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Dr. Joyce Kinkead on The Mine with the Iron Door
Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

 <<< Continued from previous page.  

                                                                      The story is concentrated in this canyon but also moves to Oracle, the Papago Indian Reservation, the Santa Rosa Mountains, and Mexico.  The detailed descriptions add a sense of reality to the story.  The people who live in the canyon are a mixture of interesting characters including Thad Grove and Bob Hill, old prospectors who share a "partnership daughter," Marta Hillgrove;[1] Saint Jimmy, a "lunger," and his mother; the "Lizard" and his Arkansas family; Hugh Edwards, a stranger and a novice prospector; and finally, Natachee, the Indian.  Although the area tribes are mentioned often, no particular tribal name is given to Natachee; thus he is symbolic of every Indian.

            The old prospectors manage to find enough gold in the legendary canyon to live with their adopted daughter whom they found fourteen years earlier along the Mexican border.  In a series of kidnapping acts, Marta is first kidnapped by a couple seeking revenge on her father.  The couple is murdered by Sonora Jack, who then plans to hold Marta for ransom.  At this point the old prospectors rescue her and, since they cannot trace her parentage, rear her as their own.  The girl, now eighteen, receives her education from Saint Jimmy, a doctor who has come to Arizona for his health.  He and his mother train the girl in intellectual and spiritual matters, subjects about which the prospectors are not particularly knowledgeable.

            When Hugh Edwards arrives in the canyon to prospect for gold at about the time that a convict escapes from prison, he is taken in by the prospectors, and Hugh and Marta fall in love, but he will now tell her he loves her because of his prison past though he was framed.  Hugh's goal is to find the legendary mine with the iron door, a mine worked by the priests of the San Xavier Mission and Papago Indians, which was presumably lost in an earthquake one hundred years earlier.  Its entrance has never been found although many men have searched for it.  Hugh is one of these men, for he sees gold as a means of righting his false imprisonment and a means to permit him to marry Marta.  When the sheriff visits the canyon looking for the convict, Natachee hides Hugh at his place far up in the mountains where Hugh remains for several months.

            The strange relationship between the Indian and the white man rests on revenge, for Natachee is determined that white men will suffer for their inhumanity to the Indian.  Natachee has become embittered with the white man as a result of his education, his people's defeat, and his land's ruin.  Although he has been educated in a white man's school, he returns to the ways and dress of his ancestors because he cannot accept the Anglo "thief as his schoolmaster and spiritual guide" (Mine, p. 166).  He explains:

            The schools of the white people taught me nothing that would cause the white people to permit me ever to make a place for myself among them as their equal.  No education can ever, in the eyes of the white man, make a white man of an Indian.  All kinds of animals are educated for the circus ring, and the show bench, and the vaudeville stage.  If they prove clever enough you applaud them.  You reward them for amusing you.  You educate the Indian.  If he is clever enough you give him a place in your social circus so long as he amuses you.  But do you permit him to become one of you in your homes, you professions, you law-making [sic], your business--no--he is no more one of you than the performing bear is one of you. (Mine, p. 166) 

            Natachee has also found that "the noble red man . . . becomes so often an ignoble vagabond once . . . subjected to those same civilizing influences"  (Mine, pp. 123-13).  Because of his education, Natachee no longer fits into his Indian culture, but neither can he be accepted into the white man's society, so he becomes a loner in the mountains, looking for revenge.  As an outcast, he can also have no wife or family, a situation which makes him hate the white man even more (Mine, p. 211).

            The white man's attitude toward the Indian adds to Natachee's bitterness.  Lizard calls him a "school Injun gone wild again" (Mine, p. 53) and asserts that "an Injun's an Injun no matter how much ye try t' larn him" (Mine, p. 12).  Besides, "this here's a white man's country" (Mine, p. 53), as Lizard, who is ignorant of southwestern history, further explains.  Even Marta shows that she has a stereotyped view of the West when she asks Natachee how he can be satisfied to live like an Indian, since he is an educated man (Mine, p. 162).

            Greed for gold is the impetus for the conflicts between Anglo and Indian.  The primary reason for the ruin of Natachee's land is the white man's greed.  Natachee vividly describes the causes of the lands barrenness and concludes, "only the buzzards profited" (Mine, p. 165).  The basis of this greed is gold fever which the Indians hope will cause the destruction of the white man (Mine, p. 168).  When Hugh discovers that Natachee truly knows the location of the legendary mine, he implores him to use it for the good of his people.  The Indian explains, first of all, that he, as an Indian, would never be allowed to keep the wealth, and second, gold means nothing to the Indians.  In an eloquent speech, Natachee tells Hugh what the Indians really want:

            Could I, with this gold, restore to my people the homeland of their fathers?  Could I destroy your cities, your government, your laws and all the institutions of your civilization that you have built up in this, the land that you have taken by force and treachery from my people?  Could I, Natachee, with this gold bring back the forests you have cut down, the streams you have dried up or poisoned, the lands you have made desolate?  Could I bring back the antelope, the deer, and all the life that the white man has destroyed?  (Mine, pp. 220-21) 

            Natachee, nevertheless, tempts Hugh with gold, salting the ground at night with ore where Hugh prospects and implying that Hugh will strike the legendary mine soon.  A violent event makes Natachee forget momentarily his revenge an help the white man who has tried to befriend him.  Wright realistically allows the Indian to change only slightly so as not to turn completely into a white-loving Indian.  The outlaw, Sonora Jack, with a Mexican companion and Lizard, plans to torture the Indian to learn the location of the mine.  When Hugh arrives at the scene and sees the men about to put hot coals on the Indian's bare chest, he frightens the outlaws, thus saving Natachee, his own torturer.  Afraid to continue his search for the mine, Sonora Jack, having learned of Marta's presence, realizes that she is the same girl whom he kidnapped years ago, and he kidnaps her again, killing one of the old prospectors in the process.  Natachee and Hugh follow the group, rescue the girl, kill the outlaws, and learn of Marta's real parents.

            Marta's father, in order to gain possession of rich mining property when she was a baby, deceived its owners about the land's value.  The landowners, in turn, kidnapped Marta for ransom and for revenge.  The original kidnappers were killed for their gold by Sonora Jack while they were trying to escape along the Mexican border.  Marta's father later caused the imprisonment of Hugh by framing him for the extortion of money from an investment company.  Hugh thinks that gold is the answer to his problems, but he finally sees that life is nothing but a Canyon of Gold (Mine, p. 328) and that "gold is where you find it"  (Mine, p. 89).  He discovers his gold mine in Marta's love.  With her he no longer requires material wealth.

            In a larger sense, many of the novel's characters find spiritual gold.  Marta and Hugh find true value in love; the Burtons leave the tumultuous city for "the simple, more primitive, more peaceful life" of the desert (Mine, p. 26); and Natachee discovers in his association with Hugh that all white men are not evil, and so he becomes less bitter.

            The Mine with the Iron Door, unlike many of Wright's novels, contains only a minor love plot.  Its message is that there is a gold mine, as Hugh discovers, in every person's life, and the individual must decide what path will be taken, for the choice will influence one's philosophy, ideals, and goals.  Still for Wright, the Southwest represents the American Eden, a frontier which he hopes will remain fairly primitive.  Wright also introduces in this novel a pessimistic strain about the Southwest's past and future.  Although he loves the area, he cannot refrain from condemning the white man for nearly ruining it.  His novel also represents a protest about the white man's treatment of the Indian.


    [1]Harold Bell Wright, The Mine with the Iron Door (New York:  Appleton, 1923), p. 5.  Subsequent references to this book will be incorporated into the body of the text as Mine and pagination.

Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

 

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