Mountain Wolf Woman Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mountain Wolf Woman 1884–1960

(Also known as Little Fifth Daughter, Xehaciwinga, and Haksigaxunuminka) American autobiographer.

The following entry presents an overview of Mountain Wolf Woman's life and career.

A member of the Winnebago tribe, Mountain Wolf Woman is the author of the critically acclaimed Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder (1961). An evocative recounting of the author's life, the autobiography is highly regarded as an authoritative document of Winnebago history and customs. Written in collaboration with a white author, the book, with its copious notes and fidelity to Mountain Wolf Woman's voice, is also lauded for successfully avoiding the loss of tribal identity often arising from Native-White literary collaborations.

Biographical Information

Born in East Fork River, Wisconsin, Mountain Wolf Woman was a member of the Thunder Clan of the Winnebago tribe. Initially raised in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, she frequently moved with her family in accordance with hunting and growing cycles. She did, however, receive two years of formal education while living in Tomah, Wisconsin. At a later date, she resumed her studies; these, however, were again interrupted when her older brother forced her into an arranged marriage. She eventually divorced her first husband and remarried Bad Soldier, also a member of the Winnebago tribe; between her two marriages, she had eleven children and several grandchildren. Mountain Wolf Woman first met her adopted niece, anthropologist Nancy Oestreich Lurie, in 1945, and she was eventually asked by Lurie to record her life story. She traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1958 and stayed with Lurie while they worked on the book. Mountain Wolf Woman died of complications from pneumonia and pleurisy at her home in Black River Falls in late 1960, never seeing her autobiography published.

Major Works

Mountain Wolf Woman and Lurie began to seriously work on what would become Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder in the late 1950s. Unsatisfied with the initial results, which resulted in a few pages of text, Lurie asked Mountain Wolf Woman to elaborate and expand on her memories. Using a tape recorder, Mountain Wolf Woman dictated her story in Winnebago and then in English. The tapes were later replayed to Mountain Wolf Woman, at which time a list of additional topics upon which Mountain Wolf Woman wanted to ruminate was compiled. After additional tapes were made, Lurie began translating the tales into conventional English; to accomplish this, Lurie worked with Frances Thundercloud Wentz, a grandniece to Mountain Wolf Woman, who compared the English and Winnebago versions. The result yielded Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder. The book relates Mountain Wolf Woman's girl-hood, education, and marriages; her contributions to her family; and her role in Winnebago society as a daughter, wife, and mother. Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder is further recognized as an evocative and insightful account of Winnebago history and culture, relating the Winnebagos' numerous relocations, tribal customs and rituals, and views on gender.

Critical Reception

Scholars assert that Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder is exceptional in terms of its focus on Winnebago life, the events surrounding its composition, and its intended audience. Because Lurie kept such detailed accounts of her attempts to render Mountain Wolf Woman's tale into "good English" and reprinted them in appendices, critics note that the subject's voice is not lost and that the problems normally precipitated by Native-White collaboration are not an issue. They additionally note that since the work was originally told in Mountain Wolf Woman's native tongue and to a family member, her intended audience was—first and foremost—other Native Americans.