Westward Expansion and Native Americans

Sitting Bull. Hunkpapa Lakota leader, resisted US policies that took away Native American land and tradition.
1872: Camp study of expedition. Western expansion team, claiming new territories for the U.S. They are in a rural environment, surviving in wilderness.
Student Tom Tarlino on arrival to the Carlisle School. 1882
Student Tom Tarlino upon leaving the Carlisle School. 1886

Historical Narrative
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase; buying land from France for 15 million USD and doubling the size of the United States at the time. After purchasing this land he sent out explorers by the name of Lewis and Clark to explore and map out the United States’ new terrain. In the years to follow many pioneers moved to these newly acquired territories and by 1840, more than 40% of the population of the United States was living westward of the original boundary. In 1830 the Indian Relocation Act forced more than 70,000 Native Americans to relocate west of the Mississippi River in order to make room for white settlement. The relocation of the remaining Cherokee who refused to relocate became known as the Trail of Tears for how poorly the Native Americans were treated, the conditions and hardships they faced along the way, and the nature in which they had to forgo their sacred land. These Cherokee were forced to walk, often barefoot, 1200 miles, carrying all of their belongings. Thousands died due to starvation and disease, making this a grave tragedy for the Native Americans and is a darker part of United States history. Federal troops were sent to forcefully remove those who rejected the relocation, an example of which being members of the Seminole Tribe, who were attacked and eventually surrendered after their leader was killed. These Native Americans were forced to live in areas designated by the government which were deemed Indian Reservations. These reservations were established in order to remove them from their land to provide room for pioneers and separating the tribes from these pioneers was also intended to prevent conflicts. Unfortunately for these Native American tribes, they were forced to sign contracts that they were unable to read, and these contracts gave away their land by US laws. After growing resentment from Native American tribes, the US Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act which granted money to the tribes on the reservations for farming and to quell the tensions. Western ways of life were encouraged on the reservations. The Dawes Act of 1887 was passed by president Grover Cleveland and divided the reservations up into smaller plots of land for individual ownership of the Native Americans. This bill was passed in the hopes that land ownership would help the Natives assimilate to western culture and was part of the agenda to erase the Natives Values in favor of their own traditions, in part to quell resistance by taking away their own identity. They wanted the Natives to believe they were a part of the United States rather than that their lives, culture, and homelands had been taken due to the significant gap in power. Before the Dawes Act, the gender roles of the Native American tribes were different from those of the American gender roles of the time. Men were relied on to hunt and women took care of the land and collected edible plants, and after men were encouraged to farm on their newly acquired land along with the grants given for farming, the man of an Indian tribe now farmed while the woman took a more domestic role as was typical of Western society at the time. While the Dawes Act gave Native American individuals their own land to farm on, it also simultaneously took away a lot of the territories previously on their reservation and gave them to white settlers or were taken in order to construct railroads. There is a common theme during the 1800s of every presidential cabinet seeing the Native Americans as lesser than, with a multitude of presidents making legislation taking away their freedoms, land, and culture.

Visual Rhetoric
The first picture I will be discussing is the 1872: Camp Study of Expedition, taken by William Henry Jackson. In this photograph there are five men, four of which are resting underneath a tent from the heat of the sun and the fifth is standing outside of the tent with his arms crossed. William Jackson was tasked by the United States government to survey regions around Yellowstone River and the Rocky Mountains for the latter part of the 19th century. His job was to take pictures of the new territories previously not explored and document his experiences. This picture has five burly outdoorsmen, looking very tough and strong. The largest of the men is outside of the tent and his full body is on display unlike the others. He is tall and large along, strategically placed closest to the camera to play on his size and appearance of competence along with intimidation. Jackson’s photos were taken in mind of his audience, the United States government, and as a result he takes this picture to glorify the values and actions taken by the government; that being of western expansion and manifest destiny. The photographer accentuates the burliness in the kind of man willing to expand and explore the west through the use of facial hair, solemn expression, and by showing the barren terrain behind them. The barren terrain serves twofold in the rhetoric of the photograph. Firstly, it places an emphasis on the pioneers, being that there are no other elements to the picture and the pioneers are centered. Secondly, it shows how resilient the men are to live in an undeveloped area while they battle the elements for the betterment of their country. By showing these men as heroic and helping the nation the photographer uses this as rhetoric for drawing both support for expansion and invokes the desire for viewers to expand westward themselves.

The second picture I will be discussing is the picture of the student Tom Tarlino taken in 1886 upon his exit of the Carlisle School. There is a stark contrast between his appearance in his picture taken upon his entrance to the school and his appearance in this photograph. His tribal jewelry is gone, his native clothing is also gone, replaced with a Western sports coat to show sophistication and assimilation to the white culture of the school of which he attended. His hair in the first picture is longer than a foot and in this photograph, he has a very tight haircut to show order and the predictability of a civilized, assimilated, United States citizen. While the Carlisle School perhaps had a dress code of some sort where they required their students to dress in blazers, it is highly unlikely that Tom Tarlino appeared in these clothes and this manner every day. The photographer wanted him to look untouched in his entrance picture and then drastically changed upon the exit picture, playing up the effect the school had on his character. The changes in appearance also emphasize how much the school is capable of changing Native Americans as a whole, the rhetoric being that the school is capable of changing both their appearances and values into those of white Americans. The narrative that the school can change the Native Americans also insinuates that western culture is something that should be taught to people, such as mathematics and writing, and because it should be taught is superior to that of the Native American way of thought.

This portfolio contains a lot of the subject matter from Martha Sandweiss’ “Seeing History: Thinking About and With Photographs,” that we discussed in class. In the photograph 1872: Camp Study of Expedition, the photo exists “in” time and “through” time, taking on different meanings throughout the years. At the time of the photograph the pioneers pictured were seen by the American public as heroic and brave explorers of the newly acquired land. As the picture has aged to modern day, the people depicted are not as often seen as heroic but as a part of the system that dehumanized and stole from Native Americans. This idea also applied to the pictures of Tom Tarlino, at the time they were seen as proof that the American schooling system could succeed in assimilating Native Americans to western culture and widely seen in a positive light and in the lens of progress. Today society looks at these pictures not in the positive light seen during the 1800s, but instead with a much more grim look, a look that mourns the loss of Tom Tarlino’s culture.

William Henry Jackson, Camp Study of Expedition, 1872, National Archives and Records Administration.

William Notman & Son, Sitting Bull, Montreal, 1885

Silver salts on glass, gelatin dry plate process, 17 x 12 cm

McCord Museum

“Tom Torlino, Navajo, before and after.” Black and white photographic portrait of a Navajo by J. N. Choate. Image courtesy of the Richard Henry Pratt Papers, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library 1882

“Tom Torlino, Navajo, before and after.” Black and white photographic portrait of a Navajo by J. N. Choate. Image courtesy of the Richard Henry Pratt Papers, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library 1886

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store