Cover image for Searching for lost city : on the trail of America's native languages
Searching for lost city : on the trail of America's native languages
Seay, Elizabeth.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Guilford, Conn. : Lyons Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxii, 250 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E78.O45 S43 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



First Prize Multicultural Non-Fiction, The Independent Publishers Book Awards

Choctaw, Creek, Sioux, Cherokee, and Ponca are just a few of the Native American tribal languages that are quickly moving towards extinction, down from the nearly six hundred that once existed. Experts predict that the number could drop to twenty by the middle of the century. Before they disappear completely, journalist Elizabeth Seay set out to track down what is left of these languages in her native Oklahoma. Her deeply felt narrative opens a window onto the quirks and intricacies of each language she encountered--and allows a glimpse into the last days of a vanishing culture.

Seay finds a "lost city": Ross Mountain, a secret community in the Ozark Mountains where 90 percent of the people, from young to old, speak a Cherokee dialect as their first language. She meets leaders in the Indian community, from Toby Hughes, who weaves spells, to Charles Chibitty, the last Comanche code talker, and his granddaughter Lacey, for whom being a Comanche seems to be a weekend hobby. The result of Seay's journey is less a study in linguistics than a lively history lesson in cultural migration, forced assimilation, and the meaning of language itself.

Author Notes

Elizabeth Seay, a longtime staffer at The Wall Street Journal, was awarded a 2003 Artists' Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her work has been featured in several anthologies, Seay, born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, lives in Brooklyn, New York

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Wall Street Journal staffer Seay writes hauntingly about the efforts to preserve Native American languages in her home state of Oklahoma in this lyrical, if occasionally solipsistic, travel history. Seay begins her expedition with the intent of finding a ?lost city? populated solely by speakers of a Native American language. Eventually, however, she finds herself learning Cherokee from an elderly man and becoming part of the effort to preserve that language from extinction. Early in her work, Seay declares that ?the languages seemed to be receding as I raced toward them? and that sense of imminent disappearance propels her narrative. Many of the people she meets, including Quese Frejo, a Native American hip-hop artist, Charles Chibitty, who used his native tongue as a code talker in World War II and Seay?s own Cherokee teacher, Alex Sawney, are people of careful words and compelling insight. Frejo, for example, says that ?the melting pot doesn?t consist of Native Americans, so when I come into [a hip-hop event] it kind of blows them away.? Though Seay?s ruminations may occasionally strike readers as self-absorbed, the author bravely recognizes that as a ?tall skinny white woman? she?s something of an interloper in another culture?s world, and she doesn?t shy away from describing how this role affected her interviews. Above all, her interest is with Native American languages, and with the threats to their survival. Her conclusion on this topic is not simple: she challenges both the government and tribal leaders to ask if there is ?anything?beyond shame over the American past?that made it necessary to prevent such losses? as the decline of the Caddo dialect. Readers will ponder this, and her other eloquently posed questions, for some time. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
Chapter 1 "Where Do I Find Lost City?"p. 1
Chapter 2 Lost Causesp. 13
Chapter 3 The Code Talkerp. 35
Chapter 4 Orphan Childp. 55
Chapter 5 Plan Bp. 79
Chapter 6 The Kiowa Rulesp. 103
Chapter 7 "I Have Come to Cover You"p. 121
Chapter 8 Seminole Rapp. 143
Chapter 9 The Road to Ross Mountainp. 161
Chapter 10 Inside the Languagep. 181
Epiloguep. 211
Author's Notesp. 221
Bibliographyp. 229
Indexp. 235
Acknowledgmentsp. 249