Native American authors in the first half of the nineteenth century—the dawn of the Anthropocene in some accounts—were witness to the rapid expansion of settler-colonialism powered by new ideologies of energy and fueled by fossil capitalism. These authors, though, resisted extractive metaphors for energy and fuel, offering more organic and intimate visions of energy instead. Using energy humanities theories developed by Warren Cariou (Métis) and Bob Johnson, among others, this article will analyze Mary Jemison’s (Seneca) autobiography; Jane Johnston Schoolcraft’s (Ojibwe) poem, “On the Doric Rock, Lake Superior”; and John Rollin Ridge’s (Cherokee) novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta. These works show how Native American authors defined energy as cyclical and intimate in contrast to the growing settler society’s vision of linear, unending extraction. This article argues that nineteenth-century Native American Anglophone literatures expand the scope of the energy humanities by describing energy intimacy while also extending the histories of Indigenous resistance to settler energy imaginaries. Nineteenth-century Native American literatures can make important contributions to the scope of the energy humanities and need to be integrated into the field to grasp the full scale of current environmental crises.
Indigenous resistance to the defining energy systems of the Anthropocene has existed for as long as the epoch itself. The Anthropocene is often framed as a recent geological break with a stable Holocene, as if one day in the middle of the twentieth century a switch was flipped.1 Indigenous scholars and their allies though have argued for deeper Anthropocene roots, ones that recognize more than technology, ones that reveal centuries of “white supremacist, colonial, and capitalist logics.”2 Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin stretch the Anthropocene back to 1610 to highlight the legacy of colonialism and its relationship to trade and fossil fuels.3 Similarly Kyle Powys Whyte (Potawatomi) wryly notes that the environmental degradation of today—climate change, ocean acidification, widespread pollution, and so on—is a “back to the future” moment for Indigenous peoples as a “return” to the environmental destruction and genocide perpetuated by colonialism.4 Activists working to “keep it [oil] in the ground” at sites like the Standing Rock Reservation see the energy systems of the twenty-first century as fatal to the land, people, and kin of the world.5 Just as the Anthropocene has deep roots, this resistance to extractive energy regimes has a long heritage extending as far back as the early nineteenth century. The history of that resistance reveals an important divergence in US history as the American settler culture embraced the nascent regime of fossil fuels while Native Americans came up with new ways to oppose the increasing extractivism of their settler-colonial oppressors.
The juncture between the energy imaginaries of the United States and the various Native nations it was striving to suppress or destroy is a space to extend energy humanities’ methodology. While the energy humanities have a long prehistory stretching back to Lewis Mumford’s Technics and Civilization (1934), it is still a young field. One of the first modern calls for a more thorough analysis of the relationship between energy and culture came from Patricia Yaeger. In a 2011 edition of PMLA Yaeger, alongside a number of other collaborators, asked, “What happens if we sort texts according to the energy sources that made them?”6 Not long afterward new anthologies, such as Szeman and Boyer’s Energy Humanities (2017) and Wilson, Carlson, and Szeman’s Petrocultures (2017), and new monographs, such as Stephanie LeMenegar’s Living Oil (2014) and Heidi Scott’s Fuel (2018), responded to Yaeger’s question and helped define energy cultures, especially modern ones. For reasons related to perceptibility and exigency the energy humanities have primarily focused on petroleum/oil, which limits the field to certain technologies and time frames.7 That said, there has been movement away from the oil-focused scholarship of the early energy humanities.8 Despite those shifts, work in the energy humanities remains too concentrated on industrial oil and its period.
Even though there is ample rationale for applying the energy humanities to earlier periods and energy systems, the field’s emphasis on oil leads it to focus mostly on the twentieth century and North America (with some exceptions, such as the work done on Nigeria).9 The energy humanities unintentionally help reinforce a twentieth-century start for the Anthropocene, truncating Indigenous histories of resistance. This short focus has the unintended effect of “re-invisibiliz[ing] the power of Eurocentric narratives.” Heather Davis and Zoe Todd (Métis/otipemisiwak) argue the Anthropocene needs to be linked with colonization to draw “attention to the violence at its core.”10 Kathryn Yusoff agrees, noting that colonized lands became spaces to write this violence onto the bodies of people of color: “As land is made into tabula rasa for European inscription of its militant maps, so too do Indigenes and Africans become rendered as a writ or ledger of flesh scribed in colonial grammars.”11 The “terra nullius” of North America was rife with overburden (things that lie over valuables) such as dirt, plants, and people that needed to be swept away.12 To clear that burden settler armies extirpated Indigenous peoples while early capitalists used “racial disparities” as a logic to force Black peoples to terraform the land.13 These colonized lands then became the capital base that catalyzed the regime of fossil capitalism and laid the foundation of the Industrial Revolution.14 The linkage of settler-colonialism, capitalism, and fossil fuel use “laid key parts of the groundwork for industrialization and militarization—or carbon-intensive economics.”15 In other words these connections suggest that energy is an important rubric for analyzing settler-colonialism before the twentieth century.
As Michael Ziser, Natasha Zaretsky, and Julie Sze note, the settler-colonial history of the United States offers energy studies a space to “indigenize” because “many of the extraction and disposal processes of modern energy industries happen on Native lands or lands to which tribes were relegated in the nineteenth century . . . [while] at the same time, indigenous peoples overall retain a greater connection to energy flows outside the modern industrial paradigm.”16 For instance, in Fueling Culture (2017), Warren Cariou (Métis) argues energy intimacies—which this article will return to later—are a crucial framework for understanding Indigenous energy relations. More recently Cara Daggett has argued that racist notions of energy motivated the founding of the boarding school system, as a way to instill the proper (white supremacist) ethic into kidnapped Indigenous children.17 These schools cultivated an industrial desire for work—as Native Americans were seen as inherently lazy—to make its pupils enthusiastic laborers ready to serve white managers. The Native American children at these institutions resisted this forced assimilation: at the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School in Michigan students continued their own cultural practices and committed arson, denying the school unfettered access to their labor and energy.18 This article traces the history of such resistance back further to demonstrate how Native American authors critiqued growing industrial metaphors for energy in the nineteenth century. The goal of this analysis is to help catalyze more scholarship on the relationship between Native Americans and a nascent nineteenth-century regime of settler-colonial fossil capitalism.
This article seeks to expand the scope of the energy humanities by examining the works of Native American authors in the nineteenth century on the frontiers of the Midwest and West. The article will survey three texts: Mary Jemison’s autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison; Jane Johnston Schoolcraft’s poem, “On the Doric Rock, Lake Superior”; and John Rollin Ridge’s novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta. These works show how Native American authors who were printed in English rebuffed the industrializing settler society’s vision of linear, unending extraction, and instead defined energy intimately, as cyclical and organic. Jemison, Schoolcraft, and Ridge reveal an important juncture in settler-colonial and energy histories as witnesses at the interface between Indigenous cultures and American culture. Their perspectives demonstrate that nineteenth-century Native American authors can widen the understanding of energy under settler-colonialism, suggesting other Native American authors from the period also can provide new insights into energy and culture under the stresses of manifest destiny. This article argues that nineteenth-century Native American Anglophone literatures expand the scope of the energy humanities by describing energy intimacy while also extending the histories of Indigenous resistance to settler energy imaginaries.
Approaching Native American Literature through Energy
Before embarking on this analysis it is important to note that to generalize “about American Indians is, almost necessarily, to be wrong.”19 This is especially true when talking about “energy,” a much narrower concept that arose in the industrializing West than that which emerged in the more animated world found in Native traditions. The people called Native Americans are hundreds of discrete communities and peoples with distinct beliefs and values. Moreover one of the ongoing erasures of Native peoples is to suggest they are a homogenous mass, strategically forgetting the specific acts of settler-colonial violence committed against each culture. While generalizing about Native Americans risks duplicating colonial erasure, Jace Weaver (Cherokee) notes that it is possible to discuss a Native worldview: “Although the rich diversity of Native cultures in the Americas makes it impossible to speak in a general, universalizing way about ‘things Indian,’ many believe that one can speak broadly of a worldview common to the Indigenous peoples of the hemisphere.”20 As Murray cautions, though, universalism is often more reflective “of the most powerful group who can define what is universal.”21 Any multitribal, multicultural analysis then needs to be careful not to impose a settler vision of “things Indian” onto Native American literatures. This article will carefully analyze an Indigenous worldview of energy visible in the English-language works of a few Native Americans at the interface between Indigenous and settler cultures. Instead of trying to describe the exact beliefs of the Seneca, Ojibwe, and Cherokee peoples, this analysis will be more concerned with how specific Native American authors saw the threat of an extractive energy regime and represented that threat to a settler audience. These works show how the authors strove to resist settler-colonialism while still needing to appeal to settlers to uphold treaties.
In the nineteenth century a Native American author needed to meet “certain sets of conditions” to be published: English literacy or familiarity with an English-speaking translator/editor in addition to some commercial interest in their work.22 These conditions mediated the works of these authors.23 Early Native American authors would have had difficulty arguing directly against white supremacy and settler-colonialism. For example, Gallegina Uwati, or Buck Watie (Cherokee)—who renamed himself Elias Boudinot after the American politician—argues in favor of Cherokee sovereignty and autonomy in his “An Address to the Whites” (1826) claiming that the Cherokee were becoming more “civilized” and that “the shrill sound of the Savage yell shall die away.”24 Boudinot’s argument is based on an appeal to settler values of “progress.” Boudinot’s invocation of civilization should not be understood as mere rhetoric, though. He was educated in Connecticut, converted to Christianity, and ultimately signed the illegal Treaty of New Echota in 1835; on some level it seems he agreed that the Cherokee did need to civilize. But he also strove to preserve the Cherokee people, first through “civilization,” then through forced removal. This shows that Native American Anglophone literature needs to be understood “as sometimes undecidable, multifaceted, and perhaps multivocal.”25 Thus any descriptions of energy in these texts will likely evince a multifaceted and multivocal mesh of Native American and settler beliefs.
An important aspect of nineteenth-century Native American worldviews toward energy was spirituality, even if it had to be smuggled into English-language texts. In many different traditions of Indigenous spirituality, the natural world is understood to be animate.26 While Native American beliefs about animism are locally specific, there are some common themes: “Diversity is at the core of Native American approaches to the life of the spirit; but among what might be called traditional perspectives, animism has a key role. A sense that perception and communication are not the sole preserve of humans and that trees, stones, animals, and places have their own consciousness spans a number of native traditions.”27 In this view all objects in the world are vested with spirit or vitality, and thus have some ability to act, a quantum of energy. This understanding has parallels in pre-Industrial Europe, parallels that were waning, though, as steam engines began to shape European theories of energy.28 Through spirituality Native cultures saw more energy in the world than American settler culture, which was narrowing energy down to a handful of sources measured in set units.29 Tracing energy in Native American literature, then, must attend to the ways that energy is a quality of all the world, rather than just a quality of burning wood or straining muscle.
This more expansive understanding of energy offers new trajectories for the energy humanities, but also threatens to destabilize its analytic focus. In a more energy-rich world the entanglements between people and energy would be more visible. This helps generate what Cariou terms energy intimacy: “Traditional Aboriginal energy-use practices are characterized by what might be called energy intimacy, in which every community member necessarily has direct and personal relationships with the sources of their energy.”30 This energy intimacy is distinct from the distributed, invisible fuels the energy humanities typically analyze. Such a capacious view of energy threatens though to make the energy humanities a study of everything, dulling it to pointlessness. For analytic stability this article uses Bob Johnson’s framework of ambient, propulsive, congealed, polymerized, embodied, and entropic energies.31 Johnson’s framework describes energy and fuel in several manifestations. Ambient energy is the “presence (and absence) of fuel and fire,” whereas propulsive energy is “disembodied labor” found in the day-to-day activity of life, and congealed energy is condensed into “steel, cement, glass, and aluminum.”32 These definitions make tracking and contrasting Native American and settler visions of energy clearer. This framework, though, was built around analyzing fossil fuels from a modern American perspective, which raises legitimate methodological questions. As Ziser, Zaretsky, and Sze caution, “the collaboration between energy studies and Indigenous studies can be fraught” because it risks framing modern energy crises—like climate change—as a new threat rather than part of the legacy of settler-colonialism and reinscribes Indigenous peoples as druidic aides whose knowledge can save white cultures.33 And as Cariou notes, “in most Aboriginal cultures there is little interest in generalized concepts of energy or fuel as they are understood in Western cultures.”34 These issues show that combining energy humanities and Indigenous studies is a challenge, but a potentially generative one.
Balancing between analyzing energy intimacy and imposing modern, fossil-fueled theories onto Indigenous works necessitates methodological care. To effect that care this analysis will highlight the ways Anglophone Native American authors “adopted and adapted a language that white Americans more often used as a tool of betrayal and dispossession” and reshaped concepts that were being used to justify the theft of Native lands.35 Settler forms of storytelling were co-opted by these authors for survivance, renouncing “dominance, detractions, obstructions, the unbearable elements of tragedy, and the legacy of victimry” as defined by Gerald Vizenor (Ojibwe).36 Just as the Romantic poem or the Victorian novel might be appropriated, so too might the concepts of “energy,” “work,” and “fuel.” Anglophone Native American authors are well positioned to contest those concepts. Their works are an opportunity for a “transitive reading” of energy that “attends to the myriad modalities of energy that include but are not necessarily confined to direct, referential representations.”37 This kind of reading can be more conscious to the ways energy-as-a-concept is both fluid and, as Cariou notes, intimate with an emphasis on “kinship, respect, and responsibility” in Indigenous cultures.38 Reading Anglophone texts composed by Native American authors in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is an opportunity to see how these authors navigated energy, how they wrote back against a system that would further marginalize them, all while they “hoped that their prose would make their white audiences recognize [their] humanity as a people and the significance of their tribal cultures and history.”39 Through textual survivance authors pushed back against industrializing concepts of energy, offering intimate versions instead that worked to humanize a system that was increasingly foreign to the expanding settler culture.
Eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Native American authors found themselves negotiating between the British, French, Spanish, and eventually American Empires: trying to preserve their lands and practices even as colonizers claimed dominion over the earth, its resources, and in some cases the Indigenous peoples themselves. In contrast to a Lockean vision of expansion and extraction—“I ask, whether in the wild woods and uncultivated waste of America, left to nature, without any improvement, tillage or husbandry, a thousand acres yield the needy and wretched inhabitants as many conveniencies of life, as ten acres of equally fertile land do in Devonshire, where they are well cultivated?”—the Indigenous worldview emphasized intimate visions of energy that ebbed and flowed.40 One of the first examples of this vision is in the works of Deh-he-wä-nis or Mary Jemison (Seneca, 1743–1833). Jemison, the daughter of Irish immigrants, was a white woman who lived in eastern Pennsylvania before being abducted at a young age by a group of Shawnee raiders. She was given to a Seneca family and lived as a member of their tribe for about seventy-five years. Jemison never returned to white culture.41 Her account, A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (1824), was transcribed by James E. Seaver. It is, however, unclear what portions of her story are true to her telling and which portions are Seaver’s interpretations of her tale, as he does not disclose his methods.42 Many scholars have noted how Seaver likely manipulated Jemison’s account.43 Yet most hold that despite Seaver’s editorial changes Jemison’s voice is still present in the work and at many times overwhelms the literary containers Seaver deploys.44 As Burnham notes though, it is difficult if not impossible to fully “fix the fluid and shifting dimensions of Jemison’s identity.”45 While Jemison’s identity is thoroughly hybrid, her vision of energy is far more Indigenous, embracing an intimacy with the land that serves to make her work simpler.
The cycling of energy features prominently in A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison. This cycle is most visible in the contrast between static American agriculture and the migratory Native American husbandry. Jemison notes her father was bred for “agricultural pursuits” and moved her family to the frontier of Pennsylvania where “he cleared a large farm, and for seven or eight years enjoyed the fruits of his industry.”46 The invocation of industry echoes Locke’s language: “He who appropriates land to himself by his labour, does not lessen, but increase the common stock of mankind.”47 This contrasts with Jemison’s many years farming corn, beans, and squash in summer quarters and then migrating south to winter quarters where the tribe would hunt elk and deer.48 While both these systems are close to sources of energy the latter is intimate because of the necessity of respect and responsibility: by migrating Jemison’s tribe were able to distribute the pressures they placed on the environment. And, in so doing, they made their own labor lighter. As Jemison notes, Seneca women did not need to work as hard as white women:
Our labor was not severe; and that of one year was exactly similar, in almost every respect, to that of the others, without that endless variety that is to be observed in the common labor of the white people. Notwithstanding the Indian women have all the fuel and bread to procure, and the cooking to perform, their task is probably not harder than that of white women, who have those articles provided for them; and their cares certainly are not half as numerous, nor as great.49
Even though there are similarities between the Indigenous and settler energy systems—they use the same biomass and labor—the cultures use that energy differently in ways that, as Jemison claims, make the lives of Seneca women less severe than those of settler women. Her tribe’s relationship to energy, which is also a relationship to the land, requires respect as the flows of biomass shift seasonally.
The oscillation between energy flows repeats in other ways throughout the text. For instance, the ambient energy of fire early in the narrative as a tool for warmth is contrasted with its destructive nature. Jemison recounts warming herself by a fire built by her captors that was simultaneously used to clean the scalps of her family. Jemison remembers being able to identify her family members by their remains, but she was “obliged to endure it without complaining.”50 After this Jemison recounts nights of rest-less, shelter-less, and fireless travel from which she felt certain she would die. Finally at a new camp, another fire was kindled, which, combined with a meal, “restored the circulation.”51 This cycling of depletion to restoration foreshadows Jemison’s more comfortable migrations later. In fact Jemison herself becomes part of that cycle. She explains the reason for her capture and adoption into a Seneca family is to fulfill a custom wherein a prisoner is used to replace a family member who was killed in battle: “Prisoners that are taken in battle . . . are given to the bereaved families, till their number is made good.”52 Jemison herself becomes a new energy flow for her adopted family, becoming an intimate part of it, to restore what they had lost.
The migrations and new (less intense) labor were, as Jemison says, a “complete revolution . . . in my manner of living.”53 Despite finding contentment with her new family, managing these new energy cycles was not always easy. Jemison highlights the difficulties of these migrations of several hundred miles—including hunger and a lack of shelter—all of which are emphasized by the presence of her infant child:
My clothing was thin and illy calculated to defend me from the continually drenching rains with which I was daily completely wet, and at night with nothing but my wet blanket to cover me, I had to sleep on the naked ground, generally without a shelter, save such as nature had provided. In addition to all that, I had to carry my child, then about nine months old, every step of the journey on my back.54
Regardless of this ebb, Jemison still found her new life fulfilling. Jemison recalls the overwhelming affection she is shown by her sisters, even stating that she loved them as much as her maternal sister.55 She loved her first husband, Sheninjee; found companionship with her second, Hiokatoo; and loved her extensive family of eight children, thirty-nine grandchildren, and fourteen great-grandchildren.56 Jemison seems to have found ample riches in the wastes of America, not merely enough energy to survive, but enough to thrive. Jemison’s life evinces cyclical flows of energy that respected the land. White settler society also experienced similar seasonal flows, but Locke’s theories—which were foundational to the new United States—emphasize fixity, laboring over one parcel indefinitely. This view lacks the same respect found in energy-intimate cultures and is a prelude to the energy-extractive regimes of the nineteenth century. Thus Jemison’s relationship to the land is not as “a reservoir of resources to be exploited but as a source of gifts that humans must accept with gratitude.”57 Jemison, through her acculturation into the Seneca people, argues subtly that their ways of being, specifically their cyclical approach to energy, might be at least equal to if not better than the extractive vision of the settler-colonial state.
Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
The political situation for Native Americans was changing quickly in the first third of the nineteenth century, as the United States embraced imperialism and industrialization. The US policy of Native American assimilation turned to removal in the 1820s and ’30s, culminating in the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the subsequent Trail of Tears. Tens of thousands of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, and Cherokee were forced from their homelands in the Southeast. Thousands died in the process. And in the North the Kickapoo, Lenape (Delaware), Meskwaki (Fox), Miami, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee, and other tribes were forced to the west. Native American writers of this era strove to communicate this violence to white audiences in a fashion that was still palatable to the settler culture. Bamewawagezhikaquay, or Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, (Ojibwe, 1800–42), an early Native American poet, was one such writer. Schoolcraft was the daughter of an Ojibwe leader and a Scots-Irish fur trader. Her oeuvre covers a wide range, from poetry in both Ojibwe and English to translations of Ojibwe oral stories and nonfiction prose, most of which were unpublished in her lifetime.58 Like many Native writers of the mid-nineteenth century Schoolcraft held a range of identities: she was Métis, Irish, Scottish, Ojibwe, American, Christian, elite; “She saw herself as Indian but not as one of the simple Indians.”59 In her work Schoolcraft wove together “Anglo-American signifiers of genteel femininity with a consciousness shaped by Ojibwe values.”60 Schoolcraft’s work offers a contrast between the growing American imperial energy system and the energy intimacy of Indigenous cultures.
“On the Doric Rock, Lake Superior,” written sometime between 1815 and 1836, focuses on a rock arch on the shore of Lake Superior called La Chapelle by early European explorers. Now called Chapel Rock, the monolith (the arch collapsed in the 1940s) is part of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. In the poem Schoolcraft’s speaker addresses “Dwellers at home” and highlights their debt to explorers whose work allows them their “indolence and ease.”61 The speaker then shifts to the shore of Lake Superior “Where nature’s forms in varied shape and guise / Break on the view, with wonder and surprise.”62 They claim the eroded rocks of the shoreline are “more wonderous” than human structures.63 The speaker then highlights the “simple Indian” hunting. The Indian “owns the ruling power with soul sincere, / Not as where, Asia’s piles of marble high, / for idol gods the beast was doomed to die.”64 Finally the poem concludes with the Indian seeing the “traces” of “the great sovreign [sic] of the skies” in the land.65 At first the poem would seem to be an endorsement of the European discovery and colonization of American lands; it appears to champion exploration and science, the same tools that were used to oppress and murder Native peoples, as ways of finding the true traces of divinity on the world.66 “On the Doric Rock, Lake Superior” instead suggests these tools are solutions in search of problems and that better solutions already exist.
Schoolcraft’s poem evokes the literary Romanticism of the early nineteenth century, especially the passion for the natural world found in Wordsworth’s, Southey’s, Bryant’s, and Longfellow’s works. As Kevin Hutchings shows with Kahgegagahbowh, or George Copway (Ojibwe, 1818–69), Schoolcraft uses Romanticism’s tropes to subvert its colonialist ethos.67 By evoking the “Indian” trope, Schoolcraft is able to argue for Native Americans. The initial stanza of the poem is tongue-in-cheek: it suggests these discoverers are motivated by “pity” and are merely gilding the already “lettered” page by rediscovering lands that already have inhabitants.68 Bethany Schneider argues that is because the poem is written in response to a letter Schoolcraft received from Melancthon L. Woolsey where he describes Schoolcraft’s natal landscape to her.69 The sarcasm pivots toward earnestness in the second stanza, as the speaker emphasizes the beauty of nature over art.70 The final stanza builds on this earnestness by contrasting the “simple Indian” with civilization. The Indian, as he is hunting, “looks up to nature’s God.”71 Schneider argues Schoolcraft’s invocation of “nature’s God” is a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s first line from the Declaration of Independence.72 Schoolcraft’s citation of the Declaration of Independence reveals the hypocrisy of colonialism, where settlers claim that they are sanctioned by nature’s God and the logic of the natural world to spread civilization while ignoring the cultures that were arguably living within nature’s logic.73 The resistance to civilization continues in the lines “Not as where, Asia’s piles of marble high, / for idol gods the beast was doomed to die.”74 The monuments of Asia—likely referring to Anatolia and the classical monuments there—are contrasted with the “Doric,” that is, simpler works of nature. The Orient is another Romantic trope famously deployed to legitimize European colonialism. As Malcolm Kelsall notes, though, the empires of the “East” worried Romantic writers and engendered defensive imperial turns, fearful that the West would be consumed by the East.75 Rather than directly criticizing American or British cultures, Schoolcraft uses “Asia” and its imperial rot as a more acceptable metaphor. These depopulated monuments subvert another Romantic trope: the dying Indian. Throughout the Romantic period the fate of Native American characters was to die, emblematic of the genocide being committed against them by settler states.76 Schoolcraft subverts this by having the Indian live and eradicates the empires of the Orient with passive voice.
The Doric cliffs and the Asian temple represent kinds of congealed energies, energy invested that cannot be retrieved. If both produce beautiful ruins, then the latter—the Doric Rock—is superior because it is shaped by the divine without wasted effort. This waste of energy is repeated with the animal sacrifice: “For idol gods the beast was doomed to die.” The Indian is likewise pursuing animals—“as the work he spies”—but his purpose is nourishment rather than wanton sacrifice.77 Here the ambient energy of animal flesh (energy that will be used to fuel the hunter) and the congealed (and therefore forever lost) energy of a rock formation are indications of the superiority of an energy-intimate system. Schoolcraft criticizes an extractive use of energy to kill animals and build temples for the divine when the divine is already present in the world. Her work demonstrates how Native writers used the tropes of the period to emphasize natural cycles of growth and decay and write back against a growing imperial extraction regime.
John Rollin Ridge
Criticism of extractive energy regimes repeats in the work of Cheesquatalawny or John Rollin Ridge (Cherokee, 1827–67), widely considered to be the first Native American novelist. Ridge was the son of John Ridge, an influential and controversial Cherokee politician and a signatory of the Treaty of New Echota. Ridge was educated in New England (like his father) and in 1850 headed to the California gold fields. There Ridge turned to writing and journalism. His first novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta (1854), is a fictional account of the life of Joaquín Murrieta Carrillo (1829–53), a Mexican “Robin Hood.” Joaquín Murieta dramatizes the exploits of the titular character as he roams over California in the late 1840s and early ’50s. Murieta becomes a bandit because he is mistreated by white Americans who attack him because of his race.78 Even though Murieta is a Mexican from the state of Sonora—a neighbor to Alta California, which had been ceded to the United States after the Mexican-American War (1846–48)—his desire to head to the gold fields of California, to use the land that was his, mirrors a Cherokee desire to reclaim their taken land (which also was the focus of a gold rush). John Havard notes that Ridge’s use of a Hispanic character is not merely cypher for a Cherokee; rather Ridge believed both Mexicans and Cherokees to be deserving of just treatment because of their ability to be as civilized if not more civilized than white Americans.79 Many scholars have noted the ways Ridge uses sensationalist fiction to advance a more cosmopolitan vision of America, simultaneously adopting a settler literary form and yet rejecting it.80 With respect to energy Ridge likewise contrasts a more Indigenous perspective with a settler-colonial one.
For a novel that takes place during the California Gold Rush Murieta spends little time stealing gold and much more time stealing horses. Gold changes hand throughout the novel, but the capture, use, and care of horses—what the novel describes as “locomotive property”—occupies more of the text.81 Hundreds of horses are stolen throughout the novel; they are its energetic focus. They allow Murieta’s band to range quickly from Sacramento to Los Angeles. The horses serve Murieta’s goal of “rapidly” eliminating the white presence in California in “one single swoop.”82 The “mobility” of the horses “becomes [Murieta’s] greatest weapon.”83 Their sweat and blood allows Murieta to work to remove the Americans from the land.84 The horses, though, are not merely instrumental: Murieta and his bandits care for them. The bandits make sure to obtain quality grass and open space for the horses between heists.85 In death the horses are described as “noble,” especially at the end when Murieta’s horse provides him the cover he needs to extend his doomed escape.86
Care for horses is not exclusive to Mexican bandits, though. Thomas DeQuincy, for instance, claimed horses were superior to trains in 1849.87 But DeQuincy was in the minority, as horses were increasingly seen as analogous to steam engines and worked until “cruel exhaustion.”88 This contrasts with the Native American ethos of kinship: “Native American teachings describe the relations all around—animals, fish, trees, and rocks—as our brothers, sisters, uncles, and grandpas. Our relations to each other, our prayers whispered across generations to our relatives, are what bind our cultures together.”89 Murieta’s focus on kinship with horses, rather than gold, shows energy intimacy, an exchange where the horses are well treated, which allows the bandits to keep the land open for both horse- and humankind. His interests are in the land and its maintenance—which is only possible on horseback—rather than the wealth the land might provide at a steep environmental cost.90 Murieta (despite being Mexican) is striving to save the land for all its inhabitants in opposition to the extraction that characterizes industrialization. As Winona LaDuke argues, “it is the struggle to preserve that which remains and the struggle to recover that characterizes much of Native environmentalism. It is these relationships that industrialism seeks to disrupt.”91 Instead of succumbing to the extractive logics of settler-colonialism, Murieta works toward an ecologically balanced California. This distinction between mechanistic and intimate views of energy repeats even in the descriptions of the men.
The words “energy” and “energetic” are only used five times in the novel, yet three of those five times they describe the various white pursuers of Murieta and his band. Captain Charles H. Ellas is said to be “energetic” and devotes his “usual energy” to tracking Murieta’s gang, and Captain Harry Love seeks Murieta “with untiring energy.”92 Ellas is similarly described as “indefatigably searching” for Murieta.93 In contrast Murieta’s men are only described as gaining “new energy” after an inspiring speech by Murieta, and Murieta himself with “sudden energy” frees some white hunters who he perceives to be worthy of sparing.94 In these descriptions energy is a quality white men have and men of color gain and lose; the former are mechanical, the latter natural, foreshadowing the energy logic of the boarding schools.95 These descriptions reinforce the contrast Ridge is drawing between the intimate energy use of the Mexican bandits—a balanced exchange of ambient and propulsive energy—and the white Americans whose usage is a constant flow from extraction to waste. As Wolfe notes, “the primary object of settler-colonization is the land itself rather than the surplus value to be derived from mixing native labour with it,” thus California’s gold is more valuable than anything else it might produce.96 Murieta is eventually captured and decapitated, himself a victim of the extractive vision of early California justice.97
While the novel concludes with a focus on racism, stating there is “nothing so dangerous in its consequences as injustice to individuals—whether it arise from prejudice of color or from any other source,” it also indicts the settler-colonial vision of California focused on extraction.98 By rejecting the dominant energy narratives of white California Ridge’s text disrupts a homogenous formation of the state in a fashion that echoes Jemison’s hybrid life among the Seneca.99 Ridge contrasts the Mexican and American usage of energy: the Mexicans exchange ambient for propulsive energy through their horses to seek justice, whereas the Americans draw from a seemingly inexhaustible well of energy to extract gold and vengeance. Ridge still mixes a settler perspective with a Native one—he never condemns gold mining—but his work bolsters an intimate vision of energy usage. As Scott notes, a “culture’s material fuel source opens a landscape of possibility for the kinds of ideas, ambitions, and progress in which a culture can engage.”100 This is not to say that fuel/energy determine culture, but that they offer elemental and ideological substance for cultures to direct. What Ridge shows with Murieta is a way of being a “Californian,” as a Mexican or a Cherokee, that works with the same fuel sources as the settler state but achieves a more liberal end. Rather than the impersonal extraction of the settler state—obliterating hillsides and choking streams to ship gold back east—Ridge uses energy intimacy between men, horses, and the land to achieve a more diverse, more free, more sustainable Golden State.
The “landscape[s] of possibility” found in energy/fuel are crucial to grasping cultural development. The crises of today—climate change, ecosystem loss, environmental injustice—are in part a failure to connect culture with energy. For instance, the Anthropocene and climate change are sometimes reduced to just fossil fuel use. Petroleum, coal, and natural gas become the sole focus, not the cultures who embraced them. As Jemison, Schoolcraft, and Ridge demonstrate, cultures are not defined by their fuels: both the Native American people and the United States used the same resources in the first part of the nineteenth century but to different ends. These authors show the necessary “political friction,” as Brent Ryan Bellamy terms it, to abrade easy and extractive ideologies of energy.101 Without this friction we will “sink further into the sedimenting mire of our own inopportune need for energy, we become stuck with the lives and afterlives of our energy infrastructures.”102 The visions of energy intimacy described by these Indigenous authors anachronistically respond to Bellamy’s call to “imagine alternatives” showing how to use the same fuels to achieve a different culture. Without alternative visions of energy the Anthropocene will continue to worsen, burying this world under a blanket of carbon.
The texts here show one way out, as Native American authors described intimate energy systems in contrast to extractive settler regimes, emphasizing a different way of understanding energy use and application. This article models an approach into investigating the intersection between the energy humanities and Indigenous authors; much more can and should be done with texts like these to examine how Native American authors described alternative intimate energy systems. Reading works by Jemison, Schoolcraft, Ridge, and others can map obscured landscapes of energy, where energy is proximate and consciously employed, rather than distant and unconscious. Indigenizing energy studies means not only embracing a more diverse archive but also seeing how past authors can help us understand the crises of today.103 While it may not be possible to widely re-adopt earlier Indigenous economic models, those conceptions of energy are still valuable for today.104 Through energy alternatives like these we can end not only our addiction to fossil fuels but also to the settler logics that catalyze this addiction and the social and environmental violence it wreaks.
We would like to thank Alok Amatya, Dori Coblentz, Mimi Ensley, Eric Lewis, Molly Slavin, and Julia Tigner for their feedback on the many drafts of this article. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments. Finally we want to thank associate editor Hannes Bergthaller for his help sharpening our claim.
Davis and Todd, “On the Importance of a Date,” 763.
Lewis and Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene,” 177.
For instance Scott’s Fuel deals with a range of energy sources from biomass to solar. Similarly Fueling Culture has entries on animals, coal, dams, and other nonpetroleum sources of energy.
It is important to note there are other scholars such as Nathan K. Hensley, Jaime L. Jones, Pablo Mukherjee, and Vin Nardizzi who are expanding the range of the energy humanities.
Davis and Todd, “On the Importance of a Date,” 763.
Schoolcraft, “On the Doric Rock,” lines 1–6.
Schoolcraft, “On the Doric Rock,” lines 11–12.
Schoolcraft, “On the Doric Rock,” line 17.
Schoolcraft, “On the Doric Rock,” lines 26–28.
Schoolcraft, “On the Doric Rock,” lines 30–33.
Schoolcraft, “On the Doric Rock,” lines 17–22.
Schoolcraft, “On the Doric Rock,” line 24.
Schneider, “Not for Citation,” 135, emphasis original.
Schoolcraft, “On the Doric Rock,” lines 27–28.
Schoolcraft, “On the Doric Rock,” line 23.
Scott, Fuel, 58–59.
Scott, Fuel, 64–65, 59.
Ridge, Joaquín Murieta, 158, emphasis original.
Scott, Fuel, 9.