Colin Calloway has done a masterful job of selecting and presenting an array of speeches, letters, documents, and drawings that tell compelling stories about the Plain Indians in the 1800’s. His introduction alone has just the right level of information and links basic themes and events to the documents presented in the text. In short, a model of how an introduction should be done.
Colin Calloway’s intentions were to focus on the humanistic study of the Plain Indians views on how the West was lost. It provides us with the actual perspectives of Indian people who lived through those times of manifestation and assimilation. From the Lewis and Clark expedition to the building of railroads, he attempts to explain the traumatic changes of the Native Americans during the nineteenth century. He opens our eyes from what earlier historians whose work seems now outdated, preferring to rescue elements of their work. The narratives are divided into fourteen chapters, which supply historical document and secondary essays placing these documents within their historical context.
Each chapter unfolds 1 OUR HEARTS FELL TO THE GROUND to show the tragedy the Plains Indian had to endure from the white settlers and their greed for land and prosperity. From the slaughter of whole tribes, the out break of the unseen killer, and the forced assimilation through the reservation systems were only a few explanations for why the Indians numbers dwindled in the 1800s. It was not until the middle of the twentieth century that the reality of their suffering showed up in history books. Any writings prior only portrayed the Native American as savages and rebellious people, almost to a romance climax. Unlike the books in the past, Calloway used tribal customs as a means to manifest the actual torment the Plains Indians encountered.
The Native Americans were regarded as “people without history”, when in fact the Indians recorded their history by songs, dances, stories, legends, and visual records on buffalo robes known as winter counts. Calloway reveals to the reader the Ways the Native American used the winter counts as a mnemonic device passed from one generation to another marked with pictographs that recorded noteworthy events in tribal life that took place each year. It was these customs that enabled 2 OUR HEARTS FELL TO THE GROUND elders to chronologically pass on their heritage to ensure the survival of their tribe. Calloway disclosed through speeches of the Native American that they were generally peaceful and friendly people who wanted peace and not war with the white man.
Most speeches contained disagreement but acceptance of the white man ways, from the breaking of treaties to the inconceivable slaughter of their buffalo. The American Native hoping to maintain their hold on what little land and culture remained to them tried to accept the ways of their new neighbors. After reading this book I have a new perspective about the Native American. Unlike before, when I heard the word Indian I thought of them as savages of the Wild West for the most part.I now think of them as intelligent, prideful, and humane people who just wanted to be left alone to live the life they were accustomed to. Bottom line, if it was not for the white settlers forcing their way of life onto the Native Americans, they would not of reacted as they did. The settlers left them no choice!