Throughout history there have been individuals who have stood up for equality and justice. They were not always popular because of their convictions. Some of these individuals risked their lives, like the Civil Rights workers did in the 1960s. Others like the New England abolitionists before the Civil War and President Lincoln believed that slavery was wrong and fought to eliminate it. There was an easier path that could have been taken; they chose to do what is right.

Such an individual was Helen Hunt Jackson. Her second husband was a wealthy man and she could have lived a life of leisure after her marriage. Instead she became aware that an injustice was being done and she worked relentlessly to bring about a change. Traveling around Southern California in poor health and often under rough conditions, she gathered information for her report to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Appendix XV).

When she finished writing A Century of Dishonor, at her own expense, she sent a copy to every member of Congress. It was unfortunate that the book was not the catalyst for change she had hoped. However, it is nonetheless a worthy body of work. We are not often provided with a critical view of history as it is taking place. It can be much less of a risk to condemn government actions in retrospect.

This work may not have had the enduring popularity as her novel Ramona (it has never been out of print), but it still has relevance to those who have an interest in an unvarnished account of U.S. History.


Although she is now known as Helen Hunt Jackson. She actually wrote under the names of either Helen Hunt or Helen Jackson (using the names of her first or second husband). Other names she used were H.H., Saxe Holm, and anonymously in the No Name series published by Roberts Brothers of Boston.

Helen Hunt Jackson would have been a remarkable woman no matter when she was born. Given the time she lived and her championship of an unpopular cause she deserves even more accolades. Not only for her success as an author, but also her ability to overcome adversity. In spite of the fact that she experienced numerous personal tragedies and suffered from ill health for much of her life, she left behind a legacy of truly worthy accomplishments. It would have been easy for her to emulate her friend, the poet Emily Dickinson, and withdraw from life. Instead she made the best of her circumstances and selflessly fought to improve the situation for those less fortunate. The losses she endured helped to make her a more empathetic person and they served as a catalyst for her creative energies.

As a woman who had little sympathy for women who took up causes, she took on one with a vengeance. The last years of her life were dedicated to the cause of justice for Native Americans. Her energies, at times risking her own health, were focused on restitution for the injustices they had experienced. She deserves to be recognized as one of the noteworthy heroes in American history.

Her success as an author can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, she was an entertaining and talented writer. Secondly, she had friends and acquaintances who were among the elite of American literary figures in the latter part of the 19th century. Thirdly, she was active during an advantageous period of publishing history, as printing costs had been greatly reduced with technological improvements. Finally, the population had become much more literate than in the past, thus increasing potential readership. All of these factors contributed to the opening up of opportunities for writers, especially women, that had never been seen before.


The appendix of the book is made up of the following sections:

I - The Sand Creek Massacre
II - The Ponca Case
III - Testimonies to Indian Character
IV - Outrages Committed on Indians by Whites
V - Extracts from the Report of the Commission Sent to Treat with the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, in Canada
VI - Account of Some of the Old Grievances of the Sioux
VII - Letter from Sarah Winnemucca, an Educated Pah-Ute Woman
VIII - Laws of the Delaware Nation on Indians
IX - Account of the Cherokee who Invented the Cherokee Alphabet
X - Prices Paid by White Men for Scalps
XI - Extract from Treaty with Cheyennes in 1865
XII - Wood-cutting by Indians in Dakota
XIII - Sequel to the Walla Walla Massacre
XIV - An Account of the Numbers, Location, and Social and Industrial Condition of Each Important Tribe and Band of Indians within the United States
XV - Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians of California

Section XV is a report that was written by both Helen herself and Abbot Kinney (a California resident who spoke Spanish), they had been appointed as Special Agents by the U.S. Government and their findings were submitted to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The outcome of this report was a Senate bill to improve conditions. Unfortunately, it was killed in the House of Representatives.

Once again, the poor condition of this volume can be seen in the above photo.


This edition has always belonged to San Jose State University. Upon close examination of the book the history of the university can be traced. There is an embossing on the top right corner of the first few pages with California Normal School Library. Then there are tiny holes forming the words San Jose State College (see title page section photo) and finally there is a stamp with San Jose State University. Not only can you see the changes in name, but also the changes in the way books were tagged for library ownership.

The drawing above shows the San Jose Normal School about the time Helen would have visited and before it was damaged by the 1906 earthquake.


The colophon or reverse side of the title page includes the following pertinent information. It has the original copyright date of 1885 by Roberts Brothers and the name of the printers University Press, John Wilson and son, Cambridge.

Colophons were originally located in the back of the book. This practice changed in the 19th century. Although some colophons provide more detailed information this one has very little. For example, no details are given regarding the type of text used.

Endleaves & flyleaves

The endleaves in this edition are plain off-white paper. The stitching can be clearly seen. Also the above photo gives some indication of the fragile condition of this volume.


The Table of Contents in A Century of Dishonor list the following sections:

Chapter I - Introductory
Chapter II - The Delawares
Chapter III - The Cheyennes
Chapter IV - The Nez Perces
Chapter V - The Sioux
Chapter VI - The Poncas
Chapter VII - The Winnebagoes
Chapter VIII - The Cherokees
Chapter IX - Massacres of Indians by Whites
Chapter X - Conclusion

Appendix (made up of fifteen sections)

An interesting detail can be noted in the embossing at the top right portion of the page. The wording California State Normal School (now San Jose State University) can be made out. This was a place that Helen visited in one of her trips to California. The original building of the Normal School was badly damaged in the 1906 earthquake, so this edition would have survived this catastrophic event. Also, since there is no inscription in the book by the author it probably was not presented by her to the school. However, perhaps her visit might have inspired the purchase of the book.