Monday, October 13, 2008

Stricken Field: The Little Bighorn since 1876. By Jerome A. Greene. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, May 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-8061-3791-9, $34.95. 384 pages.
Review by Robert E. Meyer, DePaul University

In Stricken Field, author Jerome Greene faces the daunting task of producing an “administrative history” of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (as the dust jacket identifies this volume) that transcends the dull recounting of a bureaucracy implied by such a characterization. For the most part he succeeds, although not without considerable attention to the mundane. In Chapters 2 through 6, Greene dutifully chronicles developments in such matters as the electrical system, plumbing fixtures and dimensions of the caretaker’s quarters. These chapters tell the story of the battlefield from the first attempts to memorialize the site in the form of rough wooden markers where the bodies of the Seventh Cavalry troopers were found after their 1876 defeat, through the establishment of Custer Battlefield National Cemetery, under the control of the War Department until 1940, to the current administration of the site by the National Park Service.However, this workmanlike narrative is happily augmented by a wealth of fascinating tidbits, such as the fact that Gen. Philip Sheridan, who considered Custer his protégé, sent a detachment under his own brother, Lt. Col. Michael Sheridan, to the Little Bighorn in 1877 to remedy the scandalous condition of the graves dug immediately after the battle, which, due to the harsh Montana winter weather and the intervention of wild animals, no longer fully contained the corpses that had been committed to them. Also of interest are the references to participation of members of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Crow tribes at memorial observances, as in 1926 when former adversaries White Bull, a Lakota warrior, and General Edward S. Godfrey, one of Custer’s lieutenants in 1876, exchanged symbolic gifts, with White Bull receiving an American flag, and Godfrey coming away with “a prized wool blanket” (64). In this passage, Greene comments on the symbolism of the exchange, calling it a “none-too-subtle message . . . that the tribesmen, once demonstrably hostile to the government, were now acceptably subordinate to it” (64).Each of the last four chapters of the book contains its own separate chronology. Chapter 7, “National Park Service Interpretation” sets up the struggle to control the meaning of the memorial, with those favoring a celebration of American military exploits and sacrifice (and glorification of Custer) eventually giving way to a broader view. Chapter 8, “Research and Collections,” tells of how the collection of artifacts and documents at the Little Bighorn grew, while Chapter 9, “Support and Interest Groups,” deals primarily with the history of the Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association (CBHMA). Disputes between this group and the National Park Service reflect the conflicts associated with reassessment of the battle, as the CBHMA opposed the appointment first of Barbara Booher and then Gerard Baker, both Native Americans, to the position of superintendent, and objected to the sale of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (subtitled “An Indian History of the American West”) at the park’s bookstore.Throughout these sections, as in the book as a whole, Greene, a former Research Historian for the National Park Service, handles his material objectively and expertly. Extensive endnotes serve as evidence that Greene has studied not only the voluminous published literature, but has pored over letters, memos and other documents to piece together the fabric of his narrative. Occasionally, however, definitions of technical terms with which historians and archivists are no doubt familiar (e.g., “accession” and “interpretation”) are either delayed or completely omitted, leaving the uninitiated reader to grope for meaning.The emotional peak of this book—and it is a tribute to both to the material itself and to Greene’s treatment of it that such a phrase is appropriate—occurs in Chapter 10, “Indian Memorial,” with the account of the movement to have the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne dead honored at the Little Bighorn site, an effort which came to fruition with the dedication of a new memorial in 2003. Greene points out that, in 1925, a letter from Mrs. Thomas Beaverheart of the Northern Cheyenne requesting “that a marker be placed on the battlefield to indicate the spot where her father, Lame White Man, had fallen in battle” (170) received no response from the superintendent. Since this was during the period when the site was administered by the War Department, it is not surprising that attempts to honor those who defeated a regiment of the U.S. Army were unwelcome. Greene notes that, after the site came under the administration of the National Park Service, this “military perspective” (227) remained unchanged, at least to begin with, partly because the superintendent from 1941-1956, Edward S. Luce, was a former member of the Seventh Cavalry. Things changed gradually as members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), most prominently Russell Means, prodded (sometimes harshly) the white establishment to a more inclusive vision. One important adjustment involved changing the name of the site from Custer Battlefield National Monument, a name that was offensive to those Native Americans who had pushed, in 1972, for a plaque honoring warriors who “opposed the hostile aggression of the United States government” (227), to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, its current name. As he does throughout this book, Greene explains the conflicting motivations of the interested parties in dispassionate terms. He departs from this measured approach only in the last paragraph of Chapter 10 when he offers the following opinion: “In the final analysis, the Indian Memorial is in the correct place at the correct time” (238).The Lakota and Cheyenne won the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but lost the larger conflict of which it was a part. At the time, their victory was seen as an abomination, their defeat as the justified subjugation of a savage and anachronistic way of life. In the broadest sense, this volume serves as a reminder that it is necessary, though painful, to look at events of the past through a series of new lenses, and to recognize that the truths we embrace are sometimes honored at the expense of other, equally valuable truths.
The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory: Nimiipuu Survival. By J. Diane Pearson. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, June 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-1-59213-870-8, $34.95. 383 pages.
Review by Bradley Montgomery-Anderson, Northeastern State University, Oklahoma

The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory is an absorbing account of a period when the Federal government used relocation to Indian Territory as a means of punishment for what it viewed as recalcitrant tribes. Following their 1877 defeat in Montana, Chief Joseph’s followers were relocated to a small reservation in the north central portion of the Indian Territory. Author J. Diane Pearson fills a significant gap in their story; the previous literature on this tribe focuses on the war and the attempted flight to Canada. Pearson’s substitution of the designation “Nez Perce” with the group’s self-designation, Nimiipuu, indicates the indigenous perspective she presents. The Nimiipuu survive a harrowing seven-year ordeal that includes an eight-month stay at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and an initial attempt at relocation at the Quapaw agency in the northeastern corner of the Territory. After ten months of substandard living conditions and bureaucratic incompetence, the Nimiipuu were finally settled near present-day Ponca City, Oklahoma, on what was intended to be their reservation. Pearson deftly traces the journey and paints an intimate portrait of the Nimiipuu as they tried to adjust to a new way of life while at the same time steadfastly refusing to give up hope of returning home. What makes her account of this experience especially remarkable is her presentation of the variety of attitudes toward the prisoners and their plight. At many stages of their journey the prisoners were treated as celebrities: a circus-like atmosphere prevailed as spectators hunted for souvenirs, gawked at ceremonials, and constantly sought to meet with Chief Joseph. Throughout the work, Pearson emphasizes Chief Joseph’s diplomatic attempts to improve his people’s living conditions, as well as his persistent efforts to leave the Territory.Such persistence was necessary as the Department of the Interior and the Army argued over expenses, and inept bureaucrats failed to supply adequate provisions. Pearson’s depiction of the Nimiipuu’s journey to and experience on the Indian Territory reservation reveals an intriguing cross-section of late nineteenth-century attitudes towards Native Americans. Throughout the text she provides local newspapers’ reactions to the presence of the detainees, as well as accounts of groups that are sympathetic to their cause. Pearson does an excellent job of using such sources to portray the social and economic complexity of the world into which the Federal government had thrust the Nimiipuu. For example, she makes an insightful comparison between the experience in northeastern Indian Territory and at the Oakland sub-agency in north central Indian Territory where they spend the greater part of their exile. The local population at their would-be reservation was “more progressive than eastern Kansas and Southern Missouri, and people were more accepting of American Indians’ participation in economic and social structures” (171).Pearson is at her best when she portrays the Nimiipuu’s adaption to the complex lifeways, both economical and cultural, of the Kansas-Indian Territory border region. It is fascinating to read about the economic and social interactions with the border town of Arkansas City, Kansas, as well as the experience of the Indian students at nearby Chilocco Indian Industrial School. Pearson devotes a chapter to the topic of Indian schools and discusses the experiences of Nimiipuu students at the local school as well as at the more famous Carlisle school in Pennsylvania. Another chapter explores the role of religious communities during the exile. This is an important topic, as the religious groups played an essential role in the Nimiipuu return to the northwest. An initial group of widows and orphans returned in 1882 when an Idaho Presbyterian church voted to accept them into their community. In the end it was a memorandum submitted by Kansas Presbyterians that gained the attention of Congress, and in 1885 the Nimiipuu left the Oakland agency and returned home.The name “Oakland,” the focus of so much activity in the book, is no longer found on modern maps of Oklahoma; the reader’s ability to grasp the role of such places in the detainees’ relocation is limited by the book’s lack of maps. The only map in the entire book is a large-scale map showing the prisoners’ journey to and return from the Indian Territory. While the focus of the book is the Nimiipuu experience, the reader could better understand this experience if it were presented in a broader national context. For example, the Meeker Massacre of 1879 and subsequent relocation of the Colorado Utes receive no mention; it would be enlightening to have an occasional glimpse of how such incidents impacted, either positively or negatively, the public’s view towards the plight of the Nimiipuu as well as their effect on Federal policy. The book ends somewhat abruptly with a brief description of the remainder of Chief Joseph’s life. The Nimiipuu were resettled in two different areas, with religious affiliation being the prime determiner of who went where. The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory would be improved by a short epilogue that briefly shows how these communities fared and what contacts were maintained between them. In her foreword, Patricia Penn Hilden alludes to the Oklahoma Nez Perces—those Nimiipuu who married other Indians and stayed in the Territory—but no mention is made of the continued survival of this part of the Nimiipuu community. These limitations, however, do not seriously detract from the book; its central goal is achieved. Pearson’s portrayal of how the tribe maintained its identity and culture through a catastrophic and poorly-organized relocation admirably succeeds in making an important contribution to the literature on the Nimiipuu experience.
Art from Fort Marion: The Silberman Collection. Joyce M. Szabo. With foreword by Steven L. Grafe. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, March 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-8061-3883-1, $49.95. 197 pages.
Review by Emily E. Auger, Ph. D.

Joyce M. Szabo is an established scholar who has published several books on the art of the indigenous peoples of the American southwest, including Howling Wolf and the History of Ledger Art (1994). This earlier book takes a fresh view of the subject of Karen Daniels Petersen's Howling Wolf: A Cheyenne Warrior's Graphic Interpretation of His People (1968). Szabo's latest book rediscovers the subject of Peterson's Plains Indian Art from Fort Marion (1971), that of the art produced by Native Americans who were taken from their homelands and traditional way of life on the plains in the 1870s and incarcerated at Fort Marion for several years prior to being released to a quite different way of life on the reservations designated for them. Whereas Peterson's Plains Indian Art from Fort Marion has only eight color and fifty-eight black and white plates, Szabo's Art from Fort Marion: The Silberman Collection is distinguished by having almost all of its 128 plates showing drawings, photographs, and other objects in either color or sepia. But whereas Peterson addresses eleven major and fifteen minor artists and includes a pictographic dictionary showing the stylized ways in which Fort Marion artists represented headdresses, men, women, hairstyles, tribal affiliations, and so forth, Szabo includes only seven artists, all of whom were previously discussed by Petersen. Five are Cheyenne: Bear's Heart, Cohoe, Howling Wolf, Making Medicine, and Squint Eyes; and two, Kiowa: Zotom and Etahdleuh. These differences are in part the product of Petersen's attention to art at Fort Marion as a general subject and Szabo's more specific focus on selected materials from the Silberman collection.Arthur and Shifra Silberman began collecting Native American art long after Arthur left Europe in 1941 to make Oklahoma his permanent home. The couple became interested in and began purchasing Native American art; then, in 1975, they founded the Native American Painting Reference Library in Oklahoma City and contributed their collection of paintings to it. In 1995, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum purchased this Reference Library, which was soon followed by the Silberman's art and archival material, thus considerably expanding the Museum's previous emphasis on cowboys and ranchers to include the American Indian. In 1997, the Silberman Gallery opened at the Museum with rotating displays of American Indian art drawn from the collection of over 2,500 paintings, prints, drawings, and other objects, including 88 drawings, a vase, a fan, and a shield which were among the many works produced by Native Americans held at Fort Marion as prisoners between 1875 and 1878. All of these Fort Marion works are illustrated in Szabo's book, thus furthering the already positive influence the Silbermans have had in terms of expanding the already familiar visual history of cowboys and ranchers in the west.
Although the text is slightly vague on this point, all of the Silberman collection's Fort Marion works were evidently purchased during or after the 1960s and 1970s when Native art had gained a certain market credibility, and collections and individual pieces gathered by others were occasionally to be found at auction. The adoption of such western forms as the easel painting and perspective systems by Native artists at the Santa Fe Indian School had furthered public acceptance of their work in the Southwest earlier in the century, as did the publications of Dorothy Dunn, and later, those of Karen Daniels Petersen. The support provided by these and other individuals, organizations, and institutions tended, however, to discourage images showing anything other than a romanticized "traditional" Native way of life; this preference has had a stultifying effect on the Native art of many regions in North America. The Silbermans' interest was not, fortunately, so limited; thus the most important features of the present volume include, like the collection it represents, not only its many images of the formerly traditional ways of hunting, camping, and courting, but its many images showing signs of the Americanized West, such as trains, ships, right-angled architecture, the American flag, and soldiers in uniform, not to mention the Indian warriors on horseback carrying umbrellas, from the point of the view of the Fort Marion prisoners. More unique items illustrated and discussed by Szabo include the fan painted by Howling Wolf, the vase painted by Bear's Heart, and the shield painted by an unidentified artist. The point in the text where these items appear as the sole exemplars of their respective types is one at which the reader may be frustrated by the limits, while remaining appreciative of the benefits, of a study defined by a particular collection: could there not have been at least two or three fans? At least two painted ceramics? And how can there possibly be only one shield! Szabo, however, provides at least some interpretive and stylistic analysis for many of the images and all of the artists, and while her study cannot serve as a comprehensive art history of the area or the period due to the limitations of the collection on which it is based, it contributes to that larger objective through its attention to the art produced at Fort Marion as part of a vital and ongoing visual tradition that did not immediately lapse into the past tense with the arrival of Euro-Americans, nor even with the incarceration of the men who were to become, as Szabo shows, the artists whose works are among those most truly representative of this particular period in American history.