- The Darkest Period: The Kanza Indians and their Last Homeland, 1846–1873 by Ronald D. Parks
By Ronald D. Parks. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. ix + 317 pp. Illustrations, tables, maps, notes, bibliography, index $34.95 cloth.
Plains Indians did not all look like Crazy Horse. And non-Indian reaction to Battle of [End Page 394] the Little Big Horn was not the worst thing that could happen to Indian people. What happened to the Kaw Nation from 1846 to 1873 was, in many ways, far more dispiriting and tragic. In The Darkest Period: The Kanza Indian and their Last Homeland, we learn that the Kaw, Kanza, or Kansas Indians, namesakes of the present state, faced obstacles to their survival that make their recent return truly heroic. As Parks states in the introduction, the goal was to “tell the story of the Kanza’s final years in Kansas so that the skeleton of historical data is animated with the heartbeat of its human participants” (4).
Parks pays homage to the work of William Unrau, the only other historian to document this poor border tribe’s encounters with “powerful and mostly corrosive Euro-American forces” (7). But Parks departs from Unrau by giving agency to place in the story of the Kanza’s final removal from their homeland. Employing the concept of solastalgia, the heart-sickness experienced by humans who witness the physical desolation of their homeland, Parks provides a new and deeply nuanced study of the Kanza’s algia—pain, suffering, and sickness.
There is more than enough evidence for Park’s interpretation. Sifting through ephemeral newspapers, interviews with surviving tribal members, and the daily correspondence of military, religious, and national agents with Kaw tribal members, Parks has generated a composite of daily experience. Well-meaning reformers convince themselves that building schools, churches, and structures in their own image are the answer. These are rejected by the Kanza, who are struggling to find shelter and resources in a time of scarcity due to environmental and economic changes.
In the end, it was white squatters and the failure of any force to prevent their occupation of native space that ends Indian Kansas. A newspaper in 1870 acknowledged that reservation squatters were in violation of the law but urged readers to “swell the number as it will hasten the removal of the Indians” (231). By including the history of the growth of nearby towns like Council Grove, Parks provides the troubling context of this human tragedy, heartbeat and all.
Kansas State University