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  • Bringing Indians to the Book
  • Eric Altice (bio)
Bringing Indians to the Book. By Albert Furtwangler. (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2005. Pp. xii, 226. Illustrations. Paper, $22.50.)

In the past 30 years, few subfields of American history have been as vibrant as Indian-American relations on the frontier. From the ethnohistorical efforts such as James Axtell's innovative The Invasion Within and Anthony F.C. Wallace's Death and Rebirth of the Seneca, a study of Indian revival movements, to Richard White's influential The Middle Ground, to the more recent work of Borderlands historians, scholars of American history have increasingly blurred the cultural divide that once seemed to separate the various frontier communities. Other scholars, focusing on the power of images both to reflect and shape American attitudes toward Indians, have drawn on insights from literary and discourse theory to investigate antebellum racial ideologies, and, in the process, have reshaped the way in which historians think about the frontier. The title of Albert Furtwangler's Bringing Indians to the Book might imply a connection to this important scholarship, yet his work remains only tangentially linked. Bringing Indians to the Book is based on a series of lectures given in the Emil and Kathleen Sick Lecture-Book series in Western History, a fact that may explain why it reads as four distinct essays, only loosely connected by their general focus on exploration and missionary work in Oregon.

Chapter 1, "On the Authority of William Clark," focuses on a single episode: the arrival in St. Louis in 1831 of a small group of Oregon Indians who requested that teachers be sent to their people. Furtwangler uses this episode to explore a variety of issues: the agency of Indians in seeking religious and educational instruction, the impact of the periodical press in relating the story to readership far from the frontier, the relative accuracy of the various accounts of the visit, and above all, the enduring "authority" of Clark among Native Americans. Furtwangler's analysis wanders from topic to topic and largely fails to capture the broader significance of this event, particularly the most important question: How did the story of Indians approaching white Americans to request spiritual [End Page 487] and educational guidance figure in the context of missionary ideology? Here was an account of Native Americans actually uttering the Macedonian cry—come over and help us—and, placed in the broader context of missionary ideology examined by the late William Hutcheson (who does not even appear in the bibliography), such a call would have resonated powerfully among supporters of frontier missions. Yet despite quoting repeatedly from missionary accounts of the meeting in St. Louis and even castigating mission supporters for exaggeration, Furtwangler stops short of connecting this episode to the broader missionary context, turning instead to explore the far less vital issue of William Clark's significance as an authoritative figure for both Indians and white Americans.

Furtwangler's second chapter compares the writing in the journals of Lewis and Clark to missionary writings penned in the same geographic area roughly three decades later. Furtwangler explores the different perceptions of relatively transient and secular-minded explorers on the one hand and somewhat more settled, religiously minded missionaries on the other, a project with interesting possibilities. But the chapter jumps from one topic to another, often providing glimpses of interesting scenes and intriguing insights, before moving too quickly onto other points. Furtwangler could make fuller use of his description of Meriwether Lewis's conflicted response to the revealing dress of Indian women, for example, an account revealing both attraction and repulsion (p. 71), and of his insights into the development of the Chinook Jargon, a nineteenth-century hybrid language used by trappers and missionaries alike to communicate with Northwestern Indians that missionaries found inadequate for expressing complex religious doctrine (p. 75).

Chapter 3, "The Bookish Invaders," looks primarily at the missionaries who settled in Oregon. Furtwangler wanders from discussions of theorists who look at the impact of literacy on culture, such as Walter Ong and Jack Moody, to the textual analysis of American biographies and autobiographies of Larzer Ziff. This chapter examines the challenges faced by...


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pp. 487-489
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