CHAPTER I: Inspiration of RAMONA--THE CORONELS


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The devotion, vigor and perseverance with which Helen Hunt Jackson pursued her chief mission in life scarcely have a parallel. Her literary labor and fame culminated in the historical romance of Ramona, the influence of which has been second to the production of but one other American purpose writer. The inspiration of Uncle Tom's Cabin and of Ramona was identical--the wrongs inflicted by a superior upon an inferior race. The chief aim of each was ultimately achieved; the one through immeasurable sacrifices of blood and treasure, the other through the peaceful evolution of public sentiment, leading up to a revolt of the national conscience, and compelling a reversal of public policies.

It is not an extravagant claim that the humanitarian impulse now giving direction to the conduct of Indian affairs by the Government had its genesis largely in the romantic novel Ramona. The influence of the woman and her work was not only immediate but lasting.


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It has come down to this day and hour. The tragedy of Temecula will never be repeated. The era of evictions has forever passed. The Mission Indians will not again be driven from their homes at the point of the bayonet. Helen Hunt Jackson's posthumous influence will continue to shield them.

On her death-bed Mrs. Jackson said: ‘‘I did not write Ramona; it was written through me. My life-blood went into it--all I had thought, felt and suffered for five years on the Indian question.’’

Colorado, the home of the author of Ramona, was long the border land. Its earlier citizens suffered greatly at the hands of the Indians. Many now living remember when even the capital of the State was menaced by roving bands of murderous Arapahoes and Cheyennes. The Meeker massacre is still fresh in the minds of its people. The treachery of the Utes may never be forgotten. But the prejudices of two generations, there and elsewhere, should give way to the fact that the Mission Indians of California belong to a different category: that they are peaceful, industrious and frugal; that they worship the white man's God, and endeavor, with a meager equipment, to raise themselves to his plane of civilization.


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Some of them loved their homes so well that they suffered death within them in stoic preference to going out into the world in search of others. Not a few so died as martyrs to boasted American civilization!

Intimate friend of , and who, with his wife, gave Mrs.  the material from which was written the story of .  (Mrs.  in .)

DON ANTONIO DE CORONEL

Wife of Don , the intimate friend of Mrs. .

Mariana W. de Coronel

It was Helen Hunt Jackson's purpose to tell the whole pitiful story. It was her desire to paint it in its true colors in an appendix to her A Century of Dishonor, but she was persuaded that it was the better plan to clothe it first in the presumably more attractive garb of romance, and then to follow with other works of a more historical character after the ear of the public should be secured. This was the sage advice of Don Antonio Francisco de Coronel and his wife Doña Mariana, living at Los Angeles; although these staunch friends did not begin to realize the enormous sale which the initial story was destined to reach, the far-reaching influence it was to exert.

In November, 1883, after her return from California to Colorado Springs, Mrs. Jackson wrote to her dear friends, Señor and Señora de Coronel: ‘‘I am going to write a novel, in which will be set forth some Indian experiences to move people's hearts. People will read a novel when they will not read serious books.’’

Nor does popular interest seem to decrease


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with the lapse of time. The public library of Los Angeles now owns one hundred and five volumes of Ramona, yet one can secure a copy only by means of a reservation and a long wait. It would seem that at least nine of every ten tourists read the story. Thousands of them visit the San Diego, the San Luis Rey, and the Santa Barbara Missions every season, confessedly because of the association with them of Ramona and Alessandro; and all esteem it a privilege to catch a glimpse of Camulos, as the trains of the Southern Pacific Railroad pass through the hallowed spot.

In the Coronel Collection at the Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles is a portrait of Helen Hunt Jackson in oil, about 7 by 12, by Alexander F. Harmer; and beneath it is the little mahogany table on which Mrs. Jackson did much of her magazine work while in California. This table was made especially to her order, that she might write while in a reclining position, and under the personal supervision of Don Antonio de Coronel.

But the world, outside of Southern California, knows little of the Coronels, the relation of the author of Ramona to them, or the reason for displaying the portrait and the table with this particular collection of curios. Few


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indeed know that nearly all of the characters in the story were living persons idealized, that some of them are living to-day, or that the famous jewels, most unlikely incident of the plot, are still in the possession of the woman who most likely suggested to Mrs. Jackson the character of Ramona.

These facts and incidents constitute most interesting sidelights. The truth will be found to be, as so often it is, stranger than fiction. It is here first given, only once removed from the lips of the living actors.

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