An Unspeakable Sadness


An Unspeakable Sadness

The Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians

David J. Wishart

309 pages
Illus., maps


July 1997


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About the Book

Of all the interactions between American Indians and Euro-Americans, none was as fundamental as the acquisition of the indigenous peoples’ lands. To Euro-Americans this takeover of lands was seen as a natural right, an evolution to a higher use; to American Indians the loss of homelands was a tragedy involving also a loss of subsistence, a loss of history, and a loss of identity.
Historical geographer David J. Wishart tells the story of the dispossession process as it affected the Nebraska Indians—Otoe-Missouria, Ponca, Omaha, and Pawnee—over the course of the nineteenth century. Working from primary documents, and including American Indian voices, Wishart analyzes the spatial and ecological repercussions of dispossession. Maps give the spatial context of dispossession, showing how Indian societies were restricted to ever smaller territories where American policies of social control were applied with increasing intensity. Graphs of population loss serve as reference lines for the narrative, charting the declining standards of living over the century of dispossession. Care is taken to support conclusions with empirical evidence, including, for example, specific details of how much the Indians were paid for their lands. The story is told in a language that is free from jargon and is accessible to a general audience.

Author Bio

David J. Wishart is a professor of geography at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is the author of The Fur Trade of the American West, 1807–1840: A Geographical Synthesis (Nebraska 1979).


"An even-handed, elegantly presented and thoroughly researched example of the sort of work historical geographers need to be doing."—Journal of Historical Geography

"A valuable and meticulous study."—London Times Literary Supplement

"No serious student of Indian history or Indian-white history can overlook this singular book, a readable, thoroughly documented history of the Indians of Nebraska—Pawnee, Otoe, Missouria, Ponca, and Omaha. . . . David Wishart has given readers what I regard as one of the best histories of the American Indians ever written. . . I find Wishart’s work exceptionally meritorious in the field."—Wilbur R. Jacobs, Journal of American History

"A well-written and authoritative work." —Francis Paul Prucha, Great Plains Quarterly


1995 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Prize, sponsored by the American Association of Geographers, winner

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