- Tribes of MenJohn Joseph Mathews and Indian Internationalism
My coming back was dramatic in a way; [. . .] my perceptive powers had been dulled by the artificialities and the crowding and elbowing of men in Europe and America, my ears attuned to the clanging of steel and the strident sounds of civilization.John Joseph Mathews, Talking to the Moon
I might as well speak of my world as I speak of my nation; then I would be concerned about my species as it relates to my unit of society and to me.John Joseph Mathews, Talking to the Moon
As an old man, Osage intellectual, writer, and historian John Joseph Mathews recalled his expatriation from the United States during the 1920s. After growing up in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, seat of the Osage Nation, where he had been born in 1894 to a white mother and a banker father, one-quarter Osage, Mathews’s travels began when he served as an aviator during World War I and spent part of his enlistment in Europe. After the war he returned to Oklahoma but later departed for Europe on his own. Recalling these years, Mathews described how in the 1920s he “roamed around, toured France on a motorbike—all that sort of thing. I wasn’t too proud of myself. I was active physically and mentally, but aimless” (qtd. in Wilson, “Osage” 271). When he describes his experiences, casually, and a little regretfully, he seems to allude that these experiences were not unique. [End Page 39] Indeed, “that sort of thing” was a well-known practice among notable writers of this period. His story parallels those of other modern expatriates, from Ernest Hemingway to Gertrude Stein to Claude McKay. But while the way Mathews’s story echoes tropes of modernist travel and dislocation is clear, the way these tropes are inflected by Indian experiences of location seems opaque. Indians survive—they remain. Yet when his story is contorted as timeless, as out of step with the modern world, and as static, to remain seems irreconcilable with the rootlessness expressed by Mathews’s rueful tale of expatriation, despite long histories of Native travelers. A closer look at his experiences and narratives of expatriation, however, shows otherwise: Mathews’s internationalism is not outside the frame of Osage experience. Instead, it is deeply informed by the particularities of Osage history and indigeneity. And while Osage land and history remains its center, when Mathews travels, both in his life and in his writing, he builds a new architecture of tribal identity; he extends the bonds of tribalism internationally, via gender.
Mathews’s biography is characterized by a tension between being rootless and being homebound. On the one hand Mathews is the consummate cosmopolitan traveler. He served as an aviator. He motorcycled through Europe. He went hunting in North Africa. He rejected a Rhodes Scholarship on the grounds that it was “too restrictive” (qtd. in Wilson, “Osage” 271). Yet he attended Oxford and then the University of Geneva, where he studied international relations. In his freelance journalism he reported on the League of Nations for the Philadelphia Ledger.1 Later he did research in Mexico with the support of a Guggenheim Fellowship awarded in 1939. In all these ways, he led a truly international life. On the other hand, however, his biography demonstrates a deep engagement with the local. His first advanced degree, from the University of Oklahoma, was in geology, and he brought this knowledge to bear on intimate studies of the environment in Talking to the Moon (1945), a memoir that documents one year in his life on the Osage Agency, where he resided in a cabin he built among the blackjack trees. His published work focuses almost exclusively on Oklahoma and, even more so, on the Osage Agency. This began with a series of short sketches for [End Page 40] the Sooner Magazine focused on hunting and the natural world. It continued with his first book, Wah’ Kon-Tah: The Osage and the White Man’s Road (1932); his 1934 novel Sundown; the aforementioned Talking to the Moon; Life and Death of an Oilman, a biography of oil tycoon E. W. Marland (1951); and...