Wah' Kon-Tah. $2.50 John Joseph Mathews. University of Oklahoma Press. 1932.
It has remained for an Osage Indian to portray in a series of exquisite word-pictures, not the physical nor the political history of the Indians but their deep, hidden, inner life. "That which the children of the earth do not comprehend as they travel the roads of the earth and which becomes clear to them only when they have passed on to the great mysteries in Wah' Kon-Tah," is really a prose poem not only in its understanding depiction of the Indians, of their religion, their mysticism, their culture but of the land on which they dwell. With consummate grace and skill, Mr. Mathews writes of the Oklahoma landscape, its smiling loveliness in spring-time, its fierce heat in summer when the "heat devils dance," the mellow days and nights of autumn and winter's fierce storms with pelting sleet and snow and the north wind howling like a banshee. Because of his Indian blood, the author is able to write of his people "from the inside out" not from the view of a spectator—an interested and sympathetic spectator but a spectator, nevertheless.
John Joseph Mathews is a member of the Osage Indian tribe, and superimposed upon his Indian heritage is the broad culture and education of the white man's world, thus making it possible for him to approach the writing of "Wah' Kon-Tah," his first book, from both the standpoints of the Indian and the white man.
"Wah' Kon-Tah" is compiled from notes left by Major Laban J. Miles, early agent among the Indians. Mr. Miles was a Quaker and as conscientious and devoted to his charges as he was courageous and just in the discharge of his duties as their guardian. The book is unique in form. The lives and souls of the Indians are painted in a series of episodes—"their customs, their conception of God, their quiet dignity and courtesy as compared with the agressiveness and hypocrisy of the white race . . . . The Indian does not pray
as the white man prays; with one eye open and his hand around his money pouch but loses himself completely for the moment; his whole soul is given up to his grief."
The authentic Indian names, Gray Bird, Nellie Saucy Chief, Hard Robe, White Hair, Eagle That Dreams give the book atmosphere and the descriptions are full of beauty—"Sometimes the wind screamed like a woman who has the evil spirit . . . Spring came to the prairie and the blackjacks and the hills looked like undulating green velvet . . . like the cosmic pulse; the pulse of the prairie and the blackjack hills."
"Wah' Kon-Tah" contains eleven artistic illustrations by May Todd Aaron of Pawhuska and is dedicated "In Memory of by Father, William Shirley Mathews." It was the November choice of the Book-of-the-Month Club.
—Elizabeth Williams Cosgrove.