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Anthropologist Ten Kate made memorable journey in 1880’s U.S.

Dutch artist son fascinated by Indian culture

Tags: Dutch Exploration

SAN DIEGO, California - The anthropological journey to Baja California in 1882 and 1883 by Herman ten Kate was the culmination of many years of adolescent fascination with American Native culture and legend. The scholarly son of a painter by the same name, Herman Frederik Carel ten Kate wrote about his exploits and findings in his 1886 book Travels and Discoveries in North America.

Ten Kate (1858-1931) like his father and his uncle Mari wanted to become an graphic artist (another uncle was poet Jan J.L. ten Kate). A field trip to the Mediter-ranean island of Corsica however changed his outlook on life. Combined with an early zest for stories about cowboys and Indians in the Wild West, Ten Kate wanted to become an explorer instead.

He enrolled at the Leiden University and took general classes in geography, Eastern and Indo languages and ethnography. In 1878, Ten Kate wrote a couple of scathing articles about the U.S. government handling of the Nez Percés Indians, pleading for a more humane treatment of the Natives in the opening of the West.

He switched to universities in Paris, Berlin, Göttingen and Heidelberg to acquire more knowledge in anthropology and at age 24, he obtained his PhD in Heidelberg, Germany.

Independent research

The Natives of North America however held his ongoing fascination and upon returning home, he persuaded the Dutch Geographic Society, the Holland Company of Sciences and especially his father, to foot the 9,000 guilders bill for an expedition into the U.S. and Mexico.

Travelling through the Southwest, the border region with Mexico and Baja California, Ten Kate did - alone and sometimes with fellow scientists such as American Frank Cushing - extensive scholarly research and hands-on observation among such tribes as the Papago, Mojave, Navajo, Apache and Zuni. Realizing that he was studying vanishing aboriginal groups, Ten Kate again berated the U.S. government on its treatment of the Natives.

Targetting Japanese expansionism

Upon his return home, Ten Kate wrote and kept editing his notes eventually to be published in a book which received little attention however. He unsuccessfully tried to land a job - in the Netherlands or the U.S. - as an anthropologist or ethnographer. Instead, the Dutchman secured participation in other expeditions and travelled to Lapland, once more to the American Southwest and later to Latin America, the Far East, and Australia, writing articles for science magazines in the Netherlands and abroad.

In 1895, Ten Kate became a Doctor of Medicine, but did not settle down until he visited Japan. For almost twenty years - interspersed with trips abroad - Ten Kate lived and worked as a physician in the Far East country. Japanese expansionism (in Korea and China among others) was singled out for heavy criticism. The world traveller also was not enamored with the situation in the Dutch East Indies either where the natives according to him deserved a much larger say in running their affairs.

After the death of his Japanese wife in 1919, Ten Kate returned to Europe, eventually settling in Tunisia, where he died in poverty twelve years later.

Ten Kate’s papers and articles, often critical of the various governments’ treatment of native people, did not receive the credits they merited. His independent research however could stand the test of time and continues to be valuable source of documentation.