- Comanches and Germans on the Texas Frontier: The Ethnology of Heinrich Berghaus by Daniel J. Gelo and Christopher J. Wickham
In Comanches and Germans on the Texas Frontier: The Ethnology of Heinrich Berghaus, Daniel J. Gelo and Christopher J. Wickham highlight the value of interdisciplinary work. They have combined their expertise in anthropology, linguistics, and German cultural and intellectual history to produce a book that they hope will be useful to "the anthropologist, the student of German settlement in Texas," "the general reader," "members of the Comanche Nation," and "burgeoning scholarship in German history and cultural studies" (p. ix). This book will also be helpful to scholars of Native American history. Perhaps the eight chapters describing Heinrich Berghaus's intellectual achievements will be of little interest to scholars of the Native American Southwest in the mid-nineteenth century. However, the translation and analysis of an article about the Shoshones, Comanches, and Apaches written by Berghaus in 1851 are valuable because they show what is to be gained by engaging with scholars in other disciplines.
Berghaus himself never traveled to Texas and seemingly never met a Native American, and there is no evidence that he actually met Emil Kriewitz, the man who was Berghaus's main source of information. Kriewitz was a German settler in Texas who lived among the Comanches for about four months beginning in May 1847. He resided with a Penateka band "as either an agent, guarantor, intermediary, representative, or voluntary hostage" (p. 17). In other words, the authors are not sure about the nature of Kriewitz's stay among the Comanches. However, the evidence presented by the authors suggests that Kriewitz really did live among the Comanches. And although the authors can only speculate about how exactly Berghaus came into contact with Kriewitz, Berghaus supplemented Kriewitz's story with information from other reliable sources, such as Josiah Gregg, whose well-known Commerce of the Prairies was first published in 1844.
The majority of the information revealed in the article about the Shoshones, Comanches, and Apaches will not be surprising to scholars of those groups. However, some of the details that seem to have come directly from Kriewitz's experience of living among the Comanches provide interesting specific examples of well-known Comanche beliefs about issues such as political leadership, religion, and marriage. What is impressive is how German immigrants and scholars were putting together connections about the historical and linguistic relationships among the Shoshones, Comanches, and Apaches at a time when most white Americans heading west had incredibly limited knowledge of the Great Plains and the people who lived there. [End Page 160]
Aside from the article itself, the most interesting aspect of the book for historians of Native Americans is the Comanche language glossary in chapter 12. It lists the German and Comanche words as recorded by Kriewitz and probably later edited by Berghaus and also includes the English translation and the modern Comanche translation, which is based on the alphabet and conventions established in 2010 by the Comanche Language and Cultural Preservation Committee. Having access to sources like this glossary is an important step toward helping historians better incorporate the study of Native languages into their work, a practice that is currently far too difficult.