July 17, 2009

Ramona based on Pechanga Indians

Helen Hunt Jackson etched mark in local, national history

By Teresa LordenIn 1883, the year following the creation of the Pechanga Indian Reservation by President Chester A. Arthur’s executive order, widely renowned author Helen Hunt Jackson visited the Temecula Indians at their relocated homes in Pechanga Canyon. The rest, as they say, is history and literature.

Jackson was appointed as a special agent of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Along with Special Agent Abbot Kinney, she filed a “Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians of California.”

The report included information on many of the Indian villages and reservations of Southern California.
And:The following excerpts are some of her reflections on the Temecula-Pechanga people during the area’s pioneer era:

This little band of Indians is worthy of a special mention. They are San Luisenos, and formerly lived in the Temecula Valley, where they had good adobe houses and a large tract of land under cultivation.

A portion of these Temecula Indians, wishing to remain as near their old homes and the graves of their dead as possible [after the eviction in 1875], went over in the Pachanga canyon, only three miles distant.

It was a barren, dry spot; but the Indians sunk a well, built new houses, and went to work again. In the spring of 1882, when we first visited the place, there was a considerable amount of land in wheat and barley and a little fencing had been done.

In the following May we visited the valley again. Our first thought on entering it was, would that all persons who still hold to the belief that Indians will not work could see this valley.

It would be hardly an extreme statement to say that the valley was one continuous field of grain. At least four times the amount of the previous year had been planted. Corrals had been built, fruit orchards started…
So much for the stereotype of the lazy, good-for-nothing Indian. Nor are there any Plains chiefs, warriors, or tipis in this scenario.

The article continues:Jackson was so appalled at the treatment of the Southern California Indians that she incorporated many of their firsthand accounts into her famous novel, “Ramona.”

That seminal novel on Native American treatment and cultural issues was first published in 1884. It is believed to have been based on characters drawn from Temecula’s early days.

In writing this novel, Jackson’s hope was to elicit the same public response for the plight of California Indians as her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe had done for African-American slaves with her novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Comment:  As I've said before, Jackson's report and Ramona are proof that (some) people knew about America's crimes against Indians back then. The information was available to everyone, at least.

If people chose not to know what was going on, they had only themselves to blame for their ignorance. This remains true today, of course.

Compare Jackson's writings with the contemporary writings of people such as Mark Twain, L. Frank Baum, and Teddy Roosevelt. Those who excuse these people because "they didn't know any better" or "they were just reflecting the attitudes of the times" are simply making excuses.

Coming full circle, a Pechanga Indian now operates PECHANGA.net, one of the leading websites for Native news. And he employs me, which lets me blog about the impact of Helen Hunt Jackson and Ramona.

For more on the subject, see The First Nonwhite Characters and Ramona Remains Relevant.

Below:  Accompanying Mrs. Jackson on one of her California trips was an artist-illustrator named Henry Sandham. This picture is one of his illustrations of Pechanga that appeared in the original edition of 'Ramona.'"


OPechanga said...

Interesting that about the time Helen Hunt Jackson wrote Ramona, Pechanga's vaunted Elder Antonio Ashman was a youth. He said in a sworn deposition that my ancestor, Paulina Hunter was a Pechanga Indian. Other's alive during that time also swore in depositions taken in the Luiseno language.
Current Pechanga Indians, did not believe these people who were alive in the period...and disenrolled the 95 adults and their children.

Anonymous said...

why only cahuilla spoken of in book..a visit passing thru sure...but, the main story is cahuilla..