Native Voices of the Gilded Age

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In the last decades of the nineteenth century Native Americans witnessed the brutal and forced assimilation of themselves and their culture into that of mainstream white America. This period, known as the Gilded Age, was in fact the age of incorporation, a time when developments like the railroad and the telegraph made the vast United States a smaller and more manageble place. It was a time in which national corporations such as Rockefeller's Standard Oil emerged and when labor became organized. The message sent by the White City at the Columbian Fair of 1893, "the first expression of American thought as unity," represented the fulfillment of an incorporated American culture(Trachtenberg 220).

Not all Americans shared in this unity of thought. Chief Simon Pokagon, whose family had originally owned the section of Chicago upon which the White City was built, wrote the "Red Man's Rebuke" in order to vent his frustration at lack of representation accorded to the first Americans. As thier relative absence from the Fair's exhibits suggests Native Americans remained unincorporated in the age of incorporation.

Yet in this generic age mainstream white America worked hard to force Native Americans to assimilate and take thier place among the already incorporated. The experience of the Native American in this period, a time defined by the massacre of hundreds at Wounded Knee and the assination and imprisonment of thier leaders most notably Crazy Horse and Geronimo, speaks to the dangers of forced cultural assimilation.

As John Gast's painting "American Progress" suggests the traditional Native American, a dying breed even at the onset of the Gilded Age, remained cast as the "savage other," the outsider, and signified, to the agents of incorporation, a road block to the "grand drama of progress." Native American warriors like Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, and Geronimo remained the enemies of incorporation.

Native Americans represented a special problem to those who sought to incorporate the west and saw the land as a resource to be exploited. In The Incorporation of America Alan Trachtenberg explains the problem posed by Native Americans to the agents of incorporation: "The Indian projected a fact of a different order from land and resources: a human fact of racial and cultural difference not as easily incorporated as minerals and soil and timber"(27).

Thus in the Gilded Age white Americans were increasingly interested in solving the so-called "Indian problem and attempted through various means to figure out "how to get rid of it in the easiest and quickest way possible, and to bring the Indian and every Indian in to" their incorporated culture.

The agents and agencies of incorporation took various forms. In 1887 the movement to forcibly incorporate the Native Americans was legalized when Congress passed theDawes Severalty or General Allotment Act. The Dawes Act offered Native Americans a choice between thier own legally sanction extinction and incorporation. It, according to Alan Trachtenberg: "implied a theory and pedagogical vision of America itself.....manifested in practical terms. To every male Indian 'who has voluntarily taken up ....his residence apart from any tribe... and has adopted the habits of civilized[read white] life,' the act offered not only an allotment of land for private cultivation but the prospect of full American citizenship. It offered a choice: either abandon Indian society and culture, and thus become a 'free' American, or remain an Indian socially and legally dependent.

in the civilization period Although faced with the seemingly impossible task of getting thier voices heard, in the last decades of the nineteenth century many Native Americans succeeded in finding thier way into the world of the printed and published word. Although thier opinions about the incorporation of thier cultures were as different as thier backgrounds, thier voices when taken as a whole paint a brutal and ethnocentric portrait of their peoples incorporation . Thier voices reveal the forced assimilation of America's first peoples into the culture of mainstream, middle class, white America. This section of the site allows Native American voices to speak for themselves, to tell the story of incorporation from the perspective of the Native American.

Ah-nen-la-de-ni [La France, Daniel]

An Indian Boy's Story 30 July 1903- This autobiographical sketch tells the story of Ah-nen-la-de-ni's experience as a young Native American during the period of incorporation that surrounded the passing of the Dawes Severalty Act in 



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Geronimo:His own story 

Francis La Flesche

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An Indian Allotment.

The Story of a Vision

Suzette La Flesche

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"Nedawi." (An Indian Story from Real Life.) 1881

Henook-Makhewe-Kelenaka (Angel De Cora)

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Angel De Cora An Autobiography

The Sick Child 1899

Gray Wolf's Daughter 1899


Ohiyesa [Eastman, Charles Alexander] 1858-1939

The Soul of the Indian 1911 

The Madness of Bald Eagle 1905 

Indian Boyhood 1902 

Old Indian Days 1907

Chief Simon Pokagon

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The Future of the Red Man August 1897 

An Indian on the Problems of His Race [a machine-readable transcription] 1895 

Indian Superstitions and Legends. 1898 

Naming the Indians September 1897 

The Red Man's Rebuke- an essay written in response to the treatment (or lack thereof) of Native Americans at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. (Coming Soon)

Young Joseph aka Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces

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An Indians View of Indian Affairs



Zitkala-Sa [Gertrude Bonnin]

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The Soft-Hearted Sioux 1901 

A Warrior's Daughter 1902 

Impressions of an Indian Childhood 1900 

The Trial Path October 1901 

Old Indian Legends 1901 

Sarah Winnemucca

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Life Among the Piutes: Thier Wrongs and Claims 1883 (Coming Soon).