Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Paul Goble's CROW CHIEF

This is a how-Debbie-analyzes-a-book post.

Earlier today, a librarian wrote to ask me about Paul Goble's Crow Chief. It was published in 1992 by Orchard Books. Here's the synopsis, from Amazon:
Crow Chief always warns the buffalo that hunters are coming, until Falling Star, a savior, comes to camp, tricks Crow Chief, and teaches him that all must share and live like relatives together.

I don't have the book itself in front of me but am able to look at the first pages via Amazon's 'look inside' option. The full title of the book is Crow Chief: A Plains Indian story. 

Goble opens the story by saying that a long time ago, all the crows were white. Then he says:
In those long-ago days, the Crow Nation once had a great leader. They called him Crow Chief.
With that sentence, Goble moves from the broad "Plains Indian" to the specific: "Crow Nation." When I turn back to his page of references, then, I expect to see a source specific to the Crow Nation, but there isn't one. Here's the list of books he references, and what I've been able to find in them.

Maurice Boyd, Kiowa Voices
The full title of Maurice Boyd's Kiowa Voices is Kiowa Voices: Ceremonial Dance, Ritual, and Song. I can't read it online, but the descriptions of it say Kiowa. My guess is that it does not have a Crow Nation story in it. It might have a Kiowa story about a white crow.

George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber's Traditions of the Arapaho
On page 276 of Traditions of the Arapaho, there is a story called The White Crow. This crow keeps all the buffalo for himself, hidden in a hollow mountain. The people plot to catch him. When they do, they tie him to their tent and he turns black. Later they let him go and follow him. They let the buffalo go. It is an Arapaho story, not a Crow one.

Richard Erdoes, The Sound of Flutes
I am unable to see this book anywhere online. It exists, but Amazon, Google Books, Hathi Trust, and Internet Archive don't have any portions of it that are viewable online. I do have a copy of American Indian Myths and Legends edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. In it is "How the Crow Came to be Black." It is on page 395 and is noted as a Brule Sioux story. In it the crow is thrown into a fire and his feathers are charred.

George Bird Grinnell's By Cheyenne Campfires
Grinnell's By Cheyenne Campfires has a story in it called Falling Star about a white crow, but it is a Cheyenne story, not Crow. It starts on page 182. On page 187, an old woman tells Falling Star she has nothing to feed him because a white crow has been driving the buffalo away. Falling Star catches it, takes it to the chief, who decides to put it in the smoke hole of his lodge to smoke the crow to death. It gets away, is caught again, and killed.

James LaPointe, Legends of the Lakota
LaPoint's Legends of the Lakota has a story about a white crow. I'm able to see snippets of the story that appear on page 74 and 75. There, I see that the crow used to be white, and that there were no buffalo. It is set in a Lakota encampment, so I suspect it is presented as a Lakota story rather than a Crow one. I ordered a copy of this book because it was published by the Indian Historian Press. That press is significant in Native studies.

John G. Neihardt, Eagle Voice
Neihardt's Eagle Voice - I couldn't find that title, but did find When the Tree Flowered: The Fictional Biography of Eagle Voice by Neidhardt. It was published in 1951. It has a story called The Labors of the Holy One. In it, Falling Star is a main character. There is a white crow that scares the buffalo when the hunters are coming. It is tricked by Falling Star and ends up being black. But, the story is a work of fiction by Neidhardt, who was not Native.

Vivian One Feather, Ehanni Okunkakan
I am unable to find Vivian One Feather's Ehanni Okunkakan, but information about it indicates the items she wrote are Lakota, for use at Red Cloud Indian School.

Ronald Theise, Buckskin Tokens
The full title of Theise's Buckskin Tokens is Buckskin Tokens: Contemporary Oral Narratives of the Lakota. I am unable to see it but given its title, my guess is that the stories in it are Lakota, not Crow.

Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians
Wissler and Duvall's Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians has an introduction that says the stories in it are Blackfoot. On page 40 is a very long story called The Twin Brothers, or Stars. On page 50 is where I come to a part of the story about crows driving buffalo away. Crows used to be white. On page 51, Crow is tied in a smoke hole and becomes black.

So where does that leave me at this point?

Looking through the references Goble used for this book, I am not able to find one that is about the Crow Nation and their stories. Do you know Betsy Hearne's article, Cite the Source? It is about traditional stories. In it, she talks about the importance of citing the source. Goble has cited a lot in Crow Chief but I'm thinking that what he's shared isn't really helpful for anyone who is trying to determine the accuracy of the story he tells. Some might argue that it is not fair to judge Goble's book from this point in time (2015) because it came out in 1992. Hearne's article came out in 1993. He, therefore, didn't have her article for guidance.

It is possible that Goble meant nation of crows-the-birds rather than the Crow Nation of people. If he did, then the story might be ok but I think viewing it that way injects too much confusion, and we still have too much ambiguity.

The Crow Nation is amongst the many Plains Nations, but that doesn't mean they are the same from one to the other. It is interesting to find that the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lakota, and Blackfoot have stories about a white crow, but they aren't the same. There are variations. Some elements are similar but others are not. I wonder if the Crow Nation has a white crow story? I'll keep looking...

Update, 6:02 PM, Feb 3 2015:

An important bit of information that I must share. In the late 1800s, the Bureau of American Ethnography sent people to gather stories from the tribes out of a concern that we were dying off and our stories would be lost forever. The stories were published and seen as legitimate source material. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. Frank Hamilton Cushing, for example, collected stories at Zuni. His are not reliable. Some of the collectors were not aware of their own biases as outsiders. That bias and outsider perspective is in those stories.

1 comment:

Polly said...

I grew up with this book, and it always seemed to me that crow-the-bird nation was intended, but I agree it's unhelpfully unclear. I look forward to hearing what you have to say after examining the physical book, Paul Goble's books are very popular with teachers in the places I've worked in (as a librarian), but I've always been a bit leery.