Reverend James Owen Dorsey (1848-1895) was a missionary and Bureau of American Ethnology ethnologist who conducted extensive research on Siouan tribes and languages.The papers of James Owen Dorsey comprise mostly ethnographic and linguistic materials on various tribes of the Siouan language family as well as tribes from Siletz Reservation in Oregon. These materials include texts and letters with interlineal translations; grammar notes; dictionaries; drawings; and his manuscripts. In addition, the collection contains Dorsey's correspondence, newspaper clippings, his obituaries, and reprints.
Scope and Contents:
This collection contains James O. Dorsey's research and writings as a BAE ethnologist, as well as his earlier work as a missionary among the Ponca. The vast majority of the collection pertains to his research on Siouan-Catawban languages, including the Dakota and Dhegiha languages, Chiwere, Winnebago, Mandan, Hidatsa, Tutelo, Biloxi, and Catawba. His research on Athapascan, Kusan, Takilman, and Yakonan languages from his field work at Siletz Reservation are also present, as well as some notes on the Caddoan languages. Dorsey's research files include linguistic and ethnological field notes, reading notes, stories and myths, vocabularies, drawings, and unpublished and published manuscripts. The collection also contains Omaha, Ponca, Quapaw, and Biloxi dictionaries that he compiled and materials relating to his work editing Steven Riggs' Dakota-English Dictionary. Additional noteworthy materials in the collection are Teton texts and drawings from George Bushotter and drawings by Stephen Stubbs (Kansa), Pahaule-gagli (Kansa), and George Miller (Omaha). The collection also contains Dorsey's correspondence, newspaper clippings, obituaries, and his collection of reprints.
The collection is organized into 6 series: 1) Siouan; 2) Siletz Reservation; 3) Caddoan; 4) General Correspondence; 5) Personal Papers; 6) Miscellaneous & Reprints.
Reverend James Owen Dorsey (1848-1895) was a missionary and Bureau of American Ethnology ethnologist who conducted extensive research on Siouan tribes and languages.
Dorsey was born on October 31, 1848 in Baltimore, Maryland. He exhibited a talent for languages at an early age. At age 6 he learned the Hebrew alphabet and was able to read the language at age 10. In 1867 Dorsey attended the Theological Seminary of Virginia and was ordained a deacon of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1871. In May of that year, Dorsey traveled to the Dakota Territory to serve as a missionary among the Ponca. Plagued by ill health, Dorsey was forced to end his missionary work in August 1873. By that time, however, he had learned the Ponca language well enough to converse with members of the tribe without an interpreter.
Dorsey returned to Maryland and engaged in parish work while continuing his studies of Siouan languages. His linguistic talents and knowledge of these languages attracted the attention of Major John Wesley Powell. Powell arranged for Dorsey to work among the Omaha in Nebraska from 1878 to 1880 to collect linguistic and ethnological notes. When the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) was established in 1879, Powell recruited Dorsey to join the staff.
As an ethnologist for the BAE, Dorsey continued his research on Siouan tribes. His studies focused on languages but also included Siouan personal names, folklore, social organization, religion, beliefs, and customs. He conducted fieldwork among the Tutelo at Six Nations on Grand River in Upper Canada (1882); the Kansa, Osage, and Quapaw in Indian Territory (1883-1884); the Biloxi at Lecompte, Rapides Parish, Louisiana (1892); and again with the Quapaw at the Quapaw Mission (1894). He also worked with Native Americans that visited DC, including George Bushotter (Teton), Philip Longtail (Winnebago), Samuel Fremont (Omaha), and Little Standing Buffalo (Ponca). He also spent time at Siletz Reservation in 1884 to collect linguistic notes on the Athapascan, Kusan, Takilman, and Yakonan stocks.
In addition to his research, Dorsey helped found the American Folklore Society and served as the first vice-president of the association. He also served as vice-president of Section H of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
At the age of 47, Dorsey died of typhoid fever on February 4, 1895.
1st-16th Annual Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology. 1881-1897.
Hewitt, J.N.B. 1895. "James Owen Dorsey" American Anthropologist A8, 180-183.
McGee, W.J. 1895. "In Memoriam." Journal of American Folklore 8(28): 79-80.
1848 -- Born on October 31 in Baltimore, Maryland.
1871 -- Ordained a deacon of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
1871-1873 -- Served as a missionary among the Ponca in Dakota Territory.
1878-1880 -- Conducted fieldwork among the Omaha in Nebraska.
1879 -- Joined the staff of the Bureau of American Ethnology.
1882 -- Conducted fieldwork among the Tutelo at Six Nations on Grand River in Upper Canada.
1883-1884 -- Conducted fieldwork among the Kansa, Osage, and Quapaw in Indian Territory.
1887 -- Worked with George Bushotter to record information regarding the language and culture of the Dakota.
1884 -- Conducted fieldwork at Siletz Reservation.
1892 -- Conducted fieldwork among the Biloxi at Lecompte, Rapides Parish, Louisiana.
1894 -- Conducted fieldwork among the Quapaw at the Quapaw Mission in Indian Territory.
1895 -- Died of typhoid fever on February 4th at the age of 47.
The James O. Dorsey Papers are open for research. Access to the James O. Dorsey Papers requires an appointment
Manuscript 4800 James O. Dorsey papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Creation of this finding aid was funded through support from the Arcadia Fund.
Digitization and preparation of additional materials for online access has been funded also by the National Science Foundation under BCS Grant No. 1561167 and the Recovering Voices initiative at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
This subseries of the Mexico/Central America/South America series contains Harrington's Cuna research, consisting of linguistic and ethnographic notes, reports and clippings, and miscellaneous notes.
There is a small section of "S[an] Blas" vocabulary which was recorded from Enrique Tule in Los Angeles in 1914. Most of his linguistic and ethnographic notes were obtained from the Cuna group that visited Washington, D.C., in 1924. He recorded vocabulary for animals, especially fishes; relationships; months; placenames; and tribenames. He also collected ethnographic information for cataloged artifacts from the Marsh Expedition, such as paddles, necklaces, and baskets. Some notes were elicited while examining the contents of a mannequin case in the U. S. National Museum. Interspersed with the linguistic and ethnographic data are information on members of the Cuna group, references to photographs, and quotes regarding the Marsh Expedition from one of its members, Major H. B. Johnson. Also filed here are a set of texts. Song texts, including the Canoe Song, Flower Song, and Headache Song, appear to have been written down from dictation or during a performance; there are virtually no translations. A few pages are in the hand of Paul Vogenitz. There is also a three-page typescript of Cuna text with a partial interlinear translation. It was dictated by Igwa Nigdibippi on December 9, 1924, as a discussion of the chief's activities in Washington, D.C., and was transcribed by Vogenitz on the following day. The second text, which takes the form of a letter addressed from "Pablo" [Paul] to "Kwan" Uohn], was prepared by Vogenitz as a writing exercise in the Cuna language. The subject is evolution, a topic of public interest at the time in light of the on-going trial of John Thomas Scopes. There are also typed data on note slips with handwritten annotations on plants and material culture. Original catalog numbers and Smithsonian catalog numbers are provided for some of the artifacts discussed. In addition, a few items collected by the Marsh Expedition are illustrated in sketches. There are also references to Dr. Walter Hough, Mr. Marsh, and Dr. Henry B. Collins. A second set of slips deals with terms for parts of the body and for various animal species. The slips were handwritten by both Harrington and Vogenitz. There are corresponding typed copies for many of the slips. Each entry consists of a single word and commentary on the phonetics.
This subseries also contains a series of reports on the Cuna Indians. Included are drafts of a paper titled "Ethnological and Linguistic Study of the Tule Indians of Panama" and a similar untitled typescript of two pages. This statement by Harrington includes discussion of estimated population, geographical area, tribal names and divisions, and language of the Cuna and lists the names of his informants. It also contains references to his study of Tule placenames of the coast and mountains and to the map drawn by Chief Igwa Nigdibippi (see MS 4490). The extensive "8000-word vocabulary" mentioned in the paper has not been located. There is also material relating to the reports Frances Densmore prepared regarding her study of the Cuna. Included are a typed copy of "Music and Customs of the Tule Indians of Panama" and handwritten and typed copies by Harrington of "Songs and Instrumental Music of the Tule Indians of Panama." These are followed by notes for an unfavorable review Harrington was writing of the papers by Densmore. Also filed here are newspaper clippings discussing Richard O. Marsh's explorations and Harrington's linguistic work with the Tule Indians.
Harrington retained a number of files of miscellany relating to his study of Cuna. Included are reading notes from Lionel Wafer's book, A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America, concerning observations of the Tule in 1699. They contain a few annotations regarding vocabulary items and phrases. There are also notes on Baron Erland Nordenskiold, a Swedish anthropologist who traveled among the Cuna in 1927, and Karl Gustav Izikowitz, who worked with a Tule informant named Ruben Perez Kantule in Goteborg, Sweden, in 1931. These are accompanied by two lists of vocabulary which were evidently prepared by Vogenitz with the intention of demonstrating the affinity of Cuna with the Scandinavian and Germanic languages. This claim was based on mistranslations or comparisons of inappropriate forms of a given word. A few additional pages, labeled "Tule miscellaneous," include a note from H. B. Johnson to Harrington. There are also random notes on bibliography and the names of contact persons.
Biographical / Historical:
From October through December of 1924, John P. Harrington worked with a party of Cuna--the "White Indians" as they were called by the press. The group was brought to the United States in July by an engineer, Richard O. Marsh, who earlier in 1924 had led the "Marsh Darien" expedition to eastern Panama, with representatives from the Smithsonian and other institutions. After a well-publicized short visit to New York City (during which Harrington probably reported on the Indians for a New Orleans newspaper) and longer stays in upstate New York and Canada, the party travelled in October to Washington, D.C. While in the capital, Marsh lobbied on behalf of the Cuna against the Panamanian government and the party was studied by various Smithsonian scientists--among them Frances Densmore, Herbert Krieger, and Ales Hrdlicka. Harrington and his colleague Paul Vogenitz of the Post Office Department undertook linguistic work with members of the group both at the Smithsonian and at the house where they were staying in nearby Chevy Chase, Maryland.
The party of eight Cuna consisted of three young albinos and five non-albino adults; two of the latter served as chaperones for the young people. The other three were delegates on a secret political mission to the United States. These individuals and their communities of origin are inconsistently identified in the documents. This is due to mistakes and simplifications by Harrington and others and because in this era, Cuna often had multiple and variously spelled names. The chaperones were a couple from the island of Nargana (also referred to as San Jose, Yantuppu and Rio Diablo in the notes): Jim, James, or Santiago Perry (also Berry, Beri, or Campos) and his wife Inez or Alice. The albinos were their adolescent daughter Margarita or Marguerite, and two unrelated boys who were sometimes passed off as their sons. The younger was called Tcippu (the Cuna word for "white," often given to albinos) from the island of Ustupu or Portogandi. The older boy was Olo Piniginya or Olo from Ailigandi.
The three political delegates were Igwa Nigdibippi, a subchief of the island of Ailigandi and personal emissary of the high chief Cimral Coleman; Alfred Robinson or Kantule, son of the high chief Nele Kantule of Portogandi; and Phillip (Phillip, Felipe) Thompson, also called Niga ("nephew") of Tikantikki or Niatupu. Alfred and Phillip spoke English and Spanish, and Phillip had attended primary school in Washington some years earlier.
Harrington and Vogenitz worked with Jim Perry and his daughter Margarita, Phillip Thompson (abbreviated "Ph." or "Fe!."), Alfred Robinson ("Alf."), and Igwa Nigdibippi ("Chief"). The group was first brought to the museum on October 18, 1924, and Harrington began recording information from them the next day. His field notes mention dates in October through December; during some of this period Vogenitz worked more intensively with the Indians while Harrington attended to other work at the Smithsonian. A vocabulary slip dated January 12  was probably written out after the fact. Frances Densmore began her musical studies with the Cuna on November 25th and worked intensively with them from November 30 to December 6.
The Cuna party left the United States at the beginning of January. Later in the month Marsh returned to San BIas, the coastal territory of the Cuna, and at the end of February helped to lead an uprising against the Panamanian government.
See Manuscript 4490 for the map of San Blas drawn by Igwa Nigdibippi for Harrington. The NAA also holds the papers of Richard Marsh.
John Peabody Harrington papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
The preferred citation for the Harrington Papers will reference the actual location within the collection, i.e. Box 172, Alaska/Northwest Coast, Papers of John Peabody Harrington, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
However, as the NAA understands the need to cite phrases or vocabulary on specific pages, a citation referencing the microfilmed papers is acceptable. Please note that the page numbering of the PDF version of the Harrington microfilm does not directly correlate to the analog microfilm frame numbers. If it is necessary to cite the microfilmed papers, please refer to the specific page number of the PDF version, as in: Papers of John Peabody Harrington, Microfilm: MF 7, R34 page 42.