The Page 99 Test

“Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” –Ford Madox Ford

There is a interesting blog called the Page 99 Test, which asks authors to apply this simple test to their book. They invited me to write a post about my new book Remembering the Modoc War: Redemptive Violence and the Making of American Innocence. Here is a link to the blog.

And here is my post:

How have Americans remembered the Indian Wars and justified their violence? Remembering the Modoc War delves into this question by exploring how historical memories of the Modoc War of 1872-73, California’s so-called Last Indian War, have persisted over the last century and a half. Histories of nineteenth-century U.S.-Indian violence evoked a legacy of conquest, cultivating a self-image of the United States as an innocent rather than expansionistic colonial power. Casting their actions as fundamentally innocent, Americans imagined themselves as the victims of frontier violence by representing Indians as the irrational aggressors and violators of a civilized nation’s just laws.

The book shows how stories about the Modoc War have changed over time. Page 99 describes how the prolific dime novel industry of the Gilded Age transformed the Modoc War into a tragic romance for East Coast American audiences to experience and consume. Most of these novels used the actual events and real Indigenous people merely as props for their romantic dramas. Such is the case in Seth Hardinge’s Modoc Jack; or, The Lion of the Lava Beds (1873) or T.C. Harbaugh’s The Squaw Spy; or, The Rangers of the Lava-Beds (1873), both of which relied upon well-developed nineteenth century literary tropes such as the tragic Indian chief and the romantic Pocahontas-like Indian princess.

But not all works of popular literature at the time reinforced notions of American innocence through romantic portrayals of Indigenous people. Some, like Joaquin Miller’s Life amongst the Modocs indicted American postbellum Indian policy and anticipated many of the arguments reformers such as Helen Hunt Jackson would make a full decade later in A Century of Dishonor (1881) and her popular romance, Ramona (1884). As Page 99 quotes Miller’s preface to his quasi-biographical novel:

“This narrative is not particularly of myself, but of a race of people that has lived centuries of history and never yet had a historian; that has suffered nearly four hundred years of wrong, and never yet had an advocate…. When I die I shall take this book in my hand, and hold it up in the Day of Judgment, as a sworn indictment against the rulers of my country for the destruction of these people.”

Page 99, then, shows how the dynamics of the Gilded Age dime novel industry promulgated narratives of Americans innocence but also created a platform for contesting these representations, an ongoing struggle that is at the heart of Remembering the Modoc War and whose significance stretches into the present day.