Author, activist

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dear Editor,

Mabel Helen Wright, my maternal grandmother, was born in sod house No. 39 in Alma, Nebraska, in 1886, and died in Denver in 1966. She was the third of five daughters born to William H. Wright and Mary Hortense (Petticrew) Wright.

They had come from Springfield, Ohio, as homesteaders in about 1884. Drought and crop failures caused them to head to Colorado. Mary had serious health issues. She died when Mabel was 8 1/2 years old.

Mabel and her sisters were sent to live with various relatives. Anna (Petticrew) Holmes, Mary's older sister, took Mabel.

They lived in Manitou Springs, near the Garden of the Gods in Colorado.

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885) the poet, writer and activist on behalf of the Native Americans had lived at Colorado Springs. She thought that the Garden of the Gods was a beautiful location. (It was a lot different than Amherst, Massachusetts, where she was born.) To her, the gods seemed to have lived there.

About 1873-1874 she was living in the Colorado Springs area at the Seven Falls resort. In 1863, her first husband U.S. Army Captain Edward B. Hunt had died. Her life had been filled with tragedy. Her parents, Nate Welby-Fiske and Deborielle (Vina) Fiske died when she was a teenager. Her two sons, Murray and Renne Hunt, died prior to three years of age.

Then she met William Sharpless Jackson, a wealthy banker and railroad executive, who was visiting Colorado Springs. They were married in 1875 or 1877. In 1879, she traveled to Boston and heard a very impressive lecture by Ponca Indian Chief Standing Bear, concerning his people's forcible removal from their Nebraska reservation.

She became an advocate for Native Americans. By exposing the U.S. government's breaking of treaties with various Indian tribes, she brought the misconduct of certain officials out in the open. Newspapers including the New York Independent and the New York Times published her letters.

In 1881 she published A Century of Dishonor. On its cover there was a quote from Benjamin Franklin, which said: "Look upon your hands: They are stained with the blood of your relatives."

It was received with mixed reactions. Helen Hunt Jackson's most famous book was her novel Ramona, published in 1884. It was about an orphan girl who was half Indian and half Scotch and lived in Spanish California. To date, more than 300 reissues have been made of it.

At age 7, my grandmother, Mabel Wright rode side-saddle on a little white donkey and was a guide to Helen Hunt Jackson's grave overlooking Colorado Springs on a bluff.

Later, it was removed to the Evergreen Cemetery. My family treasures a picture of my grandmother being part of a historic time.

Helen Ruth Arnold,

Trenton, Nebraska

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