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Analysis of the 19th Century Proceedings Surrounding the European Americans Treatment of the Native Americans

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Through the Images: European Americans’ Attitudes toward Native Americans in the late 19th Century

In the 19th century, the European Americans’ attitudes towards racial differences were mainly negative. They often viewed their own skin color as superior to others’ and thus, their way of living and “identity” as the “right” way – as evident in the three appendices.

Appendix A shows a photograph of a Kiowa warrior, Zotom, who was forced to enter the transformation program at Fort Marion in the late 19th century. The photograph was taken after he spent a considerable amount of time at Fort Marion, when he was already converted to Christianity and adopted the “white name” Paul Caryl Zotom. Zotom was forced to adapt his name into a more “American” version in part because the Fort Marion program was created to promote the “American identity” and by adapting his native name, the whites hoped to remove a part of Zotom’s native identity. Appendix A is clearly an “after” picture that was taken to showcase the transformation of Zotom from “wilderness” to “civilization”, a measure of the effectiveness of the program, as it is portrayed through Zotom’s clothing that this is the appropriate way to dress in the “American culture”. Zotom is shown in a formal attire; sophisticated suit and tie, neatly-combed hair, a clean face, and with no headdress or any decorations and markings that would suggest that he was once an American Indian.

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From the analysis, Appendix A supports the thesis. White Americans in the late 19th century thought that the Native’s lifestyle and their traditional clothing were inappropriate and so, they set up Fort Marion to try to “convert” them into the version of American that satisfies their standards. Henry Pratt, one of the main proponents of the Fort Marion experiment, famously said in 1892 that the goal of the experiment was to “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man” (Pratt). This was Pratt and many other white Americans’ view towards racial differences, especially of the American Indians. This was their idea of progress, that they were able to “kill the Indian” in Zotom and other subjects by disconnecting them from the Indian culture and changing their looks to make them more “American”.

Meanwhile, Appendix B tells a slightly different story. Appendix B shows the title page of Zotom’s ledger art book commissioned by the white artist Eva Scott. Since the title page was drawn and painted by Scott, and not Zotom, it provides a great insight into what white Americans might think of the Natives in the late 19th century. In the middle of the title page, Scott drew the “before” image of Zotom. Zotom is seen sitting on a chair in his indigenous clothing, in front of a shaded background. The image is also surrounded by a frame made up of bows and arrows. Bow and arrows were often used in battles by the Native warriors. Therefore, this implies that Zotom was a Native warrior and by including details and decorations like these that suggest the Native culture, Scott was able to convey the authenticity that Zotom is indeed the owner of the art pieces in this ledger art book. To further stress this point, Scott specially mentioned that Zotom was “The Artist” just below his image.

The letters surrounding the image also imply indigenous culture, since the font used was not the type that was normally seen in English books. The use of the word “Red-Man”, colored with red, also suggests racial discrimination, since Scott judged Zotom just by his skin color and not for his other qualities. It is also worth noting that Zotom’s name is seen in a small font size below his image, the word “Red-Man” is more visible.

Appendix C shows a ledger art drawing illustrated by Zotom himself, in which a battle scene is depicted. Zotom drew himself proudly wearing face and body paint, as well as a Native Indian costume, with a distinctive bird-lookalike headdress that most likely portrays his Native warrior name and spirit animal. Zotom drew himself in such specific ways that other members of his tribe can easily identify him from just a quick look at the drawing. In the drawing, Zotom is seen holding a lance, attacking a person in the bandwagon. It is likely that the person in the bandwagon is a white American, since the image of bandwagon was popular in representing the concept of westward expansion in the late 19th century. The soldier in the bandwagon is seen holding a handgun, with a bullet flying out of the weapon. This shows that the soldier has already shot a bullet towards Zotom. Instead of running away from the bullet, Zotom is seen holding a lance, pointing right at the soldier, without fearing the soldier’s bullet. Further, no red blood droplets are seen in the image, in particular, near the soldier’s face where the lance is at. This is an example of the Counting Coup act, done by Native warriors to showcase their bravery.

In Appendix C, Zotom is clearly in mortal danger since the soldier’s bullet can easily kill or injure him. Zotom is not scared, and does not harm or kill the solider either, even though he has every right and every chance to do so. With this act, he can prove his bravery and the fact that he can survive the event and live to tell this tale of bravery through ledger art is even more impressive to his Native peers. Another important detail in the drawing is the way Zotom showcases his bravery by showing himself off the back of the horse, while his enemy is still seeking protection in the bandwagon. This indicates that Zotom’s bravery trumps that of his enemy and he is not scared to leave his horse and approach his enemy, even if that means taking more risks.

It is vital to compare Appendix A with Appendix B and Appendix C. Appendices B and C serve as the “before” image of Zotom, from both the perspective of the Whites and Zotom’s own perspective. On the other hand, Appendix A positions itself as the “after” image of Zotom, after he went through the Fort Marion experiment. The most noticeable difference between these two sets of images is the Native clothing, or lack thereof. Zotom is shown wearing a Native costume in Appendix B, and an extravagant warrior costume in Appendix C – this suggests that the Native culture is rooted deep inside Zotom and he usually expresses his love for his culture through these costumes. On the other hand, Zotom is shown wearing a formal Western attire in the first appendix, and his neutral facial expression might suggest that he does not truly enjoy putting on this costume. This one difference also explains European American’s attitudes toward the Indian tradition. European Americans disapproved the Native Indians’ traditional costume, and believe that a formal western attire is more sophisticated and more “civilized”.

By forcing Zotom and other inmates at Fort Marion to switch into formal western clothing, the whites believed that they were making a “progress” by removing hints of the Native Indian culture from their bodies and replace them with Western-influenced items of clothing. This classification is indeed very subjective, since the European Americans basically came to the conclusion that the Native’s way of dressing was not “civilized” only through observation of external characteristics. European Americans did not actually learn about the Native’s tradition by fully immersing themselves in the Native culture; that way, they might be able to learn that the Native’s traditional clothing holds great cultural values and it is the Native’s definition of “civilization”. The whites did not make real “progress” toward civilization with their Fort Marion experimental tactics, because their definition of “civilization” was totally subjective and entitled.

In addition, Frederick Jackson Turner’s “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” was also heavily influenced by this idea of “progress”. The way in which Turner ranked different races based on his subjective observation of sophistication and the way in which he came to the conclusion that a European American was the prime example of the “American identity” is similar to the thinking that started Fort Marion in the first place (Turner). Turner’s book was written just a few years after Fort Marion first started, suggesting that many whites in the late 1980s held similar attitudes toward racial differences and shared similar beliefs about “progress” and the “American identity”.

No matter how hard the European Americans tried to force this idea of “progress” upon the Native Americans, it was impossible for them to fully convert the Indians to the “civilized” people they desired. Most Indians in the Fort Marion experiment grew up immersing in Native culture, with fellow Native people, and some even fought along other Native warriors in battles and wars. It might be possible for the European Americans to transform or “Americanize” the Natives’ appearances, but it was incredibly difficult for them to “kill the Indian” in them. This argument was supported by the ledger art drawing in the last appendix, in which Zotom drew himself as a Native warrior. Zotom completed this drawing after he had stayed in the Fort Marion experiment for a while, and had gone through several “transformation” processes. For him to still draw these art pieces, despite his “modernized” appearance and attempts from the whites to remove the Indian culture in him, this proved that the experiment was futile and failed to really produce the kind of “progress” the whites wanted.

When compare Appendix A and Appendix B, it is important to point out the difference in the brightness and the contrast of the two images. Zotom’s image in Appendix B, the “before” representation, is considerably darker than his image in Appendix A, the “after” representation. Eva Scott, the creator of the title page, deliberately made Zotom’s image appear solemn. The shaded background also made Zotom’s image in the center appear somewhat mysterious, sending off negative implications. In contrast, Zotom’s portrait in Appendix A was taken with high-quality camera. The white backdrop as well as the low contrast contributed in making this “after” image more professional and more acceptable to the general European American population. These actions were done because the United States government wanted its citizens to believe in the effectiveness of the Fort Marion experiment. They wanted to create a stunning contrast between the “before” image and the “after” image to prove that “progress” towards “civilization” was made during Zotom’s time in Fort Marion.

After analyzing all three appendices, it is clear that the attitudes of the United States government and the European Americans in the late 19th century toward the Native Americans were far from positive. The European Americans believed that they were the definition of “civilization” and thus, best represented the “American identity”. They often based these beliefs on external observation, without getting to truly understand the Native’s culture. As a result, their idea of “progress” was biased and subjective, although influential to generations that came after them.


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