The Frontier Newspapers and the Coverage of the Plains Indian Wars

The Frontier Newspapers and the Coverage of the Plains Indian Wars

The Frontier Newspapers and the Coverage of the Plains Indian Wars

The Frontier Newspapers and the Coverage of the Plains Indian Wars

Synopsis

As the Plains Indian Wars consumed the American West, the public turned to the nation's newspapers for information about the fighting. The vivid, colorful accounts captivated the nation-and in hindsight, revealed much about the attitudes and prejudices of the public and the press.

Excerpt

History that has been written from a temporal distance often comes out in monochrome. Too many writers rely on footnote flipping—citing of other works—leading to an exchange of muddy generalities. Writing about the early days of European–American movement into the center of North America, for example, readers often receive a standardized account describing episodic “Indian wars,” in which the immigrants invade the homelands of indigenous peoples backed by the army, aided by the spread of disease and alcoholism, justifying their invasion under the legalistic rubric of their own real-estate law (“highest and best use”), popularized as “Manifest Destiny.” The federal government negotiates treaties and then violates them. The invading culture breaks down Native social and economic structures as the first peoples defend their shrinking land base in shrinking numbers, as if caught in a flood.

All of this happened, of course, but history without street smarts ignores considerable nuance. Not all of the immigrants thought or acted alike. Nor did all the Native peoples. They engaged in conflict, to be sure, but there also was considerable intermixing, some alliances, and even marriage. We have been a multicultural society from the beginning.

Hugh Reilly’s accounts, which follow, have been drawn from the newspapers of the time and carry all the diversity and contradictions of life at street level. The story is full of unexpected twists and turns. An Omaha newspaper, the WorldHerald, for example, sent a Native American correspondent, a woman, to report on the aftermath of what the army called a “battle” at Wounded Knee in 1890.

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