John Van Balen,
Great Plains Indian Illustration Index
(McFarland & Co., 2004)

John Van Balen is a retired reference librarian who noted that library catalogues do not provide much description of the contents of Native American books. There is really no way to locate photographs and illustrations except to pull each book and look for yourself. In response to this shortcoming, he created the Great Plains Indian Illustration Index, which allows researchers to quickly locate the illustrations they need.

Van Balen compiled this index from the contents of 340 books, published between 1911 and 2002, from the fields of anthropology, history, Indian-government relations, and arts and crafts. He created more than 4,200 subject headings with over 1,200 biographical references. In addition to the Plains Indians, he included notable individuals who had contact with them, such as traders, Indian agents and military personnel. He also included some of the 30-plus tribes that were resettled onto reservations in Oklahoma.

The books used are leading books that should be available in any large or university library. If not, an individual can utilize the inter-library loan system to borrow them from afar. (Several are reviewed here at Rambles.NET.)

The entries provide the exact page number for each illustration and a general description of the content or subject. For photographer John A. Anderson, there are five pages of listings of his work. Some of the entries are the war dance, Indian schools, High Bear: Brule Sioux, oxen, and dancers. Some of these entries have several listings beneath them. For oxen, for instance, there are fording the Niobrara River, hauling cordwood and teams with wagons loaded with wood.

Great Plains Indian Illustration Index sure would have been handy when I was in high school and taking Native American courses in California. This book is a godsend for the Native American researcher or serious student of Native American studies. It needs to be in every library in this country. I wonder why nobody ever thought of doing this before. Perhaps because they were not employed as a reference librarian. Praises to John Van Balen for making a difficult task easier.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

30 May 2009

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