Nicole Tonkovich is professor of literature at University of California, San Diego. She studies the cultural work of women in the nineteenth century, with an emphasis on nonfiction and photography. She has recently published The Allotment Plot: Alice C. Fletcher, E. Jane Gay, and Nez Perce Survivance.

Washington State University Press has just released Dividing the Reservation, a companion volume that focuses on Alice C. Fletcher’s correspondence during the allotment years on the Nez Perce Reservation.


Join us for a talk and book signing at the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, 4th floor Holland Library

Thursday, September 22nd, 4:00-5:00pm


Literary studies of letter writing tend to focus on the personal letter. If their focus is fictional, they consider how the letter allows correspondents to build and maintain interpersonal relations; if nonfictional they use letters as means of biographical interpretation, usually of a figure of public renown.

However, when one studies the whole of the correspondence of a single person for a circumscribed period of time, the boundaries between personal and public, as well as fiction and nonfiction diminish. Reading the personal and public (that is, official epistolary reports) Alice C. Fletcher wrote while allotting land on the Nez Perce Reservation in the 1890s bears out this claim.

The myriad letters Fletcher wrote during this period became the means by which the US consolidated an empire of agriculture and trade in the Northwest. Not only her official reports, but also her unofficial letters were crucial components of the “bloodless tasks of empire.” In Fletcher’s case, as in much of the federal negotiations about Indian policy in her time, personal connections of friendship, school and professional ties, religious affiliation, professional/scientific investigations, and what passed for the straightforward application of policy intermingled. To reading her letters in this way challenges assumptions still distressingly prevalent in contemporary scholarship, that “the sentimental” and “the merely personal” were inefficacious means of driving USAmerican expansion at the end of the nineteenth century.


The CDSC thanks The WSU Department of English, the Sherman and Mabel Smith Pettyjohn Memorial Fund from the WSU Department of History, The WSU Libraries, The Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, and the WSU Plateau Center for sponsoring this event.