Published on December 21, 2013 by Amy
The Plains Indians have entered into American mythology as fierce nomadic warriors who cared more about personal honor than about the outcome of any larger conflict. This representation of them, so attractive because it supports the idea of nobility in defeat, is countered by Bernard Mishkin in his classic study. Mishkin examines the Indians’ economic motivations in waging war and the consequences of their changing relations with other peoples. In Rank and Warfare among the Plains Indians he seriously questions the prevailing static picture of tribes, and even tribal areas, insulated from external historical forces and more or less unchanging in their social and cultural arrangements from prehistoric to reservation times.The first to link the individual pursuit of social status through military activities to the communal economics of Plains life, Mishkin demonstrates that the key to this connection was the horse, which the Spanish had introduced about the beginning of the seventeenth century. The extent to which the horse transformed native society becomes clear in this Bison Book reprint of Mishkin’s book, first published in 1940. A student of anthropology at Columbia University who came under the influence of Ruth Benedict, Bernard Mishkin did field work among the Kiowa Indians and taught at Brandeis University.Morris W. Foster, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, assesses Mishkin’s pioneering work in the light of more recent scholarship. He is the author of Being Comanche: The Social History of an American Indian Community (1991).
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