Archive for the ‘Native Americans’ Category

AlcatrazisnotanIsland picture

Native American poet, activist, and performer John Trudell died earlier this week. Obituaries and tributes can be found online in publications ranging from Indian Country Today to the New York Times. We have several works in the Archives & Special Collections by and about this remarkable man.

The image above is taken from the book Alcatraz Is Not an Island, a collection of poems, artwork, and assorted documents about the takeover and occupation of Alcatraz by Native activists from November 1969 through June 1971. Trudell became one of the primary spokesmen for the occupation and is sometimes called “the voice of Alcatraz.”


The Alcatraz takeover was just one of many political actions by the American Indian Movement and its allies during the turbulent period of the 1960s and 1970s. More information about this event and Trudell’s role in it can be found throughout the collection, in books like Alcatraz! Alcatraz! published 20 years after the event:

John Trudell was active in the American Indian Movement throughout the 1970s, and made frequent appearances in the underground press of the time. The Marshall Bloom Alternative Press Collection includes a substantial run of Akwesasne Notes, a major source of information about Indigenous activism:

The Archives holds a copy of Living in Reality: A Story of Struggle (1982), which collects writings by Trudell and others, along with transcripts from the trials of several activists.

Society of the People

The phrase “Living in Reality” also appears on the cover of Trudell’s book Songs Called Poems, published in the same year.

Living In Reality

Trudell never stopped speaking out in defense of Indigenous rights, the health of the planet, and the rights of all people to live healthy and meaningful lives. Hundreds of videos of Trudell speaking and performing his poetry can be found on Youtube and elsewhere. In addition to his writing and activism, he also acted in several feature films, including Sherman Alexie’s Smoke Signals.


Anyone interested in the life and words of John Trudell is invited to use the resources available in the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

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Most of my research into our Native American literature collection has focused on the very earliest publications from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but the majority of our  recent acquisitions have been of newer books. When we state that our goal is to document as comprehensively as possible the full range of publications by Indigenous writers of North America, that includes everything from obscure pamphlets of the nineteenth century to books for children published in the last decade. I was just about to head to the stacks to shelve a handful of freshly cataloged books when I thought I ought to share a handful of these items with the world.

Rabbit's Snow Dance

This copy of Rabbit’s Snow Dance by James & Joseph Bruchac was a gift to the collection from Professor Lisa Brooks. It was published in 2012 and the copy in our collection will remain as crisp and clean as new for generations to come. I like to imagine a student or researcher coming to examine our copy many years from now and recalling their own copy of this book that they loved so much they read it to pieces. One reason books for children are often very rare and collectible is that children tend to be very hard on their books.

Stories about “the Little People” can be found throughout the collection, such as Charles Eastman’s “The Dance of the Little People” in Red Hunters and the Animal People (1904). Here is a more recent story of the Little People — a collaboration between Joseph Bruchac and Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel: Makiawisug: The Gift of the Little People (1997).


In addition to retellings of traditional tales, some of our books for children contain lessons about traditional crafts, such as Kunu’s Basket (2012):

Kunu's Basket

Others aim to preserve and pass on Indigenous languages. Thanks to the Animals (2005) is written in English, but the publisher’s web site includes an audio file of Allen Sockabasin reading the story in the Passamaquoddy language.

Thanks to the Animals

And then there are stories that are drawn from contemporary life, such as Robert Peters’ Da Goodie Monsta (2009). He says of the story’s origin “Da Goodie Monsta was written when my son, Robert Jr. was only three. He woke up from a nap and told me of a dream he had about a monster. ‘Did he scare you?’ I asked. ‘No’ replied Robert Jr. ‘He was a good monster.'”

Da Goodie Monsta

These five titles are just a small sample of the growing number of books for children included in our collection of books by Native American writers. They will now take their place on the shelves alongside works by Charles Eastman, Zitkala-Sa, and (my personal favorite) Acee Blue Eagle’s Echogee: The Little Blue Deer (1971).

Echogee The Little Blue Deer Cover

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Today marks the end of my three month research leave from my daily duties in Frost Library. I have spent some of my time away digging through the holdings of other repositories, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, The American Antiquarian Society, the Rare Books Division of the Library of Congress, New-York Historical Society, and New York Public Library. There are still many other collections on my list — my goal is to personally inspect as many copies of Samson Occom’s Sermon as I possibly can, a project that will take much longer than three months to complete.

Another chunk of time was spent presenting my work in progress at conferences, most recently at the annual conference of The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing in Montreal. Earlier this summer I spoke about Samson Occom at the Digital Antiquarian conference at AAS and at the annual conference of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. One of the great benefits of these conferences is the opportunity to hear presentations by other scholars followed by long conversations about a wide range of subjects.

Each of these conferences involved different, but overlapping, networks of scholars; each also involved a mix of public performances, casual conversations, old and new friendships, and the sharing of print resources. Samson Occom lived and worked in a similar universe of overlapping and interconnected networks, both professional and personal.

For example, the Archives & Special Collections holds a copy of the first New London, CT edition of Occom’s Sermon:

Samson Occom. A Sermon... (1772)

Samson Occom. A Sermon… (1772)

The first edition was published in New Haven in the first week of November, 1772; the New London edition appeared around November 13. Newspaper advertisements are a key resource for bibliography; they help pinpoint publication dates, but they can also tell us much more.

Here is the ad for the first New Haven edition:

The Connecticut Journal, And The New-Haven Post-Boy. October 30, 1772

The Connecticut Journal, And The New-Haven Post-Boy. October 30, 1772

The Connecticut Journal was owned and operated by Thomas and Samuel Green, the only printers in New Haven in 1772; it was common practice for printers to include announcements of their other publications in their newspapers. The paper came out every Friday, so “next Monday” means the first edition of the sermon was available on November 2.

Timothy Green ran The New-London Gazette and was the only printer in New London, CT in the early 1770s. The November 13, 1772 issue of his paper included this advertisement:

The New-London Gazette. November 13, 1772.

The New-London Gazette. November 13, 1772.

The first striking detail of this ad is the mention of the addition of “a short Account of the Life of said Moses Paul.” The source of this biographical sketch is a broadside that was published in New Haven on the day of Moses Paul’s execution — a common tradition in England, but less common in the colonies. That broadside is a subject for another day, but it is noteworthy that the text of that broadside is included in almost every edition of the sermon that follows the first New London edition.

The other critical detail in this advertisement is the distribution information — the short list of names following “A few of the above Sermons may be had of…” Anyone familiar with Samson Occom’s life will recognize the name of the Rev. Samuel Buell of East Hampton, Long Island.

Samuel Buell. The excellence and importance of the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel-preacher. (1761)

Samuel Buell. The Excellence and Importance of the Saving Knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel-Preacher… (1761)

Samuel Buell preached the sermon at Occom’s ordination at East Hampton, NY on August 29, 1759 and was an important figure in Occom’s Christian evangelical network. Occom’s connections to the Native communities of eastern Long Island are also deep – he established a school at Montauk in November 1749 and married a Montaukett woman, Mary Fowler, in 1751. Occom and his family lived at Montauk until 1764 when they moved back to Mohegan. One can imagine the Native public of Montauk eager to read this sermon, especially considering that many of them may have learned to read English from Occom himself.

This item is just one small example of the ways that close attention to the details of printing and publishing history can expose important network connections. This single advertisement provides evidence that Occom’s sermon reached a specific Native Public within weeks of its first publication. What would it have meant to this audience to see Occom’s name on the title page of his own book? How might copies of the sermon circulated among the Indigenous communities of Long Island? How many times was this text read out loud to those who could not read it for themselves or could not afford to purchase a copy of their own?

I found nearly 100 newspaper items related to either Moses Paul’s crime and execution as well as Samson Occom and his sermon. It will take me a while to digest all of it. Stay tuned…

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Christmas came early to the Archives & Special Collections when we received two boxes of books by Native American authors from Amherst College alumnus Peter Webb (Class of 1974) just before we closed up shop for our holiday break. There are many exciting items in this very generous gift, including copies of some of Charles Eastman’s books in their original dust jackets, but this item eclipses all the others:

Samson Occom. A Sermon... (1772)

Samson Occom. A Sermon… (1772)

Hmmm…a piece of an old newspaper?

Samson Occom. A Sermon... (1772)

Samson Occom. A Sermon… (1772)

Someone used the first page of the October 14, 1783 issue of the Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer to make a protective cover for their copy of the 1772 first edition of Samson Occom’s Sermon. Not only are we delighted to now hold a true first printing of this important work, but that wrapper tells us that just over a decade after it was printed, someone thought it was worth wrapping up for a little extra protection. Most likely that person was in the vicinity of Hartford, CT, but it’s almost impossible to be certain — newspapers certainly traveled far and wide, and the only certainty about the date the Courant was sewn to the Sermon is no earlier than October 1783.

I am at the start of a more extensive research project into the publishing history of this sermon and its many reprintings, which I will report on in the months ahead. For now, it brings me great bibliographical pleasure to see these search results in our online catalog:

Occom Catalog

In addition to the generosity of our alumni, we also depend on the wonderful world of the antiquarian book trade to build our collections. This week it was Tom Congalton of Between the Covers Rare Books who called an amazingly rare item to our attention: The Experience of George A. Spywood.

The Experience of George A. Spywood.

The Experience of George A. Spywood.

As you can see from the cover, this pamphlet was printed to raise money to save George A. Spywood’s house. One reason I love booksellers so much is that they often save us a lot of work by doing extensive research about their books. Here is a very helpful excerpt about this item:

“Spywood happily pursued the sailor’s trade until after several voyages his friend, the captain, took ill and died. He later renounced his vices and took to the ministry after a vision. In 1844 he was given the pastorship of the Colored M.E. Church of Hartford, Connecticut, and took an active part in precipitating the schism of the A.M.E. Zionists from the Weslyans. It is possible that Spywood stressed his Native American heritage over his African for the purposes of this pamphlet, anticipating more sympathy if he hid his African ancestry. Perhaps most likely he was of mixed Native American and African ancestry. Carter G. Woodson references him as a Bishop in the Zionist faction in his study The Negro Church without referring to his ethnicity, and he is mentioned in several other histories of the Church. OCLC locates a single copy with the above publishing information, but this issue appears complete (collating 1-28pp., with separate wrappers) and contains no printing information. While we obviously have a vested interest in establishing the precedence of this version of the pamphlet, we strongly conclude that this copy has the feel of fulfilling the object of a mendicant pamphlet, and is likely both earlier than the 1843 version, and may indeed be unique. In any event it is rare.”

And here is the first page of the memoir:

Spywood 2

I had a brief conversation with Native Studies professor Lisa Brooks earlier this morning and her reaction is that Spywood’s specificity regarding his tribal ancestry — naming the “Marshpee” and the “Pumham” — suggests he is being honest about that heritage. False claims of Indigenous ancestry are usually more vague. Lisa’s other comment was that we may very well be able to track down Spywood’s descendants, or some traces of them.

This book will soon be added to our online catalog and we will also add it to our queue for digitization.

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The last time I wrote about detective work in my job, I mentioned “authority work” and linked to the Library of Congress’ explanation of what it entails. Here’s another example, from earlier this week.

I began to catalog these two recently-purchased pamphlets from the 1940s:

Navajo Life Series: Primer and The Little Turtle, early mimeographed versions from 1942 and 1943.

Navajo Life Series: Primer and The Little Turtle, early mimeographed versions from 1942 and 1943.

The cataloging itself was straightforward, but a piece of accompanying information gave me pause. These mimeographed pamphlets seem to be the earliest version of a series that was published several more times over the years. Some of the later versions had illustrations by a different artist, Andy (or Van) Tsihnahjinnie.¹ These early ones were illustrated by William Morgan, better known for his work on The Navajo Language.

The information that was puzzling me came from a brief email conversation that our Head of Archives and Special Collections shared with me. He had inquired of the library at the Navajo Nation Museum whether they had any additional information about these pamphlets. Their reply indicated that while Tsihnahjinnie was Navajo, Morgan was not. This bothered me because I remembered other materials in our collection listing Morgan as a translator, and identifying his tribal affiliation, so I double-checked his Name Authority Record (NAR):

Note the three citations listed under the “Found in” section. These references can be sources that catalogers have used for information on Morgan, or other works he produced. NARs are often updated over time–this particular one was first created in 1991 as “Morgan, William, 1917-” and most recently edited in 2011 to add the death date and citation for the Anthropological Linguistics article.²

After a little more investigation, I discovered that the confusion lay with the second citation attributed to Morgan. Human-wolves among the Navajo (1936) is a monograph in the Yale University Publications in Anthropology series. It was not listed in the bibliography of Morgan’s works in the Anthropological Linguistics article. I was beginning to suspect it was authored by a different William Morgan, but I needed proof. I also needed a way to narrow my searching, since “William Morgan” is a common name, with well over 100 different NARs. I checked our stacks copy of Human-wolves among the Navajo–no foreword, afterword, or any ‘about the author’ information at all. I checked several of my “go to” reference sources³ without luck. Standing in our Reference stacks after checking American Indian Biographies, I had one of those “Hooray for browsing!” moments when I spotted Native American Folklore, 1879-1979: An Annotated Bibliography.

A “William Morgan” was listed, along with six of his published works. They included Human-wolves among the Navaho and ended with ‘The Organization of a Story and a Tale’ by William Morgan with a preface by Alfred North Whitehead, in The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 58, no. 229 (July-Sept. 1945) pp. 169-194. Looking up the article, I got a “Hooray for footnotes!” moment:

"Dr. William Morgan died in 1935. His unpublished MSS are now in Dr. Clyde Kluckhohn's possession...Generous help from Mrs. Christiana Morgan made possible printing Dr. Morgan's complete study

After a couple of dead-ends (not helped that the 1935 date turned out to be wrong) I googled Christiana Morgan, which led me to the recent biography Translate this Darkness by Claire Douglas. This was my prize: a well-researched biography identifying “William Otho Potwin Morgan” (1895-1934) as the writer of Human-wolves among the Navaho, citing the Morgan papers held in the Archives at Harvard University (his alma mater). Armed with that, I can file a request for a correction to the Name Authority Record for William Morgan, 1917-2001 to remove the citation to the work by William Morgan, 1895-1934 and in addition, to create a new NAR for William Morgan, 1895-1934.

The Five Colleges Library Consortium has begun the process for becoming authorized to participate in a “funnel project” of the Name Authority Cooperative Program (LC/NACO), which will allow us to make such changes to the NAR directly.

¹We hold a couple of items illustrated by Tsihnahjinnie, and his Authority Record is a great example of an author using a variety of names.

²If you are interested, and have access to JSTOR, here is the link for that article.

³Some of which include:

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Cool Thoughts on the Consequences to Great Britain of American Independence (London, 1780)

Cool Thoughts on the Consequences to Great Britain of American Independence (London, 1780)

The title for this week’s blog is adapted from this 1780 pamphlet by Joseph Galloway, one of dozens of such publications available for use in the Archives & Special Collections. While we don’t claim anything like the comprehensive coverage of the published debates around the American Revolution available at places like the American Antiquarian Society, we do have a respectable teaching collection.

Between these examples and the eighteenth-century manuscripts in the Plimpton French and Indian War Items and the Lord Jeffery Amherst collections, researchers can gain insight into the tumultuous decades between the 1750s and the close of the American Revolution in 1783. [Note that many items from the Jeffery Amherst Collection are now available online, and digitization of that collection is ongoing.]


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A page from this volume.

A page from this volume.

There was some celebrating back in early May, when we completed the cataloging of the 1,397 titles in the Younghee Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection. Thankfully, no one got Gatorade poured on them, as had been threatened. I thought I would share in this post a little bit of the detective work that the last few titles required, and suggest questions that may be worth further research.

At first glance, a collection of poetry, stories, and art created in 1969 by students at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) certainly looked as if it were a one-of-a-kind manuscript. Indeed, a note from the book dealer had called it “a unique collection.” Closer examination revealed that the text was printed (probably by silk-screening), although some of the artwork may have been done by hand before the printing. With no title page on our copy, I searched WorldCat in several different ways before I felt confident that there are at least two other copies of this work in libraries, one at the New Mexico State Library, and one at UC Davis. I suspect no copy has an actual title page, and this can lead to different libraries accidentally cataloging the same work in different ways. The copy at UC Davis was given a title based on the first poem in the book…which can be a valid choice according to cataloging rules, but sometimes is confusing for researchers.


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