August 12, 2012

Death of Jackson: How she loved us!

Helen Hunt Jackson turned to writing after the death of her first husband and their son. Many of her stories were published under pseudonyms (usually "H.H." or "Saxe Holm") but, by the end of her life, she had turned political. Her interest in the maltreatment of Native Americans culminated in a book, A Century of Dishonor (1881), a copy of which was sent to each sitting Congressman. It made little difference, and she was criticized for her negativity.

After moving to California, she re-shaped her thinking. Knowing that a serious book would get less attention, she decided that the best way to stir people's hearts was in the form of a novel. She published Ramona in 1884 with the hope that it "would do for the Indian one-hundredth part what Uncle Tom's Cabin did for the Negro." Unfortunately, though the book sold exceptionally well, its subject matter was overshadowed in the form of fiction.

On her deathbed, as she lay dying of stomach cancer, Jackson wrote a letter to President Grover Cleveland asking him to read A Century of Dishonor. In severe pain, she was administered morphine and her family knew she was "sinking to final rest." She died in San Francisco on August 12, 1885, and was buried in Colorado. At her simple funeral, her poem "Last Words" was read:

Dear hearts, whose love has been so sweet to know,
That I am looking backward as I go,
Am lingering while I haste, and in this rain
Of tears of joy am mingling tears of pain;
Do not adorn with costly shrub, or tree,
Or flower, the little grave which shelters me.
Let the wild wind-sown seeds grow up unharmed,
And back and forth all summer, unalarmed,
Let all the tiny, busy creatures creep;
Let the sweet grass its last year's tangles keep;
And when, remembering me, you come some day
And stand there, speak no praise, but only say,
"How she loved us! 'Twas that which made her dear!"
Those are the words that I shall joy to hear.

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