THE ENGLISH WESTERNERS' SOCIETY

JUNE 2015 BOOK REVIEW

This review first appeared in the Tally Sheet (Spring 2014, Volume 60, Number 2)

THE DIARIES OF JOHN GREGORY BOURKE, VOLUME 5: MAY 23, 1881 - AUGUST 26, 1881

Denton, University of North Texas Press. 2013. ISBN: 978-157441-468-4. Hardback 560 pages; 71 b&w illus; 4 maps; notes, Bib. Index.

In Arizona during the autumn of 1872, Lt. John Gregory Bourke acquired a small notebook in order to write a record of General Crook's forthcoming campaign against the Apaches. But it was to be the beginning of an extensive diary which would ultimately become a vast set of 124 manuscript volumes, not ending until the day before his death in 1896. The volumes are probably the most complete personal record of the Indian Wars from actually inside the command structure, as well as a wonderful source of information on the various Indian tribes. For Bourke also became a dedicated ethnologist throughout these years, with the objective, shared with other contemporaries, of chronicling native cultures before they disappeared. Bourke was a meticulous observer as well as a superb and engrossingly interesting writer. He would also colour his material with lyrical and poetical observations upon the natural world, including the landscape and the weather, and also with copies of such official correspondence he deemed important such as orders, rosters, newspaper clippings and his own drawings to accompany his texts. Furthermore it would all be laced with his descriptions - sometimes with humour - of characters, military, civilian and Indians met along the way.

As his biographer Joseph Porter would observe, Bourke's extensive reading of history and anthropology actually helped Crook formulate ideas and give intellectual justification to notions he had been evolving himself regarding the Indians, as his approach to the problem of the Indians as people was changing, inasmuch as he would develop a respect for them as rational human beings.

Bourke, who had enlisted in the Union army at age sixteen, won a Medal of Honor at the Civil War battle of Stones River. After the war he attended West Point and was commissioned in the 3rd U.S. Cavalry to serve on General Crook's staff as an aide de camp. Bourke would publish some notable ethnological books including The Medicine Men and the Apache and The Snake Dance of the Moquis, in addition to the classic account of his service with Crook, On the Border With Crook.

Volume 5 of the Dairies, again meticulously compiled, edited and annotated from the whole volumes stored on microfilm at West Point, covers a mere three weeks in the summer of 1881. There were no campaigns with General Crook at this time, and Crook does not make an appearance in this volume which is mainly concerned with Bourke's ethnological research. Yet it is an intense period covering detailed descriptions and giving much ethno historical information as he travels widely in often inclement weather and road conditions - on one occasion hurrying to catch the start of the Hopi Snake Dance to gather lots of material which would become the basis for his Moqui book, published three years later. The period opens at Fort Wingate as he prepares to visit the Navajos and see a Navajo funeral. Perhaps the most important journey was the one to the Pine Ridge Agency where he witnessed what was to be the last Lakota Sun Dance, as the whites were intent upon ending these and similar ceremonies which involved physical torture. While the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 had allowed the tribes the freedom to practise their religion, it also stipulated that once agencies were established it was expected that the Indians would adopt more civilised customs. Bourke endorsed the concept that such tribal traditions were offensive. 

After this visit Bourke travelled to New Mexico and visited the pueblos between Santa Fe and Taos, and then to those further south along the Rio Grande. In addition to his ethnological observations he outlined the Taos Revolt of 1847 and the Pueblo Revolt of 1860. Following these visits he went west to the Zuni country around the Arizona/New Mexico border on his way to the Hopis and the Snake Dance. The final section takes him towards Fort Apache and on the way he would visit some of the recently founded Mormon settlements in that part of Arizona, where Bourke and his colleagues found it necessary to avail themselves of Mormon hospitality. Bourke was now more favourably impressed with the Mormons, at least those he met - apart from their polygamous nature - whereas in earlier years he had been more contemptuous.

Among the civilian individuals Bourke met and travelled with were artist Peter Moran, (with whom he visited the Hopis) brother of Thomas Moran the landscape artist; and also members of the US Geological Survey Gilbert Thompson and photographer J. K. Hillers.

We learn from the University of North Texas Press, by a note following the acknowledgments, that, sadly, Charles Robinson III passed away during the preparation of this volume. We would very much hope that someone else may be found to complete the transcriptions of the remaining volumes of these entertaining, perceptive and important diaries which have been so meticulously studied and realised for the public by Mr Robinson.

Reviews of previous volumes were published in the Tally Sheet - Volume 55/1, Autumn 2008 and Volume 56/3, Summer 2010.

Raymond Cox

 

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