AIS/HSTAA 332, Winter 2010
American Indian History since 1840


Week of January 4-8

McMurtry, Crazy Horse, pp. 1-63:


1.       According to McMurtry, Crazy Horse was not a typical Sioux man. Instead, he was an eccentric loner who flouted some key Sioux customs. If this is so, why study his life in this survey course on Indian history? What can we learn from focusing on a man who was in some important ways an exception to the rule in his society?


2.       McMurtry characterizes the Sioux as "highly individualistic people" (p. 24). What is the factual basis for this characterization? Would such individualism have been advantageous or detrimental in the Sioux struggle to preserve their territory and way of life as the United States expanded? Explain your answer to the latter question.


3.       What sources and types of power did the United States have as it tried to bring the Sioux under its control? Why did some Sioux apparently conclude by the 1850s that the Whites' power was too great to resist? Why did other Sioux not reach this conclusion?


Catlin, Letters and Notes on...North American Indians, Letter No. 58:


4.       What were Catlin's aims in painting and writing about Indians? What attitudes and beliefs regarding Indians did he attribute to white Americans? How did his own aims and his impression of American attitudes influence his depictions of Indians?


5.       Which aspects of Indian society did Catlin choose to depict? Why do you suppose he chose to focus on those subjects rather than others? Which of his depictions seem to provide the most reliable information on the customs and conditions of Indians he visited? Which of his depictions seem least credible and why?


6.       Compare Catlin's analysis of Indian governments and warfare to the analysis in McMurtry's book.


7.       What can we learn from Catlin's letter about the extent and nature of Indian contacts with non-Indians in the trans-Mississippi West as of 1844? Can you think of likely places and types of contact that he does not mention?


ASSIGNMENT:  No later than 8 a.m. on Monday, January 11, sign on to the class Go-Post discussion board and enter a concise response either to Question 4 or to Question 5 above. (There is a link to the discussion board on the class home page.) Your answer should consider not only Letter No. 58 but also the short documentary video on Catlin to be shown in class on Thursday, January 7.

Week of January 11-15

McMurtry, Crazy Horse, pp. 64 to the end:


1.       Why would "a considerable body of Crow and Shoshone scouts" have assisted and fought with U.S. army troops under General Custer's command in 1876 (page 93)?


2.       When you view the documentary film "Last Stand at Little Bighorn" on January 14, compare its account of General Custer's famous last battle to McMurtry's account. Do the book and the film provide different information? Do they emphasize different facts? Do they offer differing analyses of the battle's significance?


3.       Make a list of developments, circumstances, and occurrences that induced various Sioux bands to stop fighting and settle near a government agency. Could the Sioux struggle for freedom have played out differently if any of the things on your list had not occurred or had not affected the Indians?


4.       McMurtry asserts that the U.S. army often attacked the Sioux because officers "tended to see war where there was no war" (pages 122-23). Should he have made the same observation about the Indians? Explain your answer.


5.       When McMurtry describes Crazy Horse as the one Sioux "who had never learned to walk the white man's road" (page 139), he implies that other chiefs and warriors named in his book did learn to walk that road. Does that metaphor fairly or helpfully describe the accommodations those other Sioux leaders made?



New York Daily Times articles, 1851:


6.       What information can you glean from these articles to supplement McMurtry's depiction of mid-nineteenth-century relations between the U.S. and Indians of the Great Plains? What supplemental information can you glean about relations among the different Indian nations there?


7.       To the author of the article titled "The Indian Treaty-Ground," what was the significance of the ceremonies and the elaborate apparel he saw among the Indians gathered at Fort Laramie? What significance might Indians have attributed to these things? Does George Catlin's letter or the documentary video about Catlin help to answer these questions?


Heizer, letters and petitions from The Destruction of California Indians:


I recommend that you read these items in chronological order.


9.       What policy or policies toward Indians did the authors of these documents recommend and why? Drawing on the articles for evidence, identify and explain the challenges that American officials would have faced if they had embraced and tried to carry out those recommendations?


10.     Compare the circumstances facing California Indians and their relations with non-Indians to the circumstances and relations of the Sioux in the 1850s. Explain any differences you identify.

Week of January 18-22

Adams, Education for Extinction, through page 59:


1.       Adams writes that U.S. Indian policy emerged from a "convenient conjoinment of greed and philanthropy." (page 6) What does he mean by "philanthropy?"


2.       Why did U.S. policy makers, administrators in the Office of Indian Affairs, and most of the American public roundly condemn Indian culture in the late 1800s? Which specific aspects of Indian culture did they criticize? Why were they unwilling to tolerate cultural differences between Indians and whites? (Or were they unwilling?)


3.       Do the educational aims of late-nineteenth-century schools for Indians differ from the aims of present-day American public schools? If so, in what ways?


Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1873:


As of the 1870s it was U.S. policy to settle Indians on reservations -- tracts of lands within states or territories of the U.S., supervised by federal agents. Each agent had to send his boss, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, annual reports on activities and conditions at his reservation. In 1873, pursuant to a reform plan approved by President Ulysses S. Grant, representatives of various Christian churches were serving as agents on most reservations.


4.       What can you tell from these reports about the nature and the extent or limits of U.S. government power over Indians as of 1873? Is there evidence that the Indians mentioned in these reports had some power over aspects of their own lives, even under the federal reservation system?


5.       What challenges did these federal officials face as they tried to fulfill their task of persuading and teaching Indians to live like "civilized" white Americans? What challenges did Indians face who made an effort to comply with their federal supervisors' advice or expectations?


6.       What hardships did reservation life entail for these Indians in 1873? Why?


7.       Did Indians on these various reservations have some kinds of experiences in common? In what respects did reservation life differ from agency to agency?


ASSIGNMENT:  By 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 24, enter a response on the class Go-Post discussion board either to question 4 or to question 7 above. If you are not the first person to post an entry, remember to click "reply" so that all posts are in one conversation thread.

Questions Based on Student Knowledge and Interest




Have Indians been engaged since 1840 in perpetual conflict with U.S. authorities?


Has there been substantial conflict between Indian tribes? If so, why?


Has the United States broken all or most of the treaties it made with Indians?


Have Indians been victims of genocide?


Did the United States drive all Indians off their lands, onto reservations?


Have reservations been harmful places for Indians?


Have Indians lost their cultures as a result of U.S. policies? 


Have Indians been able to resist efforts to change their cultures? If so, how and when?


Has U.S. Indian policy changed over time? If so, how and why?


Have Indians served in the U.S. military, and why?


What is Indians' present legal/political status in the United States, and how did it come about?


Why does the U.S. government not recognize some groups that say they are Indian tribes?


What has been the basis for status as an Indian and/or a tribe member?


When and why did many Indians settle in cities, and what have been the consequences?


Why did many tribes recently go into the business of operating casinos?


As the twenty-first century began, was the United States denying Indians many basic rights?

Weeks of January 25-29 and February 1-4

Adams, Education for Extinction, pp. 60 to the end:


1.       What were the motivations of people who took teaching and administrative jobs in the Indian schools?


2.       To many or most present-day Americans, both the aim and the regime of Indian boarding schools seem cruel. Why? Did policy makers and school authorities consider them cruel at the time? If not, why not? 


3.       Why did some Indian families conclude that there were benefits to enrolling their children in boarding schools? Why did some Indian students speak positively about their boarding school experience?


4.       If boarding schools were supposed to make Indians like White people, which Whites were the Indian children supposed to resemble? Which White customs and behaviors were they supposed to emulate?


5.       What did Tsait-kope-ta mean when he told Pratt, "'Now I am a white man?'" (p. 46)


6.       By emphasizing industrial or vocational training more than academic skills, did Indian school administrators do the students an injustice or a service? Were they being realistic about the career opportunities that students would have? Were they just serving the needs of capitalists by socializing Indians to become wage workers at lower levels of the economic system?


Hoxie, "From Prison to Homeland":


There are two likely typos in this article. On page 2, in the second full paragraph, the third-to-last line should probably say the Interior Secretary believed that white settlement "made it impossible" for the Indians to maintain their customs. And the first line of the next paragraph should probably read, "Not surprisingly, tribal leaders...disagreed with Senator Dawes...."


7.       After reading this article, do you have new thoughts about Larry McMurtry's comment that some Sioux leaders learned "to walk the white man's road?"


8.       What circumstances or factors led Indians on the Cheyenne River Reservation to think they had the power to resist some U.S. government demands?


9.       Hoxie argues that Indians "used many of the new reservation institutions as vehicles for...cultural survival." (p. 23) He also asserts that "despite... upheavals, the culture of those people survived." (p. 24) How does he seem to define "culture?" What does he mean by "cultural survival" in the specific case of Cheyenne River Sioux? Does he make a persuasive argument that Sioux culture survived the upheavals of early reservation life?


Harrington, "Self-Determination for American Red Man":


Note that you'll have to flip each page over to read the continuation of the columns of text.


10.     How do the characterizations of Indians and the future envisioned for Indians in this article compare or relate to the characterizations and future envisioned by Richard Pratt and champions of the Indian boarding schools?


11.     Not all Indians supported the proposal to give Indians full U.S. citizenship and phase out the U.S. government's role as Indians' guardian. What could have been some reasons for Indians to oppose the plan?





What is culture? Can change actually destroy a culture? If so, how much or what kind of change? Such questions have arisen repeatedly in American Indian history, both for historians and for the Indians they study. The questions deserve more discussion in this class. Let's ground that discussion in the specific information available to us so far by sharing responses to Questions 5 and 9. No later than noon on Saturday, January 30, enter your response to one or both of these questions on the Go-Post board. Feel free to comment on each other's responses, too.

Week of February 8-12

Philp, "John Collier and the Controversy over the Wheeler-Howard Bill":


1.       Identify factors that made it difficult for John Collier to realize his dream of promoting an Indian economic, political, and cultural renaissance.


2.       Compare Collier's image of Indians before 1934 with the picture of Indians that emerges from Indian comments at the regional congresses in 1934.


3.       Note the differences between Collier's initial legislative proposal and the act that Congress finally passed in June, 1934. Do any of these differences appear to address concerns that Indians expressed about the proposed legislation?


Cash and Hoover interviews with Ben Reifel, Ramon Roubideaux, Clarence Foreman:


4.       Do these Sioux men describe any consequences of the Indian New Deal that are consistent with fears expressed by Indians in 1934? Do they describe any consequences that are consistent with hopes expressed by Indians in 1934?


5.       Looking back in the 1960s, did these men see reasons to like or dislike the Indian New Deal that were different from those anticipated by Indians in 1934?



ASSIGNMENT: Complete this reading by Tuesday, February 9. If your last name begins with any letter from A through O, come to class that day with a written response to question 2 above. If your last name begins with any letter from P through Z, come to class on Tuesday with a written response to question 4 above. You may be called on to share your response in class.

Week of February 15-19

Wilkinson, Blood Struggle, through Part I, Chapter 3:


1.       In his introduction, Wilkinson reveals personal experiences and a strong conviction that moved him to write this book and inspired the questions he addresses. Find two or three places in these chapters where Wilkinson's personal perspective appears to influence his presentation of historical information. Describe specifically how you think his perspective influenced the presentation. What additional kinds of information might help you decide whether to accept Wilkinson's analysis?


NY Times -- "Oregon Indians Split on Future," "Navajos Distrust Control by State":


2.       These articles from the mid-1950s concern the new U.S. Indian policy that Wilkinson discusses in Chapter 3 of Blood Struggle—the policy of ending the federal government's self-appointed role as Indians' guardian. Compare the newspaper presentation to Wilkinson's presentation of the issues that the policy raised for Indians. What might account for any differences you see?


3.       If termination of the federal guardianship was dishonorable and damaging to Indians, as Wilkinson asserts, why did Indians not mount an immediate effort to block the policy?


4.       If federal officials agreed that terminating the guardianship was the best policy for Indians, why did they express reluctance to apply the policy to all tribes?


NY Times -- "About New York" and "Indians Thrive in Large Cities":


5.       Compare these depictions of Indian experiences in big cities to Wilkinson's discussion of Indian experiences in the relocation program on page 85. What might account for any differences you see?



Assignment:  Sometime this week, but no later than the end of the day on Friday, February 19, enter a response on the class Go-Post site to Question 1, 2, or 5. If you answer Question 1, discuss just one place in Blood Struggle where you detect the influence of Wilkinson's personal perspective. In addition, comment briefly on another student's response to one of the questions that you did not choose to address.

Week of March 1-5

L.A. Times -- "City Called a 'Foreign' Country" and "L.A. Indians Await Influx":


1.       Compare these articles about Indians who moved into cities with the articles on the same subject from 1956 (week 7 reading) and also with the coverage of urban Indians in "The Forgotten American," a CBS film shown in class on February 25.


2.       What effects did life in the city have on how Indians identified themselves or thought about Indians and Indian identity?


Indians of All Nations, "Proclamation to the Great White Father":


3.       Critique the representation of Indians' history in this document. How does it depict that history and why? Is the depiction consistent with what you have learned in this course?


4.       What images of Indians did the authors of this proclamation want to promote, and why?


Wilkinson, Blood Struggle, pp. 127-268:


5.       Identify some interest groups and some government departments or agencies that competed with Indians to influence federal legislation or the actions of federal officials. Which groups and agencies persuaded the government to take action that Indians opposed? How or why did their efforts succeed?


6.       What allies did Indians have in their struggle for greater tribal sovereignty? Why did those allies support Indians' interests?


7.       From this account of how Indians achieved increasing sovereignty after the 1960s, can we learn something more general about the nature of political processes in the United States?




By Wednesday, March 3, read Chapters 9 and 10 of Blood Struggle carefully. Note any of the material regarding the law or legislation that you find hard to understand or would like to discuss. Come to class with the book and with at least one of your questions written down.


By the end of the day on Friday, March 5, enter a response on our Go-Post site to question 3 or to question 7 above.

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Last modified: 2/24/2010 11:53 AM