Looking at the West: The American Bison, ca. 1553

[American Bison]. Francisco López de Gómara, Historia general de las Indias (Caragoça, 1553).

[American Bison]. Francisco López de Gómara, Historia general de las Indias (Caragoça, 1553).

Francisco López de Gómara. Primera y segunda parte dela historia general de las Indias: con todo el descubrimiento y cosas notables que han acaecido dende que se ganaron ata el año de 1551., con La co[n]quista de Mexico y de la Nueua España. En Caragoça: A costa de Miguel Capila mercader de libros vezino de Caragoça, 1553.  Call Number: Americana 1553q López de Gómara. Catalog Record.

Indian Melodies by Thomas Commuck, a Narragansett Indian

Indian Melodies by Thomas Commuck, a  Narragansett Indian. Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845.

Indian Melodies by Thomas Commuck, a Narragansett Indian. Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845.

The Western Americana Collection recently acquired a work often described as the first published music written by a Native American author: Thomas Commuck’s Indian Melodies, harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. (New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845). Commuck, an Indian of Narragansett ancestry, was born in 1805 in Rhode Island and lived for several years at Brotherton, New York.  After marrying Hannah Abigail, a Pequot Indian, in 1831, the pair headed West, eventually settling in Brotherton, Wisconsin where Commuck wrote his hymnal.

Thomas Commuck, Indian Melodies, Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845.

Thomas Commuck, Indian Melodies, Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845.

Though Pequot author William Apess published Son of the Forest in 1831, a milestone in Native American print culture, Thomas Commuck’s preface to Indian Melodies speaks of the adversities Native American writers still faced in 1845 in gaining acceptance as legitimate authors:

The author of the following original tunes wished to get some person better educated than himself to write a preface or introduction to his little work; but on reflection it occurred to him that he could tell the public all about it as well as anyone else; so he concluded to make the attempt. He is, however, fully aware of the difficulties attendant upon an attempt to appear successfully as an author before a scrutinizing and discerning public, especially when unaided by the influence of wealth, or a long list of influential friends…. Add to this circumstance of having been born, not only in obscurity, but being descended from that unfortunate and proscribed people, the Indians, with whose name a considerable portion of the enlightened American people are unwilling to associate even the shadow of anything like talent, virtue, or genius, and as being wholly incapable of any improvement, either moral, mental, or physical, and wonder will cease to be a wonder. (Commuck, iii)

Thomas Commuck, Indian Melodies, Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845.

Thomas Commuck, Indian Melodies, Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845.

Indian Melodies contains 120 Christian hymns, to which Commuck assigned names of Indian chiefs, tribes, and places (which bear no relation to the lyrics), forming a complex archive of Native American history:

As the tunes in this book are the work of an Indian, it has been thought proper by the author to have it all of a piece. The tunes therefore will be found to assume the names of noted Indian chiefs, Indian females, Indian names of place, &c. This has been done merely as a tribute of respect to the memory of some tribes that are now nearly if not quite extinct; also a mark of courtesy to some tribes with whom the author is acquainted. (Commuck, vi)

Thomas Commuck, Indian Melodies, Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845.

Thomas Commuck, Indian Melodies, Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845.

The entire preface is provided in the following gallery.

Bibliography:

Commuck, Thomas. Indian Melodies. Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, for the Methodist Epicopal Church, 200 Mulberry-Street. James Collord, Printer, 1845.

Fisher, Linford. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native American Cultures in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Round, Philip. Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Robert Stevenson. “Commuck, Thomas.” Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/06197 (accessed August 9, 2013).

Looking at the West: Admission Card for George Catlin’s Indian Gallery, 1838

Printed admission card for Catlin's “Indian Gallery.” Samuel L. Southard Papers (C0250).

Printed admission card for Catlin’s Indian Gallery. Samuel L. Southard Papers (C0250), Manuscripts Division, Rare Books and Special Collections.

From the papers of New Jersey politician, lawyer, and governor Samuel Lewis Southard, an 1838 printed admission card for George Catlin’s Indian Gallery on display at the “Wig-Wam” on Pennsylvania Avenue:

This Card admits Hon. S. L. Southard to Indian Gallery, in the “Wig-Wam” on Pennsylvania Avenue, during the season, free–and particularly solits his attendance on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, the 25th and 26th insts.  Geo. Catlin.  April 23, 1838.

For a detailed finding aid to the Samuel L. Southard Papers, see: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/C0250.

David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations

David Cusick's Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations... Tuscarera Village: Lewiston, Niagara co., 1828.

David Cusick, Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations… Tuscarora Village: Lewiston, Niagara co., 1828.

David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations, first published in 1826 or 1827, is likely the earliest account of Native American folklore to be written and published in English by a Native American author. The work was registered for copyright in the Southern District of New York on January 3, 1826, in which “DAVID Cusick, of the said District hath deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right whereof he claims as Author.” As Phillip Round states in Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880, Cusick’s history thus marks the “the first Native-authored, Native-printed, and Native-copyrighted text.” (Round, 150) The library recently acquired a copy of the rare second edition of 1828, which Cusick expanded and embellished with four illustrations (shown below).

The sketches provide “a written account of the Iroquois oral traditions during the creating of the universe, the foundation of North America, the early settlement of the continent, and the origin of the Five Nations (later six).” (Kalter, 13)    A brief preface to the edition notes Cusick’s desire for a published account of the history of the Six Nations and the troubles he encountered in undertaking the work:

I have been long waiting in hopes that some of my people, who have received an English eduction, would have undertaken the work as to give a sketch of the Ancient History of the Six Nations; but found no one seemed to concur in the matter, after some hesitation I determined to commence the work; but found the history involved with fables; and besides, examine myself, finding so small educated that it was impossible for me to compose the work without much difficulty.  After various reasons I abandoned the idea: I however, took up a resolution to continue the work, which I have taken much pains procuring the materials, and translating it into English language.  I have endeavored to throw some light on the history of the original population of the county, which I believe never have been recorded.  I hope this little work will be acceptable to the public. David Cusick. Tuscarora Village, June 10, 1825.

Bibliography:

Cusick, David. Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations: Comprising First–A Tale of the Foundation of the Great Island, (Now North America) the Two Infants Born, and the Creation of the Universe. Second–A Real Account of the Early Settlers of North America, and Their Dissentions. Third–Origin of the Kingdom of the Five Nations, which Was Called a Long House: the Wars, Fierce Animals, &c. Tuscarora Village: Lewiston, Niagara, Co., 1828. Call Number: 2013–In Processing.

Kalter, Susan. “Finding a Place for David Cusick in Native American Literary History.” MELUS 27.3 (2002): 9-42.

Round, Philip. Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Royster, Paul (ed.). David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations (1828). Faculty Publications, UNL Libraries. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=libraryscience (accessed November 24, 2013).

Walt Whitman’s Railroad Journey West Goes Online

Manuscript notes made by Walt Whitman during a four-month railway journey through the West have been digitized and are now available online in the Princeton University Digital Library: http://pudl.princeton.edu/objects/pk02cc02d

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—plains—plains—plains / the dug-outs / antelope / the Prairie-Dog / emigrant wagons camped for the night / The vast stretching plains hundreds of miles area / the buffalo grass / the yellow wild flowers / the clear, pure, cool, rarified air (over 3000 ft above / sea level) / the dry rivers.

According to his notes, Whitman began his journey on 10 September 1879 and arrived back on the East Coast on 5 January 1880.  The fragments record his first impressions from the “vast stretching plains” of Kansas to the “wooded & rocky land” of Pennsylvania. The journey filled him with “exhaustless recollections,” as he describes in the final leaves. Yet Whitman was unable to extend his trip beyond Colorado, and he noted plans for additional travel to the West Coast:

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“I did not go through to San Francisco, though I hope to do so one of these days.  Indeed I have a good deal of travel laid out; (among the rest Tennessee and Alabama).”

The notes were donated to the Princeton University Library by Philip Ashton Rollins, Class of 1889 and founder of the Western Americana Collection.  The donation was noted in the first issue of the library newsletter, Biblia, which included a full transcription of the fragments: http://libweb5.princeton.edu/visual_materials/pulc/biblia_v_1_n_1.pdf

Rollins collected a wide range of materials relating to the development of the American West, and two of his principal collecting passions were overland narratives and cowboys.  Whitman’s poetic fragments beautifully capture both:

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“The cowboys (‘cow / punchers’) to me / a wonderfully interesting class—clear & swarthy complexion—with / broad brimmed hats—their / loose arms always slightly / raised & swinging as they ride—their / splendid eyes—(Fra Diavolo  / and his men in the opera) / –a herd of horses / numbering 200.”