The Newspaper Indian: Native American Identity in the Press, 1820-90

Article excerpt

It will not come as news to people familiar with Native American history the role the print medium has played in costructing public images of indigenous Americans. What is refreshing is the way in which Coward offers his insights on the matter. He has chosen the period of the United States' most feverish expansion into "the West," a time when newspapers and related print sources were most active in defining now-common stereotypes of both sides in the ensuing conflicts.

Referring early on to meta-theory (such as Edward Said's work on "orientalism" and the creation of "otherness"), the book proceeds to examine how this often deliberate process was expedited by newspapers. Author Coward chooses some specific events as examples of this process, among them the Second Seminole War, the Cherokee Removal, the Fetterman and Custer "massacres," and the rehabilitation of Sitting Bull's image. This technique of steering away from major trends in depiction and generalized eras of pro- or anti-Indian sentiment makes this a valuable read for historians, anthropologists, journalistic ethicists, and ethnic studies professionals. Although Coward notes these trends and shifts in perspective he does readers the service of referring to particular events and figures using many quotations and noting the newspapers from which they are culled. This allows readers not only to follow the reasoning of the writer but also to draw some of their own conclusions by seeing the original statements.

The Newspaper Indian also should be lauded for including the impact of the only consistently published Indian press of the time, that of the Cherokee. …