Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor
Sharing the Desert: The Tohono O’odham in History.
By Winston P. Erickson. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. 182 pages. $35.00. Buy this book.
Once known as the Papago, the Tohono O’odham of Southern Arizona have shared their parched homeland with other peoples, most notably the Apaches, Spaniards, Mexicans, and Anglo-Americans. The story of the O’odham is one of adaptability and survival. As a case in point, this tribe offered themselves as auxiliary troops to the Spaniards in the latter’s wars against the Apaches. This service not only minimized O’odham-Spanish conflict, but introduced these natives to certain rudiments of European civilization which, in turn, facilitated their ability to adjust to the subsequent incursions of Mexican and Anglo-American settlers.
The story of the O’odham is capably told by Winston Erickson. His book was commissioned as a textbook by the Tohono O’odham tribal council for use in O’odham schools, and it provides a balanced synthesis of the major forces which have shaped the contours of that native group’s history as defined by the documentary record. Erickson utilized an impressive array of published and unpublished sources for his work, including a series of oral interviews conducted during 1988. Still, the author makes no pretense that his book is a product of rigorous scholarship. The work is what it was originally conceived to be, namely, a textbook for adolescent readers. Erickson’s approach is largely narrative, and while he includes a useful “Selected Bibliography,” he does not provide source citations. Moreover, his writing style often appears choppy, and his construction of a multitude of one- and two-sentence paragraphs does little to soothe the reader’s eye. These blemishes notwithstanding, the book will serve as a good introduction to what is probably for most readers a little known chapter of Native American history.
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