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Moving Encounters

Moving Encounters: Sympathy and the Indian Question in Antebellum Literature

Laura L. Mielke
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 272
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    Moving Encounters
    Book Description:

    An old Indian woman comforts two young white children she finds lost in the woods and lovingly carries them back to their eager parents. A frontiersman sheds tears over the grave of a Mohican youth, holding hands with the mourning father. According to Laura L. Mielke, such emotionally charged scenes between whites and Indians paradoxically flourished in American literature from 1820 to 1850, a time when the United States government developed and applied a policy of Indian removal. Although these “moving encounters,” as Mielke terms them, often promoted the possibility of mutual sympathy between Native Americans and EuroAmericans, they also suggested that these emotional links were inherently unstable, potentially dangerous, and ultimately doomed. At the same time, the emphasis on Indianwhite sympathy provided an opportunity for Indians and nonNative activists to voice an alternative to removal and acculturation, turning the language of a sentimental U.S. culture against its own imperial impulse. Mielke details not only how such writers as James Fenimore Cooper and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft forecast the inevitable demise of Indianwhite sympathy, but also how authors like Lydia Maria Child and William Apess insisted that a language of feeling could be used to create shared community or defend American Indian sovereignty. In this way, Moving Encounters sheds new light on a wide range of texts concerning the “Indian Question” by emphasizing their engagement with popular sentimental forms and by challenging the commonly held belief that all EuroAmerican expressions of sympathy for American Indians in this period were fundamentally insincere. While portraits of Indianwhite sympathy often prompted cynical rejoinders from parodists, many never lost faith in the power of emotion to overcome the greed and prejudice fueling the dispossession of American Indians.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-130-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Moving Encounter in Antebellum Literature
    (pp. 1-14)

    In the three decades following the War of 1812, the United States developed a new answer to the Indian Question, the name given to the problem of American Indian presence within and just beyond the borders of the expanding young nation. The federal government implemented a policy of Indian removal whereby the republic sought to acquire American Indian lands east of the Mississippi River, to relocate those American Indians to the west, to undermine if not eradicate American Indian political sovereignty, and to initiate a process of acculturation at arm’s length. In 1819, James Monroe signed the Civilization Fund Act,...

  6. 1 The Evolution of Moving Encounters in Lydia Maria Child’s American Indian Writings, 1824–1870
    (pp. 15-35)

    In her 1824 children’s bookEvenings in New England, Lydia Maria Child (then Lydia Maria Francis and writing as “An American Lady”) includes the dialogue “Personification,” in which Aunt Maria helps her nephew Robert interpret a personification of North America: a “young female, clothed in a robe all covered with stripes and stars, carrying a cap upon a high pole, around which an eagle is fluttering; and occasionally looking back upon an Indian, who is aiming his bow and arrow at a wild deer.”¹ Aunt Maria, Child’s alter ego, offers a straightforward interpretation: “For several hundred years after America was...

  7. 2 Doomed Sympathy and The Prairie: Rereading Natty Bumppo as a Sentimental Intermediary
    (pp. 36-50)

    Like Lydia Maria Child in her antebellum Indian writings, James Fenimore Cooper used deathbeds and gravesites to inspire reader sympathy and to close the Indian-white encounter with the fulfillment of Indian doom. At the conclusion ofThe Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna; A Descriptive Tale(1823), readers join Natty Bumppo, Judge Templeton, Oliver Effingham, and Elizabeth Temple at the graves of Major Effingham and Chingachgook, or Indian John, whose “faults were those of an Indian and his virtues those of a man.”The Last of the Mohicans; A Narrative of 1757(1826) concludes with the interment of the...

  8. 3 “Be man!”: Emasculating Sympathy and the Southern Patriarchal Response in the Fiction of William Gilmore Simms
    (pp. 51-69)

    The Indian Question was crucial to the beginnings of a distinct identity for the American South before the Civil War. In the development and passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the federal government “bow[ed] before southern state pressures” and then pointed to the resultant “confusion and despair among the southern Indians … as a justification for removal.”¹ Georgia’s and President Andrew Jackson’s disregard for the Supreme Court decision inWorcester v. Georgia(1832), which denied Georgia’s authority over the sovereign Cherokee nation, and the subsequent sacrifice of American Indian land rights for Southern states’ rights, indicated the extent of...

  9. 4 Containing Native Feeling: Sentiment in the Autobiographies of William Apess, Mary Jemison, and Black Hawk
    (pp. 70-92)

    An anonymous review of William Apess’s 1831 revised edition ofA Son of the Forest in the American Monthly Reviewexpresses frustration over an “error” Apess commits in describing his ancestry. Apess, a Pequot Indian, claims his grandmother was the granddaughter of King Philip—the (in)famous Wampanoag leader and namesake of the 1675–76 war between Algonquin Indians and New English colonists—and misidentifies Philip as a Pequot.¹ The reviewer concludes by voicing a concern that Apess’s future attempts to write American Indian history will be inaccurate: “If Mr. Apes[s] should undertake the work he proposes, we recommend to him...

  10. 5 The Book, the Poet, the Indian: Transcendental Intermediaries in Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes and Henry David Thoreau’s The Maine Woods
    (pp. 93-114)

    Transcendentalism originated from dissent within Unitarianism over, among other things, the perceived danger of an empirical approach to spiritual truth. George Hochfield explains, “It was very simple and the transcendentalists saw it: if you relied on the senses, you could never believe in miracles; and if faith depended on miracles, there could be no faith.” Transcendentalists’ emphasis on the necessity of intuition to religious faith extended to all of human understanding. Emerson’sNature(1836) most clearly outlines how Nature “stand[s] as the apparition of God,” its elements corresponding with spiritual truths that must be intuited by the individual who enters...

  11. 6 “Sorrows in excess!”: The Limits of Sympathy in the Ethnography of George Catlin, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft
    (pp. 115-150)

    In the antebellum period, the trans-Mississippi movement of explorers, surveyors, agents, settlers, and others and the subsequent impact of this activity and its attendant ideology on the American economy and culture created a blending of what we might identify as scientific and artistic pursuits or, more specifically, empirical and aesthetic expressions. The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–6) initiated a period of increased exploration of the territories and of related scientific and literary developments. The often indistinguishable objective and subjective responses to the overwhelming fact of “the West” and its Native inhabitants had to do, at least in part, with...

  12. 7 Restoring the Noahic Family: The Three Races of America in Mary Eastman’s Aunt Phillis’s Cabin and Mary Howard Schoolcraft’s The Black Gauntlet
    (pp. 151-169)

    Henry Rowe Schoolcraft required extensive assistance when he compiled the six-volumeHistorical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United Statesin the 1850s because of a series of paralytic strokes he suffered beginning in 1848. Captain Seth Eastman, the primary illustrator for the work, performed many of the necessary office duties. The collaborators’ wives also took part in the massive undertaking. Mary Eastman, who had published her own volume of ethnographic sketches in 1849, tirelessly promoted her husband for the job, and Mary Howard Schoolcraft, Henry’s second wife, served as her...

  13. 8 Staging Encounters and Reclaiming Sympathy through Indian Melodramas and Parodies, 1821–1855
    (pp. 170-192)

    American playwrights and theaters produced a surprising number of dramas treating relations between Euro-Americans and American Indians during the first half of the nineteenth century, and particularly in the 1820s and 1830s at the height of the debates over the Indian Removal Act of 1830.¹ Many of these were melodramas, or “intense emotional and ethical drama[s] based on the manichaeistic struggle of good and evil,” that allied the Indians and the young nation in the interest of the good.² In recent years, scholars have pointed out that one cannot assume the Indian melodrama was received as an argument for removal...

  14. CONCLUSION: Moving beyond Sentiment or Cynicism
    (pp. 193-198)

    Parodies of the moving encounter like those found in John Brougham’s burlesques continued to undermine portrayals of Indian-white sympathy as the nineteenth century progressed. According to one version of nineteenth-century literary history, the sentimental Indian was eventually eclipsed by the warlike, degraded Indian because of the rise of literary realism and the bloody conflicts of the Far West, from Little Big Horn to Wounded Knee. Authors, the narrative goes, rejected the former figure as a construct with no basis in fact. In this account, Mark Twain bests James Fenimore Cooper with his Goshoot Indians (“They deserve pity, poor creatures; and...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 199-244)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 245-256)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-258)