Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Death of Wind-Foot, The" (1842)
Author:
McGuire, Patrick
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

This short story, as well as the story "Little Jane" (1842), initially appeared as part of Whitman's novel Franklin Evans (1842). "The Death of Wind-Foot," with slight revisions, appeared in American Review, June 1845. The title was changed to "The Death of Wind-Foot. An Indian Story" when the story was reprinted in Crystal Fount and Rechabite Recorder, 18 October 1845. For publication history and revisions, see Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

Tribal hatred and revenge are the basic themes of this story about three Native Americans. Unrelenting, chief of a brave tribe, tells his son, Wind-Foot, of the long-standing enmity between them and the Kansi tribe. Unrelenting tells of killing a Kansi while the man's son watched. A guest in Unrelenting's lodge overhears the story and, in a rage, lays plans to kill Wind-Foot. The guest is now the grown son of the dead Kansi. He takes Wind-Foot captive and manages to kill him only after he has been mortally wounded by Unrelenting. Unrelenting is left childless.

Here, as in Whitman's novella "The Half-Breed: A Tale of the Western Frontier" (1845), Native Americans are not mere stock characters. Whitman humanizes the lonesome chief, who, Job-like, has endured the deaths of his wife and all his other children. He is soothing and fatherly and warm to his son. Wind-Foot has the boyish enthusiasm of an adolescent learning to hunt and the disappointment of not hunting well. The unnamed guest, however, is duplicitous and wild and animal-like.

This short story has received little critical attention.

Bibliography

Folsom, Ed. Walt Whitman's Native Representations. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.

Whitman, Walt. The Early Poems and the Fiction. Ed. Thomas L. Brasher. New York: New York UP, 1963.


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