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Lookingbill to publish War Dance at Fort Marion: Plains Indian War Prisoners

Dr. Brad Lookingbill, associate professor of history will publish "War Dance at Fort Marion: Plains Indian War Prisoners" in early 2006.

Lookingbill found the inspiration for his book from the memoirs of military officer Captain Richard Pratt. From 1875-1878, Capt. Pratt oversaw the detention of 72 chiefs and warriors of the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Arapaho tribes as U.S. Army prisoners of war at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. As an alternative to standard imprisonment, the prisoners participated in an educational experiment initially designed to end the Indians' resistance to reservations. The experiment's goal eventually shifted to a plan that would mold the prisoners into model citizens in mainstream American society.

War Dance at Fort Marion chronicles the prisoners' ability to maintain their own cultural identities, continuing to practice their traditional dances and ceremonies while meeting the demands required in the educational experiment.

Lookingbill said Capt. Pratt reluctantly allowed the Indians to hold traditional activities, such as pow wows, justifying them as a means to improve their communication with non-Indians. For the Indians, however, the pow wows were a way to preserve their traditions and have a measure of freedom.

"Their survival became a collaboration with their captors," said Lookingbill. "Their goal was to return home and share what they had learned so future generations could carry on."

Lookingbill says his book is unique because it is the first to provide a complete account of the prisoners' experiences at Fort Marion from their perspective. Most of the existing documentation about Indians as prisoners or as boarding school students has been made by non-Indians. Lookingbill reconstructed the prisoners' stories by reviewing 150 pictographs a traditional Indian way to document first-person accounts and record significant events.

"One prisoner, Wohaw, translated pictographs in the ledger books given to him in prison. This was the most exciting primary research document," said Lookingbill. "The ledger books were often used by Native Americans for their art when buffalo skin wasn't readily available." "War Dance at Fort Marion" will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press. This is Lookingbill's second book. "Dust Bowl, USA: Depression America and the Ecological Imagination, 1929-1941" was published in 2001.