Voices of the American West: The Indian Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919 - Vol. 1

Voices of the American West: The Indian Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919 - Vol. 1

Voices of the American West: The Indian Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919 - Vol. 1

Voices of the American West: The Indian Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919 - Vol. 1


The valuable interviews conducted by Nebraska judge Eli S. Ricker with Indian eyewitnesses to the Wounded Knee massacre, the Little Big Horn battle, the Grattan incident, and other events and personages of the Old West are finally made widely available in this long-awaited volume. In the first decade of the twentieth century, as the Old West became increasingly distant and romanticized in popular consciousness, Eli S. Ricker (1843-1926) began interviewing those who had experienced it firsthand, hoping to write a multi-volume series about its last days. Among the many individuals he interviewed were American Indians, mostly Sioux, who spoke extensively about a range of subjects, some with the help of an interpreter. For years Ricker traveled across the northern Plains, determinedly gathering information on and off reservations, in winter and in summer. Judge Ricker never wrote his book, but his interviews are priceless sources of information about the Old West that offer more balanced perspectives on events than were accepted at the time. Richard E. Jensen brings together all of Ricker's interviews with American Indians, annotating the conversations and offering an extensive introduction that sets forth important information about Ricker, his research, and the editorial methodology guiding the present volume.


In the early 1900s Eli S. Ricker began gathering data for a book he planned to call "The Final Conflict Between the Red Men and the Palefaces." While the title would raise many an eyebrow today, Ricker's viewpoint is another matter. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he did not see the European advance across the American continent as a glorious conquest of the wilderness. Instead, Ricker recognized the terrible consequences for the Native Americans who faced this avalanche in their homeland. Ricker had been working on his book for only a few months when he wrote a brief note that summarized his views:

When the white man landed on the shores of the New World,
an eclipse, blacker than any that ever darkened the sun, blighted
the hopes and happiness of the native people, races then living in
tranquillity upon their own soil.

In addition to chastising the whites, Ricker had the audacity to suggest that history as seen from a Native American point of view was as valid as the white man's history. in the course of his research he would interview at least fifty Native Americans about conditions and battles on the Plains in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Eli Seavey Ricker was born on September 29, 1843, the son of Bradford W. Ricker and Catherine Harmon Ricker. the family lived on a farm near the little town of Brownfield, Maine, until 1855, when they moved to a farm near Oneida in northwestern Illinois.

Young Ricker planned to enter Lombard University in the fall of 1862. Then a call came for volunteers to fight in the Civil War and on August 9 he enlisted in Company I, 102d Illinois Volunteer Infantry. the regiment was stationed near Nashville, Tennessee, where it guarded railroad lines in the vicinity. Near the end of February 1864, they marched across Tennessee into the northwest corner of Georgia. During May and June the 102d was engaged in five major . . .

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