Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Winter 1981


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1981, pp. 67-68.


Copyright 1981 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Martha Royce Blaine, director of the Indian Archives Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society, here traces the history and culture of the Ioway Indians from the end of the prehistoric period to contemporary times. Her book will be welcomed by both laypersons and scholars interested in the significant role of this Native American group in the history of the prairies and plains.

Blaine's comprehensive and sensitive perspective draws upon evidence from several disciplines and links the identities of living people with perceptions of the past as understood from the oral traditions handed down by Native Americans, the historic documents penned by Euro-Americans, and the artefactual residues buried and selectively preserved in the ground. In her words: "There is a long, long path, reaching back many centuries, made by those who wrote by their lives the words of this book. Some, but not many, are here now. Others lie at rest near the Upper Iowa, the Chariton, the Grand, the Des Moines, the Little Platte, the Great Nemaha, and the Deep Fork rivers" (p. xiii).

Initially the Ioway of the seventeenth century are identified by ethnohistoric and archaeological data as dwelling in the prairies of the upper Mississippi River valley. From this region, centering in the present state of Iowa, which took its name from this group of Chiwere Siouan speakers, the Ioway were forced southwestward into the eastern plains and onto reservations in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. After the Dawes Act of 1887, many Ioway remained there on individual allotments. Some of these Ioway and their descendants provided Blaine with valuable insights into the 67 continuum of their culture in the twentieth century.

Blaine's discussion of the correlation of certain Oneota archaeological manifestations with the late-seventeenth-century Ioway leans heavily, and appropriately, on the writings of Mildred Mott Wedel and Dale R. Henning. Nonarchaeologists may find the inconsistent use of several sets of taxonomic labels confusing as they read the text and delve into the rather lengthy footnotes. On one hand the reader is presented with the "Orr Focus," a concept derived from the Midwestern Taxonomic System, which technically deals only with the dimension of form but neither time nor space. On the other hand the text refers to the "Orr Phase," a concept derived from the Willey-Phillips System, which manipulates the three dimensions concurrently. Both of these units are considered parts of the Oneota "culture," a term essentially understood by laypersons even though its usage is continuously debated by professional anthropologists. These taxonomic controversies are significant for specialists in the discipline, but in a book aimed primarily at a general audience nontechnical terms should be used consistently in the text. The technical controversy should be treated succinctly in the discussion or relegated entirely to the footnotes. Beyond this, however, Blaine's reconstruction of cultural patterns from the archaeological evidence is generally successful and provides a basis for looking at continuities with the Ioway of the late eighteenth century and beyond.

Next Blaine draws upon French, British, Spanish, and American documents as she outlines the course of the Ioway through the scenes of changing colonial powers. The nineteenth- century Ioway are treated in several extensive chapters based on details from a wide variety of sources including explorers and artists (Lewis and Clark, McKenney and Hall, Catlin), missionaries (Samuel Irvin, William Hamilton), and anthropologists (L. H. Morgan, Alanson Skinner). Readers will appreciate the abundant citations of primary sources.

The path of the Ioway into the twentieth century, unfortunately, is limited to a few stepping-stones. One suspects, on the basis of several photographs and a few statements quoted from informants, that the author has much more information to share concerning the road being traveled by people who still identify as Ioway. A fuller discussion of the contemporary scene is important, as Blaine perceptively recognizes, since the cultural continuities and individual identifications involved cannot be spoken of solely in the past tense.