On 10 November 1855, the long-form poem “Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was published. It proved popular, selling 50,000 copies within the next two years.
While the poem is considered a masterpiece of American Romantic literature, it is not necessarily an accurate, historical rendering of Native American people and their lives. Nevertheless, the poem has fixed Hiawatha and his lover, Minnehaha, as representatives of the “Heroic Native American Peoples” in popular American culture.
The story follows the title character through various adventures along the shores of Lake Superior. Hiawatha discovers corn, invents a written language, falls in love with Minnehaha, and, eventually, comes across “pale face” missionaries who convert him to Christianity.
The work—though respectful of its characters—is clearly the effort of a writer outside the American Indian culture. But it had a significant impact upon its readers and their perceptions of the people who lived in America before the white man. Towns, companies, sports teams and decorative objects—like the bookends shown above—were named or themed after the epic nineteenth century work.
Please click on the photo above to learn more about these bookends.
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