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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
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The following review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac

_Mark Twain among the Indians and Other Indigenous Peoples_. By Kerry
Driscoll. University of California Press, 2018. Pp. 448. Hardcover $95.00.
ISBN 9780520279421 (hardcover). ISBN 9780520970663 (ebook).

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <>

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Kevin Mac Donnell

 Copyright (c) 2018 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

An irksome puzzle has persisted through more than a century of Mark Twain
scholarship. It has usually been avoided altogether, or at best it has been
briefly touched upon by a handful of scholars. In her ground-breaking new
study, Kerry Driscoll spells it out clearly: "While Twain's view on blacks
. . . [demonstrate] unequivocal growth away from the racism of his origins
in the antebellum South, his representations of Indians do not follow a
similarly redemptive arc. They are instead vexingly erratic and
paradoxical, commingling antipathy and sympathy, fascination and visceral
repugnance" (4). Driscoll credits scholars who have dealt briefly with
Twain's attitude toward America's indigenous people--Ned Blackhawk, Louis
J. Budd, Joseph Coulombe, Leslie Fiedler, Philip Foner, Max Geismer, Harold
J. Kolb, and Jeffrey Steinbrink--and points out that they tend to fall into
two camps that either idealize or vilify Native Americans. Both camps
distort Twain's own views by over-simplifying the issue. The truth is more
complicated, and a book length study to explore these complications is long

Driscoll's book is that much needed and long overdue study, and well worth
the wait! "Mark Twain did not care for Indians. This book is an attempt to
understand why" says Driscoll (3). Driscoll describes her approach as
"chronological and geographical" (7) and she documents when and where Twain
met Indians, when and where he read about them, when and where he heard
about them, and when and where he wrote or spoke about them. She lays out
her evidence like a prosecutor, challenges her own evidence, and in doing
so avoids the overgeneralizations that have plagued previous brief studies
that have touched on this topic. At one point the CIA looms large in her
narrative, but more about that later. She also refutes the conventional
notion that Twain's animosity toward Indians was fiercest when he was out
west and that it steadily modulated during his Hartford years. His views
modulated at times, but his antagonism often erupted in later years, and at
best settled into an antipathy toward Indians.

Driscoll makes clear that she does not intend to "defend or defame" Twain,
and reminds us that "his intellectual journey--sprawling, untidy,
incomplete--matters more than where he ultimately arrived" (13). It is an
amazing journey, and if Driscoll's account of it at times seems sprawling,
untidy, or incomplete, it is only a reflection of Mark Twain himself, whose
genius as a storyteller and brilliancy in capturing the voice of America is
justly celebrated, but whose failure to grasp the humanity of Native
Americans is a flaw that cannot be ignored.

The journey begins in Sam Clemens's early years when he likely heard his
mother Jane Clemens recite the story of her own grandmother's survival of
the "Montgomery Massacre" in Kentucky in 1781, in which her father and four
other family members were killed, along with some neighbors in nearby
cabins, and some of her playmates captured. Although some accounts of that
first attack are contradictory, it is clear that after Jane Clemens's
grandmother married, she and her husband survived three more Indian attacks
on the Kentucky frontier and she displayed clear symptoms of PTSD. Jane
Clemens exerted enormous influence on young Sam, and Jane did not like
Indians. Despite his family heritage, sixteen year old Sam romanticized
Indians on par with James Fenimore Cooper when he wrote an account of
Hannibal that he published in 1852, calling them "children of the forest"
who once gave "the wild war-whoop" where Hannibal now stood, but were now
"scattered abroad . . . far from the homes of their childhood and the
graves of their fathers" (14). Likewise, Sam's brother Orion expressed
sympathy for the displaced Indians of the region just a few years later
when he penned an essay about Keokuk for the town's first directory which
he printed while Sam was in his employ.

But the brothers' attitude toward Indians did not remain in sync. During
their years in Nevada, Orion continued to express sympathy for the local
Indians, while Sam's view evolved in the opposite direction. With the
exception of a single letter, he viewed the local Indians as violent,
ignorant, lazy, untrustworthy, and filthy "savages"--describing them with
contempt, amusement, and sometimes pity (72-73). Orion would retain his
sympathy for Indians for the rest of his life, but not even the charitable
views of Sam's friend William Wright (Dan De Quille) could soften Sam's
bias. Twain could even distinguish cultural differences between the local
tribes while sustaining his prejudices toward all of them. As Driscoll
observes at one point, Sam Clemens "sees, in other words, but does not
comprehend" (74).

After adopting his _nom de plume_ and leaving Nevada, Mark Twain retained
his contempt for Indians, and in 1870 published "The Noble Red Man,"
described by Driscoll as "the hateful crescendo of a racial bias rooted in
the tales of frontier violence his mother had told him as a child" (144).
In this piece, Twain authoritatively invokes his experiences with Indians
in Nevada and declares that "all history and honest observation will show
that the Red Man is a skulking coward and a windy braggart . . . [whose]
heart is a cesspool of falsehood, of treachery, and of low and devilish
instincts" and concludes that Indians are "a good, fair, desirable subject
for extermination if ever there was one" (149). Twainians will be shocked
and disappointed to know that in 2004 this essay was posted at, the largest white nationalist website in the world, where
it was praised.

In _Roughing It_, although Twain does not advocate genocide, he describes
one tribe as "a thin, scattering race of almost naked black children . . .
who produce nothing at all, and have no villages, and no gatherings
together into strictly defined tribal communities" making clear that their
extinction will be of no consequence (136). The kindest thing that can be
said about Twain's attitude expressed in _Roughing It_ is that he failed to
see Indians as victims of colonialism, instead criticizing them for
subsisting like parasites at the fringes of white settlements, the only
adaptive behavior possible for them in response to violent displacement.

Earlier in her study Driscoll discusses Injun Joe, reviews Victor Fischer's
debunking of Hannibal's Joe Douglas as the model for Injun Joe, and
explores the implications of "playing Indian" in _The Adventures of Tom
Sawyer_, but she does not mention the Mountain Meadow Massacre (cited in
_Roughing It_), in which Mormons disguised as Indians murdered an entire
wagon train of settlers and kidnapped the very youngest children. She also
discusses James Fenimore Cooper's ridiculous Indians and points out that
Twain lampooned Alexander Pope's Indians a few years before he got around
to blasting Cooper's. Twain's attacks on Cooper began in 1869 and
culminated in his famous essay on Cooper's "literary offenses" in 1895. But
Twain was full of contradictions: He derided Cooper's praise of the
tracking abilities of Indians, yet he was in awe of the tracking abilities
of Aborigines in _Following the Equator_ just two years later.

During Twain's Hartford years he encountered the CIA (the Connecticut
Indian Association, of course; what were you expecting?) and his
reaction--or rather non-reaction--to this active group is revealing. This
group felt the best way to solve "the Indian Problem" was to Americanize
them through detribalization, education, and Christianization. They and
other groups endorsed an idea that was best summed up in a speech by the
founder of an Indian boarding school: "Kill the Indian--save the man"
(228). To modern ears such a group sounds misguided and paternalistic, but
by contemporary standards they represented a progressive movement intent on
helping Native Americans. Twain's next door neighbor, Harriet Beecher
Stowe, was a big supporter (when she wasn't sneaking up behind Twain and
cutting loose with a "war-whoop" as he once reported). But for some reason
Twain and his wife Livy had almost nothing to do with the group despite the
enthusiasm of their neighbors. Twain attended a benefit lecture for the
group by Chauncey Depew, but that may have been a personal gesture or an
indication of Twain's interest in the subject matter. Twain once gave $10
to a cause that was also championed by the CIA, but otherwise he is oddly
absent from the events associated with this advocacy group, prompting
Driscoll to title her chapter "The Curious Tale of the Connecticut Indian

"Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer among the Indians" is discussed at length.
Although never finished, it provides clues to Twain's often ambivalent
attitude toward Indians. One reason given for Twain's failure to finish
this story is that he could not come up with a plot device to get around
the fact that the kidnapped girl was almost certainly raped by her Indian
captors, a topic he did not wish to inject into his fiction. Driscoll
traces Twain's familiarity with this subject back to his days in California
and presents a common source for both this unfinished story and "The
Californian's Tale." She carefully reviews Twain's annotations in books by
Francis Parkman and Richard Irving Dodge, and presents a lively account of
Twain's writing of this aborted tale.

At times Twain's views toward Indians softened, and Driscoll cites numerous
instances. Among them are the influence of Joaquin Miller's _Life amongst
the Modocs_, (Twain even nicknamed his fifteen month-old daughter Susy
"Modoc" because of her hairstyle), his observations and encounters with
indigenous people during his lecture tour around the world, how his own
financial setbacks and geographic displacement made him more sympathetic to
Aborigines and others impoverished and displaced under colonial rule, his
endorsement of Indian music, and his comparison of the Christian God to the
superior Gods of the Indians. But none of these redemptive moments seemed
to endure. In _Following the Equator_, Twain wrote "There are many humorous
things in the world; among them the white man's notion that he is less
savage than the other savages" (_FE_, 213). Driscoll points out that he
recognized the humanity of indigenes people abroad but seemed unable to
transfer that understanding to those at home.

At home Twain could see the humanity in black people, but not Indians.
Driscoll points out that he had grown up in the presence of slaves without
ever questioning their humanity, but that his formative impressions of
Indians came second-hand from newspapers, books, and grotesque family
stories. She quotes from Twain's 1897 notebook: "Education consists mainly
in what we have unlearned" (349) and demonstrates how Twain was unable to
unlearn much of what he'd been taught about Indians, despite having moments
of insight in the presence of other indigenous people. She pairs two quotes
from the beginning and end of his career that show how his jaundiced view
of western Indians as lustful savages remained essentially unchanged. He
could denounce imperialism abroad while mostly ignoring it at home, making
no public statements, for example, even when his daughter Jean wrote an
impassioned letter to the _New York Times_ protesting the mistreatment of
Indians in 1909.

Driscoll admits that Twain's "erratic and deeply conflicted views" of
American Indians "defy easy explanation" (369), and concludes that "Indians
remained an enigma for him--objects of pity, loathing, and confused
fascination--until the end" (370). Readers of this book will be disturbed,
provoked, and disheartened, but not disappointed. They will find the
excellent illustrations, bibliography, and index subentries extremely
helpful and suggestive of further readings and research. But honest
scholarly enquiry often leads to more questions than answers, and if there
are unanswered questions at the end of Driscoll's superb enquiry, it is not
the fault of the enquirer, but Mark Twain himself, who left us no clear
answers on this subject--not because he knew the answers and chose to
withhold them, but because he simply did not know himself.