Bringing Indians to the BookBook - 2005
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.