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5. Masculine Heroes   



5. Masculine
Heroes


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton
- Cherokee Memorials
- Louise Amelia Smith Clappe
- James Fenimore Cooper
- Corridos
- Caroline Stansbury Kirkland
- Nat Love
- John Rollin Ridge
- Catharine Maria Sedgwick
- Walt Whitman
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Authors: Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton (c. 1832-1895)

Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way
[7359] Fanny F. Palmer, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1868), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC2-3757].

Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Maria Amparo Ruiz was born into an aristocratic Latino family on the Baja peninsula in Mexico. Her grandfather, Don Jose Manuel Ruiz, owned a vast tract of land around Ensenada and served as the governor of Baja. The family's control of the area came to an end during the Mexican-American War (1845-48), when the American army occupied Baja and forced the surrender of its citizens. It was during this period that Maria Ruiz met Captain Henry S. Burton, an army officer from New England, and began a romantic relationship with him. At the close of the war, she took advantage of the terms of the Treaty of Guadelupe-Hidalgo to move to Alta California with her mother, where the two became American citizens. In 1849, Maria Ruiz married Henry Burton in Monterey, California. Embarking on a new life within a social circle made up of both native Latino Californio landholders and Anglos, she soon mastered the English language and gained a reputation for her beauty and her air of "true aristocracy," as one admirer put it. In 1853, the Burtons purchased the Jamul Ranch, a large parcel of land near San Diego, solidifying their position within California society.

In 1859, Henry Burton received military orders to return east and the family moved to the Atlantic coast. He was soon promoted, first to major and then to brigadier-general in the Union Army. Her husband's high-ranking position within the army enabled Ruiz de Burton to circulate in elite East Coast society and to see the inner workings of U.S. political and military life first-hand, experiences she would later draw upon in her novels. Henry Burton died of malarial fever in 1869, leaving Ruiz de Burton a thirty-seven-year-old widow with two children.

Ruiz de Burton returned to California after her husband's death, undertaking a variety of land and business ventures in an attempt to secure her family's financial situation. She started a cement plant, a commercial-scale castor bean factory, and a water reservoir on her Jamul property, but turned little profit through these enterprises. Ruiz de Burton also found herself involved in a number of complicated legal battles over land titles, attempting both to safeguard her legal right to the Jamul Ranch and to claim her grandfather's Ensenada tract in Baja. When she died in Chicago, she was in the midst of raising political and financial support for her claim to the Mexican land.

Despite her financial and legal entanglements, Ruiz de Burton found time to begin a literary career in the 1870s, publishing two novels for an English-speaking audience. Both books critique the dominant Anglo society and express Ruiz de Burton's resentment over the discrimination and racism experienced by many Latinos residing within the United States. Her first novel, Who Would Have Thought It? (1872), which denounces what she viewed as the hypocritical sanctimoniousness of New England culture, was published anonymously, probably because its biting satire of Congregationalist religion, of abolitionism, and even of President Lincoln made it controversial. In 1885, Ruiz de Burton turned her attention to the situation in California in The Squatter and the Don, a fictional account of the land struggles experienced by many Californio families after U.S. annexation. The book is a historical novel about the relationship between Mercedes Alamar, the beautiful daughter of an aristocratic Californio family, and Clarence Darrell, an American who is affiliated with the Anglo squatters trying to claim the Alamar family's land. Chronicling the demise of the feudal Spanish rancho system in California, the novel questions whether the imposition of American monopoly capitalism (depicted in a scathing critique of the railroad industry) is an improvement over the old way of life. Because Ruiz de Burton writes from the perspective of the conquered Californio population, her work serves as an important corrective to Anglo writers' often celebratory, imperialist narratives of western expansion. Although Ruiz de Burton's work is not free from racist stereotypes--she portrays poor white squatters, Jews, African Americans, Indians, and the Chinese in racist terms--it does provide a unique perspective on crucial issues of race, class, gender, and power in nineteenth-century America.



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