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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

It All Started With a Book                              Chelsea Sutter


Dydia DeLyser was born and raised in Southern California. She is an assistant professor of Geography at Louisiana State University. She is a frequent writer of California history and Ramona holds a special place in her heart. After sharing their first kiss at ¡§Ramona¡¦s Birthplace¡¨, DeLyser and her boyfriend were forevermore fond of the story that inspired her book. She has also been published multiple times for articles in numerous historical journals.



            Media has always had a way of taking something no one knows about and turning it into the latest trend. Be it the latest from the paparazzi or a new political scandal in the white house, as soon as it is released to the public, it starts a wave of information and curiosity in the readers that encounter it. In 1884, when an ambitious woman, Helen Hunt Jackson, took it upon herself to create a historical fiction about the plight of the American Indians, the heroine of the story: a beautiful, young, Half-Indian, Half-Scottish woman living in Southern California, became the fabulous star of the era. When the book was read by masses, a desire to travel to the fantastic locations described by Jackson seemed to sweep America. Jackson¡¦s attempt at ¡§an Uncle Tom¡¦s Cabin for Native Americans¡¨1 quickly became the reason many made the pilgrimage to the west. Along with the help of lower locomotive fares and the rise of automobiles, tourism grew to be the newest fashion in the United States. Everyone who was able took the plunge and traveled out west. They came by train, they came by car, and they came in crowds. If they didn¡¦t make an effort to visit this new iconic location, then they weren¡¦t really living. At that time, vacation became the newest form of showing their life off and enjoying time with their family. It all started with a book and spun into a wild race make Ramona a reality. A review on this book and how it effected California was written by Dydia DeLyser, she fondly titled her work Ramona Memories.

            Helen Hunt Jackson wrote many publications before creating her masterpiece ¡§Ramona¡¨. She began writing poems and other works after the deaths of her first husband and two children, all of disease, but had secluded herself from the world and deprived the public of the once ¡§vivacious personality¡¨2 that she was known for. After the death of so many people in her life, she didn¡¦t know what else to do but blame herself. Her life became one long tortured night waiting for someone to save her. Most of her poetry she filled with deep depression and it would have made anyone tear up. After having a rocky start to life, everything seemed to look up for her eventually. She met the man of her dreams, again, and when she finally remarried she continued to write and eventually discovered her passion for the Native Americans and their misfortune, especially in Southern California. Originally she firmly refused the idea of writing for a cause; she thought that it was almost selling out to use your writing ability towards something only small groups cared about. But after several trips to California, this ¡§devoted crusader¡¨3 knew she had to do something. At first, she wrote straight facts and did everything she could to get people to read them. Her information, though accurate and saddening, just couldn¡¦t be compelling enough to grab the attention she craved for her cause, at least not through her medium of literature. After failing with her first tries, she knew that the only way to get the readers she desired would be to create a fiction that would capture their emotions and keep them gripped on the story, with underlying tones of her cause weaved throughout. The book defiantly received the attention Jackson had hoped for, but not quite the response. People were gripped by the story, the love affair brought tears to their eyes, and the descriptions of Ramona¡¦s homeland sang to their hearts and drew images in their imaginations that would haunt them until they were seen with their own eyes. But that was only one part of her plan; the other was ignored all together. Instead of reacting to her call to action and helping the Native Americans, people swarmed to the coast and added to the problems. Jackson died feeling that she failed; however, she will forever be remembered as the woman who created Ramona¡K and inadvertently created Southern California.

            While the popularity of the book spread through the nation, the average citizen¡¦s ability to travel grew rapidly as well. The use of trains had once been reserved for business and luxury and for the upper-class only, but not for long. As fares went down and the longing to journey across the land grew, tourism became almost ¡§a patriotic duty¡¨4. People hungry for adventure became impassioned by the story of Ramona and flocked by the thousands to see the young woman¡¦s homeland. They gathered their families and took off in search of the new adventure set in store. Most used trains but some of the more successful families traveled in the new luxury and comfort of their own family car. The idea of being able to move about the country with freedom and pleasure gave the American citizen a new sense of love for the world they lived in.

            As quickly as they came, tourists made it a goal to pinpoint exact locations written about in Jackson¡¦s book. Lucky for them, the descriptions in Ramona were so precise to what Jackson saw that it took no time at all for claims to be staked on the ¡§Home of Ramona¡¨5, her birthplace, and even where she and her lover eloped to get married. There were several candidates for each of the locations, but over time each became permanently established in the place that the most tourists visited. Rancho Calmulos became known as her true home. Many people ventured to experience the beauty of the place depicted in the story. The marriage place was the next big thing to be sought out. Whether visitors took pictures, carved their names into the historic walls, or even had their own wedding ceremony at the site, Ramona¡¦s marriage place is still a ¡§spot of romantic reflection¡¨6 largely visited to this day. Unlike the other two, the established place of Ramona¡¦s birth no longer stands and wasn¡¦t nearly as popular as other locations along the coast.

            A big draw for tourists was the constant search to discover the real Ramona. It seemed that any woman of Indian descent was up for grabs as the fictional heroine everyone had come to know and love. There were several theories as to who the true woman was. Some believed she was a woman that Helen Hunt Jackson had met on one of her visits. Others thought that the character had been a compilation of many women and the name was taken from the daughter of one of the author¡¦s friends. Either way, women all over Southern California began to come out as the real Ramona and cash in on the belief of the tourists they were visited by. ¡§Ramonaphiles¡¨7 never would relent on finding the truth. Some literally took the name to the grave. In one case, a woman and her loved were buried side by side with tombstones saying the names of both Ramona and her lover from the story, Alessandro. Their true ¡§lives were virtually erased to allow the fiction of the novel to flourish¡¨8; while they were forgotten forever, the story lived on.

            Another person who decided to cash in on the Ramona story in California was Robert Callahan. However, his motives were different than the majority who just did what they could to make a quick buck. Callahan had an obsession with the story and wanted to do whatever he could to share it with whoever he could. His master design was, of all things, a theme park. The Ramona theme park, he said would be ¡§the most interesting spot in California¡¨9 and include everything about the famed story within its walls. He took out a loan and put down a million dollars on a plot of land before he began construction. Sadly, the park never became a reality. After Callahan¡¦s untimely death, his wife sold the land to be a trailer park instead. Now, only a few small pieces of his ¡§ambitious¡¨10 dream are still in existence. Several years after the failure of the theme park, the idea of a Ramona Pageant came about. Upon its opening ceremony, thousands came ¡§to witness the first outdoor dramatic incarnation of Jackson¡¦s novel¡¨11. The show was a flat out success. Using only low budget actors from nearby areas they were able to create a show that still runs annually in Hemet outside Riverside.

            The name Ramona was used on anything and everything to attract tourists willing to pay whatever it took to have a piece of the magic that was the Ramona story. From places claiming to be in the story to people claiming to be characters to souvenirs designed to replicate small things in the book, if that name was on it, someone would buy it. This became the tourism of that time. It has always amazed people who study humanity how the band wagon idea is so easily bought. A book comes out, everyone and their mother reads it, massive groups of tourist move across country just to experience something that never really existed. No one had set out to create a new page of history by ¡§the very actions of tourists enshrined Ramona¡¨12 and its many landmarks.

            The author of this book, Dydia DeLyser, an assistant professor of geography at Louisiana State University. DeLyser believes that ¡§Jackson¡¦s work of fiction changed how people remember Southern California¡¦s past¡¨13. Even though things like the gold rush really started the growth of California, this one fictional story brought the eye of the nation back to the almost forgotten Southern California and gave it a new birth. When she wrote Ramona Memories, her goal of showing exactly how much of an impact Helen Hunt Jackson had made. In her eyes, Southern California wouldn¡¦t be what it is today if it weren¡¦t for this monumental tale.

            DeLyser seems to be very educated and, because of her profession, has an interesting point of view on the whole thing. Most of her interest is with the locations and the way California was molded to fit the story and found that ¡§descriptions exoticized the landmarks¡¨14. (The book was published in 2005 so DeLyser had the opportunity to use modern technology, like the internet, to help with her research.) Her information is more accurate now than it would have been if she had written it earlier. She most likely wrote the book in response to the large focus on tourism in our country and others. What better way to look into a subject than to see where it originated.

            Apparently, DeLyser greatly admires Helen Hunt Jackson and her novel. In the first few chapters of the book she refers to Ramona as a ¡§gifted woman¡¦s compelling genius¡¨15. Although she addresses the fact that Jackson believed her own work was a failure, the way DeLyser writes seems to suggest that she would disagree with Jackson. She complements Jackson¡¦s writing style often and includes many small excerpts to show descriptions of locations and give a feel for just how beautifully the story had been written, and why it was so beloved.

            DeLyser herself has a very fond attachment to the story that would explain her feelings to write on it. According to the article she and her boyfriend shared their first kiss at Ramona¡¦s birthplace and ¡§she¡¦s been under Ramona¡¦s spell ever since¡¨16. The writer of the article felt that ¡§DeLyser¡¦s work speaks to the book¡¦s continuing national reach¡¨17 and agrees that Ramona still greatly impacts Southern California.

            Books have always had the power to make massive impacts on people, but for a small historical fiction to move people so much as to journey across country for a glimpse of a familiar passage painted in a landscape is incredible. When crowds arrived in Southern California to find the land ¡§enshrined in fictional elements¡¨18 and were not disappointed they took that back and continued to tell more and more people to come and visit the magical coast that was Southern California.

            Although at this time California did not seem to be influenced by outside events of the east, it certainly did spark some events of its own. When the book was released in the United States it was read by citizens of every class and age. It sparked a new love for fiction and travel and people went Ramona crazy. The book itself was partially responsible for the massive growth of the western part of the nation. Those who had spent their whole lives in a city somewhere east began packing up their families, loading up their luggage, and setting out to start a new life in what seemed to them to be a whole new world. For so many years California had just been seen as a place on the other side of their country. Now, it was as if Helen Hunt Jackson herself had reached out, grabbed California by its boarder and pulled it close enough for the urbanites of the east to smell its briny ocean - and the smell alone was not enough. A new thirst for travel and adventure became almost an ¡§obligation of American citizenship¡¨19 and everyone wanted in.

            Unlike the rest of the nation however, no matter how many tourists came to California, it was still a world of its own. The ¡§phenomena¡¨20 of so many new people and places to visit didn¡¦t change the fact that the land was almost untouched and beautiful in every way. The Native Americans, though mistreated, were very alive in California and for the most part seen as people, not savages. The way of Californians was also very different. Where most places in America were wrapped up in big city life and booming populations, Southern Californians were able to enjoy the nature around them. Many lived in smaller towns and raised families on their little farms. The agriculture of the area was very successful because of the constantly pleasant and calm weather. Farmers couldn¡¦t ask for a better climate to work in. Those who came out for Ramona usually ended up staying because California itself was so nice.

            Throughout history, books have made a huge difference in the way average people view the world. Be it fiction, history, or even fantasy, the words in a book can completely change the way an individual sees things. When a book comes out about an event and shows a new way to look at it, people pay attention and sometimes their views are swayed. Even books like Harry Potter or Twilight enter the minds of the younger generation that love them and create almost an atmosphere of reality within the magic. Not only do the readers long for the reality, they sometimes produce it for themselves. As DeLyser so elegantly pointed out, ¡§Ramona lingers here still¡¨21 and to this day a simple fiction has been spun into a reality for many. Tourism and the love of a single book created the Southern California that we know and live in today. Although we as individuals may not realize it, today we live in the reality of Ramona¡¦s world. It was made by those who came before us and set it up because of their passion for the novel. If Helen Hunt Jackson hadn¡¦t written her great failure, the success and fame of California might never have been.

1. DeLyser, Dydia. Ramona Memories. Santa Fe, New Mexico: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Page ix.

2. DeLyser, Dydia. 1.

3. DeLyser, Dydia. 6.

4. DeLyser, Dydia. 32.

5. DeLyser, Dydia. 65.

6. DeLyser, Dydia. 101.

7. DeLyser, Dydia. 121.

8. DeLyser, Dydia. 133.

9. DeLyser, Dydia. 154.

10. DeLyser, Dydia. 159.

11. DeLyser, Dydia. 137.

12. DeLyser, Dydia. 182.

13. DeLyser, Dydia. ix.

14. DeLyser, Dydia. 71.

15. DeLyser, Dydia. xvii.

16. Showley, Roger M. ¡§A novel approach to our lifestyle¡¨. San Diego Union-Tribune. June 2005.

17. Showley, Roger M. ¡§A novel approach to our lifestyle¡¨. San Diego Union-Tribune. June 2005.

18. DeLyser, Dydia. xvii.

19. DeLyser, Dydia. 48.

20. DeLyser, Dydia. 174.

21. DeLyser, Dydia. 188.