Book Reviews and Notices
Wah-Kon-Tah: The Osage and the White Man's Road. By John
Joseph Mathews. (Norman: University of Oklahoma
Press. Pp. 359.)
The Osages found it difficult to adjust their simple culture to
the complex and mechanical civilization forced upon them during
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To some of
their wise old leaders it seemed that they were rejecting the best
of their own institutions and accepting the worst that the white
men had to offer. One chief stated it thus: "They do not know
what they want, my people. My mind is troubled about this
thing. Some young men try to talk like white man; they try to
act like white man. But they talk like white man who talks like
crow, and they act like white man who acts bad, I believe."
Wah-Kon-Tah, which may be translated the Great Mysteries, is
associated with the career of the Osage agent Major Laban J.
Miles, a courageous and sympathetic Quaker whose services to his
Indian wards suggests that the peace policy or Quaker policy
inaugurated by President Grant was not altogether a failure. The
book is not a biography, neither is it a history of the Osages. On
the contrary, it is a series of tableaus, emphasizing in all cases
the Indian rather than his Caucasian contemporaries. The scenes
are varied. On one page appears the account of Paw Hunka,
grieving with all his heart and soul for his dead wife, and
.approached by a rude trader to secure his "mark" which consti-
tuted the approval of the trader's bill for the funeral expenses.
At such a time the Indian would pay very little attention to the
form or amount of the bill. "Many of the white men . . .
said that this was very smart, but the Indian believed it to be
sacrilegious." There is the story of Wah' Ti An Kah, the bold
warrior who commanded the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to
be seated and hear the "talk" of the Osages-and the Commissioner
-obeyed. Indian humor, often quite subtle, is illustrated in the
account of Big Chief who told the agent, after the latter had eaten
a hearty meal in his lodge, that the beef had been stolen.
Thus are the various moods of the Osages portrayed and the
reader finds himself fascinated with the changing scene. The
writer has succeeded in eliminating much of that maudlin senti-
ment that mars so many books written by Indian apologists. Al-
though there are many indictments of the "Amer-Europeans"
Texas State Historical Association & Barker, Eugene C. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 37, July 1933 - April, 1934. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101094/. Accessed February 1, 2015.