Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3420
SOURCE: A preface and appendix to Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian, edited by Nancy Oestreich Lurie, The University of Michigan Press, 1961, pp. xi-xx, 92-108.
[An American educator, editor, and critic, Lurie was adopted into the Winnebago tribe as an adult and was considered a niece of Mountain Wolf Woman. At Lurie's urging, Mountain Wolf Woman began the process of telling her life story. In the first part of the following excerpt, taken from the preface to Mountain Wolf Woman, Lurie discusses the composition of the autobiography, her relationship with and impressions of Mountain Wolf Woman, and Mountain Wolf Woman's adherence to Winnebago customs. In the second part of the excerpt, which is taken from one of Lurie's appendices to the book, she relates the events surrounding Mountain Wolf Woman's death.]
Autobiographies are published for a variety of reasons. Authors often disclaim any personal importance but justify making their memoirs public because of close association with the great people and stirring events of their time. Individuals whose roles are of obvious historical significance frequently explain that a sense of social responsibility requires that they make known the underlying influences and motivations of their actions. Mountain Wolf Woman has told her story for a reason that is at once simpler and more complex than those usually adduced. Her niece asked for the story. Among the Winnebago Indians, a strong sense of obligation to relatives prevails, as well as the reciprocal sense of right to call upon them as the need or desire for favors may arise. The fact that the kinship in this case is one of adoption and not of blood makes it no less binding from a Winnebago point of view.
Our relationship stems from my adoption by Mountain Wolf Woman's parallel cousin, Mitchell Redcloud, Sr. According to Winnebago reckoning, they are classified as brother and sister because their fathers were brothers. Thus, Mountain Wolf Woman is my aunt. I had met Redcloud during the summer of 1944 in the course of my first field work among the Winnebago. When I began my senior year at the University of Wisconsin the following fall, I learned that Redcloud was a cancer patient at the Wisconsin General Hospital on the university campus. I visited him frequently and my questions about Winnebago culture helped relieve the tedium of existence in a hospital ward. In time he came to believe that our association had been preordained. Despite frequent and intense periods of pain, Redcloud forced himself to instruct me as fully as possible about his people, even writing long accounts of Winnebago customs to present to me when I appeared during hospital visiting hours. He was eventually scheduled for surgery, and fearing that he might not survive the operation, presented me with a cherished and valuable legacy—adoption as his daughter. I thus acquired a Winnebago name, a clan affiliation, and a host of relatives upon whom I could rely in continuing the task Redcloud and I had begun. Redcloud's condition precluded the traditional announcement of such an adoption at a public feast, but he did write of it to Mountain Wolf Woman and evidently told other Winnebago during the year he lived following the operation.
Thus, when I met Mountain Wolf Woman in the summer of 1945 while working at the Winnebago community of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, she greeted me as her niece. My aunt soon proved to be not only a valuable informant, but a good friend as well. Her personality and her own experiences as an individual became as interesting to me as the ethnographic data about the Winnebago which she could provide. I felt that her autobiography would be of great interest both as a literary document and as a source of insights for anthropological purposes. I was inspired, naturally, by the fact that the first full-length autobiography of an American Indian edited and published by an anthropologist, Paul Radin, had been that of a Winnebago, Crashing Thunder. The example set by Radin in 1920 has been followed by the publication of a number of autobiographies of American Indians and other native peoples. However, few such life histories have been collected from women. Therefore, Mountain Wolf Woman's story takes on particular significance in scholarly terms, since it is the account of a woman from the same tribe as Crashing Thunder. However, I knew Mountain Wolf Woman almost a year before I learned that she is the sister of Crashing Thunder. Thus, a unique opportunity was presented to obtain an autobiography which would be valuable not only for its own sake but also for its comparative importance in regard to Radin's work.
Mountain Wolf Woman readily agreed to my request for her story, but a great deal of time elapsed before we could actually begin work on the project. In the first place, I realized that a request of such magnitude would require a commensurate gift as a matter of reciprocal kin obligations. I was obliged for many years to use any field funds I received for more general research on the Winnebago. Then there were technical problems. Mountain Wolf Woman's household was crowded with small grandchildren she was rearing and she did not have the leisure or quiet to write her story in the Winnebago syllabary script, let alone in English which she would find even more difficult. Furthermore, I was fully occupied for several years with teaching and other research.
It was not until 1957 that I could begin to give serious thought to the long-delayed work with Mountain Wolf Woman. By that time she was able to put her household in the temporary charge of an adult granddaughter in order to stay with me. Thanks to the Rackham Fund for Faculty Research of The University of Michigan and to the Bollingen Foundation, grants-in-aid were provided to finance the project.
I notified Mountain Wolf Woman that work could begin and she traveled from her home at Black River Falls to Milwaukee where I met her and accompanied her on the rest of her journey to Ann Arbor, Michigan. This incident is duly noted in her autobiography as it was her first airplane flight. We worked together at my home for almost five weeks during January and February of 1958.
We began our task by discussing the best manner of procedure. She soon became accustomed to using a tape recorder and decided she preferred it to writing her story in the Winnebago syllabary script that her brother had employed. She also chose to speak Winnebago rather than English as it allowed for easier recall and discussion of events. However, to aid me in the task of translation, she repeated the entire story on tape in English using the Winnebago recordings as a guide. Since the account was told directly to me, it was natural for Mountain Wolf Woman to gloss over details of Winnebago culture and history. I have therefore made notes for each chapter providing more extensive data on matters which may be of further interest to the reader. The first day's work proved highly disconcerting to me. Mountain Wolf Woman told her entire story on less than half a reel of tape. Although I endeavored to hide my feelings, my disappointment must have been evident since she observed that the story could be made much longer on the basis of the many notes I had made in conversations with her during earlier periods of field work. I said that I would really like to hear all the stories again to be sure that I had understood them correctly. A knowing smile crossed her face and she said, "This is just a start to show where we will go, like beginning of a book."
She began her story again, eliminating what she recognized as meaningless details, expanding and adding events more pertinent to her own experiences. She recounted episodes already familiar to me and many new ones.
The completed autobiography thus consists of the second or long account of Mountain Wolf Woman's life, supplemented where necessary from the shorter account or from other data such as the English version of the narrative or comments made in the course of our work but not transcribed on the tapes….
The transcription of Mountain Wolf Woman's story was doubtless one of the most pleasant ways imaginable of doing "field work." Mountain Wolf Woman is a delightful companion, witty, empathic, intelligent and forthright.
During the course of our work she thought of herself as a visiting relative. When my teaching schedule interrupted our work, she found ways to occupy her time, and even between daily recording sessions she was never idle. Indeed, she is incapable of idleness and equates personal contentment with useful activity. She sewed clothing for herself, and even split wood for the fireplace when she felt in need of exercise. Because my birthday occurred during the course of her visit she decided to make me a gift in the form of elaborate floral beading of the buckskin dress I wear for lectures of a popular nature, explaining, "The girls wearing fancier dresses to powwows nowdays."
She looked upon our main task as fun rather than work, although she expressed surprise that "just talking" could be so physically tiring, and confided that she never appreciated that I must really work quite hard as a teacher. However, beds had to be made, dishes washed, and the house put in order each morning before I dared suggest we sit down beside the tape recorder.
Mountain Wolf Woman was pleased to have my study as a room all to herself where she slept and could retire to read, sew or write letters to her children. She also appreciated the fact that our house has running water, but most of our electrical appliances struck her as more trouble than they are worth. She particularly distrusted the electric stove, since she is accustomed to cooking at a wood-burning range or over an open fire out-of-doors. Thus, on days when both my husband and I were away teaching, she chose to prepare her meals at the living room fireplace, even baking bread in the embers as a surprise for us when we returned in the late afternoon. In fact, Mountain Wolf Woman gradually transformed our home into a Winnebago household with activity centered about the fireplace in the living room. The recording equipment was shortly moved from the acoustical isolation of my study to the living room. Consequently, the tapes contain peripheral sounds of doorbell, telephone, cat meows, and my husband's footfalls. However, the greater ease Mountain Wolf Woman felt in working amidst the bustle of daily living more than compensated for these technical imperfections in the recordings.
When telling her story, Mountain Wolf Woman would settle herself comfortably in a large chair, fold her hands in her lap, close her eyes and begin to relive events as she recalled them. Sad incidents often caused tears to well up, and funny stories evoked chuckles.
Mountain Wolf Woman likes to refer to herself as an "old Winnebago lady." This is an accurate self-assessment because among the Winnebago age carries connotations of wisdom and dignity. It also carries the privilege of speaking frankly on the basis of knowledge and understanding derived from observing the world for a long time.
Considered very pretty in her youth, Mountain Wolf Woman's face still reflects this basic beauty and the deeper beauty of serene old age. Her dark, expressive face is attractively contrasted with her perfectly white hair, which is always combed straight back into a neat bun. Although she often dresses "like a white lady," she usually wears a style of clothing typical of Winnebago women of her age. This consists of a full cotton skirt topped by a loose, collarless blouse reaching just to the waist. She likes to wear large fringed shawls for special occasions but considers coats and sweaters far more practical for working out-of-doors. Her short stature and style of dress suggest a stolid obesity, but this effect is dispelled by the quick grace of her movements.
Like many Winnebago women, she never wears a hat, but binds a silk kerchief tightly about her hair, bringing the ends together in a neat knot above her forehead. Her ears are pierced and though she now wears earrings only in the lobes, the helices of her ears show small punctate marks. Traditionally, Winnebago women wore five or six pairs of long earrings dependent from the edges of their ears.
Throughout Mountain Wolf Woman's stay I regretted that it was not possible to have a microphone constantly recording her conversation. Our mealtimes and periods of domestic activity were enlivened by her spontaneous observations and comments. Frequent good-natured teasing increased the effect of living in a Winnebago household. Aunts stand in a joking relationship to their nieces' husbands and I had warned my husband that our guest might tease him. She did, accusing him of laziness in providing for her wants in the way of food and firewood. She had never met my husband before her visit to our home and in a moment of serious conversation with me she expressed her approval of him in traditional Winnebago terms, "Kind, a good worker, and not jealous-hearted." However, in talking to him she frequently engaged in the outrageous coquetry appropriate to their relationship. The English term "Honey," as a form of affectionate address amuses Mountain Wolf Woman and so she usually called my husband, "My Honey, Add." One night as we watched a television commercial concerning a preparation for coloring hair, she turned seriously toward my husband and mimicking the simpering voice of the young woman on the screen, she asked, "Honey, what color would you like me to dye my hair?"
Television is still a rather novel experience for Mountain Wolf Woman, but she had purchased a set for her own home shortly before coming to visit us. She reasoned shrewdly that since she would not be home to supervise her young granddaughters, the television set would be an inducement for them to stay home at night. An interesting result of television viewing at Ann Arbor was revealed in a letter from Mountain Wolf Woman upon her return to Black River Falls.
She evidently recalled a program in which small scale models were used to illustrate how the Russians might land an unmanned rocket on the moon. By remote control the rocket disgorged a jeep-like vehicle which rolled about taking pictures and transmitting them back to earth. The presentation was designed to be frightening and I had been properly disturbed by the impersonal awesomeness of such technological speculations. However, Mountain Wolf Woman has lived far longer than I have and has seen the transition from horse to airplane without feeling a sense of threat to her individuality. Her letter, while indicative of her brief schooling, illustrates her remarkable ability to organize new information into meaningful patterns, reducing the extraordinary to comprehensible and even comfortingly amusing terms.
My dear neice.
I'm writing to thank you that money you sent me [payment for moccasins and other items I had ordered]. and I'm going to tell you a story. You alway like old story. about the moon. long time ago when the world new old time of different tribe were against each other. that time [a Winnebago] went away from his people when he came back to his home war came and kill whole town and this man he trace them he follow them to and he got to where they come from. he there toward morning, that time indian chief alway live right in middle of the town. he new [knew] where the chief son and his wife. so the peoples were slept real deep. he went in cut chief son head of [off] and his wife too. and he took both heads and went up to the moon, when the moon full moon you could see him he's carry two human head in his hand. his name is Sheiganikah he is at right in moon. true American indian already he is there yet.
I heard russia want it to get their befor us. when I was their [there, at Ann Arbor] once I was start telling you about this and we start talking about something else so I didn't finish it. When I was young my good old dad and my uncle use to tell story in the evening, we all love listening story that the time my dad told this story about the brave man and the moon.
it mean some kind of bird
I hope you like the story. hope to hear from again. from your Aunt … tell my honey Add Hi.
Aside from the fascinating implications of her story for the Department of State, the letter tells a great deal about Mountain Wolf Woman. She had set no price on the materials I had ordered and considered my payment more than she would have asked as a fair price. Thus, the story is offered to even the balance, a state of affairs the Winnebago like to maintain. She is also conscious of the importance I place on sources of information and the meaning of words. Her sense of orderliness is shown in her choice of a story to send me. It ties up a loose end of conversation begun during her visit. Finally, instead of merely signing the letter as my aunt, she stresses the relationship to both my husband and me in her final statement.
To Mountain Wolf Woman, aunt, friend and informant, I extend my heartfelt thanks for allowing her autobiography to be published both for its own personal appeal and for the insights it may offer scholarly investigators….
And now the story is truly ended. Mountain Wolf Woman died quietly in her sleep the morning of November 9, 1960, the very day that I also received notification that the galleys of her narrative were ready for me to proofread. Thus, it is possible to add this final commentary while my descriptive notes concerning Mountain Wolf Woman remain in the present tense.
Mountain Wolf Woman had returned to her home at Black River Falls after a visit at the home of one of her children. She apparently caught cold in the course of sealing windows and otherwise preparing her house for the winter. At her request, neighbors drove her to the clinic at Black River Falls where her condition was diagnosed as pleurisy and pneumonia. After a week's stay at the clinic she appeared to be recovering and told visitors that she intended to go home on November 9. However, when I went to Black River Falls for the funeral, I learned that she had told one close relative that she did not want to worry her children, but that she really meant she was going to her spiritual home. Whether or not this is apocryphal is unimportant; it is in keeping with Winnebago expectation that people who are good and wise and old are privileged to foretell their own deaths. After all, Mountain Wolf Woman reported just such a prophecy from her own husband.
The funeral arrangements reflected the varying religious affiliations among the Winnebago. Conservative relatives and friends held a brief version of the traditional Winnebago wake at a community some distance from Black River Falls; her own peyote beliefs were represented in a well-attended peyote meeting held at her home the night before her burial; and on Saturday, November 12, 1960, she was laid to rest at the mission cemetery at Black River Falls after Christian services at the mission church.
Many Winnebago are understandably distressed by the apparent evidence of religious confusion in the holding of two or more different kinds of rituals when a Winnebago dies. Nevertheless, when I saw the several hundred people gathered from near and far to pay their last respects, my own feeling was that the three rituals were somehow fitting and proper. Mountain Wolf Woman's own life had included participation in all three religions and while she considered herself a peyotist, she retained virtues of generosity and obligation to kindred of her traditionally Winnebago childhood. She accepted Christianity in her baptism and confirmation at a mission boarding school. Finally, she found in the peyote religion a deep sense of spiritual understanding and experience. Her many friends and relatives in these different religious groups all desired most earnestly to express their grief in their loss and their respect for her memory in the way each found most meaningful.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4576
SOURCE: "Culture Change and Continuity: A Winnebago Life," in their American Indian Women: Telling Their Lives, University of Nebraska Press, 1984, pp. 69-82.
[Bataille and Sands are both American critics, educators, and editors who specialize in Native studies. In the following excerpt, they survey Mountain Wolf Woman's life, work, and heritage.]
The purpose for the writing of Mountain Wolf Woman is different from almost all other ethnographic autobiographies. Where other recorder-editors often recorded women's stories as an incidental part of fieldwork, Nancy Lurie specifically requested the story and did so as an adopted niece of Mountain Wolf Woman [whom she knew as "Aunt Stella"]. With Mountain Wolf Woman in the position of aunt, and with the power of age and wisdom such a position connotes, it was both appropriate and necessary that she instruct her niece in the ways of the tribe. The association was one of long duration, for Nancy Lurie and Mountain Wolf Woman had met in 1945 in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. It was not until 1958 that recording actually began, allowing thirteen years of friendship and kinship to have developed.
Unlike the field methods used earlier, Lurie used a tape recorder and made a record of the life story both in Winnebago and in English. This, of course, allowed Mountain Wolf Woman to do some degree of immediate editing as she translated her own material. Lurie also notes that passages were omitted from the final manuscript at the request of the narrator. "She told me a number of things that happened, particularly when she went to get her grand-children in the state of Washington, that she didn't want in the book. I respected her wishes. They were interesting but not all that vital to the completeness of her story" [personal correspondence, Nancy Oestreich Lurie, 30 July 1980].
Obviously the element of selection was still in operation, but the decision here had been given to the informant and was not assumed by the recorder. Lurie describes the story as being "told to, not through," her. Of the recording sessions, Lurie comments:
My Winnebago isn't all that good, so often I wasn't sure of what she was saying until we replayed [the tapes] and she told her story in English, and then I went over the Winnebago tapes with a highly competent bilingual woman, Frances Thundercloud Wentz….
Of the final published autobiography, Lurie says, "It was her story as she wanted to tell it. I had some reservations about her comments about the traditional religion, but she did not, so they stayed in as she told them. She got to hear herself exactly as she told her story on tape before it was committed to paper or published."
Ruth Underhill, in the foreword to the narrative of Mountain Wolf Woman, makes comparisons with Paul Radin's autobiography of Mountain Wolf Woman's brother, Crashing Thunder, describing Radin's book as more dramatic, more artistic; in short, she sees it as more "literary." Comparing herself with Radin, Lurie noted that she was not collecting data in the field; Mountain Wolf Woman stayed at her home. She asked few questions during the narration, checking with Frances Wentz about translation details later, after Wentz had worked through the Winnebago tapes…. Of Radin's work she wrote:
Sam's story, Crashing Thunder, was written in the Winnebago syllabary by Sam himself for Radin. In the D. Appleton Century version Radin added other data he had collected from Sam and his brother Jasper to fill out the story…. I don't know if Sam was aware of the additional material before the book came out. But, unlike [other subjects of white-Native collaborations], Sam and Stella could review what they said, and had the opportunity to edit before publication if they wished.
Lurie sees the two Winnebago autobiographies as reflecting fundamental differences between males and females. She writes, "Mountain Wolf Woman's autobiography is a predictable reflection of the greater self-confidence enjoyed by women in comparison to men in a culture undergoing rapid and destructive changes" [Mountain Wolf Woman]. Women's tasks of caring for children and family did not change despite acculturation. Reflecting her own self-confidence, Mountain Wolf Woman does not tell a story of self-aggrandizement. Although she is aware of her strengths, she sees herself more as a transmitter of culture, one who is a link between the historical life of her people and the future generations. Indeed, it is her female roles of mother, wife, grandmother, and provider that concern her most.
Lurie describes Mountain Wolf Woman as "witty, empathic, intelligent, and forthright," and it is this personality that comes through in the narrative. Lurie's comments in the preface are instrumental in preparing the reader to like the narrator before reading the autobiography. It is clear that the relationship that had been established between Lurie and her narrator provided the best possible means of recording a life story with an editor. Lurie is careful to point out her methodology and to indicate where she has supplemented the narrative with her own materials.
Mountain Wolf Woman provides only superficial information on Winnebago history, information that is supplemented by Lurie in the notes. The Winnebagos were subject to many removals, causing one writer to refer to them as the "Wandering Winnebago" [Ed Shannon, "The Wandering Winnebago," Frontier Times, August-September, 1971]. Although contemporary American Indians reject the labels "nomadic," "transient," and "roaming" to describe travel to follow game or to find new and better locations to live, the term "wandering" perhaps aptly describes the aimless movements to which the Winnebagos were subject at the whim of the United States government.
Before 1864 the Winnebagos had been forced to move several times over a thirty-two-year period. From the Green Bay area, the Winnebagos had settled in southern Wisconsin by 1832, but after the Black Hawk War, the Winnebagos were resettled by the government in northeastern Iowa near the present city of Decorah. By 1848 there was an increasing number of white settlers in Iowa, and the Winnebagos were once again moved, this time to Todd County in north-central Minnesota. By 1855 the tribe had negotiated a move to southern Minnesota to avoid having to move west of the Missouri River; but in 1863 the Winnebagos were loaded on boats and sent down the Minnesota River to their next home, Crow Creek, in the Dakota Territory. This proved to be a disastrous move and, reacting to the desperate starvation conditions of Crow Creek, Winnebago leaders led the people to Nebraska to seek help from the Omaha Indians. Finally, after years of moving and being moved, the Winnebagos were settled in Thurston County, Nebraska. This final move was the only one initiated by the Indians themselves rather than the government. Although attention has usually focused on those Winnebagos who were moving, one group remained in Wisconsin, near Black River Falls, the entire time. Today the Winnebago tribe remains divided: one group lives on a reservation in Nebraska and the other group lives as nonreservation Indians in Wisconsin.
This history of movement and forced migration is part of Mountain Wolf Woman's tribal history. The influence of this past on her life is clear; she found moving around not a chore, or a burden, but an accepted element of her life. In her life story, Mountain Wolf Woman recalls the many journeys she made—journeys to find work, to be with her husband, or to care for children or grandchildren.
Mountain Wolf Woman begins her narrative by relating the events before her birth, referring particularly to the history of Winnebago removals. From the beginning it appears that Mountain Wolf Woman was aware of the way the Winnebagos had been treated, and she wished to place herself within this context of tribal history.
Born in 1884 in East Fork River, Wisconsin, Mountain Wolf Woman soon moved to Black River Falls. As a child she attended school for two years in Tomah, Wisconsin, but when her family moved to Wittenberg she had to change schools, remaining there only a short time before she married. Her first marriage, arranged by her brother, ended, and she remained in Black River Falls until her marriage to Bad Soldier. Her itinerary after that marriage included moves from Hatfield, Wisconsin, to Wakefield, Nebraska, on to South Dakota, back to Nebraska, and finally a return to Black River Falls. During this time there were shorter trips to trap muskrats, to dig yellow waterlily roots, to hunt deer, or to pick cranberries. She once journeyed as far as the Northwest because of her concern about her grandchildren. This acceptance of family responsibility is not surprising, for, as Winnebago educator Woesha Cloud North writes of the Winnebagos, "It is a practice … for a grandmother to take on the responsibility of her children's children where there is no longer parental supervision or because of death or other reasons" [Informal Education in Winnebago Tribal Society with Implications for Formal Education, 1978]. Clearly Mountain Wolf Woman viewed this as a normal responsibility. In all of her moves Mountain Wolf Woman seemed keenly aware of the necessity of the travel and moved with ease. She was not tied down to a specific geographical location; even near the end of her life she moved her house itself from one location to another. The experiencing of many locales is an outward manifestation of the explorative nature of the narrator, a nature that prompted her to try peyote as well as to participate in traditional Winnebago ceremonies, to believe in a Christian god in the heavens with the same faith that allowed her to believe the Winnebago story of Sheiganikah living on the moon. That she went to live with an anthropology professor and her husband and became a part of the routine of yet a different environment further attests to Mountain Wolf Woman's adaptability.
Adaptability to cultural change as well as geographical change is suggested in other ways. Throughout the narrative Mountain Wolf Woman refers to changes she has observed during her lifetime. The relative ease with which she discusses or sometimes casually mentions certain events or different ways of doing things belies the profound transformations in Winnebago culture during Mountain Wolf Woman's lifetime. Cloud North summarizes some of the effects of these changes, particularly on the Nebraska Winnebagos, but also on the Wisconsin group:
Traditional informal education or cultural transmission was to assist the boy or girl to grow as a responsible person and social being into adulthood of the Winnebago society. The conquest of the Winnebago people, their forced removals, and later a reservation existence in which their lives were taken over by the paternalistic system of the Bureau of American Indian Affairs and other outside influences, both moral and religious, made serious inroads on these educational practices.
There were changes in the material culture, changes symbolized by "metal teaspoons for clam shells to scrape the corn off the cobs." Long ago the metal teaspoons of the Europeans had been substituted for the sharpened clam shells that had traditionally been used to prepare corn, but the use of clam shells had persisted as well. Mountain Wolf Woman appears comfortable with both the old and the new. She values the continuities in the culture, but readily adapts to necessary changes. She realizes that long ago her father did not need a license to hunt deer, but that adherence to a different legal system had become necessary. After recounting the entire fasting ritual of her brother Hagaga, Mountain Wolf Woman says, "Today they do not do that any more."
Mountain Wolf Woman writes openly about her first menstrual period, recreating for the reader the fears she had as she fled into the woods alone. The tradition of isolation, common in many tribes, was also one which would ultimately be dropped. Irma Bizzett, a Winnebago woman and now a student at Iowa State University, said her mother told her she had been put in an isolation lodge during her first period and after giving birth to her first three children, but by the time Irma was born in 1949, this custom was no longer practiced.
In the shorter version of her life story that is published as an appendix to the longer autobiography, Mountain Wolf Woman is philosophical about the past and all of the changes that she has observed, changes that are made manifest through the relationships within the tribe:
In the beginning people loved each other. They even would all live in one house, never disagreeing. We too used to live this way…. We were never at odds with one another, nor quarrelling nor scolding one another. Mother and father never scolded any of us; however, we were probably well behaved. They never used to scold me. Now children are not like that. They are even against their own parents…. That is how it is today.
The complete narrative of Mountain Wolf Woman is a chronological and factual account of its narrator's life. There are dramatic moments—her unwanted first marriage and the journey to Washington to retrieve her grandchildren, for example—but these events are handled so matter-of-factly by Mountain Wolf Woman that the reader doesn't always appreciate the anxiety which must surely have accompanied the moments. Literary conventions are not ignored, however. Lurie admits to making some changes in tenses, clarifying idiomatic expressions, and inserting words necessary for clarification. But the wording and tone of the original Winnebago is retained, rendering the text closer to Winnebago expression than conventional English, but making it no less literary.
Because Mountain Wolf Woman's life spanned much of the twentieth century, one can note her changing attitudes toward the institutions around her. In particular, she had experience with formal education, the organized church, and the United States and local governments. Unlike Helen Sekaquaptewa or Anna Shaw, Mountain Wolf Woman did not attend school for very long or in a consistent fashion. But she did attend school, first at Tomah and later at Wittenberg, leaving to get married. She realizes that a casual attitude toward school education no longer prevails, however, noting that the Indians of the past would not have stayed home just so the children could attend school. She recognizes that "they can no longer act in this way." She herself was disappointed at having to leave school, but she accepted the necessity of marriage according to tribal custom. She adhered to tradition, but she was grateful that her mother offered her an acceptable way out by telling her that when she was older she could do as she wished.
Traditional Winnebago education included naming ceremonies to teach a child to recognize clan and family relationships, story telling, fasting and vision quests for boys, fasting associated with menstruation for girls, curing and healing, and preparations for a vocation within the tribal structure. Mountain Wolf Woman had received this education, and, although she was an eager learner when she was in school, she was pleased that she had not missed out on traditional Winnebago tutoring. For a time, when Winnebago families stayed close together, such informal education could continue alongside public education. Irma Bizzett recalls being given a name by her grandfather (during a story-telling session) when she was a child. Her daughter, fourteen years old in 1981, also received a name from her grandfather as they sat around on a Sunday afternoon telling traditional stories after returning from Christian church services. Geographical distance from family and tribe, however, makes weekly story-telling sessions and ceremonies less likely to be experienced by children. But the Winnebagos, like other tribes, have learned to adapt to change.
Mountain Wolf Woman's funeral epitomized her allegiance to three religions, an amalgamation which she apparently did not find difficult to handle. Raised as a traditional Winnebago, Mountain Wolf Woman participated faithfully in Winnebago ceremonies, including the scalp dance and the medicine dance. She was also a practicing Christian, but the religion that made her faith whole was the Native American Church and her participation in peyote meetings: "I joined the medicine lodge. I was once a Christian. Then, when we went to Nebraska I ate peyote which is even a Christian way. Three things I did. But peyote alone is the best."
Minnie Littlebear was born in 1898 and lives in Nebraska. When she was interviewed by Woesha Cloud North and asked if a Christian prayer is said at the Naming Ceremony, she answered, "It's all the same to the Winnebago. It's all the same god, Ma-una." Paul Radin has pointed out [in Primitive Religion: Its Nature and Origin, 1937] similarities to Christianity in traditional Winnebago religion, and his description of the Medicine Dance—"the whole ceremony is the reiteration of one basic theme, the proper method of passing through life in order to be reborn again"—suggests why Mountain Wolf Woman and other Winnebagos may so readily have incorporated both religions into their belief system.
Mountain Wolf Woman relates two important visions: one that occurred as a result of two nights of traditional dancing; and the other a vision of Jesus she had after participating in a peyote ceremony. She attributes both visions to her faithfulness to the necessary rituals of the ceremonies. Her account of these visions further suggests that she believes it is possible, perhaps even desirable, to participate fully in more than one religion. This may have been a way of answering those critics within the tribe who condemned the peyote eaters. In fact, one of the most negative responses from the Winnebago community was that the book and, by extension Lurie and Mountain Wolf Woman, were seen as promoting the Native American Church. The traditional Winnebagos resented Mountain Wolf Woman's comments on the Medicine Lodge. Asked about negative reactions, Lurie wrote, "YOU BET! It has only been since my return for extended work the last three summers that I've overcome the image as a promoter of the Native American Church." Such factionalism is not unusual, however, and clearly demonstrates that the narrative is the life of one Winnebago woman and cannot be seen as necessarily representative of all Winnebagos.
The narrator was aware of the Winnebago removals and the allocation of parcels of land that had occurred before her birth. She learned to skillfully manipulate government agencies to obtain necessary help: first, for some of the old people; secondly, in arranging to get her grandchildren back to Wisconsin; and, finally, in getting her own house moved when it became necessary. The government intruded upon the lives of the Winnebagos during World War II. The narrator's most intimate comments reflect her emotions at the time her son was wounded; that event produced her strongest outpouring of grief:
It was early in the morning when they brought the telegram. I was the first one to go to the berry place. I thought to myself, I will go before the white people arrive. I went to where they had finished picking and when I got there I wept. I prayed to God and I cried as hard as I could cry. I was crying quite a distance from the other people. I cried as loud as I could and cried as much as I wanted to. That is the way I cried. Then when I got enough crying, I stopped crying. When I stopped crying my anxiety seemed to be relieved. Then, after I cried it out, this pain in my heart, I felt better.
The repetition of the words cry, cried, and crying emphasizes her grief, and through repetition in the narrative itself, she purges herself of tears.
Mountain Wolf Woman describes her emotions at other times—her reluctance to marry, the pain of leaving her daughter in Washington, and her sorrow at her husband's death—but most of her feelings are discussed with the resigned acceptance of one who has experienced much of life's sorrows and joys and has learned to accept both as a part of the natural order of things. She sees herself as separate from white people and accepts the Winnebago position in relation to the rest of society in the same unemotional and flat manner: "I do not know why, but whatever the white people say, that is the way it has to be. I guess it must be that way."
Although Mountain Wolf Woman became experienced with the institutions of white society, she held tenaciously to the traditions of her people. Religion was just one aspect of her adherence to traditional ways; she also expected proper behavior at the dances, she recognized the value of old age, and she perpetuated the oral tradition in her own way. Speaking of old age, she said, "The old people were supposed to be respected. 'Respect those old people,' mother and father used to say to us. That is what we used to do. We respected the old people, but today they do not respect the old people."
Fred Rice, a Winnebago from Nebraska, expresses similar dismay: "Nowadays the kids laugh at the old people when they speak Winnebago." Later in the book, Mountain Wolf Woman explains the power of age: "If you give food to an old person and he really likes it, that is very good. The thinking powers of old people are strong and if one of them thinks good things for you, whatever he wishes for you, you will obtain that good fortune."
She participates in the transmission of tales early in the narrative when she tells the story about stealing beans from mice; but she admits the difficulty of remembering the oral stories, recalling the story-telling sessions with her father:
Then father used to say, "All right, prepare your bedding and go to bed and I will tell you some stories." I really enjoyed listening to my father tell stories. Everybody, the entire household, was very quiet and in this atmosphere my father used to tell stories. He used to tell myths, the sacred stories, and that is why I also know some myths. I do not know all of them anymore, I just remember parts of stories.
Her greatest tribute to the oral tradition is the narrative of her own life. Her autobiography is a collection of stories that are linked by the journeys and adventures of the central character, Mountain Wolf Woman. She describes herself as a trickster of myth, remembering events before her birth, later "always the one who is spoiling things," the one who sees visions, and who has bridged the gap between myth and reality, having now ridden through the sky, albeit in an airplane, to bring her life story together with the life of Nancy Lurie. The final tale ties the narrative together, gives it purpose, and provides a conclusion that is appropriately literary:
Once when I came back from Nebraska one of my relatives had died. His name was Fish Back. Mitchell Redcloud, Sr. He had three sons. One time he had told me a young white girl was going to come to Black River Falls and that she was his daughter. He even gave her a Winnebago name. Therefore, she was my niece. All of our relatives liked her very much. That is how it was. She thought a lot of us too and she liked Indians. She was an only child. When the Indians talked about their affairs, whatever they knew she knew more. She helped the Indians. She wanted me to do her a favor. "Auntie," she said, "if you come and visit me we will write down Indian stories in a book." That is why I am here, saying this at her home. I even rode in an airplane, and I came here. And here I am, telling in Winnebago how I lived my life. This I have written.
The autobiography of Mountain Wolf Woman, ethnographic to be sure, much more closely approaches literature than do most of the life stories collected by anthropologists. When Paul Radin first published The Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian in 1920, he was pessimistic about the abilities of outside investigators to get much accurate information about a culture. He wrote that it was only "on rare occasions" that they were successful. The autobiography of Mountain Wolf Woman presents one such "rare occasion," for, by letting Mountain Wolf Woman tell her own story, Lurie was able to publish a life narrative with very little editing. The bonus is that Lurie, as an anthropologist, was able to anticipate what might be confusing to readers and add that information in the notes and appendices. Mountain Wolf Woman serves as a model of an autobiography that combines an individual narrative told by the subject with ethnographic detail supplied by a recorder-editor.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7389
SOURCE: "Iterative Score from a Singulative Motif: Mountain Wolf Woman's Song of Herself," in A/B: Autobiography Studies, Fall, 1992, pp. 254-72.
[In the essay below, Hearn discusses the existence of rhetorical devices, particularly the use of an iterative narrative style, in Mountain Wolf Woman, which she describes as "a series of teaching stories" about Winnebago history, customs, and beliefs.]
Scholars have concluded that anthropologists often have imposed their Euro-centric biases on Native American life stories and that educated Native people have often followed certain European narrative forms. However, anthropologist Nancy Lurie, who recorded and annotated Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian, belongs to a group of post-World War II anthropologists who [according to Hertha D. Wong in her 1992 Sending My Heart Back Across the Years] "are acutely self-conscious about the personal and cultural assumptions they bring to their examination of other cultures." Mountain Wolf Woman's autobiography, therefore, is a valuable document for studying and understanding Winnebago culture.
In order to produce a bicultural autobiography which is to be regarded as authentic, proposes Arnold Krupat [in his 1985 For Those Who Come After: A Study of Native American Autobiography], one must work from a primary source, such as a tape recording, and one must scrupulously translate the concepts from the original language. According to Krupat's criteria, Lurie's method is a model of responsible editing and translating. Lurie's attention to language and her respect for Mountain Wolf Woman's own translation and interpretation of her story allow Mountain Wolf Woman to continue "the oral tradition in her own way" [Gretchen Bataille and Kathleen Mullen Sands, American Indian Women: Telling Their Lives]. Lurie's attention to details of verb tense and Mountain Wolf Woman's involvement in the translating and editing process further enhance the text as a document for narrative analysis.
Mountain Wolf Woman offers her story upon request as a gift to Lurie, whom she regards as a kinswoman, while she visits in the professor's home. Lurie informs the reader that the recording sessions were held regularly in her living room by the fireplace in which Mountain Wolf Woman often cooked meals for Lurie's family. Therefore, under Mountain Wolf Woman's guidance, the setting complements the custom of instructive storytelling, and her life story is transformed into a vehicle for Lurie's education. In this way Mountain Wolf Woman avoids the tribal taboo of bragging, while she carefully avoids relating, for the most part, incidents which would be embarrassing to others. [In a footnote, Hearn adds: "The veiled identity of her brothers, for instance (Paul Radin's Crashing Thunder uses his brother's name as an alias), may allow Mountain Wolf Woman to tell stories about them."]
Although less is known about women and their life narratives, scholars agree that "women were considered upholders of tradition" [Hertha D. Wong, "Preliterate Native American Autobiography: Forms of Personal Narrative," MELUS 14, No. 1 (1987)]. Accordingly, Mountain Wolf Woman's narratives in her autobiography, Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder, might be regarded not as traditional teaching stories, but as teachings of tradition. According to Gretchen Bataille and Kathleen Sands, rather than making herself into a heroine, Mountain Wolf Woman "sees herself more as a transmitter of culture, one who is a link between the historical life of her people and the future generations."
Since much of a Native woman's life was often spent in the company of children and other women, women's teachings were quite likely shared in life stories with children and younger adults, allowing both audiences to draw their own conclusions about such issues as proper behavior. Accordingly, it seems reasonable to place Mountain Wolf Woman's stories, as told to Nancy Lurie, in the context of autobiographical "forms that were shaped by the cultural patterns of the tribe but were modified according to the needs of a new audience, purpose, and setting" [Wong].
Mountain Wolf Woman's narratives comprise a series of teaching stories, varied in tonal quality by Mountain Wolf Woman's wit and humor, as well as more serious modes of discourse. The translations of the stories themselves are deceptively unadorned, and for the uninitiated, they are inseparable from Lurie's extensive notes on Winnebago culture. In this manner, Lurie allows [according to Bataille in her "Transformation of Tradition: Autobiographical Indian Women," in Paula Gunn Allen's 1983 Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs] "Mountain Wolf Woman to tell her own story as free from intrusion as possible." The combination of Lurie's explanations and Mountain Wolf Woman's teachings provides an exceedingly dense and multilayered text, sustained by the richness of Mountain Wolf Woman's iterative narrative style.
In Narrative Discourse, Gérard Genette defines the singulative as the narration of "what happened once." In contrast, he defines the iterative as "narrating one time what happened n [any number of] times." Analyzing the structural forms in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, he concludes that the iterative is communicated in French through the imperfect tense, "what used to happen" and by the implied synthesis of a singulative scene into a paradigm, which stands for a classification of events. What Genette discovers in Proust is that the iterative takes over the narrative, rather than merely serving to summarize the singulative as it does in classical European narration.
Such forms of modernism or anti-romanticism in Proust's work are amazingly similar to the iterative techniques of Winnebago storytelling when translated into English verb tenses by Mountain Wolf Woman and Frances Thunder-cloud Wentz, a bilingual Winnebago speaker and Mountain Wolf Woman's grandniece. In Mountain Wolf Woman we find frequent use of the imperfect, words and phrases such as "always" or "one time," and summary statements, such as "It was very pleasant to live in a rush wigwam." According to Nancy Lurie's personal correspondence with Arnold Krupat, the phrase Paul Radin translates from Winnebago as "I have been told" is more accurately translated, "It is said." Lurie's awareness of the more faithful translation implies an understanding of iterative practice in the original language. Mountain Wolf Woman's iterative rhetorical devices convert an overwhelming number of the singulative stories into paradigms.
In fact, because of Proust's extensive use of the iterative, Genette connects Remembrance of Things Past with the autobiographical mode in his response to critics, Narrative Discourse Revisited. However, even though there are structural correspondences in the two narrations, Proust's chronicle of a decadent culture in no way shares the purpose of Mountain Wolf Woman's narrative. Nonetheless, narrative discourse theory serves to illuminate aspects of Mountain Wolf Woman's teachings, just as many personal narratives by Native people reveal a body of practical, shared wisdom.
Although Mountain Wolf Woman is telling her life story in the expanded narratives, she repeatedly reverts to the iterative mode. The events thus become part of a teaching story, adapted for the present time and audience, which instructs on different levels. According to Bataille, Native autobiographies of Mountain Wolf Woman's period—the 1930s through the 1950s—reveal that:
Despite their fears of losing the old ways, the women survived and continued to provide direction for the people…. The old ways are not forgotten, but they are seen as unworkable in a new social order.
Therefore, the stories uncover a wealth of Winnebago heritage, in spite of Mountain Wolf Woman's assimilation. Her narratives record the stories of the way historical events are placed in Winnebago life, the meaning of an inherited sense of place, the details of Native healing practices, the importance of visions, spiritual rites and experiences, Winnebago protocol, and tribal traditions. Since the reason for telling her stories is in the nature of tradition and social protocol and since much of this knowledge can be taught without speaking of that which is sacred, most of her teachings focus on these realms. For the purposes of this study, these categories are artificially separated, whereas in the narrative they are inseparable parts of a body of teachings.
The focus on tradition and social protocol is further emphasized by the structure of the narrative which follows a seasonal pattern, as do the customs and lives of the people. The narrative design also follows a circular pattern, ending with the beginning, as Mountain Wolf Woman's relates her reason for telling the stories:
She [Nancy Lurie] helped the Indians…. She wanted me to do her a favor. "Auntie," she said, "if you come and visit me, we will write down Indian stories in a book." That is why I am here, saying this in her home … telling in Winnebago how I lived my life.
Although the narratives are not arranged exactly as Mountain Wolf Woman told them, she helped with the organization of the narratives, rearranging certain stories to fit appropriately into the structural pattern. This favor to Lurie, a kinswoman, who with her research had helped the Winnebago with their lawsuits and who had offered Mountain Wolf Woman the gift of an airplane trip and a visit in her home, is part of tradition, and protocol. Nancy Lurie's gifts are being returned because she performed a kind act, she respected Winnebago language and culture, and she asked for a favor in the right way.
The stories and their teachings reveal Mountain Wolf Woman's respect for her niece. They are not traditional tribal narratives of trickster or culture heroes and therefore do not dwell on the origin of tribal custom and beliefs, but they are identified by Mountain Wolf Woman as stories, and they are told in the iterative manner of teaching stories. Bataille and Sands assert, "With Mountain Wolf Woman in the position of aunt, and with the power of age and wisdom such a position connotes, it was both appropriate and necessary that she instruct her niece in the ways of the tribe." Mountain Wolf Woman's words, "telling in Winnebago how I lived my life," proclaim the paradigm for this classification of story telling and situate the narrative within a tradition and its protocol. The fact that Lurie felt compelled to illuminate the narrative with her knowledge of Winnebago culture in her extensive notes also emphasizes Lurie's sense of the iterative nature of the utterances over the singulative.
Although Mountain Wolf Woman points to her adaptation to several aspects of the dominant culture, adaptation and independence are part of the present, iterative mode of Winnebago teachings. Certainly her experience does not represent all Winnebago practice. Her life may have departed from certain old ways, yet she presents the Winnebago world view as a vital part of her life. According to Bataille and Sands: "She values the continuities in the culture, but readily adapts to the necessary changes."
Her story does not reveal any self-indulgent aspects of American romantic individualism. Yet individual freedom, balanced with regard for communal acceptance, is integrated into a value system in which exceptions to the rules are allowed under certain appropriate circumstances. Therefore, Mountain Wolf Woman's narrative, even at its most singulative, or individualistic, is still representative of the iterative, tribal narrative of experience and teachings.
In Mountain Wolf Woman's autobiography, outside events or historical circumstances are secondary to familial and tribal happenings which take place in reaction to these events. Hertha Wong contends that "Family relations in general serve as the central organizing device of her self-narration." Moving to Nebraska as part of the government removal plans, attending boarding school, and having her son return from World War II are important to her story of family and traditions. However, the events are treated as catalysts for attending to kinship, tribal, and communal duties. Significant political occasions or government policies are mentioned because of the way they affect the family, not because the narrator places herself within a linear, historical progression of events.
Furthermore, Wong suggests:
Perhaps Mountain Wolf Woman's apparent lack of chronological structure is a more accurate reflection of the pattern of her life, which focused on the smaller fluctuations of daily life and family, rather than on the grander shifts of philosophical awakenings.
For example, in connection with having to leave school to follow her family during seasonal hunting trips, Mountain Wolf Woman mentions casually, without condemnation, that she has forgotten many parts of her father's stories. Thus her education through the Winnebago methods and her education through the white methods interrupted each other, but "that is the way with Indians," she concludes. This final iterative comment on these events indicates that without question family traditions (seasonal hunting trips) take precedence over personal interests (Mountain Wolf Woman's enjoyment of school).
In an amusing anecdote, related by Nancy Lurie in the preface, Mountain Wolf Woman writes a letter to Lurie in which she recounts a traditional story about the figures one can see on the moon. Mountain Wolf Woman tells Lurie not to worry about the Russians getting to the moon first since the American Indian is already there. The story is a gift in return for Lurie's cash payment for Mountain Wolf Woman's handwork. It reveals Mountain Wolf Woman's emphasis on a relationship with the cosmos, in contrast to Lurie's focus on the significance of political events.
In addition to Mountain Wolf Woman's feeling of connection to the sky, she reveals the essence of her inherited sense of earthly place through her iterative narration. After she returns with her second husband to live at Black River Falls, part of their ancestral territory, the land they built their house on is sold out from under them. They had intended to buy the land; moreover, they felt they had a right to it since they had erected a house there. Her anger in the story is directed toward the white buyer: "You have lived here a long time. Whatever land you were going to buy, it would seem that you would have bought it long ago." Although she understands the historical relationships with whites and land sales in the area, she regards the greed of the white man as unconscionable and his encroachment as a violation of her sense of inherited place and her right to the land on which they had settled. This confrontation is singulative, but it provides a paradigm for her connection to Black River Falls and her tribal story about sense of place.
An earlier story of her father imparts his sense of inheritance which again is more cosmic and tribal than legal. Lurie notes that after the United States government gave up trying to force the Winnebago out of the Black River Falls area, they offered the tribal members forty-acre homesteads. Since her father was Thunder clan, he felt that he had no business deciding on land matters, which were the province of the Bear clan. Her mother, however, took a homestead, sensing that this was necessary in order to secure an authorized piece of land for the future. Mountain Wolf Woman's iterative comment precedes the relation of this incident and explains her parents' misunder-standing of the dominant culture's perception of land as property, rather than part of an inherited place of shared abundance and livelihood:
[M]y parents did not realize what they were doing … Indians did not look ahead to affairs of this sort. They never looked to the future. They only looked to the present insofar as they had enough to sustain themselves. This is the way Indians used to live … "I do not belong to the Earth," he [her father] said.
To belong to the earth in this sense means having one's personal freedom and sense of tribal tradition invaded and becoming trapped by the economics of farming. This concept becomes even clearer when Bad Soldier, her husband, sells their farm in Nebraska so that they can return to live closer to their relatives in Black River Falls. "Well," he said, "we are our own masters. Who is boss over us?"
In notes six and nine to Chapter Five, Lurie humbly explains her own cultural barriers to interpreting Mountain Wolf Woman's stories about land. The principle barrier consists of the concept that being a landholder does not confer status in Winnebago terms as much as being one's own master. However, this does not interfere with the Winnebago feeling for tribal inheritance of place and family, which keeps Mountain Wolf Woman and many others from staying on the Nebraska reservation lands. Implicit in Mountain Wolf Woman's iterative statements is a perception of communal place that is fluid, depending on the seasons and the customs for survival, yet located in a homeland. For instance, she tells about moving to trap muskrats or to gather food: "Eventually it was time to pick blueberries and we moved away to pick blueberries."
Her sense of inherited place is connected with the spiritual communion of family as well as with the land itself. Although she accepts the displacement of her children as they grow up and leave home, she often feels uncomfortable in her realization that they are far away from kin and have no traditional relationships to rely on. To secure her own sense of place while she is travelling, she remarks in English in a dining car full of soldiers that because her son is a soldier, all soldiers are her sons. She is rewarded by the respect of the soldiers and by having one address her as mother. As Wong asserts, "Within her Winnebago sense of relatedness, Mountain Wolf Woman's notion of family extends beyond biological connections." This singulative incident further illustrates an iterative teaching about the ability to call on kinship relationships to create an awareness of place and belonging that goes beyond physical space.
Although Mountain Wolf Woman discloses that she is knowledgeable about Native medicines, she devotes little actual storytelling to healing, other than to declare its power and to communicate the protocol for passing on such knowledge. For example, when her sister first shares peyote with her, we learn more about teaching procedure than healing procedure through her iterative mode. Before Mountain Wolf Woman's child is born, her sister tells her, "When people are in that condition [labor], they use peyote. They have children without much suffering." The incident is singulative, but the quotation is iterative. Her sister shares the healing knowledge that she has learned in Nebraska and offers Mountain Wolf Woman the option to use it by expressing herself in the historical present. Mountain Wolf Woman's conclusion is iterative, although it is in past tense: "My sister did that for me," implying her approval for her sister's teaching and kindness.
When Mountain Wolf Woman receives the teachings of an elder healer, her grandfather [interpreted by Lurie as "first Cousins twice removed"], she gives more attention to the protocol on how one asks for this information and to the explanation of the spiritual dimension of the medicine than to the teachings themselves. Note seven for Chapter Seven reveals Lurie's scientific bias, describing the "magical features" in the use of native medicines. Since Lurie has not asked for the favor of medicine teaching, since she apparently would not accept the spiritual aspects of such teaching, and since she was writing the book to be published for the general public, Mountain Wolf Woman has enough reasons for this singulative silence in the text. This rationale may explain her reluctance to elaborate on certain information even though she allows the old healer to speak for himself on these matters.
As Mountain Wolf Woman briefly quotes the healer's teachings, we recognize the iterative phrasing implicit in her reproduction of his use of the future tense:
You will prescribe Indian medicines…. The power will all be yours. You are not yet holy, but these medicines are holy … these medicines are going to talk to you … If you put your mind to it intensely, that is where you will have your power.
Mountain Wolf Woman interrupts the quotation, saying that, at the time, she did not understand all of this. Nevertheless, her story reveals the way the spiritual power works for a healer through the medicine. Also omitted is any explanation about whether or not she did come to an understanding of this power. However, her healing practices such as midwifery and her taking responsibility for getting people to hospitals, acceptable customs to Lurie and her non-Native audience, are mentioned.
Mountain Wolf Woman describes several visions with prophetic interpretations. These are the distinct visions of individuals, told in the singulative, but the iterative comments provide a paradigm for the prophetic importance of vision. During the third night of her fast, which she undergoes at the onset of her menses, she dreams of horses. In the conclusion of this narrative, she supplies the iterative tags "always" and "used to" to proclaim its consequences and to verify the traditional qualities of the singulative event: "I must have been one who dreamed about horses. I believe that is why they always used to give me horses." This is also the time of great power for women as givers of life, so fasting would be expected to bring powerful visions for women. Later in the narrative, Mountain Wolf Woman mentions a gift of horses from her adoptive Sioux family to show the high regard in which she was held by them, but it also verifies her prophecy and the importance of the dream vision.
On other occasions, she gains a singulative vision in the iterative framework of prescriptive forms for observing ritual. She begins the story of her peyote vision, "I was sitting with bowed head. We were all sitting with bowed heads. We were supposed to ponder." In her dream there is a storm, and the people have nowhere to turn, except to Jesus. She thanks the god who gave her life and feels "a sensation of great joyousness." The closing of the vision narrative concerns the holiness of the peyote way in general:
But if someone sees something holy at a peyote meeting, that is really true. They are able to understand things concerning God. I understood that this religion is holy. It is directed toward God.
Rhetorically she casts the meaning of her particular visions as a part of the iterative practices of the peyote cult as a whole. Other references to peyote visions affirm its reliable truths and iterative practice.
Similarly, Mountain Wolf Woman's rendering of her singulative vision of the German soldier is a cautionary tale about the proper observance of ritual. Even though Mountain Wolf Woman is a Christian and a peyotist, she is critical of the "conservative" or traditional people who do not observe the forms of the scalp dance. After some participants go back to their cars and tents to sleep, Mountain Wolf Woman and a few others keep dancing. At this point in her narrative, she warns against holding a ceremony "without feeling any reverence for it." However, inherent in these warnings is the iterative characterization of the ways that ceremonies have always been and should continue to be. Her reward for proper observance is a vision of the dead soldier to whom she speaks. Her nephew responds to her story of the vision so as to confirm the ritual prophecy of the vision in its iterative sense—this is the way it would always be and so it continues:
"Well, Aunt," he said, "you respected that scalp dance from the beginning. You were taking part when it ended … You spent the time properly. That is what you did. You spoke the truth when you said that we beat them … Whatever good luck was to have befallen him we won for ourselves."
In this instance, her singulative vision requires an iterative response because its meaning is more communal than personal.
The special powers of the elderly to communicate with the spirit world and their visionary powers are also a component of the iterative message in the singulative stories. Of the grandfather from whom she obtains the knowledge of medicines, she observes:
The thinking powers of old people are strong and if one of them thinks good things for you, whatever he wishes for you, you will obtain that good fortune. That is what they always said.
One of Mountain Wolf Woman's earliest memories is of an elderly man returning an earthly favor with a spiritual gift. Her mother asks her sons to fulfill the man's dying wish, which is to be carried outside. To repay them, he prophesies that whenever the boys eat skunk meat, his favorite food, if they offer tobacco and think of him, they will have their wish granted. Mountain Wolf Woman uses these stories and the iterative mode to illustrate the respect that should be shown to old people and to emphasize their spiritual importance: "That is what we used to do. We respected old people, but today they do not respect old people."
Although social protocol is not completely separate from the spiritual aims of an individual in the Winnebago culture, such connections in Mountain Wolf Woman's narrative are often taken for granted when codes of behavior are emphasized. The reasons for doing and saying the right things, such as showing respect for elders, may be intrinsically linked to regard for spiritual concerns, but codes for social behavior related through iterative rhetorical devices comprise one of the strongest features of her teachings. Again this may be due to her perceived audience, Nancy Lurie and the uninitiated non-Native reader. In the education of children, codes of behavior and introduction to traditions would come before an understanding of the deeper spiritual meanings attained through fasting and vision. Thus her audience would stand in an analogous relation to children, who would learn the ways of the culture and their deepening significance as they grew up.
One of the teachings of Winnebago protocol is that some customs are not revealed. In describing her initiation into the medicine society, for example, Mountain Wolf Woman reports that "they did all the things they still do when they have a medicine dance. They even 'shot me.'" However, the death and rebirth ritual is not delineated or explained. In a singulative incident, she tells of one woman, who was heavy, and could not fall properly when she was shot, no matter how they tried to teach her. How one was to fall or how one was initiated is thus not depicted, but the protocol, a proper way of doing it is stressed without describing the details.
Even though Mountain Wolf Woman turns away from some of the ways of the medicine lodge when she becomes a Christian and a peyotist, she reveals that she has retained respect for the traditional ways. Her story of the scalp dance ceremony shows that she preserved her reverence for ceremonies by what she tells us and what she does not. In a particular case, Nancy Lurie translates "old religious ways" from "… when they spoke about that" (emphasis added) for the elucidation of the audience. However, it may be a significant breach of protocol, illustrated by Mountain Wolf Woman's use of the iterative mode, to speak of or name sacred rites.
On the other hand, Mountain Wolf Woman's narrative is full of detailed description of daily activity. Accordingly, instructions on how to perform activities in the right manner are expressed in the iterative. In the chapter entitled "Livelihood," summer berry picking illustrates the industry of the Winnebago. According to Mountain Wolf Woman's pronouncement, "Thus the Indian came through history." Lurie interprets this "curious phrase" to mean that "the Winnebago are always adaptable and self-sufficient, not that they traditionally sold blueberries to whites." Mountain Wolf Woman's iterative remark, typical of her concluding utterances throughout the narration, portrays not only the enterprising activities of the Winnebago, but the communal and cooperative dimension of such harvests.
The polite way to treat relatives and in-laws also comes through the iterative mode of Mountain Wolf Woman's narrative. The gentle teasing used to balance favor toward children and to promote modesty is disclosed through the comments on her own birth: "I was the last child—'Poor quality' they used to say of that one." When Mountain Wolf Woman arrives at her first mother-in-law's house, she brings gifts for the female relatives and receives gifts in return. Although her major point in the conclusion concerns the arranged marriage, which turned out to be an unhappy one, protocol is also noted in her observation, "That is the way they used to do." She also goes against her own better judgment when she is initiated into the medicine lodge by her mother-in-law because "She asked me very nicely … I will do graciously what she asks me to do, but after that I will do what I want to do." Proper protocol, noted by a concluding paradigm, in this case, asking in the proper way, commands at least temporary compliance.
On the other hand, the way her oldest brother advises Mountain Wolf Woman on her second marriage requires her to take his suggestion seriously, but not necessarily to comply with it. He points out that Bad Soldier "knows how to take care of himself. If you make a home someplace, then I will have someplace to go to visit." According to the explanatory notes, Mountain Wolf Woman later clarified for Lurie in English the meaning of her commitment. Mountain Wolf Woman's older brother's wanting to visit her and his wise appraisal of her future husband held considerable weight with her in making her own decision to marry. This was more significant to her than her younger brother's promise that she was required to fulfill with her first marriage. Her older brother's utterance, translated in the future tense but indicative of the future perfect "I would have," signifies his desire to see his sister and for her to be happy. Her explanation, supplied by the editor, suggests that her consideration of Bad Soldier is based on the way serious suggestions should be made among siblings.
Protocol is a major consideration in making requests as well as complying with kinship obligations. In asking for the knowledge of Indian medicines, Mountain Wolf Woman is careful to ask in the right way, which includes appropriate gifts, concern for the welfare of her grandfather, and the appropriate feeling of respect, demonstrated by her words, "Indian medicines help people." She records his reply, revealing his approval of her following protocol: "You said something worthwhile. You have asked for a very good thing. You said a good thing. You are going to have something valuable." The pattern of this particular story and conversation is more iterative and ritualistic than singulative. The iterative instruction is apparent in her reward. Although the exact words must come from each individual when making a request, the attitude of proper respect must be implicit in those words. However, improper demonstrations of respect are not rewarded. For instance, the neighbors who bring the grandfather food, but who are "always talking about it" are not honoring the man, but are looking for approval from others. Mountain Wolf Woman uses the iterative "always" in this instance to illuminate the boundaries of protocol.
Other negative examples, which flag improper behavior, are drawn from Mountain Wolf Woman's first marriage. When her mother-in-law initiates her into the lodge, Mountain Wolf Woman explains, "She did not give me that big otterskin bag they wanted to give me. She was selfish." Even her own husband disapproves of his mother's breaking her promise to give Mountain Wolf Woman the bag. Selfishness is clearly a transgression that the mother-in-law deserves to be shamed for committing. Protocol in this story has less to do with the tradition of the lodge than the way one treats others—the condemnation of selfishness indicates that this story illustrates a paradigmatic experience and is, therefore, iterative.
In contrast, Mountain Wolf Woman's second husband bought new dishes for her with money left to him by his mother. He tells her, "If my mother were living, she would not begrudge you anything she had." The conditional tense in Mountain Wolf Woman's quotation of his statement expresses the iterative mode, highlighting the code for generous behavior that a proper mother-in-law would show a good daughter-in-law. Thus his statement is a compliment to both his wife and his mother from him and from Mountain Wolf Woman in her retelling the story.
As a foil, Mountain Wolf Woman tells the story of how she rejects her first husband because he is jealous. She uses the iterative to describe his continued violation of what should be their mutual trust in each other:
He used to accuse me of being with other men. That made me angry. I hated him. He used to watch me too. So, I said to him one time, "No matter how closely you watch me, if I am going to leave you, I am going to leave you!"… That is what I did to him.
His unsuitable actions and attitude toward her seriously violate marital protocol and are clearly not to be tolerated. His story is a prototype of bad faith. Her family gladly accepts her back, generously offering her a harness and buggy hitch to help her move. Her family's response illustrates the familial and social code of generosity and the trusting relationship between relatives, differentiating her own relatives from her first husband and in-laws. [In a footnote, Hearn writes: "Mountain Wolf Woman's stories also illustrate the polite way to treat distant relatives and friends."]
Mountain Wolf Woman's affirmation of the importance of gift-giving and ways of spiritual validity contrast with that of her brother, Crashing Thunder. His story is structured around giving up the old ways. She confesses, "At one time I thought it [traditional religious practice] was just empty talk." However, proper observances of etiquette require her participation in the dance, which leads to vision and her validation of Winnebago tradition. Even this significant spiritual revelation is supported by the iterative context of protocol. Similarly, numerous other stories signifying proper behavior, though having less serious consequences or rewards, are important enough to enter the narrative with iterative commentary.
Equal in emphasis to protocol, or the forms for showing proper respect for one individual to another, are Mountain Wolf Woman's teachings on tradition or the oral practice of handing down culture. Certain practices, exemplified in the stories, signify cultural values, which may include forms of protocol, but which are often more inclusive. In addition, Mountain Wolf Woman's narrative communicates the peyote tradition, which was passed on to the Winnebago. Although Mountain Wolf Woman, like many informants who gave their stories to anthropologists, adapted to the changes in Winnebago life and adopted other traditions, she did not completely desert her original culture. Her iterative voice in the narrative is associated with the great respect she still has for traditions, which she does not find to be mutually exclusive with her conversion to the peyote way and its inclusion of Christianity. Her respect for a variety of traditions is acknowledged by her funeral services. Nancy Lurie records that:
Conservative relatives and friends held a brief version of the traditional Winnebago wake …; her own peyote beliefs were represented in a well-attended peyote meeting …; and … she was laid to rest at the mission cemetery at Black River Falls after Christian services at the mission church.
In fact, respect for the beliefs of others is itself a tradition of the nonproselytizing religions of Native peoples.
Although most of the spiritual traditions are covered [elsewhere in this article], spiritual tradition as the center of life also is reflected in traditional social behavior associated with the peyote religion. As Mountain Wolf Woman explains, "Whenever there were peyote people they all came forth…. Every Saturday night we had a meeting." The hostility of the conservative people towards the peyotists is characterized by their desire to break up the social/spiritual unit. They threatened to "scatter us," explains Mountain Wolf Woman. "They watched us with harmful intent." The importance of the tradition of communal life is expressed through Mountain Wolf Woman's story of how a group might be punished. Thus noncommunal living can be a direct threat to survival. Although Native religions were not missionary in character or principle, apparently the introduction of the pan-Indian/Christian practice of the peyote band was threatening to Winnebago tradition. Perhaps their reaction was based on the many disastrous effects of Christian missions on Native peoples.
Mountain Wolf Woman's concern about her daughter's move to Oregon also reflects the strength of the tradition of communal living and family obligations. Without relatives around to care for her daughter's family in times of trouble, Mountain Wolf Woman feared for them, especially because of her son-in-law's "craving for liquor." She advises him, "Do not do there as you behave here. It is very far, that Oregon, I am not always going to know what you are doing." This last negative phrase implies that "always knowing" and being there to help out are the cultural norms.
When Mountain Wolf Woman herself lived away from her family, she preferred to live near other Native people, such as the Sioux. Her connection to the Sioux community is revealed by her adoption. Other Native families joined her and her husband after they went to South Dakota, and they all trapped and worked together. Mountain Wolf Woman reinforces the communal tradition by commenting on the group's trapping success, which contrasts with her preceding story of the single-family farm in Nebraska with all its debts.
The tradition of family responsibility is told through the story of her return to Oregon to take her daughter's children home with her when the daughter's husband leaves and she is unable to care for the children. Mountain Wolf Woman reports, "The little children lived at my house. They went to school and they stayed there with me and they grew big." Her emphasis in this story is on the iterative parable concerning the importance of the education and health of the children and their eventual reunion with their mother. Mountain Wolf Woman also raises another grandchild after her son and his wife are separated. When she receives word from a distant relative that the mother is not caring properly for the child, Mountain Wolf Woman takes appropriate action. The story of the Uncle's words enforce the tradition: "I thought that if you had your own grandchild you would take good care of it." Mountain Wolf Woman concludes with the iterative statement, "That is what he said." Such a statement verifies the significance and the appropriateness of her relative's information and delicate reminder to her of her duty. Family responsibility is thereby corroborated by the message and its medium.
Various other family traditions which involve taking care of relatives are related through the rhetorical devices of the narrator. When an old man interrupts the peyote ceremony with insults to Squeaking Wing, the speaker, the younger man claims kinship in order to disperse the insult and show respect to the drunk: "That is my uncle who is speaking. What he is saying does not matter. He is just petting me." Nancy Lurie explains the reticence of Squeaking Wing to criticize the old man as an illustration of "Christian forbearance", however, the claim of family ties and the teasing kinship tradition are paradigmatic circumstances under which such forbearance is granted without the speaker's losing face.
The tradition of family connection and helpfulness is illustrated throughout the narrative. Such traditions as teaching through gentle ridicule, illustrated in the humorous story of the waterlily root, and joking relationships with in-laws, represented in the story of Mountain Wolf Woman's brother-in-law, Red Horn, are lively illustrations. The concluding sentences to these stories are iterative statements reaffirming the importance of traditions.
Honors, on the other hand, do not come merely through the kinship traditions. They must be earned, usually through following tradition. Since Mountain Wolf Woman avoids bragging about herself, her singulative deeds are often implied through iterative narration. When Mountain Wolf Woman is asked to become a member of the medicine lodge, for example, she explains that this is because of the respect the lodge members had for her mother-in-law. However, her own mother says about Mountain Wolf Woman, "They are saying something good…. She is going to earn something for herself." Such an honor would, of course, be worthwhile, and Mountain Wolf Woman's initiation would confirm her "right to be a lodge member." The honor earned is the right to participate in the traditional rites. Also earned by singulative deeds, which are silent in the text, is the respect of her Sioux adoptive parents. The adoption itself is an honor and the gift of four horses signifies their respect. Mountain Wolf Woman comments, "They thought a lot of me, those Sioux brothers, sisters and uncles." In her stories, then, tradition and family relations are cultural paradigms and signs of virtue.
Winnebago traditions (and the kinship obligations associated with them), however, are not always easy for Mountain Wolf Woman to comply with, especially in the case of her first marriage. She reflects on her experience in the iterative mode, "That is how they used to arrange things for young women in the past. They made the girls marry into what ever family they decided upon." The marriage is part of a kinship obligation to her brother, and her mother explains that her brother will be embarrassed if she does not comply. However, her mother also confides to the unhappy bride that "When you are older and know better, you can marry whomever you yourself think that you want to marry." Mountain Wolf Woman states, "I did not forget it!" Therefore, built into the tradition of arranged marriages and respect for the honor of one's brothers is some flexibility. Once compliance with the tradition has taken place, the individual can assert her right to happiness.
Another cultural tradition Mountain Wolf Woman implies through the iterative repetition in her teaching stories is independence. When she takes care of the elderly, she honors traditional Winnebago protocol, but she also provides as much independence as possible for them. She offers gifts and brings food for her grandfather, but she also buys him a small stove so that he can fix his own food. She reports his reply, "Now I will be able to cook for myself," and concludes with an iterative remark, "and that is what he did." The sense of cultural approval of the tradition of self-sufficiency is also repeated in another story in which Mountain Wolf Woman helps an elderly, neglected woman to help herself.
Similarly, Mountain Wolf Woman insists on her own independence. When she goes to Oregon to see her daughter, she takes a job that her son-in-law finds for her. Nancy Lurie assures us in a note that "this was intended and understood as thoughtful concern for her welfare. It enabled her to earn money and not be dependent on her daughter." Mountain Wolf Woman also refuses her grandchildren's offers to live with them, saying: "Not until I am much older. When I am so old that I cannot care for myself, then you can take care of me." These words are introduced by the iterative tag, "I always say," implying the importance of the tradition of independence. She is particularly angry that her house at Black River Falls is regarded as the same as those who had houses built for them, because she provided material and bought the fixtures. The white agent's lack of acknowledgment of her independence receives her scornful reproach.
Mountain Wolf Woman's stories are not traditional, tribal stories, but they are stories of tradition. The iterative voice proclaims and communicates her Winnebago heritage to her non-Native audience. This is not an autobiography that has taken on the European forms of the confessional or the success story as some early Native American autobiographical narratives have been described. In addition, although the narration of her life story exists primarily because of the desire of an anthropologist, this anthropologist is also a younger relative who deserves to be taught. As Paula Gunn Allen points out about the continuance of traditional teachings:
As teacher, the woman is the link between one generation and the next; thus, if she fails to teach her children, she has failed herself and her tribe. Women represent continuity and completeness. If women fail to pass on their contributions, they cause the circle to be broken, the sacred tree to die.
Through its iterative rhetorical forms, Mountain Wolf Woman's narrative reveals a tradition of responsible teaching passed down from one generation of women to the next.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1134
Susan Gardner (essay date October 1992 & February 1993)
SOURCE: "'And Here I Am, Telling in Winnebago How I Lived My Life': Teaching Mountain Wolf Woman," in College Literature, Vol. 19, No. 3 & Vol. 20, No. 1, October, 1992 & February, 1993, pp. 233-36.
[In the excerpt below, Gardner discusses the literary aspects of Mountain Wolf Woman.]
[Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder] enjoys an unusual popularity for academic texts; it has been continuously in print for 31 years. Reasons for its enduring reputation include the upsurge of interest in American Indian literature and women's studies. Originally its editor, anthropologist Nancy Lurie, thought that an autobiography by her adoptive aunt Stella would be interesting in itself and, as the subtitle indicates, as a gender-specific comparison with the autobiography of Mountain Wolf Woman's brother Crashing Thunder produced by Paul Radin. But neither of these is an autobiography in such conventional Western senses as "confessional in form, exploring the inner labyrinth of the psyche, recording the emotional vibrations of the writer as well as the cultural milieu, documenting historic events and the autobiographer's relationships with members of society, encompassing both the inner and public lives of the subject over a lengthy period of time" [Gretchen M. Bataille and Kathleen Mullen Sands, American Indian Women: Telling Their Lives, 1984]. David Brumble does in fact claim that Sam Blowsnake ("Crashing Thunder") was making a shift in American Indian autobiographies parallel to the conversion narrative of St. Augustine. It most certainly is an account of salvation; but with Radin's heavy editorial control, the "autobiography" is difficult to evaluate. Radin described it as a "rake's progress" and compared Blowsnake to Candide. Such an imposition of Western categories on a non-Western text is understandable, but also mis-leading. Thanks to Arnold Krupat's detailed study of American Indian autobiographies as "original, bicultural composite composition" in For Those Who Come After, the complexities of rendering an "authentic" Indian voice (when no traditional Indian would even have thought of "producing"—I use the word advisedly, for most "autobiographies" were dictated through interpreters—an autobiography) can be understood as a process whereby Western culture appropriates "the other" in its own terms….
Bataille and Sands, in American Indian Women: Telling Their Lives, do accept Mountain Wolf Woman's narrative as "literary," by which they mean techniques usually associated with literature: "dialogue, expression of inner emotions and responses to events, a first-person omniscient viewpoint, latitude in handling time and sequence of events, and an awareness of audience." But such techniques are not limited to self-consciously literary artifacts, and Mountain Wolf Woman's is not such an artifact. When Mountain Wolf Woman narrated in Winnebago what she thought was her complete story, which Lurie then asked a grandniece of Mountain Wolf Woman's to translate into English, Lurie was very disappointed. Mountain Wolf Woman used no more than a half reel of tape, and this version is included as Appendix A…. Lurie transformed her aunt's seemingly random and schematic recollections (which to Mountain Wolf Woman, of course, were not) into a form familiar to Western readers. Unlike many previous bicultural composers, Lurie makes no claims of having had no influence on her narratee's story; she meticulously outlines every step (and also resorts to extensive notes to add information for us that Mountain Wolf Woman assumed, correctly, any Winnebago relative—such as her niece—would understand). The narrator's intended audience, then, is Winnebago, not us. In a sense, we eavesdrop on a private conversation. Unlike Radin, who borrowed from previous narratives by Crashing Thunder, including some which may not even be by Crashing Thunder but reflect Radin's understanding of Winnebago (male) culture over many years, Lurie scrupulously set out her own methodology and motivation. Also, Crashing Thunder's text (one of them, at least) was written in a Winnebago syllabary by Crashing Thunder, whereas Mountain Wolf Woman told her story as a favor to her niece. This composition process can illuminate … culturally differing notions of self, role, and society, and lead them to question what "literature" in a Western sense has conventionally meant.
One result of Lurie's and Mountain Wolf Woman's collaboration is, as David Murray has commented [in Forked Tongues: Speech, Writing and Representation in North American Indian Texts, 1991]:
[a] typical multi-layered sandwich, where we are given a foreword, a preface, the text with extensive footnotes, then the first brief version of her life given by Mountain Wolf Woman, which she extended when she saw Lurie's disappointment—indicating the role of white expectations in the creation of such texts…. At several points Lurie refers to "literary" and "scholarly" criteria which decided the style of the English version. Unfortunately [and rather like Bataille and Sands] she never develops what she means by these terms, and when we look at all of the layers of the "sandwich," questions of authenticity [and, I would amplify, "authorship"] become even more confusing. What role … does a letter from Mountain Wolf Woman, written in non-standard English … ü play in the combination of voices?… We are offered either her poor written English—which leaves us at a distance from her "real" voice, though it is her own actual product—or a translation of her speaking Winnebago which uses all the (white) literary and scholarly resources available to recreate a sense of her real presence and speech.
However, rather than a static sandwich (in which Mountain Wolf Woman's contribution in English would represent a dab of mustard), what we have is a plurivocal, indeed intervocal text that does not pretend to answer, only to raise, issues of cultural translation. This is hardly a feature of American Indian texts alone, but exploring Krupat's principle of original, bicultural composition encourages students to ponder Western notions of "authorship" / ownership and textual authority.
Comparing Mountain Wolf Woman's two narratives reveals at least three constant themes in her life (and other Winnebagoes'): frequent travel to visit a wide network of kin separated by various Federal policies, and in search of work and a syncretically satisfying spirituality in a time of drastic change…. Both start with "Mother" (not with "I") and both show her own satisfaction as mother, wife, and provider. She is no proto-feminist, and women's studies courses will properly teach her narrative as an illustration of non-Western gender arrangements. The original narrative, moreover, suggests that she did not "love" her second husband, marrying, as she did the first time, due to the patriarchal constraints imposed upon her by her brothers, not her father. The expanded narrative contains moving descriptions of her grief when her second husband dies, as well as when her son is reported wounded in World War II. The extended introspection, which Bataille and Sands regard as "literary," is to my mind a Western convention satisfying our notions of individual subjectivity. Mountain Wolf Woman's own sense of self is more action-oriented: "This is what I do. That is the way I am."
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2156
SOURCE: "Literary Boundary Cultures: The Life Histories of Plenty-Coups, Pretty-Shield, Sam Blowsnake, and Mountain Wolf Woman," in Sending My Heart Back across the Years: Tradition and Innovation in Native American Autobiography, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 88-116.
[In the excerpt below, Wong discusses the creation of Mountain Wolf Woman's autobiography and the volume's focus on family, education, and marriage.]
In 1958, thirty-eight years after Sam Blowsnake wrote his autobiography [Crashing Thunder] in the Winnebago syllabary, his sister Mountain Wolf Woman narrated her life story to her friend, adopted niece, and amanuensis, Nancy O. Lurie. Traveling from Black River Falls, Wisconsin, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, Mountain Wolf Woman stayed with the Luries for five weeks as a visiting relative. During that time, Mountain Wolf Woman spoke her life story in Winnebago into a tape recorder; then [according to Lurie] she "repeated the entire story on tape in English using the Winnebago recordings as a guide." With the assistance of Mountain Wolf Woman's grandniece, Frances Thundercloud Wentz, Lurie translated the Winnebago into "literary English." According to anthropologist Lurie, Mountain Wolf Woman did not have the intense problems adjusting to reservation life that plagued her brother. Like him, she had a traditional Winnebago upbringing, and like him, she converted to the peyote religion. Unlike her brother, however, she made the transformation from the old ways to the new ways with apparent ease. According to [Lurie's preface], "Mountain Wolf Woman's autobiography is a predictable reflection of the greater self-confidence enjoyed by women in comparison to men in a culture undergoing rapid and destructive changes." Mountain Wolf Woman's "greater self-confidence" has to do with "the greater continuity and stability of female roles," as well as her older age at the time of relating her autobiography (she told her story at the age of seventy-four, while her brother wrote his before the age of forty-five), not to mention her favored status as the baby of the family.
Lurie provides a candid and detailed explanation of when, why, and how she collected Mountain Wolf Woman's life history. In Appendix B [of Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder], she acknowledges the "element of coercion" involved in the fact that she "manipulated the kinship structure for [her] own purposes," asking her aunt for a favor that could not, because of the Winnebago sense of familial obligation, be denied her. She also describes her relationship with Mountain Wolf Woman, the interview setting (Lurie's home), her own editorial principles, Mountain Wolf Woman's character, Winnebago character in general, traditional Winnebago male and female roles, dominant themes, and Mountain Wolf Woman's storytelling skills. Throughout the autobiographical account, she adds footnotes to clarify meaning, tone, or performance. Mountain Wolf Woman, like Plenty-Coups and Pretty-Shield, was a gifted storyteller and "an accomplished mimic," often taking on the voices of various speakers. Besides mimicking, she would often "relive events as she recalled them." crying or chuckling whenever she felt moved to do so. Lurie, however, makes no attempt to incorporate performance cues into Mountain Wolf Woman's translated narrative. Instead, she limits her commentary to footnotes, a preface, and an appendix. The familiar pattern of framing the life history of the speaker between the authenticating and expository sections of the editor continues. In Appendix A, Lurie includes Mountain Wolf Woman's first attempt at telling her life story—a very brief account that disappointed Lurie so evidently that Mountain Wolf Woman retold each story in fuller form.
Mountain Wolf Woman's oral autobiography, tape-recorded by Lurie in 1958, relates her experiences of traveling, growing up, marrying, being initiated into the medicine lodge, converting to peyote, joining a Christian church, learning Winnebago medicines from her grandfather, and caring for her family. As Mountain Wolf Woman, whose name was given to her by an elderly woman from the Wolf clan, discusses the domestic details of food collection and preparation and family relations, she intersperses humorous anecdotes and old stories. Mountain Wolf Woman narrates a humorous personal story about how as a little girl gathering yellow waterlily roots with her mother and sisters, she imitated her older sister. Observing her sister tie a waterlily root in her belt (to ward off anything bad that might affect her pregnancy), the little girl did the same—much to the amusement of those gathered. Gretchen Bataille and Kathleen Sands point out [in their American Indian Women (1984)] that rather than "cast themselves in heroic molds," female Indian autobiographers tend "to concentrate on everyday events and activities and family crisis events." In general, this seems true of Mountain Wolf Woman's narrative.
In contrast to her brother's dramatic cultural and religious conflicts, which shape his autobiography, Mountain Wolf Woman's rather placid autobiographical account is anecdotal. According to Ruth Underhill [in her foreword to Mountain Wolf Woman], "No particular pattern appears other than the slow change from the life of an illiterate Indian food gatherer to that of a responsible church member who lives in a modern house, travels in Pullman trains, and believes in the Christian heaven." Underhill's comments reveal her cultural bias, which assumes an evolution from "illiterate Indian food gatherer" to "responsible church member," as though living in the "modern" world necessarily erases one's Indian identity. Perhaps Mountain Wolf Woman's apparent lack of chronological structure is a more accurate reflection of the pattern of her life, which focused on the smaller fluctuations of daily life and family, rather than on the grander shifts of philosophical awakenings. Theorists of autobiography note a similar associational structure (rather than a linear narrative with identifiable beginnings, middles, and ends) and a similar emphasis on the minutiae of domestic detail (rather than on worldly actions) in the writings of many Euro-American women as well. Rather than assume "no particular pattern" other than the obvious pre-contact/post-contact experience, it is more appropriate to reconsider notions of what constitutes a "pattern." Focusing on the daily fluctuations of family relationships is suitable for a woman who had eleven children, thirty-eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren, especially since she raised many of them herself.
Even though Mountain Wolf Woman focuses on family and communal activities and the domestic rhythms of her life, there are two dramatic personal incidents that she spends more than the usual time narrating. The events are related to each other and, not surprisingly, linked to family. Her education and her first marriage were personal crises for Mountain Wolf Woman. She criticizes her family for disrupting her education and for forcing her to marry an unworthy man. Mountain Wolf Woman explains that at age nine she attended school for two years in Tomah, Wisconsin. Although she enjoyed being there, her parents took her out of school to travel with the family as they followed the harvesting and hunting cycles. Years later, as a teenager, she returned to school. There she met Nancy Smith, an Oneida and "the girl's matron." Together they cruised around on their bicycles, rode horses, participated in Indian dances, and enjoyed themselves. When her family suddenly removed her from school again, she had no idea why. "Alas, I was enjoying school so much," says Mountain Wolf Woman, "and they made me stop." She did not discover until she returned home that she was going to be married. Her mother explained: "It is your brother's doing. You must do whatever your brother says." Because she could not embarrass her brother or violate the taboo that might end in suffering for him, Mountain Wolf Woman had to submit to his wishes and to this marriage. She found out from her mother how this came about. It seems her "older brother had been drinking and was asleep." When Sam Blowsnake awoke, he found a man fanning mosquitoes from his face. To dispense a debt of gratitude for this kindness, her older brother promised his sister to the solicitous man.
Mountain Wolf Woman conveyed her anger and resentment even as she fulfilled her familial duties. As Mountain Wolf Woman's mother combed her weeping daughter's hair in preparation for her soon-to-be married status, she said: "Daughter, I prize you very much, but this matter cannot be helped. When you are older and know better, you can marry whomever you yourself think that you want to marry." The dutiful daughter never forgot her mother's words. Throughout her description of the marriage arrangement (an economic exchange), the trials of the marriage, and the divorce, Mountain Wolf Woman refers to her first husband as "that man," refusing even to name him. After two children and several unhappy years with "that man," Mountain Wolf Woman left him. Shortly thereafter, once again with the intervention of a brother (this time her eldest brother, the true Crashing Thunder), and with her consent and approval, Mountain Wolf Woman married Bad Soldier, with whom she lived happily until his death in 1936.
Just as Pretty-Shield's narrative is punctuated by interruptions from grandchildren, an intrusion of contemporary Indian life on the stories of the past, family, particularly grandchildren, permeates Mountain Wolf Woman's story. Family relations in general serve as the central organizing device of her self-narration. Grandparents, parents, siblings, husbands, children, and grandchildren provide the context for Mountain Wolf Woman's life. She ends her narrative with accounts of corresponding with her children now "scattered over great distances," raising her grandchildren, and narrating her life story to her "niece." Family relations, then, determine the scope and nature of her life and even its narration. With her Winnebago sense of relatedness, Mountain Wolf Woman's notion of family extends beyond biological connections. One brief anecdote illustrates this. On a trip to Oregon to visit one of her daughters, she learned that a son of hers had been wounded in Germany. On her train trip back to Wisconsin, she and her granddaughter sat at a table in the dining car with two young men "wearing khaki uniforms." "I am going to eat with my sons," she said to them. "'Whenever I see somebody wearing khaki, I always think that might be my son.' The boy across from me got up," she continues. "'My mother died when I was born. I never had a mother. Now I have a mother,' he said. Then he shook my hand." The worried mother, far from her Wisconsin home and her wounded son, mothered those who were near.
Mountain Wolf Woman shares certain themes with Plenty-Coups, Pretty-Shield, and Sam Blowsnake. Like them, she discusses her participation in dances and ceremonies. Also, she continues to highlight the differences between the old days and the present. Even though she has adjusted to the new ways and does not seem embittered about such enforced change, she recalls that in the old days, "[w]e respected the old people, but today they do not respect the old people." Since she is now one of "the old people," this change has deep meaning for her personally. Likewise, she speaks wistfully of the days when "Indians were real Indians."
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support