Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Mark Twain Among The Indians & Other Indigenous Peoples by Kerry Driscoll

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Professor Driscoll has given a number of lectures on the topic of Mark Twain’s response to indigenous populations.  Her lectures can be streamed and downloaded as part of our Trouble Begins Archives.  These lectures include:

  • Kerry Driscoll, “Mark Twain and the Native Other” (July 11, 2018 – The Park Church)
  • Kerry Driscoll, “Mark Twain, The Maori, and The Mystery of Livy’s Jade Pendant” (October 1, 2014 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Kerry Driscoll, “Mark Twain and the American Indian” (May 7, 1986)

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).

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 overdue.

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).

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Kerry Driscoll Discusses The Inspiration For Her New Book, Based On Research That Began At Elmira College In 1986

The seed of what eventually became Mark Twain among the Indians and Other Indigenous Peoples, published last month by the University of California Press, was planted—quite by coincidence—long ago in Elmira. The year was 1986 and I was a freshly-minted Ph.D. (with a specialization in modern American poetry), hired on as an assistant professor at Elmira College.

One day, out of the blue, I got a phone call from Dr. Herb Wisbey, a member of the College’s History Department and—as it happened—the founding director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, who was looking to start up a lecture series. I tried to beg off, saying that while I loved Twain I really wasn’t qualified to speak about him. Herb persisted, asking “Well, Kerry, what are you interested in?” It was my first Term 3 (the shorter Spring term at Elmira College when students take only one or two intensive classes), and I was teaching a new course I’d devised on Native American Literature.  “I’m interested in Indians,” I answered up prompt (like Huck), thinking this would surely get me off the hook. Herb’s response: “So what did Mark Twain think about Indians?” I confessed that I didn’t have a clue. “Why don’t you talk about that then?” And so I did. The rest, as they say, is history.

As fate would have it, the first piece I encountered in preparing my lecture, the 1870 sketch “The Noble Red Man,” turned out to be the single most vicious description the writer ever published about Indians over the course of a career that spanned more than half a century. It’s not a bit funny (I still vividly remember shaking my head in disbelief, thinking, “Mark Twain wrote this?”) and its rhetoric is venomously racist. Twice within the space of four pages, the speaker (one of Twain’s famously slippery narrative personae) declares that Indians are fit subjects for extermination. I was horrified, intrigued, and quite frankly hooked. How, and more importantly, why did this celebrated American writer—a man whom his first biographer Albert Bigelow Paine characterized as a tireless champion of the underdog—come to harbor such antagonistic views?  This question, which I credit Herb for inspiring, became the foundational cornerstone of my book.

Kerry Driscoll is Professor of English at University of Saint Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut. She was formerly a professor at Elmira College, as well as a President of the Mark Twain Circle of America, an editor of the Mark Twain Annual, and a frequent speaker and consultant at The Mark Twain House and Museum. Please come out tomorrow (Wednesday, July 11) to the Park Church in Elmira to see a presentation from her new book, Mark Twain Among The Indians and Other Indigenous Peoples.

Listen to Professor Driscoll’s 1986 lecture “Mark Twain and the American Indian” from our “Trouble Begins Archives” by clicking here.

Kerry Driscoll lectures on her new book, concludes 2018 Park Church Lecture Series

The 2018 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes Wednesday, July 11 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

“Mark Twain and The Native Other” Kerry Driscoll, University of St. Joseph

In his 1899 essay “Concerning the Jews,” Twain states: I am quite sure that (bar one) I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.” Although the writer refused to name the one bias he admits to harboring, abundant evidence in his work suggests that the allusion is to Native Americans, whom he referred to in print as “reptiles, “vermin,” and “good, fair, desirable subject[s] for extermination.” This presentation explores the origin and evolution of Twain’s attitudes toward indigenous peoples and probes the reasons underlying his animus.

Kerry Driscoll is Professor of English (emerita) at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT. She is the past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, a member of the editorial board for the Circle’s journal, the Mark Twain Annual, and serves on the Board of Trustees at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford. In addition to numerous essays she has published on Twain’s work, she is the author of Mark Twain among the Indians and Other Indigenous Peoples (University of California Press, 2018), the first book-length study of the author’s conflicted attitudes toward, and representations of, Native Americans.

The lecture will conclude with a reception and tour of the The Park Church.

About The Park Church
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain.  Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community.  Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

2018 Park Church Summer Lectures

The 2018 Park Church Summer Lecture Series

Previous “Park Church” and “Trouble Begins” lectures can be found and downloaded in the “Trouble Begins” Archives” or by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 13 at the Park Church 7 p.m.

“Fingerprints and Microbe Time: Mark Twain and Scientific Skepticism”

James W. Leonard, The Citadel

Linnaeus Manuscript

It is well known that Twain took contemporary social, political, and particularly racial beliefs to task through an incisive skepticism which outpaced many of his generation. But Twain also understood the role that science and empiricism played in the formation and justification of social projects. Like many of his time, he was thrilled by the explosion of new technologies and systems that characterized the 19th century. For example, we know from his personal writings how excited he was to include Francis Galton’s discovery of fingerprinting in Pudd’nhead Wilson. But even in that excitement, Twin never lost sight of his characteristic skepticism, and a closer look at his literary portrayal of science reveals a visionary’s understanding of how empirical facts- -and the systems organizing those facts–would be increasingly scrutinized as social and political tools in literature of the 20th century.

James W. Leonard recently received his PhD from Tufts University and is currently an adjunct professor of English at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. While much of his research focuses on 20th-century authors (particularly Djuna Barnes, Cormac McCarthy, and Leslie Marmon Silko), he is particularly interested in Mark Twain’s capacity for identifying and articulating complex forms of social critique that would only be popularized years after his death. His current research on Twain looks at his insistence on filtering empiricism through satire.

 

Wednesday, June 20 at the Park Church 7 p.m. 

“’…there is only one thing of real importance…’: The Letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens”

Barbara Snedecor, Elmira College

Olivia Langdon Clemens

The letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens reveal her deep emotion as well as the more ordinary impulses of her thought. In communications with friends and family, and with her world- famous spouse, Olivia exposes her intelligence, fortitude, gentleness, kindness, humor, love for husband and children—along with her anxieties, self-deprecation, and flaws. Possibly the following statement, written to her husband during their plunge towards bankruptcy, best indicates her world view: “I feel so strongly these days that we have not a great while to stay here and that there is only one thing of real importance to us. To do all the good that we can and leave an irreproachable name behind us” (9 April 1893). The presentation will summarize critical views of Olivia as well as highlight selections from her letters.

Barbara Snedecor directed the Center for Mark Twain Studies and was an Assistant Professor of American Literature at Elmira College. In 2015, she was awarded the Living Heritage Award by the Chemung County Chamber of Commerce. In 2017, she received the Henry Nash Smith Award. She has published novels, personal essays, and poetry as well as Mark Twain in Elmira, Second Edition, and scholarly essays connected with Mark Twain Studies. She currently is preparing a collection of the letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens for publication.

 

Wednesday, July 11 at the Park Church 7 p.m.

“Mark Twain and The Native Other”

Kerry Driscoll, University of St. Joseph

In his 1899 essay “Concerning the Jews,” Twain states: I am quite sure that (bar one) I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.” Although the writer refused to name the one bias he admits to harboring, abundant evidence in his work suggests that the allusion is to Native Americans, whom he referred to in print as “reptiles, “vermin,” and “good, fair, desirable subject[s] for extermination.” This presentation explores the origin and evolution of Twain’s attitudes toward indigenous peoples and probes the reasons underlying his animus.

Kerry Driscoll is Professor of English (emerita) at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT. She is the past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, a member of the editorial board for the Circle’s journal, the Mark Twain Annual, and serves on the Board of Trustees at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford. In addition to numerous essays she has published on Twain’s work, she is the author of Mark Twain among the Indians and Other Indigenous Peoples (University of California Press, 2018), the first book-length study of the author’s conflicted attitudes toward, and representations of, Native Americans.

The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community. Currently, it is a United Church of Christ open and affirming congregation, welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

 

For a PDF copy of the 2018 Park Church Summer Lectures lineup, click here.

 

2018 Summer Teachers’ Institute: “Mark Twain In Color”

For the registration form and full Institute schedule, click here.

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is once again collaborating with the Schuyler-Chemung- Tioga-Corning Teachers’ Center to offer the 2018 Summer Teachers’ Institute in July (Tuesday, July 10 and Wednesday, July 11).  This two-day institute is held in the Gannett-Tripp Library on the Elmira College campus and at Quarry Farm.

The theme this year is “Mark Twain In Color.”

Join Kerry Driscoll, Ann M. Ryan, and Matt Seybold as they explore Mark Twain’s complicated reading (and writing) of race in Nineteenth Century America. We like to think of Mark Twain, “the man in white,” as absolutely progressive when it came to issues of race and ethnicity, but Twain’s journey toward enlightenment had many bumps in the road. Some of his attitudes were remarkable and forward thinking; others were more backward and reactionary—all of which makes Mark Twain less an icon of goodness and more m human. We’ll look at Twain’s portraits—in both his fictional and non-fictional work—of African Americans, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants, as well as his reflections on his own white identity. We’ll discuss Twain’s acute sensitivity to injustice and violence, and how it often competes with racial prejudice—some of which he inherits and some of which he hones. Our hope is that the teachers who attend this Institute will find in Twain’s lifelong reflections on race, as well as his struggles with prejudice, stories to share with students who also struggle with this complicated shared history.

Elmira College is the perfect place to “talk Twain,” since it is the home of the international Center for Mark Twain Studies. The Center has stewardship of Quarry Farm, the summer home of Olivia Langdon Clemens’ family and site of her sister Susan Crane’s home (and later dairy). Quarry Farm also includes the original location of the Study as well as the landmark home where Clemens wrote and first read many of his major writings to his family while on the porch at “the Farm.”

Your $65 registration fee includes:

  • Two breakfasts and two lunches
  • A custom reader with all the texts used during the Institute
  • A gift from the Center for Mark Twain Studies

In order to prepare for discussion, the texts will be mailed to you upon receipt of your registration payment, or you may arrange to pick them up at Elmira College.

MEET OUR FACULTY

Kerry Driscoll is Professor of English at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, CT and the current President of the Mark Twain Circle of America. She is the recipient of a 2007 faculty research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a book manuscript, Mark Twain among the Indians, which was just published in June 2018.

Ann M. Ryan is the Kevin G. O’Connell Distinguished Professor of English at Le Moyne College. Her publications include A Due Voci: The Photographs of Rita Hammond, many published essays on Mark Twain and other authors, and Cosmopolitan Twain, co-edited with Joseph McCullough. For seven years, she was editor of the Mark Twain Annual.

Matt Seybold is Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, as well as editor of MarkTwainStudies.org. He is co-editor of the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics. Recent publications can be found in Aeon Magazine, American Studies, boundary 2, Henry James Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Mark Twain Annual, Reception, and T.S. Eliot Studies Annual.

INSTITUTE SCHEDULE

Tuesday, July 10 at Gannett-Tripp Library on the Elmira College Campus

8:15 – 8:55 Registration and Light Breakfast

9:00 – 10:00 Session #1- “Becoming Twain in Black and White” – We’ll trace Twain’s journey through the fraught history of race in nineteenth-century America. Twain forged complicated relationships with slaves during his childhood, which both haunt and inspire him for the rest of his life.

10:00 – 10:15 Mid-morning Break

10:15 – 11:30 Session #2 – Conjuring Black Voices-Echoing through his writings are the voices of the black people Twain knew, as well as those he thought he knew. We’ll listen to Twain conjure their voices through the prism of his memory.

11:30 – 12:30 Luncheon Buffet

12:30 – 1:30 Session #3 -”The Romance and Terror of Indians” – An exploration of Clemens’s early attitudes toward Native Americans, particularly the images of the “noble” and “ignoble” savage as reflected in the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, as well as the history/politics in Indian removal in antebellum Missouri.

1:30 – 1:45 Mid-afternoon Break

1:45 – 3:00 Session #4 – “Indians Reimagined” – A discussion of short works: “A Visit to Niagara” (1869); “The Noble Red Man” (1870); Chapter 19 of Roughing It on “Goshoot” Indians (1872)

Closing Visit to the Study, the Exhibit, and historic Cowles Hall

Wednesday, July 11 AT QUARRY FARM

8:15 – 8:55 Arrival at Quarry Farm and light breakfast

9:00 – 10:00 Session #1 – “Comparative Racialization” – With particular attention to short writings from San Francisco newspapers, we will discuss how witness the exploitative treatment of Chinese laborers in the West awoke young Samuel Clemens to the hypocritical racial politics of Jacksonian America.

10:00 – 10:15 Mid-morning Break

10:15 – 11:30 Session #2 – “The Anti-Imperialist Imagination” – A brief tour through the anti-imperialist writings of Twain’s late phase, with particular attention to “The Fable of the Yellow Terror,” in which he offers an eerily prophetic account of Chinese – American relations in the century to come.

11:30 – 12:30 Lunch and Tour of the Grounds of Quarry Farm

12:30 – 1:30 Session #3 “There’s all kinds here…When the Deity builds a heaven, it is built right, and on a liberal plan” – Exploring Racial and Cultural Diversity in “Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven” (1907)

1:30 – 1:45 Mid-afternoon Break

1:45 – 3:00 Session #4 – Concluding Session/Lesson Planning Teachers are invited to pull together their observations and readings into a lesson or assignment for their students