About the Episode
This episode is brought to you by the Museum’s Education Department.
Back on November 3rd, 2021, Dr. Zachary Isenhower gave a lecture entitled: “Defining Patriotism: Native Military Figures & the Long Fight for Equality.”
Dr. Isenhower is an Instructor at Louisiana State University teaching Native American History.
The lecture explored how the history of Native military service illustrated Native struggles for equality, as well as the contradictions and ironies of how white Americans viewed Native military service and citizenship.
Topics Covered in this Episode
- Standing Bear v. Crook
- 1924 Citizenship Act
- King Philip’s War
Dr. Zachary Isenhower
Dr. Zachary Isenhower is an Instructor at Louisiana State University teaching Native American History.
While many Americans are familiar with the idea of “code talkers,” knowledge about the fuller lives, stories, and experiences of American Indian Code Talkers is incredibly limited. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, in partnership with Native communities, wants to help change that.
"World War II On Topic" is made possible by The Herzstein Foundation.
Hello, I'm Jeremy Collins, the director of conferences and symposia at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Thanks for tuning in to World War II On Topic. This episode is brought to you by the Museum's Education Department. Back on November 3rd, 2021. Dr. Zachary Isenhower gave a lecture entitled, Defining Patriotism: Native Military Figures, and the Long Fight for Equality. Dr. Isenhower is an instructor at Louisiana State University teaching Native American History. The lecture explored how the history of Native military service illustrated Native struggles for equality, as well as the contradictions and ironies of how white Americans viewed Native military service and citizenship.
Good morning. My name is Maggie Hartley and I'm the Assistant Director for Public Engagement here at the National World War II Museum. I would like to thank everyone for joining us today, both our in-person audience as well as our online audience through Vimeo and through Facebook Live. Today's lunchbox lecture is a part of the museum's commemoration of Native American Heritage Month and is entitled Defining Patriotism: Native Military Figures and the Long Fight for Equality with Dr. Zachary Isenhower, a history instructor at the Louisiana State University. So without further ado, I will now turn this over to Zach to share more about the history of Native military service and their struggle for equality.
Dr. Zachary Isenhower
Thank you. Good morning all. First, I just want to say thanks to Maggie Hartley for having me here to speak today, and thank you to all of you for turning out this morning and also to those of you who will be watching online.
As she mentioned, I teach Native American History at LSU. My own research focuses on Native status and US Indian policy during the Early Republic, so roughly 1790s to 1840s or so. And so we're going to be delving into the foundations of Native citizenship status and military service. I promise we will get to World War II today, but like any good early Americanist, I can make any story start with all the way back. So that's where we're going to start.
So at different times throughout American history, various Native leaders have been household names, men such as King Phillip, Tecumseh, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Little Turtle, we could probably add to that list. Some of you sitting here today probably could as well. Many had larger roles beyond military service as political or religious leaders, but they were often most remembered in Anglo-American culture, primarily for their military exploits. Literary, traditions documenting and mythologizing Native military figures are older than the United States itself, yet few white Americans regarded Native people as equal citizens until after World War II.
Native people endured without widely recognized constitutional rights and protections despite tightening state and federal control over their communities. And the history of Native military service captures Native struggles for equality as well as the contradictions and ironies of how white Americans tended to view Native people. Native military figures earned American admiration traditionally only as foils for US expansion and conquest. But during and after World War II, Native people were able to seize upon public understanding of that conflict to claim American citizenship without denying their Native identity.
So if we look at where Native people stood in American society just before World War II, we see a period really from the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century where Native people keep racking up legal victories, victories on paper that don't actually translate to real inclusion, real protections of citizenship in their daily lives. Part of this was really owing to the fact that most Americans, whether that be the voting public or American policy makers were steeped in myths that depicted Native communities as rootless and often lawless. They tended to see Native cultures as archaic and white Americans for generations had placed Native people outside the boundaries of US citizenship. And so these courtroom victories and legislative reforms failed to create real change.
That struggle to reconcile Native identities with US Citizenship is nearly as old as the US. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1803 that Native people might eventually incorporate into the body politic as citizens, yet his was not an inclusive statement. Foreshadowing the removal policies of coming decades, Jefferson argued that Native people who retained their identities must condense onto reservations or leave the United States territories entirely. So Jefferson expected those who remained, any who did choose to remain to assimilate so completely into Anglo-American society and culture that they became essentially indistinguishable from that larger white American culture. Functionally, they would no longer be Native Americans.
Despite outlining a coercive policy that included driving private competitors out of the lucrative Indian trade and trapping Native nations in debt to force land sales and threatening military action where necessary, Jefferson viewed his policy as philanthropic because he thought that this was an inevitable outcome of proximity and supposed competition between Native societies that he saw as primitive, archaic and without modern civilization and a growing American republic.
The most famous contradiction between Native people's legal status and actual US policy came in 1832. And this is probably the one most of you have already heard of. When Chief Justice John Marshall affirmed Cherokee sovereignty in Worcester v. Georgia, and at least in theory, President Andrew Jackson supposedly says, "Mr. Marshall has his opinion, now let him enforce it." In truth, he really just said it was a stillborn opinion because Marshall never asked him to enforce his ruling in Worcester v. Georgia. And Jackson indeed continues his policy of systematically forcing nation's East of the Mississippi River into territories in the West.
These contradictions multiplied through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Supreme Court affirmed Seneca land ownership, for example, and recognized the history of Native political institutions in 1857, but they offered no actual relief to those communities in New York. In 1879, the court ruled that Ponca chief, Standing Bear, pictured here, was legally entitled to the same constitutional rights and protections as other Americans, as white Americans.
He and other members of the Ponca Nation had been removed from reservation homelands in Nebraska to what is now Oklahoma, and partially in protest of conditions they found in Oklahoma, but also as part of basically a funeral. They had processed back to Nebraska, he'd led a delegation back to Nebraska to bury those who had died in that first year in Oklahoma. And they were immediately arrested for leaving the reservation in Oklahoma. And so this Supreme Court case is really on the basis of does that principle of habeas corpus apply to Native people? Does he have to have committed a crime in order to be detained? And the Supreme Court answers, "Yeah, that counts for Native people as well. He can't be detained having done nothing wrong."
The federal government, however, argued that these rights and protections applied only to Standing Bear as an individual, only to Native individuals. They did not apply to Native Nations in the collective sense, and so they continued their policy of restricting Native people to reservations.
Jumping forward a little bit in this rapid overview, the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act extended full citizenship to all Native people within the US provided they were born after the effective date. But behind President Coolidge's photo ops, which looked quite promising and behind the apparent triumph, by 1928 when Charles Curtis, a member of the Kaw Nation reached the vice presidency, most Native people were still unable to vote during either of these administrations and they would continue to be unable to vote until after World War II.
So to understand how waves of legal victories resulted in so few tangible gains for Native communities, we need to delve into those larger cultural assumptions Americans held about where Native people fit or did not fit into American society in history.
For many, the first well known Native figures were those who supposedly welcomed the English colonists to American shores, and these were quite conspicuously, not military or authority figures. In their perspective societies. English soldier and explorer, mercenary soldier, John Smith, began mythologizing the story of Matoaka, who most of you better know as Pocahontas. Shortly after her death in England at the age of 21.
Describing their first meeting in 1608, Smith claimed she was simply overcome by affection and sympathy for the English and intervened to save him from execution. Smith obviously had badly misinterpreted actual events. If any episode resembling Smith's story ever truly occurred, it was a demonstration signaling Powhatan authority and protection over the tiny Jamestown colony. Powhatans viewed that colony as a new tributary village on the edge of a confederacy that was at the time about the size of New Jersey. Smith's story, however fictionalized, became legend though because it embodied how English colonists preferred to see Native people childlike, eager to learn English culture and accept English authority.
At the same time, Smith published his sensationalized account of his brief time in Virginia. The first Puritan colonists barely survived thanks to the assistance of Tisquantum, better known as Squanto. The English greeted discoveries of food stores in Tisquantum's assistance as providential blessing, only gradually coming to appreciate that the corn which sustained them had been the final harvest of a village all but wiped out by epidemic. Tisquantum had been abducted, sold into slavery, then later freed in Spain, he'd worked his way across Europe to England, signed on with an English fishing expedition to make his way back home to the Atlantic coast only to find his hometown empty. This of course, is where Plymouth was established.
And in the popular version of this story, Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag Confederacy typically makes a brief appearance, gives Plymouth his blessing,and the English and Wampanoags mark their new friendship with a feast. The chief is benevolent and Squanto, much like Pocahontas, actively embraces these colonists. Also like Pocahontas, the real Tisquantum died from an unknown illness within just a few years of working with the English. So this of course makes him quite easy for Plymouth chroniclers to mythologize and into an ideal eager helper with no larger objectives or considerations, really even a perspective of his own.
That alliance between Plymouth and the Wampanoag Confederacy was remarkably durable and mutually beneficial. The fact that it was so mutually beneficial made English encroachment that much more galling for the next generation of Wampanoag leadership. Chief Massasoit's son Metacom, better known to the English as King Philip, Philip grew up in a society that prospered. They were conduits between interior nations and English trade goods. The Wampanoag Confederacy was also a center for the production of Wampum, which served as a currency throughout the North American interior. And it's mostly New England nations who produce this. And it's not a currency just for Native nations, it becomes the defacto currency for essentially all trade in the interior.
So the Wampanoag Confederacy does quite well through this period. It is not a nation that's on the decline. Their power and economic influence could also converted nearby former rivals into allies. So Philip is a guy who wants to maintain this alliance with the English as well as with neighboring Native communities. But he's not willing to do this at the cost of Wampanoag sovereignty.
He was a regular in Plymouth for business and diplomacy, often arriving with a cadre of advisors and interpreters, requiring the English conduct matters in his language. He rejected English claims on legal jurisdiction over Wampanoag's citizens and land. When Plymouth officials refused to compensate Wampanoags for crops and pasture destroyed by English livestock for example, Philip decided to test their theory that no claims could be made if a parcel of land was not fenced off. This is why they said that Wampanoags could not be compensated, right? So he decides to test his theory by driving his own herds of hogs onto the Plymouth Commons and grazing them there. Plymouth officials unsurprisingly, tried to slap him with a fine. We don't have record of whether he paid it. I suspect he did not.
These small but growing affronts simmered and escalated for years. By 1671, Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay and the other English colonies were powerful enough that they could coerce King Philip signing a treaty that acknowledged English protection over the Wampanoag Confederacy, which was a thinly veiled way of asserting English sovereignty and authority over the Wampanoags.
The English also attempt to extend their legal jurisdiction in matters of crime and punishment. And this all comes to ahead when one of the local Native people, a man by the name of John Sassamon, who was found murdered. Long story short, three of the accused are citizens of the Wampanoag Confederacy. They also happen to be King Phillip's, some of his closest advisors. The court in Plymouth admits that they don't have the evidence to actually link these men to the crime. Nevertheless, they're executed.
During the trial, they call King Phillip up to the stand, but it turns out just to be a pretense to berate and humiliate and threaten him. They tell them that if there's ever any rumor of any Native mobilization against Plymouth, that they will confiscate all Wampanoag land and all Wampanoag weapons. Philip returned after that trial convinced and other Native observers convinced as well that the English intended to use their legal jurisdiction as a pretense to rob their former allies of all of their lands. And so days of the conclusion of that trial, the first attacks of King Phillips war struck outlying English settlements.
The English had an early population advantage, but the numbers of actual fighting forces were not all that uneven at the beginning of the war. Both sides were similarly equipped. They'd been doing business together for decades at this point. And so whether you're looking at an average English soldier or an average Narragansett or Wampanoag soldier, they're both probably carrying muskets, they're probably armed with steel knives, although these guys would be mixing in their own weapons as well, because in close combat, the war club was easily a match for English swords.
Through most of 1675, English Puritans feared that Phillip's forces might actually drive them back into the sea. If one were to stand on the hills outside Boston and 1675, you could look in all directions and sea plumes of smoke rising on the horizon. 50 of 90 English settlements suffered attacks at least 12 were completely destroyed. This war rapidly descended into widespread brutality because both sides were practicing their own interpretation of the proper civilized ways of war. Native fighters moved quickly and raided towns before defenders could react, then seemed to disappear into the woods. But it was more than their battlefield tactics that enraged and terrified the Puritan English. These Wampanoags knew English society and culture well, and they chose targets carefully in a form of psychological warfare.
Attackers crashed fences, they mutilate livestock, cattle could be found after a raid with their ears severed, dying slowly as they staggered about dragging their intestines on the ground. In at least one town, raiders dug up the bodies of settlers killed in a previous raid and stripped them naked. And in another incident, English militia were shocked and horrified when they approached a group of English or they thought were English only to discover that these were Wampanoags wearing English clothing.
But all of these measures were not just want and brutality, they were not just want and destruction. These were designed to attack the criticisms that English had leveled at Wampanoag society in the years leading up to the war. So they're attacking English livestock because it seemed that wherever English livestock went, claims of English legal jurisdiction were sure to follow. They tear down fences because this was part of the evidence that English would point to claim that they had established ownership over land or that Wampanoags because they had not built a fence, did not own a certain piece of land. They mocked the apparent English obsession with nakedness and how missionaries had constantly pressured Wampanoags to not only convert to Christianity, but to dress in the English fashion. This is why they're stripping victims naked.
And of course, they also mocked the English faith, the foundation of Puritan society. One survivor of a raid recorded seeing a wounded man crawling on the ground, crying out to God for help, and then a Wampanoag warrior approached and make sure to ask loudly enough that the people sheltering inside the cabin could hear, "Where is your oh God?" Before killing the man with a blow from his war club.
So these assaults were calculated to append everything that the Puritan English believed made their society superior. They intended to show the English that their form of agriculture, that their dress, that their social station, and that their religion could not save them. This was an extension of the way Native communities fought their wars. This was limited warfare by European standards. The focus was not on wiping communities out, not on inflicting mass casualties, but on sending these sorts of messages.
But for the English, this is want and brutality, right? This is not legitimate warfare. It is savagery and Puritans returned atrocities on Native communities. The easiest targets were the so-called praying towns. These were settlements of Native people who had converted to Christianity, often setting up settlements just very close to English settlements. Once this war started, their inhabitants were often afraid to return to their hometowns where they were under suspicion because they'd been living closely among the English, but they were also not trusted by the English who thought that they were feeding intelligence to King Phillip's forces. And so with little protection from either side, they make easy targets for English militia. Whenever they try to respond to one of these raids and they're not successful, they basically take their anger out on these settlements. And one by one, New England's praying towns disappear.
Ultimately, the English wore down King Phillips forces by fighting their way of war. They focus on destroying food supplies and villages driving refugees into swamps, displacing them from their homes, trying to erase the support networks that Phillip's fighters could rely on. His forces retreated north to try to recover, but they ended up running headlong into the warriors of the Mohawk Nation who had long time rivals of surrounding Algonquian-speaking groups. Wampanoags are among the Algonquian speakers, so they are once again attacked and they have to return to Massachusetts and Connecticut and New England.
There the English Mohegans and other Native allies hunted down the Wampanoags and Narragansetts and other Algonquian refugees. They sold hundreds of captives into slavery in the Caribbean. This war ends up only lasting somewhere between six months to a year. It's a very short war, but it's a very, very bloody war. It spread from Massachusetts into Maine, Rhode Island to Connecticut. And as a factor of the settlements and population of the time, it was the most destructive war in American history or American colonial history. Almost 10% of Plymouth colonies military aged men perished in this war or in one of the successive wars that follows in Northern Massachusetts and Maine.
Yet as terrible as this war was for the English, it was worse for the Native allies. Over 3000 Native warriors were killed and Native communities all over New England were uprooted and scattered. The war led directly to the deaths of up to 40% of the Native population of New England. And if we combine that effect with community destruction, displacement, starvation, and disease, the Native population in New England fell by 80%, But it wasn't enough for Puritan English society to win this war. Such devastation followed by victory in their culture, had to be a sign. And Puritan leaders searched tirelessly to discern the meaning of this test.
Increase Mather, a leading Puritan theologian, began composing histories of King Phillip's War even before it was over. Mather worked to make sure that history would see the war as the triumph of God's chosen elect over the savages of the ghastly wilderness. He's not just trying to make the Puritans look better. This had been an existential war for puritan society, not merely a war between colonists and Native people, but a war before between God's people and the forces of Satan himself. There was no room then in this story for complicated treaties squabbles over livestock, for the fact that these same people and the English had lived side by side in peace for 50 years.
Mather's history robbed King Philip and the Wampanoags of historical consciousness. So instead of a complicated story of how diplomacy slowly broke down and ultimately failed, how grievances mount and how a successful alliance disintegrated into warfare with atrocities committed by both sides, Mather portrayed Native people as having attacked the English simply because they were savage, right? They didn't have interests or causes. It was simply in their nature.
Erasing the Native perspective of King Phillip's War then made it harder for white Americans to see Native interest as legitimate in future conflicts. The Plymouth governor sent Phillip's war club and two belts to the king of England and officials called for an official day of Thanksgiving in 1676 to mark their victory, right? As contrary to popular mythology, there's no formal day of Thanksgiving, no formal religious observance called to mark that first partnership way back in 1620, which we think of as the first Thanksgiving. But there was a formal observance called in 1676. And when those English feasted, they did so in the presence of King Phillip's severed head. The English worked to dehumanize King Philip in memory. English Captain, Benjamin Church described Philip as a 'naked beast.' And Cotton Mather, Increase Mather's son referred to him as that Blasphemous Leviathan.
But despite the fact that Puritan English seized such a tight grip on how Philip was interpreted in the years after King Phillip's War, and it remains a powerful trope for decades when the French and Indian War breaks out almost a hundred years later, captivity narratives in literature, churches book where he calls Philip a naked beast, for example. They all go through a reprint renaissance a hundred years later when the French and Indian War breaks out. So it is a powerful grip that the Puritans are able to put on this story, but it's not complete.
Phillip's place in American history and American memory underwent a surprising transformation during the early 19th century as Americans in the East increasingly regarded Native people no longer as a military threat and more as a historical curiosity. During a remarkable run beginning in 1829, Metamora or The Last of the Wampanoags starring Edwin Forrest, was one of the most popular plays in the country. And it stays that way for something like the better part of 20 years. This fictionalized version of King Phillip became Forest's signature role. It cemented his status as one of the most famous actors of his day.
In Metamora, the lead character prefers peace and only turns to war in the face of constant pressure and eventually violence. His resistance against the English is valiant, but doomed. And when he is inevitably defeated, he kills his family rather than let them fall into English hands, thus snuffing out the continuation of his people. Then he dies. His final words, a curse against the English. American audiences cheered this revitalized Wampanoag patriot, but only because Metamora rendered his Wampanoag patriotism, unchallenging. He's really an early embodiment of what we often call the noble savage trope in American culture. Metamora's doom was as much an intrinsic part of his character as his military prowess, right? He's not doomed to defeat because of the circumstances of the war, because of tactical differences, logistical disparities between these forces, he's doomed because he represents an outmoded way of life in this fictionalized version.
So American audiences understood Metamora as a patriot, but a patriot of a foreign culture. And by deeming him the last of his people, the play avoided conflict between the national identity of the lead character and that of his audience, many of whom are sitting in theaters built on land that once belonged to Phillip's people.
Americans understood the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh on similar terms. And Tecumseh's story reveals the contradictions between US policy aims of imposing control over Native nations and American perceptions that saw Native communities as separate and perhaps even rival states. Tecumseh was born in 1768 in the Shawnee Nation. His father was a minor war chief, and his mother probably married into the community from the Creek Confederacy further South.
By the time Tecumseh was, really even before he is coming of age, when he is still a child, the Shawnee Nation had long adapted and evolved despite existing in the shadow of more powerful empires. One British trader in 1754 described them as, "the greatest travelers in America." And since first European contact, Shawnees could seemingly be found anywhere you went in North America. Spanish thought that Shawnees were from the lower Mississippi. Some early English colonists thought that the Shawnees were from New York, others claimed that they were from the Carolinas, probably actually the Ohio Valley, right? But you get the idea, they were pretty much everywhere you went.
This posed a challenge to European expectations for nationhood, this Shawnee national identity because Europeans viewed centralized authority and settled territory as inseparable from boundary, as inseparable from sovereignty and as inseparable from a cohesive national identity. And so when they looked at Shawnees, they saw people they felt were rootless, were disconnected. Scholars now understand that Shawnee communities were so widespread as a result of a diaspora in the face of epidemics and warfare throughout the 17th century. The Shawnees had by the time the English make contact with them, evolved in the face of constant pressure, more centralized confederacy such as the Creeks, coalesced in the South to better defend themselves from attacks. But they in turn launched slave raids into the Ohio Valley against smaller nations such as the Shawnees.
Northeast of Shawnee Homelands, disease had devastated towns of the densely populated Haudenosaunee Confederacy. And by the 1640s, Haudenosaunees launched a series of mourning wars that's M-O-U-R. These are attacks meant to take captives and replace lost community members. Except the scale of death brought by European diseases coupled with adaptation of European firearms and an additional economic incentive to conquer more territory for the international fur trade meant that these mourning wars reached unprecedented scale and ferocity. Haudenosaunee forces forced a virtual trade monopoly over the Dutch in New York. They crushed longstanding rivals around the Great Lakes, they absorbed the survivors and then they swept into Shawnee homelands of the Ohio Valley.
So the Shawnees are surrounded by these powerful forces, none of them incidentally Europeans as yet. And they met these overwhelming forces with mobility and accommodation. They partnered with other smaller Ohio Valley Nations to maintain access to farmland. Over time, Shawnee Klans pursued peace with the Creeks and the Cherokees of the Southeast as well as the Haudenosaunees of the Northeast. They use strategies such as prominent young women would forge kinship bonds between Shawnee clans and Haudenosaunee Nations. So they're able to reestablish peace and stability in the Ohio Valley for their communities, not by creating a powerful confederacy of their own, but by creating these kinship connections throughout Eastern North America.
So Shawnee nationhood is not defined by, at this point a very clear border. It's not defined by an ability to project power as Europeans would expect, as they recognize when they see some of these more powerful Native nations, such as the Haudenosaunees. Instead, Shawnee nationhood is defined by kinship, by local democratic government, and by egalitarianism. Their survival tactics during the 18th century meant that Shawnee language was one of the most widely spoken languages in Eastern North America.
So this policy, this strategy of accommodation, of establishing kinships, or basically trying to be the people that no one has an incentive to make war on, only begins to change in the face of almost an unending generation of war, starting with the French and Indian War and then proceeding into the American Revolution in the Northwest Indian War. Although in the Ohio Valley, this is simply known as the 20 Years' War. These wars forced Shawnees to question whether accommodation was a viable strategy in the future to preserve their national autonomy. And increasingly young men of the Shawnee Nation felt that it was time to take up arms in self defense.
As they do so, it turns out that they have a remarkable ability to organize and coordinate with other Native nations. In fact, the first young Shawnee men Tecumseh included when they first go to war in self-defense during the American Revolution, they're typically not whole bands of Shawnees. They're typically joining other war parties. Tecumseh first fights with a group of Creek soldiers. Many others join Haudenosaunee war parties. But once they do mobilize, they prove adept coalition builders. Not because of their Marshall tradition actually, but because of their long tradition of establishing kinships and connections with other nations.
So Tecumseh, though he's better known as a military leader, the project that makes him famous of building a Pan-Indian Alliance, is not exclusively a military project. It is a state building project. And in fact, it was in some ways a rebellion against other Shawnee leaders who were embracing aspects of American civilization programs in order to try to bolster their position against American legal claims. Essentially, they're doing things like taking down names of various leaders and putting land deeds their names so that the American legal system, right, would recognize that land ownership. But Tecumseh is part of a movement that rejects this adaptation and sees a return to Shawnee traditions as the best way to defend their homelands.
This religious movement is led by Tecumseh's brother, Tenskwatawa, and it becomes a religious movement that's addressing not just Shawnee, but all Native people, and it offers spiritual guidance as well as practical steps. Native people, according to Tenskwatawa should reject the influence of European goods, reject clothing and firearms from European traders and American traders as well. Those that are already in debt should pay no more than half of those debts. Tenskwatawa held that the creator disdained killing animals just for their skins. And so Indians should quit the fur trade, they should divorce white spouses, and most importantly, they should not see to any more land to the United States.
Tenskwatawa's religious movement, did not advocate for military resistance. Instead, he promised that Native revitalization would bring about a divine apocalypse that would cleanse American lands of white invaders. They established a settlement at Prophetstown by early 1808, but from Prophetstown, Tecumseh bolstered Tenskwatawa's religious message with his political call for a military and political unity.
One of Tecumseh's central tenants was that no Native individual or council had the right to cordon off or sell land. Here he rejected adaptations within many Native constitutions trying to protect land ownership by putting it in terms recognizable to the US legal system. He reasserted community land ownership as an especially powerful barrier to land sessions in the context of Shawnee politics, because in Shawnee politics there was no such thing as rule by majority. They took democracy to its absolute conclusion, which was you had to have a unanimous decision, you had to have unanimous support for any major policy change, including obviously land sales. So Tecumseh is now advocating for that same standard to be applied to a grand council that speaks not just for Shawnees but for Native nations all throughout the eastern half of North America.
You can probably imagine then, the standard that that would set for further land sales and land sessions to the United States if it required unanimous support, basically it's done. There will be no more legal land sales to the United States. Then the military component of this, of course, is that if they band their forces, they should be able to hold off American invasions into Native territory to force land sessions. And there's a longer history of being able to do this. Little Turtle, for example, defeats US invasions three times during the Northwest Indian War just before this. So this is not really a pipe dream that he's coming up with. And American officials of the time, agree.
Michigan territorial Governor Lewis Cass wrote, "Admit an Indian Confederacy founded on an acknowledged community of interest and we should never procure another acre of land." Indiana territorial governor William Henry Harrison called the idea of communal authority over land sales absurd and begins trying to force through land sale treaties as fast as he can with individual nations so he can exploit divisions between them before they establish this grand council.
So this race and these tensions build until 1811 when violence finally breaks out. William Henry Harrison mounts an attack on Prophetstown with a thousand men in late October. And at that moment, Tecumseh happens to be hundreds of miles away recruiting allies in the South. Tenskwatawa hesitantly engaged in a battle for which he was not prepared. The Americans suffered roughly 10% casualties at the Battle of Tippecanoe, but they managed to repel wave after wave of assaults. And as the darkness turns into daylight, they realized that Tenskwatawa's forces were much smaller than their attacks made them seem. They're also nearly out of ammunition. So the Native fighters retreated back to Prophetstown, gathered what they could carry and evacuated, allowing Harrison to take Prophetstown and claim victory.
This becomes the basis for the American Declaration of War that opens the war of 1812, but in Indian country, it's already underway. The Battle of Tippecanoe is what War Hawks such as Henry Clay, Richard Mentor Johnson, that's what these guys are pointing to. But American forces are not able to actually make much progress against Tecumseh's forces in the first two years of the war. Because by declaring war on the British, they had opened up supply lines between the British and Tecumseh forces. The British began funneling arms and ammunition to Shawnee and other Native allies to these fighters.
This is what the Americans had accused them of doing to begin with. It's part of why they declare war. They prefer to see Tecumseh and other Native fighters as British pawns. But there's some irony here, right? Because by declaring war, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that the British is supplying them. Only after American naval forces are able to cut off these British supply lines, was Harrison's command able to actually invade deeper into Indian country. And they finally meet Tecumseh directly in battle. At the Battle of the Thames, in 1813. Harrison's forces cut off British General Henry Proctor's troops, and the British fell into retreat.
Tecumseh's men fought on without their promised support, and Tecumseh himself was killed during a US cavalry charge. Richard Mentor Johnson, one of these aforementioned War Hawks of 1812, uses his claim that he's the one who actually kills Tecumseh to leverage himself into national fame. And hagiographic sources later claim that this is an undisputed fact that he kills him. We're not actually sure if he fires the fatal shot, but whether it's true or not, it becomes the fame that allows him to rise to the vice presidency.
But it's no accident that Tecumseh's warrior mythology overshadowed his efforts at state building. Because as a state builder, Tecumseh's efforts undermined us land claims. They belied the American belief that US territorial expansion was a inevitable, natural, benign process and not a military conquest. As a warrior though, Tecumseh could be safely interpreted as brave, but doomed. A defender of an ancient stateless people and his skills as a fighter only made eventual US victory more impressive.
But at the same time that Americans were mythologizing Tecumseh and mythologizing King Philip, with that Metamora play, there was another contest building in New York. There, the Senecas faced a desperate battle to retain their lands. And the Senecas were one of six members historically of the powerful Haudenosaunee Confederacy that I'd mentioned before. They're better known still today as the Iroquois League of six nations. This is the Confederacy that controlled much of the Great Lakes region throughout the colonial era.
Each of these nations governed their affairs autonomously in smaller bands within each nation ran local affairs. But by the 1830s and 1840s, US treaties had already reduced Seneca Lands in New York to a handful of relatively tiny reservations, each reflecting the local bands that govern them. Each of these reservations though also fell within a series of speculative land deals, which changed hands several times over the turn of the century before falling to the Ogden Land Company, headed up by a pair of brothers, Thomas and David Ogden, as well as Joseph Fellows. So obviously this is not a familiar story, but the background here is, land speculation is the way the get-rich-quick scheme of the Early Republic.
And so these guys are basically buying up chunks of land or theoretically buying up chunks of land, anything from maybe the size of a few counties to a good portion of a state in the hopes that they could resell that land to white settlers at a profit. But they're not terribly careful about who they do deals with. And so there are a whole lot of people running around with pieces of paper that say they bought land except for the person who sold it to them, never owned that land to begin with, or never had authority to broker a sale. Basically, they're trying to pass on the buck before this whole pyramid scheme collapses.
So Ogden agents had tried solidifying their claims by brokering a fraudulent treaty seeding all remaining Seneca lands to their agents in 1838. This treaty was so brazenly crooked that even in an era of not great treaties, Congress initially refused to ratify it. It's only ratified after considerable revision and it's still widely acknowledged as fraudulent.
Part of the reason that Congress is hesitant is that the Seneca's mounted an effective public opinion campaign. They had connections to Quaker missionaries in New York who had connections to publishing houses. With these connections, they reproduce and disseminate these treaties for public opinion, they disseminate council minutes and memorials and spokesmen travel on speaking tours. These spokesmen assured white American audiences that Seneca communities were no threat to American social or political order and that the Seneca's only cared about democratic self-government as any good Americans should. They reminded Americans that while the two nations' constitutions might be different, they were merely different systems for protecting the same natural rights to life, liberty, and property. These rights were threatened anywhere that the wealthy and well-connected, corrupted democratic politics.
One of the spokesmen a Dartmouth educated chief named Maris Pierce argued that Seneca's built a community and government parallel, but not subordinate to American society, right? So basically, they're arguing that Seneca's society is as much a model society as Americans could want for civilization, but not because they were modeling themselves on white American society, but because they fully embodied their own Seneca values.
These Seneca spokesmen point to other historical Native figures as models, figures that audiences in the 1830s and '40s would've been familiar with and figures which will be familiar to all of you here. Pocahontas, for example, who represented deep, active, rational pity. This is a quote, "which they contrasted with American benevolence, which typically consisted of well meaning, but empty words." King Phillip demonstrated unyielding patriotism and Tecumseh demonstrated how Americans had relied on Native figures for their own notions of self-identity. Pointing out that, "Undeserved association with Tecumseh's name was what had made Richard Mentor Johnson, as well as William Henry Harrison famous and propelled them to the vice presidency and presidency respectively.
These spokesmen contrasted these Native historical figures, these military figures, many of them with those that they fought to keep their lands away from. The squatters who inhabited their lands, who they decried as "white borderers" who infest, yes, infest the western border of the white population. According to Seneca spokesman, these were the real savages, "A class of whites who feared neither God nor regard man."
This language is provocative considering they're speaking to white audiences at this time. But it's clever because they were positioning Seneca rights as compatible with American vet laws and values. They're finding a way to praise both cultures and emphasize their inseparable and interdependent paths. So it's a way for them to call Americans to account for their own worst behaviors in history while introducing a class distinction between polite Americans, those presumably sitting in the audience and the white borderers that they're trying to defend their lands from. There's a series of additional legal details here I'm not going to bore you with, because we are running short of time. Suffice to say, that the Ogden Land company continues to apply pressure to the Seneca, while at the same time they're waging this public relations campaign. And it reaches a crisis point when the Seneca Council passes a supplemental treaty that supposedly gives up all of this land. Despite the fact that the Seneca National Council only narrowly approves this treaty, the majority of the voting population actually opposed it.
So it prompts a constitutional shake up in the Seneca Nation. They revise the Constitution to change the standard for passing this sort of thing. And this puts the land claims of the Ogden Land Company back in flux because if they can't get approval from the council, they're not going to be able to go through the details you have to do to actually get a land sale to go through. They can't get it surveyed, they can't get it assessed, right?
So they turn to extra legal pressure. If we are polite, really illegal pressure. They begin bankrolling settlers and squatters to take up residency on Seneca Land. So this is not an imagined history of squatters setting up on empty tracks and then claiming it as theirs. They're moving onto Seneca land and harvesting crops that Senecas have planted. They're moving into homes that Senecas have built, and in one quite important instance, they're moving into Seneca sawmills, formerly operated by the Seneca Chief, John Blacksmith. The goal of this always amazes me, right? One can perhaps claim that they found abandoned land or even that they found abandoned crops. But have you ever heard of a wild sawmill? I haven't.
So the Seneca sue to get possession back of the sawmill, in this case, winds its way over the years by the late 1850s to the Supreme Court. When they're assembling their legal counsel, they have to be quite careful because there's already been a pattern of counsel that are hired to defend the Senecas taking bribes from the Ogden Land Company. So they decide that they need one of their own on the legal team and they go with a young chief, Eli Samuel Parker. Parker guarded against Ogden influence, but more importantly, he brought a finally honed sensitivity to matters of sovereignty and Native land rights. Because this, of course, was not the first time Native interests had been before the Supreme Court, but in prior cases, well meaning American lawyers tended to focus on the treaties that held that Native nations were sovereign independent states. They tried to show that a given nation had a acculturated to white norms of agriculture, government, and religion. This is what those famous Cherokee cases, the 1830s really focus on.
But these approaches had serious deficiencies that Parker recognized. Because judges and politicians and public figures often conflated Native sovereignty with a challenge against us sovereignty. Basically, they argued that it was a zero-sum thing, and if Native nations retained any degree of sovereignty, that was an affront to the sovereignty of American states or the federal government.
The risk with focusing on assimilation only legitimized because it only legitimized the idea that this was a proper outcome for Native Americans and really suggested that they had dissolved their Native identities in favor of superior American identities. So Parker is aware of these pitfalls and avoided delving into the sovereignty issue or claiming that they had assimilated into white American norms. Instead, he posits the Ogden case as a threat to US law and a threat to a productive and industrious Seneca community, but a community that is industrious and productive, not because they are trying to model themselves on white society, but because they are embodying Seneca values.
Opposing council argued that the Senecas had robbed Fellows of promised land when they amended their own constitution. Thus, they were arguing that these land claims under these fraudulent treaties not only trumped Seneca self-government or local self-government, a cherished idea in American tradition, but also that they would be able to assume the powers of federal treaty enforcement. The Supreme Court was unimpressed, going unanimously for the Seneca's on March 5th, 1857. The Senecas, however, spent years fighting for this decision to be enforced and ultimately only secured their title to the land that the court said they already owned by purchasing a fraction of it from the Ogden trustees.
But despite this bitter experience, Parker moves on at the conclusion of this case, studies engineering and ends up in military service eventually on the staff of Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War. Many of you have probably seen him before, though, probably not as he's pictured here, but most of you have probably seen one of many depictions of Robert Lee surrender at Appomattox Court House, right? And typically, if you look to the margins of any of those depictions at the table where they're actually drawing up the terms of Confederate surrender, that's where you'll see Eli Parker standing. He's the one who actually draws those up for Grant for Lee to sign.
Following his career as a military officer, he becomes the first Native Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or the predecessor to that. He's the first commissioner of Indian Affairs Native commissioner. And he ends up on a pretty brisk speaking tour throughout the remainder of his life. And he's often confronted with questions focusing on the experiences that he had as a Seneca legal counsel, as a Seneca person in New York with his decision to join the US military. And he tells people time and time again that this is not a conflict. He believes in the value of union, in the value of democracy, in the value of preserving union, but not just because he identifies as an American, but because these were Seneca values as well.
He remained however ambivalent, at least in public, about the question of sovereignty throughout the rest of his life. He tended to demure on that question suggesting that whether or not sovereignty was still viable for Native nations, that it was not a practical approach for defending one's homeland. And in his time, he was probably right.
But the problem here is that Americans accept this message and it does represent an evolution, right? Where now white American audiences are able to see less of a conflict between identifying as a Native person and identifying as an American. But they still interpret this message to affirm eventual complete assimilation. So they are fans of Native leaders such as Eli Parker, who stands before them in a US military uniform, but those who resist US assimilation are still branded as criminals and bandits.
So there's an evolution over this period where white Americans go from seeing Native Nations primarily as a matter of foreign policy and then later as primarily a matter of domestic policy. And so it reflects this assumption that Native sovereignty is erased and that eventually, Native culture should follow. And so forced assimilation remains the assumed goal through the end of the 19th century into the beginning of the 20th. But World War II is what finally challenges that status quo.
Attempts to reform US Indian policy were already underway as a result of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. This was part of the New Deal. It had a large set of goals, like most New Deal programs that doesn't actually accomplish all of them, but they're trying to restore tribal autonomy, they're trying to stop land loss they're trying to restore respect for Native cultural identity in US Indian policy during this Indian Reorganization Act. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier, left at opportunities to expand his bureau's role and promote the IRA's more controversial goals such as restoring community land ownership.
When Nazi propaganda attempted to use the history of US crimes against Native Nations to make inroads in Latin America, the Bureau of Indian Affairs developed a diplomatic arm, sending representatives to summits in Mexico, were Native leaders speaking to other leaders of Native communities from Latin America, reinforced the message that standing against fascism was simultaneously a defense for the United States as well as for Native traditions, and that the same would be true in these other nations.
Throughout the war, 25,000 Native people end up enlist. About 800 of these were Native women, so this was over a third of the eligible Native population. That's three times the rate of any other ethnic group. Many more served in wartime industries on the home front and Native communities pooled resources to do things like buy war bonds. And they're able to ultimately match the rates of bond purchases among other groups despite their statistical lack of resources, the fact that they're typically quite impoverished communities. And Native service members quickly became a favorite topic in the press, which often contrasted their historical experiences, their experiences of injustice with Native patriotism.
But this message was not actually new in Native communities, this notion that you could be both simultaneously Native and American, but World War II convinced the majority of white Americans that Native identity and American patriotism were not contradictory. They take this message that's been out there if people cared to listen, at least since the 1850s and '60s and broadcast it through apparatus that we don't really have before World War II. Things like the Office of War Information, right? And really broadcasting that message, reinforcing that message to the American public.
But it doesn't lead as one might expect to an immediately happy outcome, because the majority of white Americans and their representatives in Congress are increasingly convinced by what they see. That full inclusion must mean the elimination of the vestiges of US Indian policy. And so white Americans come away from a lot of the propaganda of World War II, convinced that federal recognition for Native Nations should be erased, that it would be the final act of liberating Native communities from their status as a distinct legal class.
But of course, this policy, which becomes known as termination policy, grave implications for Native communities. Many of them own their land in commons. The only instrument in the American legal system that recognizes their land ownership are the treaties, not between Native individuals and the United States, but between the United States and these sovereign nations. You erase recognition and you erase the foundation of their land ownership, the foundation of their economies.
Termination policy goes into effect very rapidly following World War II. They run a pilot program with a number of Native nations that are identified as ready for this process. And what we see are instances such as with the Klamath people of the Pacific Northwest, where they decide that there's an allotment of land or compensation that individuals and families are entitled to, and then they declare whatever's left of the reservation to be surplus. This is absorbed into government funds, and most of this is auctioned off.
So Native individuals might get a one time payment, which might be a good enough to sustain them for two or three years. But in the meantime, they also can no longer get jobs in their local communities because white business owners are under the impression that they've just received these massive buyouts for their reservation lands, and they're actually quite wealthy when in fact that wasn't the case. So it's a really, really devastating policy for Native communities, very disruptive for everything that they've built since the beginning of the reservation period.
But fortunately, World War II also had a revitalizing effect on a communal sense of Native identity, and it helped communities organized, to meet this new challenge of termination. Service members overseas came into contact with other people of color around the world, other people living under colonial regimes, and they developed a common notion of themselves as a colonized people. They return with this sense of common identity. And we see the organization of the First National Congress of American Indians in 1944. Starting in places such as the Flathead Reservation organizers, many of them among these 25,000 returning World War II. And shortly thereafter, Korea veterans, began grassroots resistance. They overwhelmed public hearings, and forced Senator Arthur Watkins, who's the architect of this termination policy, first to put these plans hold until they can negotiate, navigate Native objections to these plans, and eventually the policy is defeated entirely.
The issue of the draft during the war also led to legal challenges against voting rights restrictions in places like North Carolina, Arizona, and New Mexico. In North Carolina, we see protests by the Eastern band of the Cherokees. Basically, they're not rejecting the notion of military service. They quite pointedly say they are eager to serve, but they're not allowed to vote. And so their criticism was that draft boards could disproportionately target Eastern band Cherokees because they didn't have to fear repercussions from voters, right? And they could meet quotas this way.
In Arizona and New Mexico, State Supreme Courts increasingly struck down laws that barred Native voters on the basis that they were supposedly wards of the state legally speaking. And this was a fiction that harken all the way back to the Supreme Court cases of the 1830s. I promise I'm not going back to the 1830s on you right now, but basically, Chief Justice John Marshall at one point says that Native Nations are sovereign, but their domestic dependent nations, are his words. And these were still written into state voting laws in the years during and after World War II, and this is how they denied Native people voting rights. They said, "Well, yes, we have the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. Yes, they have constitutional rights, but they are limited in what rights we can extend to them because they have this childlike status." And both of these state Supreme Court cases say, "This is really not supportable in the wake of Native military service during World War II."
So we see here other great civil rights movements of the 20th century. A lot of circumstances had to align, a lot of changes had to happen in the American legal system and to white perceptions of Native rights, but that only set the stage. Once those conditions were right, it was up to Native people to organize and demand their rights in order to gain full inclusion. World War II provides the final circumstantial changes that sets the stage, but it also provides the tools that many of these organizers end up using to seize their rights. That's all I got for you this morning.
Awesome. Well, thank you, Zach, so much for taking us through the history of how we've gotten to this point in American history, looking at it through the lens of Native military figures as well as American policy. And for our online audience, I do want to thank you guys for tuning in today. If you enjoyed this programming, please continue to look at the National World War II Museum's website and follow us on Facebook for upcoming programs.
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