An autobiography by Joseph K. Griffis

INTRODUCTION

TO have a life story so remarkable that it is difficult to tell it in all its romantic details, does not often fall to the lot of a writer of autobiography.

In order to insure interest and a glamour of excitement, most men who write of strange adventures are compelled to use the arts of rhetoric coupled with a subtle touch of imagination.

Here is an author, however, whose life-story is so thrillingly strange that he actually omits many a stirring adventure and tones down his experiences lest they pass the limit of human credence when related.

Tahan is a man who has passed through a series of transitions that have led him up from savagery, through the experiences of an Indian warrior, a medicine man, an outlaw, a scout, a deserter under sentence of death, a tramp, a Salvation Army captain, a successful evangelist and a clergyman, to the state of broad culture that fits him for his association and friendship with scientists, statesmen and leaders of world-thought An adept in the languages of the classic world as well as in many tongues of the Indians of the Great Plains, Tahan is an accomplished student of science, art, music and literature. Yet he never studied for a single day in any school.

Tahan’s adventures on the plains will be found interesting and instructive. Some chapters may sound impossible, but he has not exaggerated a single incident in his tale. I happen to know this, for all unknown to him, I took the pains to follow his old trail through the west, and I learned from the lips of the Indians with whom he lived, and from captives with whom he bunked in tepee and barracks, the story just as he tells it, and in many cases with more wonderful detail. I covered the trail in old Indian Territory and in Oklahoma, and followed it through its windings into Canada and on to the City of Buffalo. Besides, I have quizzed Tahan himself by the camp fire and at his table, and in this way I have corroborated the tale he tells so well.

The student of anthropology or of social science will find much of pertinent interest in what Tahan relates. The ethnologist will learn things he maybe merely suspected before. The psychologist will recognise an especial appeal. And the lover of plain truth will find his pulses quickened by the dramatic features he finds revealed in this unvarnished tale.

It is difficult to believe that the cultured gentleman whom one knows as Joseph K. Griffis, the friend of the scientist and literary critic, was once a be-feathered warrior who was the most reckless bareback rider that ever rode a bronco or trotted off with a herd of cattle that didn’t belong to him; who was the most prized captive, the most honoured too, among the Kiowas, Comanches and Apaches, for his ability to plan successful raids. Indeed, he nearly precipitated intertribal wars because the tribes all wanted him as an “expert specialist” in devising means to get horses and cattle without buying them.

To-day magazines and lecture bureaus do the warring over Tahan, for as of old, “he delivers the goods.”

There is not a man who reads this book, unless it be the old plainsman, but will remark, “I did not believe that such a man lived.”
The theorist who holds that man is made by his environment, may pause as he reads and reflect how in the life of Tahan it was the overcoming of environment that made the man. And yet, each reader will have the puzzle to solve for himself, for each one will be compelled to inquire just why the vagabond of the plains, the hunted deserter, and the tramp of the cotton belt, did not stay in the lower levels,—a man of the underworld. Was it luck, was it Providence, was it heredity, or was it a ceaseless desire to achieve something better, that civilised and educated Tahan?

This book is a book of facts, of concrete examples of theories over which learned men have puzzled for decades. It at once awakens interest, then curiosity, then the question, is it fact or only fiction? Discovering it fact the reader will find himself wondering how likewise to find success, fame, culture, and broad usefulness in the world.

I hope every sociologist, every ethnologist, every friend of man, every lover of the strangeness of real life, will read this life story of Tahan, for beyond the value of his tale, there is a potency in his message that is good for every man.

Arthur C. Parker,
State Archaeologist of New York, Curator of Ethnology, N. Y. State Museum, Secretary Society of American Indians, Editor of the Quarterly Journal, S. A. I,, Fellow American Ethnological Society, etc., etc,
Albany, N. Y.

As Scots always had an interesting relationship with the native Indian populations I've always been interested in understanding how they lived. I came across this book which I read out of personal interest with no thought of publishing it onto the site. However I thought other might enjoy reading it decided to ocr it in for you to read. It's some 45 chapters and I make the whole book available for you to read at http://www.electricscotland.com/history/tahan/index.htm

Alastair