First Book Printed in Present-Day Wyoming

Printed on a Portable Army Press

Sioux Language Dictionary

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527. [STARRING, William Sylvanus, Joseph Keyes Hyer & Charles Guerreu (Native interpreter)]. [Wrapper title in ornate type] Lahcotah. [caption title on p. (1)] Dictionary of the Sioux Language. [verso of title] Rules for Pronunciation. [at end] Compiled with the aid of Charles Guerreu, Indian Interpreter, by Lieuts. J.K. Hyer and W.S. Starring, U.S.A. and is as complete as a perfect knowledge of the Lahcotah Language can make it. Fort Laramie, Dakota. December, 1866. [Fort Laramie, Dakota (present-day Wyoming), 1866]. [32] unnumbered pp. (last page blank), italic type, each letter of the alphabet in the dictionary in ornate lettering. 8vo (20 x 13.7 cm), original printed wrappers, with two original brass brads. Light vertical crease where formerly folded, slight overall wrinkling, upper left quadrant slightly waterstained (less on printed pages). Upper wrapper with contemporary ink note: “Fort Laramie Dakota Dec 1866.” With an early linen-lined envelope, with manuscript notes: “Capt. Starring’s Dictionary pronouncing in Lah-Cotah. Dacota. Sioux. languages—The first known Dictionary of the Indian Languages named above.” Provenance: William Sylvanus Starring, the author; by descent to descendants of Starring (Lucinda Knox and siblings) who subsequently consigned it to Christie’s Sale 2587, Lot 295 (December 15, 2005). Ms. Knox had three copies of the book and all three have been sold. The present copy is one of the three. Preserved in a double folding flap case of modern blue cloth, with gilt-lettered red polished calf label. Exceedingly rare.

     First edition of the first book printed in present-day Wyoming, only about fifty copies printed on a portable army press. The work is a bilingual dictionary with rules of pronunciation. AII, Wyoming Imprints 1. Ayer, Indian Linguistics (Dakota) 85. Graff 2037. McMurtrie Early Printing in Wyoming, pp. 44-46. Stopka, Wyoming Territorial Imprints, 1886.1: “An autograph note by J.C. Pilling pasted in ICN [Newberry-Graff copy] reads in part, ‘Present from Gen. Starring...Big find. 50 copies only Starring thinks.’” There has been conjecture that there are two settings of type for this work, but this likely is confusion with the ca. 1931 New York reprint which is indeed from another setting with modern type.

     According to Stopka, the compilation and printing of this book was as follows:

There are other research implications which should be noted here. First, the Dictionary of the Sioux Language (1866.1) has generally been considered to be the first imprint in what was to become Wyoming Territory. It was compiled at Fort Laramie in 1866 by Lt. W.S. Starring of the 36th (later the 7th) Infantry and Lt. J.K. Hyer of the 18th Infantry. There have been suggestions that it was actually printed at Camp Douglas, Utah Territory. In fact, the copy belonging to the Wisconsin Historical Society bears a note, tipped in, from the book’s donor, James D. Butler, which states:

Regarding this Sioux vocabulary, the following account was given me in the summer of 1869 by Lieut. Starring, one of the authors, and who presented me the book.

“Shut up all winter in a Rocky Mountain fort with many Indian scouts, Lieut. Hyer and I undertook to master their language. Accordingly eight of the most intelligent natives were brought into our quarters early every day. We had Webster unabridged on the table before us and made inquiry about every word in its order. Whenever we found any corresponding aboriginal expression we wrote it down, and before the close of our confinement had reached the end of our Webster.”

This dictionary was printed by soldiers in a hand press at Camp Douglas. But few copies were struck off and it has become an exceeding rarity.

A copy of Lt. Starring’s calling card is signed and dated at Camp Douglas in 1869. Was Professor Butler assuming that the booklet was printed there because there is where he met Lt. Starring? Or did Lt. Starring and Hyer carry their manuscript from Ft. Laramie (where they had dated it “December 1866”) to Camp Douglas before it was printed?

Several army regiments, including perhaps the 7th or the 18th or the 36th infantry, boasted their own presses. Further research into military records and memoirs may reveal that the booklet could have been printed at either post—or both. [pp. vii-viii]

The first item in the check list, a Dictionary of the Sioux Language: “Compiled with the aid of Charles Guerreu, Indian interpreter, by Lieuts. J.K Hyer and W.S. Starring, U.S.A....Fort Laramie, Dakota; December, 1866.,” needs further investigations, but it is thought that it was printed, as well as compiled, in Fort Laramie. [p. xi]

     Regarding the question of where the imprint was created, the inscription on the present copy would seem to indicate Fort Laramie as the place of printing. The assumption is supported the colophon: “Compiled with the aid of Charles Guerreu, Indian Interpreter, by Lieuts. J.K. Hyer and W.S. Starring, U.S.A. and is as complete as a perfect knowledge of the Lahcotah Language can make it. Fort Laramie, Dakota. December, 1866.” As Stopka notes, more research is needed, including the study of William S. Starring’s papers.

     William L. Stone, The Starin Family in America (Albany, 1892), p. 154:

William Sylvanus Starring, son of Sylvanus Seamon, graduated at the West Point Military Academy in 1865, as captain in the Ordnance Corps of the United States Army; he served in all the Indians Campaigns on the frontier; and from 1862 of 1872, he acted as adjutant of the 18th United States Infantry; the 26th United States Infantry; the 7th United States Infantry; and in the last-mentioned year (1872) he was transferred to the 2d Artillery, and in 1874, to the Ordnance Corps. He was well known, and a great favorite in the army, being lovingly called by his class-mates and comrades by his West Point nick-name “Duffie.” By the Indians on the frontier he was known as Posh-Kobie (Roman nose). He died greatly regretted by all, February 12, 1889, at Vancouver’s Barracks, Territory.

     The United States established a chain of forts in the area to protect residents, the crews of the expanding Union Pacific Railroad, and emigrants against Native American attacks. The Sioux were particularly troublesome and proved to be a formidable opponent. Starring and his colleagues were no doubt interested in being able to communicate with the tribes, and this dictionary may have been of some use to the army in its dealings with them, although Native interpreters were constantly employed by U.S. forces.

     The immediate background of this publication is Red Cloud’s War which was conducted from 1866 to 1868, when the Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed, establishing a Sioux Reservation that included enormous amounts of territory in South Dakota and other western states. This arrangement was short-lived and eventually led to the Great Sioux War of 1876, which included Custer’s defeat.


Auction 23 Abstracts

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