Continued from Daddy’s observations about the west
Herman’s lyrical description of the western landscape fueled Yry’s growing obsession with the West. She was already studying and imitating Indian lore. Patiently she strung colorful beads, imitating Indian bracelets, rings, and necklaces that she saw at the museum. Perched in the window seat of her bedroom, with a view of the forested hills around the house, she devoured books about the west. For a school project she researched the Louisiana Purchase and the resulting westward migration across the United States, laboriously clipping maps and copies of engravings from magazines and newspapers to paste into her reports—clip art of the 1920s. She read about the Indian wars, precipitated by the influx of rude and ignorant white families. She read about the great Indian chiefs, Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph. She also studied the history of the Union Pacific and Santa Fe railroads, all the while wishing she could be on one of those hurtling locomotives. As she read more history of the American West, she came to the conclusion—unusual for that time—that the American Indian had gotten a bum deal. She longed to see the wildness that her father described. She could feel the wind against her face and her hair flying as she imagined herself a young Indian scout galloping bareback across the prairie in search of buffalo for his tribe. Squaw, my mother? Not hardly. She identified with the males who had all the fun and adventure, not the women, who were little more than indentured servants as far as she could tell.
The December 1927 issue of the Roosevelt Bugle headlined Yry’s fiction story about camping. Her work covered the entire three column front page. The story illustrates Yry’s enchantment with the woods. She does an admirable job of spinning a tale about a group of boys on a camping trip gone awry. This piece is one of the few creative efforts I found among her papers that was absolutely free of romanticized passion. The dialogue she created for the boys displays great promise.
My mother viewed the adolescence of the United States through a lens of romanticism, which was, and still is, a common perspective. However, unlike her father, she recognized the taking of American soil from those who were here before for the theft it was. She grieved for the underdog. Long before the social unrest of the 1960s, which in turn lead to the 1973 uprising at Pine Ridge, South Dakota—an event that ultimately rewrote American history—my mother recognized America’s injustice to Native Americans.
Also, my mother, I think, worried that the west would be tamed before she could experience its rich mystery. The pull of the west was as visceral for her as the universal drive for reproduction.