Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Books With Staying Power

When I get a new Civil War book, I first look at the endnotes/footnotes so I can see the kinds of sources that the author used. Perhaps this makes me a geek, but I like to see how an author constructed the book. Over the years, I’ve read a fair number of books relating to the trans-Mississippi, and there are certain sources that I see referenced over and over. One of these is the trilogy written by Anne Heloise Abel, a pioneering historian. Published between 1915 and 1925, Abel studied the fate of the slaveholding Indians (the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles) in the Indian Territory from 1830-1866. Most modern historians focus on relatively small slices of history so I am impressed at Abel’s audacity in tackling a large and complex topic.
According to the introduction in the modern reprint of her trilogy, Abel was born in England, but her family emigrated to Kansas when she was a still a youngster. She earned her first degrees at the University of Kansas and then earned a Ph.D. at Yale University. How and why she became interested in the topic of slaveholding Indians during the war is a mystery to me; perhaps it related to her time at the University of Kansas. Several years after earning her Ph.D., she taught at a college in Baltimore and traveled regularly to Washington, D. C. to examine Bureau of Indian Affairs records. Abel was the first historian to study many of these documents.
Admittedly, it took me several years to work up the courage to begin reading her books as I assumed that they were densely written. Much to my surprise they proved to be well organized and quite readable. However, she was fond, quite fond, of footnotes and some pages consist primarily of notes. She had a tendency to include transcriptions of excerpts and even entire documents in her notes. Although this is viewed as quite old-fashioned today, I have actually found her notes to be quite valuable in my latest research project. Another refreshing feature of her books is the almost total absence of typographical errors. One of my pet peeves in recent years has been the great increase in typographical errors in history books. Not too long ago, I had to set aside a book for a few days because I became so irritated at the many typos. But, I digress… A major negative feature of Abel’s trilogy is her outmoded, ethnocentric references to Indians; her wording can be quite jarring. Also, she failed to make use of Indian sources in her study. In spite of these criticisms, though, Abel’s work has stood the test of time. It has been almost 100 years since her trilogy was published and essentially every journal article or book dealing with the Indian Territory references her work. Now, that is staying power!
Bibliographic citations for her books:
Abel, Annie Heloise. The American Indian as Slaveholder and Secessionist. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clarke, 1915; reprint ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Abel, Annie Heloise. The American Indian in the Civil War, 1862-1865. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clarke, 1919; reprint ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Abel, Annie Heloise. The American Indian and the End of the Confederacy, 1863-1866. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clarke, 1925; reprint ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.


  1. I should get around to reading those last two someday.

  2. You should do that! Another thing that I like about the books is the unusually large font size. I can zip through quite a few pages pretty quickly.