Sue Young Histories

Helen Hunt Jackson 1830 - 1885

April 10, 2008

Helen Hunt Jackson 1830-
1885Helen Hunt Jackson 1830 - 1885 was an American writer best known as the author of Ramona, a novel about the ill treatment of Native Americans in southern California.

Jackson was an advocate of homeopathy.

She was a classmate of the poet Emily Dickinson, also from Amherst. The two carried on a correspondence for all of their lives, but few of their letters have survived

In 1879, her interests turned to the plight of the Native Americans after attending a lecture in Boston by Ponca Chief Standing Bear, who described the forcible removal of the Ponca Indians from their Nebraska reservation.

Jackson was angered by what she heard regarding the unfair treatment at the hands of government agents and became an activist. She started investigating and publicizing the wrongdoing, circulating petitions, raising money, and writing letters to The New York Times on behalf of the Poncas.

She also started writing a book condemning the Indian policy of the government and the history of broken treaties. Because she was in poor health at the time, she wrote with desperate haste.

A Century of Dishonor, calling for change from the contemptible, selfish policy to treatment characterized by humanity and justice, was published in 1881. Jackson then sent a copy to every member of Congress with an admonishment printed in red on the cover:

"Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations."

Her efforts soon came to the attention of the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Hiram Price, who recommended she be appointed an Interior Department agent. Jackson’s assignment was to visit the Mission Indians and ascertain the location and condition of various bands, and determine what lands, if any, should be purchased for their use.

With the help of Indian agent Abbot Kinney, Jackson criss-crossed Southern California and documented the appalling conditions she saw. At one point, she hired a law firm to protect the rights of a family of Saboba Indians facing dispossession of their land at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains.

During this time, Jackson read an account in a Los Angeles newspaper about a Cahuilla Indian who had been shot and killed. His wife, it turned out, was named Ramona.

On one excursion, Jackson was escorted by wagon to Santa Barbara and stopped off at Rancho Camulos in the Santa Clara River Valley, where she visited the adobe of the del Valle family. But the Señora del Valle was not home the day Jackson was there.

And at the Mission Santa Barbara, Jackson made the acquaintance of Father Sanchez, a source of great inspiration.

In 1883, she completed her fifty-six page report, which called for a massive government relief effort ranging from the purchase of new lands for reservations to the establishment of more Indian schools.

A bill embodying her recommendations passed the U.S. Senate but died in the House of Representatives.

Jackson, however, was not discouraged by this Congressional rejection. She decided to write a novel that would depict the Indian experience “in a way to move people’s hearts.”

An inspiration for the undertaking, Jackson admitted, was Uncle Tom’s Cabin written years earlier by her friend, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Helen’s return home to Massachusetts during the winter of 1872 brought with it an illness that plagued her constantly. It left her weak and unable to travel come spring.

Plans to return to California with May Alcott (sister to Louisa May Alcott) fell through when none of the publishers would provide free passes for their travel.

With a move back to Amherst and her encounter with homeopathic medicine, she was urged to make a trek to Colorado in the hopes that its climate would be of benefit to her.

Once again her spirits rose and in November of that year she headed off on another adventure…

Helen was referred to a marvelous homeopathic physician in San Francisco.

Wendell Phillips helped create the Massachusetts Indian Commission with Indian rights activist Helen Hunt Jackson and Massachusetts governor William Claflin.

Jackson also knew Thomas Bailey Aldridge, who was editor for ten years for Ticknor and Fields, and editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

Through Thomas Wentworth Higginson, she met many influential people:

At 35, when Helen emerged into society, she redefined her life as a writer of poetry… Ready to launch her writing career she moved to Newport, Rhode Island where writing was a way of life and Thomas Wentworth Higginson ruled the city as its King.

As an advocate of controversy, Helen was drawn to Thomas Wentworth Higginson because of his outspoken support of women. It was through Thomas Wentworth Higginson that she met such people as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Julia Ward Howe.

It does seem as if every single thing big & little was ordered to work against me. I am half discouraged. — I bore the going down here much better though than I feared — & now the Nose cold is over, I really think I shall gain. It was that which kept me down so, — setting in immediately after a third diptheria [sic]. Dr. Lager thinks I have done wonderfully not to be more broken down than I am. - I suppose I have - but I am tired out of being so weak. — & my throat swells up & reddens & aches on the least fatigue.-I am taking now the Pyro phosphate as a tonic for now — & mean to keep on with it unless I have to take homeopathic medicine for some other trouble. - I had to take that for Nose cold, & for symptoms of return of sore throat, all the time at Bethlehem. - I have had asthma from my Nose cold this year — the first four nights here, I could not lie down at all! — But it is all gone now, & I only sneeze occasionally - so I hope the cold is over. I never have had it after July 20th-

My doctor is a good one, a young man—Dr. (William) Boericke, 834 Sutter St. I like him heartily. He is clever, enthusiastic, European taught. All that homeopathy can do for me I shall have, and you know the absoluteness of my faith in homeopathy.

Jackson also knew Hamilton J. Cate, father of homeopath Henry Hamilton Cate.


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