Killing_Cultures - Colorado Springs School District 11

“Killing Cultures”: Native Americans,
Racism, and the West, 1865-1900
I. Prelude to Conflict
• A. Civil War and after
– 1. Homestead Act, 1862 encouraged settlement by promising land
to those who settled and improved it
– 2. Expansion helped by completion of the transcontinental railroad
in 1869
– 3. From 1865-1890, white population of trans-Mississippi West
grew 5x faster than population as a whole: these people and their
desires, collided with some 360,000-400,000 Native Americans
• B. The “color line” in the West
– 1. “Color line” woven into the history of the West just as it was in
the South
– 2. Whites convinced of their own cultural superiority saw nothing
wrong with appropriating Native American land while
simultaneously “civilizing” them
– 3. Just as the South used power of gov’t to subjugate its citizens,
so too gov’t helped subjugate Native Americans in the West
II. “Kill the Indian and Save the Man”
• A. The Assimilationist Impulse
– 1. Spurred by evangelical Christian reformers,
Congress in 1869 establishes Board of Indian
Commissioners to mold reservation life along white
– 2. Until 1880s, the Board appointed the agents who
administered the reservations and their key belief was
to “kill the Indian and save the man” or as another put
it, Indians must be taught to be more “mercenary”
• B. Three basic components
– 1. Suppressing Indian culture—i.e. family life,
religion, mores
– 2. Education—day schools, boarding schools, offreservation industrial schools, all tried to obliterate
Indian culture
– 3. Land reform and the ideal of the yeoman farmer
III. Attacking the Spirit World
• A. Reservation life undermined Native American
spiritual life
– 1. Vision quest for young boys had historically
occurred within context of war and the hunt
– 2. With their decline, ritual became detached from
meaningful roots
• B. 1883, gov’t issues “List of Indian Offences”
– 1. Attacked Sioux spirituality
– 2. Medicine men could be hauled before the Court of
Indian Offences for providing spiritual guidance or for
practicing traditional healing rituals
– 3. Sun Dance of the Sioux banned—a blow to Sioux
interpretation of life
– 4. Polygamy banned
– 5. Laws enforced by withholding rations or by
IV. Schooling
• A. Richard Henry Pratt and the Carlisle
Indian School (founded 1879)
– 1. Template for future schools
– 2. Isolated children from their tribe, forced children to speak
English, compelled them to adopt white customs
– 3. Removed children from control of parents, in order (as one
reformer put it) to keep them from growing up like their parents, “a
race of barbarians and semi-savages.”
• B. Rules for Indian Schools, 1890
– 1. Schools were monuments to regimentation
– 2. Children organized into companies; wore uniforms, had short
hair, and were force fed a diet emphasizing patriotism, obedience,
courtesy, and punctuality
– 3. Sabbath must be observed, only English could be spoken,
parents had limited visiting rights, clothing must be uniform, the
flag must be honored, industrial training must be provided, white
recreation should be encouraged
V. Educating Females
• A. Female boarding schools
– 1. 3,000 female students enrolled in 25 schools
– 2. Trained girls to become good housewives
• B. The domestic curriculum
– 1. Steady emphasis on obedience
– 2. Heart of curriculum focused on housewifery
• A. In 1904, Superintendent ofr Indian schools issued a threepage memo on how to make a bed
• B. Taught to prepare proper Victorian meals
• C. Girls also worked to support the under-funded schools—
cleaned the school, cared for own rooms, did own cooking,
worked in the school laundry
– 3. Students sometimes placed in white homes for
further acculturation
– 4. Successes limited: girls had few job opportunities
but their training estranged them from their own tribes
Cherokee Female Seminary,
Oklahoma, 1875
Pine Ridge Indian School, 1891
Indian boys in uniform, n.d.
Indian boy at organ, 1903
Colorado football team, ca. 1910
Indian children and farm labor,
Spokane Girls in Pinafores, n.d.
Sewing Class, n.d.
VI. The Dawes Act, 1887
• A. The “humanitarian” design
– 1. Treat Indians as individuals by breaking up tribal
lands and granting land to separate individuals
– 2. Reformers saw Dawes Act as a viable alternative to
more brutal warfare
– 3. Act provided for the distribution of 160 acres of
reservation land for farming or 320 for grazing, to each
head of an Indian family who participated (single adults
got 80 acres)—remainder would be sold
– 4. Land would be held in trust for 25 years by
government, then become Indians (who would also gain
• B. The impact—disaster for Indian land-holding
1881: Indians held 156 million acres
1890: Indians held 104 million acres
1900: Indians held 78 million acres
Total Indian acreage declined by 65%