Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Indian men and white women in Indiana and Michigan

Two wonderful articles combine genealogical and microhistorical chronicles with deep thoughts about race and intermarriage in the Midwest. They're just out in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, unfortunately available only if you have access to an amazing bookstore, or a library that subscribes to the journal itself or to Project Muse (hat tip to the Legal History blog):

"'They Found Her and Left Her an Indian': Gender, Race, and the Whitening of Young Bear," by Jim J. Buss, historian at Oklahoma City University (volume 29, issue 2&3, page 1). It was a famous story in the 1800s -- Frances Slocum, taken from her Pennsylvania home as a young girl in the 1780s, rediscovered by her brothers some sixty years later, having made a good life as an Indian wife and mother. The story was retold not just because of its inherent fascination, but because it called into question the racist ideas that justified clearing Indians from the Midwest. Buss reviews the retellings and shows how they often describe a mixed-race society in central Indiana in 1840 even though the authors wanted to deny the possibility of any such thing. He's working on a book to be titled The Winning of the West with Words: Clearing the Middle Ground for American Pioneers. Some of the 19th-century versions are recorded at this Rootsweb site -- but keep in mind that a characteristic vice of us genealogists is to take those stories as gospel truth.

"Miengun's Children: Tales from a Mixed-Race Family," by Susan E. Gray of Arizona State University (volume 29, issue 2&3, page 146). Regular readers will recognize her as author of The Yankee West. Working with some data provided by genealogists, she tells a collective biography of the children of a Lakota man (Miengun/Payson Wolfe) and the daughter of missionaries (Mary Jane Smith), and how the children made their way in the world of the late 1800s and early 1900s -- a world that wanted to pigeonhole them either as uncivilized Indians or as civilized white people. These folks aren't as famous as Frances Slocum/Young Bear was, but their struggles in Oklahoma and northern lower Michigan may be closer to our own experience. Gray is working on a book also: Lines Descent: Family Stories from the North Country.


tresho said...

Correction -- the parents of Payson Wolfe were Miengun and Charlotte Waukazoo, both Odawa.

tresho said...

A more or less complete copy of Susan Gray's "Miengun's Children" can be found here. It is about 30 pages long. You don't need to sign in.