Which Chosen People? Manifest Destiny Meets the Sioux as Seen by Frank Fiske, Frontier Photographer

Which Chosen People? Manifest Destiny Meets the Sioux as Seen by Frank Fiske, Frontier Photographer

Which Chosen People? Manifest Destiny Meets the Sioux as Seen by Frank Fiske, Frontier Photographer

Which Chosen People? Manifest Destiny Meets the Sioux as Seen by Frank Fiske, Frontier Photographer

Synopsis

The belief in American exceptionalism reached its apex during the 1800s and was expressed as a God-given passport called Manifest Destiny. Among its victims were Native Americans. The Sioux resisted, eventually in desperation resorting to Ghost Dancing and claiming that Indians, not the whites, were the chosen people. The military, political, and legal destruction of Indian culture provided precedent and justification for the empire building that accelerated soon after Sioux resistance was crushed. Frank Fiske was a young boy who observed this confrontation firsthand at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, where Sitting Bull was held, then killed. Fiske recorded the story as he grew and also kept the glorious past of the Sioux alive with his spectacular photographs of the people and their traditions.The story of the Sioux is interwoven with the story of the early years in the life of the multi-talented Fiske, who attended school at Fort Yates with Indian children. He entertained soldiers, cowboys, and Indians by playing the violin, worked as a steamboat cabin boy and helped in the army post's photograph studio. Photography proved to be his specialty and when still in his teens, he opened his own commercial studio. His appreciation of Native American culture led him to photographing the Sioux. Fiske's photographs feature prominently in this book and his photographic techniques are explained.This thought-provoking book documents the dramatic atmosphere where the US Army, Mississippi steamboat captains, missionaries, hard-pressed settlers and a host of other characters converged with the American Indians, during the westward expansion - a critical time in US history when the character of the nation was still being forged.

Excerpt

It was in his seventh year, and what a year it was, when he first thought about being one of God’s chosen people. He wasn’t sure whether he was one, or really what it meant. Some of the soldiers had said things about whites being special and talked about something they called “manifest destiny,” which seemed to be related to why they were in charge. The teachers also said the Indians’ religion was wrong. Then there were the Chinese who passed through the reservation, coming from the mines in the Black Hills and looking for work on the railroad that the Northern Pacific was building in the area. They had been in the U.S. since the California gold rush and came over in labor gangs to build the transcontinental railroad. The soldiers and cowboys often mocked the strangelooking small men with their skull caps and queues who spoke Pidgin English and were willing to do women’s work, like laundry. But Frank found it fascinating to listen in on their conversations of far off places at the post store and elsewhere, and he heard them speak in their quiet way of coming from the Middle Kingdom, where their emperor was the “son of heaven.” When they thought no one could hear, they spoke as though they were the exceptional people and the crude whites were barbarians.

Frank hadn’t really taken much notice, as the Indian agency world that the U.S. government ran at Standing Rock Reservation was such a combination of whites and Indians with cowboys, settlers and ranchers passing through. People who lived there called the reservation the “agency” because the person in charge was the Indian Agent, often a civilian (as was the case at Standing Rock in 1890), or a military officer, and under the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The school he would attend included a mix of white and Indian students, reflecting the reservation’s population.

It was when Kicking Bear had come to visit the Old Bull that everything changed and it set him to thinking. Frank called him the Old Bull around their . . .

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