Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2009


Published in Great Plains Research 19.2 (Fall 2009): 253.


Copyright 2009 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Used by permission.


Prior to resettlement and assimilation, Plains Apaches had sophisticated knowledge of the plants that sustained their way of life in the Great Plains. This book by Julia A. Jordan is the only extensive work that documents Plains Apache ethnobotanical knowledge. Jordan’s research relies on interviews with six elders who experienced traditional plant use during a time of cultural transition from the 1890s to the 1960s. The book is divided into two parts, with the first part focused on methods, history, and plant conceptualization, the second on plant names, descriptions, and cultural use. The data collected from these elders represent an important body of knowledge that is rapidly disappearing.

In her opening paragraphs, Jordan explains that we must understand history, culture, and environment to understand ethnobotanical knowledge fully. This is certainly true for the Plains Apaches. For hundreds of years they were nomadic hunters and gatherers who relied heavily on bison for food, shelter, clothing, and tools. As a result, they cultivated no crops, had no tradition of basketry or textiles, and primarily used wild plants for ritual, fuel, shelter, diet, and health. Introduction of horses and guns, loss of bison herds, and resettlement radically changed their way of life and traditional knowledge base, forcing them to rely more heavily on the plants of Oklahoma in the late 19th century and beyond.