2. Adding the Stone Age to History

WHEN IN THE EIGHTEEN-NINETIES Powell attempted to summarize what he had learned in sixty years of intense receptivity to knowledge, he divided the grand Science of Man into five smaller “sciences.” The fifth of these he called “Sophiology” 1- a term that like many of his coinages has not caught on. Under it he grouped all the speculations that men have made in the attempt to understand or explain phenomena, everything from the most primitive animism to experimental science. And of the thousand methods the tribes of men had discovered, only science was verifiable; the rest was mythology; to modern science all human history funneled down. From thaumaturgy to research was not merely a progress, but a triumph. The method at least was final. Through it, phenomena could be indefinitely studied and the results verified, whether the phenomena concerned the natural world or the very superstitions and metaphysical systems and magics that science had replaced.

Primitive cosmologies and mythologies, Powell said, persisted in more advanced stages of society in the same way that vestigial organs persisted in the body. Evolution worked upon institutions as it worked upon the physical organism, but it worked irregularly and slowly. “More people believe in mascots than believe in telephones, and those who believe in mascots believe that telephones are magical.” The mythological and magical beliefs of recorded history, plus their folklore survivals, could be directly compared with the similar mythologies of the American Indian tribes, as Lewis Morgan had compared tribal kinship patterns with kinship patterns the world over, and the comparative study could shed, for the first time, real light on the development of civilization.

For Powell, though he adopted Morgan’s savage-barbarous-civilized stages of society and accepted without revision Morgan’s theory of the kinship basis for savage institutions,2 social evolution was not quite the even stairway that Morgan and some European anthropologists would have it. The diversity of culture among the American Indians made rigid systematization difficult. But there was a human progress, nevertheless, a series of bench marks that Morgan had defined. The lowest level, savagery, built its institutions on a system of kinship traced’ through the female line. Children belonged to the clan of the mother; husbands were mere visitors in the wife’s clan. Property was of the clan, not of the individual; on the individual’s death any strictly personal property was normally buried with its owner or destroyed. Marriage within the clan was taboo; religion was ordinarily a zootheistic adjunct of the clan system, each clan having its tutelary animal deity. Roughly, this was the pattern of Indian tribal society as. - Morgan had unearthed it in his study of the League of the Iroquois, and of many other tribes. The tribes were not “nations,” and they were not made up of “families,” and the notion of owning land individually was as repugnant to most of them as the notion of owning the air. Inheritance in white patterns was impossible, our treaties with the Indian “nations” absurd: few tribes numbered more than a few hundred souls, though confederacies sometimes brought together a few thousand.

Morgan’s discovery of some of the true bases of savage society was rich in consequences, one of which was the decision of the United States in the seventies to stop treating with tribal chiefs as if they were kings of petty nations, and to quit drawing up treaties that neither side was capable of abiding by. Other consequences were of the kind Henry Adams envisaged, the kind that would force the reconsideration of historical beliefs. It is no accident that Marx and Engels found in Morgan’s work scientific, support for the materialistic view of history, and that to some Marxist believers even today Morgan stands very little below Marx as a philosopher of ineluctable social change.3

His work led directly toward the notion of an evolved and perfect state, for above the savagery of the Indian tribes he saw a middle stage of culture which he called barbarism, and which was best exemplified by the patriarchal herdsman society of the Old Testament. In this stage, agriculture had been developed, animals domesticated, property diverted from communal to personal use. Morgan drew the dividing line between savagery and barbarism at the development of pottery, Tyler at the development of tillage. Powell, regularizing Morgan’s system, made it at the line where kinship in the female line gave way to kinship through the male, when the clan was replaced by the gens.4 The difference is small, for one cultural change was the logical consequence of the others. In barbarism, thaumaturgy and its shamans or priests still colored every phase of life, but as in savagery, civil and religious authority were separate. By the “civilized” stage of society, feudal or monarchical institutions made their appearance: serfdom, guilds, caste, sometimes slavery. Civil and religious authority tended to coalesce, shaman and chief fused, and all the institutions of private property emerged full blown.

It is easy to see why Morgan’s theories appealed to Marx and Engels. They made private property an ephemeral incident in human history, they challenged the notion that any institution was either sacred or permanent, most of all they assumed a world-wide, verifiable, and inevitable progress from stage to stage of human society. Neither Morgan’s theories nor Powell’s slight modifications of them are unusual in their time. Not only Marx and Engels but Herbert Spencer and Lester Ward and a host of lesser thinkers were moving on roughly parallel tracks. But it is interesting to note where Powell, at least, diverges from the inevitabilities of Marx, for though he accepts at every point the evolutionary view of history, he does not sound like a materialist all the way.

Beyond the monarchical stage of civilization Powell saw “Republickism” — another of his mildly hideous coinages — in which the chief sanctions of power were not magic, not kinship, not raw force, not property, but ethics and conscience. At that level representative government and social and political equality replaced divine right and caste. Society was organized in nations, on a territorial basis, rather than by caste or gens or clan. Civitas replaced Societas. Somewhere in that shining future when Republickism would be attained by all the world, there would be a responsible delegation of powers to elected or appointed representatives. That is, Powell’s utopian last stage of social evolution looked very like a vacuum-cleaned Illinois. To republican institutions, to Science, to responsibility and the social conscience, all the world must ultimately come.

Henry Adams would have smiled, but there have been worse dreams. Clarence King in a characteristic joke spoke of the development of society from savagery through barbarism to vulgarity, but cynicism was easier to a King or a Henry Adams than to a man bred on the midwestern frontier. Confronted with the dilemma of evolutionary thought, Powell chose the hopeful horn. In 1882, in a lecture on Darwin, he showed himself not merely undismayed but serenely confident: “Had philosophers discovered that the generation of living beings were degenerating they would have discovered despair. Had they discovered that life moves by steps of generations in endless circles — that what has been is, and what is shall be, and there is no progress, the gift of science to man would have been worthless.... The revelation of science is this: Every generation in life is a step in progress to a higher and fuller life; science has discovered hope.” 5

Man was no mere organism at the mercy of forces, as naturalist novelists had already begun to hint. Powell could cite Huxley in corroboration of his belief that man was in fact no longer subject to biotic evolution, but had acquired through intelligence the power to hold his own physical characteristics and to mold his environment to his desires. Evolutionary science as Powell interpreted it denied any and all theories of human degeneration from a perfect state. It repudiated alike the myth of the Garden and the Fall, the iron rigidity of Calvinism, the sentimental nostalgia for an olden and perfect time with which Arcadian poets and idealist philosophers had endowed the idea, and even the modernized version that Henry Adams, also reinterpreting history, would eventually issue as his historical application of the second law of thermodynamics.

For Powell the road led up toward Perfection, not down from it. Even his conception of the origin of language, which postulated many simultaneous or parallel discoveries of the arts of speech in many parts of the world, and their gradual concentration toward fewer and simpler and better languages, was opposed to the view which thought of diversity as a curse visited upon the sinful at Babel, or as the disintegration of some parent Indo-European or other complex and perfect tongue.6 The world worked toward unity, toward co-operation, toward “Republickism,” toward ethics and conscience and representative government, toward greater and greater cultural amalgamation, toward the final triumph of science. Gabriel has spoken of Powell as “the high priest of science” in the eighties.7 Major Powell would not have liked the label, for it linked science and thaumaturgy. Thaumaturgy and its priesthoods were vestigial; science was climactic.

The will to discover all the possible means by which human aspiration and belief and custom had been institutionalized, and the conviction that every variant could be placed somewhere on an evolutionary stairway, gave direction and system to Major Powell’s work in ethnology. Looking abroad from the vantage point of American industrial civilization he could include in his view the whole instructive spread of the American tribal cultures clear down to the level of a half housed, half clothed, half human, scatophagic tribe like the Seris of Lower California. The savage and the barbarous were there in many phases; their study could indeed, as Henry Adams had said to Lewis Morgan, profoundly alter the traditional views of human history.

When he eased into the directorship of the Bureau of Ethnology in the spring of 1879, Powell was in the best position in the world to direct a battery of scientific intelligences upon the origins and evolution of language, the forms and styles of Amerind art, the glacially slow growth of social and political and religious institutions within tribal cultures. Through study of these savage cultures he might throw light on the history of human culture at large. He could also help determine the pre-Columbian equilibrium of the continent and the impact of white upon red, mercantile and industrial upon neolithic.

The opportunity was not only unparalleled in that it gave him the chance to centralize in one bureau all the scattered, undirected, overlapping, and often amateur work being done on the Indians, but it was fleeting. For some things, 1879 was already too late.

One of the most obvious facts of history to the white Americans who by discovery, exploration, trade, bullets, rum, treaties, and the Word of God took over the continent from its aboriginal inhabitants was that the aboriginal inhabitants were doomed to extinction, and soon. The Kansas editor who prayed for the day when Lo and all his tribe should be obliterated felt that though the day was unwarrantably delayed, yet he could rest in hope. As early as 1823 James Fenimore Cooper, following Thomas Campbell, following Chateaubriand, had stamped the portrait of the vanishing Noble Savage indelibly on our literature, and elegiac Indian oratory of the Chief Logan kind was a staple of the salons even before the Revolution. Like a racing whippet after a mechanical rabbit, literary sentiment would pursue frontier ferocity across the westering nation. The same people who collaborated in the Indian’s wrongs could — quite honestly and even simultaneously — denounce the juggernaut that was destroying him.

Quite honestly. For however sympathetically or even sentimentally a white American viewed the Indian, the industrial culture was certain to eat away at the tribal cultures like lye. One’s attitude might vary, but the fact went on regardless. What destroyed the Indian was not primarily political greed, land hunger, or military power, not the white man’s germs or the white man’s rum. What destroyed him was the manufactured products of a culture, iron and steel, guns, needles, woolen cloth, things that once possessed could not be done without.8 And the destruction visited upon the Indian was not precisely or always what the public thought it would be. It was not the literal extermination of the race. Though systems of counting differ, there are by some systems at least half as many Indians within the continental United States now as there probably were when Columbus touched the Indies, and this in spite of the obliteration of dozens of whole tribes by war, disease, and cultural disintegration.9

It was not the continuity of the Indian race that failed; what failed was the continuity of the diverse tribal cultures. These exist now only in scattered, degenerated reservation fragments or among such notably resistant peoples as the Pueblo and Navajo of the final, persistent Indian Country. And here what has protected them is aridity, the difficulties in the way of dense white settlement, the accident of relative isolation, as much as the stability of their own institutions. Even here a Hopi dancer with tortoise shells on his calves and turquoise on his neck and wrists and a kirtle of fine traditional weave around his loins may wear down his back as an amulet a nickel-plated Ingersoll watch, or a Purple Heart medal won in a white man’s war. Even here, in Monument Valley where not one Navajo in ten speaks any English, squaws may herd their sheep through the shadscale and rabbitbrush in brown and white saddle shoes and Hollywood sunglasses, or gather under a juniper for gossip and bubblegum. The lye still corrodes even the resistant cultures. Some of the Pueblo villages are all but dissolved; some others are held together as much by white sentiment and assistance as by their own cohesiveness.

By the time Major Powell began to study Indians, urged on by Professor Henry’s ambition to gather under the Smithsonian as much as he could of ethnological research, the cultures of the eastern Indians were either extinct or so altered, debased, inter-penetrated and diluted and mixed one with another and with white civilization that much of the ethnologist’s work was all but archaeological. The eastern tribes from the Abenaki of Maine to the transplanted remnants of Creeks and Choctaws in Indian Territory beyond the Mississippi were already difficult to study. For some tribes not even vocabularies had been preserved, few records of the legendry and lore, only random collections of artifacts. The Far West was in 1879 still the home of tribes with some of their traditional culture left, yet so interesting a tribe as the Mandans had been practically wiped out by smallpox before more than a handful of students reached them. The bellicose Arikaras were almost gone, their relatives the Pawnees were going. And the disruption and the consequent speedup of cultural exchange that began with the first white traders had not only moved many tribes from their ancestral homes, but sometimes had moved them clear out of one culture and into another. The Mohicans and Iroquois of Pennsylvania and New York were not quite as extinct as James Fenimore Cooper had implied: the chances were that their remnants were off beyond the Missouri acting as scouts and mercen aries for white cavalry. The Sioux, from woods Indians in Minnesota and Iowa, had become horse Indians of the Dakotas, and the horse revolution which was strictly a white contribution to Indian polity had transformed tribes from Texas to the North Saskatchewan.

All of this — what had been before white intrusion and what remained after four centuries of war and exchange — was a subject to excite a scholarly mind, especially a mind galvanized by evolutionary science and tempted by the nineteenth-century exercise of synthesizing and codifying human knowledge. The leaven that worked in Herbert Spencer, Lester Ward, Lewis Morgan, worked just as powerfully in Powell. Pre-eminently he was a synthesizer, and the steps that preceded synthesis in any science were organization, classification, system. It was inevitable that when he got the chance to expand beyond the part-time ethnological studies of the Powell Survey he would try to systematize the study of the American Indian, long neglected, cluttered with the guesses of amateurs and the mythology and wishful thinking of Welshmen, Mormons, and popular romancers, conducted out of ignorance into fabrication, clouded with blood and old feuds, burdened with the missionary zeal that wanted to put all Indians into overalls with hoes in their hands, complicated by governmental bad faith and misunderstanding and by Indian hatred and instability — and almost too late. It was inevitable too that his interest in Indians should be cultural, that he should be concerned with them not for their cranial index but for the structure and institutions of their ethnic groups.

This was one of the two great works of his life. From the winter of 1868-69 in the White River Valley until his death in 1902 he worked, not with utter single-mindedness but with an unremitting purpose, to bring order out of the chaos and to substitute knowledge for the hatred, fear, sentimentality, hearsay, rumor, and legendry by which we knew the tribes of America. There is no especial drama in such a slaying of the dragons of error and confusion, but the achievement of his bureau was enormous, and Powell was the heart and brain of his bureau. After his death his successor, William Henry Holmes, put into his official eulogy something more than conventional applause:

The Bureau of Ethnology is peculiarly his, the lines of research initiated by him being in the main those that must be followed as long as the Bureau lasts — in fact as long as the human race remains a subject of study.... It was a fortunate circumstance that his energies were directed to a field little encumbered by the forms, methods, and determinations of earlier students, since it enabled him to conduct his investigations on new lines, and thus to raise the science to a higher plane.

The series of volumes published by the Bureau, which are more completely Powell’s own than the world can ever know, are a splendid monument to his memory, and will stand, not only for himself but for the nation, among the most important contributions to human history ever made by an individual, an institution, or a state.10

He gave away his ethnological ideas to his assistants as liberally as he had given geological ideas to Gilbert and Dutton; still, he did not give everything away. After 1876 he was not really a practicing geologist except through his collaborators, but he was an ethnologist all his life. The last field work he did was in the shell heaps near his summer home at Haven, Maine, and when, after years in the scientific and political wars had crippled him for further battling, he turned toward philosophy and the attempted synthesis of knowledge, it was the Science of Man upon which he focused, and ethnology from which he drew both his major ideas and their illustration.

By that time he and his bureau had remade the science of cultural anthropology as thoroughly as the Powell Survey earlier had remade — or made — the science of physiography.

Disregarding the accounts of travelers, which sometimes, as in the case of the Travels in North America of Maximilian of Neuwied, were of great ethnological importance, there was only a handful of major landmarks in the study of the Indians before 1879. It is a demonstration of our long neglect that none of these came until the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Albert Gallatin’s Synopsis of the Indian Tribes ... of North America, with which American ethnology properly begins, was not published until 1836, though preliminary studies had appeared earlier. The Indian Tribes of North America, by Thomas McKenney and James Hall, was published in three volumes between 1836 and 1844, George Catlin’s two-volume Illustrations of the Manners and Customs and Conditions of the North American Indians in 1844. Henry R. Schoolcraft’s government-subsidized Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Conditions, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States appeared as six serial volumes between 1851 and 1857. Morgan’s League of the Iroquois came in 1851, his Ancient Society not until 1877.

The pictorial recorders were hardly more alert. Though dozens of people, beginning with Jacques Lemoyne de Morgues in 1564 in Florida, had sketched Indians and characteristic Indian ceremonies and customs, there was no concerted or official effort in that direction until John Calhoun, then Secretary of the Interior, collaborated with Governor Cass of Michigan Territory and Thomas McKenney, Indian Commissioner, in sponsoring an Indian Gallery in 1824. The gallery was begun at five dollars per painting by James Otto Lewis, and was continued by others — Charles Bird King, A. Ford, S. M. Charles, G. Cooke — some of them nameless or mere initials. McKenny and Hall‘-s The Indian Tribes of North America assured itself a permanent usefulness by reproducing one hundred twenty portraits in color copied from the Indian Gallery by Henry Inman. Inman’s copies are still preserved in Harvard’s Peabody Museum, but almost the entire Gallery of originals, which found its way to the Smithsonian under Joseph Henry’s sheltering wing in 1858, was destroyed in the Smithsonian fire seven years later.

By that time there were two other galleries of Indian paintings: that of George Catlin, painted in the years following 1831 and widely exhibited from 1837 on, and that of John Mix Stanley, probably superior as art and at least as valuable for its preservation of vanishing cultural details. The fate of the Stanley paintings was more lamentable than that of the Indian Gallery. They came into the national collection on loan in 1852, but their sponsors were unable to induce Congress to appropriate money to buy the more than two hundred paintings made among forty-three tribes. As another Congress would later do with the Civil War photographs of Matthew Brady, this one ignored a collection that on its very face was of inestimable national value. Before the end, Professor Henry was paying Stanley an annual pittance to keep the collection together. Eventually it too, except for a few canvases hung in another wing, went up in the 1865 Smithsonian fire. Not even copies or reproductions were saved, so that what might have been an influential record has had little effect on students or critics. Of the three early collections of Indian paintings, only Catlin’s survives. 11

The value to the student of all these paintings and drawings is great. The worth of the early ethnological summaries is variable. Gallatin is of first importance because his classification of the tribes by language provided the key to almost all later research, Morgan because he first understood tribal society. Catlin’s Gallery, composed of equal parts art exhibit, waxworks, museum diorama, and Wild West Show, is debatable as art but unquestionably valuable as scientific illustration, for Catlin throughout his painting showed as commendable a desire for authenticity as if he feared he would have to establish it in court. There is hardly a painting without its affadavit. McKenney and Hall, with their ten dozen portraits in color, are an invaluable source for the fleeting details of broken tribal cultures — the styles of face and body painting, the costumes, the headdresses and modes of hairdress, the ornaments. As for Schoolcraft, though his six volumes comprise a virtual encyclopedia of the Indian and are thus important, they are wretchedly organized, somewhat pompous, and weakened by jealousy of rival authorities, notably Catlin. All these books contributed to the summary of the state of knowledge near mid-century, but only Gallatin and Morgan are seminal. When Powell began, he began with hardly any real tools of research except Gallatin’s basic classification, and even that was in need of modernization and revision. When Gallatin divided the American Indians into twenty-eight linguistic families, he admitted that his division was preliminary only: the vocabularies collected by Lewis and Clark had been lost and not replaced, and “with the exception of Salish, and of a few words of the Shoshonee and of the Chinook, we have as yet no knowledge of the Indian languages west of the Stony Mountains.... ” 12

Powell was better off. He himself knew something of three Sho shonean dialects — Ute, Paiute, and Hopi — and he had nearly seven hundred vocabularies that he and Professor Henry had taken over or borrowed from many sources. He could at least go ahead revising Gallatin. Yet there were almost unbelievable lacks, and where there was not lack there was chaos. So fundamental a matter as nomenclature, for instance:

When white men met a tribe of Indians for the first time, they generally called it either by the name it used for itself, by some nickname freakishly applied, or by a translation or mistranslation from the oral or sign-language name. But when they heard about a tribe from its neighbors they often used the name the neighbors used. Thus the French working westward along the canoe track from the St. Lawrence heard the Chippewas refer to their western enemies as Nadowe-is-iw — meaning “snake,” and by metaphor, “enemy.” The French corrupted this to Nadowessioux and then to Sioux. But these same Indians were universally referred to in sign language by a throat-cutting gesture, and in places and at times white men called them Coup Gorge or Cut-Throat. They called themselves the Dakota. But within the Dakota nation there were Yanktons, Sissetons, Oglalas, Santees, Tetons, several sub-tribes speaking three distinct dialects. And all around them — scattered, in fact, from the lower Mississippi to the North Saskatchewan and from the Carolinas to the Yellowstone country — were tribes who whatever their culture or physical conformation spoke some variant of that same Siouan tongue: Biloxis, Quapaws, Osages, Poncas, Kansas, Omahas, lowas, Otoes, Missouris, Crows, Minnetarees, Mandans, Assiniboins, Tutelos. Clearly the language relationship was the only clue to classification among these widely scattered people of at least three distinct cultures. But what did you call them for scientific purposes, so that ethnological terminology would have the precision of the language of botany, say, and stock and tribe and clan be as definitely labeled as order, genus, species, and variety in biological works? It was Powell’s premise that human taxonomy should be as precise as zoological or botanical. But Indian sounds did not always translate readily into English orthography; all the tribes had several names, with a fantastic range of spellings (even Gallatin, on his ethnographic map of 1836, spelled the Pend d‘Oreilles “Ponderays”). Many had been named and renamed at different times by different people speaking different tongues. Sometimes sub-tribes and mere clans or family groups had been mistaken for separate tribes.

The fact was that no one had ever sat down seriously to clarify the muddle of the tribal names. No one knew for sure how many tribes there were or had been or what they should truly be called. No one had even established a principle of naming, and said whether priority, accepted usage, euphony, or something else should dictate nomenclature. So before the tribes could be reclassified on Gallatin’s pattern with the addition of all the new knowledge available, someone had to do this pre-chore of what Powell called a “synonymy.” That meant reading all through the enormous literature that in four hundred years had accumulated about the Indian — and there was no comprehensive bibliography.

Start from near scratch, then, with first steps: a bibliography, a synonymy, a considered nomenclature, and a more accurate classification of the tribes by linguistic affinity. Before starting to write the science of American ethnology, create its alphabet.

For the bibliography there was a man at hand — James Constan tine Pilling, trained as a court reporter but diverted to geology and ethnology by his devotion to Major Powell. Dependable, tedious, stuffy, he set Clarence King’s teeth on edge. He reminded King of George Hearst, who in Tucson was bitten on the privates by a scorpion, which fell dead. Yet Pilling in his way was sincerely loved, and he proved himself indispensable a hundred times. He was made to order for bibliographical research — had in fact already begun it under the Powell Survey. That work so casually begun occupied him for years. He labored over it until he had a vast tome, of which 100 sets of proofsheets were printed in 1885 for the use of collaborators and correspondents. When additions came in, stimulated by the preliminary sheets, Pilling patiently went on adding, digging out, hunting down. In the course of his work, which he carried on for many years in addition to his duties as Chief Clerk of the Geological Survey, he accumulated for the Bureau an ethnological library the equal of any in the world; he toured American libraries, and when he went to England to receive an inheritance he scoured Europe’s libraries and bookshops. The bibliography grew as Pilling’s sight weakened. It far outgrew any possible single set of covers and was issued piecemeal in fat Bulletins: A Bibliography of the Siouan Languages, A Bibliography of the Iroquoian Languages, A Bibliography of the Muskhogean Languages, Notes On Eliot’s Indian Bible.... One by one he plowed on through the great linguistic stocks, Algonkian, Athapas can, Chinookan, Salishan, Wakashan. The aim was utter definitive-ness, completion. When Pilling died in 1895 after twenty years as Major Powell’s amanuensis he had cleared away the brush for future scholars, collected a major anthropological library, and was well into two new bibliographical bulletins on the Shahaptian languages and the languages of Mexico.

Fuss-budget, meechy foster uncle, a filing-system man with pains takingness where his imagination might have been and devotion in the place of his ambition, he rendered an enormous service. As soon as a man with more imagination than he gave him a course to run on, he did a more than respectable life work. “Do you want to do Powell a favor? Poison Pilling,” Clarence King wrote to his engineer Becker.13 But if Becker had acted on his chief’s advice there would have been a cornerstone unlaid, a pre-chore undone.

A pre-chore, at least, as it was first conceived. It was characteristic of Powell’s labors that a preliminary job designed to prepare the way for future important research should itself become a major area of research, should consume twenty years of diligent labor and remain unfinished at the end. Considering the state he found his favorite sciences in, his ambition to organize and then master them was promethean. Almost every project he began ended the same way — his master atlas of the United States, his survey of reclamation sites in the West, his inclusive study of the public domain, his synthesis of the Science of Man. The only thing clearer than the failure of his grandiose schemes of study is the compelling weight of their partial accomplishment.

Whether or not his plans were scheduled for completion, it is a beautiful thing to watch so capable an administrator set up and activate a bureau. Everything needed doing at once, everything depended on everything else before it could be begun, yet what needed doing got done. The pamphlet that Powell had printed in 1877 for the use of his field workers was revised in 1880 as “An Introduction to the Study of the Indian Languages,” and in quick succession it was followed by other manuals on the study of mortuary customs, sign language, medical practices, tribal governments, and mythology. “It is the purpose of the Bureau of Ethnology to organize anthropologic research in America,” Powell wrote in his first annual report. The manuals were the beginning, useful to the bureau’s full-time students but even more useful to the missionaries, army officers, local savants, enthusiasts, and pot-hunters whom Powell now enlisted as collaborators. By providing a center, an organization, and a system of study he channeled enthusiasms that had formerly frittered themselves away, and steered them until their results could prove valuable. Sometimes a local amateur was put on a salary briefly for a special job, once in a while one proved so able that he was brought in as a full employee. And even while the alphabet and syllabary of the science were being prepared, specialized studies were continued or begun, and their product published in the Annual Reports.

Among the things that Major Powell had learned in a decade or more was the lesson Hayden had taught — that both collaborators and Congressmen were impressed by publications. He had learned also how to delegate sections of his extensive plans. By now he was an exceptional judge of men and talents, and he retained his faculty of stirring his colleagues to extraordinary enthusiasm. It would be an empty effort for anyone but the historian of science to trace strand by strand the lines of research that Powell and his bureau put out during the eighties and nineties. For that sort of historian the study would be indispensable. The laborious, continued, careful, planned effort that Pilling put into the bibliographies was put in by others on different subjects. Colonel Garrick Mallery, for example, detailed like Captain Dutton for special duty with Powell, devoted ten years and more to the study of Indian sign language and Indian picture writing — the pre-speech and pre-alphabet of a continent. He related the sign language to the sign language of the deaf, the picture writing to all the known forms of calligraphy as well as to tattooing and body painting the world over. Mallery was a Yale man, with a temperament and a career very like Dutton’s. Humorous, somewhat ribald, quaintly and curiously learned, he could turn a scholarly lecture on tattooing into a hilarious smoker talk or attack a whole unmapped region of anthropological research with Pilling’s thoroughness. His monograph on picture writing, called a preliminary report, ran to 807 pages, with 1295 figures and 54 full-page plates, one of the most exhaustive and one of the most lavishly illustrated of all the Bureau’s publications.14

As soon as Pilling had attained some degree of completeness in his preliminary bibliography, and Henry Henshaw and his assistants had made some headway against the intricate problems of the synonymy, Powell assigned himself the classification of the tribes. This too, issued in the delayed 7th Annual Report 1885-86, (not published until 1891), was called a preliminary study. Powell never got back to it, but he never had much cause to. Like Mallery on sign language and picture writing, Yarrow on mortuary customs, Cyrus Thomas on the mounds, Royce on Indian land cessions, and Pilling on bibliography, it is a cornerstone.

The Honorable William Gilpin in celebrating the unifying effects of the North American continent had seen in the Indians “from Darien to the Esquimaux and from Florida to Vancouver’s Island a perfect identity in hair, complexion, features, religion, stature, and language.” Evidently he had not believed travelers on the subject of pale, blue-eyed, and even red-haired Mandans. Evidently he had not read or believed Gallatin, who found so much linguistic variety that he could trace no relationship whatever among twenty-eight different linguistic families made up of hundreds of distinct languages and dialects. Now Powell, in revising Gallatin, found not twenty-eight but fifty-eight distinct stocks, made up of over five hundred languages as different from one another as the languages of Europe. Most of the new ones came from the linguistically diverse West. Some of these stocks represented single small tribes, some many tribes much scattered. Powell, like Gallatin, accompanied his report with an ethnographic map to indicate the homelands of each. From Henshaw’s synonymy studies he extracted names which, on the usual scientific principle of priority of use, seemed most logical for every stock and tribe. To distinguish stock name from tribe name he added a suffix, -an to the names of the stocks. Behind that standardized nomenclature he threw the Bureau of Ethnology’s already great prestige and the persuasion of its own publications. It remains, as do the tribal classification and the ethnographic map, altered only in details. Powell was not himself a distinguished field ethnologist, as some of his men were, but in the 142 pages of a preliminary report he fixed the language of a science, mapped its divisions, and completed its basic classifications.15

As the years enriched his Bureau’s findings, he gradually evolved another and more abstruse classification — the five-fold or “pentalogic” categories into which he divided all human activity. His pentalogy became something close to an obsession during his last years, yet it was for a long time an effective framework for research. What he called “Aesthetology” covered all arts, games, pleasures. “Technology” included all crafts and industries. “Sociology” took care of the institutions of society, of trade, of property, of the family or clan or gens. “Philology” grouped all linguistic studies, from Pilling’s bibliographies to the collection of vocabularies in the field or the analysis of primitive grammar. And “Sophiology” dealt with every manifestation of savage or barbarous religion, philosophy, and education, including the medicine which was in almost every case pure magic. Living or dead tribes, ethnology or archaeology, fitted equally well into the framework. Because of the structure of the research plans, the publications of the Bureau during its first twenty years comprise a remarkably cohesive whole.16

What modern anthropology has changed in Powell’s system is not so much the organization as the names by which its parts are called. The prestige of the Bureau could standardize Powell’s choice of tribal and stock names, but it could not quite, in spite of the half-embarrassed loyalty of his assistants, enforce acceptance of his high-handed and bizarre substitutions for the customary terms of science and philosophy. “Sophiology” is extinct: but if a student were curious enough he could dip into Powell’s speculations on language and find there in his “sematology” the spore of modern semantics.

In the Bureau of American Ethnology now are thousands of Indian photographs illustrating — and preserving for study — types and customs and implements that might otherwise have gone to oblivion. Between four and five hundred of them are the work of Jack Hillers, the amiable, faithful, and bottle-loving Hillers who had been one of Powell’s helpers since they ran into each other in Salt Lake City in the spring of 1871. He learned his photography in Powell’s service, and he repaid the lesson by years of effective work both for the Bureau of Ethnology and for the United States Geological Survey. He was the first photographer of the Grand Canyon, and he recorded the failing cultures of many tribes. The best pictures he ever took were accumulated among the Uinkarets and the Shivwits, those timid and skulking savages who in 1870, when Powell first met them, had seen scarcely any white men except Jacob Hamblin, an occasional Mormon herder, and the three men from Powell’s own party whom they killed. Hillers had a knack for portraiture; there are few better Indian portraits than his, and no better collections.17 They are part of the riches that the Bureau assembled.

And the synonymy, begun right at the beginning and continued with changing personnel through a long time, the study that was properly preliminary to most others — what became of it? Like all the other basic studies, it could not be kept basic; it outgrew its preliminary purposes. Otis Mason, Garrick Mallery, Henry Henshaw, all took a crack at it. Powell based his nomenclature on it, but having served that purpose it went on. By the time Powell’s “Linguistic Families of North America” was published, the synonymy had developed into a project for a dictionary of the Indian tribes north of Mexico. To complete that work, the ethnologists of the Bureau divided up the various linguistic stocks and began filling and sorting cards. In 1893 Henshaw was forced to resign because of ill health, and the dictionary’s partially completed sections fell into the hands of Frederick Webb Hodge, who like Henshaw enlisted the part-time help of almost everyone in the office. In 1902 Major Powell died with the dictionary still uncompleted. But its fragments were of such obvious usefulness that Secretary Langley of the Smithsonian urged Hodge to finish it.

It took four more years. The preliminary synonymy upon which much else was to be based in 1879 was finally issued in 1907, five years after Powell’s death, as the Handbook of American Indians. It is what Schoolcraft’s six volumes pretended to be — what they could not in the eighteen-fifties have been made. In the Handbook’s two fat volumes are summarized most of the contributions that Powell and all his force made to ethnology, as well as what was known before. For the study of the tribes north of Mexico it is as essential as a dictionary is for the study of a language. It is another demonstration of the system and the order, admittedly improvable but still astonishingly sound and astonishingly definitive, that Powell and his helpers imposed upon a science they found almost unformed.

In any final analysis, it is not Powell’s personal contributions to ethnological research which most distinguish him. He did not hold himself to the careful and meticulous investigation that he inspired in his assistants, and he could not be bound down to the study of a particular tribe or a special problem. Every tribe, every culture trait, every problem, seems from the start of his work to have interested him not for itself but for its illumination of grand and often airy speculations. His assistants gathered facts; Powell attempted to use them like building blocks in his synthetic cultural history of mankind. As one of his successors said, his thinking characteristically involved at the very least the universe, and generally the cosmos.18 When in his later years, in constant pain from his amputated arm and hazed by the bullies of an angry Congress, he let his ethnological studies lead him directly into the most abstruse and even cranky philosophical speculations, he was merely moving further along paths he had already surveyed.

But long before he arrived at that point, before he had much more than begun with ethnology, there was a good deal else to be surveyed, further scientific work to be organized and given system. There was, specifically, the United States Geological Survey which Clarence King, hot for Mexican gold and the sybaritic pleasures of wealth, dumped in his lap on March 12, 1881.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!