Life among the Indians


Life among the Indians

First Fieldwork among the Sioux and Omahas

Alice C. Fletcher
Edited and with an introduction by Joanna C. Scherer and Raymond J. DeMallie

Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians Series

432 pages
13 photographs, 37 drawings, 3 musical examples, 1 map, 1 appendix


December 2013


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July 2020


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December 2013


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About the Book

Alice C. Fletcher (1838–1923), one of the few women who became anthropologists in the United States during the nineteenth century, was a pioneer in the practice of participant-observation ethnography. She focused her studies over many years among the Native tribes in Nebraska and South Dakota.

Life among the Indians, Fletcher’s popularized autobiographical memoir written in 1886–87 about her first fieldwork among the Sioux and the Omahas during 1881–82, remained unpublished in Fletcher’s archives at the Smithsonian Institution for more than one hundred years. In it Fletcher depicts the humor and hardships of her field experiences as a middle-aged woman undertaking anthropological fieldwork alone, while showing genuine respect and compassion for Native ways and beliefs that was far ahead of her time. What emerges is a complex and fascinating picture of a woman questioning the cultural and gender expectations of nineteenth-century America while insightfully portraying rapidly changing reservation life.

Fletcher’s account of her early fieldwork is available here for the first time, accompanied by an essay by the editors that sheds light on Fletcher’s place in the development of anthropology and the role of women in the discipline.

Author Bio

Joanna C. Scherer is an emeritus anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. She is the author of the award-winning book, A Danish Photographer of Idaho Indians: Benedicte Wrensted. Raymond J. DeMallie is Chancellors’ Professor of Anthropology, codirector of the American Indian Studies Research Institute, and curator of North American Ethnology at the Mathers Museum at Indiana University. He is the editor of The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, available in a Bison Books edition.


"With this delightful and penetrating journey into transcultural relations and how foundational anthropologists portrayed Indians, Scherer and DeMallie have enriched the understanding of the complexities of 19th-century American anthropology."—N. J. Parezo, CHOICE

"[Life Among the Indians] is an important contribution to Plains Indian ethnography and still an engrossing read."—Robin Ridington, Great Plains Research

“[Life Among the Indians] catalogues the journey of a pioneering American ethnologist and captures the contradictions that came to the surface when Victorians attempted to communicate the humanity of American Indians to a popular audience.”—Frederick E. Hoxie, Swanlund Professor of History at the University of Illinois and author of This Indian Country

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
"Life among the Indians" by Alice C. Fletcher
Foreword by Francis La Flesche
Part I. Camping with the Sioux
1. Over the Border
2. Reporting
3. The Welcome
4. The Chief's Entertainment
5. The White Man's Shadow
6. An Outline Chapter
7. The Indian Woman
8. The Woman's Society
9. Acting out a Vision
10. Journeying with the Indians
11. Natives and Visitors
12. A Religious Festival
13. The Ghost Lodge
14. Beef versus Men
Part II. The Omahas at Home
15. Among the Omahas
16. The Young Mother
17. An Indian's Story
18. Child Life
19. Hunting
20. Winter and War
21. Friends and Lovers
22. The Make-Believe White Men
23. The Schoolboys
24. Our Land
25. Starting Afresh
26. The Sacred Pipes
Appendix: Fletcher's 1881 Field Sketches
List of Abbreviations
Sources Documenting Fletcher's Fieldwork among the Omahas and Sioux

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