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John Reed Swanton Recordings Collection

By Zachary R. Jones, Archivist

Collection Overview

Title: John Reed Swanton Recordings Collection

ID: MC/046

Creator: Swanton, John Reed (1873-1958)

Extent: 4.0 Items

Date Acquired: 01/12/2006

Languages: Tlingit [tli]

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.

Administrative Information

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

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.

Item 2: Cylinders 1691-1694, 1695-1716. Three copies. Sound quality poor to audible.Add to your cart.

Cylinder 1691; AFS # 17,029:9; 4:13. Attributed to Deinaku.

A man named Nuslni composed this song and immediately afterward stabbed several of his friends [#66--p. 406].

[1:13] A man had all of his friends destroyed by a bear, and was the only one left in the fort they were then occupying. There he composed this song. The last words are used because he was going to succeed his uncle [#71--p. 407].

[2:30] A song used at feasts when two of the host's people dance and one of each of the two parties invited sings for them [#123--p. 395].

[3:09--Song or repetition or continuation?].

Notes: Much surface noise. There are only three recorded bands on the cylinder and only three songs listed; 4) is minimally audible and may be a repetition or continuation of earlier material. 2) begins and 3) ends abruptly.

Cylinder 1692; AFS # 17,029:10; 4:34. Attributed to Don Cameron.

A love song composed by a dancer named Siq’oet, who belonged to the Raven phratry [moiety]. His sweetheart was away when the 4th of July came [#101--p. 415].

[1:56] Composed by Qa ucte, a Kaagwaantaan man, about men who never keep their word--those who talk much after they have been drinking and later do not remember what they have said [#97--p. 414].

[2:49] Composed by a man named Raven-skin (Yet-dugu) when his sweetheart abandoned him [#102--p. 415].

[3:40] Song composed by a man who had been brought up in court before Judge Tuttle [#98--p. 414].

Cylinder 1693; AFS # 17,029:11; 4:25. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by a man called Small-lake-underneath (Hayi-aku) about a drifting log found full of nails, out of which a house was built. It is used when a feast is about to be given for a dead man, and they have their blankets tied up to their waists and carry canes [#24--p. 395].

[1:46] A Kaagwaantaan song used at a feast when a slave is to be killed [#25--p. 395].

[3:35] Composed by a Chi1kat man named Kaogu on the instant when he was asked to compose a song about a certain man's mother who had just died [#72--p. 407].

Cylinder 1694; AFS # 17,029:12; 4:05. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed about the Gaanaxteidí woman who reared the woodworm [#6--p. 391].

[1:32] Composed by a man named Katda … whose wife was taken away from him by her people, who would not let her return [#63--p. 405].

[2:28] This is called a "half song," and was composed by a man named Saxa, about a deer [#91--p. 412].

[3:19] Composed by one of the Lenedi [likely the L’eeneidí Clan] about Juneau when gold was first found there [#49--p. 4011.

Cylinders 1695; AFS # 17,029:13; 3:57. Attributed to Deinaku.

A potlatch song composed by Man-that-obeys (Q’ayax-qoste) of the Box-house people [#26--p. 396].

[1:42] Composed by Naweya, a very old man of the Box-house people, just before he died, so that it could be used at feasts [#27--p. 396].

[2:50] A cradle song of unknown authorship. It might be used by anyone [#16--p. 393].

[3:31] The song with which Raven was nursed. Both phratries [moieties] use it [#17--p. 393].

Cylinders 1705; AFS # 21,251:2-3; 4:13; 5:17. Attributed to Deinaku.

Same as [first song on cylinder 1727] [169--p. 407].

[1:14/1:40] Composed by Here-is-a-feather (T’aoyat), one of the Kaagwaantaan, when his brother died. It is used as a mourning and dancing song [#75--p. 408].

[2:26/3:14] Composed by Man-for-himself (Stuwaqa), one of the Kaagwaantaan, about his wife, who was from Kake. It was originally composed for the Haida [#76--pp. 408-9].

[3:37/4:28] Composed by Man-that-is-not-all-right (Qa-ucte) about ·Princess Thom (Gadjint), because when she was very young all sorts of young men went to her house, filling it as if it were a saloon [#62--p. 405].

Notes: Recorded twice on preservation tape; the first take is too fast. Surface noise. Abrupt starts on 2), 3), and 4); abrupt cut-off on 4). Cylinder box marked "12." [MS]: 2) "A mistake was made by inverting the words of this in graphophone." [According to Sitka Tlingit people who heard the recording in 1986, 3) is a song for Haida dancing, the text is in Tlingit. It was composed by the person listed for song #2 (T’aoyat, also spelled "Tlaquya") and is still sung today. ]

Cylinder 1716; AFS # 21,252:2; 6:24. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by Other-water (Gonahin) over a dead man [#73--p. 408].

[2:00] Composed by Naotsin when peace was made between the Luknaax.ádi and the Kaagwaantaan [#92--p. 413].

[4:00] Composed by Going-across-the-road (Degahet), a rich man who was paid to compose it, one time when the Kaagwaantaan and the Wuckitan made peace [#93--p. 413].

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."

Item 4: Cylinders 1730-1734, 1739-1742. Three copies.Add to your cart.

Cylinder 1730; AFS # 21,253:6; length 5:12. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by one of the Kaagwaantaan called Yuwak [#44--p. 400].

[2:54] Composed by Little-lake-up-above (Cukusa-yi) of the Lenedi [L’eeneidí Clan?] [#36--p. 398].

Cylinder 1731; AFS # 21,253:7; length 5:37. Attributed to Deinaku.

[:181 Composed by one of the Kiks.ádi named Dead  Raven (Naviyel). There vas a second part to this which the writer’s informant had forgotten. [#37--p. 3981.

[2:01] Composed by For-a-town spirit (An-de-yek) of the Llenedi about the T’aq’dentan, because when the latter came to Juneau to drink they did not pay any attention to the Auk people [#45--p. 400].

Notes: The texted portion of the songs is unclear, so the song identifications assigned on the basis of the box labels have not been confirmed. Surface noise; muffled, sometimes distorted sound. Tracking problems and sound skips. 1) begins abruptly.

Cylinder 1732; AFS # 21,253:8; length 6:19. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by a Nanyaayi named Kakasguxo, about Kack’alk and Lq’ayakl, referring to the time when they strove to cross the Stikine and were turned to stone. This is a mourning song, therefore a long cane is used when it is sung [#79--pp. 409-10].

[3:50] Composed by Man-who-obeeys (Q’ayax qoste) of the Kaagwaantaan about his son who was drowned coming down Chilkat river [#80--p. 410].

Notes: Surface noise and muffled sound. Tracking problems. Several spoken words at the end of 2). Engineer identifies this as cylinder "XXVII." "XXVII" is found on the box lid, but "XXXIV" appear8 on the side of the box; the program matches the songs found on XXXIV. [MS]: 1) "Sister turned them into stone by looking at them while menstruating."

Cylinder 1733; AFS # 21,253:9; length 6:31. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by one of the Luknaax.ádi named Nawutsin, probably from the jerking of coho when dying [#39--pp. 398-99].

[3:25] Composed by Kakayek of the Kaagwaantaan [#40--p. 399].

Cylinder 1734; AFS # unassigned; length unlisted. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by Little Raven (Yeik), one of the Prince of Wales Island people (Tant’a Kwáan) about Sexdagwetl of the Lienedi, who had previously gotten the best of him (see song #50) [#60--pp. 404-5].

Composed by Kaqatucutc of the Kaagwaantaan when his father and his' uncle died [#78--p. 409].

Cylinder 1739; AFS # 21,254:4; length 6:11. Attributed to Deinaku.

This is sung by all the Kaagwaantaan when a person's body is being burned, the first part during the burning itself and the second part while the women are dancing around the fire, wearing ear pendants [#70--p. 407].

Cylinder 1741; AFS # 21,254:6; length 4:22. Attributed to Deinaku.




Notes: Audibility of the recording is poor.

Cylinder 1742; AFS # 21,254:7; length 5:11. Attributed to Deinaku.




Notes: Audibility of the recording is fair to poor.