Meskwaki Anthology

This paper, written in April 1998 by Sophilia Keahna, discusses the career of William Jones. A chronology and bibliography follow. Copyright © 1998 All Rights Reserved. Cannot be used without written permission.

William Jones  

            William Jones, usually cited as a Fox Anthropologist, was the first Native American to receive an advanced degree in anthropology and conduct anthropological fieldwork in the United States.  He produced numerous academic manuscripts regarding the language and customs of the Ojibwa, Sioux, Kickapoo, Sauk, and Fox tribes.

            Dr. Jones’s biographical background is an important aspect in the overall reflection of his work because the American influences in Jones’s life had a very significant impact on the manner in which he conducted his personal life as well as his academic career.  His patrilineal white grandfather, William Washington Jones who was English-Welsh, had arrived in middle America alongside the renowned frontiersman and Indian fighter, Daniel Boone.  Eager to participate in the settlement of the recently opened lands, Jones’s grandfather fought against a small band of Sauki Indians who were attempting to return to their summer camp in Illinois … an 1832 military event that became known as “The Black Hawk War”.  Jones’s Indian ancestry was introduced into the Jones family by the marriage of this grandfather to a Sac & Fox woman, a union producing Jones’s father, Henry Clay Jones.  Henry married an English woman named Sarah Penny who died soon after William’s birth in 1871 on the Stroud Sac & Fox reservation in Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma).  The infant Jones, whose blood quantum was three-quarters white and one-quarter Indian, proudly described himself later in life as “more white than Indian.”  William was raised by his Indian grandmother for nine years until she died and then he was sent to a Quaker boarding school for Indian children for three years in Indiana.  Jones finished his fundamental education at the Sac & Fox Mission School in Stroud then moved back East to attend Hampton Institute, Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts, and on to Harvard where he continued medical studies in the hopes of returning to the reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) as a physician.

            The field of Anthropology was going through a transformation during this period.  Historically, anthropologists had looked primarily at non-Western “exotic” peoples and places, particularly of so-called primitive peoples (a term usually avoided today).  Anthropology began as a kind of natural history, a study of the peoples encountered along the frontiers of European expansion and resulting in the recording of customs and artifact collecting in order to reconstruct the history of either extinct or nearly extinct cultures.  Franz Boas, considered to be the father of anthropology in the United States, introduced the concept of fieldwork to the science.  By living among such peoples and by studying and participating in their ways of life, anthropologists began developing their particular concepts, theories, and methods into a sub-discipline called cultural anthropology.  This form of research required studies of symbolism, art, myth and ritual, and religion in order to produce a multi-level commentary of a particular people’s culture.  A working familiarity with the selected group’s native language became a valuable attribute of fieldworkers.

            William Jones fell in Frederic Putnam’s hands, a resident professor of anthropology and director of the Peabody Museum, who suggested to him that he had unusual qualifications perfectly suited for a promising career in anthropology.  The Boston Folk-Lore Society sent Jones to Tama, Iowa for a summer to collect folklore among the Meskwaki (Fox).  The experience did indeed turn Jones from medicine to anthropology, partly because he had no prospect of financing for continuing in medical school but by doing field research had found wealthy benefactors, primarily museums and folklore societies, who were hungry for cultural items to add to their growing collections of primitive societies on the verge of extinction.  Until the turn of the century, U.S. museums in general were considered “curio shops” at best and typically were lowbrow places, which profited by charging the public a fee to view the more bizarre and bewildering items in their collections.  However, as the academic quality improved in American’s collegiate institutions, the U.S. began striving to achieve the same respectability for its museums similar to the status enjoyed by European counterparts.  An intensive pursuit of knowledge fueled by this ambition resulted in more comprehensive research work being done by fieldworkers as well as adding directives to identify important cultural items. 

It was at this time that William Jones was recruited for work in the anthropological field.  He was paid to collect Indian items from tribes who were expected to die off shortly and the pay-off for the museums would be an increased prestige and academic notoriety for possessing hard to get or rare objects.  Mary Alicia Owen, a contemporary folklorist of Jones, was sent by a different society to collect tribal stories including from the Meskwaki around the same time.  To a great many of the tribes being “studied” however, most museums’ collectors were not perceived as benefactors in the preservation or improvement of their precarious existence but instead were commonly viewed as being nothing more than opportunistic scavengers.  Unlike Mary Alicia Owen, Jones earned a reputation of being a morally judgmental scientist who often employed harsh, manipulative means to acquire the crafts, artifacts, handiwork, and information (or “plunder” as Jones himself was fond of generally terming his collections) for which he was dispatched.

Of the tribes he did field research about, Jones wrote to friends that he was happiest studying the Sioux and Ojibwa.  Ironically, his most celebrated contributions are his manuscripts about the Meskwaki (Fox) the academic world heralded as being the most insightful and definitive research ever done on such a traditionally intact yet fiercely private tribe.  His Fox Ethnography remains the principal source of information on the tribe even today … to non-Meskwakis, that is.

To mainstream society, William Jones likely was and still is used as a fine example of the American Ideal:  That of rising from obscure, modest means, overcoming adversity and finally gaining a respectable status in the greater society … similar to Abraham Lincoln’s ascension from a log cabin to the White House.  To the Sauki in Oklahoma, William Jones is considered one of their greatest offspring and they describe him as a brilliant and instrumental member of their tribe.  It should be noted that in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s, the U.S. Indian policy was to assimilate, acculturate and eradicate all Indian tribal-ness through education which, it was hoped, would cause the Indian youth to voluntarily abandon tribal ways of life.  All American Indian tribes experienced this pressure and many faced extraordinarily difficult decisions that would affect their tribe for generations to come, if they survived.

William Jones had spent only meager parts of three summers in residency at Tama studying the Fox, much of his stay being housed in the town of Tama and not at the Meskwaki Indian Settlement proper.  The reports he sent off to his superiors are filled with words of disappointment, frustration, and frequent complaints about the exceptionally rainy Iowa weather that greatly impaired his ability to even travel from town to the Settlement much less get around to any degree on the Settlement to collect information from no more than only a fistful of generally reluctant Meskwaki informants … plus severely limited his opportunities to attend only a couple of traditional ceremonies.  Even Jones at the time did not consider the materials or information he collected from the Meskwaki to be either authoritative or even remotely complete.  His bits of notes from the Tama expeditions went unorganized and unfinished until they were posthumously completed years later by one of his superiors when the “Fox Texts” was put into print and celebrated by his peers as being a significant, scientific achievement.  By comparison, the greater body of Jones’ anthropological fieldwork was actually done in the Great Lakes region where he spent many long, happy years among the tribes there.  The reports he filed from these areas reflect much more enthusiasm and cooperation from the locals than he received in Iowa, and he was much more pleased with the accuracy of his own observations and experiences.  Between expeditions, William Jones frequently returned home to Oklahoma to visit with family and to do field research there as well.

Jones received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1904, engaged to marry Miss Caroline Andrus from Hampton, Virginia and pursued funding for research projects.  His former professor, Frederic Putnam, had founded an anthropology department at the Field Museum in Chicago and offered fieldwork among the Philippine Ilongot people.  Jones took the position and spent a year among the very traditional Ilongots until, following what he prematurely described as a “successful” artifact collection expedition, his subjects killed him.  Reports surfaced that Jones had verbally abused and threatened them in an attempt to procure items he was interested in.  The academic world mourned its loss and demanded punishment for his murder.  Initially found guilty and punished to death, the sentences of his attackers were later appealed.  Jones’ behavior, upon closer examination, had revealed an intolerant man capable of exploitation and cruelty beyond acceptance.  Among other things, it was found that Jones had knocked a Filipino man down on the ground when he refused to take his hat off during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”  The defendants' death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands in The United States vs. The Ilongots Palidat. The Court found that the three accused Ilongot men, although regarded as "uncivilized", "...committed the fatal act from what was to them a high sense of duty and obligation, that of the protection of their chief, and not from cruelty and malice."

When asked in 1998 if he thought William Jones was indeed an authority on Meskwaki culture, Johnathan Buffalo, the Historical Preservation Coordinator for the Meskwaki Tribe, related the following:

“William Jones’s work doesn’t affect us, it occupies us.  For example, a University of Iowa graduate student named Fred McTaggart came to the Settlement in 1972 and 1973 to get information for his thesis on Meskwaki folklore.  Fred had a genuine interest in the Tribe.  In preparation for his paper, he read Jones’s manuscripts – which he believed not only to be the complete truth but also the definitive authority on Meskwaki customs and lore – in an attempt to establish how much the Meskwaki had ‘lost’ since Jones’s recordings.  It seemed to the tribe that McTaggart did not set out to preserve anything … it seemed his paper’s purpose was to determine the disintegration of the tribe by comparing the 1970 Meskwaki to the 1900 Meskwaki.  Instead, what McTaggart discovered was that we had not lost any essence, have never deferred to anyone else’s “authority” regarding our culture, and his resulting experience became the book Wolf That I Am.  That’s what I mean when I say William Jones’s work doesn’t affect us … it occupies us in the sense that we are continuously given academic litmus tests to see how we ‘measure up’ as Indians and it was William Jones who gave the world permission to intrude.  Because of those published papers, now people who aren’t Meskwaki think they have a right to know, to experience, and to possess Meskwaki religion and customs.  My job includes duties related to the Native American Graves’ Protection and Repatriation Act, where I am charged with the responsibility of retrieving religious and cultural items ‘collected’ in the past from people like William Jones.  I spend a large amount of time dealing with misinformation and inaccuracies that William Jones inserted into the academic world about us.  He may have been of lineal descent from this tribe and might even have been able to speak the language but he was missing something very crucial:  It wasn’t his life.  When William Jones was studying here, the tribe numbered less than 400.  A small pox epidemic had recently killed 45 people, resulting in a big loss of the tribe’s overall population.  When William Jones arrived it was a confusing situation for the Tribe to know how to receive him so he was treated as a distant relative whose cultural age was that of a small child, not an adult.  And that’s how things were explained to him, as one would explain the general basics of life to a young child in very simplistic ways.   His chronological age meant nothing here.  He might have been a highly educated man to everyone else, but to the tribe he lacked the many years of time that it takes to develop a good command of complex language, a solid understanding of the many overt and subtle social skills needed to navigate within the tribe, and proper religious contexts.  Evidently Mr. Jones didn’t understand that the tribe fully comprehended their precarious position in the modern world because he would’ve known they were teaching him for his own benefit, not for the world’s.  It’s clear that Mr. Jones didn’t understand his own world very well, much less anyone else’s.”

In conclusion, the activities of William Jones brings forth important ethical questions for the anthropological community to ask itself:  Just because a “project” can be achieved, does that necessarily mean it should be, and who is it that ultimately decides if a project is complete or accurate or even harmful?  Perhaps if the Meskwaki culture had actually meant something to William Jones personally, he wouldn’t have been so willing or quick to give away what little he knew.






William Jones’ white paternal grandfather, William Washington Jones, fought against a small bad of Sauki Indians who were attempting to return to their summer camp in Illinois in what became called “Black Hawk’s War”.

The Meskwaki Tribe (The Fox) and two Sauki groups are removed from Missouri and Iowa to reservations in Kansas; treaty payments are dispersed annually to the “Sac & Fox”.



- Iowa becomes a State

- Nation suffering bad economic times



California Gold Rush opens flood of immigrants crossing the Great Plains, going directly through many Indian Reservation lands in Kansas.



The Meskwaki purchase 80 acres in Tama County, Iowa.  Most of the Meskwaki move back to Iowa.  U.S. government tries to force the tribe back to the Kansas reservation by withholding treaty-right annuities.



American Civil War

1861 1865


US government finally pays annuities to the Meskwaki in Iowa, reluctantly giving the tribe a formal identity as the “Sac & Fox of Iowa.”  For the next 30 years are virtually ignored by state and federal officials due to a confusing jurisdictional ambiguity between the state of Iowa and the US government.



- A large portion of the remaining Indians at the second “Sac & Fox” Kansas reservation move to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma),  thus forming three separate and distinct “Sac & Fox” tribes; one in Kansas, one in Iowa, one in Indian Territory.

- Transcontinental Railroad Completed 





William Jones born in Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) on the Sauk and Fox Reservation.

Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer’s Last Stand



Chief Joseph makes historic, unsuccessful run for the Canadian border.



Standing Bear, Ponca Chief, wins a decision by Judge Elmer Dundy of the US District Court in Omaha that changed the legal status of American Indians from Animal to Human Being.





Jones returns to Indian Territory after three years at a Quaker boarding school for Indian children in Wabash, Indiana.

The Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma adopts a constitution, establishes a court system, police department, mission school, and a farming operation.





Franz Boas begins fieldwork among the Kwakiutl and other Indians of the NW Pacific, an event instrumental in the development of modern day anthropology



Jones enters Hampton Institute in Virginia

Wounded Knee Massacre





Jones graduates from Hampton and enters Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts to study medicine in the hopes of returning to the reservation in Indian Territory as a physician

- The State of Iowa cedes all jurisdiction over the Meskwaki to the US Federal Government


- Nation suffering bad economic times


Jones graduates from Philips and spends the summer with his father, commissioned to “collect” Indian students from Indian Territory for Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.  Enters Harvard College in the fall where he meets Frederic W. Putnam, a professor of anthropology and director of the Peabody Museum at Harvard.

Klondike Gold Rush


At the encouragement of Putnam, Jones’s interest turns away from medicine and toward anthropology.  The Boston Folk Lore Society sends him to Tama, Iowa for a summer to collect folklore among the Meskwaki (Fox).

US declares war on Spain; Americans destroy Spanish fleet at Manila; Spain cedes Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guan, and the Philippines for $20 million.



Philippines demand independence from the United States (not granted until 1946)


Franz Boas, considered the father of anthropology in the US, becomes Columbia University’s first professor of Anthropology.

All large game is extinct in Iowa:  Buffalo, deer, elk, etc. 


Jones enters Columbia University and works with Boas as a President’s University Scholar.  Spends parts of two more summers doing fieldwork in Iowa

Small pox epidemic hits Meskwaki Tribe, many fatalities.


Jones concentrates on the Sioux and Ojibwas for 3 years

Oklahoma achieves Statehood:  Becomes the 46th State


Jones returns to his homeland, now the state of Oklahoma, for a brief visit before leaving for the Philippines to do fieldwork among the Ilongots.



William Jones killed by his subjects of study.

A federal mandate, called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), was passed into law which in effect allowed Indian tribes a legal recourse in recovering misappropriated cultural items and religious objects, many taken by museum collectors



The Meskwaki, federally recognized as “The Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa”, establish a Historical Preservation Project in order to retrieve “Collected” religious and cultural items being held without tribal consent in museums and academic institutions throughout the United States.



With the understandable exception of the Meskwaki Historical Preservation Coordinator whose job it is to identify and recover stolen or questionably-procured Tribal cultural property, very few people in the tribe know who William Jones was.  The religious ceremonies and folklore of the tribe remain strong and intact. 


Academia continues to exalt William Jones as the definitive authority on Meskwaki (Fox) customs and religion.





Boas, Franz.  Obituary for William Jones, Anthropologic Miscellanea, American Museum of Natural History Journal, New York.  1909



Buffalo, Johnathan L.  Interview by Sophilia Keahna, Meskwaki Indian Settlement, Tama, Iowa.  April 23, 1998.



Grun, Bernard (based upon Werner Stein’s Kulturfahrplan).  The Timetable of HISTORY:  A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events, Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY NY.  1975



Hall, Robert L.  An Archaeology of the Soul:  North American Indian Belief and Ritual, University of Illinois Press / Urbana and Chicago.  1997



Hoxie, Frederick E.  Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston and New York.  1996



Jones, William.  Field Notes, American Museum of Natural History, NY NY.



Jones, William.  Edited by Margaret Welpley Fisher.  Ethnography of the Fox Indians, Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 125.  1939



Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma, Informational Brochure, Stroud Oklahoma.  1997