|About the Book|
In 1871, at the age of 23, James Owen Dorsey, previously a student of divinity with a predilection for science, was ordained a deacon of the Protestant Episcopal church by the bishop of Virginia- and in May of that year he was sent to Dakota Territory as a missionary among the Ponka Indians. Characterized by an amiability that quickly won the confidence of the Indians, possessed of unbounded enthusiasm, and gifted with remarkable aptitude in discriminating and imitating vocal sounds, he at once took up the study of the native language, and, during the ensuing two years, familiarized himself with the Ponka and cognate dialects- at the same time he obtained a rich fund of information concerning the arts, institutions, traditions, and beliefs of the Indians with whom he was brought into daily contact. In August, 1873, his field work was interrupted by illness, and he returned to his home in Maryland and assumed parish work, meantime continuing his linguistic studies. In July, 1878, he was induced by Major Powell to resume field researches among the aborigines, and repaired to the Omaha reservation, in Nebraska, under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, where he greatly increased his stock of linguistic and other material. When the Bureau of Ethnology was instituted in 1879, his services were at once enlisted, and the remainder of his life was devoted to the collection and publication of ethnologic material, chiefly linguistic. Although most of his energies were devoted to the Siouan stock, he studied also the Athapascan, Kusan, Takilman, and Yakonan stocks- and while his researches were primarily linguistic, his collections relating to other subjects, especially institutions and beliefs, were remarkably rich. His publications were many, yet the greater part of the material amassed during his years of labor remains for elaboration by others. The memoir on Siouan Sociology, which was substantially ready for the press, is the only one of his many manuscripts left in condition for publication. He died in Washington, February 4, 1895, of typhoid fever, at the early age of 47.