E. Pauline Johnson and Walt Whitman rebury Red Jacket
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Side-by-side, surprisingly, in the appendix of the Buffalo Historical Society’s publication Obsequies of Red Jacket at Buffalo, E. Pauline Johnson and Walt Whitman memorialize Red Jacket’s reburial on October 9, 1884, with their respective poems, “The Re-interment of Red Jacket” and “Red Jacket, (From Aloft.).” Through this textual showdown, this report interrogates the usefulness of the vanishing Indians narrative, instead interpreting the event as the locus of a heterogeneous, spiritual contest over bodies and their potential significations. Although orchestrated by Buffalo’s European American elites, the reburial also included representatives from the Six Nations tribes, among them Mohawk Ely S. Parker as well as Johnson. Paying attention to heterogeneity, whether differences in religion, tribal affiliation or class, at the event allows us to understand the varying stakes of the conflict, from debates over Christianity to immigration to the establishment of literary and social relations. While Whitman, nearing the end of his life, contemplates proper memorialization in “Red Jacket, (From Aloft.),” Johnson deploys the elegy to lay claim to her Native ancestry and burgeoning literary career. Monumentalizations often attempt to conceal such heterogeneity by creating the illusion of a dominant, national narrative. Alive within these events, nevertheless, a different image persists, one that preserves the messy debates over religion, land settlement, immigration, citizenship and transforming Native governments that actual memorialization ceremonies create.