Indians Illustrated: The Image of Native Americans in the Pictorial Press

By Tubbs, Willie R. | Journalism History, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

Indians Illustrated: The Image of Native Americans in the Pictorial Press


Tubbs, Willie R., Journalism History


Coward, John M. Indians Illustrated: The Image of Native Americans in the Pictorial Press. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016. 232 $29.95.

When considering the narratives, images, and tropes that dominate the contemporary world, many take as "common sense"-to borrow from the late Stuart Hall-that inaccurate and incomplete characterizations of peoples, races, genders, orientations, religions, and classes exist. Countless are the studies and books that seek to define the nuances and consequences of what a swath of society takes as the general "truth" about others. Rarer is the book that examines whence these characterizations came and how they ensconced themselves in society. In Indians Illustrated: The Image of Native Americans in the Pictorial Press, John M. Coward adds another layer to his extensive offerings on the history of Native Americans in the media and connects nineteenth-century American newspapers to the Native American tropes that, at least to some degree, continue to permeate society.

Coward argues that portraits and cartoons of real and imagined Native American characters created for a white audience figured crucially into the development of romanticized, oversimplified, and at times vicious misconceptions about the life of Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century. From the works of such artists as W.M. Cary and Frederic Remington, Coward presents a wealth of artist renderings that conspired to create a popular myth of the "common" Native American. These images exhibited the overt and latent racial ideologies of the time and typically sprung less from reality than Eurocentric imaginations of what some artists assumed about Native Americans.

Coward's choice of the late nineteenth century is a good one. This moment marked the first time news creators could quickly and frequently disseminate visuals of newsmakers or, in the case of some publications, characters. However, the strongest element of Coward's book is the wellstructured, thoroughly researched reminder that what illustrators presented-and many of their late-1800s contemporaries took as factual-is suspect at best.

Illustrations might have been more or less accurate representations of reality, works of pure fiction, or a combination in which fact and fiction were so interwoven that an average reader would be unlikely to know where truth ended and fantasy began. These illustrations might have been false, but they felt true enough to white Americans that they took root and, thanks to technological and educational advancements, they then reached record numbers of readers with greater speed and frequency. …

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