Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 6:4 (Fall 1986). Copyright © 1986 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


In The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians, Prucha provides a capstone to the edifice he began with American Indian Policy in the Formative Years. During his life as a scholar (principally at Marquette University) and as a Jesuit (he was ordained in 1957), he has remained unflappably calm, even when, as in the 1960s, radical students were outraged at his apparent defense of Andrew Jackson. In 1302 pages of this two-volume work (and 426 pages of the abridged edition) there is lacking "sparkle and simplicity." The lack of "sparkle" in Prucha's work derives not only from his dispassionate and comprehensive approach to the subject, but from the fact that he is dealing not with Indian communities as such but with federal Indian policy. The Indian is rarely glimpsed through the thicket of congressional hearings, bureaucratic directives, and judicial interpretations. Because of prevalent ~isunderstanding of this fact Prucha feels compelled in his preface to make it explicit and at the same time to justify his approach on the grounds that "the policies and programs of the United States have had a determining influence on the history of the Indian tribes" (p. xxix). Indeed, Prucha goes so far as to assert that "no history of a tribe can be understood without a detailed consideration of treaties, land cessions, the reservation system, and Indian educational programs, for example, which formed the substance of government policy and action" (p. xxix).