Ramona: A Story, Volumes 1-2
Little, Brown, 1900 - 308 pages
Ramona, half Indian and half Scot and raised by a wealthy Mexican ranch family as a devout Catholic, marries a Catholic, full-blooded Indian. The story shows the decline of the Indian at the hands of the white man. Her husband is killed for stealing a white man's horse, and Ramona goes into a deep decline. Felipe, Ramona's foster brother, finds her and returns her to the ranch. When the white man begins to take land away from the Mexican ranchers, Felipe and Ramona return to Mexico and wed.
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Ramona is an orphan girl who lives on the rancho of the widow Seņora Gonzaga Moreno in Southern California, shortly after the Mexican-American War. Her father, Angus Phail, was a Scottish merchant who was betrothed to Senora Moreno’s older sister, also named Ramona, but was instead married to an Indian woman by a priest in the San Gabriel Mission, and Senorita Ramona then married Don Ortegna. But several years later, after his wife had left him, Angus, who was then dying, brought his baby girl to be raised by his ex-fiancee, and when she died, the girl was left to the care of Senora Moreno, who provided for her but never loved her because of Ramona’s mixed Native American heritage.
Senora Moreno’s only son Felipe does love Ramona. However, she falls in love with the San Luis Indian from the village of Temecula, Alessandro Assis, who heads the sheepshearers. Unfortunately a Moreno serving girl Margarita also loves Alessandro and causes trouble. When Alessandro asks Ramona to run away with him, Senora Moreno becomes very angry. What will happen to Ramona? Originally serialized in The Christian Union on a weekly basis, Ramona is considered as one of the greatest ethical novels of the nineteenth century, doing for Native Americans what Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stow did for slaves. Mrs. Jackson had previously written a non-fiction work, A Century of Dishonor, in support of Indians but sought to touch people’s emotions by a novel. The story is fictional, but many of the details are based on various true events. Obviously, the book is very pro-Indian rights, but while there are always two sides to every story, it is certainly important that we be aware of how white people and even our government often mistreated Native Americans.
Ramona is written in the form of a romance that would be most appealing to teenage girls and women. Yet, there is also a degree of exciting adventure, and positively, from a historical standpoint, the powerful narrative accurately depicts the life of the fading Spanish order of Old California. Negatively, some have accused the author of being pro-Catholic, but it can be argued that the many references to Catholic beliefs and practices are natural since the Spanish and Mexicans of the Southwest were indeed Catholic. A few references to smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol do occur. The terms “Christ,” “My God, “Good God,” “By God,” “O God,” and “Good Lord” are all used in ways that are sometimes difficult to determine whether they are being said reverently or just as exclamations. The “d” word is found about four times, almost always in quotations from “bad guys” referring to Indians. If one is interested in reading about the brutal intrusion of white settlers in California, the oppression of tribal American communities, and the problem of racial discrimination, this book will fill the bill.