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80 Western American Literature The Short Novels of Jack Schaefer is physically a well constructed book featuring good, readable type; but its lure lies in the work of Schaefer, who surely ranks among the current masters of western literature. G erald H aslam , Sonoma State College Wilderness Kingdom—Indian Life in the Rocky Mountains: 1840-1847. By Nicolas Point, S. J. Translated by Joseph P. Donnelly, S. J. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967. XIV + 274 pages, $21.95.) When the brave Jesuit priest, Nicolas Point, died 120 years ago, he left six manuscript volumes constituting a record of six years spent among the wild tribes of the northern Rockies, 1841-1847. The Indians were Flatheads, Coeur D’ Alenes, and Blackfeet, the latter a name to make the heart skip a beat in the 1840’s. Father Point had been one of a small party of nine men who had gone under the leadership of Father de Smet to carry Christianity to the savages. De Smet’s duties took him to distant missions, but Father Point, often alone, lived among these tribes as a devout missionary. He taught catechisms to the children, baptized many converts, and gave whatever aid and advice he could as a practical Christian. Adopting the life of each tribe as he lived with it, he moved with the camp on winter and summer hunts, in days of war or peace, and amid famine or plenty. For the most part the Indians treated him well, having discovered in him no guilt or ulterior purposes to exploit them. Many of them accepted his new “medicine”, or occult “powers”, though often for the wrong reasons, believing that his instructions in belief and rituals would help them in their warring against enemy tribes. But, fortunately for us, a significant part of his success with these people lay in the habit he had acquired of drawing or painting events and scenes of daily life and portraits of important tribesmen around him. Though never having been trained in art, he had a yen for it and developed considerable skill in draftsmanship and the use of color. The Indians were fascinated with his representations of them and their ways of life, and they became willing and eager subjects for his sketches. He, of course, recognized the vanity of the males and capitalized on it by painting them and then depicting with his brush instead of his tongue the religious principles which he sought to teach, for he found that “the savages learned more quickly through their eyes than through their ears.” “Some scenes,” he tells us, “showed the mysteries; others, the sacraments; some represented the precepts; others, prayers.” He also “drew sketches of the savages on their way to battle or smoking the calumet . . . or of river scenes, Reviews 81 Indian buffalo hunts, hunting feasts, and above all religious scenes.” Many of the latter are embellished with images of demons, devils, and serpents, creations intended to make the hearts of his aboriginal followers quake. The pictures reproduced in the book now published, 238 of them in full color, have an engaging though unexpected freshness and buoyancy, emerging as they do from the archives in Montreal where they had been left by “the blackrobe” a hundred years before. Like Parkman’s Oregon Trail, this is a vast picture book, though the artist here used pigments and brushes as well as words. Many of the details having anthropological or historical significance resemble details one has come across before in Parkman, or Catlin, or Bodmer. As a matter of fact, nothing in Point’s portfolio can compare with the meticulous draftsmanship of, say, Bodmer’s famous “Hidatsa DogDancer ” or his “Portrait of a Young Mandan”. Nevertheless, this is not to deny the appeal of Point’s exuberant record of the people, their costumes, and their ways of life as revealed in this handsome book. As for his written account, telling details abound. “Before the hunt,” one learns, “the only well-fed creatures in camp are the horses. They are too valuable and too badly needed not to be carefully cared for. The dogs, on the other hand, are pitifully lean. After the hunt the situations...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 80-81
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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