Imagined places and characters: Louise Erdrich’s Recasting of “The Plague of Doves”

The Lynchings

In Pluto, as in Williamsport, three Indians are lynched, but the circumstances are entirely different. In Williamsport, county seat of Emmons County, the lynch victims had been arrested and incarcerated. Two of them had confessed to murdering a white family and a third had been declared guilty in a jury trial. In Pluto none of the victims has confessed, none has been arrested or jailed, and none has been tried. In Emmons County there was strong evidence that at least two of the three who were lynched had committed murder, so the lynching was, if not justifiable, at least understandable. In Pluto, there is no such evidence and so the lynching is the senseless hanging of virtuous, almost saintly, Indians for a crime they absolutely have not committed. They are seized only because Mooshum, his tongue loosened by whiskey, babbles to a white man. In Emmons County the lynch mob stormed the county jail in Williamsport, overpowered the jailer, and carried off their victims. In Pluto, the lynch mob goes onto the reservation, storms the church, overpowers the priest who has given the Indians sanctuary, and carries off its victims.

There are in The Plague of Doves no investigations, no checking of alibis, no arrests, no confessions, no depositions, no prosecuting attorneys, no defense attorneys, no jury selections, no trials, no appeals, no reversals by a higher court. The lynched Indians are totally innocent but are summarily determined to be guilty by the mob and carried off on a wagon. The mobsters, men with names like Wildstrand, Buckendorf, and Hotchkiss, tie the Indians’ hands, and place nooses around their necks. Then drive them under a tree, tie the ropes to the branches, then drive the wagon out from under them, leaving them all dangling. Asiginak, Cuthbert Peace, and Holy Track die. Mooshum survives because at the last minute he is cut down from the lynch tree limb. He alone is released partly because he has revealed the names of the others, partly because he is married to Junesse Malaterre, the daughter of Eugene Wildstrand, one of the members of the lynch mob. Mooshum, then, survives to tell the story of the lynching to his grandchildren.