The Social History of an American Indian Community
Winner, Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Book Award (American Society for Ethnohistory)
Comanches have engaged Euro-Americans' curiosity for three centuries. Their relations with Spanish, French, and Anglo-Americans on the southern Plains have become a highly resonant part of the mythology of the American West. Yet we know relatively little about the community that Comanches have shared and continue to construct in southwestern Oklahoma. Morris W. Foster has written the first study of Comanches' history that identifies continuities in their intracommunity organization from the initial period of European contact to the present day. Those continuities are based on shared participation in public social occasions such as powwows, peyote gatherings, and church meetings Foster explains how these occasions are used to regulate social organization and how they have been modified by Comanches to adapt them to changing political and economic relations with Euro-Americans. Using a model of community derived from sociolinguistics, Foster argues that Comanches have remained a distinctive people by organizing their face-to-face relations with one another in ways that maintain Comanche-Comanche lines of communication and regulate a shared sense of appropriate behavior. His book offers readers a significant reinterpretation of traditional anthropological and historical views of Comanche social organization.
"Foster's work in ethnohistory may be rightfully regarded as an introduction to understanding not only the persistence of cultural traits among a people who no longer have a land base, but also the vibrancy and vitality of a people who have been and will continue to be an enduring feature of the North American social landscape.... This fine study reveals in detailed fashion that the modern Comanche are more than simply the sum of their relations with Euroamericans. At each turn in the historical process, the Comanches have found ways to go on being Comanche, making new economic arrangements, and innovating means for publicly expressing that unique identity." Choice"His observations about the contemporary scene are strikingly insightful. . . . An admirable work." Western Historical Quarterly"One of the more important studies in ethnohistory published in recent years . . . By concentrating on Comanche-Comanche relations instead of just Anglo-Indian relations, Foster has challenged long-held assumptions and stereotypes. . . . Well worth a careful reading by ethnohistorians since it has important implications beyond southern Plains Indians." American Historical Review"The name Comanche evokes images of the colorful Plains Indian warrior who protected his homeland and dared to die according to his nomadic hunting and war culture. . . . This ethnographic study is a successful attempt to look inside Comanche life and society in western Oklahoma." Ethnohistory"This book deserves to be read carefully not only by students of Comanche history but by all who share a common interest in the changing, enduring people we call Indians." New Mexico Historical Review