Praise from Readers

Invaluable source material

An excellent source book, a gathering of sources. Much of the material is unique. THANKS!

A five-star review posted on by "Bob In pOdunk", 2015-08-31


This is the most authoritative masterpiece on the Spokan Indians ever written. Brilliant!

A five-star review posted on by "Nine Mile Liberty", 2015-03-01

Five Stars

Great concise and informative, a life's work.

A five-star review posted on by Ernest K. Robeson, 2015-02-04

Not for Stickybeaks or Zipperheads

John had many friends, and I'm proud to count myself among them. We had a lot of fun together, off and on, over the course of 40 years. Steve Egesdal's intro does a pretty good job of describing John. John had no patience with people he called "stickybeaks" and "zipperheads." He wasn't a "modern" anthropologist. John genuinely liked the Spokan people and was deeply concerned about the loss of knowledge he witnessed with the passing of tribal elders and native speakers. John's son, Justin, was lovingly given the Spokan name that means "He Who Walks In the Heavens," or "He Whose Feet Are In the Heavens." John bestowed a joking name on my son. His fondness for the elders revealed itself to me one time when he was here for a visit. Nancy Flett was in the hospital in Spokane. John asked if there was a place nearby where we could pick huckleberries for Nancy. I took him up to Pat's Knob, above the Clark Fork River, and we had a good pick. I told John to tell Nancy that we took the berries from under the noses of the Flatheads. John called me a few days later and told me Nancy's eyes really lit up when she saw the berries. When he told her we picked them in the land of the Flatheads, she said that it made them twice as sweet.

But back to the book — it's every bit as good as all the other reviewers say it is. There is something of interest on every page. When I read his words, I can hear John speaking. It's John's master work for sure. If he could've, he'd have lived longer and the book would have been twice as thick. John gives credit where credit is due, has wonderful references and a complete bibliography. He was a consummate professional. His words were written carefully and with love. There may never be another work like this for obvious reasons. There are few to no anthropologists left like John, and native cultures and languages continue to vanish apace. The winds of change blow towards a global culture. Change is immutable.

That the book exists in its present form at all, is due to the efforts of his son, Michael, and wife, Julie. John was a perfectionist, and Michael had to brave some of his father's stubborn ire in order to take control, organize, and get this volume into print. It wasn't the first time he'd tried to help his father. Michael sacrificed a good deal of himself getting the project out. He's to be commended for the quality of the book. Over the course of their long and loving marriage, Julie organized John. She was responsible for the order and focus that existed in their household. She poured oil on his troubled waters and urged him to accept Michael's help, to let go of control. In earlier years she also made sure John was properly nourished when he wasn't eating insects while teaching U.S. Air Force survival classes, or washing down large quantities of M&Ms and antelope sausage with Jack Daniels, when visiting me. Due to family circumstances, I didn't connect with John after the book was in print, before his passing. Julie told me John was very proud of what Michael accomplished, and grateful for what he did.

A five-star review posted on by David McEldery (Plains, MT), 2015-02-01

Ethnograpy At Its Finest

Imagine that my house is on fire. In it there are things that speak of generations of my family. I have forty seconds to think and act on what I should try to save. How can I move quickly and thoroughly and intelligently to collect what will soon become irretrievable?

To me, Professor John Ross's ethnography of the Spokan Indians is the 'house' — the collective memory of the life-ways of an aboriginal people. Those forty seconds in which to preserve the essence of its inhabitants correlate with the forty years the author spent listening, gaining trust, gathering for safe-keeping, and finally putting on record for posterity, all the Spokan information that was humanly possible to collect.

The 'fire' is now out. The history, language, economy, spiritual and familial structure of the 'building' remain, though precariously. What Ross has given us is a testimony to a magnificent people, a cultural group that inhabited common ground with everything that surrounded and sustained them. What could be saved has been. Four decades were not time enough to gather from the elders their collective knowledge and connections with the way things were before contact with an aggressive culture began to erode what had been in place for millennia.

Ross's ethnography of the Spokans is a magnificent compendium of memories cached between two covers. Its bibliography and appendices are extensive and invaluable. The chapters are arranged so that the reader can delve in depth on a particular subject. The extensive index in the back of the book magnifies the scholarly Table of Contents (the index proves more accurate in the digital edition than in the hard copy) in thoroughness, and both are a researcher's dream resource. They serve to invite the reader and tribe to inspect and gather from this storehouse of memories and life-ways by leading/guiding them in an organized way. Beyond the table and index and appendices, the body of work itself has been enriched, strengthened and woven into a complete and seamless book by one who stands quietly in the shadows as its editor.

This book is too short. Its nine hundred pages can only hint about an extraordinary people. Yet it is a living testimony — a tribute to Indians who were well aware that the fires of cultural fragmentation and assimilation would soon destroy traditional ways — and the remembrance of them.

Deepest thanks to those who entrusted their "belongings" to John Alan Ross. And even greater thanks to the author whose forty years among the Spokans resulted in this original book about an original people. The house remains.

(A Multidisciplinary Perspective on the 2011 Ethnography 'The Spokan Indians', with a Response from the Author may be found in the Journal of Northwest Anthropology, Spring 2013, Vol. 47, No. 1, pps. 71-90.)

A five-star review posted on by Christine Wynecoop (Spokane, WA), 2012-01-06

A modified version of this review was published in the North Columbia Monthly, 2017-04, Vol 24 Issue 11, on page 28

John Ross' The Spokan Indians

John Ross, in his book The Spokan Indians, has scored an intellectual and historical triumph virtually unmatched in the last two generations in America native literature. He has demonstrated the value of the written literary tradition of the western world by transcribing (over a 40-year period) the oral recollections of the Spokan tribe elders. He has thus saved the tribe's history from certain extinction.

And he has done so by resurrecting the style of learning during the 18th, 19th and mid-20th centuries that considered the French and British encyclopedias as reservoirs of knowledge to help us look at the world. Ross' triumph is that he has captured the world of the Spokan that has, in our time, been lost to human investigation.

This is not an academic treatise, requiring specialized knowledge to make the ideas and explanations comprehensible. Like Diderot's Encyclopedia, Ross has written The Spokan Indians for the common man. No matter where one enters the book (892 pages long) a treasure trove of information greets the reader. From every aspect of life — linguistic origins, social organization, life-cycle, tool-making, food preparation, hunting, fishing, clothing, plant life, health and medicine, religion and mythology — one can get a clear idea of how the Spokan individual lived. Indeed, Ross has, by the book's encyclopedic organization made it possible for one to read and learn at their own pace and deepen their understanding of a great native American Indian tribe about which (until now) little has been written.

As the reader surveys the authentic descriptions of a lost way of life, he might contemplate how a book of this nature could be written today without transforming the Spokan into an entirely fiction-driven genre. No history. No first hand documentation of sources or the people themselves.

In sum, John Ross has made it impossible for anyone to simply "make-up" their version of who the Spokan people were. His greatest accomplishment, then, has been establishing a standard of truth for the Spokan tribe and their existence in America.

A five-star review posted on by Dan Sisson, PhD (Ford, Washington), 2011-12-29

The Spokan Indians

This is a great book for anyone living near, or connected to, the Inland Pacific Northwest. The author brings to the written page everything one would like to know about the Spokan Indians, and by association, the mores of several nearby tribes. His long years of personal relationships to senior tribal members, plus research through a wide array of sources brings an amazing clarity of detail covering the regional indigenous people's past 300 years . The essence of this book is to bring a new understanding about the depth and complexity and mastery of survival's requirements as demonstrated in the world this tribe occupied. They had a vast working knowledge of their surroundings and all the interrelated factors… probably collectively more/broader integrated knowledge than is available to contemporary science.

A five-star review posted on by "Bob", 2011-08-09

A heritage treasure of a truly wonderful people

The Spokan Indians by John Ross is acknowledged to be "the last great ethnography that will ever be written on the Indians of North America" of the Spokane people of Eastern Washington. Considering ethnography as a description of the material and spiritual nature of an ethnic group, the word "last" is very sobering; fortunately there is also the word "great". In the Spokan John Ross has managed to do something rare and difficult to achieve; clearly present both the 'big picture' view and the fine detail of a people.

The Spokan is a comprehensive description and encyclopedic preservation of the Spokan and their way of life; the environments they lived in and shaped, their ancient language, the societal values that supported their relationships and interactions amongst themselves and with neighboring peoples, and their ceremonial reverence in all the ways they lived.

You will also find the minute detail of the deep importance and the incredible skills, knowledge, wisdom, and sacred intent they applied diligently to their tasks, their responsibilities, and the implements of their daily life.

I hope you will find in the Spokan, as I did, a heritage treasure of a truly wonderful people. You can hear the strong voices of the 'old ones', long departed, speaking and teaching us about themselves and their good way of life. Personally, I learned things from them that I have applied to help make me a better man and grandfather.

That we can hear and know these 'old ones' is thanks only to the trust, respect, worth, and confidence they came to place in the author over many years. Trust and respect that he demonstrated in countless large and small ways; worthiness because he listened so attentively and his intense desire to understand what they were saying, and their confidence that he would save for them what was being lost to time and change and to preserve it in an enduring way — this book of the Spokan — not as a dispassionate cultural anthropologist writing a dissertation on the curious, or as a judge of the exotic, but as a true friend. They certainly had the power of discrimination to know this was true.

A five-star review posted on by "rebanger" (Spokane, WA), 2011-08-03

Twin Eagles Wilderness School

Here is a FABULOUS new book just published — it includes extensive descriptions of Spokane culture, close to 900 pages worth, covering language, life cycle & rites of passage, primitive survival skills, wild plant medicines & foods, games/dances/music, spiritual practices & mythology and more. A treasure chest for anyone interested in traditional ecological knowledge and experience.

Comments posted on the Facebook page of Twin Eagles Wilderness School (Sandpoint, ID), 2011-05-27

This is the authoritative work on Spokan culture

Although this is a work of professional scholarship, interested lay readers will find the book rewarding because the author writes with a clarity that makes the information accessible and engaging.

The author, John Alan Ross, invested four decades in this work. He has produced literally the final word on Spokan ethnography. Not only is the work more extensive than previous efforts, but it is more authoritative. Ross worked with a generation of Spokan elders, now all passed on, who spoke the language and either directly participated in the living culture or had extensive contact with even older Spokan who had done so. That is a possibility now foreclosed. If not for Ross' decades of work, much would have been irretrievably lost.

The book can fairly be termed encyclopedic. It first sets the Spokan in context with their environment and with other Native North American groups, then sketches the historical events surrounding and resulting from their contact with Euro-Americans. The greater part of the book follows, offering comprehensive information about every aspect of Spokan culture and society, from their technology and economic system to their religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. The chapter on medicine and healing is particularly rich.

No review would be complete without a mention of the very thorough index. It will be especially helpful to those seeking to consult the book as an authoritative source on one or a few limited topics.

It is obvious to the reader that the arduous task of organizing decades of notes from field interviews and reading, then setting the results to paper, was undertaken with deep affection for those Spokan who shared their knowledge with the author. As a corollary, it is clear that the Spokan who worked with Ross must have placed great trust in his understanding of their teachings and his respect for their culture. They would be pleased with the results of the collaboration.

A five-star review posted on by Bruce Thomas (Kennewick, WA), 2011-07-05

Greatest detail and facts, educational & unbiased

I'm typically not a reader but this book is so filled with facts and detail that I can almost put myself into the history of my ancestors. In fact, it brought back many memories of my childhood in what my mother used to tell us and the various "home remedies" used on each of her 11 children. I would want all of my children to buy this book and get to know how their ancestors survived by using what was put on this earth by God for the good of all. It would do all of the Native Americans well to know this as part of their culture. It should bring back some of the pride and spirit lacking today in some. And perhaps, others who read this will understand the Native Americans better and appreciate their history.

A five-star review posted on by Sharon Kieffer (Davenport, WA), 2011-05-24

900 pages

As someone who is not into anthropology, American history, or Native American studies, I wasn't sure if this book would be of interest. But I spent a bit of time looking at the web site for the book (ross dot ws/Spokan), and it became clear to me that this book aims to be a very detailed and complete discussion of this particular Native American tribe. But be warned: At almost 900 pages, this is certainly not intended as a "doorstop" novel for summer beach reading. It is phenomenally extensive in its descriptions of almost every aspect of the Spokan people and their pre-contact culture. It would take a fair amount of time to read in its entirety. Fortunately, it is organized so that it could be read in parts, as needed. It would also be suitable for classroom use, for any course on American Indians. Also, it has a terrific index in the back, which makes it easy to find any topic quickly that isn't listed in the table of contents. Highly recommended to anyone interested in that region of the country, or the people who lived there first.

A five-star review posted on by Allen "afunbee" (Houstin, TX), 2011-04-07

A must read for any history buff

What a wonderful compilation of history! The author has dedicated a lifetime to the study of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, and has shared his wealth of knowledge with the world. A must read.

A five-star review posted on by "cfinn" (Escondido, CA), 2011-03-28

The definitive resource about the Spokan Indians

I am a history buff, and also interested in Indian Tribes of the Northwest. This book is an incredible resource for researchers or people like me that want to know the details starting with Euro American contact to Medicine and Health. I especially like the wonderful details regarding the Games, Dances, and Music of the Spokan. Interesting fact regarding sports such as Wrestling, "Children from an early age were taught never to "lose his or her strength and reasoning" when angry, for they would become disoriented and unpredictable, and thereby not trustworthy by others in later stressful situations. My son plays High School Baseball, so we have experienced the lack of integrity in most leagues in this country. The Baseball Youth Leagues in this country could learn a lot just by this statement alone. I am reading the book by viewing the Chapter and going to those pages of interest to me. The details are amazing, nothing is left out for descriptions such as "starvation" stories, etc. If you're a history buff like me and are interested in Native American Culture in general, or specifically want to know more about the Spokan Culture, specifically, THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU! ENJOY! I realize that this just gives you a taste, but I am sure more people will spread the news about this books as more and more buy it. Besides, I want to complete some of the information in the Chapter on Clothing and Adornment specially on "War Accouterments".

A five-star review posted on by Greg Hanson (Fort Collins, CO), 2011-03-12

An outstanding ethnography

The book kicks off with a fascinating foreword written by a linguistics expert, Steven M. Egesdal, himself a published author in the field of Native Americans. There is also a letter from a member of the Spokan Indians tribal council, stating their support for the book and its author. This is followed by a brief author bio, his acknowledgments, and an excellent introduction. The Amazon product description above is concise, but it doesn't do full justice to this book. The topics covered are far ranging, as reflected in the chapters:

  • Chapter I: Cultural, Linguistic, and Intergroup Affiliation
  • Chapter II: Euro-American Contact
  • Chapter III: Social and Political Organization
  • Chapter IV: Life Cycle
  • Chapter V: Settlement Patterns and Structures
  • Chapter VI: Tool Making and Related Technologies
  • Chapter VII: Environmental and Resource Stewardship
  • Chapter VIII: Annual Subsistence Round
  • Chapter IX: Hunting
  • Chapter X: Gathering Technology
  • Chapter XI: Fishing
  • Chapter XII: Firewood, Cooking, and Food Preservation
  • Chapter XIII: Transportation Technology
  • Chapter XIV: Clothing and Adornment
  • Chapter XV: Tobacco and Pipe Complex
  • Chapter XVI: Games, Dances, and Music
  • Chapter XVII: Medicine and Health
  • Chapter XVIII: Religion and Mythology
  • Chapter XIX: Natural Phenomena
  • Chapter XX: Conclusion

The book also has an afterword, and a section titled "Historically Significant Contributions by Selected Early Explorers and Naturalists", which briefly discusses the primary European chroniclers of this history. Related to this, the book's bibliography is quite extensive, and would be an unparalleled resource for anyone doing academic research in this area. The book concludes with an exhaustive index that is even more detailed than the table of contents, which itself might be sufficient for anyone trying to find a particular topic in this book's almost 900 pages, because the table of contents lists the many section heads, subheads, etc., in great detail.

As a layperson who knows next to nothing about anthropology, I wasn't sure what to expect of this book when I first heard of it. But having read it twice, I must say that this has got to be the ultimate source for information on the Spokan Indians — both the pre-historical culture, and the early history after incursion by European and Canadian settlers in what is now the eastern portion of Washington state.

Obviously, this book would be essential reading for academics and researchers of any plateau Indian groups, but should also be of considerable interest and value to anyone who wants to learn how a Native American group could survive for thousands of generations, without relying upon the technology and cheap oil that our modern culture takes for granted. Outdoorsman, survivalists, and peppers would also find a lot of valuable information in these pages, with details on field medicine, emergency and long-term shelter construction, fishing, hunting, the preparation of aboriginal foods, and other related topics.

A five-star review posted on by "Word carnivore" (San Diego, CA), 2011-03-03

This is a comprehensive ethnography of the Spokan Interior Salish peoples. The principal strengths are the amazingly detailed accounts of different aspects of medicinal practices including herbal medicines and the important role of belief systems. I like the use of Spokan terms throughout and the way this is done. The references are comprehensive. This is an original and unique work. It will be sought after by scholars of Northwest America and will be a classic reference. The book is a fabulous contribution!

Nancy J. Turner, a noted North American ethnobiologist
and Professor of Environmental Studies at University of Victoria

Each of the chapters provides a complete and thorough vetting of its subject. Overall, I think this book is a masterpiece — the last great ethnography that will be written on the Indians of North America. Professor Ross's manuscript will certainly be useful to linguists, particularly those interested in preserving the Spokan dialect of Salish. It will also be of wide interest to ethnographers, archaeologists and anthropologists, especially those working on the Columbia Plateau, but also those in other parts of the country who are interested in preserving Indian heritage in general, such as those at the Smithsonian. This book should also be of interest to natural historians (botanists, foresters, wildlife biologists/managers, fisheries biologists/managers, natural resource biologists) for its descriptions of plant, fish, and wildlife resources and gathering, fishing and hunting technology, and its descriptions of factors affecting fish and wildlife abundance in the Columbia Basin. Also, pharmaceutical manufacturing firms might want to take a gander for its treatment of ethnobotanical material. This book should also be of interest to anyone wishing to find out more about the Spokan Indians. I anticipate that parts of this book may be excerpted for Washington History classes. Professor Ross's engaging, almost hypnotic, writing style transports me back to the forests and meadows where the Spokane were living and almost allows me to be there with them. He has a lyrical grace that reminds me of Kevin Costner's film "Dances with Wolves". To me what was great about the film and Professor Ross's ethnography is that we are, in both cases, engaged with people who appreciate nuance and subtlety. Thus, I find the Spokan's story a fascinating one. I think that John Ross is a powerful conjuror, who has, through the ability of his writing, conjured the Spokan People for me. Professor Ross spent 35-40 years living among the Spokan working with various informants. Therefore it is a much more complete ethnography than those by earlier workers, who spent at the most 1-2 field seasons lasting a few months each to collect the data upon which their manuscripts were based. Nobody in the past had even bothered to collect this type of information targeting the Spokan, except for a University of Wisconsin professor named William Elmendorf, who never published his results. Professor Ross has Elmendorf's field notebooks, however, and made appropriate references to them in his book. Finally, since the Spokane Tribe are the first people who occupied the region around Spokane, Washington, I think their descendents would get a kick out of reading Professor Ross's book, especially since it takes great pains to point out the character of their ancestors. I got the distinct impression that they were remarkably intelligent to be able to invent the technology they did from primitive nature. I also got the impression of how they related to one another in going about their everyday lives.

Allan T. Scholz, Professor of Biology, Eastern Washington University


The best gifts are those through which the giver gives part of himself. Your gift of The Spokane Indians gives so much of you. That is what makes it a masterpiece, and the favorite book on my shelves of many books. I will treasure it, and your kind words about me in it, always.

me ke aloha,


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