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John Reed Swanton Recordings Collection


Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

Cylinders 1683-1686, 1687-1690. Three copies

Cylinders 1691-1694, 1695-1716. Three copies. Sound quality poor to audible.

Cylinders 1719-1624, 1725-1729. Three copies. Sound quality good.

Cylinders 1730-1734, 1739-1742. Three copies.

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John Reed Swanton Recordings Collection | Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

By Zachary R. Jones, Archivist

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Collection Overview

Title: John Reed Swanton Recordings CollectionAdd to your cart.

ID: MC/046

Primary Creator: Swanton, John Reed (1873-1958)

Other Creators: Deikeenáak’w

Extent: 4.0 Items

Date Acquired: 01/12/2006

Subjects: Tlingit Indians--History., Tlingit language.

Languages: Tlingit

Scope and Contents of the Materials

This collection contains copies of the fieldwork recordings made by anthropologist John Reed Swanton (1873-1958) at Sitka, Alaska between January and March of 1904 when he interviewed Tlingit Indians for his academic research. These recordings primarily contain Tlingit songs sung by Daalwools’ées (Donald Cameron) (1871-1938) (Kaagwaantaan clan) and Deikeenáak’w (John Morris) (Kaagwaantaan clan, Kóok Hít), portions of which were published and transcribed by Swanton in his Tlingit Myths and Texts. These songs, the vast bulk by Deikeenáak’w, speak about many Tlingit clans and their history and culture. The audio for these recordings were recorded on a gramophone an early recording devise, with the original wax cylinders surving and in the possession of the Library of Congress.

After his time in Southeast Alaska Swanton returned to the Lower 48 and continued his work for the Bureau of American Ethnology. The recordings he made in Sitka, which survived to be placed in an archive, amounted to 32 wax cylinders. The content from these cylinders are now available and condensed onto 4 CDs as part of this collection. These audio recordings are some of the oldest surviving audio recordings of Tlingit language. While the audio quality on some of the recordings is poor, some recordings are very audible.

The original recordings made by Swanton are held by the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, This collection also contains paper copies of metadata (content descriptive information) compiled by the American Folklife Center, which details the content of these recordings. This metadata information is provided in this collection, but spellings and content may not be entirely accurate and need revision.

For further background, Swanton, an employee of the Bureau of American Ethnology, came to Southeast Alaska to study the Tlingit in the spring of 1904, largely the first American anthropologist to do so and publish on the Tlingit, though anthropologist Franz Boas and George T. Emmons were beginning to study the Tlingit. While in Southeast Alaska in the spring of 1904 Swanton visited both Sitka and Wrangell, documenting Tlingit oral literature, the Tlingit language, and Tlingit culture. He published a number of essays on the Tlingit, a small ethnography entitled Social Condition, Beliefs, and Linguistic Relationship of the Tlingit Indians in 1908, and then Tlingit Myths and Texts in 1909 which contained abbreviated versions of Tlingit oral narratives in English and full oral narratives with both the Tlingit and English provided.

Swanton offered little explanation about his fieldwork process and informants, but some information is known. At Sitka Daalwools’ées served as Swanton’s cultural informant and interpreter that helped Swanton connect with Tlingit elders who would speak about Tlingit culture. Of those interviewed at Sitka, Swanton later published two stories in Tlingit Myths and Texts from Sitka born Kályaan (Kiks.ádi clan), one story from Yakutat born K’áadasteen (Kwaashk’i Kwáan clan), some from Daalwools’ées, and then the bulk of stories from Deikeenáak’w. At Wrangell Swanton spent most of his time working with Tlingit elders Kaadashaan (John Kadashan) (Kaasx’gweidí Clan) (1834-1914), his mother Léek, and an individual Swanton identified only as “old Kake man” named “Kasa’nk.”


SHI cannot make copies of these recordings without the permission of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.


John R. Swanton, Tlingit Myths and Texts (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1909).

Judith A. Gray, The Federal Cylinder Project: A Guide to Field Cylinder Collections in Federal Agencies (Washington, DC: American Folklife Center, 1988): 259-274.

Zachary R. Jones, “Haa Daat Akawshixít, He wrote about us”; Contextualizing Anthropologist John R. Swanton’s Fieldwork and Writings on the Tlingit, 1904-1908,” Presented at the Sharing Our Knowledge: A Conference of Tlingit Tribes & Clans, Juneau, AK, Nov. 2013.

Biographical Note

John R. Swanton was an anthropologist, PhD from Harvard University, that conducted fieldwork and study among Native American Indian tribes across the United States. On the Northwest Coast he conducted extensive work among the Haida and some work among the Tlingit, authoring books about the oral traditions and cultures of the Tlingit and Haida.

Subject/Index Terms

Tlingit Indians--History.
Tlingit language.

Administrative Information

Repository: Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

Access Restrictions: Restrictions: These recordings can be listened to by SHI patrons, but we cannot make copies of these recordings, since the originals are held by the Library of Congress.

Use Restrictions: Intellectual Properties Note: Since SHI adheres to the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, and since we desire to honor Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian traditional cultural belief that clans retain the intellectual property rights to clan stories or songs, patrons who use or study clan songs or stories are asked to credit clan ownership to stories and songs.

Acquisition Source: Kenneth H. Lea

Acquisition Method: The material in the collection was donated to SHI on January 12, 2006 by Kenneth H. Lea, who obtained the copies from the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Item:

[Item 1: Cylinders 1683-1686, 1687-1690. Three copies],
[Item 2: Cylinders 1691-1694, 1695-1716. Three copies. Sound quality poor to audible.],
[Item 3: Cylinders 1719-1624, 1725-1729. Three copies. Sound quality good.],
[Item 4: Cylinders 1730-1734, 1739-1742. Three copies.],

Item 1: Cylinders 1683-1686, 1687-1690. Three copiesAdd to your cart.

Cylinder 1683; AFS # 17,029:1; Time 6:14; Attributed to Deikeenáak’w and Don Cameron.

A love song.

A mourning song.

Song said to have been sung by the Kaagwaantaan of Wrangell on the way to Sitka when they felt they were going to be killed. Attributed to “Ts’ayis.”

Cylinder 1684; AFS # 17,029:1; Time 4:55; Attributed to Deikeenáak’w.

Mourning song.

Mourning song.

Angry song.

Cylinder 1685; AFS # 17,029:3; Time 3:52, Attributed to Deinaku.

Another ["Angry song"] on the same subject as the [preceding] and by the same composer [#51--p. 402].

Repetition, 1:04.

A song about Raven's travels through the world, used at all kinds of dances [11--p. 390]. [1:58]

Cylinder 1686; AFS # 17,029:4; Time 4:02, Attributed to Deikeenáak’w.

A peace song composed by a Chilkat man named Kingu after there had been war between his people and the Wuckitan [Wooshkeetaan or X’ax’ahittaan?], and the latter were coming up there to a peace feast [187--p. 411].

[1:49] A Kaagwaantaan cradle song, sung over the child and used also at feasts. The child itself is supposed to be speaking [#13--pp. 392-93).

[2:40] Cradle song for a girl [#14--p. 393].

[3:15] Cradle song for a boy [#15--p. 393].

Cylinder 1687; AFS # 17,029:5; Time 4:28, Attributed to Deikeenáak’w.

This is sung when peace is being made after a great war. With a change in the name of the clan mentioned it could be used by anyone [#88--p. 411].

[:55] Song of the Hummingbird Deer [#89--p. 412].

Notes: Surface noise. Abrupt starts on 1) and 2). Impossible to decipher for a time following 2:57; sound drop-outs. Speed warp at 3:48. [MS]: "Song of the Deer. He has eagle feathers or eagle tail in each hand and eal1es down and quills in his hair. The man's wife is not allowed to look at him when he is deer. He has to sing early before the raven calls. Certain men watch him, take charge of his toilet sticks, etc. Just before the Qowakan starts this song, they turn around 4 times with him in the direction the sun goes. Deer has to give encouraging word on opposite side [where/when] he is taken up. They exchange sides for this purpose."

Cylinder 1688; AFS # 17,029:6; 4:04. Attributed to Deinaku.

A song without words, sung by spirits when food is sent to them through the fire [#85--p. 411].

[1:19] This was sung by New-rich (Yisganatx), chief of the Auk people, when he defeated a Yakutat chief in a property contest… [#43--pp. 399-400].

[2:04] Tlaoyakinik, chief of the Kaagwaantaan, dreamed this song about the wolf post [#84--p. 411].

Cylinder 1689; AFS # 17,029:7; 4:41. Attributed to Deinaku.

"Failure" [Deer song # 90].

[1:03] [Repetition of] a deer song supposed to have been used by the land otters when they were making peace and afterward by men also [#90--p. 412].

[2:02] Composed since the missionaries came, by a man named Deer-woman (Cawa-qowakan), at a time when the people were hunting sea otter [#86--p. 411].

[2:52] A song about Qakequte [#2--p. 390].

[3:50] A second song about Qakequte composed when he caught a frog instead of a ground hog [#3--p. 391].

Cylinder 1690; AFS # 17,029:8; 4:00. Attributed to Deinaku.

Song composed by Qaqatcguk after his dream on the island [#S--p. 391].

[1:40] This is a ground-hog song sung while the singer holds up its skin in front with both hands. Its cry when jumping into its hole is also imitated [#11--p. 392].

[2:47] After a bear had been killed its head was set up by the fire and people dropped grease into the fire in front of it, at the same time saying "You have come out of the body among us, so you are we" [#12--p. 392].

[3:33] [Repetition of the] song composed about a bear's head.

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