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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

John Joseph†Mathews (Osage)

John Joseph Mathews appears on the tribal roll as one-eighth Osage. He was acutely aware of his mixed-blood status as well as the changes that were overtaking reservation life in Indian Territory, later Oklahoma. After a varied youth during which he received degrees in natural sciences from the University of Oklahoma and Oxford and served as a flight instructor in aviationís infancy during World War I, he returned to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and turned his intellect and talent to a life of public service and writing. His first book, Wah'kon-tah: The Osage and The White Manís Road (1929), became a Book-of-the-Month Club bestseller.

The title of his only novel, Sundown (1934), reflects Mathewsís judgment that the traditional tribal life was passing away forever in Oklahoma. The novel is about young Challenge ďChalĒ Windzer, born to a progressive-minded father who hopes his son will be strong enough to make a very uncertain future full of change. The novelís plot is roughly autobiographical. Unlike Mathews, however, Chal returns from the University of Oklahoma and flight training in World War I and is unable to fit into his community, or find a meaningful vocation, or resist the blandishments of alcohol and other Anglo corruptions. The black oil derricks that ebb and flow ominously across Osage land symbolize the fatal consequences of the instant wealth brought by the exploitation of Indian resources. In the first of the passages that follows, Mathews draws a keenly insightful picture of the kinds of changes that were coming to the reservation. In the second, Chal has returned home to find his community expiring in the last trickle of money and alcohol from the oil boom. Though he is inspired by Roan Horseís example, his motherís sad but more knowledgeable evaluation of his character suggests that there is little hope for her son to fulfill his dream.

Andrew O. Wiget
New Mexico State University

In the Heath Anthology
from Sundown (1934)

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Native American Authors Project
Brief biography and a collection of digitized books available for reading online.

Secondary Sources

Terry P. Wilson, "Osage Oxonian: The Heritage of John Joseph Mathews," Chronicles of Oklahoma 59, 1981: 264-93