The Naming of America

America was named on April 25, 1507 after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci. The process of naming the continent (initially what is now South America) came about through the interface of several processes, including the printing press, advances in geography, and cartography. All of these forces came together in the early 1500s in the town of St. Dié, France, in the mountains of the Vosges, some 800 kilometers (500 miles) from the sea.  

St. Dié was ruled by Rene II, duke of Lorraine. Under his patronage, an academic community had formed at St. Dié which was focused on a new edition of Ptolemy’s Geography. Among the scholars who had come to St. Dié to work on this project was Martin Walsemüller, who was known as a mapmaker. Another of the scholars was Matthias Ringmann, known as a poet and learned in Greek.

The printing press had changed the academic world and had increased the flow of information and the speed at which new concepts were diffused. In 1504 the pamphlet Mundus Novus claimed that Vespucci had discovered a new, previously unrecorded continent south of the equator. Mundus Novus was a hit and was printed in several editions.

At about this same time another publication, generally called today the Soderini Letter, was also printed and widely read. While supposedly written by Vespucci, it is currently viewed as a fake. In the Soderini Letter four voyages to the new lands across the Ocean Sea (the Atlantic Ocean today) were described. The scholars at St. Dié, however, were unaware that this work was a fake and viewed its contents as true. The new information changed geographical knowledge.

In order to disseminate this new knowledge quickly and cheaply, Walsemüller and Ringmann decided to publish their introduction to Ptolomy at once, along with a world map prepared by Walsemüller which would show the new discoveries. The result was Cosmographiae Introductio (Introduction to Geography) authored primarily by Walsemüller with some contributions by Ringmann. The map that came with the book was in sections that, when assembled, covered about three square meters and was intended to be pasted on a wall. On the map, Walsemüller paid tribute to Vespucci by naming the new lands in the south after him: thus the designation America was born. Walsemüller believed that Vespucci had discovered the new lands in the southern hemisphere for the Europeans.

Amerigo Vespucci

Amerigo Vespucci is shown above.

While the America in Walsemüller’s map referred to what is now Brazil, in 1538 the cartographer Gerald Mercator used America for both the northern and southern parts of the new lands.  

Waldseemuller map

Walsemüller’s map is shown above.

The Early Geographies:

Long before the voyages of the European explorers Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and John Cabot in the late fifteenth century, geographers had determined that the world was round and had set forth a number of hypotheses about the dimensions of the planet and its ratio of land to water. At this time-in the fifteenth century-there was an assumption that the planet had three continents-Europe, Asia, and Africa-which where were surrounded by the Ocean Sea.

For at least two thousand years prior to the European voyages of exploration, geographers in many parts of the world had been describing the world as round and before the beginning of the modern era this was common knowledge among educated people.

Claudius Ptolemy’s Geography was well-known to most educated Europeans and was widely studied in the city-states and small republics of what is now Italy. Ptolemy was a first century CE librarian and scholar in Alexandria. He saw geography as more than just a telling of stories: for Ptolemy it was a mathematical undertaking. By taking precise sightings of the stars he could determine the true location of a place. According to Ptolemy, the world was a perfect sphere 24,000 miles around at the equator and was mapable on a grid of lines of longitude and latitude.


Ptolomy Map

Ptolomy and one of his maps are shown above.

Students of geography during the fifteenth century, such as Amerigo Vespucci, were also familiar with the first century BCE geographer Strabo who speculated:

“It may be that in the temperate zone itself there exist two inhabited worlds or even more, especially on or around the parallel of Athens that is drawn across the Atlantic Sea.”

According to Strabo, a Greek philosopher and historian who worked at the Alexandria library, the world was best represented on a globe, but he cautioned that this globe would have to be at least ten feet across to show all of the detail.

Thus, according to both Ptolemy and Strabo it was clear that there was a water route west from Iberia that would reach India. Furthermore, Strabo seems to suggest that it would be worthwhile to explore the western Atlantic to encounter new worlds and their potential wealth. In Florence, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli was the major advocate of seeking routes to the west. Toscanella’s advocacy of the western routes was one of the things that linked Columbus and Vespucci.

Generally unknown to the European scholars of the fifteenth century were the works of Chinese and Muslim geographers. In China, for example, Chang Heng, a royal astronomer of the Han Dynasty, described the earth as a spherical world suspended in infinity, like a yolk in an egg.

Muslim scholars such as Ibn Haukal and al-Istakhri (both working in the tenth century) and twelfth-century cartographer Muhammed al-Idris viewed the world as round. The Muslim scholars were aware of Ptolemy’s works and often drew upon them in making their maps.

Vespucci and Columbus:

While Columbus might be characterized as a religious fanatic who could hardly speak or write without invoking the Christian God and dwelling fervently on his personal relationship with this God, Vespucci almost never referred to God. Religion was never very high on the scale of values to which Vespucci had been exposed. While he undoubtedly learned a little about the Christian God as a child, he seems to have forgotten all of this by the time he was an adult.

Unlike Columbus, Vespucci never waged war on the natives, nor did he found any colonies. He never commanded a fleet or even led an expedition. Like Columbus, however, he was deeply mired in the slave trade and profited from it.

In 1504-1505, Vespucci lived in Columbus’s house and it is evident that the two men not only knew each other, but that they had often exchanged ideas. Later Vespucci testified in court that he had known Columbus well for twenty-five years and he was thus very familiar with the Admiral’s handwriting.

Vespucci’s Voyages:

Vespucci made at least two voyages across the Atlantic and there are some sources that suggest that he may have made a third. The claim that he made four voyages has generally been discredited by historians as a fantasy created by sixteenth century writers.

Vespucci’s first voyage was in 1499 when he sailed with Alonso de Hojeda. Historians today generally agree that Vespucci was with Hojeda in an unknown capacity. While his writings suggest that he was either the leader of the expedition or at least a co-leader, the historical documents suggest otherwise. Writing after Vespucci’s death, Hojeda characterized him as a pilot. When Columbus sued Hojeda for infringement on his privileges (Columbus was supposed to have the exclusive rights for exploration) and made accusations against all of the leading figures of the expedition, Vespucci was not named.

While it is doubtful that Vespucci had any real expertise in navigation at the time of his first voyage, he may have had some other useful knowledge: he had been a jewel merchant and was knowledgeable in the pearl trade. Since Columbus had brought back pearls, Hojeda undoubtedly expected to be able to trade in pearls as well.

Following this first voyage, Vespucci described himself as a celestial navigator, a master of the art of reading latitude and longitude. His claim of reading longitude is interesting. In theory longitude can be calculated by measuring the difference in degrees between the position of the moon and another celestial body, relative to the observer, at a given time. However, Vespucci did not have available to him the technology to do this.

Vespucci returned to Spain at a time when there was great distrust of foreigners. As a foreigner, he therefore found it expedient to leave Spain and thus his second voyage was for Portugal. On this voyage in 1501-1502, he was a passenger or a representative of some mercantile interest. The expedition explored 2,500 miles of the coast of what would later be called South America. They returned with Brazilwood (a source of dye) and cassia (a condiment resembling cinnamon), but not the expensive and desired spices which they had hoped to find.

Descriptions of Native Peoples:

Under Spanish law, slavery was viewed as unnatural which meant that only people who had forfeited their human rights through unnatural acts such as sodomy, incest, or cannibalism could be enslaved. Columbus, Vespucci, and other early Europeans quickly learned that there was no fast and easy wealth to be gained from the Americas, except for slavery. Thus it was important for them to describe the people of the area as engaging in unnatural acts so that they could then be enslaved, transported to Europe, and sold at a good profit.

Vespucci wandered through lands in which the languages of the people belonged to three large language families. In the north were the Arawaks and Caribs and south of the Amazon, where he spent most of his time during his first and second voyages, were the Tupi-speakers.

All of the early European explorers, including Vespucci, were amazed by the people they encountered. First, they were shocked by the nudity, or what they perceived as nudity. In addition, the people seemed to have no shame in exposing genitalia and female breasts. This raised important Christian theological issues: if these people were exempt from original sin, then were they really human? If they were human, if they had souls, then their lack of shame at their nudity challenged the idea of original sin, an idea upon which much of Christian morality had been based.

Vespucci during his second voyage spent a great deal of time among the natives, eating and sleeping among them in order to understand their lives and customs. He would later describe them as naked, well-proportioned, and cannibalistic. Being cannibals, under Spanish and Portuguese law, meant that they could be slaves, and describing them as naked and well-proportioned might be seen as a form of promotion to make them more saleable.

Vespucci, like other early European explorers, described the natives as having no religion (therefore missionaries were needed) and no government (therefore they should be governed by European powers.) With regard to government, he wrote:

“They have no boundaries of kingdoms or provinces; they have no king, nor anyone whom they obey; everyone is his own master. They do not administer justice, because covetousness does not reign among them.”

Since they had no laws, and thus no knowledge of “natural law,” this meant that they could be slaves. From the European perspective, the natives lived according to nature in the manner of wild animals. The Europeans “knew” that rational people enjoyed the right of lordship over them by divine license.

With regard to religion, Vespucci reported:

“I believe they will very easily be made Christians, for it seemed to me that they belonged to no religion….They have no faith, and no knowledge of the immortality of the soul.”

While Vespucci was not particularly religious, his comments about the lack of religion are probably less about the need for missionaries and more about why Indians should be enslaved.

As further evidence of their need to be enslaved, Vespucci reported that the natives had institutionalized incest. While the Europeans were shocked by the sexual openness of the natives and by the rights of women in choosing sexual partners, the presence of incest, once again, meant that the natives were destined to be slaves.

Ancient America: The Birth and Death of a Pueblo

In 1245 CE, the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) began construction on the Sand Canyon Pueblo in Colorado. The pueblo is located at the head of a canyon with most of the construction below the canyon rim. The pueblo would grow to 420 surface rooms, 90 kivas, 14 towers, and an enclosed plaza. A massive stone wall enclosed the village on the southwest, west, north, and east provided protection against attack and also controlled and limited access to the spring at the center of the village. The enclosing wall was at least one story tall and had very few access openings.  

A number of towers abutted the outside face of the enclosing wall. These towers were in positions providing panoramic views of the landscape west, north, and northeast of the village. They also allowed villagers in the towers to safely monitor the exterior face of the enclosing wall for possible intruders. The towers also provided them with advantageous locations for launching arrows at attackers just outside the village.

It appears that the massive stone wall that enclosed the houses and public buildings was constructed first. The construction of this wall would have been a major community project. It also would have been done by people who did not yet live there.

Archaeologists feel that the construction of the town was pre-planned. Architecturally, the pueblo was laid out in 14 discrete roomblocks, each of which had residential and storage rooms associated with a kiva.

It would have an estimated population of 400-600 people. With regard to subsistence, the residents were heavily dependent on corn and domesticated turkeys. The wild animals most frequently consumed were cottontail rabbits.

In 1277, all construction appears to have stopped at Sand Canyon Pueblo. The abandonment of the pueblo had begun. The residents were now consuming less domesticated turkey and more cottontail rabbit, deer, and pronghorn. Corn was still an important part of their diet and there was no indication of dietary stress. However, the regional drought which started the year before may have reduced the agricultural yield. With crops diminishing or failing because of the drought, the villages were probably forced to consume their maize stores. Since domesticated turkeys were fed maize, the failed crops would have also led to diminished turkey flocks. Archaeologists feel that the low frequencies of turkey bone suggest that few turkeys remained near the time of village depopulation.

Many of the villagers began to emigrate, probably planning to return when the climate improved. It is estimated that from one-fourth to three-fourths of the population emigrated. Those who stayed were forced to use a hunting and gathering strategy which meant that they were now competing with other communities for these resources. Foraging parties travelled away from the village and then returned to the safety of the village whenever possible, bringing whatever provisions they had been able to procure.

In 1280, Sand Canyon Pueblo was attacked and many villagers perished. At least 35 people were killed and were not formally buried.  

One middle-aged man was killed by a face-to-face blow delivered by a right-handed assailant. He was on the roof at the time he was killed. In another roomblock, an adolescent male (12-15 years old) was killed in a kiva by being struck from behind, perhaps while attempting to flee. This individual was scalped. Another man, about 20 years old, was killed on a rooftop by being struck from behind. An eight-year-old child was killed by being struck from behind and was scalped.

Many individuals may have been killed by arrows with stone projectile points that were then retrieved from victims. Wood-tipped arrows may have also been used and these would have left no visible traces for later archaeologists to find. Recent research suggests that wood-tipped arrows were widely used at this time.

Who attacked the village? Archaeologists have concluded that the attackers were residents of one or more Pueblo settlements from within the Mesa Verde region. The attack does not appear to have involved non-Pueblo invaders.

Some of the abandoned kivas were burned. This was not a simple task, but a labor-intensive process requiring a great deal of time, perseverance, and determination.  The roofs of the kivas were set on fire as a part of a closing ritual. This could have been done by villagers who were away from the village when it was attacked or by a delegation of emigrating survivors who returned after the attackers had departed.

In summarizing the reasons for the abandonment of Sand Canyon Pueblo, archaeologists have concluded that these reasons include: (1) overexploitation of natural resources; (2) high population levels, and (3) overdependence on one crop. This left the Ancestral Pueblo residents of the region catastrophically vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and climate, which resulted in social turmoil, massive relocations of population, and far-reaching, permanent changes in Pueblo culture.  

The Battle of the Rosebud

The expansion of the American empire westward across the Mississippi River was motivated by greed and supported by God. During the nineteenth century American greed was manifested in an obsession for privately owned land and for gold, silver, and other precious metals. Americans believed that the role of government was to obtain land and mineral rights from the Indian nations that owned them and then give them to entrepreneurs for private exploitation. Many Americans believe that their God has made them a chosen people with dominion over both nature and all pagan nations.  

In 1876, American greed focused on the possibility of great wealth in the form of gold in South Dakota’s Black Hills, an area of great historical and spiritual importance to many Indian tribes, including the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and others. Turning a blind eye to U.S. law, international law, and U.S. treaty obligations, the government focused on getting the gold into the hands of non-Indians.

When the Sioux, the tribe declared by the United States to be the owners of the Black Hills, made it clear they did not wish to relinquish this land to the gold seekers, the United States simply declared war on them.  The Sioux must relinquish the Black Hills or starve. Congress passed an act which provided:

“hereafter there shall be no appropriation made for the subsistence of the Sioux, unless they first relinquish their rights to the hunting grounds outside the [1868 treaty] reservation, ceded the Black Hills to the United States, and reached some accommodation with the Government that would be calculated to enable them to become self-supporting.”

Any Indian who hunted in the unceded lands was not able to receive any food or supplies. If an Indian went out to hunt, even if starving, it meant losing all benefits for the rest of the year.

The United States then issued an ultimatum to the Sioux: all of the bands were to report to their agency by January 31 or be considered hostile. The ultimatum was intended to result in war for two basic reasons: (1) moving a band in January was difficult, if not impossible, and (2) most of the bands outside of the agency were unable to get word about the ultimatum.

The army then launched a three-pronged pacification campaign against the “hostiles” who had “refused” to come in. While the prong led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer is best known, there was also a campaign from the south led by General George Crook.

Traditional Indian warfare on the Northern Plains, while it involved battles and occasional deaths, was very dissimilar to European warfare. Warfare, according to Sioux writer Charles Eastman, was about courage and honor:

“It was held to develop the quality of manliness and its motive was chivalric or patriotic, but never the desire for territorial aggrandizement or the overthrow of a brother nation.”

The motivation for war was personal gain, not tribal patriotism. Through participation in war an individual gained prestige, honor, and even wealth (as counted in horses.) While it was not uncommon for warriors to kill their enemies in battle, this was not in itself considered to be a particularly noteworthy act of valor. The greatest feat of bravery a warrior (male or female) could perform was to touch the enemy. This was the act of counting coup.

At the headwaters of the Rosebud River in Montana, General Crook’s troops, with 176 Crow and 86 Shoshone allies, encountered an encampment of Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux under the leadership of Crazy Horse and engaged them in a day-long battle. Militarily the battle might be considered a draw as neither side won a decisive victory. Some military historians consider it a strategic defeat for Crook because he was unable to take the offensive and strike a decisive blow at the enemy camp. Chief Runs-the-Enemy said of the battle:

“The general sentiment was that we were victorious in that battle, for the soldiers did not come upon us, but retreated back into Wyoming.”

The Americans sustained casualties of 10 killed and 21 wounded. Crazy Horse later estimated that 39 Lakota were killed and 33 wounded.

From the traditional Indian perspective, there were two particularly important acts of valor in the battle and these two warriors were considered to have gained the greatest war honors.

The Shoshone and Crow shot the horse of Cheyenne Chief Comes in Sight out from under him. As they were closing in to finish him off, Buffalo Calf Robe (aka Calf Trail Woman), the sister of Comes in Sight, rode into the middle of the warriors and saved the life of her brother. Buffalo Calf Robe had ridden into battle that day next to her husband Black Coyote. From  the Cheyenne perspective, a woman warrior achieved the highest war honors that day.

One Crow two-spirit (berdache) put on men’s clothes and distinguished himself in battle against the Lakota. For this he was given the name Osh-Tisch which means “Finds Them and Kills Them.” Thus, from the Crow perspective a two-spirit-a person many people today might consider to be a transvestite-won the greatest war honors.

Battle of the Rosebud

Shown above is an artist’s interpretation of the Battle of the Rosebud.

Ancient Michigan

European interest in the area which would later become the state of Michigan began in the seventeenth century and was driven by two concerns: (1) to expand the lucrative fur trade with the Indians, and (2) to discover a water-based passage to the Pacific Ocean. The French expedition led by Étienne Brule reached Michigan in 1622, finding it occupied by the three Algonquian-speaking tribes of the Three Council Fires Confederacy: Ojibwa, Ottawa, Pottawatomi. In 1668 the French established a permanent settlement at Sault Ste. Marie as a base for their Catholic missions.  

Between the creation of the Great Lakes at the end of the ice ages when the Laurentide ice sheet receded about 10,000 years ago and the French arrival into the area, various Indian nations had lived and prospered in Michigan. Unfortunately, the archaeological record does not provide us with a year-by-year account of what was happening in the area. What we have instead are simply hints of early life in Michigan supplemented by the oral traditions of the tribes.

Archaeological findings show us that Indian people were living in the area by 8300 BCE when a group of Indians established a seasonal camp near present-day Traverse City. The stone tools which they were using had been fashioned from stones quarried in the Saginaw Bay area, about 100 miles away. This implies that the people at this time were either utilizing resources over a fairly large area, or that they were trading with other people who had access to the Saginaw Bay quarries.

Stone tools provide important information to archaeologists. First, they are more likely to survive the ravages of time. Second, they provide information about stylistic changes in tool-making over time. And third, they provide some hints into the subsistence patterns of the people.

By 7500 BCE, some of the Indian people in Michigan were using a type of stone tool which archaeologists have designated as a Thebes point. These points, which were used as both dart points and knives, have broad diagonal notches squared at the inner end. They have a broadly expanded stem. These points are also found in archaeological sites in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. This does not mean that a single tribe inhabited this area, but that there was an interchange of ideas and goods among the various peoples in the region.

Thebes Point 3

Thebes Map

A Thebes point and a map showing the distribution of Thebes points are shown above.

At this same time (7500 BCE), some Indian people were using a stone tool which archaeologists call Hardin points. These points, which were used as both dart points and as knives, have straight or convex sides with straight to expanded stems. The points usually have pronounced barbs. These points are also found in archaeological sites in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Trade has always been important to American Indians. Some of our earliest evidence of trade among the Indian people who lived in Michigan actually comes from a site in Illinois. By 6500 BCE, a group of about 25 Indian people was living at the Koster site. The people at the Koster site were trading to obtain hematite beads from northern Michigan.

While it is common to stereotype ancient Indians as a “stone age” people, this stereotype is not accurate. By 5000 BCE, the Indian people in the Great Lakes area were making tools, weapons, and ornaments from copper. Indians, called the Old Copper Indians by archaeologists, maintained copper mines in the Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale. Here they dug thousands of mining pits. Some of the mining pits were up to 20 feet deep. With hammerstones, birchbark buckets, and a system of levels, the miners extracted the copper from the earth. The metal was then taken back to their villages where it was shaped by cold-hammering and annealing. The tools formed by the Old Copper Indians included leaf-shaped knives and spear-points, fishhooks, harpoon points, gouges, chisels, awls, wedges, punches, needles, drills, and axes.

By 1500 BCE, there is more evidence of long distance trade. At this time, the copper beads manufactured by Michigan Indians had found their way into Poverty Point, a large site in Louisiana.

Burials provide archaeologists with a great deal of information. The bones of the ancestors speak, telling us about their diet, their daily lives, and some of the illnesses which they encountered. They also provide some insights into religious practices. By 1000 BCE, Indian people began burying their dead at the Riverside site.  Burial goods suggest that the people had well-developed trade networks with the Ohio River Valley, the Gulf Coast, and the Great Plains. Included in the graves were obsidian from the Yellowstone National Park area of Wyoming, marine shells from the Gulf or Atlantic seacoast, flint from North Dakota, and stone tools from other parts of the Midwest.

Tobacco is important to American Indians, and one of its uses is as a smoking material. By 1000 BCE, Indian people were using tubular-shaped pipes for smoking tobacco. The pipes were flared on the tobacco end and narrowed on the mouth end.

Another common stereotype of American Indians sees them as nomadic hunters and gatherers whose lifestyle was focused on hunting big game animals. Yet, at the beginning of the European invasion, most Indians obtained most of their calories from agricultural crops. One of the important domesticated plants was corn, which had been originally domesticated in Mexico. One of the questions asked by archaeologists is when corn agriculture reached the Great Lakes area.

The first evidence of corn in Michigan is found at the Eidson site: by 240 CE the Indian people at this site had corn. By 600 CE, there is evidence of corn at the Gard Island 2 site, the Indian Island 4 site, the Sissung site, and the Leimbach site. All of these sites are located around western Lake Erie.  By 850 CE, Indian people at the Birch Run site had 8-row corn.

While corn certainly marks the beginning of change for many Indian cultures, there was no overnight shift from a hunting and gathering form of subsistence to agriculture. Many groups continued the old ways. In 600 CE, for example, archaeologists report that the economy of Indian people in west-central Michigan was based on hunting, fishing, and gathering with seasonal migrations. Archaeological findings suggest a mixed economic strategy which included fishing in the spring, summer, and fall. In the fall and winter the people hunted deer and other mammals.

One of the largest and most complex Native American civilizations was Mississippian which was centered at Cahokia near present-day St. Louis. By the eleventh century, the Mississippian cultural complex was evident in Michigan. By 1000 CE, Mississippian people were beginning to enter southwestern Michigan.

During the eleventh century there were a number of large village agricultural sites, some of which were indigenous and some of which were influenced by Mississippian culture. These include a large agricultural village on the Kalamazoo River known as the Nordhoff site and Moccasin Bluff. Agriculture at this time included a number of cultigens other than corn, including squash, tobacco, and sunflower.

Permanent villages which are occupied for long periods of time give archaeologists insights into cultural changes. By 1100, the Indian people at the Moccasin Bluff site were using both grit-tempered Moccasin Bluff ware and shell-tempered Berrien ware (pottery). Archaeologists interpret this change in pottery as reflecting an indigenous culture which was heavily influenced by Mississippian. About 1150, there was an increase in population at Moccasin Bluff. There was also a change in the type of pottery being used: shell-tempered, cordmarked pottery decreased while grit-tempered pottery, both cordmarked and plain, increased.

By the thirteenth century, the Indian people in Michigan had economies that included agriculture, hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. In 1200, Indian people built a small fortified agricultural village in the upper Muskegon River Valley, known as the Boven earthwork to archaeologists. The people were using cordmarked ceramics. The fortifications found there are an indication of inter-group conflicts.

About 1210, Indian people established a summer fishing and farming village along the Lake Michigan shore north of Grand Traverse Bay. This shows that these people were using agriculture to supplement their subsistence, rather than relying on it exclusively. Instead of permanent villages, they are using summer villages and winter villages, based on available resources.

By 1250 the weather in the lower Great Lakes area was starting to change. The climate was now characterized by decreased rainfall and cooler temperatures. This meant that agriculture became less dependable.

Archaeologists are able to associate some fifteenth century sites with specific tribal affiliations. The ancestors of what appear to be the Fox and Sauk abandon their village at the Fosters site about 1400.

In the fifteenth century, the tribes of the Three Council Fires–the Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi- moved south to Lake Huron. The Ottawa stayed at the mouth of the French River and Lake Huron Islands while the Ojibwa and Potawatomi occupied the shoreline to the Mackinac Strait.

A century later, several tribes displaced by the Ojibwa expansion into Michigan and Wisconsin south of the Great Lakes began to migrate. This included the Menominee, who were pushed south and formed an alliance with the Winnebago. The Cheyenne and the Arapaho began to move west. At this time, the Potawatomi began a migration to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.  This set the stage for the Indian nations which the French fur traders would find when they moved into the area in the seventeenth century.  

Southeastern Indian Agriculture

One of the common misconceptions about American Indians that is often repeated in the media and in high school and college textbooks is the idea that they were “hunting and gathering” people. In fact, the Indian nations of the Southeast were agricultural people who lived in permanent villages.  


The Southeastern Woodlands is an area which is bounded by the Ozark-Ouachita Highlands of Arkansas and Missouri and the dry plains of eastern Texas on the west and the low plateaus of Kentucky and Tennessee and the interior plains of Illinois on the north. The eastern boundary is the Atlantic Ocean and southern boundary is the Gulf of Mexico. The Southeastern Culture Area includes the present states of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, western North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, southern and eastern Arkansas, Tennessee, and the portions of Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky that border the Mississippi River. Prior to European contact nearly two million Indian people lived in this area.


Crops (primarily corn, beans, squash, and tobacco) were planted along the creeks and bottomlands near the villages. The area would be first cleared by cutting and burning. The ashes of the burnt wood and cane would then nourish the crops. In addition to the primary crops, the Indians of the Southeast also raised sunflower, sumpweed, chenopodium, pigweed, knotweed, giant ragweed, canary grass, amaranth, and melons.

In order to obtain a maximum yield from their fields, the Southeastern Indians practiced both intercropping and multiple cropping. Intercropping involved planting several different kinds of plants together in the same field. By planting corn and beans together, for example, the bean vines could twine themselves around the corn stocks.  

The farming practices of the Southeastern Indians did not rapidly exhaust the soil. They planted beans with corn, thus offsetting the latter’s great consumption of nitrogen. They also carefully hoed the fields to avoid eroding the land.

One interesting aspect to intercropping was the practice of leaving and/or planting trees in cultivated fields that yielded nuts and fruits. This practice helped maintain long-term soil fertility. Fruit and nut tree cultivation in fields with maize and other annuals planted in hills contributed to maintaining fertility. These trees included cherries, white and red mulberries, persimmons, walnuts, chestnuts, plums, and dwarf chinquapins.

Many of the tribes also cultivated plums, particularly the Chickasaw plum (Prunus chicàsa). Later Europeans, who tended to be blind to Native American agriculture, described this as a wild plant and failed to notice that it was found only near abandoned Indian fields.

In addition to helping provide nutrients, the trees also attracted birds. The birds, in turned, helped to restrain the insect population in the fields.

Multiple cropping involves the planting of two successive crops in the same field. Thus, early corn was planted first. It ripened early and was picked green. Then the field would be cleared and a second crop was planted.

Not all cultivated plants were food plants. The Southeastern Indians also grew bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria). When cured, the bottle gourd has a hard shell that is very light and difficult to break. Bottle gourds were used for making water vessels, dippers, ladles, bowls, cups, rattles, masks, and bird houses. Tobacco was also grown.

The fields were worked communally. The entire field was not tilled, but rather worked into small hills about a foot in diameter which were spaced about three feet apart and which were laid out in straight lines. Working the fields in this fashion prevented soil erosion and preserved the fertility of the soil longer than did the plow-agriculture which was later introduced by the European colonists.

Fields were cultivated with handled implements that the first Europeans described as hoes. These implements had blades of stone, oyster, mussel shell, fishbone, or wood. In addition, they used a digging stick for making holes into which the seeds were planted.

Unlike the Europeans, the Indians of the Southeastern Woodlands did not view land as private property. Farm land was owned communally and therefore the food it produced belonged to all. Each village had a common granary to protect against times of famine.

In general, each of the Southeastern towns would have a certain amount of land under cultivation. Whenever a child was born the land under cultivation would be proportionally increased.  To determine the amount of land needed by the town, a census would be taken each year.

An important part of agriculture is the ability to store the harvested crops in such a way that they are kept safe from mice and other animals. To do this, the Southeastern Indians built corn cribs which were raised 7-8 feet on posts. The posts were polished so that the mice could not climb them. The crib itself was plastered and the door was sealed. When corn was taken from the crib, the seal would be broken, the door opened, some of the corn removed, and then the closed door was resealed to protect the corn which remained in the crib.


The diet of the Southeastern Indians was heavily dependent on corn, beans, squash, and other agricultural crops supplemented with wild game and fish.

There is an important reason for consuming both corn and beans together. While corn supplies some essential protein, it lacks the amino acid lysine. On the other hand, lysine is abundant in beans. Thus, when beans and corn are eaten together they are a good source of vegetable protein.

The early European settlers were amazed at the number of different ways that the Indians prepared corn. It is estimated that there were at least 42 different ways of preparing corn, each with its own name. Corn was processed into hominy which has been described as the staff of life for the Southeastern Indians. This process involved the use of wood-ash lye which selectively enhanced the nutritional value of the corn by increasing amino acid lysine and niacin. This protects people who eat a corn-based diet against pellagra.

To produce the wood-ash, the Choctaw women would pour cold water over clean wood ashes placed in a hopper. This would produce a yellow lye which would drip down into a small container. This lye would then be added to the cornmeal.

Among the Choctaw, corn was made into paluska holbi, which was a kind of bread. Boiling water would be poured into cornmeal, which was then pounded into a stiff dough, and shaped into small rolls. These rolls were then wrapped in corn husks and cooked under hot ashes. For a richer taste, they would add chestnut or hickory oil to the cornmeal.

Another Choctaw cornbread was bunaha. This was prepared by mixing dried beans, wild potatoes, and/or hickory with the cornmeal. The rolls of this mixture, wrapped in cornhusks, were then boiled in water.

Another important part of the cuisine of the Southeastern Indians was squash. At least five different kinds of squash were grown. As a fresh vegetable, squash was often used in stews. It was also sun dried, which concentrates the sugar so that dried squash could be cooked as a sweet dish.

Pueblo Weaving

For more than a thousand years, American Indian agriculturalists have been living in villages in what is now Arizona and New Mexico. When the Spanish first encountered these villages, many of which had multi-story apartment complexes built from stone, they referred to them as “pueblos,” the Spanish word for village.  

Europeans have grouped these diverse people together under the designation Pueblo Indians based on a few common traits: they are agriculturalists who grow corn, beans, and squash; they built permanent villages with a central plaza; and most have kivas (underground ceremonial centers). They are not, however, a single people, tribe, nation, or group: the peoples grouped together as Pueblos speak six mutually unintelligible languages and occupy more than 30 villages in a rough crescent more than 400 miles in length.

NM Pueblo Map

The map above shows the current Pueblos in New Mexico. Not shown are the Hopi Pueblos which are in Arizona.

The Pueblos are generally divided into two major groups: (1) eastern (Tanoan and Keresan speakers) with a permanent water source which enables them to practice irrigated agriculture, and (2) western (Hopi, Hopi-Tewa, Zuni, Acoma, Laguna) who rely on dry-land agricul¬ture.


Acoma Pueblo is shown above.

Zuni Pueblo 1850

An 1850 sketch of Zuni is shown above.

The Pueblos have a long tradition of weaving. For many centuries prior to the European invasion of North America, Pueblo weavers were making cloth which was traded over long distances. Fabrics were woven from a variety of different plant materials-both domestic and wild-and it was not uncommon for human hair, dog hair, and wild animal hair to be incorporated into fabrics. The important plant materials used for weaving textiles included milkweed, hemp, mesquite, cliff rose, willow, yucca, agave, stool, and bear grass. In addition, both feathers and fur were also used in weaving. Bird feathers were used in making warm blankets.

One of the plant fibers used for weaving was, and sometimes still is, yucca which can be processed to produce a linen-like fabric. Among the Zuni, the central leaves of the yucca plant were gathered and each leaf was folded into a piece that was about 10 centimeters (3.5 inches) long. These pieces were then placed in a pot of boiling water together with some wood ash. The skin would then be removed from the leaves and chewed (generally by the children). After this, the fibers could be separated and straightened. After the fibers had dried-usually by hanging them in a storage room-they would be soaked in cold water and then rubbed between the hands to soften them. The softened fibers would then be pulled into a fluffy mass which would allow them to be spun and woven like cotton.  

Pueblo weavers used two basic types of looms. The back strap loom was used to make sashes and belts. The vertical loom was used for producing larger fabrics, including blanks, ponchos, and cloth for making dresses and shirts. The vertical loom can be anchored on a ceiling beam on the top and then on four floor anchors on the bottom.

The backstrap loom is attached to an interior wall and then tension is maintained by a backstrap which allows the weaver to change the tension in the loom by changing the position of the body. The cloth produced using the backstrap loom is narrower than that produced with the vertical loom.  

Pueblo Sash

Shown above is a sash.

The development of loom weaving in the Southwest coincided with the introduction of domesticated cotton. By 425 BCE, the Hohokam in Arizona were raising cotton and trading it widely. By 700 CE, the Ancestral Puebloan people (sometimes called Anasazi by archaeologists) were growing cotton in New Mexico. Upright looms appear shortly after this.

By 1260 CE, the Hopi village of Homol’ovi was the center of cotton trade between the Hopi and other tribes in the Southwest. Homol’ovi had 200 rooms and had an estimated population of about 200 people.

At Zuni Pueblo, men traditionally spun and wove cotton. The cotton they used, however, they did not grow themselves, but obtained from the Hopi.

Among the Hopi, weaving was a traditional male activity. Hopi cotton cloth was a highly valued trade item among Indian people in the region. Hopi textiles, including the coarse white cotton lengths used for kilts, sashes, and shawls, was traded throughout the Southwest and south into Mexico.  

According to the Hopi oral tradition, it was Spider Woman who taught the Hopi how to weave cotton in the ancient time. The efforts of the weaver are therefore viewed as a manifestation of the creative power of spirituality. Weaving is not seen as an act in which one creates something by oneself; it is seen as an act in which one uncovers a pattern that was already there.

After sheep were introduced to the area by the Spanish, wool began to replace cotton in Pueblo textiles.  

The 19th Century Red River Rebellion

In 1670, Prince Rupert, a duke, three earls, and other nobles subscribed to the Company of Adventurers of England Trading Into Hudson’s Bay and were granted a royal charter from the English Crown. This was the birth of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). The grant consisted of all lands which drain into Hudson’s Bay and HBC was given all of the powers of a sovereign nation to govern this territory which was called Rupert’s Land.

The European fur traders-mostly French and Scots with a few Englishmen-quickly understood that trade with Indian nations depended upon relationships and that one of the best ways to establish relationships with the First Nations was to marry a native woman. One of the consequences of these marriages was children who were often raised in two cultures. By the nineteenth century the Métis were recognized as a distinct people. The Métis are generally seen as an ethnic group of mixed Cree, Ojibwa, Saulteaux, French Canadian, Scots, and English.  

In the nineteenth century the Métis established a community along the Red River in what is now Manitoba, Canada. Inspired by the seigneurial system of New France, the Métis used a riverlot system in which there were parallel lots along the river which were 6 to 12 chains in width (1 chain = 66 feet) and which then stretched back from the river as far as two miles. This provided each family with a variety of natural resources which they could use.

While the Métis were mainly French or Michif-speaking, there were also some Anglo-Métis (often the descendents of the Scots traders associated with the North West Company). Most of the Métis were Catholics.

In 1867 the Constitution Act officially proclaimed the Canadian Confederation which was initially made up of four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. The expansion of Canada was blocked by Rupert’s Land which was controlled by HBC. Two years later HBC relinquished Rupert’s Land to Canada. Canada appointed an English-speaking governor for the new territory, an appointment which was opposed by the French-speaking Métis.  The new governor was well-known for his anti-French sentiments.

Canada 1869

The transfer of jurisdiction from HBC to Canada was not seen as favorable by the Métis who feared that Canada would not recognize their land rights and their riverlot system. In 1869, the Métis established a regulatory council and seized the HBC’s Fort Garry without bloodshed. The Council, under the leadership of Louis Riel, drafted a List of Rights and established a provisional government. Their flag was a fleur-de-lys with a four-leaf clover and bison on a white background.

Metis government

The Métis provisional government is shown above.

The List of Rights was composed of fourteen points, which included a bilingual legislature and chief justice, and a recognition of Métis land claims. Most of the English-speaking people in the region viewed these rights as reasonable.

The Métis provisional government met with some opposition from a pro-Canadian faction. An Orangeman (i.e. Protestant) named Thomas Scott threatened to kill Louis Riel, was arrested, tried, and then executed.

Shooting Thomas Scott

An artist’s depiction of the shooting of Thomas Scott is shown above.

In 1870, the Métis provisional government, with Louis Riel as its president, negotiated with the Canadian government concerning the Manitoba Act which provided provincial status. The Act also gave the French language and Roman Catholic confessional schools official status. The Act recognized the Métis riverlot system, their hay privileges, and their common grazing rights.  Riel declared:

“no matter what happens now, the rights of the métis are assured by the Manitoba bill: it is what I wanted-my mission is finished.”

Louis Riel

Louis Riel is shown above.

Following the formation of the province of Manitoba, a military expedition known as the Wolseley Expedition composed of Canadian militia and British regular soldiers under the leadership of Colonel Garrnet Wolseley was sent to Manitoba to enforce federal authority. Easterners demanded that Wolseley’s expedition be used to arrest Louis Riel and end what they considered a Métis rebellion. The Canadian militia had expressed a desire to lynch Riel. Riel, fearing for his life, fled to the United States.

In 1875, Louis Riel was formally exiled from Canada for five years. In spite of being exiled, Riel is often called the “Father of Manitoba” and was elected to the Canadian House of Commons three times even though he never assumed his seat.

Riel Statue

A statue of Riel in Manitoba.

Canada tody

Present day Canada is shown above.

Justice Denied in the 1870s

Equal protection under the law is a legal and social concept which has often not been viewed as applicable to American Indians.  During much of the nineteenth century Indians were not citizens and often state and territorial laws prohibited from testifying in courts of law. A number of instances during the 1870s illustrate how justice was denied to American Indians.  

Murdering Indians:

In 1875, an American began putting a fence around Eagle Robe’s garden in Idaho, claiming it as his own. When the Nez Perce objected, he was shot dead. The American was never brought to justice. The dying man told his people:

“Do not go to war. You will lose your country by it, and above all the loss of life will be greater.”

In 1875, four men were accused of murdering a Haida man in Washington. They filed a writ of habeas corpus which stated that

“the petitioners are white men, and no evidence was given … implicating these petitioners as the guilty persons, except by witnesses who are North American Indians.”

It was commonly felt that Indians should not be allowed to be witnesses in any case involving a non-Indian. In the hearing, the defendants’ lawyer argued that Indian testimony was not valid in cases with non-Indian defendants unless it involved the liquor laws. The judge denied the petition. The grand jury, however, did not return an indictment and the four men went free.

In 1876, some American settlers murdered a Nez Perce man, Blowing Wind, in Oregon. He was known as a quiet, peaceful man and his killers had a reputation as trouble-makers. The Nez Perce viewed this murder with a call for justice, not war. However, after several months, the American government failed to arrest the murderers and bring them to trial. Finally, the Nez Perce under the leadership of Chief Joseph issued an ultimatum: if the men were not arrested the Nez Perce warriors would burn down all American homes in the Wallowa Valley. In response to the Nez Perce threat, many Americans left the area and the army sent in a small force of soldiers to meet with Chief Joseph. The murderers were arrested, tried, and set free. Since there were no Indian witnesses who were willing to swear an oath to the Christian God, the men were able to plead self-defense.

In Oregon’s Wallowa valley, an American killed Wilhautyah, a member of Joseph’s Nez Perce band. Joseph spoke with the Indian agent and agreed to let the civil authorities deal with the matter. The agent informed the army that the killing was willful and deliberate murder. After considerable delay, the two Americans turned themselves in and were set free after the judge ruled that the shooting was in self-defense.


In 1875, charges of corruption were made against the Office of Indian Affairs (Bureau of Indian Affairs) regarding the administration of the Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. According to the charges, the Indians had been given inferior beef and flour; the pork issued to them was not fit for human consumption; and the freight contractor was paid for 212 miles while the actual distance is only 145 miles. The complaint was investigated by the government and the allegations were found to be groundless. The commissioners who investigated the charges either played down or failed to see the implications of much of the testimony they heard.

In 1876, a prominent Montana businessman was charged with attempting to defraud the government and the Crow. His alleged scheme involved double sacking flour so that each flour sack would be counted twice, providing the Crow with shoddy goods, and branding Indian cattle as his own. The grand jury refused to bring an indictment.

Theft and Trespass:

In 1874, a Nebraska district court ruled that local courts had no jurisdiction over crimes committed on reservations. While non-Indians had rarely been brought to justice for committing crimes on reservations, this decision gave them a virtual license to steal.

In 1877, the Oklahoma Cherokee attempted to collect a levy on cattle which were grazed on their lands by non-Indians. The case was tried in an American court in Fort Smith, Arkansas where the judge told the jury:

“The fact of a man being in the Indian country without a permit is no excuse for seizing his property. Neither the Indian Sheriff nor any other officers of the Indian country can seize or remove him or his property. If a citizen of the United States is in the Indian country without permission, as intruder, the authorities can report the fact to President Grant, who is backed by all the military power of the United States, and he can send soldiers to put him out.”

The jury found against the Cherokee Nation.

Trials Not Needed:

In 1875, the United States Army simply sent 72 Cheyenne, Commanche, Arapaho, and Caddo prisoners to a military prison in Florida. Originally, the army had intended to try the prisoners before a military commission, but the attorney general ruled that a military trial would be illegal as a state of war could not exist between a nation and its wards. Thus, the Indians were imprisoned without a trial. Many of the young men selected to be imprisoned had simply been selected at random from a lineup of Indians. There were no concerns as to whether or not they had actually committed any crime: they were Indians and therefore deserved to be in prison.

Indians Are People:

In 1879, a U.S. District Court ruled in the case of Standing Bear versus Crook that an Indian is a person under United States law and therefore has a right to sue for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The U.S. Attorney had argued that Indians were not persons under the law and therefore were not entitled to a writ of habeas corpus. The Court found that if Indians must obey the laws of the land, then they must be afforded the protection of these laws. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs responded to the judge’s ruling by noting that it

“is regarded by the Government as a heavy blow to the present Indian system, that, if sustained, will prove extremely dangerous alike to whites and Indians.”

The ruling was generally ignored in both state and federal courts.

Federal Indian Policies in 1890

Throughout the first century of its existence, the United States had carried out policies intended to decimate the First Nations that had occupied the lands for thousands of years. Having accomplished its manifest destiny of occupying the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, by 1890 American Indian policy was focused on: (1) assimilating American Indians into American society just as other immigrants had assimilated; (2) eradicating Indian cultures, including traditional languages, marriage customs, religions, and ways of dress; and (3) destroying tribal governments and breaking up tribal land holdings. The policies and programs of the American government in 1890 were driven by the viewpoint that American civilization was superior and that the existence of Indian cultures was somehow an impediment to the progress of “civilization.”  


In 1890, the United States Census formally enumerated all of the Indians of the country. According to the Census, there were a total of 248,253 Indians in the United States: 58,806 were “Indians taxed” and 189,447 were “Indians not taxed.” This distinction between “taxed” and “not taxed” was-and often still is-an important one as many felt that people who were “not taxed” (meaning that they did not own land) should not be allowed to participate in American government and its legal institutions.

With regard to the difficulties in counting Indians, the Census Bureau reported:

“Enumeration would be likely to pass by many who had been identified all their lives with the localities where found, and who lived like the adjacent whites without any inquiry as to their race, entering them as native born white.”

Faced with the twin barriers of racism and denial of Indian heritage, many Indians in the eastern states had become invisible. In places like New England, for example, many Indians were seen as being French Canadian.

Franchise Day:

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs announced that the 8th of February was to be celebrated as Franchise Day. It was on this day that the Dawes Act was signed into law, and the Commissioner felt that this

“is worthy of being observed in all Indian schools as the possible turning point in Indian history, the point at which the Indians may strike out from tribal and reservation life and enter American citizenship and nationality.”

While the Dawes Act provided the legal mechanism for Indians to become citizens of the United States, its primary purpose was to break up communal land holdings on reservations and to give each Indian family a small plot of land to farm. Americans at this time had an obsession with private property and felt that communally held property was not only a barrier to civilization, but an affront to their god. While the United States at this time had developed commercial agriculture control by corporations, the land allotted to individual Indians was too small to provide an adequate living and thus most sold or leased their allotments to larger corporate interests at a fraction of their actual worth. The Dawes Act was, in reality, a transfer of wealth from American Indians to corporations.

Indian Education:

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs published a detailed set of rules for Indian schools which stipulated a uniform course of study and the textbooks which were to be used in the Indian schools. The Commissioner prescribed the celebration of United States national holidays as a way of replacing Indian heroes and assimilating Indians. According to the Commissioner:

“Education should seek the disintegration of the tribes, and not their segregation. They should be educated, not as Indians, but as Americans.”

As with other schools in the United States, not only was the Indian heritage of the country not taught, it was actively denied. The purpose of education was to “kill the Indian, save the man.” In other words, the United States sought to destroy all vestiges of American Indian cultures.

Motivated by the American obsession with private property, schools were to give Indian students surnames so that as they became property owners it would be easier to fix lines of inheritance. Unaware that many tribes were matrilineal-inheritance was through the female line-the schools assumed that patriliniality was universal and thus the father’s line was recognized rather than the mother’s.

Since most teachers could not pronounce nor memorize names in native languages, and they did not understand these names when translated into English, it was not uncommon to give English surnames as well as English first names to the students. In emphasizing the importance of American heroes, many Indian students were thus named after people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

Name Changes on the Reservations:

In addition to the name changes given to the students at the Indian schools, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered Indian names on the reservations to be changed so that each Indian was given an English Christian name and retained the surname. Surnames were to be translated to English and shortened if they are too long. The new names were to be explained to the Indians. Thus Lone Bear became Lon Brown, Night Horse became Henry Lee Tyler, and Yellow Calf became George Caldwell. On some reservations, Indians were given names such as “Cornelius Vanderbilt” and “William Shakespeare.”

On the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, the Indian agent reported that:

“Now every family has a name. Every father, mother; every husband and wife and children bears the last names of these people; now property goes to his descendant.”

He also reported:

“During my administration I took a census of over two thousand names and had them all change, though it took over two years to accomplish the task.”


While the Dawes Act provided citizenship for Indians who took allotments, the Act did not apply to Indian Territory. Thus Congress passed the Indian Territory Naturalization Act which allowed any member of an Indian tribe in Indian Territory to become a United States citizen by applying for such status in federal courts. The act allowed these Indians to maintain dual citizenship by maintaining tribal citizenship. Few Indians, however, actually applied for citizenship.

At this same time, Congress passed the Oklahoma Organic Act which established a territorial government for the western half of Indian Territory and renamed it Oklahoma Territory. Under the Organic Act, the United States annexed all Indian reservations to the new territory.


The Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered traders to stop carrying playing cards. This was an effort to discourage gambling on the reservations.

Reverend Daniel Dorchester, a Protestant minister, writes to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

“As a race the red men lack self-reliance and self-directing power-the natural effect of the centuries of ignorance, idleness, and hap-hazard lying behind them-and will long need to hold the relation of wards, that they may have the benefit of paternal counsel and advice. We must not expect that a few Indians right out of savagery can acquire such development in civilization as to leaven at once the mass of barbarism.”

Navajo Sandpaintings

Most Navajo ceremonies are focused on health: on healing someone who is ill or on maintaining health. Navajo ceremonies, often referred to as “sings” or “chants,” are often a reenactment of the creation of the world through myth, song, prayer, and drama. The patient is placed in this recreated world which closely identifies the patient with the powers of the Holy People.  

To illustrate the songs used in the ceremonies, the Navajo use sandpaintings or drypaintings. These are created by dribbling colors (made from charcoal and pulverized minerals) on the ground using the first and second fingers and thumb of the right hand. The painting is started at the center and includes symbolic representations of the Holy People. The sandpaintings attract the Holy People: powerful supernatural entities which can cure and bless.

Navajo Sandpainting 1

Shown above is a sandpainting photographed by Edward Curtis.

The composition and design of the Navajo sandpaintings are static; that is, the designs used in the sandpaintings are rigidly established. If they are to be effective in bringing about a cure or in maintaining health, the designs must be created without significant change or alteration. The sandpaintings are the exact pictorial representations of supernaturals who are called by their likenesses in the sandpaintings and are compelled to cure under the rules of the universe. If the ritual rules are followed exactly as prescribed by the Holy People, the supernaturals will bring about the cure.

The painting is a vessel which receives its power when the singer sprinkles it with pollen. At this point it becomes an altar. The patient then sits upon the painting during the ceremony. The sandpainting is the medium through which the illness is transferred out of the patient and the health and perfection of the Holy People enter into the patient. As a force in the healing and ceremonial process, the sandpainting is not just to be seen, but it is to be absorbed. When it is absorbed, the beauty and harmony of the sandpainting can help heal the mind and the body. The patient does not just visualize nature or the environment; the patient becomes absorbed in its reformulated harmony and beauty.

Navajo Sandpainting 2

Sandpaintings range from one foot in diameter to over twenty feet in diameter. The larger sandpaintings may take more than a dozen people most of a day to complete. In the larger sandpaintings, the hataali (medicineman or chanter) primarily directs and criticizes as many as a dozen or more young men who are actually creating the sandpainting, each working on a specific part of the overall painting.

Navajo Hatali

A photograph of a Navajo hataali by Edward Curtis is shown above.

There are two basic types of Navajo sandpaintings: those that belong to the rhythm of the night and those that belong to the rhythm of the day. Sandpaintings belonging to the night are started after sunset and are destroyed before sunrise. Those that belong to the day are begun at sunrise and are destroyed before sunset.

The sandpaintings used in the ceremonies are always temporary: immediately following the ceremony, sand is swept up and carried away.  The destruction of the sandpainting is also a ceremonial action. The hataali, using a slender wand, begins with the figure in the east and then obliterates the painting in a sunwise fashion. Once the design is no longer recognizable, the assistants gather the sand in their blankets, carry it to a little distance from the hogan and throw it away.

The five colors used in the sandpaintings usually symbolize direction. White (made from white sandstone) represents the east and is associated with males and the dawn; yellow (made from yellow sandstone) represents the west and is associated with females and twilight; black (made from charcoal) represents the north and is associated with males and night; blue (made from a mixture of blue black and white) represents the south and is associated with females and daylight; red (made from red sandstone) is used to represent sunshine.

Sandpaintings contain supernatural powers which can be dangerous. Misuse of a sandpainting may bring serious consequences: blindness, illness, and perhaps death to the individual and drought and destruction to the society. Thus permanent copies are not made as evil forces and beings might be able to find them and change them from a force for healing to a force for creating illness. For this reason, there is opposition to photographing or copying these paintings in any permanent medium. Many of those which have been photographed, including those made in museums, were deliberately incomplete or in error so that they do not have any spiritual power.  

One Hundred Years Ago: 1912

During the nineteenth century, academics, politicians, teachers, historians, and the general public knew that Americans Indians were a vanishing race, destined to disappear before the relentless superiority of American manifest destiny, greed, private property, and capitalism. More than a decade into the twentieth century, however, American Indians continued to exist and Indian reservations were generally places of great poverty. The nineteenth century policies regarding the administration of Indian affairs continued, and seemed to be more determined than ever to make sure that Indians would disappear. During the twentieth century, many historians and others, believing in the myth of American superiority, actually believed that Indians had disappeared and thus twentieth century Indians are usually invisible in the histories of this century. Looking back to a century ago, to the year 1912, we see that there is, however, an Indian history for this year.  

Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior is the person responsible for administering Indian programs and policies. This is a political appointment.

Indian Commissioner Robert Valentine issued Circular 601 which prohibited teachers in government schools from wearing religious garb or displaying religious insignia. The order directly affected fifty-one people, mostly Catholic nuns. It was a part of the ongoing antagonism between Protestants and Catholics at this time. President William Howard Taft, however, revoked the Circular and ordered Valentine not to take any further action in this matter. Taft’s actions were criticized by Protestant groups and lauded by Catholics.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs asked Indian superintendents to tell him about the effects of fee patents on the Indians on their reservations. With regard to the Omaha, 90% of those who had been issued fee patents by the competency commission had already sold their land, 8% had mortgaged their land, and only 2% still retained their allotments. In other words, the intent of allotment to turn Indians into farmers wasn’t working and was instead resulting in poverty.

To speed up the allotment of Indian land, experimental competency commissions were established by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Umatilla and Omaha reservations. The commissions studied individual cases and passed judgments on the competency of individual Indians to handle their own affairs.

The new Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells directed Indian agents to confiscate individually owned cattle and to form tribal herds on the Northern Plains reservations. He felt that greater growth and profit could be realized if the herds were under the management of the Indian Office (later known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs). In Montana, the Northern Cheyenne attempted to resist the confiscation order as individually owned cattle were now not only a means of subsistence, but also a source of prestige. The Indian agent threatened lengthy jail terms for anyone who failed to comply with the confiscation order.

Court Cases:

In Choate versus Trapp the U.S. Supreme Court did not allow the state of Oklahoma to tax Choctaw and Chickasaw allotments.

The United States Court of Claims awarded the descendants of the Cathlamet in Oregon $7,000 for loss of their aboriginal lands.


In Washington, D.C., representatives from the Four Mothers Society from the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes in Oklahoma testified in Congress against the allotment of tribal lands to individual tribal members.

Congress passed an act to provide for the sale of unallotted land on the Omaha reservation in Nebraska. Proceeds from the sale were to be deposited into the U.S. Treasury and to be distributed to eligible Omaha children when they turned 25. Under the act, 49 acres were to be reserved for the Indian agency, 10 acres for an Indian cemetery, and 10 acres for the Presbyterian church. An additional two acres of the old Presbyterian mission were to be deeded to the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Congress awarded the Chinook $20,000 for loss of their aboriginal lands in Washington. Congress also awarded the Clatsop $16,500 and the Wahkiakum $7,000 to satisfy land claims from their unratified 1851 treaty.

Legislation was introduced in Congress which would free the Apache at Fort Sill in Oklahoma from their prisoner of war status and relocate them on the Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico. The legislation was opposed by the New Mexico delegation as they wished to preserve non-Indian grazing rights on the Mescalero Reservation.

Geronimo's Grave

Shown above is Geronimo’s Grave at Fort Sill.

Presidential Executive Orders:

President William Howard Taft issued an executive order creating the 47,600 acre Ak-Chin reservation in Arizona. The reservation was created in part in gratitude to the Papago (Tohono O’odham) for their help in the wars against the Apache in the late 1800’s. In addition to Ak-Chin, a series of Executive Orders created the Maricopa, Cockleburr, Chi Chisch, Tat-muri-ma-kutt, and Boboquivari Peak-Santiergos Reservations for the Papago.

Ak Chin map

Shown above is a map showing the location of the Ak-Chin Reservation.

In Utah, President William Howard Taft used a Presidential Executive Order to set aside 80 acres in Skull Valley for the exclusive use of the Gosiute.

In California, the Hupa Reservation was restored by President Taft to its status prior to the 1908 proclamation by President Theodore Roosevelt which gave most of the reservation to the Trinity National Forest. The Hupa recovered their lands, but many people, including at least one reservation superintendent, assumed that part of the reservation belonged to the forest service which administered it.

Hupa Curtis

Shown above is a photograph of the Hupa Reservation by Edward Curtis.

Suppressing Indian Religions:

The Board of Indian Commissioners began to lobby Congress for a law to outlaw peyote. According to their annual report:

“The danger of the rapid spread of the habit, increased by its so-called religious associations, makes the need of its early suppression doubly pressing.”

Delegations from several tribes – Omaha, Cheyenne, and Arapaho – visited Washington to express their opposition to attempts to outlaw peyote. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, however, told Congress:

“I firmly believe that the use of Peyote is injurious to the health and welfare of the Indians and, therefore, shall do everything within my power to prevent its use among Indians”

The director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions sent the Bureau of Indian Affairs a request to rid the reservations of the evils of mescal. The director confused mescal with peyote.

In South Dakota, the Indian agent for the Yankton Sioux imprisoned the leaders of the Native American Church (which uses peyote in ceremonies). No court trial was felt necessary for this.


From an Indian viewpoint, non-Indians seemed to be obsessed with the idea of private property and were offended by the fact that Indian nations tended to own land communally. In the late nineteenth century, the United States passed laws to break up the communal ownership of Indian lands and to require the Indians to have allotments-individually owned parcels of land, generally too small to be economically viable as agricultural land. This focus on allotment continued in 1912.

In Minnesota, the investigation of fraud on the Chippewa White Earth Reservation resulted in 1,529 cases of illegally sold trust allotments being sent to the Department of Justice. Lumber interests and their political allies met to discuss the investigation. As a result of this meeting, they urged Congress to create a roll commission to fix the blood quantum of the White Earth allottees more accurately. This delayed the adjudication of the cases.

In Oklahoma, nearly 2,000 Cherokee refused to claim their allotments. Most of these traditional Cherokee were living in the hills in extreme poverty. In spite of this poverty, they refused the per capita payments which they would receive by taking an allotment.

In Nevada, a delegation of 30 Mason Valley Paiute under the leadership of Jack Wilson (Wovoka) requested 40-acre farm allotments from the Indian agent at the Walker River Reservation.

In Nevada, the Indian Office appointed a special agent for all off-reservation Indians in Nevada and Northern California. The special agent encouraged Indians to file for individual Indian allotments under Section 4 of the 1887 General Allotment Act.

In California, the Fort Yuma Reservation was allotted.

In Montana, 2,750 allotments were issued on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Landless Indians:

There were many Indian tribes in the twentieth century which did not have reservations. Some of these, such as the Chippewa and Cree, were refugees from Canada where they had participated in the nineteenth century Riel Rebellion in Saskatchewan. Others, such as Little Shell’s band of Chippewa, had had their reservation taken from them by land-hungry Americans.

In Montana, Fred A. Baker, a superintendent of Indian Schools, was assigned the task of finding lands for the landless Chippewa and Cree. Like most non-Indians at this time, Baker strongly believed that the assimilation of American Indians could best be achieved by making them into rural farmers. There was no concern for integrating them into the urban, market-based economy that was the reality for most Americans.

Baker held a council with Chippewa leader Stone Child (Rocky Boy), Cree leader Little Bear, and others at the Independence Day Celebration on the Blackfeet Reservation. He then held a separate meeting with Blackfeet leaders. While Baker had hoped that the Chippewa and Cree could be settled on the Blackfeet Reservation, it was clear that none of the Indians favored this idea.

Baker visited the Fort Assiniboine Military Reservation after talking with Little Bear who had told him that his people had periodically lived in the area. He concluded that the landless Chippewa and Cree should be given a small reservation within the confines of the abandoned Fort Assiniboine Military Reservation. Baker felt that a small reservation would be the first step toward assimilation and that it would remove poverty-stricken Indians from the vicinity of Montana towns.

In Montana, federal officials reported that there were approximately 100 Cree living in the Pryor Mountains on the Crow Reservation. Many of them were employed by the Crow and there was some intermarriage between the Crow and the Cree. No action was taken to remove the Cree.

Fishing and Hunting Rights:

Non-Indians established a salmon cannery on the Quillayute River in Washington and appropriated traditional Indian fishing sites. Indians were unable to obtain fishing licenses because they were considered non-citizens.

In Montana, two Blackfeet hunters were arrested for hunting in Glacier National Park. Their firearms, traps, and hides were taken from them. The Department of the Interior later instructed the Park to return these items, but the Indians were not to be allowed in the park.

It should be pointed out that while Glacier National Park did not allow Blackfeet to hunt in the park, even though their treaty clearly indicated that they had retained this right, it did allow the (non-Indian) private land owners in the park to continue to hunt in the park. In addition, government hunters were seeking to exterminate coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions within the park. The Blackfeet felt that their treaty rights included the right to hunt and fish within the park, as well as to gather wild plants, cut timber, and freely enter the area.


Long Lance (Lumbee) addressed his graduating class at the Carlisle Indian School:

“When we have gone through, for the last time as students, the brick portals of this institution, into the great world of competition, we do not wish to be designated as Cherokees, Sioux, or Pawnees, but we wish to be known as Carlisle Indians, belonging to that great universal tribe of North American Indians, speaking the same language and having the same chief — the great White Father at Washington.”

In Arizona, the Indian Office forcibly took Yavapai children from their parents so that they could be sent to Phoenix Indian School.

In Arizona, a new school was constructed for the Havasupai. The old school was destroyed in the 1910 flood. The new school was topped off with the bell from the old school.


In California, Bison Life Motion Pictures Company made a deal with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show in which the Wild West Show was to provide the movie company with 75 Indians and 100 cowboys. As a result, four two-reel westerns were produced: War on the Plains, The Indian Massacre, The Battle of the Red Men, and The Deserter. Sioux actor William Eagleshirt appears in War on the Plains and The Indian Massacre (both directed by Thomas Ince), and also writes the scenario for War on the Plains.


For the first time, because of the impact of the artist Cezanne, art museums began to exhibit Native American art as art.

In New Mexico, San Ildefonso potter María Martínez began to sell the black pottery which will make her and her Pueblo legendary.

Maria Martinez

María Martínez is shown above.

The Navajo Fair at Shiprock, New Mexico had an estimated $20,000 of Navajo blankets shown. Superintendent William Shelton, in his annual report, noted that the quality of Navajo weaving had improved and that-

“The demand for this product is becoming greater each year, due, no doubt, to this continued improvement.”

In California, Paiute-Miwok weaver Lucy Parker Telles began to introduce newer motifs and shapes into her baskets. Her adaptations of the traditional Miwok gift basket included some with locked lids.


Jim Thorpe (Sauk and Fox) won the pentathlon and decathlon at the Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. In the decathlon, Thorpe set a world record for the 110-meter hurdles.  Sweden’s King Gustav V told him:

“Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.”

President William H. Taft said

“Your victory will serve as an incentive to all to improve those qualities which characterize the best type of American citizenship.”

Thorpe’s Indian name was Wa-Tho-Huck, which means “Bright Path.” He was the great-grandson of Chief Blackhawk.

Indian Organizations:

In Ohio, the Society of American Indians (SAI) met in Columbus. One of the issues discussed was how to speed up the assimilation process on the reservations. Arthur Caswell Parker (Seneca) formed two fraternities at the meeting: the Loyal Order of Tecumseh and the Descendants of the American Aborigines. The Loyal Order of Tecumseh allowed both active and associate SAI members to socialize and perform ritual.

In Alaska, delegates from the Haida, Tlingit, and Tshimshian communities formed the Alaska Native Brotherhood to lobby for the protection of native resources and to fight against segregation and discrimination in the territory. One of the priorities of the Alaska Native Brotherhood was citizenship and voting rights.


The enabling legislation that created the state of New Mexico specifically spelled out that the Indians in the state own their own land. Many non-Indians preferred to ignore Indian title to the land.

Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, asked the Secretary of the Interior to declare Blue Lake as an executive order reservation. Blue Lake is sacred to Taos Pueblo and was incorporated into the Carson National Forest in 1906. The request was denied because the Secretary of Agriculture (who is in charge of the Forest Service which administers the lake) refused to approve it.

The Zuni once again petitioned the government regarding the size of their New Mexico reservation. Zuni Governor William J. Lewis, his wife Margaret Lewis, and Lieutenant Governor Dick Tsanaha travelled to Washington, D.C. to air the tribe’s grievances.

The Indian Office filed for a water appropriation on behalf of the Ak-Chin Indian Community in Arizona which called for a total of 70,000 acre-feet annually. Non-Indians in the area were upset about the size of the reservation and about the water appropriation. Within four months of the original executive order, President Taft issued a second executive order which reduced the size of the reservation to 21,840 acres.

The government drilled a well for the Tohono O’odham village of Santa Rosa, Arizona in spite of objections from the village chief and the council. Tribal funds were used to pay for the well.

In Arizona, 15 frame houses were built by the government for the Havasupai to replace the houses destroyed in the 1910 flood. Residents were required to pay for the houses if they occupied them. The Havasupai refused to live in the houses as they were too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

In California, land in the Owens Valley was set aside for the establishment of reservations at Bishop, Lone Pine, and Big Pine.

In California, a fire at the Pomo village at Upper Lake destroyed several houses and the dance house. Several families moved to the Robertson Rancheria and other reservations where the government provided them with free houses.

In Montana, the Yankton Sioux on the Fort Peck Reservation selected Charles Thompson, Rufus Ricker, and Crazy Bull to travel as a delegation to Washington, D.C. In Washington, they met with the Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs and others to discuss their concerns regarding improvements on the reservation.

In Idaho, the federal government attempted to crack down on the unstable marriages among the Shoshone and Bannock on the Fort Hall Reservation. The Indian courts were instructed to tell the parties in divorce cases to make up their differences and live in harmony. The Indian agent noted that women tended to reject such pressure and refused to comply with the government’s request. The agent found that only when the women were sentenced to jail until they agree to go back to their husbands that they would comply.

In Wyoming, St. Michael’s Mission was established in Ethete on the Wind River Reservation. Promotional literature, used to raise money among wealthy eastern patrons, described government failure to stem the “disgraceful uncleanliness” and the high birth rate among the Shoshone and Arapaho on the Wind River Reservation. According to the brochure:

“Vice has also made appalling inroads upon them, and all this in spite of fifty years of constant supervision and help by the government, and on most reservations of long and continuous efforts on the part of the Churches.”

While a wealthy Eastern benefactress helped pay for the construction, the church school was paid for by the federal government using money which it had collected on behalf of the tribe. The new mission attempted to incorporate some aspects of Arapaho culture. One minister erected a tipi in front of his office and met with the Indians in this setting.

On Guemes Island, Washington, the Samish were forced to abandon their village and their lands because of non-Indian pressures to obtain their spring, the only source of fresh water on the island.

Indian Farming in Massachusetts

While the English history of the colonization of Massachusetts often characterizes the Indians as nomadic hunters with no claim to the land, it is interesting to note that the first action of the Pilgrims when they landed in 1620 was to rob an Indian grave of the corn offerings which had been left there. Corn, or maize, as most people know, is not something hunted by nomads, but is a domesticated plant. While the first English colonists survived in the beginning on plant foods raised by the Indians, they often failed to see the Indian fields, as they didn’t look like English fields.  

By the time the Europeans arrived on this continent Indian people had three major agricultural crops: maize (corn), beans, and squash. Beans of many different colors and textures were used in many different ways and were added to many foods. Corn was a variety known as northern flint which had eight-rowed, multicolored ears.  As with other eastern tribes gourds, strawberries, pumpkins, watermelons, passionflower, Jerusalem artichoke, and tobacco were important crops for the Massachusetts tribes.

Corn had been originally domesticated in Mexico and had diffused to New England by about 2000 years ago. The people at this time already understood agriculture and plant domestication for they had been raising local plants for about a millennium at this time.

Fields were initially cleared by slash-and-burn methods. Fires would be placed around the bases of standing trees which would burn the bark and kill the tree. Later the dead tree would be felled, often knocking down other dead trees as it fell. The clearing was often done by large parties of men and women.

The use of fire as a land management tool involved a carefully controlled ritual process which purified the environment. In order to control the fires and make sure that they didn’t spread into the wetland, Indian people dug ditches. The burning also enriched the land and helped to balance the soil.

The size of the fields varied by region and by the size of the village. A village of 400 people, for example, might clear 350-600 acres for its farms. The fields could generally be used for eight to ten years before there would be a noticeable decline in fertility. After that time the fields would be fertilized with fish and seaweed and/or new fields would be created by burning the woods. Eventually the fields would be abandoned and allowed to go fallow for a generation or so. It was not uncommon for a village to move after 15 to 20 years in order to be closer to the new fields.

Once an area had been cleared, earth mounds or hills were constructed about four or five feet apart. Kernels of corn and beans would then be planted in the mounds. The corn stalks would later be used by the bean vines as a pole. In the spaces between the mounds, the people would plant squash, gourds, and tubers. The squash vines would trail alongside and over the mounds, protecting the roots of the corn plants and preventing weeds from establishing themselves.

Indian agriculture was not the orderly expression of human domination over nature which was found in European landscapes. The fields which had been carefully planted by the Indians looked like a wilderness to the English invaders.

Another major difference between Indian and European agriculture involved labor. First, Indian agriculture was less labor intensive. Second, the planting and harvesting was done by the women, who were considered the owners of the foods which they raised.

Hoes for preparing the ground and weeding used the shells of horseshoe crabs, clams, the scapulae from deer, or turtle shells. Small huts were often constructed in and around the fields. From these huts, children would watch the fields and scare off any birds which threatened the plants. Among some tribes, tame hawks were also used to frighten the birds away.

Planting was timed by the disappearance of the constellation Pleiades from the western horizon and harvesting began with its reappearance in the east. These astronomical observations mark the length of the frost-free season in the area.

Once harvested, the crops were stored in large pits lined with bark or mats. The pits were then covered with logs and earth. In some instances, these pits were inside the lodges.

With regard to the efficiency of Indian agriculture in Massachusetts, it is generally estimated that one Indian woman could raise anywhere from 25 to 60 bushels of corn by working an acre or two. This was enough to provide at least half of the annual caloric requirements for a family of five. When corn was combined with the other foods which they raised, women may have contributed as much as three-fourths of a family’s total subsistence needs.  

Corn was prepared in a number of ways, including making hominy of the kernels and making a stew of beans and corn called succotash. Corn meal ground in wooden mortars was boiled or baked in the shape of cakes or round balls. When people travelled, they often carried with them parched cornmeal which could be easily and quickly mixed with water to become a food known as nocake. This was the aboriginal equivalent of fast food.  

The War Against the Yavapai

In 1865, some drunken American squatters murdered Pai headman Anasa. In retaliation, Pai raiders attacked several wagon trains, ran off livestock, and shut down the traffic on the road between Prescott and Fort Mohave. In response to these attacks, the U.S. Army created a line of demarcation which declared that all Indians living more than 70 miles east of the Colorado River were to be considered hostile and subject to extermination. Under this declaration, not only were the Pai considered hostile, but also the Yavapai and Western Apache.  

In 1866, a small party of Tolkepaya Yavapai encountered an American wagon train near Skull Valley. The Yavapai informed the teamsters that this was their land and that the water, grass, and corn belonged to them. The Yavapai told the teamsters that they would allow the Americans to leave unharmed if they surrendered their mules and the contents of their wagons. From the American perspective this was an act of extortion, and in response a group of 13 soldiers-members of the Arizona Volunteers-arrived with orders from Fort Whipple to “punish” the Yavapai. Then more Yavapai and Tonto Apache arrived, including some who had papers showing that they had permission to be in the area. On the third day of the standoff, about 80 Yavapai and Tonto Apache laid down their bows, and displaying their papers from the government, approached the wagon train peacefully. The soldiers opened fire, killing more than 40.

In 1866, the Arizona Volunteers waged a war of extermination against the Yavapai and killed at least 83.

In 1868, a new army commander arrived at Fort McDowell and immediately ordered a campaign against nearby “Apache”. The army informed the peaceful Yavapai under the leadership of Delshe and Ashcavotil that their soldiers were under orders to shoot any Yavapai who wandered away from the post. When 170 U.S. cavalry rode into the Yavapai camp the next morning, the Yavapai fled into the mountains and the cavalry followed. The army then began arresting as a “prisoner of war” any Yavapai who appeared at a military post, even when they came under a flag of truce. Those who tried to escape were shot. The Yavapai retaliated by killing U.S. mail carriers and running off livestock. In response the U.S. troops and their Pima allies began a campaign against the Yavapai.

In 1868, a party of about 30 Yavapai including the headman Quashackama visited the Indian agent at La Paz. They asked for food but were denied rations. They set up camp and waited for the arrival of the Indian Superintendent. At sunrise the next morning, a group of 13 teamsters rushed into the Yavapai camp with guns blazing. They murdered Quashackama and 14 others. The teamsters were seeking revenge for attacks on their wagon trains, but the residents of La Paz knew that these Yavapai could not have been responsible for the attacks. Quashackama had been a friend to the Americans and had helped them to recover strays and stolen livestock. Army officers and territorial officials arrested the teamsters, but a U.S. district judge who was sympathetic to Indian-killers set the murderers free. The remaining Yavapai fled back to the mountains and some took revenge on American travelers.  


In 1870, two Tolkepaya Yavapai men entered the Army’s Camp Date Creek and explained that their people were not hostile but they would like a peace agreement to protect them from military and civilian raiders. Two weeks later a meeting was held with 200 Yavapai under the leadership of Ohatchecama and the Camp Date Creek commanding officer. An informal peace was negotiated. The Yavapai promised to stay off the roads between Prescott and Wickenburg, and to report the presence of Yavapai raiders to U.S. officers. They also agreed to turn in any of their own people responsible for attacks on Americans.

In 1872, the army with 120 U.S. soldiers and 100 Pima scouts tracked a band of Kwevkepaya Yavapai into the Salt River Canyon. With the aid of Nantaje, a Tonto Apache scout who knew the area well, the army located the Yavapai camped in a cave. The army positioned itself below the cave and began firing into the cave. After chanting their death song, 20 Kwevkepaya men charged from the cave. They were quickly gunned down by the Americans. It is estimated that 76 Yavapai were killed in the cave. Eighteen women and children, all of whom were wounded, took cover under the bodies of the dead and survived. The army took the survivors, as prisoners, to Fort Grant.

General Oliver Otis Howard called a peace conference with more than 1,000 Kwevkepaya Yavapai and Apache to quell animosity in the region. The spokesmen for the Yavapai included Pawchine, Sygollah, Wehabesuwa, and Sekwalakawala. All agreed that hostilities should be ended. The Yavapai and the San Carlos Apache promised to help the Americans chase down those who resisted the American invasion.

In 1872, the army called in about 50 Yavapai under the leadership of Ohatchecama to discuss an incident involving a stage coach. The Yavapai left their weapons in camp and came to the meeting unarmed. The Yavapai were innocent of the stage coach incident, but the American general (George Crook) was intent on arresting ten Indians. When the soldiers moved in to make the arrests, the Yavapai resisted, and the soldiers opened fire. Several Yavapai were killed and Ohatchecama and several others were arrested. The remaining Yavapai fled.

Early the next morning, the Yavapai prisoners broke out of the guardhouse. Several were killed and Ohatchecama, with two gunshot wounds and a bayonet stab wound, escaped to the mountains where he died.

Shortly after this incident, Pakota and Takodawa returned from their visit with President Ulysses S. Grant. Upon hearing of the assault, they presented their medals and papers and relayed the President’s promises of peace. Pakota soon found that the pleasant words of accommodation and peace spoken in Washington did not represent reality in Arizona.  

The War Resumes:

In 1872, General George Crook embarked on a war of extermination against the Yavapai. The campaign was carried out by well-armed and well-organized soldiers against scattered bands of malnourished and poorly-armed Yavapai families. The “battles” tended to be one-sided, murderous onslaughts.

The army attacked four Yavapai camps on the Santa Maria River, killing about 40 Indians and taking a number of women and children as hostages. The soldiers burned all of the supplies and shelters in the camps. At Squaw Peak, the army attacked another Yavapai camp and killed 17. In the Santa Maria Mountains the soldiers killed nine more Yavapai.

The following year, as a part of General George Crook’s war against the Yavapai, soldiers attacked the camp of Yavapai headman Notokel. While Notokel and ten others escaped, eight Yavapai were killed and all of their belongings destroyed. Near Fort McDowell, the soldiers attacked a Kwevkepaya Yavapai camp, killing nine and wounding three. Shortly after this, Notokel, two children, and one woman were shot by the soldiers.

Wipukepa Yavapai headman Tecoomthaya moved his people to the extreme north of their territory in order to escape General George Crook’s campaign against them. However, a force of U.S. soldiers with the aid of Pai scouts tracked them down and attacked them without warming. The Yavapai were not given the option of surrender. While most of the Yavapai escaped, the soldiers burned all of their supplies and food.

Over a period of seven months in 1873, Crook’s soldiers killed more than 250 Indians.

In 1873, General George Crook, like most American officials, preferred to deal with a dictator rather than a democracy and therefore appointed Coquannathacka as head chief for all the Yavapai. Accustomed to a military and political hierarchy, Cook wanted to be able to deal with a single leader, preferably one chosen by him and loyal to the Americans rather than the Yavapai.

Unfortunately for the Americans, while Coquannathacka was a respected elder, he had little interest in cooperating with Crook. In addition, he was not much of a talker. When Coquannathacka declined the position, the Americans appointed Motha (later known as Mojave Charlie or Captain Charlie) as head chief. The Americans gave him an officer’s uniform, complete with a saber and black hat, as a symbol of his status as head chief. While Motha could parade about in his new uniform-which he did daily-he still did not and could not speak for or command the Yavapai people.

In 1874, as a part of his campaign to exterminate the Yavapai, General George Crook offered a reward for the murder of the Yavapai leader Delshe. He told his people to bring back Delshe’s head. Delshe responded to this by slipping into the Rio Verde Reservation and recruiting more followers.

In 1875, the Yavapai were force-marched nearly 200 miles to the San Carlos Apache reservation. This ended the primary military campaign against the Yavapai. However, army troops remained behind to hunt down any remaining Indian camps. A few miles east of Camp Verde, army scouts killed six Wipukepa Yavapai men and captured three women and seven children. Farther south, they killed four Tolkepaya Yavapai men and captured one woman and two children.

The Wounded Knee Massacre: 121st Anniversary

( – promoted by navajo)


The Sand Creek Massacre and the Washita Massacre both led to the Wounded Knee Massacre. The Sand Creek Massacre brought the realization that “the soldiers were destroying everything Cheyenne – the land, the buffalo, and the people themselves,” and the Washita Massacre added even more genocidal evidence to those facts. The Sand Creek Massacre caused the Cheyenne to put away their old grievances with the Sioux and join them in defending their lives against the U.S. extermination policy. The Washita Massacre did that even more so. After putting the Wounded Knee Massacre briefly into historical perspective, we’ll focus solely on the Wounded Knee Massacre itself for the 121st Anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Black Kettle, his wife, and more than 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho had just been exterminated, and Custer’s 7th was burning the lodges and all their contents, thus stripping them of all survival means. Sheridan would wait until all their dogs had been eaten before “allowing” them into subjugation, then Custer would rape the women hostages in captivity.

Jerome A. Green. “Washita.” p. 126.

Far across the Washita Valley, warriors observed the killing of the animals, enraged by what they saw.


What did they see, feel, and think?…

And so, when the Chiefs gathered to decide what the people should do, Black Kettle took his usual place among them. Everyone agreed Sand Creek must be avenged. But there were questions. Why had the soldiers attacked with such viciousness? Why had they killed and mutilated women and children?

It seemed that the conflict with the whites had somehow changed. No longer was it just a war over land and buffalo. Now, the soldiers were destroying everything Cheyenne – the land, the buffalo, and the people themselves.

See it? Feel it?

They witnessed and felt the Sand Creek Massacre happen, again.

Consequently, a number of Cheyenne who were present at Washita helped defeat Custer at Little Bighorn.

So, let us proceed from the Sand Creek Massacre,

Why does this say Battle Ground after there was a Congressional investigation?


and from the genocide at the Washita “Battlefield” –

No, it was a massacre.


Petition to Re-name

The Washita Battlefield National Historic Site toThe Washita National Historic

Site of Genocide


According to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life

calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

WE, the undersigned members of the Native American community and the public at large, request that this site of the attack by the United States military against 8,500 Plains Indians camped as prisoners of war along the Washita River in 1868 be designated as the Washita National Historic Site of Genocide.

– to the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.


Harjo: Burying the history of Wounded Knee

But Wounded Knee was 14 years after Little Bighorn. Would the soldiers have held a grudge that long and why would they take it out on Big Foot? They blamed Custer’s defeat on Sitting Bull, who was killed two weeks before Wounded Knee. The Survivors Association members had the answer: ”Because Big Foot was Sitting Bull’s half-brother. That’s why Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa people sought sanctuary in Big Foot’s Minneconjou camp.”

The Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890

The first intention of the U.S. Army in part was to detain Chief Big Foot under the pretext that he was a “fomenter of disturbance,” remembering that Native Americans did not have equal rights at that time in the Constitution.

In addition, the real intention was doing a “roundup” to a military prison camp, which would have become an internment and concentration camp in Omaha after they were prisoners. Colonel James W. Forsyth had orders to force them into going there.

Speculating, I bet at least part of the rationalization for the massacre was so the soldiers wouldn’t have to transport them to the military prison in Omaha. Murdering them would have been easier. Then, they could’ve had another whiskey keg, like they did the evening right before this massacre, when they celebrated the detainment of Chief Big Foot. The soldiers may have even been hung over, depending on amount consumed and tolerance levels; moreover, if the soldiers were alcoholics, tolerance levels would have been high.


n : the wanton killing of many people [syn: mass murder] v : kill a large number of people indiscriminately;

“The Hutus massacred the Tutsis in Rwanda” [syn: slaughter, mow down]


White officials became alarmed at the religious fervor and activism and in December 1890 banned the Ghost Dance on Lakota reservations. When the rites continued, officials called in troops to Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota. The military, led by veteran General Nelson Miles, geared itself for another campaign.


Big Foot and the Lakota were among the most enthusiastic believers in the Ghost Dance ceremony when it arrived among them in the spring of 1890.

Chief Big Foot’s arrest was ordered by the U.S. War Department for being a “fomenter of disturbance.” Chief Big Foot was already on his way to Pine Ridge with his people, when the 7th U.S. Cavalry with Major Samuel Whitside leading them approached him on horses. Big Foot’s lungs were bleeding from pneumonia.

Blood froze on his nose while he could barely speak. He had a white flag of surrender put up as soon as he caught glimpse of the U.S. Calvary coming towards them. At the urging of John Shangreau, Whitside’s half-breed scout, Whitside “allowed” Big Foot to proceed to the camp at Wounded Knee. Whitside wanted to arrest Big Foot and disarm them all immediately. Ironically, the justification for letting Big Foot go to Wounded Knee was that it would prevent a gun fight, save the lives of the women and children, but let the men escape. The Warriors wouldn’t have left their women and children to perish, but since the following was reported to Red Cloud:

Red Cloud

“…A white man said the soldiers meant to kill us. We did not believe it, but some were frightened and ran away to the Badlands.(1)

I believe Whitside didn’t want the Warriors to have such an opportunity, under direct orders by General Nelson Miles.

(1): “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown, pp. 441-442. (December, 1890).

“Later in the darkness of that December night (Dec. 28) the remainder of the Seventh Regiment marched in from the east and quietly bivouacked north of Major Whitside’s troops. Colonel James W. Forsyth, commanding Custer’s former regiment, now took charge of operations. He informed Whitside that he had received orders to take Big Foot’s band to the Union Pacific Railroad for shipment to the military prison in Omaha.

Then, came the disarming.

..Colonel Forsyth informed the Indians that they were now to be disarmed. “They called for guns and arms,” White Lance said, “so all of us gave the guns and they were stacked up in the center.” The soldier chiefs were not satisfied with the number of weapons surrendered, so they sent details of troops to search the tepees. “They would go right into the tents and come out with bundles (sacred objects) and tear them open,” Dog Chief said. “They brought our axes, knives, and tent stakes and piled them near the guns.” Still not satisfied, the soldier chiefs ordered the warriors to remove their blankets and submit to searches for weapons…

Yellow Bird, the only medicine man there at the time danced some steps of the Ghost Dance, while singing one of it’s songs as an act of dissent. Simultaneously, the people were furious at the “searches” when Yellow Bird reminded everyone of their bullet-proof shirts. To me, this was the void in time when the Ghost Dancers chose peace over war, and made it possible for the resurgence of their culture to occur in the future. A psychological justification for my saying so, is the Ghost Dancers would also have been Sundancers. Part of the well-known intent behind the Sundance is “that the people might live.”

Continuing on; next, was false blame.

…Some years later Dewey Beard (Wasumaza) recalled that Black Coyote was deaf. “If they had left him alone he was going to put his gun down where he should. They grabbed him and spinned him in the east direction. He was still unconcerned even then. He hadn’t pointed his gun at anyone. His intention was to put that gun down. They came and grabbed the gun that he was going to put down…(1) in proceeding paragraph, p.445.


…The massacre allegedly began after an Indian, who was being disarmed, shot a U.S. officer.


Hotchkiss guns shredded the camp on Wounded Knee Creek, killing, according to one estimate, 300 of 350 men, women, and children.

My Journey to Wounded Knee

More people survived if they tried to escape through this tree row, because there was more tree cover.

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More were massacred if they tried to escape through this tree row, because there was much less tree cover.

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


The truth has still been tried to be slanted and concealed, even after over one century ago, because the old sign said that there were 150 warriors. The truth is, there were only 40 warriors.

It was nothing less than false blame, deceptive actions, and blatant lies by the blood-thirsty troopers that started the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. In recognition of the governmental policy of using smallpox infected blankets as germ warfare against Native Americans since the first presidency, the Sioux Wars, and all the “successful” extermination by the U.S. government prior to this last “battle;” would they have had the atom bomb, they would have used it too.

For that would have been more convenient, than loading their remaining victims (4 men and 47 women and children) into open wagons and transporting them to Pine Ridge during the approaching blizzard for alleged shelter at the army barracks, then to the Episcopal mission “unplanned.” They left the survivors out in that blizzard in open wagons for who knows how long, while “An (singular) inept Army officer searched for shelter.”(1)

What that tells me is: they didn’t plan on having any survivors. They planned on exterminating them. Of course, there wasn’t any room at all in the army barracks for 51 people, so they had to take them to the mission. Well…if they’d been white, they would’ve found room for a measly 51 white people.


“…A recurring dream in the mid-1980s directed a Lakota elder to begin the ride as a way to heal the wounds of the 1890 massacre. It continues today to honor the courage of the ancestors and to teach the young to become leaders…The Big Foot Ride began in 1987 at the urging of Birgil Kills Straight, a descendant of a Wounded Knee Massacre survivor. Each year, the riders have come together to sacrifice and pray for the 13-day trip from the Standing Rock Reservation beginning on the anniversary of the death of Sitting Bull and ending at Wounded Knee on Dec. 28, the day before the anniversary of the massacre…”


“…The two-week Ride started in 1986 after a dream told one of its founders that it would “mend the sacred hoop” and heal the wounds of the famous massacre. For the first four years, the ride was led in intense cold by Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Woman pipe bundle in Green Grass, S.D. It is now carried on by youths from the Lakota nation, starting in Grand River near Mobridge, S.D. on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and continuing south 200 miles to Pine Ridge…”

The Indian Journal

The media has never been fair and balanced when it comes to serving Indian people and reporting on events which impact Indian lives. Many Indian leaders have felt that it is critical for Indians to have media which they control. One example of Indian media can be seen in The Indian Journal, a newspaper born in Indian Territory (later known as Oklahoma).  

In 1876, Cherokee leader William Potter Ross began publication of the Indian Journal at Muskogee, Indian Territory. However, a fire broke out and the new business was soon on the brink of going under.

The following year, a group of businessmen, including several prominent Creek (David Benson, James McHenry, Joseph M. Perryman, N.B. Moore, John R. Moore, David M. Hodge, Ward Coachman, G.W. Stidham, James McDermott Coody, W.F. Crabtree, D.B. Whitlow, William Fish, David Carr, and Pleasant Porter), purchased the newspaper Indian Journal from William Potter Ross and moved it to Eufaula, Indian Territory.

Under the new owners, the Indian Journal became the public voice in the Creek Nation. The newspaper spoke for the Creek nationalists who believed that some adaptation of Anglo-American ways was necessary to protect Creek sovereignty. From the beginning, the Indian Journal was viewed as an Indian institution which was more concerned with protecting Indian rights than in making a profit.

While the Indian Journal was chartered by the Creek Nation and served as its official organ, the investors hoped that the paper would reflect the actual interests of all Indian people in the territory. Creek Principal Chief Ward Coachman wrote:

“It is absolutely necessary for the Indian race in order to protect their interests, and make known their rights, to have some medium through which to express themselves to the thinking and reading portion of the citizens of the United States.”

Ideals, however, often require money and the Indian Journal, while it was an Indian voice, did not generate enough money to keep it going. In 1878,  the struggling Indian Journal was purchased by its non-Indian editor, Myron P. Roberts.

In 1887, Creek businessman George Washington Grayson led a company of stockholders to purchase the Indian Journal Printing Company which published the Indian Journal. Many Creek were literate in Muskogee and so the Indian Journal now published articles in both Muskogee and English.

In 1902, Creek writer Alex Posey bought the Indian Journal, a weekly newspaper in Eufalia.  At this time, the paper consisted of four pages of local and regional news and four pages of fillers. Through the vehicle of the Indian Journal Posey promoted his ideas of social, political, and economic progress in the Indian Territory, particularly the Creek Nation.

Alex Posey was first of all a writer and a poet rather than a journalist. As a result, he brought a freshness to his news reporting that soon won the respect of other journalists. His literary skills often made seemingly insignificant events and local news both interesting and exciting, even to those outside of Indian Territory.  

Posey also bought the Eufalia Gazette and merged it with the Indian Journal.  

In 1903, Alex Posey attempt to expand his reach by launching the Daily Indian Journal which came out each afternoon. He also continued to publish the Indian Journal as a weekly newspaper on Fridays. Shortly after starting this new venture, Posey sold the Indian Journal and entered into a joint venture to publish the Muskogee Times, a daily newspaper. Posey assumed the post of city editor of the new paper.

In 1908, Creek journalist and poet Alex Posey was killed in a flood at the age of 34. At this time he was the best-known Creek in Oklahoma. For more than a decade his essays, news reports, political humor, and poetry had been read not only in native Creek nation, but also in the Indian Territory at large, in the surrounding states, and in other parts of the United States.

Wild West Shows

The nineteenth-century wild west shows did a great deal to firmly entrench the stereotype of the American Indian in American culture. This stereotype, loosely based on generic Plains Indian cultures, portrays Indians as savages, as a vanishing people destined to go extinct in the face of American superiority, and hindrances to the inevitability of Manifest Destiny.  

The most famous of the wild west shows was organized by William F. (“Buffalo Bill”) Cody. He began to put together his Wild West show in 1882. The show included Indian dances and ceremonies, but portrayed the cowboy as the true hero of the West and the Indians as warring savages. Buffalo Bill viewed his show as being highly educational. The dances and ceremonies were almost exclusively from the Plains tribes and thus Plains Indians came to represent all Indians. In the show, good and evil were visually represented as simplified moral categories. Non-Indians are considered good and Indians evil. The shows glorified the recent past of the American west and justified the subjugation of the Indian tribes in the name of progress and Manifest Destiny.

In 1883, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West, Rocky Mountain, and Prairie Exhibition shows thrilled crowds at the Omaha, Nebraska fairground arena. The show used Pawnee warriors and cowboys to recreate the events of the recent past. The show employed dozens of Indians who rode, shot, and whooped their way around the arena. The show was part circus, part ethnographic display, and a self-promoting stage play for Buffalo Bill. While the show was described as “awkwardly staged and poorly performed”, it moved on to Council Bluffs, then to Springfield, Illinois and then east to New York and Boston.

In 1884, an Indian troupe featuring Lakota chief Sitting Bull toured 25 cities from Minneapolis and St. Paul to New York. The troupe was made up of eight Indians and two interpreters. In the performances and publicity, Sitting Bull was portrayed as the “Slayer of Custer.” In general, the press reports from the tour tended to focus on Sitting Bull: his dress, his speech, his table manners, and so on. The tour, arranged by Colonel Alvaren Allen, was not financially successful.

The following year, Sitting Bull toured with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West. In the show, he played a villain and audiences hissed at him when he appeared. Sitting Bull was paid $50 per week and was given the concession to sell photographs and autographs of himself. Advertising for the shows emblazoned Sitting Bull’s name almost as prominently  as Buffalo Bill’s, showing that Sitting Bull was a major attraction.

Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill are shown above.

At the end of the tour, Cody presented Sitting Bull with a sombrero and a trained circus horse. In response to queries from the press, Sitting Bull explained that he was sick of the houses, the noise, and the multitudes of people. In the cities, Sitting Bull saw poor people begging on the streets and he was shocked to realize that the Americans did not take care of people in need. He gave away much of the money he earned to street beggars.

In 1886, the Indian Office (now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs) began to regulate Indian employment in wild west shows. Among other things, it required the shows to provide chaplains and interpreters for the Indians.

For the 1886 season of the Wild West, Buffalo Bill Cody wanted to use Sitting Bull again as a headliner. However, his request for Sitting Bull was denied by the Indian agent who felt that Sitting Bull was

“too vain and obstinate to be benefitted by what he sees, and makes no good use of the money he thus earns.”

The Indian agent, and the Indian Office, did not feel that the Indians should have any say in their employment. At this time basic freedoms, such as the ability to find employment or to leave the reservation, were denied to Indians.

For the 1886 season, American Horse (the younger) joined the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West as the Indian headliner to replace Sitting Bull. American Horse’s feelings about the eastern cities:

“I see so much that is wonderful and strange that I feel a wish sometimes to go out in the forest and cover my head with a blanket, so that I can see no more and have a chance to think over what I have seen.”

At this time, Black Elk also began dancing in the show. One of his reasons for joining the show was to be able to learn some of the non-Indian secrets. Black Elk would later become well-known among non-Indians as a holy man.

Not everyone liked the wild west shows. From the floor of the House of Representatives, New York Congressman Darwin Rush James criticized Buffalo Bill’s Wild West for its savagery and for allowing Indians to frequent saloons and whorehouses. James, who did not see the New York City production in question, called for a ban on the government licensing of such shows.

The following year, Congressman Darwin Rush James asked the Secretary of the Interior to explain to Congress why some “Wild Indians” had been absent from their reservations and had been

“presenting before the public scenes representing their lowest savage characteristics.”

The request was in response to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

In direct violation of the 1879 Standing Bear decision which declared that Indians were people and had a right to habeas corpus and due process of law, Indian Commissioner Atkins, in 1887, prohibited Indians from leaving the reservations to perform in “Wild West” shows without the formal consent of the government. He told them:

“When the Great Father thinks it best for Indians to leave their reservations, he will grant them permission and notify their Agent.”

In 1889, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show toured Europe with a group of Lakota, including Rocky Bear, Red Shirt, and Featherman. Parisian artist Rose Bonheur, famous for her animal and nature paintings, spent many hours at the Indian encampment painting portraits of the show’s Indians. After witnessing a French political meeting, Rocky Bear commented:

“you smoke at the same time, you speak all at the same time, and you understand anyhow.”

Wild West 1890

The 1890 Wild West Indians are shown above.

In 1891, Buffalo Bill Cody convinced the army to release 25 Sioux Ghost Dancers who were being held at Fort Sheridan. The Ghost Dancers were to be incorporated into his Wild West for its upcoming European tour. This action removed the Ghost Dancers from the political realm of the reservation. They were now a part of a spectacle which moved across Europe.

When Buffalo Bill’s Wild West performed at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, the Indian Office ordered John Shangreau, a Lakota of mixed heritage who acted as an interpreter, to cut his hair because he would be representing “advanced Indians.”

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was not unique and there were a number of others that also toured the country. In 1895, Montana’s Wildest Wild Show featured Cree who had taken part in the Canadian Riel Rebellion and advertised them as

“the only people in the United States without a country.”

The show played in Chicago, New York, and New Orleans. It disbanded in Cincinnati, Ohio leaving the Cree stranded.

In 1897, Nez Perce Chief Joseph, who was in New York City to participate in a parade for the dedication of Grant’s Tomb, was invited to Madison Square Garden to watch Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. When Buffalo Bill realized that he was in the audience, he rode over and paid his respect.

In 1902, Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota who graduated from Carlisle Indian School, joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West as an interpreter. Luther Stand Bear would later write a number of books about Indians.

Buffalo Bill 1903

Buffalo Bill in 1903 is shown above.

Among those who learned about Indian cultures and histories from the wild west shows were teachers. In 1905, the Miller Brothers staged a roundup for the National Editorial Association at their 101 Ranch Real Wild West in Texas. The roundup included a buffalo hunt in which Apache chief Geronimo shot a buffalo. Geronimo, who was still a prisoner of war, was brought up from Fort Sill with a soldier escort for the event.

The increasing popularity of motion pictures, many of  which were westerns with Indian themes, led to decreasing attendance at the wild west shows. By 1913, Buffalo Bill Cody realized that the end of the live shows had arrived and that the future lay in motion pictures. He tried to make the transition by producing The Indian Wars, a movie about the massacre of Lakota ghost dancers at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The movie was filmed on location and used many Lakota actors. He chose Pine Ridge as the location for his first film because the reservation was home to many professional Indian actors with Wild West show experience that he hoped would translate easily to film.

To portray the American military, Cody arranged for the cooperation of the U.S. Army and General Nelson Miles. Miles insisted that the film show the army story of the battle. Unlike some of the Lakota actors, none of the soldiers actually took part in the battle. According to oral tradition, many of the young Sioux men who acted in the film considered the possibility of the replacement of real lead for the filmmaker’s blanks.

Lakota educator Chauncey Yellow Robe, speaking to the Society of American Indians in 1914, said of the film:

“The whole production of the field was misrepresented and yet approved by the government. This is a disgrace and injustice to the Indian race.”

While Cody had hoped for a blockbuster hit, the film flopped badly. Cody had been concerned, perhaps obsessed, with a precision reenactment. While focusing on accuracy, he failed to pay attention to things like story lines and dramatic narrative structures which are critical in motion pictures.

One of the last wild west shows was organized in 1916. The show featured Buffalo Bill and the 101 Ranch Shows. According to the program:

“Col. Wm. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) actively participates in the military maneuvers as well as in the battle between United States cavalrymen and a band of Indians led by the famous Sioux, Chief Iron Tail, which is a stirring feature of the exhibition…He is accompanied by over a hundred Sioux and other Indians, with their squaws and papooses…”

While the era of the wild west show is over, the Indian stereotypes which they had nourished would live on and be reinforced in the motion pictures which replaced them.  

The Creation of the Fort McDowell Reservation

When the Yavapai came under the jurisdiction of the United States following the acquisition of what was to become Arizona, they were a loose association of locally organized groups speaking mutually intelligible but nevertheless distinct sub-dialects. Traditional Yavapai territory stretched from the San Francisco Peaks in the north, to the Pinal Mountains in the east, and to the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers in the southwest. Following the discovery of gold in Yavapai territory in 1863, the American government and the Americans who settled in Yavapai territory began plotting the removal of the Yavapai from their traditional territory.  

The Colorado River Indian Reservation was established in 1865 by an act of Congress. While the reservation was initially settled by the Chemehuevi and Mohave, many Americans viewed this as a potential home for the Yavapai as well. Soon after the creation of the reservation about 800 Yavapai under the leadership of Quashackama settled on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. Quashackama was given papers attesting to the peaceful intentions of the Yavapai and an American farmer was appointed to help them with their planting. However, the land on which they were settled was land that none of the Americans wanted because the soil was sandy and alkaline and thus difficult, if not impossible, to farm.

Two years later, the number of Yavapai attempting to live on the Colorado Indian Reservation had dwindled to about 300. Under the leadership of Quashackama, Ohatchecama, Chawmasecha, Hochachiwaca, and Quacanthewya they were living on some beef, flour, and corn which they received from the federal government. They supplemented this by gathering mesquite beans in the late summer and harvesting whatever crops they were able to grow. Some did occasional wage work, including prostitution.

In 1867, a group of about 50 Kwevkepaya Yavapai under the leadership of Delshe visited Camp Miller. The army commander of Camp Miller was building a road deep into the Tonto Basin region of Yavapai territory. In discussions with the commander, the Yavapai agreed to take up farming along Tonto Creek once the road was completed.

In 1871, Yavapai leaders Delshe and Eschetlepan met with an army officer to discuss peace. Delshe requested a reservation in the Yavapai homeland, close to the mountain resources which his people exploited, and far from their traditional enemies, the Pima and Maricopa.

At this time, Vincent Coyler, a member of the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners, visited with the Yavapai and Tonto Apache for the purpose of establishing a reservation for them. Unfortunately, Coyler did not understand that the Yavapai and the Tonto Apache were distinct peoples. In addition, he failed to realize that there were four distinct bands of Yavapai. He envisioned the creation of a single reservation for all of these groups and selected the Verde Valley as the best site for the reservation. While the leaders from the Yavapé and Wipukepa Yavapai bands convinced him that this would be a good location, he never actually talked with the leaders of the Kwevkepaya Yavapai and Tonto Apache bands.

Following Coyler’s recommendations, Fort McDowell and Camp Date Creek were established as temporary asylums for the Yavapai where they would be fed, protected, and cared for by the army. Nearly 600 Yavapai received food and handouts and the army reported that American travelers in the area were now safe. Conditions on the new reservation, however, were less than desirable for the Yavapai: food rations provided too few calories, and U.S. officers treated some Yavapai men to leg irons or confinement in the guardhouse.

In 1871, the Rio Verde Reservation was established for the Yavapai. The army ordered that all “roving Apache” (the army thought that the Yavapai were an Apache group) be on this reservation or be considered hostile. The following year, reservation life for the Yavapai on the Rio Verde Reservation became stricter with the arrival of a new Indian agent. The Indians were now required to attend muster once a day and none of the Indians were allowed to leave the reservation without his written permission. Men on the reservation were required to wear metal tags identifying them by assigned numbers. Men who violated reservation rules were sent to the guard house: some were sentenced to a month of hard labor and some were forced to wear a ball and chain.

A delegation of Indians from Arizona-Yavapai, Pima, Apache, and Tohono O’odham-travelled in 1872 to Washington, D.C. and met with President Ulysses S. Grant. At the White House, each of the delegates received $50, a document which proclaimed him to be a “chief”, and a medal with Grant’s likeness. The Yavapai members of the delegation-Pakota (later called José Coffee) and Takodawa (later called Washington Charley)-were neither leaders nor headmen: they were simply two men who volunteered to go to Washington.

Grant expressed a desire for peace throughout the land. He told the delegates that if their people remained on their reservations and became full-time farmers, they would receive rations and education and they would have no further troubles with the army. While the Indian leaders who were listening to Grant desired peace, the greed and rabid ethnocentrism of Indian-hating citizens of Arizona would make this almost impossible.


In 1873, the Yavapai who were living in the Date Creek area were informed that they were to be moved to the Rio Verde Reservation. The move was being made without their consent. Chawmasecha, who had been an advocate of reservation life, refused to leave the familiar region. He led 240 Tolkepaya Yavapai west to the Colorado River Indian Reservation. While General O.O. Howard had said that the Yavapai could settle on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, General George Crook ordered them to be removed. U.S. Troops along with Pai scouts marched them back to the Rio Verde Reservation.

In 1873, an army surgeon on the Rio Verde Reservation doled out his entire supply of quinine to the sick Yavapai. When a new supply arrived, the Yavapai besieged the doctor for more as it had proved to be effective. This new medicine did not compete with older Yavapai healing practices. The medicine men (basemachas) would chant and dance over their ailing patients and then administer quinine and other drugs which they had obtained from the doctor (who was often in attendance). The army surgeon, Dr. Corbusier, was accepted by the basemachas as a fellow healer and was often presented with gifts of gratitude and invited to sit among them at ceremonials.

In 1874, the Office of Indian Affairs decided to close the Rio Verde Reservation and to move the Yavapai and Tonto Apache about 200 miles southeast to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. By eliminating this reservation, the Office of Indian Affairs would be able to open up the land to non-Indian settlement. Not only would the Americans be able to have the land, but they would also benefit from the irrigation system which had been put in for the Indians. At this time, the Indians on the reservation were well on their way to agricultural self-sufficiency and to being able to produce a surplus to sell.

The decision to move the Yavapai and Tonto Apache came about through the lobbying of government contractors. A self-sufficient, honestly administered reservation would mean a significant loss of business for them. On the San Carlos Reservation, a hotter and drier area with unfavorable farming conditions, the Indians would have to continue to receive government rations supplied, of course, by the government contractors.

Prior to their removal, the Yavapai and Tonto Apache headmen met with the special commissioner sent by the Indian Office to supervise the move. They explained the reasons why they did not want to go to San Carlos, but the special commissioner was drunk and often incoherent. U.S. officers, including the army surgeon, strongly suggested that the Indians be taken around the mountains by road so that wagons could be used to carry the elderly, the young, and the supplies. The special commissioner responded:

“They are Indians, let the beggars walk.”

In 1875, the Yavapai and the Tonto Apache were removed from the Rio Verde Reservation and forced to march some 200 miles through the mountains to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. In February, 1,476 Yavapai and Tonto Apache began their walk to San Carlos under military escort. They walked, climbed, crawled, and waded through the snow, mud, and streams of 180 miles of very cold and extremely rugged mountain ranges. They carried all their possessions on their backs and one man carried his wife in a large basket the entire way.

Twenty-five babies were born on the March of Tears and 1,361 Yavapai and Tonto Apache arrived at the San Carlos Reservation. This suggests that 140 did not complete the trip (taking into account the 25 babies born enroute). Some died along the way while others turned back, unwilling to face life in an unknown land.

Some Yavapai and Tonto Apache families stayed in the mountains to escape the March of Tears.  However, army troops remained behind to hunt down the remaining Indian camps. A few miles east of Camp Verde, army scouts killed six Wipukepa Yavapai men and captured three women and seven children. Farther south, they killed four Tolkepaya Yavapai men and captured one woman and two children.

At the San Carlos Apache Reservation the Indian agent met with the newly arrived Yavapai and Tonto Apache and told them that they must surrender all of their arms. All of the Indians leapt to their feet and dashed back to their camps. However, the Indian agent refused to issue rations until the weapons were surrendered.

Shortly after arriving, a group of about 25 Tolkepaya Yavapai left the San Carlos Apache Reservation without permission and visited the Pima and Maricopa settlements. When they returned, they told the Indian agent that they had friends among the Pima and wanted to settle there. A little while later, a group of 27 Tolkepaya Yavapai left the reservation heading for the Pima settlements. This time the agent sent the Indian police after them. The Yavapai, even though they outnumbered the police, offered no resistance and were escorted back to the reservation.

In 1876, a small band of Yavapai under the leadership of Miraha left the San Carlos Apache Reservation without permission. They walked back across the Tonto Basin, passing north of the upper Verde Valley, and set up their camp just west of the Bill Williams Mountain. This high plateau area had traditionally been an unoccupied buffer between the Yavapai territory and Pai territory. The Yavapai set up their uwas (wickiups) and began to reestablish something of a pre-conquest lifestyle. From the American viewpoint, the Yavapai who left the reservation were considered hostile and in rebellion against the United States. Even though they may have had non-violent intentions, they were to be shot on sight. If possible, women and children were to be taken alive.

In 1877, the army’s Tonto Apache scouts captured a Yavapai woman and child. Her husband soon surrendered at Camp Verde. Using this prisoner as a guide, the army was able to locate Miraha’s Yavapai camp near the Bill Williams Mountain. Without offering the option of surrender, the army attacked the camp, killing seven men and taking three women and four children as prisoners. Five uwas (wickiups) were destroyed. The prisoners were marched back to the San Carlos Reservation.

In 1877, an Indian Office inspector reported that the tensions between the Tolkepaya Yavapai and the Apache on the San Carlos Reservation were disturbing the general harmony of the reservation. Yavapai spokesmen told the inspector that they would like to leave the reservation and were willing to live among the Pima or on the Colorado River Reservation. The inspector recommended that the Yavapai be allowed to leave.

By 1878, a number of Yavapai who had left the San Carlos Apache Reservation without permission had returned to their traditional territory and were living near Wickenburg where American residents employed them for farm work and domestic tasks. Takodawa (also known as Washington Charley as a result of his 1872 trip to visit President Ulysses S. Grant in Washington, D.C.) confronted a Tolkepaya Yavapai woman in the Wickenburg house where she was working. When she refused to leave with him, he then declared that “his heart has gone bad” and left, supposedly to incite other Yavapai in nearby camps. The residents of Wickenberg, fearing the worst, then detained the seven local Yavapai and requested troops be sent from Camp Verde. As a result, 17 more Yavapai were rounded up and taken back to San Carlos.

In 1885, U.S. Army officers took over the management of the San Carlos Reservation and used their powers to interfere with traditional Apache and Yavapai healing practices. The officers felt that the traditional beliefs and practices regarding healing were ignorant and dangerous.

Two years later, the Yavapai leaders on the San Carlos Reservation were able to meet with General Nelson Miles who had been called to the reservation to investigate a recent religious uprising. The Yavapai told Miles that they wanted a reservation in their old homelands. Miles instructed the Yavapai leaders to tour their old homelands and then to meet with him in Los Angeles. While General Miles did not have the authority to relocate the Yavapai on the traditional lands, his recommendations for this action brought sympathetic attention from federal officials.

When the American settlers living near Camp Verde heard that General Nelson Miles was recommending that the Yavapai be returned to a reservation on their old homelands, they sent a flurry of letters and petitions to the Secretary of the Interior, President Grover Cleveland, and other government officials. In their petition to the President, they asked for protection against the Indians and stated:

“Their only ambition is to murder, steal, and plunder.”

The President replied that he was sympathetic to their cause and would not allow the Yavapai to return home.  

In 1901, Camp McDowell, an abandoned military reservation, was set aside for Indian use by Executive Order of President Theodore Roosevelt. Congress, however, rejected a bill that would create a Yavapai reservation because American squatters in the area objected.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt sent his personal agent to investigate the situation of the Yavapai in the Verde Valley. The agent reported that there were more than 500 Yavapai living in the area. The agent recommended buying the squatters’ claims to Fort McDowell lands and this land be made available to the Yavapai. One concern expressed by the agent was that the Yavapai who lived close to the American communities would be demoralized by the gambling and drinking saloons. On the other hand, many of the Americans in the area argued that their children’s morals would be corrupted by having the Yavapai in the area.

In 1903, the Fort McDowell Reservation was created for the Yavapai by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt. Under the order, all lands which were not legally claimed by Americans were to be turned over to the Yavapai who were living in the area. This action represented the culmination of four decades of efforts by the Yavapai to obtain a reservation in their homelands.

Indian Art in the Late 19th Century

While the mainstream art world did not begin to recognize American Indian art as a distinctive art form until the twentieth century, during the late nineteenth century the market for American Indian arts-or more accurately, arts and crafts-began to develop. This market included pottery, weavings, drawings, paintings, and other items. The new market was driven by tourism, trading posts, museums, and wealthy collectors. During this time, American Indian art began to shift from tribal art in which artifacts were produced primarily for tribal members to ethnic art in which artifacts were purchased by non-Indians.  


Tourists began to arrive in the Indian Southwest with the railroad in 1881. On the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico the arrival of the railroad opened up new markets for native crafts, including blankets and silver jewelry. This market, however, was to be largely controlled by non-Indian traders who held federally issued licenses. From the viewpoint of the American government, allowing a free market in Indian arts and crafts would have run counter to the official “civilization” program which was based on the assumption that American Indians were a “dependent” people who were not competent to manage their own affairs.

In 1895, the Santa Fe Railway began a marketing plan to bring tourists into the southwest. One of the primary attractions promoted by the railway was the area’s Indians, particularly the Pueblos.

On the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico in 1899, the Fred Harvey Company asked traders to have local Navajo silversmiths make souvenirs for railroad tourists. This marked the beginning of commercial Navajo silver jewelry production.

Trading Posts:

In 1881, William Caton, a trader operating at the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota offered Sans Arc Lakota chief Black Hawk fifty cents in credit at his store for each drawing that he made. Caton promised that he would provide Black Hawk with pencils, ink, and foolscap paper for the drawings. Black Hawk agreed and ultimately provided Caton with 76 drawings.

In 1889, Indian agent C. E. Vandever reported that there were only nine licensed traders on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. He also reported that there were thirty trading posts located just off the reservation. He noted that the

“proximity of trading posts has radically changed their native costumes and modified many of the earlier barbaric traits, and also affords them good markets for their wool, peltry, woven fabrics, and other products.”

At this time, Navajo silversmiths were converting surplus cash (silver coins) into silver jewelry for personal adornment. According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

“When he becomes hard up between harvests, which is by no means uncommon, these ornament are pawned with the traders, but are invariably redeemed.”

By 1890, Navajo weavers were selling about two thirds of the blankets and rugs which they made. They were producing about $25,000 worth of trade goods each year.


The Hubbell Trading Post is shown above.

While blankets and rugs had become economically important to the Navajo, the Indian agent for the Navajo reported that the older women were still making pottery cooking vessels, but the younger women were not. Since pottery and basketry did not have the commercial potential of other Navajo crafts, their manufacture declined and they were replaced by manufactured items.  

In 1895, the Rug Period of Navajo Weaving began with the weavers making thicker weavings for sales outside of the reservation. The shift from weaving blankets to weaving rugs comes from the encouragement of the traders who realize that there is a growing market for rugs. Noting the popularity of oriental rugs, the traders display examples of border designs which they encourage the weavers to utilize. At this time, regional styles began to develop. These regional styles were sometimes associated with traders or trading posts in collaboration with the weavers.

Hubell Inside

The inside of the Hubbell Trading Post is shown above. Notice the designs for rug borders on the wall.

Two Grey Hills

A Two Grey Hills rug is shown above.

In 1895, Washo basketmaker Dat-so-la-lee brought four willow-covered flasks to Abe Cohen’s Emporium Store in Carson City, Nevada. This began a marketing arrangement that leads to Dat-so-la-lee’s fame as an internationally known basketmaker. Dat-so-la-lee was about 60 years old at this time, and was known for her non-traditional baskets with a spherical shape and a small mouth.  She arranged to weave consistently and solely for Abe Cohen in exchange for goods, fuel, clothing, medical care, and a small home. This arrangement was honored by both parties until her death in 1924.

In 1898, Navajo weavers responded to the patriotic fever of the Spanish-American War by making American flag blankets. It is not known if this idea originated with the weavers or the traders.

As the market for Southwestern silver grew, silversmithing diffused to a number of tribes. In 1898, Hopi artist Sikyatala learned silver work from the Zuni artist Lanyade. Sikyatala then taught this to other Hopi. There were regular trading relations between the Hopi and Zuni and so the sharing of silversmithing techniques would not have been strange.


The Bureau of Ethnology, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, sent an expedition to the Hopi pueblos in 1882 to survey the villages and to make a collection of material goods. They were instructed to “clean out” the Hopi pueblo of Oraibi, but were threatened by the elders when the purpose of the trip became known. Still, they managed to obtain more than 200 specimens at Oraibi and 1,200 from the three villages of Second Mesa.

When the materials from Hopi arrived at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., they were often left outside until space could be found to store them. As a result, many items were damaged and these were simply discarded because the museum staff was overwhelmed by the rapid pace of the collecting carried out by the Bureau of Ethnography.

The following year, Dutch anthropologist Herman Ten Kate visited Indian tribes in the Southwest. He accumulated about 500 artifacts which were sent to The Netherlands. King William I had established the Royal Cabinet of Rarities in 1816 and by the end of the nineteenth century, the Dutch, like the Americans, saw their collecting as a salvage operation undertaken to document disappearing cultures.

In 1884, among the Hopi artifacts sent from Thomas V. Keam’s trading post in Arizona to Washington, D.C. were a mummy, a number of sacred masks (described as having been obtained secretly), and a large box of pottery. Keam hoped that the government would purchase the items for the Smithsonian’s National Museum. However, the government declines to purchase the collection and it is eventually obtained by the Peabody Museum at Harvard University.

The archaeological excavations at the site of Sikyatki on the Hopi reservation help to inspire a revitalization of Hopi pottery. Nampeyo, a Tewa woman from the village of Hano, is inspired by the graceful geometry of the ancient designs unearthed at the site and by the dusty mustard and earth terra-cotta colors of the designs. While anthropologist Jesse W. Fewkes claimed to have introduced these ancient designs to Nampeyo, there are many who feel that the revival of Hopi pottery was already underway at this time.


Nampeyo is shown above.

Wealthy Collectors:

In New York City, George G. Heye began collecting Indian art and artifacts in 1897. Like other wealthy collectors at this time, Heye viewed collecting as a way of salvaging or saving what he could from American Indian peoples before their cultures disappeared. He believed that acquiring objects from Indians or from private collections was necessary to reconstruct indigenous cultures and educate future generations. Heye’s collection began with a few articles of Navajo men’s clothing which he acquired while supervising the building of railroad beds along the Arizona-California border. He would later say:

“Naturally when I had the shirt, I wanted a rattle and moccasins.”

Heye’s collection eventually grew to about a million items. In 1989 the collection was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution.

George Heye

George Gustav Heye is shown above.

Indians on Exhibit

During the nineteenth century, expositions and world fairs were seen as a profitable way for communities to promote themselves while educating the masses. Since Indians were seen as a vanishing people at this time, Indians were often an important attraction at these events. The 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition held at Omaha, Nebraska, was no exception. The goal of the Exposition was to showcase the development of the West, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast. Indians were, of course, a part of this story, though usually seen as hindrances to development.  

Aerial View

An aerial view of the exposition is shown above.

One of the participants in the Exposition was the Apache leader Geronimo. Following this exhibition, he became a frequent visitor to fairs, exhibitions, and other public functions. Since he was a well-known Indian leader and warrior, Geronimo was a great drawing card. At the Exposition and the many events which followed, he made money by selling pictures of himself, bows and arrows, buttons off his shirt, and even his hat.

Geronimo 1

Geronimo 2

Portraits of Geronimo taken at the Exposition are shown above.

An important part of the 1898 Exposition was the Indian Congress. According to the promoters, the Indian Congress allowed a social and cultural exchange among the participating tribes. The Congress was actually a large encampment in which numerous tribes had set up their lodges. Visitors were encouraged to wander through the encampment and see how Indians lived. A total of 545 Indians were selected from 35 tribes for the encampment: preference was given to “full-bloods” and those who had traditional outfits.


The Omaha camp is shown above.


The Ponca camp is shown above.

Government officials realized that the general public had little interest in educated Indians: the public wanted to see “wild” Indians with elements from traditional life including tipis, foot races, games, and so on. The participants in the Indian Congress, therefore, put on ceremonials, war dances, and sham battles for the general public. The sham battles were put on at the urging of a non-Indian fraternal group known as the Improved Order of Red Men. The sham battles were, of course, always won by the dominant non-Indians (or, presumably, the more civilized Indian tribe). This underscored the message that Indians were a race in decline whose only choices were to submit to American rule or to become extinct.

Young Sioux Boy

A young Sioux boy at the Exposition is shown above.

While most of the Indians were from Plains tribes which utilized the tipi, the Indian Congress did include Indians from other areas and other forms of Indian architecture were exhibited. The Wichita, for example, constructed a grass house.

From the Southwest, a delegation of 20 men from Santa Clara pueblo attended. The tourists had an interest in Pueblo pottery, but since there were only men in the delegation, they could not demonstrate traditional Pueblo crafts such as pottery-making. In the Pueblo tradition, the women are potters.

Among the notable Indian leaders at the Indian Congress was the seventy-year-old White-Man, a Kiowa Apache hereditary chief.

Many of the Indians who attended were photographed in a studio setting. Some of these are shown below.


Apaches are shown above.

Hattie Tom

Hattie Tom, Chiricahua Apache, is shown above.

Freckle Face

Freckle Face, Arapaho, is shown above.

Kicking Horse

Kicking Horse, Flathead Salish, is shown above.

Little Snake

Little Snake, Omaha, is shown above.

Moni Chaki

Moni Chaki, Ponca, is shown above.

Sarah Whistler

Sarah Whistler, Sauk and Fox, is shown above.  

Touch the Clouds

Touch the Clouds, Sioux, is shown above.

White Buffalo

White Buffalo, Cheyenne, is shown above.  

A Yavapai Messiah

When cultures are under stress, particularly when that stress is coming from forced change outside of the control of the people in the culture, a messiah or prophet may emerge who will provide a religious solution to the problems. In 1875, the Yavapai were forced by the United States government to walk from their homelands to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, a distance of nearly 200 miles. San Carlos had been established as a reservation for the Apache and the United States mistakenly believed that the Yavapai were an Apache band. Once on the reservation, their freedoms were reduced as the United States sought to impose cultural genocide on them.  

The pressure for the Yavapai to change intensified in 1885 when the U.S. Army officers took over the management of the San Carlos Reservation. The army officers in charge of the reservation increased interference with the traditional Apache and Yavapai healing practices. The officers felt that the traditional beliefs and practices regarding healing were ignorant and dangerous.  

In 1887, the noted Yavapai healer Echawamahu began to spend his days wandering away from his San Carlos Reservation camp. He muttered to himself and looked skyward. He returned in the evening, carrying flowers, and then was gone again in the morning. He went to another world, but the Great Spirit sent him back to tell the people about coming changes.

Echawamahu called a number of Yavapai and Apache to his camp and gave them specific instructions. His instructions called for people from four camps to approach his camp from the four cardinal directions. They were then to be seated in rows. The people were to select four young women to come dressed in white, wearing eagle feathers in their hair. These chosen women would sprinkle dust on each of the seated participants, and then the entire crowd, one by one, would sprinkle dust on Echawamahu. If the people believed and did as they were told, Echawamahu told them, then the Great Spirit would restore their lands.

According to some stories, the Americans were to be struck by a great plague and the government buildings would sink into the ground. If the people would come to a certain place and then dance through the night, then they would be able to return to their homelands. When a large earthquake struck the reservation many Yavapai and Apache were convinced that Echawamahu was speaking the truth. More than 1,000 Indians gathered at a spring known as Coyote Hole for nightly dancing.

The dancing did not bring about the destruction of the Americans: there was no plague, the reservation buildings continue to stand, there was no great fire, the Americans continued to suppress the people. However, the Americans noticed the dancing, did not look favorably upon it (American Indian religious activities were not to be tolerated so that Indians could learn about American religious freedom), and called for a military investigation of the movement.

While Echawamahu’s religious movement was relatively short-lived among the Yavapai, it did set in motion the glacially-fast bureaucratic movement which would return them to their homeland. General Nelson Miles was the army officer called in to investigate this new, illegal, religious movement on the San Carlos Reservation. While the movement was essentially over by the time he arrived, he did interview a number of Yavapai leaders. Coquannathacka, Pakota, Paguala, Eschetlepan, and Snook pled for a return to their homeland. Miles told them that he did not have the authority to order their relocation, but that he would make recommendations to high-level officials in the government. This marked the beginning of their journey home.