Many Hands, Many Voices: Writing, Editing, and Publishing Indian Captivity Narratives Part II

by Zabelle Stodola, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

In part one, I discussed several letters having to do with the writing of Josephine Huggins’ captivity narrative, and I also considered the fact that the holograph manuscript is missing. In this second posting, I will look  more closely at the published versions that appeared first in newspapers and then within a book-length history of the Dakota War. I’ll also touch on Josephine and Eliza Huggins’ reactions to these publications in several letters that they wrote to missionary Stephen Riggs.

For Josephine’s story to go through a number of transformations was not unusual among nineteenth-century Indian captivity narratives. In fact moving from a handwritten document to a series of newspaper articles and then to a book or pamphlet was pretty standard in a captivity narrative’s publication history.  The book or pamphlet might focus on the ex-captive’s story alone or it might be a larger work authored by someone else that simply included an ex-captive’s story among other material.

St. Paul Press 12 February 1863, page 3, the Alexander G. Huggins Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society.

The first published version of Josephine Huggins’ experiences was serialized in the local daily newspaper, the St. Paul Press, from 3 to 5 February 1863. A week later, the story was reprinted in that same newspaper’s weekend edition dated 12 February 1863.

Eliza Huggins then wrote to Stephen Riggs on 18 February 1863 (Letter “C”) to thank him and his daughter Isabella, “for the trouble you have had with Josephine’s narrative. If we had been trying to write her story for the public eye, we would have written differently but perhaps it would not have been really any better.”

In using “we” presumably Eliza meant that both she and Josephine had worked on a draft and then sent it to Riggs in somewhat rough form without realizing that it was destined for “the public eye.”  Hence their thanks for “the trouble” that Stephen and Isabella Riggs took converting a private document into something suitable for public consumption.  Eliza does not mention specific changes that the Riggses might have made.

Sophia Josephine Huggins and her daughter, Letta

Like many Indian captives, Josephine was an ordinary person to whom something extraordinary happened. Indian captives in general often needed editors, amanuenses, or ghostwriters to convert their experiences into readable and saleable form. But in the absence of handwritten edited drafts where the changes are clear, it’s often impossible to know what a captive originally wrote or dictated and what an editor changed.

Brown’s Square, Newburyport, MA in the 19th century

On 13-14 March 1863, somehow the Newburyport, Massachusetts, Daily Herald picked up the story. Neither Carrie nor I has examined this version so we don’t know whether the Herald printed the St. Paul Press story verbatim. It’s also not clear whether the Huggins family had any connections in this town to  explain why the Herald was interested in the story in the first place.

But newspapers were more ephemeral than books, and occasional authors weren’t paid—or weren’t paid much—for their journalistic work. Since there seemed to be an insatiable demand for Indian captivity narratives, a story might next appear in book form as a permanent record and as a way for authors to earn some money.  Ex-captives had sometimes lost their home, possessions, and livelihood, so they looked for ways to make money as soon as possible. Even when they had to pay the up-front costs of private book publication, authors hoped that the story of their misfortunes might turn a profit. Sometimes the newspaper and book versions were identical, but sometimes authors and editors spent extra time revising the earlier text for its appearance as a book or in a book.

Berlin City [WI] Courant, page 1, December 25, 186

This year Carrie and I edited another Dakota War narrative that originally came out in installments, though in a Wisconsin, not a Minnesota, newspaper. It was the story of John and Mary Renville which first appeared as a 13-part weekly serial beginning 25 December 1862 in the Berlin City Courant, the newspaper of the Wisconsin town where the Renvilles had resettled after the war. The newspaper account came out under the title “The Indian Captives: Leaves from a Journal.” When Mary Renville returned to Minnesota in 1863, she copyrighted the serial in booklet form, and it appeared in 1863 with the more sensational title A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity. Of course, that’s the book from which this website gets its name!

Josephine’s letter to Stephen Riggs dated 14 December 1863 (Letter “D”) indicates that she knew of  Isaac Heard’s book, History of the Sioux War (dated 1863 but copyrighted 1864). It’s still considered the best of the histories that came out immediately after the war. “If Mr. Heard’s book that you mentioned gives correct account [sic] of the massacres and is worth its price I will be please[d] if you could get one for me without putting yourself to too much trouble. I should like to see a book of the kind,” she wrote.

Curiously, she didn’t seem to realize that Heard had included her story within his book, though he  wouldn’t have needed to contact her, anyway, as he took much of his information straight from the St. Paul Press. As this detail indicates, somewhere along the publication line, ex-captives might lose control of their stories and of how those stories might be retold or manipulated by others.  And of course it was Heard and his publishers who made money from his book, not people like Josephine whose experiences were included in it.

Finally, on 9 February 1864, Josephine sent Stephen Riggs another letter (Letter “E”) filled with news and with apologies for her delay in writing. Early on she says, “I also received the book that you sent me, for which I thank you very much.” Her request for Heard’s book in her December letter, and her apologies for procrastinating, suggest that the book she thanked him for two months later was indeed Heard’s History of the Sioux War. But she does not name it, so the reference could be to a different book.  Was Josephine sick to death of going over or reading about the details of her captivity? Perhaps.

In my next posting, I will build on the information Carrie has provided in her recent posts about the dime novel adaptations of Josephine Huggins’ story. My contribution will be to give you some general information about “dimes” to contextualize the specific publications purporting to tell of Josephine’s experiences.


Photo credits: “Adventures Among the Indians,” The Minnesota Historical Society; Josephine and Letta Huggins, Patricia Huggins; Newburyport, MA, Wikimedia Commons; Berlin City Courant, Zabelle Stodola.

This entry was posted in history of printing, Josephine Huggins, Zabelle Stodola. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Many Hands, Many Voices: Writing, Editing, and Publishing Indian Captivity Narratives Part II

  1. Pingback: Many Hands, Many Voices: Writing, Editing, and Publishing Indian Captivity Narratives, Part 3 | A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War of 1862

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s