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A Pictographic History of the Oglala Sioux
Drawings By: Amos Bad Heart Bull
Text By: Helen H. Blish
The publication of A Pictographic History of the Oglala Sioux, termed by Mari Sandoz "the most important single publishing venture, by volume, of the Great Plains," would be a noteworthy event under any circumstances. The conditions surrounding the discovery, analysis, and ultimate publication of the Amos Bad Heart Bull picture history--an effort spanning some forty years and involving the efforts of many people--only add to its significance.
The pictographic record, a series of more than four hundred drawings and script notations made in an old ledger book by Amos Bad Heart Bull, and Oglala Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation, between 1890 and the time of his death in 1913, passed into the possession of the artist's sister, Dollie Pretty Cloud. In 1926, Helen Blish, a graduate student at the University of Nebraska, while looking for objects of Indian art learned of the existence of the picture history from W. O. Roberts, chief clerk at that time and later superintendent of the Pine Ridge Agency.
It was only with great difficulty that Miss Blish was able to persuade Mrs. Pretty Cloud to allow her to use the book on a year-to-year basis for a modest annual fee between 1927 and 1940. Alternating between her teaching position in Detroit high school and graduate work at the University, Miss Blish spent her vacations interviewing informants, chiefly He Dog and Short Bull on the Pine Ridge Reservation, often accompanied by John Calhoff, the official agency interpreter. Her major advisor at the University, Professor Hartley Burr Alexander, chairman of the Department of Philosophy and a noted student of Indian art and religion, took a keen interest in her project of analyzing and interpreting the pictographic history; and through his help she received two grants from the Carnegie Institution.
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