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reed magazine logoWinter 2008

Listening to Indians

Of course, the “informants”—who quickly became accustomed to the arrival each summer of a revolving cast of Reedies—exchanged gossip about them, too, carefully noting their comings and goings and savoring their eccentricities; details (including nicknames given to members of the Reed crew) were still being recounted with amusement in the 1980s when I was at Warm Springs doing my own linguistic and anthropological fieldwork.

The quality of life at “Uncle Avex’s house”—to which a second house was later added in a neighborhood of then-new Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) housing called Hollywood—emerges inter alia in the correspondence, especially with Harper. The Frenches and their students constructed a small dam in the creek beside the house to create a pool for swimming in the hot afternoons, and evenings seem to have been given over to anthropological “shop-talk” and some card-playing (Harper warns David French in one letter not to “mark the cards” until he gets there).

By July 1953, David French was in Ann Arbor attending a symposium, and Kay was writing him frequent letters updating him on activities in and around Uncle Avex’s house. One student, she writes on July 4, 1953, “has not done much in regard to his own [thesis] problem, and was somewhat worried about it… I talked to him one night and it seems all he needs is a little reassurance and pushing which I can probably provide.” Another student has “apparently set up so many deadlines (‘I’ll be done by Friday afternoon,’ etc.) that her parents got thoroughly insecure and she reacts negatively to their pressure. [X] tells her not to get paranoid and not to let herself see things entirely in their frame of reference, etc., etc.”

Don’t get paranoid—this is 1953, recall; but most of all, don’t see things entirely in your parents’ frame of reference! The Frenches were not functioning in loco parentis—far from it—but rather as colleagues, and as sources of advice and support when needed, functions that were also performed by fellow students.

Kay goes on to report a conversation with the BIA superintendent of the reservation, “in which he learned, apparently for the first time, that Indians spoke different languages. So the light of learning spreads.”

moving on

In a letter to Harper of April 9, 1953, David French reflects on what is by now a going concern:

The question of my tenure and promotion to associate professor is now official and non-secret. We have been gradually replanning our Warm Springs work… Beyond the summer, the plan is to work slowly and carefully on the various facets of Warm Springs research which will inevitably be unfinished. I see no reason why we cannot stretch some of this out over a period of years the way Kluckhohn has done at Ramah. For one thing, it will remain a good student training area. Then beyond the purely scientific considerations, is the fact that the work there has assumed emotional importance for both of us. We feel constructive or productive and become better prepared for life in Portland and for teaching.

This reference to what “Kluckhohn has done at Ramah” helps to put the Warm Springs Project into a wider context. Harvard University’s “Values in Five Cultures” project—overseen by the anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn (1905–1960), laboring under the watchful eye of Talcott Parsons (1902–1979)—brought together a team of sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and philosophers to conduct fieldwork in five culturally distinct but geographically contiguous New Mexico communities: the Mormon town of Ramah, a settlement of Texans at Fence Lake, Zuni Pueblo, the Hispano community of San Rafael, and the Ramah Navajo community. Begun in 1949 and supported by two grants of $100,000 each from the Rockefeller Foundation, the project produced a stream of Ph.D. theses, monographs, and books between 1949 and 1956.

Winishut Family Houst

The Winishut family house on the Warm Springs Reservation

reed magazine logoWinter 2008