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The Gods of Indian Country

Religion and the Struggle for the American West

Jennifer Graber

Publication Date - 08 February 2022

ISBN: 9780197625446

312 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


During the nineteenth century, white Americans sought the cultural transformation and physical displacement of Native people. Though this process was certainly a clash of rival economic systems and racial ideologies, it was also a profound spiritual struggle. The fight over Indian Country sparked religious crises among both Natives and Americans.

In The Gods of Indian Country, Jennifer Graber tells the story of the Kiowa Indians during Anglo-Americans' hundred-year effort to seize their homeland. Like Native people across the American West, Kiowas had known struggle and dislocation before. But the forces bearing down on them-soldiers, missionaries, and government officials-were unrelenting. With pressure mounting, Kiowas adapted their ritual practices in the hope that they could use sacred power to save their lands and community.

Against the Kiowas stood Protestant and Catholic leaders, missionaries, and reformers who hoped to remake Indian Country. These activists saw themselves as the Indians' friends, teachers, and protectors. They also asserted the primacy of white Christian civilization and the need to transform the spiritual and material lives of Native people. When Kiowas and other Native people resisted their designs, these Christians supported policies that broke treaties and appropriated Indian lands. They argued that the gifts bestowed by Christianity and civilization outweighed the pains that accompanied the denial of freedoms, the destruction of communities, and the theft of resources. In order to secure Indian Country and control indigenous populations, Christian activists sanctified the economic and racial hierarchies of their day.

The Gods of Indian Country tells a complex, fascinating-and ultimately heartbreaking-tale of the struggle for the American West.


  • Traces the struggle between Native and Anglo-Americans over a 100-year period
  • Examines both Catholic and Protestant efforts to evangelize Native Americans and shape federal Indian policy
  • Features more than fifty illustrations, many done by Native Americans

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Graber is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and an affiliated faculty member in the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program.


"The Gods of Indian Country is a must-read for scholars interested in the intersection of American religious history and Native American and Indigenous religions." -- Sarah Dees, Iowa State University, Nova Religio

"Graber's work impels the reader to seek transcendence, to look beyond oneself and one's own culture in order to appreciate the other." -- John Cavanna, Catholic Southwest: A Journal of History and Culture

"Garber's book is valuable for the strength of its scholarship Highly recommended." -- L. L. Lovern, Valdosta State University, CHOICE

"The Gods of Indian Country is a valuable addition to native, western, and religious studies.... This volume is highly recommended for classes in Native American history or religion as well as courses in western history. It is also a model for best practices in research and methodology." -- Thomas C. Maroukis, Journal of American History

"Graber tells a compelling story, made even more so by a rich array of illustrations of mostly Kiowa artifacts. Matters of historiography and method enrich the endnotes, while the central chapters contain a smoothly narrated account. Undergraduates as well as specialists in Native American history, history of the American West, and religious theory will appreciate this book. Indeed, The Gods of Indian Country is a paradigmatic example of effective storytelling and scholarly expertise." -- Arthur Remillard, Ethnohistory

"In charting how Kiowa social cohesion was battered but not broken over the course of the nineteenth century, The Gods of Indian Country reveals the contradictory role of religion in the construction of race and law for Native Americans. A primary strength of this text is the meticulous care with which Graber shows Kiowa religion, social life, and politics to be interrelated in the reservation era. She accomplishes this through a fascinating and unorthodox array of sources." -- Religious Studies Review

"Jennifer Graber's excellent The Gods of Indian Country demonstrates religion's power in shaping the trajectories of settler colonialism and U.S. empire-building. She convincingly argues that religion was crucial to the processes of dispossession, subjugation, and attempted cultural genocide that Native Americans faced and resisted during the nineteenth century.... Although the overarching storyline of The Gods of Indian Country is tragically predictable, Graber's consistent attention to religious continuity and change among the Kiowa gives it a fascinating richness." -- Journal of the Civil War Era

"Graber makes her case with an impressive array of sources, including not only standard archival documents (some of them authored by Kiowas) but also Kiowa ledger drawings and sai-cut, or calendars, artistic renderings by contemporary Kiowas of key events in those years.... With a diverse source base and close attention to Kiowa voices, The Gods of Indian Country provides a model history of Indian people seeking spiritual assistance in navigating American expansionism." -- The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

"Graber's research is both impeccable and groundbreakingâ. The Gods of Indian Country is an important book that is suitable for graduate classes in American Indian history and American religious studies." -- Church History

"Jennifer Graber's ambitious, complex exploration of religion in Indian Country should be of great interest..." -- Todd M. Kerstetter, Texas Christian University, Journal of Church and State

"I found Graber's book engaging and instructive. She has done extensive research and has sought to offer a balanced history that takes into account not just Protestant religion but also Catholic religion and Indian religion. These varied viewpoints offer a richer description of the story of the West and the role of religion in it." -- David Barshinger, Exploring Church History

"Jennifer Graber's The Gods of Indian Country is one the most impressive books I have read in the last few years. The Gods of Indian Country tells a big story with a large cast of players, and yet still manages to focus on the particulars Additionally, it is beautifully written, carefully researched, well-organized, and broad yet nuanced. Most importantly, Graber tells an incredibly important story and offers a significant counter-perspective to how the field typically narrates 19th-century American religion This book is a model piece of scholarship for those working in American religious history and should be on the bookshelves of all in the field. It is a book that hit this reviewer hard and will sit with her for a very long time. Many pages are already dog-eared, have been re-read numerous times, and will be cited for years to come."--Emily Suzanne Clark, Reading Religion

"In this important and much-needed book, religion emerges as something quite surprising and new: as a tool of indigenous dispossession and as a means of preserving native sovereignty and cultural autonomy. The Gods of Indian Country uncovers the centrality of religion to what it meant to be a Native American in the 19th-century United States as well as the centrality of Native Americans to the history of religion in America."--Pekka Hämäläinen, author of The Comanche Empire

"The Gods of Indian Country is American religious history retold with Kiowa Indians at its center. Graber's analysis of Kiowa art forms is riveting and really a path-breaking contribution. While white Americans invoked the Christian God to sanctify their acts of colonial dispossession, Graber argues, Kiowas engaged with new forms of sacred power to defend their land, sovereignty, and peoplehood."--Tisa Wenger, author of Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal

"Stories addressing the physical violence of colonialism abound. This book does something different. Through painstaking research and soul-cracking interpretive care, Jennifer Graber exposes the terrorism of Christian benevolence. The Gods of Indian Country is an act of history that is also an essential message for our time, showing how kindness has been a shroud used to smother human freedom. But also how people interpret, and create within, their debasement. Required reading."--Kathryn Lofton, Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, and history, Yale University

"The conquest of the Great Plains was not simply a contest for land but a battle over spirituality as well. In her eloquent and beautifully crafted The Gods of Indian Country, Jennifer Graber highlights the experience of the Kiowa in their collision with an expansive United States, but her study raises questions at the heart of the indigenous encounter with American settler colonialism."--Karl Jacoby, author of Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History

Table of Contents

    A Note on Terms
    Plates and Figures

    Part 1 - Open Lands
    Chapter One
    Chapter Two

    Part 2 - Closed Lands
    Chapter Three
    Chapter Four
    Chapter Five

    Part 3 - Divided Lands
    Chapter Six
    Chapter Seven


    Appendix A - Kiowa Names

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