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on November 17, 2004
In Dispossessing the Wilderness, Mark Spence, an Assistant Professor of History at Knox College, Illinois, delivers a well-researched volume on a chapter of American Indian history that has gone largely unnoticed. The book tells the story of the National Park Service removing American Indians so that the landscape in each park could be more "natural and fit the common perceptions of nature. The conception of wilderness without natives was so powerful that early preservationists dismissed or ignored evidence of native use and habitation. For instance, Yellowstone National Park management of the 1870s and 1880s felt that the Native American threatened game even when government surveys revealed game numbers were on the rise.

Most national parks expelled Indians early on in their history. Yosemite proved the anomaly in NPS-tribal relations. Unlike Yellowstone and Glacier, the native populations remained long after establishment of the park. Early park management felt Yosemite Indians had a moral right to stay. Tourists expected and enjoyed viewing Indians in their "natural" state. For nearly 20 years the park gloried in its Indian past by hosting an "Indian Field Days" festival. The Indians made a living from tourists by selling their wares and working for the NPS or its concessionaires. After relative peace with the Park Service for over 50 years, the native population became a victim of the growing sentiment that creating a "natural" setting in national parks meant excluding of natives. Yosemite management effectively forced the natives to vacate their ancestral village site and move to small cabins. The NPS exercised near dictatorial control over cabin residents. When each family left, its cabin was destroyed to prevent another family from laying claim on it. In effect, relocating the Indians to the cabins was a long term-plan to wield more control over the Indians and slowly expel them in a way that would not raise a fuss among Indian advocates. The plan succeeded when the last Indian families vacated the cabins in the 1960s. Fortunately the Yosemite Indians still have a presence in the park, in the form of an Indian cultural center on the site of the former cabins.

The book relates much of the same information as Robert Keller and Michael Turek's volume American Indians and National Parks, but more succinctly and with better visual aids. Mingled with the narrative are excellent photos, illustrations and maps with thorough explanations in their captions. One such illustration fully demonstrates the bad blood that existed between the Blackfeet and Glacier National Park administrators by depicting then NPS director Horace Albright kneeling within the boundaries of the park with sharp claws extended trying to grasp the Blackfeet reservation (97).

For a volume focusing on Native Americans' relationship with NPS management, it also contains other pertinent historical information on national parks. The book's scope is narrow - it only explains Indian-white relations in Yellowstone, Glacier and Yosemite national parks. This confined breadth has its advantages in a detailed story of Native American-park management relations in each park, but may leave the reader wanting more. The book's epilogue does contain a brief summary of Indian situations in Grand Canyon National Park, Death Valley National Park, and a few parks in Alaska. For further reading on other parks, those interested will need to turn to Keller and Turek's volume as well as Indian Country, God's Country by Philip Burnham and Inhabited Wilderness, by Theodore Catton.
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on March 28, 2000
Mark David Spence has crafted a fascinating look at three national parks: Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite through the filter, the lense as it were, of Native American presence.
Citizens of the United States did not always see the national parks in terms of an empty wilderness, untrodden by human footsteps. Rather, early on in the 19th century Americans, such as Catlin for example, tended to look at the wilderness in its 'natural' state, that is, its condition before European conquest, advancement, and domination. This state, therefore, included the presence of Native Americans within these three national parks. This presence took on, at times, both a temporary or a permanent character.
Although the book can read with a pace that only a historian would love, there are sufficient insights to enlighten even the armchair historian. Perhaps one of the most fascinating facets is the role that John Muir took in defining Yosemite as a region that should be absent of the Native Americans, the very people who had dwelt in the Valley for centuries. His comments could easily be construed as racist, naive, and bigoted.
I cautiously recommend this book to you, although personally I found it fascinating.
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VINE VOICEon October 2, 2007
This book examines how the National Park Service removed Indians from their traditional lands while constructing the idea of "wilderness" in the national parks. This idea differs from the original idea of wilderness, which encompassed vast spaces inhabited by both Indians and wildlife. Once white Americans came to think of "wilderness" as "devoid of people," the Indians had to go.

Spence demonstrates this claim with respect to three parks, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. Yosemite poses an interesting contrast to the other two, in that Native Americans continued to live in the Valley until the end of 1996 - - though most were gone several decades before then. By having some variation in the cases, Spence gets more leverage out of this story than Philip Burnham's "Indian Country, God's Country," though Burnham covers more tribes and parks.

By grounding the story in a larger narrative about the conception of wilderness, Spence also makes this story *matter* in ways that Burnham does not - - Burnham's book became a familiar litany of injustices, while Spence's makes sense of the injustices beyond simply complaining about them. This gives him a stronger foundation on which to think about issues that Burnham struggles with, such as finding alternative roles for indigenous people in protected areas in developing countries, or the role of Native Alaskans in Alaskan national parks and preserves.

I've spent much of this review contrasting Spence with Burnham because they cover overlapping ground and appeared at roughly the same time. Both are worth reading, but I think Spence has the stronger overall book.
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on August 29, 2014
Great book on the formation of National Parks in the United States and the effect it had on Native American group. I used this book for a Native American History class I took and it was very enlightening.
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on September 25, 2005
I like the book, but Yosemite NPS DID NOT establish ties with the original Native Americans. Instead Yosemite NPS established and hired Indians who moved into the park to work in the 1900s. Yosemite mistakenly now keeps ties with Yokuts and not with the original Yosemites Indians.

They Yosemite NPS has hired a park ethnologist who we believe does not have a degree, but was married to a Miwok woman. He has been re-writing the true history of the Indian people in Yosemite. Sad, but true.
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on January 10, 2007
I like the concept of writing about the conflict with the Indians that lived in the park. The problem is the information. I am a descendent of the original Indians of Yosemite and there is a problem. The defintion "Some of them are killers" for Yosemite was fabricated in 1978 and is not the original meaning of Yosemite. The real meaning was "The Killers" or "The Grizzlies" because the Miwoks were afraid of the Ahwahnees. It was Chief Bautista and Russio, who were helping the Mariposa Battalion, who coined that term "Yosemite" for the Indians in Yosemite Valley which they were afraid to enter. It is because the Miwoks were once enemies of Chief Tenaya and the Ahwahnees. 30 years Yosemite National Park Service hired a person named Craig Bates who was married to a Miwok woman and had a 1/2 Miwok son who created that new defintion. So it is increble that ONE person changed the meaning and defintion of one of the most important and well known parks in the whold world...and no one noticed. The Miwoks were actually the scouts and guides for James Savage and the Mariposa Battalion, but you would not know it because the information was controlled by the "Indian expert" at Yosemite, which causes wrong information to be written...like the actual defintion of Yosemite.
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on January 10, 2007
I like the concept of writing about the conflict with the Indians that lived in the park. The problem is the information. I am a descendent of the original Indians of Yosemite and there is a problem. The defintion "Some of them are killers" for Yosemite was fabricated in 1978 and is not the original meaning of Yosemite. The real meaning was "The Killers" or "The Grizzlies" because the Miwoks were afraid of the Ahwahnees. It was Chief Bautista and Russio, who were helping the Mariposa Battalion, who coined that term "Yosemite" for the Indians in Yosemite Valley which they were afraid to enter. It is because the Miwoks were once enemies of Chief Tenaya and the Ahwahnees. 30 years Yosemite National Park Service hired a person named Craig Bates who was married to a Miwok woman and had a 1/2 Miwok son who created that new defintion. So it is increble that ONE person changed the meaning and defintion of one of the most important and well known parks in the whold world...and no one noticed. The Miwoks were actually the scouts and guides for James Savage and the Mariposa Battalion, but you would not know it because the information was controlled by the "Indian expert" at Yosemite, which causes wrong information to be written...like the actual defintion of Yosemite.
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on October 22, 2015
An eye opener on government land acquisition and removal of people. Not for the faint at heart. Not a pretty story. A necessary story on the history of this country.
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on January 24, 2016
It was o.k. expected more information
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