Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Summer 2008


Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 3, Summer 2008, pp. 242-43.


Copyright 2008 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Jonathan Lear's Racial Hope is a most remarkable, engaging, and thought-provoking interpretation of one man's account of the collapse of his culture, as well as the hope he offers for a future for his people. Based on the life story of Plenty Coups (as recorded by Frank Linderman during the late 1920s), Lear considers two equally profound images offered by this Crow elder, one eng rained in the statement, "after this nothing happened," referring to what happened after being placed on a reservation, and the other in the medicine dreams of Plenty Coups in which the destruction of the Indian people is foretold for all but those who follow the example of the Chickadee, listening and learning from the mistakes of others. Plenty Coups thus provides the Crow with what Lear calls a "radical hope" for renewal that survives their destruction, though in a form of survival that could not be anticipated at the time.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Plenty Coups and the Crow indeed experienced seemingly overwhelming forces that sought a complete annihilation of their way of life. Lear identifies two pivotal Crow cultural expressions, the planting of the coup stick during battle and buffalo hunting, the elimination of which led to the collapse of all that was meaningful for the Crow. Lear frames the particular challenge of Plenty Coups and the Crow within the larger human context, asking how would any of us react in the face of a complete collapse of our culture? What are the possibilities for hope?