Helen as many “as the stars in

Helen Hunt Jackson was an American writer best known as the author of Ramona, a novel about the ill treatment of Native Americans in Southern California, and as an activist for Native American rights. Though never one to get involved in social causes, in the year 1879 Jackson had suddenly emerged as one of America’s leading advocates of Indian rights. She called for changes in the government’s Indian policies, documented their past crimes in her 1881 book, “A Century of Dishonor”, and brought awareness to the reality of the brutal relationship between Native Americans and European settlers.Although it is mistaught through most teachers and literature in elementary and possibly even middle school, and may even be told through an American-biased lens today to us as high schoolers, it should be no secret that Native Americans have been seriously mistreated within American history. In 1848, California became a part of the United States. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, California’s native peoples were to become citizens of the U.S. with their liberty and property rights given full protection under U.S. laws. However, the government failed to live up to these terms and the native peoples suffered horrendously during the next several decades. Famine, violence, and starvation caused the reduction of the indigenous population of California from 150,000 in 1848 to just 15,000 in 1900. During the California Gold Rush (1848-1855), many natives were killed by incoming settlers as well as by militia units financed and organized by the California government. The state financing of these militias, as well as the US government’s role in other massacres in California, such as the Bloody Island and Yontoket Massacres, in which up to 400 or more natives were killed in each massacre, constitutes a campaign of genocide against the native people of California. Europeans disregarded all respect for the valued land and resources and instead displayed insatiable greed and arrogance. The Europeans pursued their intent to conquer this new continent with brutal attacks and invasion. The Native Americans soon realized that the invaders would arrive in overwhelming numbers, as many “as the stars in heaven.” Initially, the natives tried to co-exist with the Europeans. But many more problems arose. With all their intriguing gadgets, the white men brought deadly diseases to the Native Americans. .This drastically diminished the Native American population and annihilated entire villages. In addition to this, the arrogant attitude of the ever-growing whites led to the Indian Wars, the Indian Removal Act (1830), and in 1890 one of the worst massacres ever: Wounded Knee, South Dakota. In January 1876, the U.S. government forced them to live on ‘reservations’ where the majority of Native Americans still reside today.The multiple massacres/attacks and targeted abuse and violation of human rights against native Americans was the exigence that pushed Helen Hunt Jackson to make political statements in literature. She first wrote A Century of Dishonor, which was her non-fiction study of the mistreatment of Native Americans, and three years later, her most popular piece, Ramona, was published.When Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona was published in November 1884, the effects of the Mexican-American war were still palpable on the cobblestone streets of the pueblo. Native American and Mexican residents, treated as second class citizens, were viewed as remnants of a faded Californio past by the newly arrived residents from the East Coast.This historical novel, set in southern California in the early part of the 19th century, is a doomed love story as well as propaganda about the terrible treatment of the Native Americans by the Americans who moved in after the Mexican War. Land granted to both Native Americans and Mexicans by the Mexican government were declared no longer valid, and the new American government sold off peoples’ lands without telling them. One day they had a house, fields, and pastures, and the next day they were homeless, and usually without monetary compensation. The novel begins with a vivid description of the ranch of Senora Moreno and her son, Felipe. The immediate impression the reader gets is of a way of life on its way out, just like the plantations before the Civil War. Ramona is half Scottish and half Indian, which was not a good thing then. She’s given to Senora Moreno’s sister to raise, but when the sister dies, Ramona is sent to live with nasty Senora Moreno, who raises her out of duty, not out of love. There Ramona lives until she falls in love with the Indian Alessandro Assis, who has come to assist in the sheep shearing on the ranch. From here on it the novel feels like a soap opera/Romeo-and-Juliet story. The reader is compelled to keep reading to find out what will happen to these two. Along the way, Jackson, in a not-so-subtle manner, shows the reader how the Native Americans are treated. Regarding it’s historical accuracy, while Ramona and Alessandro are only fictional characters, the “Indian history” in Ramona  (as Jackson puts it) is all based on actual events that took place in Southern California in the 1870s and ’80s. Jackson is able to accurately narrate the struggles that American Indians faced and the cruelty that they were dealt.Jackson reveals the condition of Indian life in California. A child is born to the couple but dies of medical negligence. Land is needed by Yankee farmers who force the tribe to move again. He husband is murdered before her very eyes, but Ramona must go into hiding with the knowledge that the courts will not take the word of an Indian woman against a white. Helen Hunt Jackson offered a symbolic anatomy of the Southern California experience as she encountered it in the early 1880s. Every character and event of Ramona is based on fact, or composites of facts.Jackson was careful in many areas of the book regarding her level of accuracy. Ramona was the first novel written about southern California. Meant as a manifesto for change, Jackson also infused the book with richly picturesque descriptions of southern California’s landscape, and the life led there by wealthy Californio rancheros (grantees of land from the Spanish or Mexican governments of the region), all as the setting for a tragic love story about a half-Indian girl raised on a rancho.These vivid descriptions were often meticulously accurate because of Jackson’s research and fieldwork in the region, along with the heart-wrenching romance that captured generations of readers. They were so accurate in fact, that when railroads opened southern California up to inexpensive travel, a tourism and real-estate boom of unheard of proportion struck the region, and Jackson’s novel became not just a cry to action, but a handbook for sightseeing. Soon tourists in droves were visiting Ramona’s home, her marriage place, her birthplace, and her grave. And at most of these locations and many others besides, buy a vast array of souvenirs to commemorate their visits.Although Jackson excelled in being able to capture the Southern California geographical image, she did lack in other categories of accuracy. Helen Hunt Jackson wanted to create a “true” picture of the Native American; however, it appears that all of the characters that she created were formed not only by the immediate perception of Jackson but also by several hundred years of European influence on the Native Americans of Southern California. While it may not be possible for Helen Hunt Jackson to write with an authentic Native American voice or to portray an authentic Native American character, her vision of Native American rights cannot be ignored. Jackson simply lacks the tools to depict a convincing picture of the Native American, and she, like many other writers, falls victim to common stereotypes.While the Native American voice may always be distorted by a white lens, Jackson’s genuine concern for the rights of the Native Americans is apparent. Once the concept of authenticity is discarded, Jackson, and others like her, may be able to say something meaningful about native cultures. Ramona was intended as a propaganda novel about the rotten treatment of Californian Indians and Mexican landholders after the U.S. acquired California. Helen Hunt Jackson wrote Ramona to draw people’s attention to the injustice being done to the Indians living in California. There are long passages that some could describe as “deeply anti-American”. Most settlers are pictured as short-tempered, violent, and wholly unsympathetic people. The heros are the Indians and Mexicans. There are long conversations between the “half-breed” Ramona and her Indian lover Alessandro about the cruelty and soulless-ness of the Americans and the law-makers who support their claims to the Indians land. Jackson had hoped that her story would have the same impact on the nation that Uncle Tom’s Cabin had in the 1850’s. The story begins on a Mexican rancho in the California of the 1850s, but the setting and the characters are just the “sugar-coating of the pill”, as Jackson put it. There was no real Ramona, no real rancho of the Senora Moreno. All of that was just part of Jackson’s plan to lure readers into the story. “I thought if I could write a story so interesting that people could not put it down,” she explained, “and weave into that story the true history of some of the Indians’ sufferings, I might thus, as Paul says, “(perhaps) convince some.” Jackson realized that most Americans were not sympathetic toward Indians, thus she tried to disguise her reform message in a love story. She does not preach, she does not moralize. She makes the story her message and lets her readers draw their own meaning.However, unfortunately, instead of awakening the rest of America to the plight of the Indians of Southern California as she had hoped, most people received it as a romance novel. The nation was gripped with Ramona fever and California took note. Soon every small Los Angeles area town was naming streets Ramona and having Ramona pageants to draw tourists to the area. Draw tourists they did, and any hope Mrs. Jackson had of justice was trumped by the love of a quick buck. Nonetheless, whatever way it happened, the novel became immensely popular. Overall, it has had more than 300 printings, been made into four film versions, and has been performed as an outdoor play annually since 1923. The impact the novel had on the culture and image of Southern California was enormous. Its romanticization of Mexican colonial life gave the region a unique cultural identity and its publication coincided with the arrival of railroad lines to the region, bringing in countless tourists who wanted to see the locations in the novel. Jackson’s book helped change the way people viewed the Native Americans of Southern California and it created an emormous influx of tourist dollars into the area when the railroad finally went there. The popularity of the novel inspired people to name schools, streets, freeways and even towns after the novel’s heroine. The romantic settings included in the book had many people wanting to see the these spots that appeared in the story. This coincided with the opening of Southern Pacific Railroad’s Southern California rail lines and created a tourism boom. One location that is the most popular tourist attraction related to Ramona is Rancho Camulos. Rancho Camulos is considered the “Home of Ramona” because it was roughly in the same location of Moreno Ranch. Everyone wanted to see where “Ramona” lived, married, and died. The Estudillo House in Old Town San Diego, is considered to be “Ramona’s Marriage Place” due to short descriptions of Ramona having been married in San Diego. This location too became a popular tourist spot and remained that way long after the novel’s publication.The novel gave Southern California its own distinctive cultural identity. The missions had recently gained national exposure and local restoration projects were just about to start. Southern California was beginning to open its rail road lines and combined with the emotions built up by the novel. The novel helped the region greatly in becoming popular and improving in many ways.Jackson intended the novel to open readers’ eyes to the plight of the Native Americans in California. The book was popular, but not so much for its propaganda as for its sentimental drama. However, readers today would most likely enjoy this novel for both of its aspects. Certainly one cannot help but feel as enraged and despondent as Alessandro at the treatment of his people. Helen Hunt Jackson gave the best years of her life trying to convince the American gov’t to ease up on the Indians (especially with her previous book, A Century of Dishonor) and finally, in desperation, she wrote Ramona as a way to “move people’s hearts.” She had hoped that Romona would be the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of California natives. Sadly, her wildly popular novel, although printed in 300 editions, adapted for 4 films, and turned into a play that has run every year in California since 1923, was taken as more of a lady’s romance than a political statement.