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Wedel, Mildred Mott
(September 7, 1912–September 4, 1995)

–anthropologist, distinguished scholar of prairie-plains archaeology and ethnohistory for more than six decades, and research associate at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.—was born in Marengo, Iowa, to Frank Luther Mott and Vera (Ingram) Mott. Her father was a journalist and director of the School of Journalism at the State University of Iowa (UI). Perhaps encouraged by her father, Mildred pursued advanced academic studies, completing her B.A. in history at the UI in 1934 and her M.A. at the University of Chicago in 1938, where she was the first woman to receive a fellowship in anthropology. Her thesis, "The Relation of Historic Indian Tribes to Archaeological Manifestations in Iowa," published in 1938 in the Iowa Journal of History and Politics, still stands as a classic example of the "direct historic approach" in archaeological methodology.

    When Mildred Mott entered anthropology in the 1930s, few women were employed professionally in the discipline. She was among the first academically trained archaeologists to work in Iowa. A major part of her research and publications dealt with the Ioway Indians and the Oneota archaeological complex. Of particular note are papers published in the Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Palimpsest, Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society, Plains Anthropologist, and the Smithsonian Institution's Handbook of North American Indians. Other publications continued her interests in Oneota archaeology and the Chiwere Siouanspeaking peoples: Oneota Sites on the Upper Iowa River (1959) and Indian Villages on the Upper Iowa River (1961). In addition, she consulted with Living History Farms on their reconstruction of an Ioway Indian village as it might have looked in 1700 C.E.

    During the summer of 1938, she served as field director for archaeological excavations near Webster City, Iowa. That project is of historical interest because it was supervised by Charles R. Keyes, generally acknowledged as the founder of Iowa archaeology, and was financed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist MacKinlay Kantor.

    In 1939 Mildred Mott married Waldo R. Wedel, then assistant curator of archaeology at the U.S. National Museum and well on his way to becoming the preeminent scholar of plains archaeology. She assisted her husband in plains salvage archaeological projects into the 1960s. During that time, she also pursued her own research in ethnohistory and archaeology in addition to raising three children: Waldo M., Linda, and Frank. For many years she and her husband spent the summers writing up research at their cabin at the foot of Long's Peak in Allenspark, Colorado.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, Mildred Mott Wedel consulted with the Ioway and Oto Indians regarding their federal land claims suits. During that period and into the 1980s, she examined and retranslated texts from the French-colonial period–in particular, the journals of Jean-Baptiste Bénard, Sieur de La Harpe, and Claude-Charles Dutisné. Articles based on that research were published in the Great Plains Journal, Texas Memorial Museum Bulletin, Oklahoma Anthropological Society Memoirs, Louisiana Studies, and the Minnesota Historical Society's memorial volume for Lloyd Wilford. She collaborated with her husband on research involving the ethnohistory and archaeology of the Wichita Indians. As part of that project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commissioned her to identify the tribal affiliation of the Native American inhabitants of north-central Oklahoma. That research was published as The Deer Creek Site, Oklahoma–A Wichita Village Sometimes Called Ferdinandina: An Ethnohistorian's View (1981), The Wichita Indians in the Arkansas River Basin (1982), and The Wichita Indians 1541-1750: Ethnohistorical Essays (1988). Wedel's expertise in both archaeology and eth nohistory is especially apparent in her articles in Ethnohistory: Its Payoffs and Pitfalls for Iowa Archaeologists (1976), The Ethnohistorical Approach to Caddoan Origins (1979), and, with Raymond DeMallie, The Ethnohistorical Approach in Plains Area Studies (1980).

    Wedel received the Keyes/Orr Award for Distinguished Service from the Iowa Archeological Society in 1980. In addition, she was honored by the American Anthropological Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Anthropology (1985), a day-long dedicatory symposium at the Plains Conference (1988), and a Distinguished Service Award for lifetime achievement from the Plains Anthropological Society (1992). On October 6, 1995, a brick in honor of Mildred Mott Wedel was dedicated on the Plaza of Heroines in front of Iowa State University's Carrie Chapman Catt Hall. Wedel died in Boulder, Colorado.
Sources For a complete listing of Wedel's publications prior to her death, see David M. Gradwohl, "Obituary: Mildred Mott Wedel (1912–1995)," Plains Anthropologist 40 (1995), 399–403; and David M. Gradwohl, "Pioneer Woman in Iowa Archaeology and Prairie-Plains Ethnohistory: Mildred Mott Wedel," Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society 44 (1997), 1–6. Posthumously published was her essay, "Iowa," in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 13, Plains (2001).
Contributor: David Mayer Gradwohl