A Danish Photographer
of Idaho Indians:

Benedicte Wrensted
Joanna C. Scherer
(University of Oklahoma Press)
The Danish-American photographer Benedicte Wrensted lived in the Pocatello area of Idaho from 1895 to 1912. She photographed local football teams, street scenes, and took many shots of her relatives. But the most interesting are those of the Shoshone-Bannock Indians who came to Wrensted's studio for solo or family photographs.

Some chose to appear in the standard suits and dresses of the whites; others chose to be photographed with the elaborate costumes and accessories of their tribes: blankets, pipe bags, fur sash, beaded gauntlet gloves, ermine, moccasins, leggings, bodice, chokers, feathered staff, belt and dresses decorated with cowrie shells.

It is hard not to be awed by the various artifacts shown on these pages, much less the faces and body language represented by the original inhabitants of Idaho. One can become quite mournful thinking of the hundreds of years of culture represented, the elaborate decorative styles, the elegance brought to a sudden end by an enculturation of shame that came from the society at large and, its agent, the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The irony is that many of these photographs were stored and preserved in BIA collections. Ms. Scherer's research led her to try to identify the families shown here. She writes that by visiting living members of the Shoshones, she was able to put names to some 80% of the subject photographs. She also investigated the who and the why of Benedicte Wrensted (she grew up in Frederikshavn, Denmark; her family migrated to Idaho in 1894; she set up her studio soon after).

The words and research are admirable but the photographs, so carefully reproduced, are breath-taking.

--- Bill Wisdom

The Autobiography of
Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin
Fredd Wayne,

(Audio Partners)
Benjamin Franklin was writerly enough to make his words live, and there are a hundred secret pleasures to be found here. There is, to be sure, the element of the Confession:

    In the mean time, Mrs. T----, having on his account lost her friends and business, was often in distresses, and used to send for me, and borrow what I could spare to help her out of them. I grew fond of her company, and, being at that time under no religious restraint, and presuming upon my importance to her, I attempted familiarities (another erratum), which she repulsed with a proper resentment, and acquainted him with my behavior. This made a breach between us...

Another erratum, indeed! Naughty Franklin.

Many of his words have to do with hard work and thrift, and he could, after so many years, tell you how much he paid for his lodging in London. The besotting of his fellow workers in the printing house bothered him, and he resolved to mend them and their ways, showing not only his primness but his loathing of wasted assets:

    From my example, a great part of them left their muddling breakfast of beer and bread and cheese, finding they could with me be supplied from a neighboring house with a large porringer of hot water-gruel, sprinkled with pepper, crumbed with bread, and a bit of butter in it, for the price of a pint of beer, viz., three halfpence. This was a more comfortable as well as cheaper breakfast, and kept their heads clearer.

Franklin had the accountant's worm in his brain, but he was so cheerful withal, and his moments of chagrin are so human, and his regrets are so charming, his sophistry so elegant, that we can always forgive him. This on how he ended his months-long experiment at being a vegetarian:

    I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanced some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs. Then thought I, "If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I dined upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

The reading on these discs is elegant. (We would only wish that Mr. Wayne had instructed himself in the correct pronunciation of "hautbois" and "victuals." A small complaint, when laid against such considerable effort.)

We were left with the thought that our country has wisely placed the engraving of the good doctor on the $100 bill ... something to be striven for, rarely obtained. We were struck too with the epitaph that Franklin asked to be placed on his head-stone:

B. Franklin
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be whlly lost:
For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.
He was born on January 6, 1706.
Died 17...

--- Lolita Lark

Black Farmers
In America

John Francis Ficara
Essay by Juan Williams

(University Press of Kentucky)
In 1920, more than fifty percent of Blacks lived on farms. They represented almost 15% of all farmers in America.

At the beginning of the 21st Century, Blacks constitute less than one-percent of total farmers --- 18,000 or so --- tilling fewer than three million acres.

The reasons for this: An aging workforce. Changing technology. And a federal government bought and paid to push the growth of megafarms.

According to Williams, policies at the United States Department of Agriculture have consistently worked to undermine minority farmers.

    Between 1985 and 1994, black farmers --- 47 percent of whom had gross sales under $2,500 --- averaged only $10,188 in yearly subsidies, less than a third of the average support payments given to white farmers, who were grossing almost four times as much in sales.

Ficara's photographs, well over 100, are solemn, restrained, dour. He has a story to tell, and he does it graphically. It's a common story of late 20th Century America. It tells of those who regularly get screwed by those who are running the show.

Of all the photographs in Black Farmers in America, the most telling are not of the unsmiling lone farmer on the north forty, or the solemn young men in the milking shed, or even the angry pickets bearing signs that say We want our land back.

No, the most revealing are ones labeled "USDA official and James Marable" or "Shirley Sherrod and farmers meet with a congressional aide." Those with the power are stony, chilly, disinterested. You can almost see them shrugging their shoulders, saying, "Sorry, we just can't help you." They are only doing their job; that's the way the official cookie crumbles.

Someday, you and I will see another George Wallace or Huey Long or Eugene V. Debs. Their theme won't be race. It won't even be poverty. It will be how the government once of the people and by the people is now eating up the people. His message of revolution will simply be to heed those who have been so screwed by governmental policies for so long that they can barely sit without wincing.

--- Richard Saturday
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