Abel, Annie Heloise

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ABEL, Annie Heloise

Born 18 February 1873, Fernhurst, Sussex, England; died 14 March 1947, Aberdeen, Washington

Daughter of George and Amelia Anne Hogben Abel; married George Cockburn Henderson, 1922

Annie Abel's family emigrated to Salina, Kansas, in 1884, and she went on to attain literary prominence as an authority on American Indian history. Her master's thesis was "Indian Reservations in Kansas and the Extinguishment of their Title (1902)." Her doctoral dissertation, "The History of Events Resulting in Indian Consolidation West of the Mississippi," won the American Historical Association's Justin Winsor Prize in 1906 and was published in the Annual Report of that year.

Abel's major work was the three-volume study, The Slaveholding Indians, the first of which was The American Indian as Slaveholder and Secessionist: An Omitted Chapter in the Diplomatic History of the Confederacy (1915). In Abel's view, though there was slaveholding among Indian tribes, only the Choctaw and Chickasaw were drawn to the Confederacy because of concerns about slavery. The South, out of its own needs, notably strategic concern for territorial solidarity, offered a number of concessions. Most significant perhaps were Confederate guarantees of criminal and civil rights. The South also offered to give Indians control of their own trade, but that offer was later rescinded. Through General Albert Pike, the Confederacy made its approaches to the Western tribes, and his wartime disaffection with the Confederacy over its betrayal of promises to the Indians would prove costly to the South.

Despite Southern concessions, Abel noted, the Indians "actually fought on both sides and for the same motives and impulses as whites." In her view, it was the failure of the U.S. government to provide the promised protection for the Southern Indians which led them to ally with the Confederacy. From first to last, she maintained, military conditions and events determined political ones.

In the next two volumes, The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War (1919) and The American Indian Under Reconstruction (1925), Abel traced the tragic consequences of Indian involvement in the sectional strife. The alliance with the Confederacy proved "most unstable" as the relatively few well-intentioned men in Richmond were "checkmated" by the men west of the Mississippi. After General Pike lost his command, white abuses proliferated and the "grossest corruption" ensued. The North showed no concern for Indian rights whatsoever and the Unionist mishandling of refugee problems and military operations proved especially costly.

But the final tragedy still awaited the Indians in the Reconstruction era. With the new 1866 boundary settlements, Indians found their boundaries had ceased to be "interdicted lines." First the non-Southern civilized tribes, then the uncivilized tribes and white settlers breeched the lines, and finally, the Indians could not withstand railroad pressures. The Reconstruction treaties, Abel concluded, "really meant not amnesty but confiscation of rights." Her work also included "Proposals for an Indian State, 1778-1878," a study published in the 1907 Annual Report of the American Historical Association. In it Abel traced the history of the idea of an Indian state from Jefferson's time to the idea's final demise with the admission of Oklahoma as a state. She also investigated problems of early-19th-century westward expansion. This work involved primarily the editing of letters and journals.

Throughout her work Abel proves to be both an effective researcher and a perceptive scholar who wrote sympathetically about problems the Indians encountered. Although she occasionally wrote in a paternalistic or romantic tone, she is essentially an objective historian. Her English background, she noted, freed her from sectional attachments in dealing with Civil War issues. And she could likewise appraise with detachment the conflict between Indian claims and American expansionist urges. Her work is marked with a sense of the tragedy that befell the Indians, but this sense did not obscure her judgement. If, in her final view, the fate of the Indians was determined by white greed and power, she also recognized the part which the Indians' "inability to learn from experience" played in the final outcome. The breadth of her research and her capacity for informed, detached judgement gave her work its strength and power.

Other Works:

Brief Guide to Points of Historical Interest in Baltimore City (1908). Proposals for an Indian State, 1778-1878 (1909). The Official Correspondence of James S. Calhoun (ed. by Abel, 1915). A New Lewis and Clark Map (1916). A Sidelight on Anglo-American Relations 1839-1858 (ed. by Abel with F. J. Klingsberg, 1927). Chardon's Journal at Fort Clark, 1834-39 (ed. by Abel, 1932). Tabeau's Narrative of Loisel's Expedition to the Upper Missouri (ed. by Abel, 1939).


Reference Works:

Notable American Women, 1607-1950, E. T. James et al., eds. (article by F. Prucha, 1971).

Other reference:

AHR (July 1947). ANB (1999). Mississippi Valley Historical Review (March 1916, March 1920). Yale University Obituary Record of Graduates (1946-47).