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Helen Hunt Jackson

Author of Ramona

Helen Hunt Jackson visited the California missions and many nearby ranches in the 1880s. She talked to former neophytes and to other Indians who were losing their land to U.S. settlers. Indian land, in her opinion, had been unfairly taken away. Also concerned about conditions on the reservations, Jackson wanted the Indians to receive more land, more education, and better farm tools. She presented her views to U.S. lawmakers.

When her message failed to change government policies toward Indians, Jackson tried another way. In 1884, she published her famous love story, Ramona, to show through fiction the hardships Indians faced. The novel became a best seller. It brought tourists from all over the nation and inspired Californian’s to capture the story on postcards and plays. Unfortunately many of the visitors were more interested in the crumbling missions than the Indians, and stole adobe bricks and roof tiles to take home. And the result was even further deterioration of the missions. But Jackson’s novel helped evoke the ‘Romance of the Channel’ region for thousands of readers around the world, and assisted in the rise of interest in the preservation of historic sites in California.

Adapted from Missions of the Los Angeles Area by Dianne MacMillan, Lerner Publications Company, 1996.

Recommended reading : Ramona, Helen Hunt Jackson

Excerpt from Ramona

Historic accounts of life on the ranchos paints a picture of sprawling adobe haciendas with red tile roofs, and are glowingly described in the famous novel Ramona, written in 1884 by Helen Hunt Jackson : " Besides the geraniums and carnations and musk in the red jars, there were many sorts of climbing vines - some coming from the ground; some growing in great bowls, swung by cords from the roof of the veranda, or set on shelves against the walls. These bowls were made of grey stone, hollowed and polished, shining smooth inside and out. They also had been made by the Indians, nobody knew how many ages ago …."

A wide straight walk shaded by a trellis so knotted and twisted with grapevines that little was to be seen of the trellis woodwork, led straight down from the veranda steps, through the middle of the garden, to a little brook at the foot of it. Between the veranda and the river meadows, out on which it looked, all was garden, orange grove, and almond orchard; the orange grove was always green, never without a snowy bloom or golden fruit; the garden never without flowers, summer or winter; and the almond orchard, in early spring, a fluttering canopy of pink and white petals, which, seen from the hills on the opposite side of the river, looked as if rosy sunrise clouds had fallen, and become tangled in the tree tops. On either hand stretched away other orchards - peach, apricot, pear, apple pomegranate; and beyond these, vineyards. Nothing was to be seen but verdure or bloom or fruit, at whatever time of year you sat on the Senora’s south veranda. "

Ramona Chapter 1