Sources of American Indian Oral Literature is a series comprising classic collections of native American folklore and oral traditions from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century compiled by anthropologists, folklorists, linguists, and other students of American Indian life. Works in the series represent efforts intended to preserve records of nineteenth century American Indian oral literature, depicting as closely as possible native traditions as they existed before their transformation by contact with Euro-Americans. Most of these collections were originally published in museum or technical monograph series, although some have never been previously published. Frequently these traditions were recorded hastily as part of a large salvage program to document, while it was still possible, nineteenth century tribal cultures during the early reservation period when those lifeways were rapidly changing. The traditions, therefore, were usually recorded either directly from elders who had participated in tribal life during the pre-reservation period or, less frequently, from narrators who had learned the stories from those individuals who had experienced that earlier lifeway.
Because of the sense of urgency at that time to record material as rapidly as possible, collectors usually wrote down oral traditions in English translation only, generally from the dictation of interpreters. Therefore, all the narratives in the collections included in this series were recorded in English. Filtered sometimes through direct translations and sometimes through retellings, those narratives unevenly reflect native literary styles. Nevertheless, they are primary and in many cases the only sources of native oral traditions for particular tribes.