Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Summer 1998


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 18, No. 3, Summer 1998, pp. 278.


Copyright 1998 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Twelve chapters form a collection of essays mainly about northern Great Plains tribal cultures and experiences with non-Indians in the past. The omission of a summary essay at the end indicates an absence of unifying themes. Topics related to tribal relations include the clothing of women, women's roles in intertribal wars, the creation of maps by tribal soldiers, and the goals of inter-tribal warfare. Subjects pertaining to Indian-white relations include reciprocal ethnic images, symbols of chief-making by outsiders, reasons for tribal participation in the fur trade, and consequences of disease epidemics.

All chapters originally appeared elsewhere, but their publication under one cover commemorates their author's extraordinary career. A graduate of Dartmouth College who trained under Clark Wissler in the era of salvage anthropology soon became a pioneering specialist in the history of Indian-white relations. Defining accomplishments included the transformation of notes by trader Edwin Thompson Denig into Five Indian Tribes of the Upper Missouri (1961) and a gathering of Ewers's own essays, Indian Life on the Upper Missouri (1968). The one gave expression to Indian-white relations, the other to Great Plains anthropology. The nebulous term "ethnohistory" seemed inadequate to identify John Ewers. With professional acumen, he used the strategies and methods of both history and anthropology as subject matter required. In either instance, colleagues recognized the integrity of his work. For the Foreword to Ewers's 1997 volume, William T. Hagan writes: "Ewers does not drift with the prevailing winds" of academia, "but hews to the course that his research opens to him." This quality is evident in his 1997 volume, which Ewers properly presents as a sequel to Indian Life on the Upper Missouri. It demonstrates his capacity to write about tribal life or the history of Indian-white relations in a style that has made each of his publications an exemplary expression of scholarship as well as appealing recreational reading.

Plains Indian History and Culture should be treated as an automatic purchase for every library that gathers documents and literature about Native American history. Yet it also ought to be perceived as an appealing anthology by any scholar or lay person with a shelf reserved for publications about intercultural affairs. Librarians and general readers alike ought to regard it as an essential acquisition.