Skip to main content

About "The Death of Wind-Foot"

The story that Whitman would later title "The Death of Wind-Foot" was first published as an embedded tale in the second chapter of the novel Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times, which was printed in an extra edition of The New World newspaper in November 1842. In the novel, an "antiquarian"—an expert on local history in New York—relates the tale of a Native American chief, the Unrelenting, and his young son, Wind-Foot, to main character Franklin Evans on the journey from rural Long Island to New York City. The antiquarian prefaces the story with a warning about the detrimental effects of alcohol on Native Americans, thereby emphasizing the novel's temperance message, encouraging moderation if not total abstinence from alcohol. The tale is also concerned with another kind of temperance—that is, displaying tolerance and compassion—both for those addicted to alcohol and, more broadly, for family, friends, and other people in general. It is, arguably, the Unrelenting's lack of such feeling that leads to the titular tragedy: the death of the Unrelenting's son, Wind-Foot, at the hands of a warrior from a neighboring tribe who is attempting to avenge the murder of his own father, which was committed by the Unrelenting many years earlier.1

On February 1–2, 1843, less than three months after the story's publication as part of Franklin Evans, the Wiskonsan Enquirer (Madison, Wisconsin) extracted the tale of Wind-Foot and his father from the novel and published it under the title of "The Unrelenting" on the front page of the newspaper. The decision to call the story "The Unrelenting" focuses the reader's attention on Wind-Foot's father and the cycle of murder and vengeance that has long existed between the tale's two Native American tribes, a legacy of revenge that the Unrelenting himself has perpetuated. The story was printed in the first column of the newspaper, directly beneath a poem titled "The North American Indian's Death Song," which was translated from the German of Schiller, and serves as a kind of preface to the story.

It would be three more years before Whitman himself extracted the embedded tale from the novel and reprinted it with the title "The Death of Wind-Foot," thereby directing the reader's attention to the tale's tragic ending scene rather than the father's "Unrelenting" nature. Whitman made a number of revisions to the version of the tale that had been published as part of Franklin Evans before publishing it for the first time as a stand-alone piece under the title of "The Death of Wind-Foot" in the June 1845 issue of The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science (published under this title from 1845–1847). For a complete list of revisions to the original language of the Franklin Evans text made or authorized by Whitman for publication in the American Review (1845), see Thomas's Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction.2

The American Review was a monthly journal published in New York and edited by George H. Colton, author of Tecumseh; or, the West Thirty Years Since (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1842). The American Review served as "the major political and literary magazine of the national Whig party."3 It was the Whig counterpart to the Democrats' publication The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, where nine of Whitman's short stories had been printed in 1841 and 1842. The American Review published long articles on philosophy, religion, and history in addition to providing biographies of significant statesmen of the day.4 It was perhaps best known for publishing Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" in the February 1845 issue.5 The circulation of the journal was "three to five thousand at any given time."6 The introduction to the journal's opening issue sheds light on the political position of the Whig party: "Protection to the laborer and the producer, to the merchant and manufacturer; integrity and economy in the discharge of official trusts; the vigilant defence, as against the world, of national dignity and honor; the observance of honor and good faith in all our deadlines with and treatment of other nations; the establishment and maintenance of a sound currency; an enlargement of the means of revenue, and a proper provision for its safe-keeping; an extension of the resources of the country by the construction of harbors, roads, and canals, as the wants of the people demand them. . . . [T]hese form an outline of the distinctive principles of the Whig party."7

Although some of the Whig party's principles were entirely opposed to Whitman's democratic ideas, he did work for The Brooklyn Evening Star, a Whig paper, writing approximately 50 articles during an eight-month period in 1845 and 1846, which is roughly the same time that he contributed "The Death of Wind-Foot" to The American Review.8

It is this version of "The Death of Wind-Foot" from The American Review that seems to have been reprinted most often both in 1845 and in the ensuing years. The American Review version of the story was reprinted without change as a two-part serial in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on August 29–30, 1845, which was just over six months before Whitman would assume the editorship of that paper. Later, during his two-year editorship (1846–1848), Whitman published items about fiction in the Eagle, and he showed renewed interest in the fiction he had written just a few years earlier. He went on to revise and reprint Franklin Evans and thirteen of his own short fiction pieces in the paper.9

Reprints of The American Review version of the story appeared under variant titles, including "The Death of Wind-Foot. An Indian Story" and simply "Death of Wind Foot." There are several notable reprintings of "The Death of Wind-Foot" in both newspapers and journals. Ironically, the reprint of the story in the Cumberland Alleganian (Cumberland, Maryland) on September 27, 1845, listed the author as "Walt Whiteman" rather than "W. Whitman" like most of the other reprints, although it is uncertain whether this was simply a printing error or a wry spelling of Whitman's name that underscores his distance from his Native American characters.10

"The Death of Wind-Foot" is one of the few tales by Whitman known to have circulated internationally in the 1840s. It was reprinted in the Colonial Times and Tasmanian in the city of Hobart in 1846, in what is known today as Tasmania, but was then still called Van Diemen's Land. This reprint is especially significant since the second page of the paper includes a notice announcing that this paper circulated far beyond Hobart: "This Journal is published on the Evening of every Tuesday and Friday, and circulates extensively throughout the Australian Colonies, India, China, Europe, and America. It is regularly filed at the office of Messrs. Simmonds and Ward, General Agents, Cornhill, London, and at the Jerusalem Coffee House."11 It is possible then that "The Death of Wind-Foot" may have had an international reading audience as early as 1846.

In addition to the variant titles, other aspects of the reprinting might have impacted the reception of the story. The story is notable for being printed under different headings in nineteenth-century periodicals. In The Dollar Newspaper (Philadelphia, PA), it is printed under the heading "Popular Stories," while in the Massachusetts Ploughman (Boston, MA), it is published in the "Ladies Department," implying that the story was addressed specifically to a female audience, which seems somewhat removed from the tale's original context in Franklin Evans, a novel that focused on young men in the boarding houses and bar-rooms of New York City.12

Whitman did not choose to include the story in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days and Collect (1882), a volume in which he reprinted a selection of his short stories.

"The Death of Wind-Foot"

Walter Whitman The Death of Wind-Foot The American Review June 1845 1 639–642 per.00328


1. Patrick McGuire, "Death of Wind-Foot, The (1842)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 170. [back]

2. See Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 133–143. [back]

3. Wesley Allen Riddle, "Culture and Politics: The American Whig Review, 1845–1852," Humanitas 8.1 (1995): 44. [back]

4. Riddle, "Culture and Politics," 46. [back]

5. Stephen Rachman, "American Whig Review," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, 20. [back]

6. Riddle, "Culture and Politics," 48. [back]

7. "Introductory," The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science, January 1845, 1–4. [back]

8. Douglas A. Noverr, "Journalism," in A Companion to Walt Whitman, ed. Donald D. Kummings (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing), 36. [back]

9. For more information about Whitman's editorship at The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, see Dennis K. Renner, "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, 79–80. As editor of the Eagle, Whitman also revised and reprinted "Wild Frank's Return" (May 8, 1846), "The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier" (June 1–6 and 8–9, 1846; formerly "Arrow-Tip"), "A Legend of Life and Love" (June 11, 1846), "Dumb Kate—An early death" (July 13, 1846), "The Love of Eris.—A Spirit Record" (August 18, 1846; formerly "Eris; A Spirit Record"), "One Wicked Impulse! (A tale of a Murderer escaped.)" (September 7–9, 1846; formerly "Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped"), "Fortunes of a Country-Boy" (November 16–30, 1846; a significantly revised version of the temperance novel Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times), "Little Jane" (December 7, 1846), three of the five parts of "Some Fact-Romances" (the second Fact-Romance as "The Old Black Widow" on November 12, 1846, the first Fact-Romance as "A Fact-Romance of Long Island" on December 16, 1846, and the fifth Fact-Romance as "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago" on December 24, 1846), "The Child and the Profligate" (January 27–29, 1847; previously printed with the same title in the Columbian Magazine), "Death in the school room" (December 24, 1847; formerly "Death in the School-Room. A Fact"), and "The Boy-Lover" (January 4–5, 1848; previously printed with the same title in The American Review). Two of Whitman's stories were reprinted in the Eagle before he became the paper's editor in March 1846. In addition to "The Death of Wind-Foot," "Shirval—A Tale of Jerusalem" was reprinted on January 22, 1846, ten months after it was first published in The Aristidean in March 1845. [back]

10. For full citations and further information about reprints of "The Death of Wind-Foot," see Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography. See also Stephanie M. Blalock, "Bibliography of Walt Whitman's Short Fiction in Periodicals," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 30 (2013): 226–230. [back]

11. See "Colonial Times and Tasmanian: The two original Journals of Van Diemen's Land Consolidated," Colonial Times and the Tasmanian, April 7, 1846, [2]. [back]

12. See W. Whitman, "Popular Stories. The Death of Wind-Foot. An Indian Story," The Dollar Newspaper, July 16, 1845, [1]; W. Whitman, "Ladies Department. The Death of Wind-Foot. AN INDIAN STORY," Massachusetts Ploughman and New England Journal of Agriculture, August 9, 1845, [4]. See also Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography. [back]

Back to top