- Indian Storyteller in the MainstreamHenry Perley of Maine and the Pulp Fiction Market, 1910–1930
In “The Red Man’s Burden,” published in All-Story Weekly in 1915, Henry Perley (1885–1972) begins the story of Peter “Pe-al” Attean contentedly paddling the calm waters of Maine’s Caucomgamoc Lake. Attean delights in a firm connection to the land of his fore-bears as “now and again his deep voice boomed into snatches of Indian song, for this to him was life; his Indian soul reveled in the surrounding landscape” (314). Attean’s happiness closely resembles that of the Maliseet author Henry Perley, whose love of the north woods of Maine kept him returning throughout a life of world travel and popular culture employment.
During an active life, Perley embraced Native culture whether as a barker at Coney Island’s Dreamland, a performer in medicine and Wild West shows, or an actor in a D. W. Griffiths film. His experiences assuredly influenced his most enduring work, that of writing for popular markets. In hundreds of published stories in a variety of magazines he used his experiences in the woods and waterways of Maine to comment on the Native American experience in the United States.
Perley’s writing career for national pulp magazines began around 1910 and continued until the demise of that cultural venue in the 1930s. Writing for such magazines as Argosy, Top-Notch Stories, and All-Story Weekly, he used the pseudonym Henry Red Eagle. Perley related in a 1936 newspaper article that a Caughnawaga Native by the name of White Beaver, a fellow member of a 1911 Indian exhibit bound for England, gave him that name (Whitney). His status [End Page 53] as a Maine Native American as well as an international show-man represents the connections between traditional culture and a more cosmopolitan worldview that heavily influenced his writing. In the 1930s Perley lived semi-permanently in the Moosehead Lake region while working at a series of children’s camps and lecturing on Indian subjects in New England and beyond. He wrote for more regional tourist publications at this time such as the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad’s tourist annual In the Maine Woods and for local newspapers such as the Moosehead Gazette.
In his fiction pieces Perley is interested primarily in countering the image of a silent forest where the Native peoples no longer live and work. His continued connection to the land and lakes of northern Maine, to his Maliseet ancestry, and to contemporary Native populations makes his work extremely valuable for understanding a Native writer from the Northeast of the generation of such luminaries as Zitkala-Sa, D’Arcy McNickle, and John Joseph Mathews, who published fiction and nonfiction of the Plains and Prairies.
By relating the plots to lumber operations, trapping, fishing, and hunting, Perley creates a northeastern forest where Native people are active participants. These present populations provide a counternarrative to the dominant discourse of white victory and Native submission. As Native peoples can be heroes of their own stories, Native voices can be restored to mainstream narratives that had written them out. What emerges most clearly from the many stories Perley wrote is that Native Americans in the Northeast have always been present, and cultural continuity, although under attack, is still the means by which those people will succeed in maintaining their way of life.
Perley’s stories and his own life experiences exemplify the kind of return to a cultural and traditional “home” discussed by William Bevis in his critical essay “Homing In” (583). Perley creates characters similar to D’Arcy McNickle’s character of Archilde in The Surrounded, characters that have “made it in the white world” and choose to return home. Perley used his fiction to comment on Natives who endure stereotyping, racism, and the harsh treatment of white laws while residing in their traditional landscapes (582). [End Page 54]
To create strong connections to local Indian populations and traditions, Perley consistently uses Wabanaki names for his characters. For instance, in “The Red Man’s Burden” the character of Peter “Peal” Attean is provided with a traditional Penobscot Indian surname (Speck 14). By using...