Critical Context

Although Sundown is a semiautobiographical novel, its author did not follow the sad route of his protagonist, Chal Windzer. Mathews, like fellow Osages Clarence Tinker, Sylvester Tinker, and Maria Tallchief, distinguished himself in several ways. He was a pilot in World War I. Early in the postwar years, he was graduated from the University of Oklahoma and pursued study at Sewanee, the University of Oxford, and the University of Geneva. After a few years in ranching and real estate, he rejoined the Oklahoma Osage, became a tribal councilman, and was soon recognized as one of the Osage’s principal spokespeople and their preeminent historian.

Publication of his Wah’Kon-Tah: The Osage and the White Man’s Road (1932) brought him and the Osage national attention. It was the first university press book to be chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. (A paperback edition was republished by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1981.) Appearing two years later, Sundown was a literary plea for public acknowledgment of the Osage’s fate and, by implication, of the plight of most American Indians. By the early 1930’s, the Osages, like millions of other Americans caught in the grip of the Great Depression, had fallen on hard times, though they remained far less impoverished than most American Indians. The “Great Frenzy,” the oil boom of the 1920’s, had collapsed, and royalties had diminished to a trickle. A series of...

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