Incorporating Indians

My current book project, Incorporating Indians: Literary Commerce and Culture in the U.S. Borderlands, 1883-1939, is an exploration of the cultural work done by salon women in the early twentieth century Southwest. These women worked with regional corporations to position themselves as interpreters of southwestern landscapes and peoples. Drawing on untapped institutional archives, my book documents how the literary output of the Southwest created a new vocabulary and poetics to describe modern alienation and to prescribe its redemption, thus establishing the Southwest as a critical outpost for literary modernism. Moreover, in exploring the surprisingly close relationships between women’s work and the material and discursive history of the corporatization of the American Southwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I argue that commercial enterprise placed women’s labor at the center of the Southwest’s cultural politics.

Incorporating Indians begins by analyzing the print culture of railroad expansion in the Southwest. Pamphlet and advertising texts created a discourse of domesticity that reframed the Southwest in terms of American patriotism and civic duty. I focus on the cultural work of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway and its hospitality chain, the Fred Harvey Company, which promoted their infrastructural expansion toward the Pacific coast by a massive rhetorical campaign tapping into sentimental values centered in the Anglo, middle-class home. Chapter One, “The Angel in the Harvey House,” addresses the Harvey Company’s unorthodox 1883 decision to hire white, single women as its wait-staff. This move began a vigorous campaign to publicize a cultural type—the wholesome “Harvey Girl”—which sanctioned women’s entry into the commercial culture of the Southwest. Narratives circulating in newspapers and magazines correlated Harvey Girls’ work with the progressive “civilization” of the Southwest, a domestic-angelic myth that was already being satirized in Stephen Crane’s “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” (1898). In Chapter Two, “Harvey Indians and Olla Maidens,” I show how the Harvey Company’s showcasing of Indian women making domestic wares—baskets, pottery, and blankets—commodified Indian women’s artisanal labor as both exotic and distinctly American. Consequently, just as the Harvey Company wrote Anglo domesticity onto the southwestern landscape via white women, it also scripted Indian women into the same nationalist narrative, mythologizing the Southwest as an ancient and future repository of middle-class values.

Having connected the narratives about southwestern women’s service work and manual labor to those of competitive capitalism, the book focuses on the histories and literary output of female writers moving to the Southwest at the height of the Santa Fe and Harvey’s popularity. These women placed their own literary labor in dialogue with the corporate narratives—and actual reality—of southwestern women’s work. Starting in 1916, when Poetry magazine co-founder Alice Corbin Henderson relocated from Chicago to Santa Fe, authors and artists migrated to the Southwest from New York, Chicago, and London. Many women followed Henderson’s lead and established salons in the area, including political activist Mabel Dodge Luhan and western nature writer Mary Hunter Austin. While the literary output of women’s salons is often theorized as separate from and unrelated to commercial enterprise, I argue for a collaborative understanding of the two ventures. By uncovering a corporate archive rarely considered by modernist critics, I show how writers and artists in the Southwest worked with the corporate world: writing advertising copy for the Harvey Company and Santa Fe Railway, working with corporate executives to produce regionalist work that was broadly engaged with international modernism, and lobbying for new policies regarding the Harvey Company’s women and Indian workers. I offer a dramatically new view of the relationship between corporate and avant-garde literature. While it was a relationship forged in the Southwest, it would, through the writers’ deep links to metropolitan institutions, re-orient modernist work around articulations of political reform and social awareness.

Each of the chapters focusing on Henderson, Luhan, and Austin’s salons are structured around a specific commercial/literary partnership that produced institutional practices on one hand, and texts and formal strategies on the other. Chapter Three, “Mary Austin’s Creation Myth,” engages Austin’s historical novel Land of Journeys’ Ending (1924) and “Harveycar Indian Detours,” the Harvey Company’s 1926 cultural tourism venture. Austin’s depiction of the Southwest as a woman’s space provided a blueprint for the Indian Detours’ business model, which employed women as its bilingual “Indian Courier” tour guides. The joint efforts of Austin and the Harvey Company to promote the region thus positioned white women as cultural mediators and experts of the Southwest. I also link the Austin-Harvey partnership to Henderson’s artistic and cultural work, arguing that corporations appropriated American modernist writers’ primitivist aesthetic to establish southwestern Pueblo Indians as the nation’s representative Indian. Chapter Four, Poetry ‘Roundup’ in Santa Fe,” examines Henderson’s salon, an important site of literary modernism from which she co-edited Poetry magazine long distance, while also (among other projects) editing and publishing the poetry of Santa Fe Railway executive William Haskell Simpson. As I suggest in my reading of Poetry magazine’s 1917 “Aboriginal Verse” special issue, in which editors Henderson, Harriet Monroe, and Carl Sandburg publish Anglo poets’ interpretations of Indian song, well-intentioned literary and commercial efforts to celebrate Indian culture and represent it to an Anglo audience implied the voiceless—and ultimately inarticulate—nature of the Southwest’s indigenous people.

My conclusion, “Los Gallos and the New Woman,” details Luhan’s fruitless attempts to convince both Hollywood screenwriters and male modernist authors to write her story about the Southwest—particularly of her marriage to Pueblo Indian Tony Lujan. Although Luhan hosted a number of writers at her “Los Gallos” home, including D.H. Lawrence and Robinson Jeffers, she eventually resorted to writing her own memoirs to accurately portray what she believed to be the redemptive potential of the Southwest. In my reading of Luhan’s 1937 memoir, Edge of Taos Desert, I trace the narrative emergence of the Southwest as the crucible of renewal for Anglo culture, a motif that was employed by Anglo writers, artists, and corporate executives throughout the twentieth century. Luhan’s revision of her married name from “Lujan” to “Luhan” precisely illustrates the creative liberties taken by writers and corporations to translate and reinterpret indigenous culture for Anglo consumption. Ironically, their interpretations demonstrate their implicit belief in the incompatibility of Anglo and Indian cultures—a racial conception at odds with their liberal assimilationist conceptions. My project reveals the profitable nature of women’s work, which crafted a pervasive discourse of domesticity in the Southwest in order to redefine the notions of race, gender, and nationhood in the aftermath of territorial expansion.