Mourning Dove, (Christal Quintasket)

“I buried him in that beautiful
valley of winding waters.
I love that land more than
all the rest of the world.”

Joseph of the Nez Perce

Cogewea was written by Humishuma (Mourning Dove) an Okanogan woman and co-authored by her friend Lucullus V. McWhorter.  He had a ‘genuine interest in Indian history and culture . . . ‘ (vi).  McWhorter was adopted by the Yakima and given the name of ‘Old Wolf’ and was also referred to as ‘Big Foot’ because of his size.  Humishuma was the ‘daughter of Joseph Quintasket…and Lucy Stukin (a full-blood Scho-yel-pi, or Collville)…born near Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho in 1888.’ (vii)  Born Christal Quintasket in English and Hum-ishu-ma in her Native language.  In the introduction of Cogewea, she writes that ‘the whiteman must have invented the name for it as Mourning Dove because the translation to Indian is not word for word at all.’ ‘ . . . according to Leslie Spier, Okanogan women were never named after animals or birds but rather . . . names that referred . . . to water . . . ‘ (xxvii)  ‘Her paternal grandfather had been an Irishman who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company . . . married her Indian grandmother under false pretenses in a tribal ceremony.’ (vii)  This family history became the first hand information on betrayal of Indian women Humishuma used in her novel, Cogewea.  Humishuma’s ‘first husband was Hector McLeod, a Flathead’ (vii) her second, Fred Galler was a Wenatchee.  Each marriage was childless.  Her first book, Cogewea was published in 1927 and Coyote Stories in 1933.  She was most proud to become an honorary member of the Eastern Washington State Historical Society.  This tells me it was very important to be recognized by all aspects of the ‘society’ in which she lived.  She walked through both worlds in a physical dimension and on paper guiding her Cogewea sister/friend/self on her journey, the two are one.  I enjoyed the strength of the Grandmother, Stemteema, as she continued the oral tradition of her people.  She desperately tried to keep her young charges on the right path of their ‘Indian’ heritage.

Humishuma weaves many aspects of her traditional culture into Cogewea such as Coyote and the Sweat House.  Coyote is an Okanogan culture hero and trickster.  The Sweat House is central to purifying the people spiritually and physically.  She incorporates her culture and so much of herself in Cogewea that having read it, I believe I have a better understanding of her as a woman struggling in two worlds not so long ago.  It is the same struggle all mixed-blood women have and in a larger sense, all women who try to balance between what is expected of them and their true selves.

Donald Hines wrote of Humishuma’s death, “She was plagued over the years with pneumonia, flu, black measles and, particularly, inflammatory rheumatism.  In 1936…’flu’ in the back of the neck…She died 8 August;…49 years of age.” (ix)  Writing must have been a passionate love for her to endure such hardships to try and explain her heart and culture.  To feel the need to pass on her traditions and experience in a ‘diary’ of Indian women’s lives as part of the early history of America and as a teaching tool for the generations who would follow.  Cogewea leaves a legacy of lessons and understanding that cross all generations.  I hope Humishuma smiles when a woman reads her words and develops an understanding for life.  We owe her a great debt and our respect for her strength.  We must try and feel her tired bones as she would finish backbreaking work and family obligations and then sit down with her old typewriter and put her heart and soul into words, for us.

I believe McWhorter took great liberties with Humishuma’s Cogewea.   However without his backing, I fear it may never have hit the shelves.  She writes to him in 1933 and says, “My book of Cogewea would never have been anything but the cheap foolscap paper that it was written on if you had not helped me get it in shape.  I can never repay you back.” (xiii)  She had to put up money and guarantee sales which seems to be typical of the additional burdens placed on women, especially Native women.  Even with these obstacles at every turn, Humishuma persevered.

As with the ‘Winter Dance we pay homage to the spirits…one’s own individual spirit power.’ (xxii)

We persevere in a caustic society of walls and concrete.  We stand together, we tell the stories, we dance, we respect our elders, we listen and most important, WE REMEMBER.

Originally written 2/22/95

This entry was posted in Native Perspectives. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>