Mourning Dove: A Brief Biography

By: Sarah Werner


Mourning Dove was an Okanagan woman of the Colville Confederated Tribes of eastern Washington state (Miller:1990).During her early years, she was unable to experience the benefit of education.  Mourning Dove was able to achieve three years of formal education in the Sacred Heart Convent at Ward, Washington.  She also briefly attended numerous government schools, and in 1912 at the age of 24 was enrolled in a business school in order to learn typing and improve her English (Fisher:1981).

At birth, given the English name of Christine Quintasket, and the Okanagan name Hum-ishu-ma, translated as Mourning Dove, she was raised for a period of her childhood by her grandmother, where she assumedly learned her traditional teachings which would be imbedded later in her writings (Fisher:1981).

By her own retelling, Mourning Dove was born in a canoe while her mother was crossing the Kootenay River in Idaho.  This event would begin a life long journey of movement for Mourning Dove.  She continued throughout the adult years of her life traveling, and working as a migrant laborer.  She continued throughout her adult life as a seasonal laborer, continually moving with jobs, for a number of years this resulted in the loss of a stable home.  She would continue her writing at night, after spending hours in the fields and orchards.  Despite the hardships, physical, emotional, and financial, Mourning Dove continued to produce her stories giving a more sympathetic writing of Indigenous people.    

Mourning Dove’s mother, Lucy, was born at Kettle Falls, a Columbia salmon fishery in the territory of the Colvile tribe.  Her father, Joseph Quintaket, was born of the Upper Okanagan community in British Columbia, however identified with the Lower Okanogans of the United States (Fisher:1981).

Throughout her years, Mouning Dove married twice.  Her first husband, Hector McLeod, and her were married in 1909 but had a short lived relationship, being estranged by 1912.  It was in 1912, living in Portland, where the author first began using the name Mourning Dove as her pen name.  In the year 1919, Mourning Dove married Fred Galler of the Colville Wenatchi.  The couple lived together in East Omak on the Colville Reservation.  It was here, after the publication of Cogewea, that Mourning Dove transitioned from writing fiction to what she called “folklores” (Miller:1990).

Throughout her career, following the publication of Cogewea, Mourning Dove continued to write, including her autobiography and as well as Coyote Stories, she also participated in reservation politics and began public speaking.  It was in 1936, when taken to a state hospital at Medical Lake, that she passed on, stating the cause of death on her death certificate “exhaustion from manic depressive psychosis.”  She was buried on a plot purchased by her in a local white cemetery.  Her husband, Fred, paid for her funeral and the marker which readers “Mrs. Fred Galler” (Miller:1990).


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