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C. Papagianni on Pfister’s The Yale Indian: The Education of Henry Roe Cloud

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1Joel Pfister, The Yale Indian: The Education of Henry Roe Cloud. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2009. pp259. ISBN:978-0-8223-4421-6

2In The Yale Indian Joel Pfister focuses on some seminal experiences of Henry Roe Cloud who was the first full-blood Indian to follow undergraduate and graduate studies in Yale. Based on a meticulous archival research, the book is enriched with the inclusion of biographical, historical and theoretical reflections which shed new light on Roe Cloud who has been heretofore only mentioned in passing by other historians as the Indian who graduated from Yale and as the Winnebago who played a central part in the Meriam Report. Obviously, these two chapters are central in the Winnebago’s life. But apart from these Pfister tries to emphasize throughout his book Roe Cloud’s lifelong sense of responsibility and commitment towards Indians as well as his attempt to re-signify the image of the Indians and to help create an Indian professional and managerial class. This class far from imitating the ‘oppressors’ would strategically use the master’s tools to gain access to power in order to help Indians with no such access.

3Despite the meticulous research the book is unavoidably incomplete due to the lack of adequate resources. As Pfister himself also admits, it is predominantly based on Roe Cloud’s personal writings and particularly on his correspondence with his adopted family, the Roes. Rich though they may be, these letters reflect only what Roe Cloud chose to write. Moreover, the archives and resources available focus only on Indian-white relations and so does the book, leaving out, unavoidably so, Roe Cloud’s close relations with other Indians. For instance, his intimate relationship and partnership with his Bad River Band Chippewa wife, Elizabeth Bender, is not given adequate attention in the book even though it appears, as Pfister also admits, that it was a turning point in his life making him eventually follow his own way, namely his “I-am-We” self-definition and mission that characterized the later part of his life.

4The book is divided into three main chapters. The first, “Yale Education,” focuses on Roe Cloud’s formation of identity and ambition during his Yale years. Greatly influenced by the self-help rhetoric during those early years, Roe Cloud was elected in the Elihu Club where he tried to strategically elicit support for the Indians. His dedication to the Indian cause is further made clear by his participation in the Society of American Indians, as its youngest leader. It should be mentioned that his dedication to this cause was not always as uncomplicated during his Yale years as in the later part of his life. For instance, we read that Roe Cloud occasionally tended to view things “through his Yale-crafted and Roes-crafted lens,” to use Pfister’s words, which created friction between his Indian and Yale identity, often at the expense of the former. What I find somewhat disturbing is that Pfister seems too ready to justify Roe Cloud’s anxiety to preserve his Yale status and class agency on the basis that he would later use this agency for the good of his fellow Indians, a point that he keeps repeating throughout his book.

5In the second chapter we find an interesting and dense discussion of the workings of sentimental domesticity which deeply affected Roe Cloud’s formation of identity through his close relationship with the Roes and especially Mary Roe. Adopting an Althusserian approach, Pfister very effectively reflects on the interconnection between middle-and-upper class family structures and imperial capitalism. Indeed, Roe Cloud’s correspondence with Mary Roe reveals how the latter attempted to control Roe Cloud’s emotional state and self-image using her role as a surrogate mother. Her emotional influence on him fortunately withered away when he met and wed Elizabeth Bender. As Pfister mentions, Roe Cloud asked Mary to “let him go his own way” after this.

6Following his own way meant his moving away from the self-help rhetoric of his youth to the “I-am-We” self definition and mission. As result, in the third chapter, titled “Cultural Incentive-and Activism Education,” Pfister presents a mature Roe Cloud getting actively involved in the reform of governmental Indian policies and developing a protomulticultural cosmopolitanism as the superintendent of the Haskell Institute for Indians. His protomulticultural cosmopolitanism accepts in part the assimilationist moto of American inevitability, yet at the same time refuses monocultural Americanization. In other words, what Roe Cloud envisioned was a kind of integration that would enrich American culture with Indian values and ways of living.

7All in all, it is interesting that Pfister’s view of history is not limiting as he moves beyond the obvious historical elements in his biographical sketch of Roe Cloud’s life. Indeed, his study and inclusion of the social structures surrounding domestic and emotional connections as part of history makes the book noteworthy not only for Indians but for anyone who is interested in gaining an insight into the mechanics and complications of class formation especially within racial groups.

8Chrysavgi Papagianni, University of Athens, Greece

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« C. Papagianni on Pfister’s The Yale Indian: The Education of Henry Roe Cloud », European journal of American studies [Online], Reviews 2010-1, document 3, Online since 04 March 2010, connection on 19 April 2018. URL :

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