McNickle, D'Arcy

Principal Works

The Surrounded (novel) 1936
La política de los Estados Unidos sobre los gobiernos tribales y los empresas communales de los Indios [with Joseph C. McCaskill] (nonfiction) 1942
They Came Here First: The Epic of the American Indian (nonfiction) 1949; revised edition, 1975
Runner in the Sun: A Story of Indian Maize (novel) 1954
Indians and Other Americans: Two Ways of Life Meet [with Harold E. Fey] (nonfiction) 1959; revised edition, 1970
The Indian Tribes of the United States: Ethnic and Cultural Survival (nonfiction) 1962; revised edition published as Native American Tribalism: Indian Survivals and Renewals, 1973
Indian Man: A Life of Oliver La Farge (biography) 1971
Wind from an Enemy Sky (novel) 1978
The Hawk Is Hungry, and Other Stories (short stories) 1992


Fred T. Marsh (review date 16 February 1936)

SOURCE: "A Novel of Old and New Americans," in The New York Times Book Review, February 16, 1936, p. 7.

[In the following review, Marsh praises The Surrounded as a moving and dramatic first novel.]

Up in the mountain country of Northwestern Montana is the valley of Sniél-emen—Mountains of the Surrounded. It lies within the original Jocko Indian Reservation, home of the last of the Salish (or Flathead) people. It is the seat of the once famous mission of St. Mary, founded nearly a hundred years ago by Jesuits under the leadership of Pierre J. De Smet. They were a fine people, esteemed as honorable and friendly by the whites, brave in defense of their homeland against their hereditary enemies, the war-like and predatory Blackfeet (who have a great history, too). But first the church, then the traders, finally white settlers upset the ancient order.

D'Arcy McNickle, himself part Indian, was born on the reservation thirty-two years ago and went to a government Indian school there for a time. In this unusual and finished first novel [The Surrounded] he has written a modern story of the Salish people in their modern desultory and formless way of life, a dramatic and thoughtful tale, written from the inside but without autobiographical point, and deeply imbedded in the historic past.

When Max Leon, the Spaniard, came to the valley many years ago he decided he had found his new home. He was tired of roving and he saw there the ranch he wanted. So he settled down, married an Indian girl, daughter of the old chief Running Wolf and called "Faithful Catharine" by the Jesuit Fathers for her piety. They had eleven children. Max prospered materially, but otherwise things did not go well with him. His boys turned out bad, one after another. His favorite daughter married a full-blooded Indian. He was defiantly self-conscious about his Indian family in his dealings with other whites. And Catharine, his wife, sinks further and further back in her stoic dignity and old Indian ways until in a rage Max builds a new house and decrees that no...

(The entire section is 871 words.)

Constance Lindsay Skinner (review date 23 February 1936)

SOURCE: "The War within the Indian," in New York Herald Tribune Books, February 23, 1936, p. 2.

[Skinner was a Canadian journalist, creative writer, and historian who corresponded with McNickle beginning in the early 1930s. In the review below, she presents a favorable assessment of The Surrounded.]

[The Surrounded] is a dramatic story, on a sombre theme, told in a sparse style which fits the body of the material like a skin. The scene is the Flathead reservation in Montana. The name of the place is translated "The Surrounded," because there, in years past, the Blackfeet surrounded many of the Salish and killed them. Mr. McNickle uses the name in metaphor, with the poetic, clearly defined symbolism which is characteristic of Indian thinking. Today, the Salish are surrounded by the white man's civilization and the white man's religion, neither comprehensible; and the blood of the white race flows in Salish veins. Happiest are the old people, living in the traditions and tales of the past, which become more vivid to them, seeming to take on flesh and a voice, as the time of the long sleep draws nearer. It is the young and especially the mixed bloods who are "the surrounded."

One of these is the appealing and tragic hero of Mr. McNickle's tense and poetic novel.

Archilde Leon, son of Spanish Max Leon and Faithful Catharine, the spiritual pride of the mission, liked to learn. He studied at the mission school, grasped something of the three R's and found that he had a talent for the violin. He and his fiddle made their way out into the white man's world, at least as far as a show house in Portland. He was emancipated: he could get a job playing his fiddle any time, he could study music and he need never return to the reservation. But just once more he must go back, to feel the air on his face, smell the scents of earth as they...

(The entire section is 787 words.)

Oliver La Farge (review date 14 March 1936)

SOURCE: "Half-Breed Hero," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XII, No. 20, March 14, 1936, p. 10.

[The subject of McNickle's Indian Man, La Farge was considered an authority on Native-American culture and won the 1929 Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his first novel, Laughing Boy, which focuses on Navajo characters. Below, he provides a positive review of The Surrounded.]

There has been up to now, in the history of American letters, an amazing lot of writing about the American Indian, and mighty little literature. In the field of the novel, particularly, one is inclined to feel that this was necessarily so; the schools and limitations on the past prevented anything like an honest job upon a subject essentially sectional and fundamentally unpleasant. With the development of the American novel in the past twenty years, a number of white men have seen that the American Indian was a natural for them, and have done fairly good jobs, mainly concentrating their interest on the most picturesque, least complex situations of the "blanket Indians" in the Southwest, or turning their faces towards the past. The real job must be done, one has felt, by men of Indian blood who partook of the life they described as most good sectional writers do.

So far, two men of a degree of Indian blood have come forward to show, at least, a situation of great promise. [John Joseph] Mathews of the...

(The entire section is 557 words.)

Mary Heaton Vorse (review date 15 April 1936)

SOURCE: "End of the Trail," in The New Republic, Vol. LXXXVI, No. 1115, April 15, 1936, pp. 295-96.

[In the review below, Vorse praises The Surrounded for its honesty and insight.]

On the frontispiece of D'Arcy McNickle's book [The Surrounded] is an explanation of his title: "They called that place Sniel-emen (Mountains of the Surrounded) because there they had been set upon and destroyed."

No one has written with more insight, with more realism and at the same time with more tenderness concerning the life on an Indian reservation of the Northwest, where contact with the white men has already destroyed the tribal integrity and where the...

(The entire section is 598 words.)

The Christian Science Monitor (review date 11 November 1954)

SOURCE: "Of the Authentic Indian," in The Christian Science Monitor, November 11, 1954, p. 14.

[In the excerpt below, the critic favorably reviews Runner in the Sun.]

We forget how ancient was the Indian in this land that we newcomers named America. Runner in the Sun, by a full-blooded American Indian, D'Arcy McNickle, takes us back to an Indian community in the canyon country some millennia before Columbus. An Indian boy named Salt is in trouble because he has an idea that offers salvation to the seven clans of White Rock Place at the cost of breaking with tradition.

Salt's trial by his elders, the revolt of the Spider Clan, the brazenness of...

(The entire section is 288 words.)

Nancy Oestreich Lurie (review date August 1975)

SOURCE: A review of Native American Tribalism: Indian Survivals and Renewals, in Pacific Historical Review, Vol. XLIV, No. 3, August, 1975, pp. 399-400.

[Lurie is an American anthropologist and educator whose studies of Native-American culture have included an ongoing analysis of Wisconsin's Winnebago tribe. In the following review, she discusses Native American Tribalism and its examination of Indian-white relations in the twentieth century.]

This book [Native American Tribalism: Indian Survivals and Renewals] is a revised and updated version of D'Arcy McNickle's seventy-nine-page paperback, The Indian Tribes of the United States, published...

(The entire section is 592 words.)

Martha C. Knack (review date June 1976)

SOURCE: A review of Native American Tribalism: Indian Survivals and Renewals, in American Anthropologist, Vol. 78, No. 2, June, 1976, p. 444.

[Knack is an American anthropologist and educator whose writings include a study of Utah's Paiute Indians. In the review below, she commends McNickle's inclusion of new concepts and events in Native American Tribalism.]

[Native American Tribalism: Indian Survivals and Renewals] is the long awaited and timely second edition of D'Arcy McNickle's basic 1962 history, The Indian Tribes of the United States: Ethnic and Cultural Survival. The brief original work has been significantly expanded and updated, with new...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

Charles R. Larson (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Rejection: The Reluctant Return," in American Indian Fiction, University of New Mexico Press, 1978, pp. 66-96.

[Larson is an American educator whose works frequently focus on the writings of Africans and Native Americans. In the following excerpt, he examines themes and symbolism in The Surrounded.]

Like the main character in his novel, D'Arcy McNickle (Flathead) was born in western Montana and attended a government boarding school in Oregon. There, however, the similarities end. The setting of The Surrounded is explained in a note opposite the title page of the volume: "They called that place Sniél-emen (Mountains of the Surrounded) because...

(The entire section is 3767 words.)

A. LaVonne Ruoff (review date May 1979)

SOURCE: A review of Wind from an Enemy Sky, in American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 2, May, 1979, pp. 167-69.

[Ruoff is an American educator and former president of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literature. In the review below, she judges Wind from an Enemy Sky moving and forceful, but inferior to The Surrounded.]

Though well known as a prolific writer on Indian affairs in such fields as anthropology, history, and biography, D'Arcy McNickle began and ended his writing career as a novelist. His first book was The Surrounded (1936), the best novel by an Indian author published in the 1930s. Except for writing the juvenile novel...

(The entire section is 672 words.)

Louis Owens (essay date February 1985)

SOURCE: "The 'Map of the Mind': D'Arcy McNickle and the American Indian Novel," in Western American Literature, Vol. XIX, No. 4, February, 1985, pp. 275-83.

[Owens is an American educator and critic of mixed Choctaw, Cherokee, and Irish descent. In the excerpt that follows, he examines the theme of misunderstanding between whites and Native Americans in Wind from an Enemy Sky.]

In D'Arcy McNickle's posthumously published novel, Wind From An Enemy Sky (1978), Toby Rafferty, the reform-minded agent to the Little Elk Indians, thinks, "The problem is communication…. The answer, obviously, is that we do not speak to each other—and language is only part of it....

(The entire section is 2032 words.)

Franco Meli (essay date November 1988)

SOURCE: "D'Arcy McNickle: The Indian War That Never Ends, or the Incredible Survival of Tribalism," in Revue française d'études américaines, Vol. XIII, No. 38, November, 1988, pp. 363-65.

[In the following essay, Meli discusses the concept of tribalism in McNickle's works.]

As an administrator, historian, anthropologist or writer, d'Arcy McNickle's first concern was the issue of tribalism, that is the multiplicity of distinctive traditional cultures, which gives the lie to all stereotypes and resists the forces of assimilation. Contrary to the white man's early and contemporary expectations, the Indian tribes of North America have neither vanished nor completely...

(The entire section is 1005 words.)

James Ruppert (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "Politics and Culture in the Fiction of D'Arcy McNickle," in Rocky Mountain Review, Vol. 42, No. 4, 1988, pp. 185-95.

[Ruppert is an educator and critic who specializes in Native-American studies. In the following essay, he compares Wind from an Enemy Sky to The Surrounded and Runner in the Sun, examining how these works reflect McNickle's definition of culture and opinions on social change.]

A man of many talents, D'Arcy McNickle (1904–1977) is noted as a historian, civil servant, Native American rights advocate, and novelist. McNickle, a member of the Salish Tribe, published three novels, six ethnohistorical studies of White/Native...

(The entire section is 4859 words.)

Jay Hansford C. Vest (essay date October 1989)

SOURCE: "Feather Boy's Promise: Sacred Geography and Environmental Ethics in D'Arcy McNickle's Wind from an Enemy Sky," in American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 45-67.

[Vest is an educator specializing in Native-American cultures and literatures. In the following excerpt from a paper originally presented at the 24th Annual Meeting of the Western Literature Association in October 1989, he explores Wind from an Enemy Sky in light of Native-American beliefs and folklore, concluding that McNickle's use of mythic elements transforms what otherwise would be a tragedy.]

On the surface, [Wind from an Enemy Sky] appears tragic in...

(The entire section is 1632 words.)

John Lloyd Purdy (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "The Journey to the South," in Word Ways: The Novels of D'Arcy McNickle, University of Arizona Press, 1990, pp. 82-105.

[Purdy is an educator, editor, and author of articles on Native-American literature. In the following excerpt, he discusses McNickle's motives and methods for writing Runner in the Sun, and discusses the novel's themes and characters as they reflect Native storytelling conventions.]

As a young boy, [McNickle] was forced to leave family and friends to attend Chemawa because the government was bent upon the assimilation of the Indians by instilling American values in their young; McNickle's goal in [Runner in the Sun: A Story of Indian...

(The entire section is 4614 words.)

Birgit Hans (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Hawk Is Hungry and Other Stories by D'Arcy McNickle, edited by Birgit Hans, University of Arizona Press, 1992, pp. vii-xx.

[Hans is a German-born educator and critic who specializes in the study of Native-American cultures. In the essay below, she surveys McNickle's career and discusses the major themes of his short fiction.]

To have been born an Indian on an Indian Reservation is to have been half-born. Rather, it is to have come to live in a world of mist. Always you are waiting, the people around you are waiting. [Notes from "En roulant ma boule, roulant …," McNickle Collection, The Newberry Library, Chicago]...

(The entire section is 5265 words.)

Louis Owens (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "Maps of the Mind: John Joseph Mathews and D'Arcy McNickle," in Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel, University of Oklahoma Press, 1992, pp. 49-89.

[Owens is an American novelist and critic of Choctaw, Cherokee, and Irish heritage. In the following excerpt, he discusses the clash of opposing Native-American and "Euramerican" cultures and the disabling result of European paternalism toward Native Americans in The Surrounded.]

The Surrounded begins with Archilde Leon, half-Salish and half-Spanish, returning to his home on the Flathead reservation from a brief spell of wandering and fiddle-playing in Oregon. Archilde's venturing forth...

(The entire section is 3959 words.)

Further Reading


Parker, Dorothy R. Singing an Indian Song: A Biography of D'Arcy McNickle. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992, 316 p.

Traces McNickle's life and discusses his influence on Indian-white relations as evidenced in his work in Native-American development organizations and in his various writings.

Ruppert, James. D'Arcy McNickle. Boise, Id.: Boise State University Western Writers Series, 1988, 55 p.

Overview of McNickle's life and work, including critical commentary on each of his books.



(The entire section is 394 words.)