The attitudes of outsiders to Indians

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Last updated: November 12, 2019

A lot of the attitudes of outsiders to Indians were seen to be savage, cannibal, and primitive. Also the outsiders arrogance has prevented them from learning and understanding the Indians, for example the outsiders didn’t fully understand how Indians see land nor did they understand many aspects of Indian life and customs which many thought was primitive. What’s an important source to understand how outsiders’ attitudes to Indians are like are the attitudes by writers with experience with Indians. What makes them an important source is because their work had great influence on how the Americans saw the Plain Indians.A lot of people never had a first hand account with an Indian, so their impression of the Indians is greatly affected by the pictures and descriptions of non-Indian accounts. There are three men who are particularly influential and their work widely read and seen.

These men are George Catlin, Colonel Richard I Dodge, and Francis Parkman. Each of these men had experiences with Indians which they wrote about, some good and some bad. Firstly, Francis Parkman came from a rich Boston Family. He was educated in an expensive private school and went to study in Harvard University.He is always interested in the Indians. His purpose to set off to explore the frontier was to find out about the Indians to write his book, The Oregon Trail. This book is important because it had great influence on the way outsiders view the Indians. It also became the source for other later writers.

Francis Parkman had little understanding in their way of life. He thought they were “savages”, which is what he thought of the Sioux’s and what he wrote in his book, The Oregon’s Trail. This is an extract from his book that shows evidence of this; “Having lived among the Sioux I could observe them.They were savages “.

He had little understanding of the Indians way of life maybe because he had a limited experience with the Sioux. What happened was when he was gathering material to write his book he was frequently ill and his hell broke down completely on returning to Boston. He only had 5 months of experience, from April to October, which was very little compared to George Catlin and Colonel Dodge. And he has only witnessed a few bands from one Nation. His very little experience with the Sioux and their lifestyle makes his book not entirely accurate.His book is also written based by his own prejudices because remember that he sees the Sioux through the eyes of a well-educated wealthy man and so he may consider what the “savages” do is “primitive”. His book can give a positive attitude to readers. Parkman may have written something good about the Indians because he does understand a little bit about Indians.

Colonel Richard I Dodge is a cavalry regiment of the US Army who serves in the West. In 1834 he led a campaign to establish friendly contacts with the Plain Indians in the southern plains, the Comanche and Pawnee.He was accompanied by George Catlin on this campaign. His book, Hunting Grounds of the Great West, was based upon his experiences and like Parkman his was important because that book influenced the attitudes of other Americans to the Plain Indians. Colonel Dodge doesn’t wholly understands their customs and lifestyle probably because he’s really there to keep peace between the settlers and Indians and to have friendly contacts, not to understand their ways. This inaccurate understanding may make the readers of his book have the wrong idea of Indian customs.

His book explains what he has found about what Indians do and gives comments. From seeing extracts of his book, I have seen lines prejudicing the Indians like “The first impulse of the Indian, on being surprised in his camp, is that natural to most animals. To run away as fast as his legs will carry him. ” This line is an attempt to make wild animal and Indians similar. However, Colonel Dodge must have understand a lot not wholly about the Indians because he has experiences with Indians for a long time since that’s what his job requires him to do.Sometimes he makes fair comments of Indian customs for example he said that the way the Indian life is organised “The result, however, is fairly good” and the way the tipi is designed is “well adapted to their needs”. George Catlin, an artist and entrepreneur, traveled widely in the West in the 1830’s because he wanted to make a collection of drawings and paintings to form an Indian Gallery.

His exhibition contained over 500 drawings and paintings, which were based upon his experiences of Indian Life in his 8 years of travel, were exhibited around America and Europe.He also published his writings, Manners, Customs and Conditions of the North American Indians. His work is all important because it widely influenced the way non-Indians, especially non-Indian Americans, thought about Indians. George Catlin is sympathetic towards Indians. His work clearly shows his understanding and acceptance of Indian life. He wrote at that time “Nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country and becoming their historian”.

This suggests that he REALLY is willing to learn and understand about what Indians do, which is why he appreciates their life because he understands.His 8 long years of experience when travelling in the West also explains why he learnt so much, unlike Francis Parkman whose only been travelling for 5 months and thus understanding little of the Indians. This is an extract from George Catlin’s book, “From what I have seen of these people (the Indians) I say there is nothing ver strange in their character.

It is a simple one, and easy to understand if we take the time and care to familiarise ourselves with it”. This is what Catlin just did and what others should do to give positive attitudes of Indians. The reading of this book may have made outsiders have a positive attitude of Indians.Remember that not only did Catlin publish his book but he also did over 500 drawing and paintings which he exhibited around America and Europe. The power of his visual images gave him a great influence on the way other Americans thought about the Indians. His painting may try to describe and explain what and why the Indians are doing what their doing but not everybody can see that which then leads to a misunderstanding of the Indians that also leads to a negative attitude towards Indians. So his images can portray an Indian in a positive way as well as negative.

Outsiders saw many aspects of Indian life as primitive which labeled Indians as primitive savages. Outsiders would see Indian tools like the bone scraper, which is used for working buffalo skins, to be primitive. They would think that preserving food by drying in the sun to be primitive. When they see a village, they would see all the women working and think that Indians don’t treat women with proper respect, but they don’t realise that the men are the ones planning and hunting for food and materials. Outsiders would see Indian children playing wildly and not going to school which makes outsiders think that they are not civilised.

The Indians believing in spirits would be seen by outsiders to be pagans and having several wives (polygamy) to be sinful. What makes outsiders see Indians as savages are probably by their warfare. For an outsider, scalping people and decorating their tipis with scalps and scenes of warfare would be a savage act.

Also having to dress almost naked and wearing feathers in their hair to record their war exploits would also be a savage act. LAND – The major reason why conflict broke out between the settlers and Indians. Indians and the settlers had completely different views over land.To the Indians, the land was part of the circle of nature. They believe that they and other plants and animals came from the earth and when they died they returned to earth.

They believe that everyone was part of the land and no one can own it. This made it very difficult for them to understand how non-Indians could by and sell land. The Plain Indians believed that some places were sacred, especially high places that were close to the spirit world like the Black Hills. When miners invaded the Black Hills in search for gold and digging mines the Sioux felt like they were violating the Sioux’s most sacred place.For settlers and miners, land was the reason why they had moved west.

Outsiders wanted their own individual land for farming or other reasons. They found it difficult to understand the Indian view of land. In fact they didn’t do much or bothered understanding the Indian views; they just kept on having the attitude towards Indians as savages and their religious beliefs as superstition. They saw the Indians as obstacles that needed to be removed. The settlers were ready to remove the Indians by force but the US government did try to negotiate.When they did tried to negotiate, they were frustrated b the Indians refusal to talk about selling land or sign treaties. When some chiefs did sign some treaties, the US failed to understand that to other Indians, the treaties were meaningless. The outsiders’ negative attitude towards the Indians prevented them to understand the Indian view of land and thus conflict between the two was inevitable.

“Our manifest destiny to overspread and possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty”. This phrase, created by John L.O’Sullivan, was in newspapers all over the country and it had taken up the cry and telling people of the United States to fulfil their ‘Manifest Destiny’.

This phrase really means that the United States and its people were destined to dominate the entire continent. The people believe that God wanted them to spread their perfect form of government and freedom-loving country all across the continent. They felt as if they were carrying out God’s will to gain control of land in the continent and even fighting for it. The way to gain control of the land was to settle in it.They believe that the ‘savage’ Indians had no rights to the land because the wasted it. “God has given the earth to those who will tame it” is what Horace Greeley wrote. The settlers also felt that they would bring civilisation, the settlers’ kind of civilisation to the Indians. At that period of history, the settlers or outsiders attitude to the Indians were wholly negative.

Outsiders popularly labeled the Indians as ‘savages’. Their ignorance to understand Indian customs and many aspects of Indian life had described the Indians to be ‘primitive’ and has failed for them to understand that Indians believe that no one can own or sell land.The idea of America fulfilling their Manifest Destiny was like an excuse to fight for the land and ‘possess the whole continent’.

But the attitude of majority of outsiders was influenced, if not created, by writers writing about Indians. Influential writer like Francis Parkman and Colonel Richard Dodge, and the paintings by George Catlin are the people who sets the outsider’s attitude of Indians because many outsiders has never witnessed a real Indian. Many writers would spread their view of Indians in a negative manner and that is why the attitudes of outsiders towards Indians were wholly negative.

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