The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1981, Volume 27, Number 2

Book Review

Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

The Shoshoni Indians of Inyo County: The Kerr Manuscript. Edited, annotated, and with introductory preface by Charles N. Irwin. Ballena Press Publications in Archaeology, Ethnology, and History, No. 15, 1980. Bibliography. Illustrations. 92 pages. $6.95.

Reviewed by Stephen A. Colston, Director, San Diego History Research Center, San Diego State University.

Mark Kerr (1883-1950) immigrated to the United States from his native Ireland and, after serving with the American Expeditionary Forces during the First World War, settled in Independence (Inyo County), California, where he remained for the greater part of his life. He developed interests in the floral, faunal, and cultural resources of the region, and between 1931 and 1934 served as the first curator of the Eastern California Museum. In 1936, Kerr collected ethnographic data on local Paiute and Shoshoni Indians. His notes on the Shoshonis of southern Inyo County, compiled with the collaboration of a local Shoshoni resident, were derived principally from the recollections of two informants, brothers born in 1860 and 1875, although some information was acquired from older memoirists. Shortly after its completion, the manuscript was deposited with the Eastern California Museum and has now been edited by the Museum’s present director.

The editor has written a succinct introduction overviewing the Shoshonis’ settlement patterns, marriage customs, and economic political life. The edited volume, following the structure of Kerr’s manuscript, examines respectively plant collecting and hunting, ritual, politics and war, folklore, and folkhistory; the editor has added a list of some one hundred and fifty Shoshoni words by way of comparing the Indians’ vocabulary as recorded in the Kerr Manuscript with current usage. The monograph is particularly valuable for its treatment of ethnobotany, hunting, dancing, intergroup conflicts, folklore, and the Indians’ earliest contacts with the white man. Photographs from the original manuscript have been reproduced which, together with those included by the editor, effectively complement the text. Readers will find the utility of the original manuscript greatly enhanced by an abundance of notes which were based on published sources, microfilmed records, and the editor’s field work.

The richly textured narratives of Kerr’s raconteurs provide keen insights into an indigenous culture that has been all too neglected by contemporary scholars. This well-edited work is a suitable companion volume to the pioneering studies on California’s Paiutes compiled by Julian Steward in the 1930s, and is in its own right an important contribution to the ethnographic and ethnohistorical literature of the Golden State.