The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 2003, Volume 49, Number 2
Gregg Hennessey, Editor

Book Review

Matthew F. Bokovoy, Book Review Editor

American Indian Intellectuals of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries.

By Margot Liberty, ed. 2nd Edition. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002 [1978]. Notes. xii + 288 pp. $19.95. Paper.

Reviewed by Dr. Mark van de Logt, American Indian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University.

This collection of biographies of American Indian intellectuals first appeared in 1978. Based on papers delivered at the 1976 meeting of the American Ethnological Society, the essays here mainly focus on intellectuals who contributed to the fields of anthropology and history. Although these Indian intellectuals came from different historical periods, tribal backgrounds, and held very different views of the world surrounding them, they shared the same sense of urgency and purpose: whether as writers or informants to anthropologists, they all struggled to record and preserve a way of life that appeared to be vanishing rapidly.

The book includes biographical sketches of Ely S. Parker (Seneca, 1828-1895), Sarah Winnemucca (Northern Paiute, 1844-1891), Francis LaFlesche (Omaha, 1857-1932), Charles Eastman (Santee Sioux, 1858-1939), James Murie (Pawnee, 1862-1921), George Bushotter (Lakota, 1864-1892), Emmett Starr (Cherokee, 1870-1930), Richard Sanderville (Blackfoot, 1873-1951), Arthur C. Parker (Seneca, 1881-1955), William Beynon (Tsimshian, 1888-1958), Alexander General (Cayuga-Oneida, 1889-1965), Jesse Cornplanter (Seneca, 1889-1957), Sylvester Long (Catwaba-Cherokee and adopted Blackfoot, 1891-1932), John Joseph Matthews (Osage, 1894-1979), Flora Zuni (Zuni, 1897-1983), and Bill Shakespeare (Northern Arapaho, 1901-1975). As this list indicates, the Iroquois and Plains tribes are well-represented here. The essays are arranged chronologically.

With few exceptions, these intellectuals found themselves caught between Indian and white worlds. They struggled to find their place in American society. Sylvester Long and Ely S. Parker perhaps best illustrate this struggle. Long’s ancestry included Indian and African-American marriages. To escape the dilemma of his mixed-blood heritage, Long adopted different (often fictional) identities. He even embarked on an acting career in Hollywood which allowed him to play different characters and personalities. His autobiography is a confusing mixture of fact and fiction. But not even his self-created identity could comfort him and in 1932 he committed suicide. Ely S. Parker’s life was only slightly less tumultuous. Reared in a “traditional” Seneca household but educated in white schools, Parker embarked on a career that eventually led to his appointment as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. As commissioner, he advocated a number of assimilationist policies. But towards the end of his life, he felt increasingly disconnected from his tribal heritage. “I have lost my identity,” Parker wrote, “and I look about me in vain for my original being.”(31)

Many of the intellectuals shared the dilemma that Long and Parker faced. To maintain a connection with their tribal heritage, they became involved in salvaging what they could of the history and culture of their people. Some, including Ely Parker, Sarah Winnemucca, Jesse Cornplanter, Bill Shakespeare, and Flora Zuni, assisted anthropologists and other scholars as informants. Others, such as Francis LaFlesche, Emmett Starr, Charles Eastman, and John Joseph Matthews, published their own books. Still others such as James Murie, William Beynon, and George Bushotter, wrote extensively on the culture of their people, but until recently their work remained unpublished.

Despite their contributions, each of these scholars faced a whole array of problems. Francis LaFlesche, arguably the greatest of native anthropologists, was criticized by many members of his community for “squandering” away Omaha ceremonial secrets. Bill Shakespeare and Flora Zuni faced similar accusations from their communities as well. Until recently, scholars ignored the works of George Bushotter and William Beynon. James Murie left an impressive body of work but never received the financial or the scholarly credit he deserved. In fact, George Dorsey and Ralph Linton repeatedly exploited Murie’s work without crediting him as the source of their information.

Although the quality of these biographical sketches certainly warranted a second edition, some of the earlier criticisms have not been addressed in this new edition. First and foremost is the fact that the Plains and Iroquois are over-represented when compared to other culture areas. Furthermore, some of the biographical data could have been updated, especially since more work has appeared on a number intellectuals discussed here. Finally, this new edition could have benefited greatly if it had included new biographical sketches of other American Indian intellectuals as well. Why not include biographies of intellectuals of the late 20th century? Despite these missed opportunities, this is still a valuable and useful book that has not lost its relevance since it was first published in 1978.