Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove (Hum-Ishu-Ma, also known as Christine/Christal Quintasket. Sometime between 1882 and 1888 – August 8th, 1936) was a Native American author of Okanagan and Colville ancestry.

According to a family legend, she was born in a canoe crossing the Kootenai River from North Idaho into Washington. Mourning Dove claimed to have been born in the Spring of 1888, but other documents give her birthdate as 1882, 1886, and 1887.

She spent most of her life on the Colville Reservation in Washington State. Her mother died when Mourning Dove was about fourteen, and she grew up with her maternal grandmother, from whom she learned the pleasure of storytelling. Mourning Dove spoke Salish as her first language, and learned to read in English from an adopted white orphan named Jimmy Ryan.

Between 1895 and 1899, Mourning Dove attended the Sacred Heart School at the Goodwin Mission near Kettle Falls, Washington, where she was often punished for speaking Salish. She later attended the Fort Spokane School for Indians, and worked at the Fort Shaw Indian School in Montana, in exchange for the opportunity to take classes.

From an early age, Mourning Dove loved to read books (particularly, pulp-fiction novels). After reading Therese Broderick’s novel The Brand: A Tale of the Flathead Reservation (1909), Mourning Dove decided to become a writer, so as to counter derogatory representation of indigenous peoples in literature. She then briefly attended a business school in Calgary, Alberta, intent on learning to type.

Mourning Dove started writing her first book in 1912, while working as a fruit and vegetable picker. Around 1916, she worked as a housekeeper in Polson, Montana, taking care of six children. Later, from 1917 to 1919, she worked as a teacher at the Inkameep Day School, and used part of her salary to buy a typewriter.

In 1927, Mourning Dove published Cogewea, The Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range (1927), one of the first novels to be written by a Native American woman and to feature a mixed-race female protagonist. The novel was edited by Lucullus Virgil McWhorter, and Mourning Dove felt he had greatly changed some aspects of it. In 1933, she published her second book, Coyote Stories (1933), a collection of short tales and traditional stories, edited by Heister Dean Guie. These stories have also been greatly altered to be sold to a white audience as a children’s book. The original title of the collection was Okanogan Sweat House.

In 1909, Mourning Dove had married Hector McLeod, a member of the Flathead people. He was an abusive husband, and they soon separated. In 1919, she married Fred Galler, a member of the Wenatchee people, and they worked as migrant labourers in hop fields and apple orchards in East Omak, on the Colville Reservation.

During her life, Mourning Dove became increasingly involved in Native political struggles, speaking out against abuses at the Colville Reservation.  In 1930, she helped to create the Colville Indian Association. She was president of the Wild Sunflower Indian Women’s Club in Omak, and, in 1935, she became the first woman elected to the Colville Tribal Council. Throughout the 1930’s she continued to write, working on what would become her autobiography, which was posthumously published in 1990 as Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography (1990), edited by Jay Miller.

Mourning Dove died on 8 August 1936, from what was termed as “exhaustion from manic depressive psychosis”.


  • Cogewea: The Half-Blood, ed. Lucullus Virgil McWhorter (1927)
  • Coyote Stories, ed. Heister Dean Guie (1933)
  • Tales of the Okanogans, ed. Donald Hines (1976, based on Mourning Dove’s typescript)
  • Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography, ed. Jay Miller (1990)
  • Mourning Dove’s Stories, ed. Clifford Trafzer and Richard D Scheuerman (1991)

About her

  • “Mourning Dove: The Author as Cultural Mediator”, by Jay Miller, in Being and Becoming Indian: Biographical Studies of North American Frontiers, ed. James Clifton (1989)
  • The Bloomsbury Guide to Women’s Literature, by Claire Buck (1992)
  • “Looking Through the Glass Darkly: The Editorialized Mourning Dove”, by Alanna K.  Brown, in New Voices in Native American Literary Criticism, ed. Arnold Krupat (1993)
  • Native North American Literary Companion, ed. Janet Witalec (1995)
  • “Mediation and Authority: The Native American Voices of Mourning Dove and Ella Deloria”, by Carol  Miller,  in Multicultural Education, Transformative Knowledge, and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, ed. James Banks (1996)
  • Native American Women Writers by Harold Bloom (1998)
  • American Women Prose Writers, 1870-1920, by Sharon M. Harris (2000)
  • American Women Writers, 1900-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, ed. Laurie Champion (2000)
  • Sifters: Native American Women’s Lives. Viewpoints on American Culture, by Theda Perdue (2001)
  • Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. Gretchen M. Bataille and Laurie Lisa (2001)
  • “Writing Culture and Performing Race in Mourning Dove’s Cogewea, the Half-Blood”, by Rita Keresztesi Treat, in Literature and Racial Ambiguity, ed. Teresa Hubel and Neil Edward Brooks (2002)
  • A Study of Native American Women Novelists: Sophia Alice Callahan, Mourning Dove, and Ella Cara Deloria, by Gary Lee Sligh (2003)

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