The original manuscript for this book bore the title “Indigenes nomades des États Internes d’Orient et d’Occident des territories du Nouveau Mexique et des deux Californies.” Its author, French-born Jean Louis Berlandier, was a trained observer who drew upon a number of sources in writing this valuable description of the Indian tribes of Texas, many of whom would soon be exterminated or removed. In part, he relied on the written word of others or upon the oral testimony of intelligent white friends who knew the Indians well. More important, Berlandier had been botanist and zoologist with the expedition of General Manuel Mier y Terán which left Mexico City in 1827, charged with determining the international boundary in the region of the Sabine and Red Rivers and with collecting scientific data on the geography, flora, and fauna, as well as the native inhabitants of Texas. In addition, Berlandier made subsequent travels in the area, including a trip with a Comanche hunting party from San Antonio to the Pedernales.

The result is a remarkably accurate, dispassionate picture of Indian life and culture for a given period. About half of the Berlandier description is topical, with a wealth of detail running the gamut from the ritual of childbirth to burial practices. Social conditions, economic activities, education, tribal government, religion and superstition, the low status of women, and the day-to-day minutiae of primitive living are all included and more. In a second part of about equal length, Berlandier gives a “Tribal Summary,” taking each of some thirty Indian groups one by one, with further commentary (sometimes repetitious) and an assessment of numbers for each. These summaries vary from the few lines devoted to the Kichai to the ten pages given to the Comanches, one of the more important tribes.

John Ewers’ role should not be minimized. With a straightforward but incisive introduction, he puts Berlandier’s work in perspective, and he has provided the text with notes that are critical and informative. Moreover he has annotated each of the eighteen fascinating watercolors which are reproduced, sixteen of them in color. Depicting men and women of as many tribes, these bear the signature of a little-known artist, Lino Sánchez y Tapia, and were based on sketches by Berlandier and José María Sánchez y Tapia, cartographer of the Terán expedition. As Ewers points out, these are “not true scenes, but rather representations of folk costume in the tradition of the European fashion plate” (p. 154) which document the diversity of tribal dress and the impact of European attire. And in the final section of the volume Ewers provides photographs and illuminating descriptions of the Comanche artifacts which Berlandier collected, now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution.

This is an absorbing book, smoothly translated from the original French, and edited with skill and imagination. Casual readers and scholars alike will find it well worth reading.