Academic journal article ARSC Journal

From Discovery to Recovery: The Electronic Transfer of the J.R. Walker Native American Cylinder Record Collection

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

From Discovery to Recovery: The Electronic Transfer of the J.R. Walker Native American Cylinder Record Collection

Article excerpt

When I hear the cylinders, they lead to thoughts about what songs were still alive and what songs we had lost ... They managed to survive this long and to go back to the people ... It was like a supernatural gift that had been given back to the people again. Dennis Hastings--1985. (1)

Dr. James R. Walker was born 4 March 1849 in a log cabin near Richview, Illinois, the oldest of 10 children. He enlisted in the Union Army at the age of 14 during the American Civil War, and upon his discharge finished school and then earned his Doctor of Medicine at the Northwestern University School of Medicine. He began practicing medicine in 1874 and married Annie Amelia Cox in 1877. (2) He was assigned to the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota in 1878 and there began his career as an Indian Service Physician. He treated a smallpox epidemic there among the Ojibway before being transferred to the Colville Indian Reservation in eastern Washington in 1893. He later moved to the U.S. Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and then relocated to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1896. (3)

Once at Pine Ridge, Walker developed an interest in the culture and life of the Native Americans, largely through his close contact with their medicine men and tribal leaders. He had learned that while traditional methods among the natives were not always effective, the application of a combination of both native and modern medicine produced positive results and gained the respect of the holy men. Being a full-time resident, he was in a unique position to gain the trust of those he was treating, allowing him to begin his own personal ethnographic and anthropological study of the Oglala Lakota. Walker also befriended many of the prominent Oglala, including Red Cloud, Thunder Bear, Little Wound, Left Heron, Thomas Tyon (Grey Ghost), Afraid-of-Bear and George Sword (Long Knife). (4) Sword provided many of the drawings and stories that make up the Walker collection today, particularly those concerning the cylinder recordings of the Sun Dance. (5) It was George Sword who encouraged Walker's work and later made it possible for Walker to be inducted into the Buffalo Society, making him a full-fledged holy man (or shaman). Officials in Washington originally opposed this, as they felt that having a white man indoctrinated in local religious custom would be counterproductive in the efforts to assimilate the Indians into white culture. Walker successfully argued that his acceptance into the Buffalo Society would allow him to better treat the Lakota as a physician and also to study them to understand their society. Ultimately, Walker was inducted and became the first white man so honored. Additionally, he befriended Clark Wissler, curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, who guided him in his ethnographic pursuits and was fully in support of his efforts to become a shaman and continue his study of Lakota society. It was this sort of sponsorship that likely motivated Walker to expand his research further.


The Oglalas do ceremonies because this pleases the Gods. Some ceremonies please some of the Gods and other ceremonies please other Gods ... A shaman has authority over all ceremonies ... We will tell you of the ceremonies as if you were an Oglala who wished to take your part in them. We will not tell you of the parts of them that the shamans do secretly. Little Wound, American Horse and Lone Star, speaking to Walker--12 September 1896. (6)

Walker had assistance in his studies deriving from many sources. George Sword knew some English and was literate in Lakota and wrote out for Walker a variety of texts between 1896 and 1910. Although he could neither speak nor write in English, he wrote pages and pages in old Lakota using the phonetic forms. Walker later wrote of him: "He was a man of marked ability with a philosophical trend far beyond the average Oglala. …

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