The Problem of Old Harjo

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Short story - Historical Fiction
Subtheme: religion

Place: This story takes places in Indian Territory, in the USA. Before settlers landed on America's shores, Indians resided in what would become Oklahoma ("okla" meaning people and "humma" meaning red, so the state's name literally means "red people") Time: in the middle 1800s when Indians had already been relocated in the West. Historical background: Oklahoma's recorded history began in 1541 when Spanish explorer Coronado ventured through the area on his quest for the "Lost City of Gold." The land that would eventually be known as Oklahoma was part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Beginning in the 1820s, the Five Civilized Tribes from the southeastern United States were relocated to Indian Territory over numerous routes, the most famous being the Cherokee "Trail of Tears." Forced off their ancestral lands by state and federal governments, the tribes suffered great hardships during the rigorous trips west. The survivors eventually recovered from the dislocation through hard work and communal support. Gradually, new institutions and cultural adaptations emerged and began a period of rapid development often called the "Golden Age" of Indian Territory. Following the destruction of the Civil War, Oklahoma became a part of the booming cattle industry, ushering in the era of the cowboy. Western expansion reached the territory in the late 1800s, sparking a controversy over the fate of the land. Treaties enacted after the Civil War by the U.S. government forced the tribes to give up their communal lands and accept individual property allotments to make way for expansion. There was talk of using Indian Territory for settlement by African Americans emancipated from slavery. However, the government relented to pressure, much of it coming from a group known as "Boomers," who wanted the rich lands opened to non-Indian settlement. The government decided to open the western parts of the territory to settlers by holding a total of six land runs between 1889 and 1895. Settlers came from across the nation and even other countries like Poland, Germany, Ireland and Slavic nations to stake their claims. And African Americans, some who were former slaves of Indians, took part in the runs or accepted their allotments as tribal members. In the years that followed, black pioneers founded and settled entire communities in or near Arcadia, Boley, Langston, and Taft. On November, 16, 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state. Statehood had become a sure thing, in part due to a discovery which made Oklahoma the "place to go to strike it rich" -- oil. People came from all parts of the world to seek their fortunes in Oklahoma's teeming oil fields. Cities like Tulsa, Ponca City, Bartlesville, and Oklahoma City flourished.

The theme here is IDENTITY. The conflict has to do with his Cherokee roots, and appears when he wants to belong to white man’s church. He has an identity, but when he told there is a salvation for his soul he desires to obtain it and it is denied. Harjo has to decide between his two wives or religion, which represents two value statuses, two different moral values, two different options. The white man is opposing power on Indians and presenting bigamy and religion as opposite values, without taking into account the difference between cultures. For Harjo’s community “marriage” is a way of living; women need some man to protect them and to be respected.

Old Harjo: The protagonist, the centre of the story, as the title shows us. He was an old Creek Indian who lived in a double cabin three miles from the mission, and had some acres of land where he worked with his two wives (opposite to the white men idea that they had an idle existence) growing up animals and vegetables. He wore Cherokee garments (moccasins, a white collarless garment and brown corduroys) except when he...
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