Early Anthropology on the Southwest-Great Basin Frontier: The 1883 Fieldwork of Herman Ten Kate

By Hovens, Pieter; Herlaar, Jiska | Journal of the Southwest, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

Early Anthropology on the Southwest-Great Basin Frontier: The 1883 Fieldwork of Herman Ten Kate


Hovens, Pieter, Herlaar, Jiska, Journal of the Southwest


In the United States the first courses in anthropology were taught at the University of Rochester (1879), the University at Lewisburg (now Bucknell University, 1882), and the University of Vermont (1885; Tooker 1990). Anthropologists and historians of science generally agree, however, that the history of anthropology did not begin with the formal recognition of the discipline in the academic curriculum (Hallowell 1965). Two previous stages of the development of the discipline in North America are usually distinguished: (a) the period of first exploration, trade, and missions, and (b) the period of surveys, early reservations, scientific expeditions, and research by nonspecialists.

Tracing the history of anthropological research in the Great Basin, Don D. Fowler (1986) points out the ethnographic importance of the reports of eighteenth-century Spanish missionaries and early nineteenth-century fur traders. The road and railroad surveys since the 1850s and the federally sponsored geographical surveys of the 1870s produced the next important documentary accounts of tribal cultures. Reports of Indian agents contained additional data of ethnographic importance. John Wesley Powell was the first nonspecialist to conduct explicit ethnographic fieldwork in the Great Basin while heading the U.S. Geographical and Topographical Survey of the Colorado River of the West (1870-1873). While doing research on the Ghost Dance, James Mooney paid a short visit to Wovoka in 1892. In his review of the history of studies of the Southern Paiutes, Robert C. Euler (1966) presented a similar overview of a native group from the southwestern part of the Great Basin.

According to Fowler, the earliest research in the Great Basin culture area by academically trained anthropological specialists took place in the first decade of the twentieth century, when Alfred L. Kroeber and Robert H. Lowie did ethnographic fieldwork among the Northern Utes and Northern Shoshones, respectively. In their article on the Southern Paiutes for the Great Basin volume of the Smithsonian Institution's new Handbook of North American Indians, Isabel T. Kelly and Catherine S. Fowler (1986) list Edward Sapir and Robert H. Lowie as the first academically trained anthropologists to conduct fieldwork among Southern Paiute bands. Their research took place in the second decade of the twentieth century. According to Callaway, Janetski, and Stewart (1986: 367), the earliest anthropological fieldwork among the Southern Utes was conducted during the 1930s by Omer C. Stewart and Marvin K. Opler.

The Fowlers, Kelly, Euler, and Callaway and colleagues are apparently not familiar with the Dutch zoologist, physician, and anthropologist Herman Frederik Card ten Kate or the pioneering fieldwork he carried out in the Southwest in 1882-1883, and in the Southwest-Great Basin native cultural frontier among the Chemehuevis, Las Vegas Paiutes, and Southern Utes in 1883. This is not surprising as Ten Kate published his travel and research narrative in the Netherlands, in Dutch, and most of his scientific data appeared in Dutch and French academic journals, written in the languages of those respective countries. This article is meant to recover a forgotten episode in the history of anthropology in the Great Basin. By reporting the research findings of Ten Kate and considering them in the light of present knowledge, it may also contribute to our ethnographic knowledge of the culture of these Indian peoples of the southern Great Basin culture area and their process of adaptation to their new sociocultural environment after conquest and forced settlement on reservations. Furthermore, it directs attention to European museums that curate ethnographic collections from native North America and makes available information on the collection at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, the Netherlands. Finally, it introduces a wider professional and general audience to the pioneering research of Herman ten Kate, who may be regarded as the first professionally trained anthropologist doing fieldwork in the Greater Southwest (Hovens, Orr, and Hieb 2004). …

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