Sophia Alice Callahan, considered the first American Indian woman novelist, was the daughter of Samuel Benton and Sarah Elizabeth Thornberg Callahan. Her father, one-eighth Muscogee, was prominent in Creek politics, edited the Indian Journal, and served as superintendent of the Methodist-sponsored Wealaka Boarding School. Born in Texas on January 1, 1868, Sophia Callahan attended the Wesleyan Female Institute in Staunton, Virginia. In 1891 she worked as editor of Our Brother in Red, a Methodist newspaper published at Muskogee, Indian Territory. During the 1890s she taught at the Wealaka Boarding School and Harrell International Institute.
Callahan's Wynema: A Child of the Forest (1891), a loosely constructed romantic novel, presents the story of a Creek girl named Wynema Harjo and her Methodist teacher, Genevieve Weir. As Weir learns about Creek life, the reader is introduced to American Indian traditions such as the Green Corn Festival and burial practices and to foods such as sofkey and blue dumplings. Woven into the work are contemporary issues ranging from women's rights to Indian land allotment and the massacre at Wounded Knee. By writing the novel she hoped to bring attention to the plight of all American Indians.
Callahan planned to finish her studies in Virginia and open her own school in the Creek Nation. However, on January 7, 1894, at age twenty-six she died of pleurisy.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Alice Callahan, Wynema: A Child of the Forest, ed. A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff (1891; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997). Carolyn Thomas Foreman, "S. Alice Callahan: Author of Wynema: A Child of the Forest," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 33 (Autumn 1955). Karen L. Kilcup, ed., Native American Women's Writing, c. 1800-1924: An Anthology (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2000).
Linda D. Wilson
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