John Joseph Mathews Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Joseph Mathews won critical acclaim for his novel and historical works written from an Indian point of view. Mathews grew up on the Osage reservation in comfortable circumstances. His father, a quarter-blood Osage, operated a successful trading post and later founded a bank in Pawhuska; his mother was of French descent. The boy associated with traditional Osages, absorbing their culture, and learned to speak Osage. He attended private and parochial schools before enrolling in Pawhuska’s predominantly white public high school. In 1914 Mathews entered the University of Oklahoma, majoring in geology. His studies were interrupted by overseas service as an aviator during World War I, and he did not graduate until 1920.

Although offered a Rhodes scholarship, Mathews preferred to pay his own way at Oxford, using his income from Osage oil. The Osages successfully resisted pressure to divide their reservation into individual allotments until 1906. They insisted on retaining subsurface mineral rights as communal property; income from oil royalties would be shared equally by all enrolled tribal members. Mathews’s one full-blooded Osage great-grandmother entitled him to tribal registry. Bringing in only a few hundred dollars per member initially, oil leases by 1920 returned over eight thousand dollars annually. At its peak in 1925, the year’s payment of $13,200 per headright made the Osage the richest nation on earth.

After earning a B.A. in natural science from Oxford in 1923, Mathews spent a year at the University of Geneva’s School of International Relations. He traveled widely in Europe and North Africa before returning to Pawhuska in 1929....

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bailey, Garrick. “John Joseph Mathews: Osage, 1894-    .” In American Indian Intellectuals: 1976 Proceedings of the American Ethnological Society, edited by Margot Liberty. St. Paul, Minn.: West, 1978. Discusses Mathews’s ancestry and life in relation to his writings on the Osages.

Hunter, Carol. “The Protagonist as a Mixed-Blood in John Joseph Mathews’ Novel Sundown.” American Indian Quarterly 6 (Fall/Winter, 1982): 319-337. Discusses the theme of assimilated or mixed-blood Indians who are alienated from both white and traditional Indian society.

Wilson, Terry P. “Osage Oxonian: The Heritage of John Joseph Mathews.” Chronicles of Oklahoma 59 (Fall, 1981): 264-293. A biographical sketch and literary analysis of Mathews’s career and writings.