Marah Ellis Ryan

Marah Ellis Ryan

Marah Ellis Ryan was born either February 27, 1860 or 1866. As Ellis Martin, she married Samuel Erwin Ryan (b. 1834), an Irish actor and comedian, in 1883. She died July 11, 1934.

She was a popular author, actress and activist for Native Americans at the turn of the 20th century.


  • Death 1
  • Bibliography 2
  • Notes on Ryan's Novels 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


The New York Times published this obituary:[1]

Los Angeles, July 11 (AP)—Mrs. Marah Ellis Ryan, writer and authority on Indians, died today at her home in the Silver Lake district from encephalitis (sleeping sickness) at the age of 68. Mrs. Ryan went to live among the Hopi Indians twenty-five years ago and claimed to be the only white woman ever admitted to the secret religious rites. She was noted as an authority on the tribal life of the Indians in the United States and Mexico. Mrs. Ryan was born in Butler County, Pa., a daughter of Graham and Sidney Mechling Martin. As a young woman she wrote a few poems and stories under the pen-name of “Ellis Martin.” In 1883 she married S. Erwan Ryan of New York, an actor, who died several years ago. Among the many books by Mrs. Ryan issued over a period of thirty-six years, 1889-1925, were the following: “In Love’s Domain,” “Squaw Eloise,” “A Flower of France,” “That Girl Montana,” “Indian Love Letters,” “The Woman of Twilight,” “The House of the Dawn,” “Treasure Trail,” and “The Dancer of Tuluum.”


  • Merze: the story of an actress; Chicago, New York: Rand, McNally, 1888 and 1894, according to abebooks, 1889 according to the Melvyl catalog
  • In loves' domains: a trilogy; Chicago: Rand, McNally, c1889
  • Told in the hills; Chicago; New York: Rand, McNally, [1891], Rand, McNally, [1905] ("a romance and melodrama, set in New Orleans and the Pacific Northwest"—ABEBooks)
  • A Pagan of the Alleghanies; Chicago and New York, Rand, McNally, [1891]
  • Squaw Elouise; Chicago; New York: Rand, McNally, [1892]
  • A flower of France: a story of old Louisiana; Chicago: Rand, McNally & Company [1894], Freeport, N. Y., Books for Libraries Press, [1972]
  • A chance child: Comrades, Hendrex and Margotte, and Persephone: being four tales; Chicago; New York: Rand, McNally, [1896]
  • The bondwoman; Chicago; New York: Rand, McNally, [1899]
  • That girl Montana; Rand McNally & Company, [1901], New York, Grosset & Dunlap [c1901]
  • Miss Moccasins; Chicago: Rand, McNally, [c1904]
  • My Quaker maid; Chicago; New York: Rand McNally & Company, [1906]
  • Indian love letters; Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., [1907]
  • The flute of the gods, illustrated by Edward S. Curtis; New York, F.A. Stokes company [1909]
  • For the soul of Rafael; with many illustrations from photographs taken expressly for this book, by Harold A. Taylor; decorative designs by Ralph Fletcher Seymour; Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., [1910]
  • The woman of the twilight; the story of a story; illustrations by Hanson Booth; Chicago, A.C. McClurg & Co., [1913]
  • Pagan prayers ; Chicago: A.C. McClurg, [1913]
  • The house of the dawn; illustrated and decorated by Hanson Booth; Chicago: A.C. McClurg, [1914] ("A highly romanticized novel involving a Hopi woman who has traveled far and returned to the mesas, a couple in love in the southwest and their travails, the inquisition, and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680."—ABEBooks)
  • The Druid path ; decorated by Will Vreeland; Chicago, A. C. McClurg & Co. [1917]
  • The treasure trail: a romance of the land of gold and sunshine; illustrated by Robert Amick; Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., [1919], [c1918]
  • First Americans; Los Angeles: Calif. Indian Welfare League, [1922]
  • The dancer of Tuluum, illustrated by Rene Kinga, decorations by Kay Roberts; Chicago, A. C. McClurg & Co., [1924—no listing in CCR, not renewed]

Notes on Ryan's Novels

Squaw Elouise—The probable setting for this novel is Sakmania County, Washington,[2] although the mountain and stream on which the action takes place are not on contemporary maps. There are streams of similar name (Tumwata Creek) in Washington, but they do not feed the Columbia River, as does the stream in the novel. This novel has several similarities with Told in the Hills: set in Northwest U.S., set in mining communities, stereotyping of Native Americans by European-Americans and occasional Chinook vocabulary. The plot centers on Elouise, an heir to Native American royalty, who is attracted to a white miner. She spends much of the novel nursing this miner back to health after having almost killed him with a knife. The miner’s former sweetheart from back east, who is heir to one of the local mines, comes to the mining camp, causing a reformation among the residents, and leading the reader to wonder if, when, and how the miner and his sweetheart will meet, as well as wondering what will come of Elouise. The reader is left with the feeling that the author believes that interracial marriage is not good.-- notes by RD

Told in the Hills—The story begins with a tense encounter between two brothers. The younger had moved from the Midwest, earned substantial money, and was living the “high life” in New Orleans. The older brother made a brief visit to New Orleans to confront him with his irresponsibility and sin, and issued a death threat if the younger didn’t do certain things. It is a well-written chapter. (The novel was filmed in 1919 by Paramount Pictures as Told in the Hills.)

The rest of the novel takes place ten years later in a location that seems to be in the northwestern corner of Montana, and would be Lincoln County. In a well-developed plot, a sweet girl from the east, Rachel Hardy, comes to Montana for a visit and decides to stay. The two brothers ultimately meet again, tensions develop between the settlers and the Native Americans, and the U.S. Cavalry gets involved.

Throughout the book we encounter a complete catalogue of racial slurs and stereotyping, to the extent that the reader wonders what the author’s sympathies were, but in the end we see the Native Americans as real and complex human beings.

Mrs. Ryan’s biggest problem in this novel was developing the rather complex character of Rachel Hardy. Ultimately she is seen as a strong, wise, and independent person, but in trying to show her strength and independence, the author often presents her as an egotistical brat.

The biggest technical failing in this novel is having the Kutenai (spelled “Kootenai” in the novel) as speaking Chinook, rather than their own language. Apparently Mrs. Ryan was familiar with Chinook, but unfamiliar with the Kutenai language.

A motion picture made from this novel completely changed the ending of the story.[3]—notes by RD

House of the Dawn was reviewed in the New York Times, January 3, 1915, section VI, p. 6 as follows:

It is an ingeniously conceived and cleverly told story that Miss Ryan writes of the days when the Spaniard was riding, an arrogant conqueror, over the mountains and across the deserts of Mexico; when the tiger claws of the Inquisition were reaching out for victims and the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest were rising in rebellion against both the religion and the rule of their conquerors. It is told in the first person, the narrator being a relative of the high-born and high-spirited maid of Spain, who follows her betrothed across the sea to the New World.

Although told in most leisurely, realistic style and with constant attention to outlying and contributive detail, the book is informed on every page with the spirit of romance—the kind of romance that sees the “something more” of the yellow primrose. The author knows well, it is evident, the life and folklore and religion of the ancient dwellers upon the Southwestern plains, as well as the tragic history of that amazing stroke for religious freedom which they made in 1680, and with keen feeling for its essential poetry she has woven much of it into her story. All in all, it is a poetic as well as a romantic tale, notwithstanding its constant realism, and the note of poetic romance upon which it ends is a logical conclusion, though the reader will be a good guesser if he has an inkling of what that end will be before he reaches it.

Indian Love Letters was reviewed in the New York Times, March 23, 1907, Review of Books, p. 178, as follows:

A Hopi Indian educated in the East hears his race calling him and goes back to his mesa under the Arizona sky. Thence he writes to the white girl with the corn-silk hair who had sat with him beside the Eastern sea, had sung to her own music his Indian poems, had called him “friend,” had gained his hopeless love.

To her he justifies his “reversion to type,” his return to his Indian name and dress, to the customs and the faith of his ancestors. According to these letters the white man’s education, the white man’s religion, are alike worse than a failure, nothing less than a curse, to the Indian. Again and again are we reminded as we read of the tragic revelation given some years ago by that wonderfully gifted Indian girl, Zitkala-Sa.

In these love letters we appreciate anew the impenetrable barrier of race, even now but dimly understood, and that by the elect.

In our egotism we persistently regard all the nations of the earth as white men of inferior and varying caliber and unfortunate environment, wrapped in skins of diverse hue, but essentially the same, to be reached by the same methods, developed by the same culture. “Not so,” say observers of keenest insight and closest association. “Not so,” responds voice after voice from within these peoples alien and aloof. Then what is to be said of any educational system which cannot lift—or, more modestly speaking, transfer—to our own world the negro, the Indian, the Oriental, while utterly unfitting him for his own?

In these Indian love letters as well as in less imaginative human documents the zealous propagandist may find food for thought.

The author has compressed a great deal within a few pages, and has managed her original and difficult theme with much artistic skill. The ethnic is one with the romantic element of these letters.

The mystic, prehistoric swastika stamps the book and signs each letter, the chosen symbol of their writer, “a creature of visions,” dominated by the past of his mysterious race.

The question arises, what would educated Indians themselves say of this portrayal of their attitude? One of themselves would be fittest critic of this unusual little romance, each letter of which is a poignant poem.


  1. ^ New York Times, July 12, 1934, p. 17.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Movies: About Told in the Hills".  

External links