People of the Big Voice: Photographs of Ho-Chunk Families by Charles Van Schaick, 1879-1942

By Tom Jones, Michael Schmudlach, Matthew Daniel Mason, Amy Lonetree, and George A. Greendeer, Foreword by Truman Lowe

Hardcover: $29.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-476-0

280 pages, 330 duotone photos, 3 maps, 8.5 x 11"; E-book now available


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"People of the Big Voice" tells the visual history of Ho-Chunk families at the turn of the 20th century and beyond as depicted through the lens of Black River Falls studio photographer Charles Van Schaick. The family relationships among those who sat for the photographer are clearly visible in these images. Sisters, friends, families, and young couples appear and reappear, fleshing out a narrative of the period, from 1879 to 1942, referred to as "the dark ages" in Indian tribal history.

Following introductory essays from three of the authors are more than 300 beautifully detailed duotone photographs. Unique to the project are captions that identify over 90 percent of the individuals pictured - made possible by the continuing efforts of tribal members and genealogists. A significant contribution to the history of Native peoples, "People of the Big Voice" is a breathtaking portrayal of a resilient community whose story continues today.

To receive a review copy or press release, to schedule an author event, or for more information contact the WHS Press Marketing Department:

Note: This book meets and exceeds the requirements of the Wisconsin American Indian Education Act (Act 31).

Tom Jones is an assistant professor of photography at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His work may be found in the National Museum of the American Indian and the Chazen Museum of Art.

Michael Schmudlach serves on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Board of Curators and has a lifelong relationship with the Ho-Chunk.

Matthew Daniel Mason is an archivist at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Amy Lonetree is an associate professor of American studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz and coeditor of "The National Museum of the American Indian: Critical Conversations."

George A. Greendeer has been the Ho-Chunk Nation’s tribal genealogist since 2000.

Tom Jones, Amy Lonetree, and George A. Greendeer are enrolled members of the Ho-Chunk nation.

2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY)
Bronze (tie) in the Multicultural Non-Fiction Category

2012 National Indie Excellence Awards
Winner in the Multicultural Non-Fiction Category

2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Winner in the Multicultural Non-Fiction Category
Winner (tie) in the Best Overall Design Category

2011 ForeWord Reviews' Book of the Year Awards
Finalist in the Photography Category

2011 Midwest Independent Publishers Association Midwest Book Awards
Winner in the Midwest Regional Interest-Illustration Category
Winner in the Total Book Design Category

2011 USA National Best Book Awards
Winner in the Photography: People Category
Finalist in the Best Interior Design Category

Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), author of "In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided"

"This amazing collection of photographs documents a remarkable American Indian tribe, the storied Ho-Chunk people. It etches into our mind’s eye haunting images of a hard-pressed Nation emerging from small pox, dispossession, and removal. This stirring visual legacy allows us to gaze into the eyes of a proud and handsome people who overcame these tragic hardships and successfully returned to their beloved homeland. We are all enriched by this remarkable feat! It bespeaks the strength, beauty, and unconquerable spirit of our diverse American peoples, now joined together on the same land."

Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of "The Legacy of Conquest: the Unbroken Past of the American West"
"'People of the Big Voice' should be in the hands of everyone who cares about the history of Indian people. Non-Indian photographer Charles Van Schaick did not intrude into the lives of his subjects, nor did he force his expectations and assumptions upon them. Instead, the Ho-Chunk people chose to have Van Schaick record their images. The photographs in this book thus offer a distinctive opportunity to encounter Indian people on their own terms."

Norbert Hill (Oneida), author of "Words of Power: Voices from Indian America"
"'People of the Big Voice' is a treasure trove connecting the past with the present — restoring Ho-Chunk memories and relatives back to life. This historical time-out touches the past, celebrates the present, and preserves family stories. These stunning photos and pointed narratives re-stimulate memories that money cannot buy."

Renya Ramirez (Ho-Chunk/Winnebago), associate professor of American studies, UC Santa Cruz
"As a Ho-Chunk enrolled in the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and a scholar, I feel very happy that our ancestors are honored and remembered in such beautiful photographs. A deeply touching and academically significant book, 'People of the Big Voice' is a must-read for all!"

Grant Arndt, assistant professor of anthropology and American Indian studies, Iowa State University
"'People of the Big Voice' marks the emergence of critical scholarship on Ho-Chunk history and self-representation by Ho-Chunk scholars, with essays that combine analytical insights and personal reflections on Van Shaick’s photographs. A vital contribution to the understanding of Ho-Chunk history, 'People of the Big Voice' is a moving tribute to the individuals depicted in Van Schaick’s photographs, and a testament to the strength and survival of the Ho-Chunk Nation."

Reggie McLeod, "Big River Magazine"
"This well designed and well written book opens a doorway into another time, place and culture, but it's the hundreds of faces that look out at us from its pages that speak to us with a big voice."

Book Feature in Indian Country Today

This review appeared in This Week from Indian Country Today magazine on December 28, 2011.

Ho-Chunk Nation: Stoicism Personified

The people of the Ho-Chunk Nation, like those of Indian nations all over today's United States, surmounted considerable hardships in the 19th century to emerge damaged but still viable in the 20th century. An overview may be found in "People of the Big Voice: Photographs of Ho-Chunk Families by Charles Van Schaick, 1879-1942, which depicts the struggle in detail, in both words and pictures.

The title says in all: For 63 years, the studio photographer Charles Van Schaick of Black River Falls, Wisconsin set out to document the lives and relationships of the Ho-Chunk. These images have finally been released as a coffee-table book by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press; the volume recently won a well-deserved USA Books best photography award. Stunning enough though they are, the photos are complemented perfectly by essays from such Ho-Chunk members as Tom Jones, Amy Lonetree and George A. Greendeer.

Reflections include Lonetree recounting "meeting" her Ho-Chunk ancestors in the family photographs taken by Van Schaick and photographer Jones looking through his own lens at Van Schaick's photos. Delving into the backstory of Van Schaick's work and long career in documenting his community, the book also features maps showing the various movements of the Ho-Chunk during years of removal and reinstitution. Ultimately what is illustrated is the nation's perseverance and beauty.

This review by Nancy B. Turner appeared in the Library Journal on December 1, 2011

Through the prescient stewardship of small-town librarian Frances R. Perry, a neglected collection of glass-plate negatives from the Black River Falls portrait studio of Charles Van Schaick was preserved and now resides safely at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The collection is an eloquent portrait of the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) tribe of Wisconsin, which is considered their settled homeland after decades of forced migrations in the 19th century. This volume presents 330 (of the 5000-plus images in the collection) duotone photographs taken over six decades. Three essays by Jones (photography, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison) and other scholars introduce the images and provide historical context. The meticulous documentation process included eliciting identifications from the tribal elders. Each photograph is captioned with the English and Ho-Chunk name of the subjects along with notes on special dress. Although taken in a studio with backdrops and props, the photographs are rich with cultural information, particularly as they depict clothing and material culture of the period.

VERDICT While Van Schaick was a commercial photographer, and the Ho-Chunk paying customers, the images are captivating, respectful, and dignified.