The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898-1899: Art, Anthropology, and Popular Culture at the Fin de Siècle

By Wendy Jean Katz | Go to book overview

6
Indigenous Identities in the Imperialist Imagination

AKIM REINHARDT


The White Man’s (and Woman’s) Burden

During the late nineteenth century, as the United States wound down a centuries-long conquest of Indigenous nations that first began with the arrival of Europeans, Americans embraced two distinct strains of imperial iconography (the images and symbols associated with imperialism). Two tropes (patterns of literary narrative stereotyping), of the savage Indian and the progressive Indian, spun on an axis of doomed Native savagery. In the dominant trope, Indigenous people were rendered as either bloodthirsty or noble savages. The bloodthirsty savage was a murderous, warwhooping, tomahawk-wielding primitive whose killing, kidnaping, and scalping merited his annihilation. One writer on the Omaha world’s fair claimed Native people belonged to “savage and barbarous races” with “devilish cruelty and craftiness” and “primitive modes of living.” This mythic type was complemented by the sentimental trope of the noble savage, the proud, stoic warrior who resolutely accepted his fate. Thus the very same writer could claim that the Indian “does not parade his grievances.” Instead he “awaits his doom, extinction, with stoical resignation,” while boasting “grim silence and proud bearing.”

Both versions of the savage Indian trope, the bloodthirsty and the noble savage, were usually male. However, images of the sav-

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