- Comanches and Germans on the Texas Frontier: The Ethnology of Heinrich Berghaus by Daniel J. Gelo and Christopher J. Wickham
By Daniel J. Gelo and Christopher J. Wickham. With contributions by Heide Castañeda. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2018.
This book incorporates prodigious multi-language (German and English) as well as multinational research (United States and Germany). It focuses on the scientific career and contributions of Heinrich Berghaus, a mid-nineteenth-century cartographer and sort of intellectual jack-of-all-trades. An active cartographer, he published dozens of maps and several hundred short articles on various scientific topics. Although he lacked any training in ethnography, Berghaus was a close associate of Alexander von Humboldt and shared many of the same interests. The authors place him among those who contributed to the growing American interest in ethnology and Indian linguistics because of his work with data related to the Comanche on the Texas plains. The book examines his career as a part of the history of European and American science.
Its central focus is a twenty-one-page essay he published in 1851, entitled “On the Relationship of the Shoshones, Comanches, and Apaches,” in his modestly titled Physical Atlas Geographic Yearbook of Communications of All New Discoveries of Importance. Appended to the essay is a lengthy Comanche glossary giving words in German, English, and Comanche, many of them translated for the first time. Given that Berghaus never traveled to Texas, where did he get this information? In an earlier piece he alluded to receiving the material from Emil Kriewitz, a German immigrant to Texas who lived among the Comanche as a hostage and spokesman for the German immigrants there. Apparently Kriewitz traveled back from Texas to Germany and gave the word list and other information to Berhaus. According to the authors, their subject, even without any ethnological training, recognized the value of this pronunciation guide, and its publication placed him among leading students of Indian linguistics at the time.
The book’s title is a disservice to its readers. It is a study of German and American scientific intellectual development, not the experiences of Germans and Indians in frontier Texas. The brief discussion of that topic assumes that readers know a lot about the subject. It would have benefited from a half dozen pages laying out the story of German immigration to Texas and the newcomers’ contacts with the Native people there. [End Page 212]
University of Arizona