Indians Along the Oregon Trail

July 5, 2012

This work is an encyclopedic, short-entry reference book with some feature-length historical essays, identifying tribes of the Oregon Trail states. In addition, the author’s intent is to bridge information gaps in earlier encyclopedic reference works, update to the most current year possible Bureau of Indian Affairs data, update obsolete locale designators, and insert references to current highway maps.

In a brief five-page introduction, Weber covers Indian origins, physical characteristics, health, reasons for variations of tribal names, the establishment and operations of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and why he uses B.I.A. as synonymous with the federal government in his work.

He also states his intent to keep open files on Indian affairs and invites readers to send him copies of local newspaper clippings for consideration in forthcoming works. Weber notes that responses from tribal offices did not live up to his expectations.

Each chapter outlines the tribes of one state alphabetically. When more than a few lines are given about a tribe, the general format is to give variations of the tribe’s name as well as what other tribes called it. The location of the tribe as well as the placement of all known villages is included. The population of the tribe at various times is given, as well as geographical names by which the tribe is remembered; i.e., Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming.

Sometimes a brief history of the tribe is included, usually with major battles with the federal government and other tribes. No consistency in when a history will be inserted is apparent; these sometimes telegraphic entries seem to be included, as the author mentions, to “brighten” the work for readers. The length of these features varies from tribe to tribe; for example, the article on the Klamath tribe in Oregon is over ten pages long, while the Siletz has only 12 abbreviated lines about it. Under “Cow Creek” history is one sentence: “These Indians are often mentioned by Heckert and are included in Walling.”

The few pictures included are of the statue of Sacajewea; stamps and portraits of several chiefs such as Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Washakie; a few maps, including one of the execution of Captain Jack, complete with gallons; and several of the Quinault Tribe building canoes, as well as one of the tribal billboards requiring all who enter reservation lands to conform to tribal laws. Again, pictures seem to be added for the sake of heightening readers’ interest.

Appendix A is a listing of unique subjects casual readers may have missed. Examples include “This Indian war was seen live on TV” and “Minister who regularly preached to a congregation of 1.” Also included is the “Common trade language used by Indians/traders,” a reference to the Chinook language. Weber has listed several pages of examples of Chinook jargon and their English translations. These subjects can be categorized with the pictures and brief histories Weber uses to lighten his encyclopedic work.

Appendix B provides definitions and population counts of Indians by the Bureau.

The strengths of this work are definitely in the detailing of variation of names of major tribes and bands and their geographical locations along the Oregon Trail. Weaknesses include the inconsistency of treatment in the historical features, and the lack of input from the tribes themselves.

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