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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 3: Cylinders 1719-1624, 1725-1729. Three copies. Sound quality good.Add to your cart.

Cylinder 1719; AFS # 21,252:5; 5:37. Attributed to Deinaku.

This was composed by a Luknaax.ádi man named Lqena when he was the only one of his people saved and his enemies wanted to make peace with him. He danced as a deer, singing this song, and at the end of it cut in two the man standing next to him. When used as a deer song in later times, the last words were of course different [#94--p. 413].

[2:23] Composed by one of the Lenedi [L’eeneidí Clan?] named Cukusayi (Little-lake-up-above), when his people expected others to come with food to give them a feast [#18--pp. 393-94].

[4:40] Also composed by Cukusayi on the same occasion as the preceding [#19--p. 394].

Cylinder 1721; AFS # 21,252:7; 4:21. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by Joined-together (Wuct-wudutsu) when all of his friends went down the rapids at Gonaxo and were drowned [#74--p. 408].

[2:23] A peace song composed by a Kaagwaantaan man of Chilkat named Nal’ic [#95--pp. 413-14].

Cylinder 1721; AFS # 21,252:7; 4:21. Attributed to Deinaku.

A spirit song composed by a shaman called Luswat belonging to the Kaagwaantaan [#7--p. 391].

[2:00] Composed by a man of the T’aq’dentan named One-whose-quill-is-disliked (T’awukdulnuk) [#8-p. 392].

[3:06] Composed by one of the T’aq’dentan named Kas’enduaxtc. These spirit songs were also used in dancing [#9--p. 392].

[4:17] A song with Athabascan words which came to a shaman named Cuwusen from an Athabascan spirit-words unintelligible to my informants [#10-p. 392].

Notes: Surface noise and distorted sound. Possibly re-recorded at too fast a speed. [MS]: 1), 2), and 3) are Yek songs.

Cylinder 1723; AFS # 21,252:9; 4:16. Attributed to Deinaku.

"Spoiled" [#34]

[1:00] Song composed by Naqali (Haida Charley) for four when they are dancing at a feast [#34--p. 397].

[2:17] Composed about a certain man by Andeyek, one of the Lenedi [L’eeneidí Clan?] [#52--p. 402].

Cylinder 1724; AFS # 21,252:10; 5:10. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by Cukusayi after they had vainly expected a feast for some time [#20-p. 394].

[3:34] Composed by a shaman of the Kaagwaantaan named Kagank  [#59--p. 404].

Cylinder 1725; AFS # 21,253:1; 6:19. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by Saxa of the Kaagwaantaan [#41--p. 399].

[3:06] Composed by' Crying-[wolf] (Gaxe) of the Chilkat Kaagwaantaan [#42--p. 399].

Cylinder 1726; AFS # 21,253:2; 5:54. Attributed to Deinaku.

[:29] Dorsal-fin-of-killer-whale-seen (Guc-dutin), one of the Nanyaayi, almost died when on the way to Victoria, and composed this song about his old friends [#68--p. 406].

[2:50] Composed by Katgis, a man of the Sitka Kaagwaantaan, about one of the Nanyaayi named Cugan, before the victory of the Sitka people over those of Wrangell [#56--p. 403].

[4:42] Composed by one of the Kaagwaantaan named Ketlcik’e, and used in making peace and at feasts. When the dancers have reached the door, someone says, "Where is the man?" and they reply, "Up in the woods," because the man who is to start the song hides himself just before it begins [#96--p. 414].

Cylinder 1727; AFS # 21,253:3; 4:22. Attributed to Deinaku.

Although this song is very much older, the word were put in at the time the people of Sitka killed those of Wrangell. Just before they started singing, everyone had to raise his paddle and cheer on account of the scalps [#69--p. 407].

[2:01] Composed by Going-across-the road (Degahet) who belonged to the T’ikana tribe of the Xakanukedi [135--pp. 397-98].

Notes: Surface noise. Muffled, distorted sound. Tracking problem at the end of 1). 2) begins abruptly. Song #69 is also found on cylinder 1,705. [MS]: 1) “Scalp song … Stick is put out straight from the side with scalp on end. If the scalp swings out and back, it is happy, if along parallel with the canoe, it is sorry."

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