Colin Taylor: Ethnologist of the Plains Indians.
Our readers should be aware of this excellent book which is an appreciation and record of the life and work of Dr. Colin Taylor, the English ethnologist of the Plains Indians, who died in September 2004. The record, memoir and recollections by friends is edited by a man who was Taylor's close friend and confidant for 50 years.
The book is in two parts. First is Johnson's (no relation to this reviewer) memoir which traces Taylor's early life, his training to become a physics graduate and his professional life as a lecturer at Hastings College. Hastings was his home town for much of his adult life. Intertwined with his professional life, Taylor had begun a deep fascination and appreciation of the American Indian and their material culture. The second part of the book includes contributions and recollections by his friends, some eminent ethnologists in their own right and by his wife Betty.
Taylor's achievements in the field of American Ethnology are voluminous and Johnson's bibliography list his numerous (98) articles and reviews, 25 books including those published in both German and English and his best selling "The Native American" written with Williams C. Sturtevant. He obtained his doctorate in mid-life amidst countless projects, travels, and lectures--a testament to his boundless energy.
Johnson's choice of the various contributors allows for the wide coverage of Taylor's interests. These included a lifelong pre-occupation with Archie Belaney otherwise known as Grey Owl, an English born Canadian conservationist in the guise of an Indian. Taylor was perhaps the leading authority n early Plains Indian war shirt and their symbolism and of Sitting Bull, the Sioux Champion. These subjects were never far from his thoughts. He also had a fascination for William (Buffalo Bill) Cody and his prize possession was a war bonnet once owned by Iron Tail, A Sioux and a member of Cody's Wild West Show which toured England in the early twentieth century.
Trained in scientific methods he brought those qualities to his American Indian studies. However, Johnson concludes a number of people clearly influenced him. In his early years he was a great friend of Edward (Ted) Blackmore who lived close to Colin in Southern England and who introduced him to Indian regalia as a teenager. John C. Ewers was also a lifelong friend and mentor. In 2004 Colin organized and co-edited a two-volume festschrift in Ewer's honor.
Colin was a leading member of the English Westerners Society, a co-founder of the Grey Owl Society, a frequent speaker on Plains ethnology at symposiums on both sides of the Atlantic and technical advisor to film makers and museums. He traveled extensively in North America, often together with his wife Betty or with another close friend, Ian West who also share their experiences with Colin (not without some humor) in Part 2.
Johnson has done a service to all who were privileged to have known Colin and to those who perhaps only knew him through his published works. A festschrift to honor Colin is being edited by Arni Brownstone of The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto which will slightly overlap Johnson's tribute. Plans are also in place to house Taylor's collection of American Indian artifacts in his local (Hastings) museum alongside that of Edward Blackmore, no doubt a fitting memorial.
Reviewed by Michael G. Johnson Walsall, West Midlands, England