Saturday, August 23, 2014


Keyser, James D., David A. Kaiser, George Poetschat,
And Michael W. Taylor, 2012, Fraternity of War,
Plains Indian Rock Art at Bear Gulch and Atherton
Canyon, Montana, Oregon Archaeological Society
Press Publication #21, Portland.

On July 12, 2014, I posted part one of a review of the wonderful book Fraternity of War, Plains Indian Rock Art at Bear Gulch and Atherton Canyon, Montana, by James Keyser and George Poetschat. This 436 page volume was published by the Oregon Archaeological Society Press (volume 21) and was written by 14 contributing authors, edited by James D. Keyser, David A. Kaiser, George Poetschat, and Michael W. Taylor, with technical editing by John and Mavis Greer, and contributions by a handful of other people. Now I want to repeat here that I do not personally know most of the people involved in this volume, but I wish I knew them all because they have to all be outstanding experts in their specialties, with James Keyser shepherding the process and setting his usual high standards.

This comprehensive volume provides coverage of much of the material found at these locations. With a record of detailed tracings of more than 900 panels they authors could not include everything, but they put an amazing amount of material into this volume.

In discussing chronological contexts for the sites the authors included a fascinating ethnographic account of a rock art panel from Curley Head, a Gros Ventre native. Speaking in 1937 from memories of his childhood (believed to be from about 1870) Curley Head stated: “Then we crossed the Missouri River and camped at the mouth of a creek, which empties into the river. Here the Little People had made paintings on the cliffs and in the caves nearby. I decided to sleep near one of these cliffs to see if I could obtain some power. I prayed and cried until I fell asleep. I had a dream that the Little People were coming for me with a big kettle of boiling water and each one was picking a part of my body that he wanted to eat. I woke up and left that place right away. People always have bad dreams when they sleep near painted cliffs (Pohrt 1937)”. (Keyser and Poetschatt 2013:23)

Face paint designs, Keyser and Poetschat, 
Fig. 2.181, p. 155.

One of the qualities that I have most admired in Jim Keyser’s work is the ability he has always shown to recognize and point out significant details in the rock art. For instance, where most of us would look at the figures painted and pecked and see that some have face painting, Keyser carefully noted 27 different face painting designs, and illustrated them (on page 156). He repeats this with many other details of portrayal, including headdresses and hairstyles, including at least 13 wolf hat headdresses (pages 158-160).

Wolf hat headdresses, Keyser and
Poetschat, Fig. 2.183, p. 158.

So much of rock art literature in the past has been limited to a record describing and illustrating what is portrayed. This has, however, never been Jim Keyser’s modus operandi. Not only do Jim Keyser and George Poetschat spend hundreds of pages on detailed description of rock art panels and figures in this book, they devote many, many more to detailed analysis of the iconography and meaning of the images. Jim Keyser has always been a master at reading the narrative in a rock art panel, and the rock art of Bear Gulch and Atherton Canyon is presented the same way.  

I hope that in talking so much about Jim Keyser I have not shorthanded other deserving personnel involved in this volume. As I said, I do not know most of the people involved (although I still wish I did) and cannot fully know their contributions and personal strengths. I have known Jim Keyser and have long had an extremely high regard for his scholarship and work ethic, and when I think I see his hand in the material I guess I tend to automatically attribute it to him. It is also my firm belief that Jim would be the first to brush this off, and to pass the credit to his co-workers. On May 20, 2014, he wrote to me about his partner George Poetschat: “He was awarded the Crabtree award a couple years ago by the Society for American Archaeology in recognition of his MANY contributions to these publications is just one of his many skills.” If I have wrongly attributed any element of this book let me say that it has not been my intention to slight any of the people involved in this marvelous publication, and thank all of them for their contributions.

I finished the first part of my review of this book with the following paragraph. "There is so much material in this volume that it constitutes, in itself, a reference library of Great Plains rock art. Clearly written, carefully cross-referenced, and full of citations, this book will be the go-to reference for many years to come. When I first heard of this book and decided to review it here for RockArtBlog I had no idea of the scope of the project I would be undertaking. Needless to say this is only the beginning and I anticipate many more postings over time about this wonderful book and material that it contains. Congratulations and thank you to the whole team for adding all of this knowledge to our field, and thank you as well to the Oregon Archaeological Society for making it possible."
I see no reason to change that opinion now.


Keyser, James D., David A. Kaiser, George Poetschat, and Michael W. Taylor
2012    Fraternity of War, Plains Indian Rock Art at Bear Gulch and Atherton Canyon, Montana, Oregon Archaeological Society Press Publication #21, Portland.

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