MASON JARS won the Appalachian Book of the Year Award for books published in 2000 from the Appalachian Writers Association. As a poet and a playwright, Carden has a master's sense of how voices should sound, and the autobiographical elements of MASON JARS coupled with the polish of his telling and re-telling these stories give his prose the ring of authenticity. Enjoy it privately, but read it aloud to friends if you get a chance. MASON JARS is poignant, bracing, and honest.
We were anxious to read the book after seeing his masterful storytelling in the film, and when "Mason Jars" hit the press, we were not disappointed. This collection of Appalachian stories is Gary Carden at his best. Full of humor and nostalgia, this is the type of reading that can be enjoyed by relaxing on the front porch with your feet propped up.
Take a journey with one of the finest of all storytellers as he shares with us tales of growing up in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
The collection is roughly autobiographical. The same essential details, names, incidents, come up again and again, and in spite of Carden's admittance to his tendency to stretch the truth, we know the essence is true both historically and emotionally. In this way, it differs from the writings of some others, like Mark Twain and Garrison Keilor, to whom he will be inevitably compared. Somehow Carden is more "the real thing" than these others. He is speaking from his own life, one that he continues to live.
Mason Jars generally follows a sequential path. The hero of most of these stories is Harley Teester, his name steeped in North Carolina rhythms. His adventures - more the adventures of others in which he somehow becomes involved, really - start when he is eight or nine years old and continue, on a bumpy path, to his present age. They take us from the simple naivete of a child who can make no sense of the odd reference to such things as "the trouser worm" to the sophisticated and wise understanding of the older man.
While the first several stories read like chapters in Harley's biography, others diverge. There are the "grandmother stories", in which Carden creates grandmothers who are not quite socially correct, who will fill a child's head with gruesome tales and revel in the effect. It's easy to imagine Carden giving wing to this primary character in front of an audience.
There are also tales of the supernatural, and his own versions of myths and legends. What overlays all in this diverse collection is a sense of hope, of good, of the essential goodness of man. It doesn't come from having been raised in a bed of roses or from having everything come easily to him. Perhaps the optimism is a result of the adversity he has weathered and survived. More, perhaps, from the pleasure of being able to capitalize on it in this way.
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The main thesis of Anderson's "Kinsmen of Another Kind" was the importance of kinship ties within the Dakota tribes as well as with outsiders. Traders formed kinship ties with the Dakota because the ties allowed the traders to use the Dakotas to gather furs for them. Dakotas benefited from kinship ties because the ties involved gift giving. Whites had to give gifts to the Dakotas if they wanted to maintain trade and relations. As more and more whites moved into the region, kinship ties slowly disintegrated because whites no longer needed to deal with the Dakotas on an equal basis. It is important to understand these kinship ties when reading "Little Crow," as Anderson again makes these relationships central to his study.
Anderson begins his biographical analysis of Little Crow with an overview of Dakota culture. According to Anderson, it is impossible to understand anything about Little Crow's life and actions unless we understand his cultural underpinnings. Anderson discusses hunting, gift giving, medicine sacks and medicine societies, Dakota religion, and the role of a chief in Dakota society (chiefs, according to Anderson, held little actual power over the warriors; it was the position of speaker that held greater power, something Little Crow found out when he led the Dakota warriors during the 1862 uprising).
Little Crow's life is truly fascinating. Anderson discusses in great depth the role of Little Crow's grandfather and father in their relations with the Americans at Fort Snelling. Little Crow's grandfather and father took an accommodationist stance towards white encroachment on Dakota lands, trying to toe the fine line between keeping the Dakota people happy while dealing with the whites. Anderson argues that Little Crow, despite the bad reputation he earned due to the uprising, was an accommodationist just like his father and grandfather. Time and time again, Little Crow worked with the white Indian agents and soldiers to try and benefit his people. Little Crow was intimately involved in signing several treaties with the government, worked hard to placate the government after the Inkpaduta affair of 1857, and tried to prevent war in 1862. That Little Crow failed in his dealings with the government and failed to stop the uprising is certainly a tragedy, but should not overshadow his attempts to do the right thing for his people. Ultimately, no Dakota leader could have prevented the coming doom.
Little Crow is best known for the destructive war against whites in 1862. Anderson covers the war and its aftermath in succinct detail. Actually, this may be the best account of the war I have read. Anderson discusses Little Crow's failure to successfully organize his warriors, his failure to gain support with mixed-blood and Upper Agency Indians, and his failure to form an Indian alliance during his exile in North Dakota and Canada. When Little Crow returned to Minnesota in 1863, he knew his time was short. Little Crow died from a gunshot wound while picking berries with his son. Little Crow's remains, horribly mutilated by angry whites, ended up on display at the Minnesota Historical Society until the 1970's, when they were finally given a proper burial.
Anderson claims that Little Crow was an opportunist, a scheming sort of politician who always helped out because he wanted to elevate his own position within Dakota society. Anderson cites as evidence newspaper interviews with Little Crow which revealed Little Crow's propensity for pithy statements and his need for constant attention. That Little Crow had a knack for oratory should come as no surprise; he was a chief, and chiefs constantly debated issues with other leaders in the tribe. But is Little Crow a politician? I don't think so, at least not in the way we perceive the term. Is it possible that newspaper and other white accounts of the time framed Little Crow in terms whites understood? After all, documents show that many whites had no real conception about the true nature of Indians in the 19th century. White relations with Indians were based on a fundamental set of assumptions, most of them racist and false. To paint Little Crow as a sort of Huey Long type teeters dangerously close to error. After all, Dakota culture emphasized communitarian values, not the sort of individualistic elevation Anderson says Little Crow sought.
Anderson ends the book with an appendix discussing Little Crow's genealogy. This section is the most difficult part of the book due to the intricate relationships within Indian families and tribes. Terms like "father" and "cousin" do not carry the same connotation in Indian culture as they do in ours. A father's brothers can all be "fathers" to an Indian, and "cousins" are even more convoluted. A genealogical chart of Little Crow's family at the back of the book makes a medieval royal house look like a nuclear family. These genealogies are necessary to back up Anderson's claim that kinship is central to tribal life.
This is a scholarly book that manages to entertain while it teaches. It is definitely a must have for those seeking a deeper understanding of the Dakota tribes, or for those interested in the Minnesota uprising of 1862. If you don't come away with some sense of admiration for Little Crow, despite his failures, you did not read the same book I did.
This is the tragedy of Little Crow's life.
Faithful to the conclusions suggested by his richly varied sources, Anderson presents a realistic yet compassionate portrayal of a great Mdewakanton chief. This is a scholarly work that reads smoothly and gives good tapestry detail. Colored plates of paintings enrich the text.
Nancy Lorraine, Reviewer
Our city has a bronze statue of Little Crow looking out over the Crow River near the dam on the Main Street. Up until the time that I read this book, that summed up most of what I knew of Little Crow, the Sioux legend. We choose to drop the name Sioux that was given this people by our own ancestors, the Ojibwe. In our language it means "Snake". Their word for themselves is Dakota. It means "Friend".
Now I feel as though I know him as a man. I know of his character, his integrity, his family, his people. I know a great wrong was done.
At the present time there is a group of people involved in planning and hosting a reconciliation and restitution concerning the events that touched this city in regards to Taoyateduta (Little Crow) and his people. A direct descendant of Taoyateduta (meaning His Red Nation) and a direct descendant of the man who shot him will be part of the event, asking forgiveness of one another. It is never too late to say, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive?"
This book has been instrumental in opening the door to the healing of this ancient wound that is still alive in many hearts.
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I met Gary Weicks several years ago when he was compiling a manuscript from the intensive research he had done. It started as a project for a Forest Service archeological dig in the Strawberry Valley. He was researching for information on the Army maneuvers held there in 1888. However, it became very intriguing to him to read of the Ute interactions that were written in Army reports. It took him on a new adventure researching the history of the Ute and this adventure took many fascinating twists.
As I read the book it seemed there was a new twist every few pages. It definitely gives you a new look on Ute and Anglo interactions. I believe a book like this is way overdue. It's time to bury the myths of the past and teach the true facts of Utah history.
This is a must read book for anyone who is interested in the old west, military, Mormon, Utah or Native American history. The book also spends time telling about the Lost Rhoades Mines Legend and the early miners of the area. It reveals the comprehensive story of a previously unpublished chapter in Utah history.
Weicks states that, "For over 400 years before the Mormon arrival in 1847, many of the Northern Utes and their preto historic ancestors lived in relative peace and stability within the territory currently encompassing much of Utah. In less than twenty years of settlement by the Brethren in their newest Land of Zion, the collective authorities of the Mormon Church, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Army convinced Congress to officially dispossess these Northern Utes of all their traditional and best lands except for the sprawling and considerably barren wastes of the Uintah Reservation located in northeastern Utah. By Church Prophet and President Brigham Young's own accounting, several bands of these original first contact Indians - through starvation, pestilence and white inspired epidemics - had experienced somewhere between a 90% to 99% mortal attrition rate in their numbers by 1867."
He goes on to say that, "In the mid-1870s Brigham Young, searching for new areas to colonize with land-seeking church members, began a policy that actively encouraged the Utes to depopulate their reservation where treatment by BIA officials over the years was poor and inefficient. Through the Church leader's ability to significantly control both Indian movements and affairs in Utah, Brigham began quiet efforts to induce Congress to throw open the Uintah Reservation to homesteading. Though the soil was largely infertile, the valuable water, timber and grazing resources of the country were coveted by the surrounding Latter Day faithful as well as the large cattle companies."
Brigham Youngs death slowed down this progress. Problems in Colorado with the Ute pushed many Colorado Ute tribes into Utah in the late 1870s.
In the 1880s mining interests on the Uintah and Uncompahgre Reservations gave another push to move the Utes off their reservations. The depression of 1893 renewed this push.
Weicks said, "In 1897, when the great Klondike Gold Rush began in Canada, Americans were caught up in the frenzy of seizing the moment and embracing the chance of renewed wealth regardless of the ravages of the lingering depression. Additional strikes in Alaska in 1899 and 1902 inspired an entire nation to get swept away in the gold fever so prevalent, especially in the West. Old mining tales, such as the Lost Rhoades Mines Legend centered on the Uintah Reservation, were resurrected and received serious attention throughout Utah and surrounding states. These wild stories of incredible riches sustained additional forward momentum to throw open the Uintah Reservation shortly after the turn of the century."
I found This Was the Place: The Darker Side of Mormon Zion to be written passionately and with a folksy wit making it enjoyable reading. It is written in a way that makes it easygoing and hard to lay down.
Weicks gives a well-researched, detailed account of the machinations of government, civilians, military, and Indians as all jockeyed for position. He has used primary and secondary sources, and interviews with historians and experts of today. It's an intelligent accounting of who was there and the sequence of events.
Anyone interested in the history of Utah and Colorado, the tribes living in that area, and relations between white and Indian, will find this book of great interest.
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This book is a nature lover's choice. Paulsen writes of growing up in a small Minnesota town and he intertwines this town's life with stories of adventurous boys. Two of my favorite essays are "Running the River" and "Bow Hunting." The first is a hilarious tale of an overplanned camping trip gone wrong when the boat, full of supplies and boys, sinks, forcing the boys to walk back to town. "Bow Hunting" is a coming of age essay in which a boy, after killing his first doe, poignantly describes his realization that while his life will continue, hers will not.
I recommend this illustration to anyone who enjoys the great outdoors. If you want to learn about cold, winter morning fishing excursions, or hot, summer days in the woods, this is the perfect book to help fulfill your curiosity. Father Water Mother Woods is worth your time of reading and is definitely a classic.