Thursday, May 4, 2017

Studying Native Americans on The Plaines

George Caleb Bingham (American genre painter, 1811-1879) Eh-toh'k-pah-she-pée-shah, Black Moccasin, aged Chief 1832

Native Americans and American History 
by Francis Flavin US National Park Service
The Plains Indians are the most prominent Indians in popular culture. Not surprisingly, there are many books on Plains Indians that demonstrate good scholarship and are accessible to a general audience. Among them are John C. Ewers’s The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains (1958); Ernest Wallace and Adamson Hoebel’s The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains (1953); and several histories on the Pawnees and Sioux written by George E. Hyde—all of which are published by the University of Oklahoma Press. Two classics that incorporate Indian points of view are Peter J. Powell’s People of the Sacred Mountain: A History of the Northern Cheyenne Chiefs and Warrior Societies, 1830-1879, with an Epilogue 1969-1974 (San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1981), and Jerome A. Greene’s edited volume, Lakota and Cheyenne: Indian Views of the Great Sioux War, 1876-1877 (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1994). Recent and accessible tribal histories include Jeffrey Ostler’s The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism from Lewis and Clark to Wounded Knee (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004); and novelist Stanley Noyes’s lively narrative of Comanche history, Los Comanches: The Horse People, 1751-1845 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993).

Another prolific and well-respected historian of the West is Robert M. Utley. Among his many works is The Indian Frontier, 1846-1890, revised ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003), which surveys of Indian-White relations on the Plains and the far West. Utley’s The Last Days of the Sioux Nation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963) examines the Ghost Dance messianic movement among the Sioux and the slaughter of approximately two hundred Ghost Dancers at Wounded Knee in 1890.

Not to be overlooked is Francis Parkman’s The California and Oregon Trail: Being Sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life (New York: George P. Putnam, 1849), a travel narrative of his trip to the Plains and his extended visit with an Oglala Sioux band. The Oregon Trail has remained a classic for over a century and a half and is still in print today. Elliot West’s The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998) is a well-written study that examines the evolving lifestyles of both Indians and Whites on the Great Plains through the mid-nineteenth century, demonstrating that conflict and competition were important forces of transformation.

John G. Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1932) is a warm, sympathetic biography of a Sioux holy man. Neihardt interviewed Black Elk and several other Sioux and, using artistic license, interpreted and rewrote the interviews. This book has been enthusiastically received and is available in at least eight different languages. Those wishing to understand Black Elk without Neihardt’s interpretation should consult Raymond J. DeMallie’s The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), a book that contains the verbatim transcripts of the Black Elk interviews along with a thoughtful, one hundred-page biographical sketch of Black Elk.

Mari Sandoz grew up in the Sand Hills of Nebraska and personally befriended many Indians in the early reservation period. Her Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1942) is a tragic, loving, almost mystical narrative about the famous Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, whom she saw as the last champion of the traditional Sioux way of life. One esteemed biographer calls it “the best American biography ever written.” Among her many other books are Cheyenne Autumn (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1953), which describes the exodus of the Northern Cheyennes from a reservation in Oklahoma to their traditional homelands on the Northern Plains, and These Were the Sioux (New York: Hastings House, 1961), a short, easy-to-read, and affectionate portrayal of pre-reservation Sioux life.