Synopses & Reviews
In 1831 a delegation of Northwest Indians reportedly made the arduous journey from the shores of the Pacific to the banks of the Missouri in order to visit the famous explorer William Clark. This delegation came, however, not on civic matters but on a religious quest, hoping, or so the reports ran, to discover the truth about the white men's religion. The story of this meeting inspired a drive to send missionaries to the Northwest. Reading accounts of these souls ripe for conversion, the missionaries expected a warmer welcome than they received, and they recorded their subsequent disappointments and frustrations in their extensive journals, letters, and stories.
Bringing Indians to the Book recounts the experiences of these missionaries and of the explorers on the Lewis and Clark Expedition who preceded them. Though they differed greatly in methods and aims, missionaries and explorers shared a crucial underlying cultural characteristic: they were resolutely literate, carrying books not only in their baggage but also in their most commonplace thoughts and habits, and they came west in order to meet, and attempt to change, groups of people who for thousands of years had passed on their memories, learning, and values through words not written, but spoken or sung aloud. It was inevitable that, in this meeting of literate and oral societies, ironies and misunderstandings would abound.
A skilled writer with a keen ear for language, Albert Furtwangler traces the ways in which literacy blinded those Euro-American invaders, even as he reminds us that such bookishness is also our own.
Albert Furtwangler is an independent scholar affiliated with Willamette University and professor emeritus, Mount Allison University. He is the author of Answering Chief Seattle and Acts of Discovery: Visions of America in the Lewis and Clark Journals.
"Furtwangler has produced an engaging and idiosyncratic analysis of the Protestant missionaries, one that deserves wide readership. There is much here that is simply wonderful." - Larry Cebula, author of Plateau Indians and the Quest for Spiritual Power, 1700-1850
"This is a very impressive book and likely to be a widely consulted and influential contribution to Western history." - Jarold Ramsey, author of Reading the Fire: The Traditional Indian Literatures of America
"The collision of Anglo-American westward expansion with northwestern Native American cultures is viewed through the lens of books, secular and sacred, in this dry, narrowly focused volume. Furtwangler (Acts of Discovery: Visions of America in the Lewis and Clark Journals) explores how 'the extension of literate institutions' affected both the writers and readers of early accounts of European/Native encounters, as well as those upon whom they imposed the written word. He reviews diverse reports of the four Nez Perce who traveled to St. Louis to meet with William Clark (of Lewis and Clark) and traces 'the odd geographical parallel between the explorer and missionary settlements.' Later chapters attend to the internal 'war of documents' among the missionaries as 'disputes rose to a level of rage' and to an in-depth consideration of several descriptions of the First Salmon ceremony. While Furtwangler offers fresh observations, the book remains of most interest to those who care deeply about the thoughtful analyses of texts; for them, his book offers a cautionary exploration of how the West was written and some even deeper questions about privileging the written word." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)