The L.A. Times has an interesting article about how a 1920s novel about a beautiful Indian girl ended up stimulating tourism in southern California, by conjuring up an imaginary romantic past in much the way that Gone with the Wind cast a make-believe spell over Atlanta’s past. Miss Scarlett, allow me to introduce you to Ramona.
Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel Ramona was meant as a story of the white man’s mistreatment of American Indians. By writing about a sympathetic non-white heroine, Jackson hoped to stir the public conscience much as Uncle Tom’s Cabin had done before the Civil War. The book was indeed a hit, but to Jackson’s chagrin, readers took it as a straightforward romance with a romantic Spanish colonial setting. Mostly they ignored the author’s appeal for respect and fairness toward the Indians.
The story of the pretty Indian girl and her lover, the handsome Indian sheep rancher Alessandro, was adapted for the movies two or three times. A song about Ramona was one of the greatest hits of the Victrola era. In southern California the name “Ramona” popped up all over the place in hopes of luring tourists to experience “authentic” traces of this fictional heroine. To this day, the region’s predilection for mission-style architecture owes as much to the Ramona craze as it does to the actual Spanish colonial past.