FROM NOBLE SAVAGE TO
In the 1880s the government of the United States reformed its well-worn policy of concentrating Indians onto reservations into a new campaign designed to assimilate them into the nation. Federal officials allotted reservation lands for private property and strove to educate and detribalize Indians in government schools, to integrate them economically as farmers, ranchers, and wageworkers, and to pave the way for them to become citizens.1 BIA officials in Arizona soon discovered, however, that federal policies had to be revised to meet regional conditions, such as the aridity of the Sonoran desert, the labor demands of cotton growers and other employers, and the agency of the indigenous peoples themselves.
In Arizona the BIA also had to contend with the fuzziness of the boundaries between Indian and Mexican identity and the proximity to the international border. BIA officials struggled to keep the regional indigenous population away from ethnic Mexicans, fearing that such contact would degrade the Indians' industry and purity and interfere with the process of assimilation. Tapping into the noble savage trope, local officials tended to characterize the Tohono O'odham, Akimel O'odham, and Maricopas as proud people who had avoided the racial and cultural “pollution” that had stricken the regional Mexican population. They viewed allotment of communal lands into private property, as well as education and, increasingly, wage labor, as the most likely means to convert this innate pride and industriousness into the necessary characteristics for good citizenship.
By the turn of the century, however, the goals of the national assimilation policy began to change, ironically leading to the exploitation and segregation of Indians as a racialized minority rather than to their integration as equals. While some BIA officials remained optimistic about converting