Places: The Cherokee Night

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1936

First published: 1936

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1895-1931

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedClaremore Mound

Claremore Cherokee Night, TheMound. Scene of a nineteenth century massacre of Osages by Cherokees in the last big battle between the two tribes. Claremont, chief of the Osages, is believed to be buried there. The play chronicles, through several decades of the lives of selected characters, the subsequent decline of the Cherokees.


*Claremore. Town in northeastern Oklahoma in whose Rogers County jail Bee Newcomb, a one-quarter Cherokee prostitute, betrays Art Osburn, also part Cherokee, who has been arrested for the murder of his older Indian wife. Viney Jones, a former country schoolteacher, has totally rejected her Cherokee heritage and moved to Quapaw, where her husband is mayor.

Whiteturkey farmhouse

Whiteturkey farmhouse. Ramshackle home of Kate Whiteturkey, a rich Osage woman who owns three Stutz Bearcats; located in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, near the Kansas state line. Hutch Moree, Viney’s former companion, is living with Whiteturkey; he is a “kept man,” completely dominated by Kate–an ironic reversal of the Cherokees’ great victory at Claremore Mound.

Eagle Bluff

Eagle Bluff. Edge of a sheer cliff overlooking the Illinois River and the town of Tahlequah, seat of the Cherokee Nation, and the fields and woods of the river valley below. Young Gar Breeden, a half-breed Cherokee, climbs the bluff after running away from his “guardeen” in Claremore. He is captured by members of a religious sect who believe themselves to be one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. They steal cattle, hogs, and grain from the Cherokee farms below. In their religion, they worship the sun, rain, and snow as much as they worship Jesus. In one of the most striking ironies in the play, menacing white fanatics have even appropriated the nature worship of the Cherokees.

BibliographyBraunlich, Phyllis Cole. “The Cherokee Night of R. Lynn Riggs.” Midwest Quarterly 30 (Autumn, 1988): 45-59. By far the best critical discussion of the play. Braunlich takes up matters of characterization, experimentation in plot, and the main theme of the work itself: the disintegration of the Cherokee people.Braunlich, Phyllis Cole. “The Oklahoma Plays of R. Lynn Riggs.” World Literature Today 64, no. 3 (Summer, 1990): 390-394. The critic discusses The Cherokee Night as it relates to other plays written by Lynn Riggs during the same period. She finds this play to have a “dark mood” that makes for “haunting reading.”Scharine, Richard G. From Class to Caste in American Drama: Political and Social Themes Since the 1930’s. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. Scharine discusses The Cherokee Night within the context of biculturalism produced by the miscegenation of white people and Cherokees. He explores the problems of assimilation into mainstream culture.Sievers, Wieder David. Freud on Broadway: A History of Psychoanalysis and the American Drama. New York: Cooper Square, 1955. Sievers provides something of a Jungian interpretation of the play, finding in it elements of racial memory which account for the basic conflicts of the work.Sper, Felix. From Native Roots. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 1948. Finding the play to be a “semifantasy,” Sper claims that the play basically applauds the cause of the American Indians. He states that the American Indians of mixed ancestry are taking a position against the white people’s God, a position from which they cannot win.
Categories: Places