American Indian Studies Seminar: Pocahontas of the Lava Beds

Gendered Discourses of Civilization and the Political Economy of Remembering US-Indian Violence in Late Nineteenth Century Popular Culture
Center for American Indian Studies Programs
American Indian Studies Seminar Series
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Boyd Cothran, University of Minnesota

Today, the story of Winema is part of the collective memory of colonialism in southern Oregon and Northern California. She is remembered as the Pocahontas of the Lava Beds,” and there are hotels, restaurants, streets and schools named after her. Winema, according to history, was an Indian woman who “overcame” the treachery of her “race” by saving a white man during the Modoc War, California’s so-called “last” Indian war. Because of her actions, she has become an indelible part of the story of California and Oregon’s colonization, memoralized by the likes of Dee Brown, Herbert H. Bancroft, and the United States Congress, who, on February 25, 1891, recognized her as a “friend of the white man” by awarding her a pension of twenty-five dollars a month. But who was Winema and why does she occupy such a prominent place in the memory of colonial violence in this corner of the west? Why has her reputation as a cultural go-between and negotiator of change persisted over the 136 years since the end of the Modoc War? What does her persistence in the region’s collective memory tell us about the nature of remembering US-Indian violence? Why was she awarded a pension and what does that suggest about the material connection between colonial violence and acts of remembrance? Finally, what gendered discourses worked to create both the opportunity for Winema to claim a pension while simultaneously limiting or conditioning the way in which she might enter to public realm?

This chapter, the second in my dissertation, will consist of three sections. Following an introduction situating the story of Winema within the history and memory of the Modoc War, it will build on the previous chapter of my dissertation by extending my argument about the politics of racial discourses to discuss the construction of gendered discourses of civilization and savagery in the late-nineteenth century, particularly as it relates to US colonialism in the American West. In this section, I will discuss a number of dime novels, Wild West shows, plays and histories about US-Indian violence produced for and consumed by American audiences. I will then turn to the peculiar career of Toby Riddle and her place within this gendered marketplace of remembering US-Indian violence. Finally, I will suggest some of the reasons for the persistence of these gendered constructions of civilization and savagery within our collective memories of nineteenth century US-Indian violence. Ultimately, I want to argue that in producing historical memories of U.S.-Indian violence in the Klamath Basin, Indian men and women employed narratives of the past that capitalized upon white expectations and desires in order to participate in the political economy of remembering the Modoc War.

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AIS seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically two weeks prior to the seminar date. Email mcnickle@newberry.org to request a copy of the paper. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.

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