Plains Indian History and Culture: Essays on Continuity and Change. – Review – book reviews
Paul H. Carlson
Plains Indian History and Culture: Essays on Continuity and Change. By John C. Ewers. Foreword by William T. Hagan. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997. Pp. xxiii, 272. $29.95.)
The late John C. Ewers produced several books and many articles on American Indian history, especially the Plains Indians. He wrote or edited tribal histories and produced books on sculpture, painting, religion, horses, biography, and Indian life in general. In recent years, most of his published work was in the form of articles in professional journals, but he kept a large file of speeches, including after-dinner talks, which he presented at various functions in both Canada and the United States. Some of these have been published.
In 1968 the University of Oklahoma Press printed, in book form, several articles that Ewers had published elsewhere. Now, nearly 30 years later, that press has published an additional set of 12 articles. The essays represent an eclectic selection of articles that date from 1970 and deal with the history and culture of the Plains Indians. They also represent an ethnohistorical approach to Native American studies–one that combines the best of anthropology and history. Ewers was a careful recorder of Indian life, as these articles demonstrate.
The subtitle of the collection represents the general theme of the larger work. Plains Indian societies have changed from the prevailing a century ago. Ways of making a living have changed; religion has changed; the ethnic mix has changed; and paths to position and status have changed. But, much has also remained the same; for example, people of the plains retain many older traditions, myths, folklore, music and dance, and art forms. Thus, while there is change, there is also continuity in Plains Indian history and culture.
The 12 articles–or chapters–cover such topics as the fur trade, disease epidemics, women’s dress and clothing, women’s roles in warfare, folk art, use of artifacts to study American Indians of the plains, and others. One of the most interesting articles, entitled “The White Man’s Strongest Medicine,” treats the Euro-American ability to write, draw, and thus record for posterity Plains Indians’ social, cultural, and economic activities and life-ways in general. Ewers notes that Indian people themselves referred to the writing skills as great medicine.
Although articles from the early 1970s might be a bit dated, the book, in its entirety, is interesting, informative, and useful. It includes many maps, drawings, and photographs that add to the attractiveness of the volume.
Paul H. Carlson
Texas Tech University
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