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  • The Apache Indians: In Search of the Missing Tribe
  • Joe Watkins
Helge Ingstad . The Apache Indians: In Search of the Missing Tribe, translated by Janine K. Stenehjem. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1945, 2004. 188 pp. Cloth, $24.95.

This book is a recent translation of a 1939 publication (originally in Norwegian) presenting an account of a 1930s expedition into the Sierra Madre of northern Mexico in search of "the last remaining renegade Apaches" (77). These Apache purportedly occupied the Sierra Madre in a lifestyle more fitting to the time when Apache chiefs Geronimo and Vitorio were waging war with the United States and Mexico.

Ingstad should not be totally unknown to archaeologists, for his ethnohistoric research on the lands and locations described in the old Norse sagas detailing the Viking discovery of North America—Leif Erikson's voyage to Vinland in about 1000 A.D.—led him to discover ruins with Nordic characteristics and artifacts at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Subsequent excavations by him and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, helped strengthen the connection between the Norse and North America.

Benedicte Ingstad, the author's daughter, provides a personal background on Helge Ingstad in the preface. All of his various experiences as a Norwegian lawyer, a trapper in northern Canada, a government official for the Norwegian settlements in Greenland, and an adventurer in many ways informed his perspectives on North American Indigenous people. Readers of this and other volumes published by Ingstad will recognize the anthropological perspectives that inform Ingstad's writing: much of his intent in working with Indigenous people was in recording "an oral cultural heritage before it became (too much) influenced by the modern world" (xiv).

The book's introduction by Thomas Nevins provides an historical and cultural background to the Apache. Nevin's discussion of the origin and subsequent migrations of some of the Athabascan groups to the American Southwest lays the context for the nomadic groups, later to become known as the Apache and the Navajo, that spread across Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and down into adjacent portions of Mexico.

The reason for Ingstad's visit to Arizona and eventually into Mexico is based on the four years he spent trapping and living among the Chipewyan Indians in Canada. The Chipewyan speak an Athabascan language, and their stories of people from their tribe who had traveled south and never returned inspired Ingstad to travel to Arizona, where, in 1936, he began work as a cowboy on the White Mountain Apache Reservation.

The book itself is definitely not a contemporary depiction of an author's journey through the American Southwest and into northern Mexico. It is written in a [End Page 225] somewhat anachronistic style, slipping at times between a third-person narrative and a first-person presentation. Because of those shifts the reading is sometimes unwieldy and difficult, teetering on the edge of distraction. It is a product of its time, written in the 1930s during the time of another U.S. experiment in Indian policy, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. It reads like a diary but is more than that. It is perhaps equal parts time capsule, ethnology, and life history.

There are some ethnographic jewels in Ingstad's writing. Ingstad's description of a puberty ceremony (48–51) is much less detailed than an anthropologist's might be, but the description is less mundane, including with the ethnographic details the environmental sights and sounds the participants would have experienced. These details offer more insights into the Apache culture itself rather than merely describing the ceremony. Ingstad's interdigitation of the environment with the people strengthens the description of the ceremony. The discussion of the social dance that followed the ceremony is likewise full of detail and anecdotes.

But it is the expedition to the Sierra Madre in search of the last free-roaming Apaches that is the supposed subject of this book. While the calendar of the day might have shown that it had been more than fifty years since the Geronimo's surrender in 1886, the Indian Wars were apparently still going on in Mexico. The chapters that relate Ingstad's attempts to find...


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