada and her father in Napoleon, Washington. She then stayed with McWhorter in the winter of
1915-1916 to create a publishable manuscript of her novel. Immediately afterward she took care of Julia's family
in Jennings, Montana, while her sister recovered from an operation and the children suffered from measles. She
then went to Spokane to care for the family of a cousin who had suffered a hemorrhage.
While visiting her best friend, Jenny Lewis, in Polson, Montana, she learned of an opportunity to publish Cogewea,
and she contracted to take care of a widower's six children to earn her share of the sixty-five dollars in
publication costs. It is not surprising that exhaustion overwhelmed her. By the winter of 1916-1917 Mourning
Dove was deathly ill from inflammatory rheumatism and pneumonia. She nearly died that January.
To recover, Mourning Dove went to live with Mary Margaret and her family on the Inkameep Reserve in British
Columbia. Continuing chest and shoulder pain as well as fainting spells were compounded by a severe toothache in
1917. Then in early 1918 an eye problem prevented Mourning Dove from reading or sewing. In April a quack doctor
suggested that a tonsillectomy would cure her rheumatism, and she had the operation in August. Within months
she was bedridden with the killer flu of 1918-1919. Mourning Dove survived these two years of medical crises and
They stimulated in her a deepening commitment to writing and caused her to consider marriage for a second time.
In February 1918 she bought an Oliver typewriter, and on 14 August 1919 she married Fred Galler, a half-blood
Wenatchee, in Okanogan County, Washington.
An important literary theme in Cogewea reveals itself in Mourning Dove's 1917-1918 letters. As she wrote of life
in Canada, the split consciousness of being a partially assimilated Indian came to the fore. While she believed
that the healing powers of a medicine-woman aunt had helped her recover from inflammatory rheumatism and
pneumonia, when her traditionally educated sister asked her to cleanse the house and grounds by burning whatever
a late stepson had touched and to wash the buggy and milk cow with rose bushes to drive away evil spirits,
Mourning Dove obeyed; but she described her sister's requests as superstitions and considered such beliefs
She was also an outsider in regard to the Indian community's Christian faith: "The people are so loyal and true to
their church in their simple untrained mind" (18 March 1918). Her education and experiences had led her to doubt
religion, yet she envied her Canadian family and their neighbors and believed that she would be happier if she were
Ironically, having chosen to write about Indian issues deepened the dilemma of Indian identity for Mourning Dove.
She was being called upon to look at her culture anthropologically, to disassociate herself from it while at the
same time becoming a representative voice of her tribe and her generation. Once called to that path, she did not
shrink from the tensions or responsibilities such a role demanded.
The letters demonstrate that from 1921 to 1928 the collaboration between Mourning Dove and McWhorter
intensified. While Mourning Dove managed a house with fourteen boarders or joined her husband in harvesting
fruit in their orchard, she also worked on transcribing more Salishan legends and editing the ones she had already
recorded. Late in 1921 she sent McWhorter the thirty-seven legends that he would reorganize into the thirty-
eight tales of the original manuscript, titled "The Okanogan Sweat House." The title page ascribed the work to
"HUM-IS HU-MA: 'MOURNING DOVE.' "
In the last two months of 1921 and throughout the following year McWhorter focused on getting both the novel
and the collection of Okanogan tales ready for publication. This second period of intense collaboration was
carried out by mail, and their correspondence reveals a great deal about McWhorter's concern for accuracy, his
desire to write a work that would receive an ethnographer's approval.
Mourning Dove responded to his commitment by answering his queries quickly and by working to see the tales from
his perspective, which required that she develop some skill as a linguist and lexicographer. McWhorter asked her
to work with others to develop an English spelling for Salish words. He also wanted to know word derivations, and
he assumed that Mourning Dove would have such knowledge or would know whom to ask.
But assimilation was moving swiftly: languages that could have explained the derivation of certain words had died
out, and some assumptions about traditional Indian ways already included European influences. Mourning Dove
would write to McWhorter that Indians had no fingered gloves before their interaction with whites, so she would
have to contrive a word for "hand cover"; or that because an entire tribe had been wiped out, it was no longer
possible to trace the meaning of a particular word.
Cogewea had been accepted for publication in 1916 and 1918, but the cost of materials and labor during World War
I had led the publishers to withdraw their offers. McWhorter submitted the manuscript several times afterward
but always received polite refusals. He apparently believed that if more political and moral substance were added
to the novel, it would have a better chance of success, and in 1922 his frustration over the difficulties in
publishing Cogewea overwhelmed his better judgment. He took upon himself the reworking of Cogewea and did not
share his editing of and additions to the novel with Mourning Dove.
Initially, ethnographic annotations, notes, and the insertion of poetic lead-ins for the chapters were to be his
contributions to the novel. He also helped Mourning Dove make her sentences grammatically correct and helped
her think through the development of the plot. But in 1922 McWhorter added diatribes against Christian
hypocrisy and government corruption. He also chose to elevate the language of the heroine to such a rarefied air
that her words ceased to be believable speech. Cogewea became a mouthpiece for McWhorter's rage against white
hypocrisy and injustices.
McWhorter solicited Upton Sinclair's support in his attempt to get the novel published, but the book agent
Sinclair recommended turned Cogewea down in 1924. In 1925 the Four Seas Company of Boston agreed to publish
the book. Mourning Dove arranged to have a lunch stand set up at a large Indian camp during the harvesting
season to raise the $200 needed to subsidize the publication.
McWhorter created circulars, and early orders were solicited for the book. The galley proofs for the novel,
excluding notes, did not arrive until June 1926, and then the work languished again. In Mourning Dove and
McWhorter's correspondence the Four Seas Company became the Four Puddles, and then the Four Liars; in
February 1927 McWhorter gave notice to the company that he would report it to the U.S. Postal Service for
fraudulent use of the mail. The company agreed to publish Cogewea soon, but still no book appeared; most people
asked for their money back, and Mourning Dove and McWhorter were humiliated.
Although 1927 is given as its copyright date, Cogewea appears not to have been printed and in circulation until
June 1928. By then the expected advance sales of almost 1,250 copies had dropped to 250, and the first edition
never sold out. Mourning Dove did not receive even twenty-five dollars in cash (the equivalent of the pay for four
or five days of apple picking) for the publication, and in a final settlement with the publisher the authors
received copies of the unsold novel.
Two problems arose when Cogewea finally came to print. The more significant was that Mourning Dove saw the
changes to the novel for the first time: "I have just got through going over the book Cogeawea, and am surprised
at the changes that you made.... I felt like it was some one elses book and not mine at all. In fact the finishing
touches are put there by you, and I have never seen it.... Oh my Big Foot, you surely roasted the Shoapees. strong.
I think a little too strong to get their sympathy" (4 June 1928). Her criticisms of McWhorter's additions were
critically insightful and are at the core of the interpretive debate about the novel today.
The other issue was that McWhorter inadvertently signed away the copyright to the novel; thus, when Harl J.
Cook approached Mourning Dove and McWhorter about writing a script for a movie adaptation of Cogewea in
November 1928, the copyright was in the hands of the Four Seas Company. Nonetheless, the publication of
Cogewea allowed Mourning Dove to pursue the social and political activism that marked the final eight years of
That activism began with her founding in 1928 of the Eagle Feather Club, an organization to mentor, educate, and
meet the social needs of Indian women in Omak. With Mourning Dove as spokeswoman, the club addressed
government commissions on the corruption of business practices and government ineptitude on the reservation. In
1930 she became a spokeswoman for the Colville Indian Association. In 1934 she offered to help Commissioner
John Collier secure adoption of the Indian Reorganization Act, and although reorganization was voted down in
1935 by the Colville Indians, Mourning Dove was elected to the Tribal Council in that same year, the first woman
to win such an office.
Mourning Dove and McWhorter entered into their third and final period of intense collaboration in 1929. This
time they were joined by Heister Dean Guie, a young newspaperman who wanted to expand into freelance writing
and editorial work. McWhorter and Mourning Dove had just begun editing McWhorter's 1921-1922 manuscript for
"Okanogan Sweat House" when McWhorter's wife died in August 1929. McWhorter lost interest in the project;
Mourning Dove presented him with increasingly complex linguistic and cultural questions in an attempt to take his
mind off his loss.
Guie had more energy than either of them, and they gratefully let him take charge. His first significant change
was to reformulate the tales to meet the standards for the juvenile literature of the day by speeding up the
action, avoiding repetition, and using simpler words.
Yet Guie also wanted to be sure that the legends were made accurate, that they did not contradict other
ethnographic accounts, even while he modified the stories so that they would not shock white 1930s sensibilities
-- for example, the tales' references to excrement or incest. Mourning Dove considered Guie a demanding
taskmaster, a "severe teacher" (19 May 1930), and she believed his attention to detail would strengthen the work.
She wanted to see the tales published to honor the storytellers, many of whom had died, and she wanted to
preserve some of her culture for future generations of Indians.
Mourning Dove became involved with the Seventh-Day Adventists and then with the Jehovah's Witnesses in her
final years, but her movement to Euro-American religions was balanced by her affirmation of traditional Indian
beliefs. She frequently returned to her sister Mary Margaret's home in Canada, where she would meditate, gather
healing herbs, greet the sunrise, and center herself in her Indian identity. Assimilated Native Americans had to
hold within themselves many paradoxes. Mourning Dove's growing consciousness of those paradoxes, as well as her
realization that younger Indians did not know what life had been like for her generation, led her to work on three
final manuscripts: a novel, "Son of the Squaw"; and two nonfiction collections, "Tepee Life" and "Educating the
Indian." She also wanted the dominant culture to understand the disruptions through which her people had
struggled; she wanted them to see the settlement period through Indian eyes.
She worked on these manuscripts while she, Guie, and McWhorter were transforming "Okanogan Sweat House"
into Coyote Stories, as well as in following years. But her commitment to her work had to be maintained in the
face of poor health, difficult physical work, financial difficulties, family tragedies, and an eroding marriage. Her
beloved half sister, Milly, died in April 1931, and Mary Margaret's husband, who had been severely burned in a
firestorm in August 1931, also died. Finally, her second husband, like her first, had turned out to be an alcoholic.
He gambled away their car in May 1930 and spent a month's pay partying in November 1933; the Gallers were
always in debt. At times they had physical fights. They kept the marriage together, crisis after crisis, and
Mourning Dove was still willing to move with him in 1934 to a tent while he worked on the Grand Coulee Dam
project; but her trust in him was gone.
Mourning Dove was disappointed with "Son of the Squaw," and though she wrote of recasting it in 1930, no
surviving draft has been found. "Tepee Life" and "Educating the Indian" were never finished, because on 30 July
1936 she was admitted to the hospital at Medical Lake, Washington, in extreme mental distress, with abrasion
marks and bruises on her chest, shins, and buttocks. On 8 August the family was told that she had died of a brain
hemorrhage. The death certificate, however, says that Christine Galler died of "exhaustion from manic depressive
psychosis." She was buried in the Omak, Washington, cemetery. A pauper's cinder block engraved "Mrs. F. Galler"
marked the grave until 1991, when Jay Miller, the editor of her final manuscripts -- at the request of her half
brother, Charlie Quintasket -- paid for a more appropriate gravestone to mark the site.
The fundamental problem that confronts critics of Cogewea is how to read a novel that is a work of collaboration
in some sections, a highly edited piece in others, and the product of the editor in still others. Mourning Dove and
McWhorter worked collaboratively on the revision and completion of the original 1912 manuscript in the winter of
1915-1916; the most moving parts of the published novel, including Stemteema's stories and the Fourth of July
races, were honed during this collaborative period. McWhorter would have helped with the grammar and spelling,
and mutual discussions may have helped Mourning Dove flesh out certain sections of the novel, including the
ending. The text was hers; the revisions were theirs. When she left to rejoin her family McWhorter worked on
the notes, the dedication, small revisions, and poetry headings for the chapters. He shared all of these additions
with Mourning Dove, but the process was no longer strictly collaborative.
The problem came in 1922, when McWhorter added the sections of social and political commentary and elevated
the language of the heroine, without sending the revisions to Mourning Dove for her review. His additions,
substitutions, and dialogue changes created serious disjunctures in the text; those disjunctures, however, add to
readers' understanding of the settlement/assimilation period. The only way to read Cogewea successfully is to
listen for both voices.
Mourning Dove's narrative describes a place and time she knew well, the Flathead Reservation of Montana in the
early 1900s, when Polson was a town of about five hundred and "Missourians," or settlers, were moving in and
wanted to fence and farm the open ranges needed for cowherding. What makes Mourning Dove's story particularly
poignant is her focus on being a mixed-blood, and it is the character Stemteema who brings that issue into
clearest focus. In telling the Green-Blanket Feet story she suggests that the Great Spirit is displeased by
In "The Second Coming of the Shoyahpee" she expresses shock at having mixed-blood grandchildren and warns
about the white man: "His words are poison! his touch is death." Yet, if she wishes the knowledge of her people to
be passed on, she must share her stored wisdom about the cataclysmic coming of the whites with her
grandchildren, who may be offended by the telling since their mixed-blood is a clear indication of the loss to the
physical and cultural integrity of the tribe.
Mourning Dove's presentation of the complexities of being a mixed-blood on the frontier, as well as her
incorporation into her work of Indian rituals and daily practices, stretched the Western romance into new realms
of subject matter. The inclusion of Salishan oral traditions made Mourning Dove's romance the first bicultural
Indian/white novel. Family tales, tribal accounts, and creation stories reinforce Indian community values and
promote self-understanding. The tribal story of Green-Blanket Feet, the recounting of the chief 's grief over the
coming of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the medicine man's vision of a catastrophic future for his people,
and the references to Thunderbird and Frog Woman enable Cogewea to come to an understanding of her world and
to an understanding that her experiences are part of a larger, continuing story.
From his first reading of Mourning Dove's original manuscript, McWhorter recognized the significance of using a
novel to portray "the social status of the Indian," and he was delighted by the inclusion of oral narratives (letter
of 3 January 1916). Yet from the start, McWhorter's premises differed from Mourning Dove's in two crucial
First, McWhorter assumed, as did the majority of Euro-Americans, that Indian cultures would die out by the end
of the twentieth century. McWhorter's poetic headings for each chapter were meant to evoke sympathy and
understanding for the vanishing Indian. He did not believe, however, that this genocide was a by-product of
Manifest Destiny. McWhorter perceived the destruction of the Indian to be a product of callousness and greed,
sanctified by notions of racial and religious superiority.
He was affronted by the cultural elitism of the conquering culture and the exploitation of indigenous peoples. It
was for that reason that he created high-flown language for Cogewea so that the heroine would sound better-
educated than the average white person. He wanted to shame white readers for their indifference to the abuses
that were going on all around him. The second premise dividing Mourning Dove and McWhorter is equally sharp.
Mourning Dove trusted her readers. She believed that the storyteller's craft is to stimulate the imaginative
comprehension of the listener-reader creating a dialogue from which meaning emerges. McWhorter distrusted his
readers and created monologue rather than dialogue in order to instruct or to reprimand.
Cogewea is a splintered text, but that splintering is revelatory. Mourning Dove's presentation of Indian spiritual
and cultural values, as well as the problem of being a half-breed on the frontier, brought new and substantive
subject matter to what was already clichéd, formulaic Western romance. Her adaptation of the novel to
incorporate indigenous oral forms makes it a forerunner of late-twentieth-century Native American writing. On
the other hand, McWhorter's impassioned defense of Native peoples is one of the few firsthand accounts by a
white of the degree of white corruption and Indian degradation that Euro-American settlement brought to Indian
country. Cogewea is a rough-hewn gem in which two people from divergent backgrounds insightfully comment on
The Salishan stories Mourning Dove transcribed exist in four versions. First there are the 1921 transcriptions
for "Okanogan Sweat House" that Mourning Dove typed, including her own handwritten corrections and some of
McWhorter's, preserved at Holland Library of Washington State University in Pullman. The second is Coyote
Stories, a highly edited version of twenty-four of the original thirty-seven tales. The third version is the most
thoughtful transcription of "Okanogan Sweat House": Tales of the Okanogans (1976), edited by Donald M. Hines.
All thirty-seven stories are included, and the illustrations convey the mythic power of a period when beings could
be human and animal.
Finally, Clifford E. Trafzer and Richard D. Scheuerman's edition of Mourning Dove's Stories (1991) combines
eleven tales from "Okanogan Sweat House" with five stories Mourning Dove transcribed late in life. The
"Okanogan Sweat House" pieces show Guie's revisions to stories that he ultimately decided not to include in
Coyote Stories because of their risqué or taboo subject matter; for example, "Coyote the Medicine-Man" alters
"Coyote Takes His Daughter as a Wife" to avoid the incest theme. "The Ant," "The Rivals' Last Stand," "The
Legend of Omak Lake," "One Who Follows," and "The Blind Dog Monster" are later compositions, and they include
more explanatory history and Christian references than does Mourning Dove's earlier work.
Coyote Stories came out in 1933 and was in a second printing by 1934. While some reviewers put Mourning Dove
into a passive listener-recorder role, others, among them A. B. Guthrie in the Lexington Leader (17 December
1933), recognized her storytelling ability and complimented "her fine simplicity of expression" that "makes less
impossible the impossible events she recounts." The collection not only introduced the reading public to Native
American legends but also made them consider the devastating effects of assimilationist policies.
The reviewer for the Daily Oklahoman (14 January 1934) wrote that Coyote Stories made him realize that no such
collection of tales existed for the tribes in his own state, and he cautioned that the failure to collect such
stories would mean "the loss of a spiritual heritage which [could] never be replaced."
The thirty-seven narratives Mourning Dove had transcribed by 1921 are genesis stories that explain physical
phenomena, the temperament of animals, the relationships between animal groups, and behaviors appropriate or
inappropriate to community survival. They explain how various northwest mountain ranges came to be and where
the waterfalls are along the Big River (Columbia) tributaries ("The Camas Woman"), and where one can find salmon
("Coyote Breaks the Salmon Dam"). They also explain the intimate relationship between the Earth and the Sun and
the Moon ("The Moon and Sun Gods").
Many stories include plot elements that explain natural phenomena -- for example, where tree moss comes from
("Coyote Eats His Children"), how chipmunk got those finger marks down her back and how Meadow Lark got her
necklace and yellow vest ("Owlwoman and Coyote"). Such stories teach children to observe the physical world, but
they have an even more important purpose: they teach and reinforce thoughtful relationships among people. No
character in Salishan legends is more important in that respect than Coyote.
Coyote is an ambivalent hero. He is irresponsible, irrepressible, subject to swift mood swings, self-important,
self-indulgent, lazy, and vain. He is a liar who must constantly interpret events so that he always seems to be in
control. But Coyote is also the consummate fool. When he is self-aggrandizing, and when he thoughtlessly violates
taboos (for example, in "Coyote Eats His Children" and "Coyote Takes His Daughter as a Wife"), he becomes a
ridiculous figure. The audience for the tales, as well as the characters in the stories, know that such behaviors
are demeaning and destructive. Nonetheless, there is an innocence about Coyote, and an energy for acting and
creating that makes him fearless, tenacious, and innovative. When these qualities are combined with a sense of
heroism and adventure and even a perverse sense of slapstick humor, Coyote can change the world.
The reconfiguration of a narrative such as "Owlwoman and Coyote" into Cogewea also shows the sustaining power
of the stories. In the novel Cogewea is intelligent, curious, impulsive, carefree, and warmhearted; these also are
the traits of Chipmunk in the traditional Owl Woman story. Cogewea -- her name is the Salish word for chipmunk
-- needs guidance and direction. Cogewea's guidance is provided by the wise grandmother, who sees through the
wily ways of the white villain, Densmore, the counterpart to the child-eating Owl Woman of legend.
The cowboy Celluloid Bill, based on Tattler or Meadow Lark from the Salishan tales, leads Densmore to Cogewea
through tall tales of Cogewea's wealth, and another cowboy, Silent Bob -- representing the other side of Tattler
-- rides to tell Jim of Cogewea's trouble. The abilities to refer to and to adapt such legends to the stresses of
assimilation have been crucial to Indian survival.
When she died, Mourning Dove's written works seemed to die with her. From the 1940s to the 1970s there was
almost no reference to her books or manuscripts. Then Charles R. Larson included a critique on the problems of
dual authorship in Cogewea in the appendix of American Indian Fiction (1978), and Alice Poindexter Fisher
completed a sympathetic and insightful dissertation on Zitkala-Sa and Mourning Dove in 1979. By that time Gerry
Guie, Heister Dean Guie's widow, had discovered the unfinished manuscripts "Tepee Life" and "Educating the
Indian," which Mourning Dove had asked her husband to edit in the 1930s.
Erna Gunther, an anthropologist, began to revise and edit the materials; she was later joined by Jay Miller. In
1981 the University of Nebraska Press reprinted Cogewea, and in the early 1980s short pieces of critical
commentary began to appear in overviews of Native American literature. Mary Dearborn's Pocahontas's
Daughters: Gender and Ethnicity in American Culture (1986) was the first book to devote a major chapter to an
analysis of Mourning Dove's novel. Since then, two scholars have been particularly important in recovering
Mourning Dove's works. Alanna Kathleen Brown has worked extensively with Mourning Dove's letters to bring an
understanding of oral traditions, assimilation pressures, and collaboration into the discussion of her works.
Miller edited the republication of Coyote Stories (1990) and the first publication of Mourning Dove: A Salishan
Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography is the most extensive reflection on the period of assimilation by a
Northwest Indian in print. Caution is necessary in reading the text, however: readers must understand that the
organization of the subject matter is that of Gunther and Miller and that Miller has corrected Mourning Dove's
Indian English, thus obscuring her tone, humor, and dramatic emphasis. He also annotated her work in a manner
that undermines her purpose and her authority.
Miller uses three sources to test Mourning Dove's accounts of tribal experience and her own life: the
ethnographic record, the Euro-American historical record, and contemporary informants, primarily male. Three
notes in chapter 4, "The Dutiful Wife," illustrate how Miller uses ethnographic material. In note 1 Miller
expands on Mourning Dove's text, although the shaman dress he discusses may or may not be in Mourning Dove's
experience or appropriate to her tribe. Note 3 corrects the text by pointing out that balsam root "was more than
just a 'famine food' " -- quoting appropriate white male authorities -- and note 6 assures the reader that
Mourning Dove is accurate about which pandemic diseases devastated her people. Miller also uses the
observations of white explorers and public officials to correct Mourning Dove's accounts of past events, as when
he draws on David Thompson's journals to refute the tribal recollection of generosity to the first white
explorers in Kettle Falls.
Most surprising, Miller uses Mourning Dove's half-brother, Charlie Quintasket, born in 1909, to ridicule
Mourning Dove's memory of her mother struggling to protect her children from near starvation in the severe
winter of 1892-1893. Why does Miller represent Charlie Quintasket's word as being more reliable than Mourning
Dove's? Is Mourning Dove wrong when she describes or recounts what she has experienced or heard if it does not
verify white scholarship or Euro-American historical accounts? What is the source of ethnographic authority?
With early Native American texts a reader must always be aware of the complexities involved in collaboration.
Interest in Mourning Dove is no longer the purview only of Native American scholars. Her texts have found a
place in the larger discussion of American literature that is reformulating the literary canon. Issues of finding
one's voice as a Native American woman writer at the turn of the last century, of understanding the settlement
of the West from an Indian perspective, and of learning how to read collaborative texts have heightened the
importance of Mourning Dove's texts. The Smithsonian Institution Press plans to publish Mourning Dove's
Letters and Salish Narratives, thus making most of Mourning Dove's writing available to the reading public it so
Paula Gunn Allen, The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Tradition. 1986.
Elizabeth Ammons, Conflicting Stories, American Women Writers at the Turn into the Twentieth Century. 1991.