SCHOLARS, WRITERS, AND PROFESSIONALS: AMERICAN INDIAN LIVES, Jonathon W. Bolton and Claire M. Wilson; Facts on File, Inc., 460 Park Avenue South, N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 322- 8755, FAX: (212) 213-4578. Illustrated with black and white photos, , index, selected annotated bibliography. 1994, 146 pp., $17.95 hardcover. 0-8160-2896-6.
This is the most successful and interesting of the FoF Indian Lives series, most likely because of the nature of its subjects: scholars, writers, professionals, all had a good deal to say of their own life histories during them, and most left substnatial bodies of written work for biographers to draw upon. The result is more fully 3-dimensional life portraits with interesting angles and shadows on these creative, hard-working, but ultimately often frustrating lives. The frustration usually didn't come from non-recognition of their considerable talents. It arose from the fact that almost all the 19th-century intellectuals were committed to using their talents and educations to help their people, who were suffering great hardship, loss of land, and personal devastations, and for the most part, in spite of great efforts, the ameliorations they could help to provide were not much. Corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs is noteworthy in most of the chapters, and opposition of the BIA to the efforts of these Native reformers was usually constant.
Chapter contents: Squoyah (George Guess): Inventory of the Cherokee syllabary (alphabet), 1760-1843; John Rollin Ridge: Cherokee Poet, novelist, historian, journalist;l Sarah Winnemucca: Paiute educator, writer, interpreter, and activist (1844-91); Soaring Arrows: The LaFlesche family (Omaha) -- Susette (activist, 1854-1902); Francis (Ethnologist, 1857-1932); Susan (physician, 1865-1915); Charles A. Eastman (Ohiyesa): Santee Dakota physician and writer, 1858-1939; Alexander Posey: Creek Poet and journalist, 1873-1908; Native American Ethnologists: Caretakers of culture (James R. Murie, Pawnee; Jesse Cornplanter, Seneca; John Joseph Mathews, Osage); N. Scott Momaday: Kowa author and poet, 1934- ; Companions Through Every Page: Michael Dorris (Modoc, 1945-) and Louise Erdrich (Chippewa, 1954 - ).
Neither of thehusband-and-wife team authors appear particularly well-qualified to write this book, one having a background in marketing and English, the other in anthropology and neither with any substantial writing experience. So it must be a combination of real love and interest in the subject and the fact that the subjects themselves left such substantial writings and traces of their own lives that has resulted in such an interesting and readable book (in comparison to the others of these series, all of which ar wooden and lifeless by comparison).
I do object to one misleading distortion of fact. The chapter on Cherokee John Rollin Ridge starts out with a horrible description of murders of his family by brutees in the night. In fact this was a nationally-sanctioned execution squad. Th Ridges had made themselves secure and very, vry rich in Oklahoma by sigining -- in defiance of their National government -- the land cession treaties for Cherokee land. They did not go on the Trail of Tears Death march, they were in Oklahoma years ahead, with the best land claimed and farmed, and the money they got from the sellout. Ridge actually lived most of his life as a white man in California, and his undisgintuished, untalented writings were not done for his people, but for money. Here's a sample of his poetry:
Let all mankind rejoice! for time nor space Shall check the progress of the human race! Though Nature heaved the Contienets apart, She cast in one great mould the hman heart.
Ridge played a substantial part in a post-civil war betrayal, too. He strongly supportd partitioning of the Cherokee Nation, It was his argument that if this wasn't done the followers of John Ross would be too strong in the united nation -- what was left of it. He used the story of the executions of the traitors from the Treaty Party as propaganda. Just as in this book, he prsented them in lobbying activities as fearsome murdering savages out in the night after civilized, nearly-white (rich) law-abiding folks like himself. The authors' main failure here is that they apparently read only materials from this rich, slave-keepingl sell-out faction, the elite who catered to the invaders and mediated for them and served white interests against those of Cherokee (except for themselves of course) in any ways they could. As a literary figure or scholar, this is a rich playboy with no talent, looking out for No. 1, in contrast to everyone else in the book. Oh, well, it's a type still too much to be found around Indian Country today, but it is as well to identify and correctly characterize this 19th century specimen of opportunist for what he actually was.
That dude aside, the rest of the book is fascinating and accurate, because much of the info comes from the subjects and their work. Presumably that's also the reason Ridge comes out shining instead of covered with the darker, smellier substance his actual historical role and absence of any real talent fits him for. It's his own view of himself the authors relied on. He thought he was Great, of course, that type always does. Reviewed by Paula Giese
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Last Updated: Friday, April 19, 1996 - 5:56:30 AM