C. Keith Wilbur,
The Woodland Indians:
An Illustrated Account of the
Lifestyles of America's First Inhabitants

(Globe Pequot, 1995)

The Woodland Indians takes readers on a fascinating discovery of the lifestyles and traditions of the Native Americans in the eastern half of the United States from 30,000 years ago to recent times. This oversized book is lavishly illustrated with pictures, maps, diagrams and graphs, and is completed with a state-by-state listing of museums containing Woodland Indian displays. It is one volume of the Illustrated Living History Series.

The author grouped the information into six chapters: Ancestors of the Woodland Indians, Early Woodland Period: 1000 B.C. to A.D. 700, The Mississippian Tradition of Late Woodland Period: A.D. 700 to 1500, The Central Algonquian Tribes, The Iroquois Tribes and The Coastal Algonquian Tribes.

After briefly describing the stages of human evolution from 3,000,000 B.P. (Before Present) to the present day, the author shows us how the first people crossed the Bering Strait using a graph showing six distinct periods during which the Bering Strait would have been passable.

Each section provides detailed information about how people dressed, the tools they used, how they hunted, what they ate, what they grew, the items they produced for trade and who they traded with, their games and pastime activities, their techniques for warfare, and as much of their beliefs and traditions as is known. Wilbur focuses on the changes that occurred with time and the differences between the peoples.

Wilbur writes in an easy-to-understand manner that is dramatically picturesque. An example is when he explains about the Hopewell Mound Builders: "It would seem that the energetic mound-building thrust was finally running out of steam, sputtering to a stop shortly after 100 B.C. After a 200-year rest, though, the southern Ohioans were back with a second wind, ready to build on their earlier successes."

The book has a loose, flowing, chatty narrative style that makes it read like a work of fiction. The information is dispensed with clarity and often a sense of humor. The author's skill with language keeps the reading upbeat and there is never a lull or dull point. Whether you are interested in the warfare between neighboring tribes or the means of food preparation, the writing will mesmerize you.

If you are interested in learning to craft Indian objects, this is an excellent guidebook. It is detailed enough that you can create your own items by reading the description and looking at the pictures. I tested it by creating an atlatl and the description was super-easy to follow.

The only thing about this book that I did not like is the funky script. While it is decorative and cute, resembling handwriting, it is just plain aggravating to read in large quantity. I much prefer to see books produced in a clear font. Still, I must recommend it as one of the better Indian books on the market.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 3 May 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.