Clifford Trafzer’s disturbing new work, Death Stalks the Yakama, examines life, death, and the shockingly high mortality rates that have persisted among the fourteen tribes and bands living on the Yakama Reservation in the state of Washington. The work contains a valuable discussion of Indian beliefs about spirits, traditional causes of death, mourning ceremonies, and memorials. More significant, however, is Trafzer’s research into heretofore unused parturition and death records from 1888-1964. In these documents, he discovers critical evidence to demonstrate how and why many reservation people died in “epidemics” of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and heart disease.
Death Stalks the Yakama takes into account many variables, including age, gender, listed causes of death, residence, and blood quantum. In addition, analyses of fetal and infant mortality rates as well as crude death rates arising from tuberculosis, pneumonia, heart disease, accidents, and other causes are presented. Trafzer argues that Native Americans living on the Yakama Reservation were, in fact, in jeopardy as a result of the “reservation system” itself. Not only did this alien and artificial culture radically alter traditional ways of life, but sanitation methods, housing, hospitals, public education, medicine, and medical personnel affiliated with the reservation system all proved inadequate, and each in its own way contributed significantly to high Yakama death rates.
Dr. Trafzer is the Costo Professor of American Indian Affairs at the University of California Riverside. Raised in Arizona, Clifford Trafzer was born to parents of Wyandot Indian and German-English blood. He earned a B.A. and M.A. in history at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where he also worked as an archivist for Special Collections. He earned a Ph.D. in American History in 1973 with a specialty in American Indian History and the same year became a museum curator for the Arizona Historical Society. Before joining the faculty of the University of California, Riverside in 1991, Trafzer taught at Navajo Community College, Washington State University and San Diego State University.