Lovely in her bones

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McCrumb, Sharyn. Lovely in her bones. 1985. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990.


This engaging mystery blends forensic anthropology, academia, an amateur detective (Elizabeth MacPherson), an Appalachian setting, and the politics of obtaining federal recognition as an Indian tribe.  McCrumb calls the tribe depicted in her novel the Cullowhees, but she has stated that "the tribal politics mentioned at the end of the book [are] based on the experience of North Carolina's Lumbee people" (“Skullduggery on Campus,”, accessed 10/30/97--Note: page has been removed). Scattered throughout the novel are, in fact, numerous parallels to the Lumbee:

  • the fact that the tribe is concentrated in one area and has no tribal land or federal government recognition (p. 36)
  • no remnants of a tribal language (p. 37)
  • some belief in origin from Indian intermarriage with the Lost Colonists (pp. 37, 104)
  • tendency of public officials in the area, during certain periods of history, to be non-Indians (p. 66)
  • variation in physical appearance among tribal members (pp. 78-79)
  • being known as “people of color” and being denied basic civil rights during periods of history (p. 140)
  • early adoption of English and Christianity (p. 140)
  • tribe members who are root doctors (p. 141)
  • having filed a formal request with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition (p. 210)

The general theme of using physical characteristics (in this case, the dimensions of skulls) to prove Indian heritage recalls the testing of Lumbees (then known as Siouans) done around 1935 by Carl Seltzer.

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