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John Swanton

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Title: John Swanton  
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Subject: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Five Civilized Tribes, Tlingit language, Choctaw language, Joara, Atakapa language, Tlingit alphabet, Manahoac, Quinipissa
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John Swanton

John Reed Swanton (February 19, 1873 – May 2, 1958) was an American anthropologist and linguist who worked with Native American peoples throughout the United States. Swanton achieved recognition in the fields of ethnology and ethnohistory. He is particularly noted for his work with indigenous peoples of the Southeast and Pacific Northwest.

Early life and education

Born in Gardiner, Maine, Swanton attended local schools and then entered Harvard University. He earned a Masters in 1897 and a doctorate in 1900. His mentor at Harvard was Frederic Ward Putnam. He studied linguistics with Franz Boas at Columbia University in 1898 and 1899.[1]


Following his education, Swanton first did fieldwork in the Northwest. In his early career, he worked mostly with the Tlingit and Haida. He produced two extensive compilations of Haida stories and myths, and transcribed many of them into Haida. These transcriptions have served as the basis for Robert Bringhurst's recent (1999) translation of the poetry of Haida mythtellers Skaay and Gandl. Swanton spent roughly a year with the Haida.

He began working for the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. He worked with them for the rest of his career, almost 40 years. Another major study area was of the Muskogean-speaking peoples in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Swanton published extensively on the Creek people, Chickasaw, and Choctaw. He also documented analyses about many other less well-known groups, such as the Biloxi and Ofo. He worked with Natchez speaker Watt Sam and argued in favor of including the Natchez language with the Muskogean language group.

Swanton wrote works including partial dictionaries, studies of linguistic relationships, collections of native stories, and studies of social organization. He worked with Earnest Gouge, a Creek who recorded a large number of traditional stories at Swanton's request. These materials were never published by Swanton. They have recently been published online as Creek Folktales by Earnest Gouge, in a project by [1]. The website includes some of the recordings by Gouge.

Swanton also worked with the Caddo. He published briefly on the quipu system of the Inca.

Swanton was president of the American Anthropological Association in 1932. He also served as editor of the American Anthropological Association's flagship journal, American Anthropologist, in 1911 and from 1921-1923.

Swanton died in Newton, Massachusetts at the age of 85.

List of works

  • 1905. "Contributions to the Ethnology of the Haida", Publications of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition 5(1); American Museum of Natural History Memoirs 8(1). Leiden: E.J. Brill; New York: G.E. Stechert.
  • 1905. "Haida Texts and Myths: Skidegate Dialect", Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, No. 29. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • 1909. "Tlingit Myths and Texts", Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, No. 39. Smithsonian Institution; Washington, D.C.:Government Printing Office.
  • 1911. "Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico", . Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, No. 43. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, available on Portal to North Texas Website, University of North Texas
  • 1918. "An Early Account of the Choctaw Indians", American Anthropologist, Vol. 5, pp. 51–72.
  • 1922. "Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors", Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, No. 73. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • 1927. "Religious Beliefs and Medical Practices of the Creek Indians", Forty-Second Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 639–670. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • 1928. "Social Organization and the Social Usages of the Indians of the Creek Confederacy", Forty-Second Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology for the Years 1924-1925, pg. 279-325. Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office.
  • 1929. "Myths & Tales of the Southeastern Indians", Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, No. 88, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • 1931. "Modern Square Grounds of the Creek Indians", Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Vol. 85, No. 8., pp. 1–46 + Plates.
  • 1931. "Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians", Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, No. 103. Washington, D.C.:Government Printing Office.
  • 1946. The Indians of the Southeastern United States. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, No. 137. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • 1952. The Indian Tribes of North America. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, No. 145. Washington: Government Printing Office
  • 1952. Swanton, "California Tribes", The Indian Tribes of North America. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, No. 145. Washington: GPO, Native American Documents Project, California State University. San Marcos, 2007

With James Owen Dorsey:

  • 1912. A Dictionary of the Biloxi and Ofo Languages. Bureau of America Ethnology Bulletin, No. 47. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.:Government Printing Office.

Further reading

  • Bringhurst, Robert (1999) A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.


External links

  • "John Reed Swanton"

1873-1958, E Museum, Minnesota State University Mankato

  • BC Bookworld Search
  • Julian H. Steward, "John Reed Swanton (1873-1958): A Biographical Memoir", The National Academies Press, pdf

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