The Indian Man: A Biography of James Mooney

The Indian Man: A Biography of James Mooney

The Indian Man: A Biography of James Mooney

The Indian Man: A Biography of James Mooney

Synopsis

The Indian Man examines the life of James Mooney (1861-1921), the son of poor Irish immigrants who became a champion of Native peoples and one of the most influential anthropology fieldworkers of all time. As a staff member of the Smithsonian Institution for over three decades, Mooney conducted fieldwork and gathered invaluable information on rapidly changing Native American cultures across the continent. His fieldwork among the Eastern Cherokees, Cheyennes, and Kiowas provides priceless snapshots of their traditional ways of life, and his sophisticated and sympathetic analysis of the 1890 Ghost Dance and the consequent tragedy at Wounded Knee has not been surpassed a century later.

Excerpt

James Mooney’s life and work continue to inspire a broad range of ethnographers, ethnohistorians, students of American Indian ethnohistory, and persons interested in their own histories and cultures, from Irish Americans to Native Americans. His writings and unpublished notes on the Cherokees and the Kiowas, on Plains Indian heraldry (and the art of tepees and shields), on Irish and Irish-American folklore, on the Peyote religion, on the Native American population, and on the Ghost Dance religion continue to be the starting point for many such intellectual journeys. Those who chance upon these subjects with the ardor of a stout Balboa upon a peak in Darien soon discover that James Mooney had already topped such heights and left his markers along the trail to discovery. Such notables as Alice Marriott, John Ewers, and N. Scott Momaday have acknowledged a debt to Mooney.

The history of American anthropology continues to grow. A number of biographies of notable anthropologists, some of them Mooney’s contemporaries, have been published or produced as dissertations over the last two decades. Franz Boas, whose students from the graduate programs at Clark and Columbia Universities dominated American anthropology between 1920 and 1950, no longer appears as the founder of the discipline in the United States. As we’ve learned from the graceful works of George Stocking, Joan Mark, Robert Bieder, Ray DeMallie, Joe Porter, Curtis Hinsley, Sherry Smith, and many others, the parentage of American anthropology is indeterminate; or, rather, the child that grew into an adult in the twentieth century was raised by many caring aunts and uncles. If we could conjure the ghost of Lewis Henry Morgan he might even imagine a kind of matrilineal descent by which the inheritance of intellectual property is more generous in antecedent generations.

The Indian Man, even with its many flaws (as noted by a few of its reviewers), is my favorite piece of writing. It represents the end of a journey that had begun years before. A two-part history on the Ghost Dance and the death of Sitting Bull appeared on the CBS television program “The . . .

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