| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Mourning Dove (Okanogan)
Mourning Dove was born Christal Quintasket near
Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. Besides her English name, she was given the name
Hum-ishu-ma, or Mourning Dove. On her mother’s side she was descended from an
ancient line of warrior chieftains, and her paternal grandfather was an
Irishman who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company. She received some education
at Sacred Heart Convent at Ward, Washington, but left school to help care for
four younger sisters and brothers. In her later teenage years, Mourning Dove
lived with her maternal grandmother and through her developed an intense
interest in the oral tradition of her people, the Okanogans, who today live in
the western part of the Colville Reservation, near the Columbia and Okanogan
Rivers and the Canadian border.
published in 1927, was considered the first novel written by an American Indian
woman until the discovery of S. Alice Callahan’s Wynema: A Child of the Forest,
first published in 1891. Mourning Dove wrote in cooperation with Lucullus
McWhorter, whom she met in 1914, by which time she had already drafted a
version of the novel. McWhorter, who became her friend and mentor for twenty
years, was a serious scholar of Indian traditions and had been adopted into the
Yakima tribe. In contrast, Mourning Dove had little more than a third-grade
education and some training in a business school. Thus she agreed to let
McWhorter “fix up” the story by adding poetic epigraphs and elaborate notes on
Okanogan traditions. His stylistic influence is also apparent in the often
stilted language, including a self-conscious use of slang, which contrasts with
the simple style of Mourning Dove’s later drafts of some coyote stories.
However, McWhorter knew what a white readership expected, and he was able,
after a delay of many years, to find a publisher. While the novel is uneven, it
gives an excellent picture of some Okanogan traditions, and the western romance
plot made it acceptable in its time.
in 1919 Mourning Dove had married Fred Galler, a Wenatchee. She had no
children, and with Galler she became a migrant worker, camping out, working in
the hop fields and apple orchards, and lugging her typewriter along to work at
her writing. McWhorter failed to mention this part of her life in his preface
to Cogewea; instead, he gave a more idyllic picture of the deprivations of her
Stories, also published with the help of McWhorter, was much more Mourning
Dove’s own work. She agreed to Heister Dean Guie’s receiving credit on the
title page for illustrating and editing. Guie insisted on standardized
spellings and verification of Okanogan beliefs. McWhorter mediated between him
and Mourning Dove. Unfortunately, neither Guie nor McWhorter regarded Mourning
Dove as an authority on Okanogan folklore. A foreword by Chief Standing Bear
probably helped sell the book because Standing Bear had published two popular
autobiographies during the previous years, and his Land of the Spotted Eagle,
focusing on Sioux beliefs and customs, appeared in the same year as Coyote
stories give an impression of Mourning Dove’s personality and tradition as well
as of the folk material she gathered. Her introduction gives authenticity to
her collection by describing her family heritage and the tribal setting in
which these stories were passed on for education, entertainment, and social
bonding. The story “The Spirit Chief Names the Animal People” exemplifies all
of these purposes, but also expresses the spiritual aspect of the coyote
tradition by describing the concept of power (squastenk9) and the origin of the
Sweat House ritual. Both are central to Okanogan beliefs and indicate an
aboriginal insight into the subtle connections between physical and
psychological vitality and their grounding in cosmological mystery. Coyote himself
is part of this mystery by being laughably human and divinely powerful at the
Dove’s later years were spent in relative obscurity. Occasionally she traveled
to lecture in the East, but she was uncomfortable before strange audiences and
could hardly afford the travel expenses. The single honor bestowed on her was
her election as an honorary member of the Eastern Washington State Historical
Society. Having for years been plagued with various illnesses, Mourning Dove
died in a state hospital at Medical Lake, Washington, at the age of
In the Heath Anthology
from Coyote Stories
"The Spirit Chief Names the Animal People"
Cogewea, the Half-Blood: A Depticiton of the Great Montana Cattle Range
There are no Cultural Objects for this author.
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?
There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.
Several excerpts from Dove's Coyote Tales.
Native American Authors Project
From the Internet Public Library.
Voices from the Gap: Women Writers of Color
Book review and biography.
Alanna Kathleen Brown, "Looking Through the Glass Darkley: The Editorialized Mourning Dove," in New Visions in Native American Criticism, ed. Arnold Krupat, pp. 274-90 (Washington, D.C.)
Catherine Halverson, "Redefining the Frontier: Mourning Dove's Cogewea, the Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Ranch," American Indian Culture and Research Journal 21, 4
Morning Dove's Cogewea, the Half-Flood as a Narrative of Mixed Descent, "in Early Native American Writing: New Critical Essays, pp. 204-22, ed. Helen Jaskowski
Clifford E. Trafzer and Richard D. Scheuermann, eds., Mourning Dove's Stories, 1991