After the death of her first husband in 1863, Helen Hunt began writing as an outlet for her creative energies and to earn a living. She wrote travel articles, poems, short stories, and novels, publishing in many periodicals, including Century, Harper’s, and The Atlantic Monthly. Her work appeared under a variety of pseudonyms, most notably H. H., Saxe Holm, and as part of the No Name series of novels. Having suffered from respiratory illnesses, she went to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for her health. There she met and married, in 1875, William Jackson. She lived in Colorado the rest of her life, for several years continuing to write travel articles about the American West.
During the nineteenth century, publishers brought out several collections of her popular early work, but it was her later work, which championed the cause of Native American peoples, that earned more lasting acclaim.
On a trip to Boston in 1879, Jackson attended a lecture by two Ponca Indians, Standing Bear and Bright Eyes. Although she had never gone in for causes, she became interested in the plight of these Indians and spent many hours researching the United States government’s treaty relations with various North American tribes. The results of her study appeared in A Century of Dishonor, a history of the making and breaking of treaties by the government in its dealings with several tribes from 1776 to 1876. A strong denunciation of government practices, the book documents the successive removal of native Americans from their lands. It drew some official attention; Jackson was appointed to a federal Indian Commission to study the mission Indians of California.
Disappointed that Century of Dishonor did not excite more public response, Jackson wrote a novel, Ramona, in hopes of appealing to a wider audience. Ramona is one of the few works of its time to present a picture of whites moving into a West that already had two established cultures, the mission Indian and the Spanish American. The novel recounts the story of the California Indians, who were repeatedly dispossessed of their lands, their homes, and their cultures by land-grabbing Americans, who had the support of their government.
A Century of Dishonor and Ramona were Jackson’s protest literature, presenting a side of the debate on the government’s treatment of the tribes that was generally obscured. It was not until the 1960’s that other authors echoed her protests.