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Week 11 (redirected from Week 12)

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The Western Frontier, Part 2


November 12: The Creation of Plains Reservations




In this module we will think about how the US implemented the reservation system, and how different American Indian leaders responded to the new situations they brought. To do so, we will be reading texts by Chief Joseph (1840-1904), the leader of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce; Wooden Leg (1858-1940), a Cheyenne warrior known for fighting in the Battle of Little Bighorn (1876); and Carl Sweezy (1881-1953), an Arapaho painter. All three of them share their observations and experiences as their tribes were made to enter the reservation system, and deal with new social organization, annuity payments, and different relations with US officers and policy makers.








Study Questions 


  1. The Report from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs suggests that the reservation era ought also to be the end of the Treaty-making era. Why does the Commissioner argue this? What are the supposed benefits of this new organization?
  2. According to the Report, how is the reservation system to be implemented and managed? 
  3. Chief Joseph's speech, which was published in the North American Review in 1879, recounts the Nez Perce war of 1877. What does the text tell you about the causes and development of this conflict?
  4. Colin Calloway has written that Chief Joseph's speech "clearly conveys Nez Perce views and focuses public attention on the injustices suffered by the Nez Perces, but . . . its language and imagery also suited American tastes and expectations that associated Indian eloquence with defeat and nobility in the face of tragedy." Do you agree with this statement? How does this complicate your understanding of the text?
  5. What do the texts by Chief Joseph, Wooden Leg, and Carl Sweezy tell you about the Nez Perces', Cheyennes', and Arapahos' adaptation to the reservation system?
  6. What are annuity payments, and how do they work? 
  7. What can you remember about the Treaty of Medicine Lodge, and what role does this treaty play in Carl Sweezy's text? 
  8. Do you think Sweezy is critical of annuity payments in principle, or just of their execution? Explain your answer. 
  9. Looking across these texts, what general observations can you make about how the reservation (differently) affected various American Indian nations?




November 14: The Ghost Dance and the Wounded Knee Massacre


For US government officials, one of the problems the reservation system posed was that it seemed to promote cultural cohesion rather than dismantle tribes, and many officials had previously promoted reservations sought to undo them by the 1880s. One example of retribalization during this period was the Ghost Dance, a religious revival movement that swept a large number of Native American nations--mostly in the Western US--in 1889 and 1890. The Paiute religious leader Wovoka (also known as Jack Wilson) founded the Ghost Dance movement, the key element of which was a ritual revolving around a circle dance. In this module we will try to retrace why this religious resurgence led to a strong military reaction by the US, culminating in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, in which more than 150 Lakota Sioux were killed by US army forces. In order to do so, we will read several contemporary newspaper reports about the Ghost Dance, as well as several other primary sources (including Wovoka's Ghost Dance instructions) that are reprinted in James Mooney's 1896 ethnography of the Ghost Dance movement.




  • From the Bismarck Daily Tribune: 30 October 1890, and 19 November 1890, article 1 and article 2. 
  • From James Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (1896). Read the following sections:




Study Questions 


  1. Do the newspaper articles from the Bismarck Daily Tribune suggest that settlers were very worried about the Lakota Sioux uprising? Do you get a sense that people were calling for military intervention? Support your answer. 
  2. How does James Mooney characterize the Ghost Dance? As you can judge from Wovoka's "Messiah Letter," what are its underlying principles and aims?  
  3. What are the similarities and differences between Commisioner Morgan and Agent McGillycuddy's explanation of the "Sioux Outbreak"?  
  4. What do the eye witness accounts by Turning Hawk and American Horse in "The Indian Story of Wounded Knee" tell you about the development of events during the Wounded Knee Massacre? What in particular does Turning Hawk regret about the whole affair? Do you think this was a typical response from the Lakota Sioux?
  5. Charles Alexander Eastman was a Santee Dakota writer who was working as a physician at Pine Ridge at the time of the Wounded Knee Massacre. How does he explain the causes of the Massacre? What do you make of his distinguishing of the "friendly" tribal leaders?
  6. Thinking across these texts, what conclusions can you draw about the connection between the Ghost Dance movement and the Wounded Knee massacre? 



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