Occidental College > LibrarySpecial Collections > Online Exhibits > American Frontiers

Table of Contents

Explorations of the West
Sam Dalsheimer

Caitlin Goss
Nick Schradle
David Sena

Representations of
Native Americans

Richard Dybas
Amanda Leong
Cynthia Robertson

The Western Railroads
Ronni Toledo
Kayt Fitzmorris
Jon Ingram
David Halperin

The California
Gold Rush

Jordan Helle
Adam Lawrence
Marisa Pulcrano
Patrick Ryan

California as Western Destination/ Mediterranean Boosterism
Maddy Kiefer
Danielle Mantooth
Molly Nelson
Stefanie Ramsay

Other Online Exhibits



Representations of Native Americans during the 1830’s and 1840’s were literally and physically produced by Thomas McKenney, Charles Bird King, and James Hall in their series The History of the Indian Tribes of North America, with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the Principle Chiefs.[more]

This collection of portraits and biographies of influential Native American chiefs and leaders created a government catalogue of Native Americans with whom negotiation and treaties took place. However, the images and representations of the Native Americans within the collection set a stereotypical reflection of and bunching together of all Native Americans during this time period, which continues to play an important role in modern day portrayal of Native Americans.
Henry Schoolcraft’s Information Respecting the History Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States provides the reader a broad view of the General History, Mental Type, Antiquities, Physical Geography, Tribal Organization, Intellectual Character, and Government Statistics of all the recorded tribes of Indians. These volumes provide valuable first-hand drawings and sketches of Indian artifacts, written language, and villages drawn by Captain S. Eastman. The government records listed in these editions covers the comprehensive history of the Indians by source of income, agriculture, amount of workers, etc. Henry Schoolcraft provides a great text for anyone looking to find the History of Indian tribes and information on every facet of these tribes.
Within the extensive volume II of The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft: Civilized Nations of his Native Races collection, he clarifies, in a rather ignorant manner, the attainment of a civilized mind from savagery, or the aggregate of Native American peoples he chronicles. He describes the binaries and absolutes of civilization and savagery, often in contradiction of previous statements, whereby he associates the disbelief in civilization irrationally to choosing disease and death over the wholesomeness of health in life, for instance. The term savagery, by his definition, not only debases the Native American position on the frontier as desensitized and detached from the significance of life, but portrays them as lacking what the rest of society, or non-Native settlers come to “benefit” from, this rich, comfortable, luxury called civilization.

"Synopsis of
                                              Indian Symbols" from
                                              Respecting the History
                                              Condtion and Prospects of
                                              the Indian Tribes of the
                                              United States"
Information Respecting the History Condition and
Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States

Visit Special
                                                Collections for more
                                                info on this source

- Richard Dybas

Henry Schoolcraft published Information Respecting the History Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States of American Indians in 1847. This extensive encyclopedia provides an amazing piece of research for anyone to use for Indian research. The first volume alone contains sections on General History, Mental Types of the Indian Race, Antiquities of the US, Physical Geography of the Indian Country, Tribal Organization, History and Government, Intellectual Character and Capacity of the Red Man, and Population and Statistics. Also, this volume has an appendix which contains Inquiries respecting the history, present condition, and future prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. This specific work owned by the Occidental College Special Collections library contains the rare sixth volume of Schoolcraft’s work. The complete work goes into the details of the vocabularies of Indian languages, grammatical analysis, legends of various tribes, biographies of chiefs and warriors, narratives of captivities, histories of Indian Wars, emigrations, and theories of their origin. This publication goes into the details of the Psychology of Indians. It shows the Orientalist view, put upon the Indian during the mid 19th century. These volumes provide a firsthand Orientalist view into the world of the Indians during this time, which could prove to be very valuable for research in this area. [1]

Although, the reader must make sure to note that this was written and published during a time, in which the Indian standpoint was not known or cared for. This is shown by the psychology we find in the second section of the first volume. This psychology goes so far as to classify ancient traditions of the Indians. The psychology is very one sided and does not seem to even try to get an accurate psyche of these Indian tribes. Schoolcraft also published many authentic first hand drawings of Indian artifacts, language and miscellaneous items drawn by Captain S. Eastman. These drawings contain weapons, domestic utensils, instruments of gaming and amusement, sorcery and medicine, objects of worship, Indian sculptures, paintings and fortifications, pictograph writing, dwellings, and every form of antiquities which have been unearthed. Schoolcraft essentially provides researchers with six volumes of incredibly first hand information on American Indians and every facet of their civilizations. And by doing this makes sure that all information on the American Indians gathered by the mid 19th century would be preserved in this encyclopedia. Having this work in the special collections library at Occidental provides a very valuable work for anyone in need of doing research on the American Indian.

[1] Edward Said

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This map of Mexico
                                              included at the start of
                                              this volume of Bancroft's,
                                              illustrates the regions
                                              containing Native tribes
                                              he considers civilized and
                                              the ones he catalogs
                                              explicitly in his
The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft Volume II
The Native Races: Civilized Nations

See Special
                                                Collections for more
                                                info on this source

- Amanda Leong

Through an idealist and orientalist perspective BancrofT [1] [2] applies his own ideas of what savagism and civilization entail in his analysis of the Native Americans’ status as compared to the “civilized” non-Native inhabitants of the Pacific Coast region mapped at the front of this volume II.  He claims that the natives become increasingly more civilized as time goes on, emphasizing that this societal pressure towards “civilization” acts as a necessity in the survival of these peoples.  Somehow savagery means making light of life’s sufferings which Bancroft assumes based on his interpretations and compilation of the materials, documents, and book sources he went about Europe collecting [3].  He tends to explain the extravagance of civilized society as a perfect utopian environment that could never exist for the Native Americans.  Bancroft’s civility relies on the intention of “purify the morals, to give equal rights to man, to distribute more equally among men the benefits of this world” and providing a “means of accomplishing a nobler destiny, to increase the power of the mind and give it dominion over the forces of nature.” 1

Like the cataloging of Native Americans via portraits [4], Bancroft ignorantly makes claims and assumptions about the lifestyles of these Native Americans.  There is no real face, as with the portraits, to these statements he makes but rather establishes them as a generality across all groups of Native Americans.  But just as the portraits emphasize a red shade of skin in each chief or woman painted, Bancroft provides them with a skewed, desensitized attitude about life implying that these Indians know no better.  Also for those within the tribes of America, he claims them more civilized than their ancestors thereby establishing gradations of savagism within the timeline of Native American life. 

In Bancroft’s civilization, luxuries are available to those accepting civilized lifestyle and all assumptions associated which he deems inevitable.  For instance, he rather shrewdly claims that to reject civilizing oneself would be to assume death better than health. He assumes a native person is at least improved from the savagery of initial point of savagery: the primitive Neanderthal.  Among his benefits to man he assumes none of these could have ever be made available to a Native to promote a more humane society.           

                     [1] Bancroft, Hubert Howe. “Chapter I: Savagism and Civilization.” In The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft: Civilized Nations, 2:2-51. San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft & Company, Publishers, 1883

                     [2] Said, Edward. Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1978.

                     [3] “The Bancroft Collection.” The Bancroft Library, June 18, 2009. http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/bancroft.htm

                      [4] McKenney, Thomas L. History of the Indian Tribes of North America, with biographical sketches…Philadelphia: Frederick W. Greenough, 1838. (SC office and SC* f: 970.1 M155h)    

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One of the Portraits
                                              by Charles Bird King
History of the Indian Tribes of North America,
with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the Principle Chiefs

See this source in
                                              our catalog

Cynthia Robertson

"Introducing and Reinforcing Stereotypes of Native Americans"
Thomas McKenney was the founder of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was established primarily to create educational institutions and to manage the treaties of Native Americans. While working at the Bureau, McKenney decided it would be helpful to record information about the Native Americans the Bureau dealt with for future interactions and trade. McKenney employed Charles Bird King to paint the portraits of Native American chiefs and people who traveled to Washington, DC for trade and negotiations. These portraits became the government’s collection of images of important or influential Indians and, similar to a catalogue, were eventually made into a set of three volumes, each containing 120 portraits, with biographies written by James Hall. The History of the Indian Tribes of North America, with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs is essentially the only remaining records of what some early Native American leaders looked like, and a key piece of evidence about what stereotypes were typical of this time, how they developed, and how they continue to exist. The symbolism within the portraits and the assumed lifestyles recreated within the text encourage the audience to make generalizations and propagate potentially problematic stereotypes regarding Native Americans. Although the Native Americans within the collection are diverse and represented in a variety of ways, a closer look at the clothing, embellishments, and objects, not to mention facial features, leads the reader to view the Native Americans as different. Most of the Native Americans are pictured wearing textile clothing, with feathers attached, braids or elaborate hairstyles, extreme piercings, and face paint. Similar to the Orientalist discourse, these portraits and the text accompanying it reinforce the “otherness” of Native Americans while at the same time producing similarities amongst the different Native American cultures, thereby clumping them together regardless of important dissimilarities. This collection seemingly treats the Native Americans as specimens in their book, by providing definitions of their lives that these authors could know nothing about. The people represented in the collection were important figures, and played central roles in the relationship between the United States Government and the Native Americans in the 1830’s and the 1840’s. These images continue to be influential in American society today as they portray stereotypical Native American portraits and biographies and give the reader a brief glimpse into what was thought of as Native American life.

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 About this Project / Acknowledgements

Occidental College's "American Frontier" Research Seminar was developed by
Dr. Jeremiah B.C. Axelrod, Adjunct Assistant Professor of History.

The library project is developed in collaboration with the Special Collections Department:
Dale Ann Stieber, Special Collections Librarian
with student staff
Henry Boule and Claire Lem and
Laila Tootoonchi and Anahid Yahjian.

Title Image: Thomas Moran, "Nearing Camp, Evening on the Upper Colorado River, Wyoming, 1882," from http://www.boltonmuseums.org.uk/collections/art/paintings_prints_and_drawings/oil/nearing_camp_moran

Page last edited on 03/12/2013.
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