Booker T. Sapps, Roger Matthews, and Willie Flowers

As I was browsing the Lomax Collection on the Library of Congress a picture of people playing music together popped out at me. The caption identified the three musicians as Booker T. Sapps and Roger Matthews on harmonica, and Willie Flowers on guitar. While there is very little information out there on these musicians, I was able to find information on the use of the harmonica in American music that helps contextualize, as well as a recording of Booker T. Sapps and Roger Matthews that helps bring their memory to life.

Roger Matthews (harmonica), Willie Flowers (guitar), Booker T. Sapps (harmonica), Belle Glade, Florida

The history of the harmonica begins with the introduction of the Chinese sheng in Europe in 1777, which consequently led Europeans to expand on this free reed design in the 1800s. These first harmonicas were wooden with reeds made from brass wire. The defining addition to the harmonica, a second reed-plate, allowed a sound to be made when the player sucked in, creating the harmonica that we think of today. This design became popular quickly, and spread across Europe and beyond. This of course includes the U.S., where the harmonica was used in a variety of popular genres, most notably blues music.

The harmonica gaining popularity as an instrument in general and particularly with black folk music in the U.S. isn’t without explanation. It is small, portable, relatively inexpensive, easy to play due to its fixed notes, and does not require tuning. In short, it was accessible to black musicians that had a hard time getting their hands on instruments at the time. For the blues it was especially important as it provided an extra layer of emotion to the music, almost imitating a human voice crying or sighing in my opinion. In addition to this emotive quality the harmonica can replicate the sound of a train with chugging and whopping sounds, which we can hear on Booker T. Sapps and Roger Matthews recording entitled “The Train.”

Although we don’t know enough about the musicians themselves, there is information on Lomax’s collection and recording of the musicians. Lomax, along with his companion Hurston, traveled to the Everglades with the aim of recording black ballads. Two recording sessions took place: one in Belle Glade, and the other in Chosen. These pictures were taken at a crop-picking labor camp in Belle Glade, Florida in 1935, where Booker T. Sapps, Roger Matthews, and Willie Flowers played for Lomax and Hurston. That music, which you can listen to on the album I’ve linked above, presents us with a mesmerizing and harmonica-driven blues sound. In a letter to the Library of Congress sent that same year, “Lomax referred to the expedition as the “most exciting field trip” he had ever made.” (Bastin, 60.)

Roger Matthews and Booker T. Sapps

Roger Matthews, Booker T. Sapps and their girlfriends



On a concluding note, I think it is important to recognize that Lomax traveled to Florida with a goal – to record black ballads. This goal, in turn, may have influenced what Sapps, Matthews, and Flowers performed for Lomax. While there is much to be learned from the recording itself, I still wish there were a way to learn more about the stories of these musicians.


Primary source from Library of Congress, Lomax Collection[Roger Mathews harmonica, Willie Flowers guitar, and Booker T. Sapps harmonica, Belle Glade, Florida]. Belle Glade Florida United States, 1935. June. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congressfile://localhost/, https/ :. (Accessed September 29, 2017.)

Field Recordings Vol. 7: Florida (1935-1936). Recorded January 1, 1998. Document Records, 1998, Streaming Audio. Accessed September 29, 2017.

Grove: Ivor Beynon, et al. “Harmonica (i).” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed September 29, 2017,

Bastin, Bruce. Red River Blues : The Blues Tradition in the Southeast. Music in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Appropriation of Native Music in the Early 20th Century Entertainment Industry


Many harmful stereotypes and mischaracterizations remain about Native American culture, driven by well over a century of its appropriation by the entertainment industry. While more recent examples of inappropriate use deserve much of our attention, it is often helpful to reach into the past and examine the ways in which Native American music was being appropriated a century ago in the entertainment industry.

One example of appropriation is the opera–referenced as the “Indian Opera”– “Shanewis” by Charles W. Cadman. The work was premiered on March 23, 1918, nearly one hundred years ago. The linked newspaper article declares that this work “captivate[d]” its audience with “Native scenic art” and was “beyod question of authentic originality and Native worth.” The paper continues to praise the authenticity of the opera which supposedly “carried a thought of the cool morning of life on this continent in aboriginal ages long ago.”

An interesting aspect of this assessment is the presumption of an understanding for authentic Native American music. The article makes no attempt to define any standard of authenticity to which it measures the opera. The author seems to feel that a certain level of understanding on the topic is self-evident–that the listener will know real Native American music when they hear it. This carries the implication that a common perception of the music was already being carried in 1918, which is undeniable. However, another implication of this article is that by 1918, the perception of an ‘authentic’ versus ‘inauthentic’ production of Native music was already mainstream and factored into audience appreciation.

Sadly, the opera which was celebrated (and achieved great financial success) for its authentic portrayal of Native culture and music was still horribly inaccurate. While the article states that “Mr. Cadman had taken the origin of some of his songs from melodies of the Cheyennes, the Omahas, the Osages,” it also makes clear that a “sophisticated” orchestration was provided and that “in performance the songs told their own story.”

The story it told, which has been told over and over again for over a century, is the story of the appropriation of Native music as a stylistic enhancement for the benefit of the predominantly white-run entertainment industry. The story it told was the erasure of the actual context of cultural elements.


‘SHANEWIS,’ INDIAN OPERA, CAPTIVATES. (1918, Mar 24). New York Times (1857-1922) Retrieved from

Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three years’ personal experience among the Red Men of the great west – Chapter XXVII

In Our Wild Indians1, Richard Irving Dodge talks about his experiences “living among the Red Men of the great west.” Published in 1882, Dodge focuses on his time in Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas. Chapter XXVII focuses specifically on Indian music, musicians, instruments, and songs, so it is naturally of particular interest. One of the first things one notices upon reading through the (surprisingly brief, given the breadth of its topic) chapter, is how many ways Dodge succumbs to all the mistakes modern musicologists try to avoid. Dodge’s writing is the epitome of “not woke” and could probably be used as a textbook example of what not to do as a musicologist: he conveys clearly (and seemingly unintentionally) his belief in Western cultural superiority throughout.

All that being said, Dodge’s writing is not without its uses, and is one of the more engagingly-written accounts, to me at least, of interactions between Natives and Westerners. Dodge’s writing is highly descriptive and presents and interesting first person perspective on music that otherwise might be hard to come by. Furthermore, he deserves credit for acknowledging that when having his friend transcribe the music, he was forced to “reduce this music to score.” Though this is followed immediately by “The general similarity is so great that I give only a few illustrations,” I’ll give Dodge the benefit of the doubt in believing that he recognized that such music existed in a form that was not well-suited to be transcribed into Western notation. It really is a pity that the overall tone of the chapter can be captured so concisely by a quote from his transcriber, Mr. Aschmann, who says:

“The rhythm of Indian music is, as a whole, very poor. Almost every song keeps within the limits of one octave, without change or effort for harmonious melody. It is very seldom, however, that they bring in notes from different keys, or make other innovations sufficient to make the music discordant or unpleasant to listen to.”

According to Mr Aschmann, it would seem that the only thing more seldom than modal mixture in Native music is the absence of Western condescension when describing it.


A Glimpse into The Sun-Dance of the Sioux

In this edition of Century Illustrated Magazine, author Frederick Schwatka describes the sights and sounds of his encounter with the Sundance of the Sioux Tribe in 1890. Schwatka was an American explorer who ventured to the frontier, the Arctic, the Yukon, and Alaska on his expeditions discovering skeletal artifacts and attempting to immerse in the local culture.1

According to his account, the particular Sundance he attended took place on a plain near a fork in the Chadron creek in Nebraska and the estimated attendance was at least 15,000 people who reported traveling varying distances in caravans.2 The Sundance was certainly a significant ritual for the members of the Sioux tribe.

Schwatka’s portrayal of the event aims for an objective detailed description of the celebration involving music, dance, and self-torture. Although some elements of the ritual, especially self-inflicted mutilation, are rather gruesome, Schwatka’s writing furthers a sense of disgust towards the tribe by using words like “savage” and “barbarous.”3 It is evident that he sees himself as superior to the tribe and traditions. He even points out his point of privilege saying, “it is almost impossible for a white man to gain permission to view this ceremony in all its details.”4

The content that stuck out most to me pertains to the sounds of the Sundance. Schwatka’s language allows the reader’s imagination to recreate the scene: “they jumped up and down in measured leaps to the monotonous beating of the tom-toms and the accompanying yi-yi-yi-yis of the assembled throng.”5 Later he depicts the horror of the self-torture being dramatized by the persistence of “the beating of the tom-toms and the wild, weird chanting of the singers.”6 Notably, these descriptions carry a tone of distaste. He considers the drumming as beating rather than playing and the singing as weird and wild. But then again, it is possible that the drumming was meant to be rough and the singing to be unusual. Our Western perspective expects the music to have some form of inherent beauty to it, but it is possible this music serves a different purpose.

What good does such a description do?

Well, first of all, this descriptive telling of a famous ritual, no matter how biased, paints a picture in our head. Whether or not the images are accurate or representative of the actual happenings, we cannot know. However, we can glean from this a better knowledge of perspective. We can better understand how whites perceived Native Americans in the late 1800s and how this perception influences the way we know and understand Native American music today.

This article’s focus is not on music, but we can profit from understanding the culture and the context behind the music. By approaching such writings with caution and awareness, we can still gain a sense of a cultural artifact.

Rodger, Liam and Bakewell, Joan, “Schwatka, Frederick,” Chambers Biographical Dictionary, July 2011.

Schwatka, Frederick, “The Sun-Dance of the Sioux,” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906), Mar 1890, 754.



Ibid, 756.

Ibid, 758.


Rodger, Liam and Bakewell, Joan. “Schwatka, Frederick.” Chambers Biographical Dictionary, July 2011.

Schwatka, Frederick. “The Sun-Dance of the Sioux.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906), Mar 1890.

Rude and Beautiful

Frederic Remington was a late 19th century artist whose goal was to study the “Wild West.” Born into the Civil War and reconstructionist America, Remington’s age was one of “modernized” westward expansion including rail roads, telegraph, and other modernizing technology.  Consequentially, the “Old West” was starting to die out and Remington wanted to preserve it with “a romantic fascination” (Remington, F. (2010)).

In an attempt to chronicle the American West, Remington was assigned by newspapers and publishers to accompany cowboys, Indians and cavalrymen (Remington, F. (2010)). This resulted in extensive time spent with many different types of individuals on the frontier. The result? Beautifully sketched images of the grand “Old West” of American folklore. Below, is an image from an 1897 book titled Drawings by Frederic Remington. The caption below the image is “The Pony War-Dance” (Remington, F. (1897)).

This sketch shows an unidentified group of Native Americans riding their horses in a choreographed dance. These war-dances were often common of the Plateau region, the Plains region, and the Eastern nomadic region of Native Americans (Bruno Nettl, et al.). Often the war dances were accompanied by instruments like “rattles incorporating deer-hooves” (Bruno Nettl, et al., Plateau region) or “strips of rawhide to which deer-hooves were attached” (Bruno Nettl, et al., Plain region) for the purpose of imitating the sound of horses. Whereas Remington’s sketch shows a unique development of this tradition that includes the actual horses in a choreographed celebration. Such an act must have taken incredibly skill and control over the horses.

What is perhaps most surprising about Remington’s quest to chronical the “Old West” is his utter lack of descriptive documentation and context. There is no way to know which tribe is sketched in “The Pony War-Dance.” The description at the start of Remington’s Drawings indicates that the dance is a

“wild fury of religious, that splendor of savagery crashes down to us from the Stone Age. If you will open the Old Testament where Joshua delayed the course of the sun, or they blew down a city wall with a trumpet, you will come upon the same spirit… time and the present world have no part here!” (Remington, F. (1897)).

Stone Age savagery!? Are you kidding me? Horses were not introduced into the continent until 1519, at which point they had to escape from their owners and radiate up throughout the American Great Plains before the Native Americans could get to them (“Wild Horses and Native North American Wildlife”). This tribe is a group who has found, captured, tamed, and then mastered horses to the point of being able to choreograph them into a dance. It is surprising how Remington and his commenter can see this sketch as anything but advanced.

Of course, Remington’s audience in 1897 was one who wanted to picture the folklore of a west that was rough and wild. For them, “tales of the American frontier [began] to assume a haziness, an unreality, which makes them seem less history than folklore.” (Remington, F. (2010)). It is understandable, considering Remington’s goal and his audience’s attitudes to American Indians possessing western land, that they would be portrayed in a uncivilized light. Nevertheless, one would think that Remington, having spent enough time with Native Americans to be able to sketch beautiful images like the Pony War-Dance, would have grown to respect the beauty and adaptability of their culture.


–Brock Carlson

Works Cited

Bruno Nettl, et al. “Amerindian music.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed September 26, 2017,

Remington, F. (1897). Drawings. R. H. Russell, New York.

Remington, F. (2010). Remington. Retrieved from

Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2017, from

Dvorak and the Spirit of Indian Music

In this 1893 New York Herald article, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak discusses his 9th symphony, From the New World. Dvorak says that “since he has been in this country, I have been deeply interested in the national music of the negroes and Indians,” later concluding that the two styles of music were nearly identical as a national genre. Because of his interest in the national American style of music, he studied Indian melodies that a friend gave to him, becoming inspired by the spirit of their being, later composing this symphony on the basis of that spirit.

However, the manuscript that was given to Dvorak wouldn’t have been enough for him to authentically understand Indian music. As we have encountered in Richard Crawford’s America’s Musical Life, Europeans at the end of the Civil War found that the culture of Indian music was worth preserving, though their transcribing methods were fairly limited. Because there are several forms in which Indian music can exist and because those forms can be dependent on their purpose in the moment of a ritual, transcribing what one hears in a single performance then fixes the identity of that music. In addition, most of the documented Indian music was from the perspective of non-Indians and the Indian music that Dvorak studied followed this trend.

With that in mind, it’s evident that Dvorak’s attempt at composing in the “spirit of Indian music” is completely removed from Indian culture. Even though he studied a “certain number of Indian melodies,” his encounter is secondhand, failing to understand the circumstances in which that music would have been performed. In addition, we don’t have records of what music he was looking at, so the credibility of that source dwindles further. Had he experienced an Indian ritual in person, his compositional approach would have likely been more legitimate and true to its source.

Article sources

  • [No known author], “Dvorak on His New Work,” New York Herald (New York City, NY), Dec. 15, 1893.
  • Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001), 389.

Understanding and Respect: The Nez Percés

One of the most discussed topics regarding the traditions and beliefs of other cultures and other people outside of western traditions is that of how one can attempt to understand and learn of them, without stepping into the realm of appropriation. This discussion, reflected in our class discussions on the differences between cultural sharing and cultural appropriation, is one that must be discussed, else there are consequences. As someone whose heritage lies in the Nez-Percés tribes of old in Idaho, I often question how much I can delve into the traditions without stepping on the toes of those who came before me. As someone raised in a white household, being brought up on French traditions, I do not know enough of the traditions of my ancestors, yet I have always been raised with the utmost respect for them. This respect is what leads me to crave knowledge in learning more regarding my heritage, yet it’s important to understand that I will never truly understand the traditions and beliefs of the Nez-Percés, as one cannot truly understand without being born and raised in the culture.

Cultural Misunderstandings

There are many types of cultural misunderstandings, two of which that I will discuss in this post being that of malicious cultural misunderstanding compared to ignorant cultural misunderstanding. In regards to the Nez-Percés, the first type of misunderstanding was what they encountered initially with white folk. One document I looked into was a recount written by a white man named Lawrence Kip, who was with the Escort from the 4th Infantry, regarding the 1855 Indian Council.1 What I focused on primarily in the recount was his descriptions of the Nez-Percés tribe before and throughout the council. In his first encounter with the Nez-Percés, he refers to it as his “first specimen” of the Nez-Percés.2 This initial vocabulary, in referring to the approaching tribe as the first “specimen” he encountered already places them below the white man. Without any experience with the tribe, he has already assumed them to be inferior beings to himself, and this will continue throughout his experience with the tribe, as it did in the minds of many other white men.

In continuing his description of the natives he encountered, the western world’s infatuation with the exotic was also portrayed. He described them in a majestic light, claiming that they assumed the grace of centaurs, being one with their steeds. They were “gaudily painted,” had “fantastic embellishments flaunted in the sunshine,” and had “fantastic figures” covering their bodies. In the end, he wrapped up his initial description as “wild and fantastic.”3 To him, they were wild savages, yet they were fascinating, fantastic, and something utterly exotic from what he’d experienced before.

The Nez-Percés were known to be one of the kindest tribes to the white men, yet while visiting one of the Nez-Percés chiefs, Kip lumped them and their enemies, the Blackfoot tribe, together as savages.4 The lack of distinction between two tribes, one seemingly more violent to the white men than the other, shows the lack of care and thought that the white folk gave the tribes, no matter how kind.

It has been greatly discussed that the musical accomplishments of native americans stray from those in western culture, although that does not in any way diminish their music. Pitches and rhythms that are not in the western music cannot be dismissed as lesser, or incorrect, but must rather be adopted, as they are all music. Kip described their musical instruments as of the “rudest kind,” their singing as “harsh,” and overall “utterly discordant.”5 Even one who was not adept in music couldn’t find a way to appreciate what he heard, and instead described it in the words that we don’t dare use to describe music. While something may be discordant, it is still appreciated in western culture, unless, it seems, it is a part of another culture altogether, in which case it is dismissed as something that is not music, and something we cannot appreciate in the same manner.

Kip’s description of his experience with the Nez-Percés tribe is not to be taken as a factual and perfect account, as he had his biases. It is important to search other references, as I shall continue to do so in later blog posts. This original conception of the Nez-Percés tribe was something that was later to bring on the Nez-Percés Campaign, where the white men went to war with the tribe. This misunderstanding and refusal to understand other cultures was what brought on violence, and is what I’m referring to as a malicious misunderstanding. While it was not explicitly malicious to begin with, the fact that the newcomers found the native american tribes to be inferior to them was the beginning of homicide. What could be considered a misunderstanding was not solved in an equal and understanding manner, therefore there was no resolution.

Nez-Percés Campaign

Another very interesting document that I found was a map of the Nez-Percés Campaign. It depicts the path taken by the newcomers in their war against the Nez-Percés, as well as drawings of fighting grounds, military movements, and notes of times and dates when specific events occurred.6 It is the prime example of the consequences that can happen from cultural misunderstanding and more specifically, the lack of respect and attempt for peace with other cultures.

Nez-Percés Traditions and Religions

The second misunderstanding I’m going to discuss occurs often in today’s world, and is something I’m experiencing currently when researching the Nez-Percés. I am aware that for all of the research I can do, I can only gain a small glimpse into the truth regarding the culture of the Nez-Percés, and I cannot hope to truly understand their culture and traditions. At the same time, in my attempts to research it I hope to gain more insight on something that is both important to me, and should be important to everyone else out there, as it is important to learn and respect other cultures.

In R. L. Packard’s “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez-Percés,” he goes into detail of first hand accounts of a very small amount of traditions of the Nez-Percés. He gets his information in a discussion with James Reubens, who is a member of the Nez-Percés tribe. Even at the beginning of the conversation, the concept of misunderstanding and lack of respect in learning as portrayed in Reubens’s statement that he was worried Packard only had the “idle curiosity of a white man,”7 rather than a true passion for learning and respecting Nez-Percés traditions. This statement is a prime example of the issue at hand, where people are ignorant of the cultures they are stepping on and appropriating, yet make no attempts to learn about them in depth. Sometimes, it is due to pure ignorance, as they do not know that there is an issue, but other times it is due to laziness, which is something else altogether that we must combat.

As Reuben continued to discuss Nez-Percés traditions and beliefs, he touched on another prominent barrier in true understanding. He said that “the way we (the Nez-Percés) get our names is a beautiful thing when told in our language, but I cannot tell it well in English.”8 The language barrier that exists is extremely inhibiting, yet unavoidable. Without knowledge of the language and time spent with the culture, one cannot hope to gain true understanding of it. At the same time, this is another reason people are unwilling to learn, and wish to simply continue living their lives in an ignorant manner.

One tradition that was extremely interesting to learn about was the tradition of how children received their names in Nez-Percés culture. I do not dare to paraphrase the process, as it is complex and deserving of a true description. Even now, I am using a paraphrasing that Packard received in his discussion with Reubens.

“When a child is ten or twelve years old, his parents send him out alone into the mountains to fast and watch for something to appear to him in a dream and give him a name. His success is regarded as an omen, and affects his future character to some extent. If he has a vision, and in the vision a name is given him, he will excel in bravery, wisdom, or skill in hunting, and the like. If not, he will probably remain a mere nobody. Not to every child [boy or girl] is it given to receive this afflatus. Only those serious-minded ones, who keep their thoughts steadfastly on the object of their mission, will succeed. The boy who is frivolous, who allows his attention to be distracted by common objects on his way to the place of vigil, or who while there succumbs to homesickness, or gives himself up to the thoughts about hunting in the woods he has passed, or fishing in the streams he has crossed, will probably fail in his undertaking. On reaching the mountaintop, the watcher makes a pile of stones three or four feet high as a monument, and sits down by it to await the revelation. After some time – it may be three or four days – he “falls asleep,” and then, if fortunate, is visited by the image of the thing which is to bestow upon him his name and the wisdom and power belonging to it.”9

Why does this matter to me?

One thing in particular rang with me in reading this description, and that was the line “the watcher makes a pile of stones three or four feet high as a monument”10 atop the mountains. Towards the end of the section, Packard mentions that “there are many of these little monuments referred to on the mountains of Idaho.” Growing up, I often came across these monuments, as did others, but people simply believed they were put there by others hikers, and added their own stones to the piles. I did the same. Never once did it occur to me that the piles of stones were monuments to something more important, something that I should have been respecting throughout my entire childhood.

Why does this matter to anyone?

In learning about one simple tradition, I gained a deeper understanding and respect for the culture, and it is something that I will spread to all those who I am with when I run into these monuments. I believe that it is important to take the time to learn about other cultures, and it is important to learn to respect them. Objects such as the first hand accounts regarding some old white man’s first experience with the Nez-Percés tribe, albeit biased, is something that we must study in order to understand past mistakes, and in order to never make them again. Maps of conquests, while violent, are something that we must view in order to understand the occurrences and events that formed the present. First hand accounts are something that we must listen to, and something that we must always respect, especially when they are difficult to share. While we cannot truly understand, we must make an effort in order to avoid the mistakes of our predecessors and ancestors. Through research, discussion, and open-mindedness to learn, we must work to understand and respect everyone.

1 Lawrence, Kip, “Introduction,” in The Indian Council in the Valley of the Walla-Walla. (1855), (henceforth Kip).

2 Kip, 12. 

3 ibid.

4 Kip, 14.

5 Kip, 16-17.

6 Oliver Otis Howard and Rob H. Fletcher, “Map of the Nez Perce Indian Campaign.” (1878)

7 R. L. Packard, “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez Perces,” in The Journal of American Folklore 4, no. 15. (1891), 327 (henceforth Packard).

8 Packard, 329.

9 Packard, 329-330.

10 Packard, 330.

Howard, Oliver Otis (1830-1909); Rob H. Fletcher. 1878. Map of the Nez Perce Indian campaign. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, [Accessed September 26, 2017].

Kip, Lawrence. 1855. The Indian Council in the valley of the Walla-Walla. 1855. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, [Accessed September 26, 2017].

Packard, R. L. “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez Perces.” The Journal of American Folklore 4, no. 15 (1891): 327-30.




The Misrepresentation of Native American Culture in Mass Media

In the modern day of 2017, so much of our lives are spent online. We as people have the universe at our fingertips – with so much information out there, what all can be considered trustworthy? An issue with the concept of Mass Media is that anything and everything can be found somewhere online. Anyone who is able to access the internet is able to contribute their information and knowledge. Like moths to a flame, we are instantly bound to the first bit of information we see and accept it as fact. This leads to many issues spanning across many topics. In the past few years, the concept of “Cultural Appropriation” has exploded across everywhere and everything. To be correct when describing, defining, or demonstration any form of culture is so incredibly vital that issues arise when someone does this incorrectly. With it being so easy to misappropriate a culture in Media, what are we able to trust and how does the mass media change our perception of different cultures through their ideas of appropriation?

Native American culture is found in the roots of this country’s foundation. Often, when considering American history we forget that America was populated BEFORE 18th century colonization. The culture of Native Americans is one that has been appropriated for hundreds of years, through music, art, dance, etc. Because of this, our concept of this culture has been warped by pop culture and media as demonstrated in this cartoon…

This cartoon presents the problem of misappropriation. This boy only identifies “Indians” as the overly stereotypical form displayed in movies, sports teams, or cartoons. To him, this girl who looks “normal” doesn’t fit that stereotype and thus he questions her cultural authenticity.

Another example of this kind of appropriation occurs in cartoons. One example in particular is in Seth Macfarlane’s TV cartoon comedy “Family Guy”. In the episode The Life of Brian the episode begins with Stewie and Brian running from a band of Indians in a modern day city. They explore and make racist remarks about their ways of transportation, medicine, clothing, and music.

These two clips, both from the same episode, demonstrate the racist humor that Macfarlane is demonstrating. Examples like having the doctor at the hospital stand in a bunch of poses to try to cure disease, using smoke signals instead of phones, and having their most popular song be mono-tonal unison chanting are prime examples of Native American Appropriation. This kind of appropriation Macfarlane uses can even be found in other forms of music, such as Dvorak Symphony No 9 movement 2, largo. In this movement he references Native American tribal melodies. Of course, what he notates is only a small, itemized fraction of what the actual melody would have been and what it was to represent. Was Dvorak trying specifically to be incorrect, probably not, but still – some find this use of melody an unfair representation of the true culture. 

In 2017, being able to rid our minds of ignorance and to be able to fully understand and be aware of the sensitivities of other cultures is imperative. The massed media and pop culture has shaped our minds around what being a Native American or an “Indian” means. These stereotypes are preventing us as a nation from knowing the rich and long history of Native Americans and their culture. As Russell Means says in this video: “A nation that does not know its history, has no future”


Kanke, Marie. “The Harm of Native Stereotyping.” Blue Corn Comics — The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence. August 08, 2006. Accessed September 25, 2017.

TheUlleberg. “Family guy – Native American/Indian Radio.” YouTube. March 07, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2017.

Jinpaul11. “Family Guy – Native Americans.” YouTube. May 07, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.

Diesillamusicae. “Dvořák: Symphony №9, “From The New World” – II – Largo.” YouTube. September 02, 2011. Accessed September 26, 2017.

Framesinmotion2007. “How Hollywood stereotyped the Native Americans.” YouTube. October 31, 2007. Accessed September 25, 2017.

Ethnographic analysis of Cheyenne Tribe from 1910

During my search through the American West archive, I found a scan of a rare book which exhibits early features of ethnographic analysis and contribution to literature. This book, written by a white man, is an interesting and complicated portrayal of events that occurred in the tribes he lived with. However, I think that despite its problematic and complicated nature, this mostly first-hand account of events can shed light on important aspects of certain tribe’s cultures. Specifically, I will analyze his account of two chiefs singing a “death-song” before entering into a battle in which they knew they would die.

In 1910, James McLaughlin, who had been living among the Native American Tribes for 38 years, wrote of his experiences with the native peoples. His book, My Friend the Indian, is an ethnographic account of his time spent with the Native American tribes from “Standing Rock, North Dakota to Round Valley, California.” In the preface to his book, he notes that he tries to give the Indian account for events that transpired during his time with the native people. He explicitly notes that he hopes that his account does not come across as a white account, but as a native account.

picture of Two Moons, one of the Cheyenne Chiefs who died in McLaughlin’s account

While I doubt anyone would ever actually consider it a native account, it does bring into question the status of the author, and therefore, his trustworthiness. This author was obviously not native, but he did live among them for nearly 40 years… I would not qualify him as a native, but he isn’t so much an outsider, either. As a non-member participant, ethnographers are, in a Nick Carroway from Gatsby-esque way, both “within and without.”

So, how trustworthy can they be? I believe this account is fairly trustworthy, for a couple of reasons.

In contrast to the people who wrote their first impressions of limited encounters with Native Americans in the 1600’s, McLaughlin shows finesse and respect for the culture of the people. While some people in the late 19th century began a new movement of acknowledging the native presence in the US, much of this does so with a “vanishing culture” hermeneutical lense.

McLaughlin writes with almost the opposite of the “vanishing Indian” idea – he wants to preserve the culture it in its true form and acknowledges that the culture is still alive, still a contributing, oppositional force, rather than a passive, nostalgic issue of the past, as mentioned in Blim’s article.1 Additionally, he does not shy away from calling out the problematic people who have decided to ignore the way that their colonizing culture snuffed out many people of a culture that was just as valuable.

Specifically, he recalls how, at one point when a Cheyenne tribe was surrounded and the chiefs asked to surrender, that the Chiefs sang their “death-song” and showed white men how natives could die honorably. The reverence with which he regards the song and actions of the Chiefs shows his respect. Additionally, his writing about the death of these two men kept their stories alive. It kept them in the minds of all who heard of them, and let people know that though these Chiefs were gone, the practices of their culture, like the death-song, lived on.

Importantly, McLaughlin notes how the chiefs sang while they fought a battle they knew they would lose. The singing here is not a passive part of the culture and history of the Cheyenne people. It is an active part of the fight which parallels the fight of the Native American people. In the “vanishing Indian” idea, the “native american problem” is finished and dealt with, and so the native people will all assimilate or die out. However, this use of music in an active fight against white men shows that even when the tribe knew they were outnumbered, they would fight till the end. Similarly, the Native American people written off by the vanishing Indian theory were not in fact slowly fading as an ember. They were energetically and vigorously fighting until the end, like a firework.

So, McLaughlin gives a fairly credible voice to people who were ignored. However, we also must remember that “determining who speaks for a culture and how much consensus is required to define a culture is only one of  several problems of theory and method faced by an ethnographer of music.” (Nettl).2 While I do not think that McLaughlin’s account should be taken as the be all end all interpretation of the Cheyenne tribe he spoke of, I do think he genuinely wanted to use his privilege as a white author to lift up the stories of those who were marginalized.

While this can be problematic, the sincerity and intention behind his retelling (especially in light of his place in history) gives his account more positive attributes than negative. Importantly, he also set out with extreme humility and intent to tell these stories from the perspective of the native people. After living among them for almost 40 years, I think that his telling of their history comes from a place of utmost respect. His caveats at the beginning of his book – which warn the reader that he does not know everything, and that his own place is problematic – almost anticipate the criticism which we might apply to his work today.



Daniel Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, Vancouver, BC, November 4, 2016.


Sioux Sun Dance Account

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This is a firsthand account written by Moses K. Armstrong from a periodical titled The Youth’s Companion. Armstrong was a member of Congress from 1871-1875 for the Dakota Territory and spent time living in the area. Armstrong offers a brief, but comprehensive narrative of the Sioux Sun Dance that he witnessed somewhere in the Dakotas around the turn of the 20th century. The Sun Dance was an important ritual of song, dance, and self-mutilation.

By referring to the music as “the usual sorrowful Indian dirge” and  “monotonous Indian notes,” Armstrong references a preexistent concept of Indian music. The use of the word “usual” and the indication of “Indian notes” shows that Armstrong is recalling a common familiarity with Indian music that the readers would have had, even if the familiarity is with stereotypes of Indian music, and not from the musical source itself. By adding the descriptors “monotonous” and “sorrowful,” Armstrong is imparting his own opinions about the music onto the reader. There are also some more obvious negative word choices, like the use of “hideously” to describe the face paint of the Sioux women, which convey certain images and ideas that entail more than a simple observation.

While not all accounts have blatantly negative opinions embedded within them, a lot have underlying meanings. One account in Judith Tick’s book describes a “doleful manner of shrieking.” In some cases like this account that Tick included, it is hard to discern to what extent an observer’s bias is conveyed. Although, as Richard Crawford argues in America’s Musical Life, non-Natives’ perceptions are often based on their political and economic advantages. Whether or not accounts are obviously negative or not, many seem to share a similar motivation or effect for recording their encounters. I see the effect being the creation of a space for which non-Natives to contemplate the encounters they have.

When I looked at the first volume of The Youth’s Companion from 1827, I found that the purpose of the periodical was to provide education and entertainment for young people. It also clearly states that a lot of its content was to be religious. I think it is important to consider the religious goals of this periodical because it could parallel the lens through which Armstrong and other observers might have seen the Sioux Sun Dance. As someone like Armstrong writes about a Native American ceremony with specifically chosen words, he is actually contemplating it by relating it to his own experiences, and the readers are invited to compare it to their own sacred beliefs, rituals, and music.


Myers, Helen and Kay Edwards. “Sioux.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed September 26, 2017,


Rand, Willis. 1827. “Prospectus of the Youth’s Companion.” The Youth’s Companion (1827-1929), Apr 16, 1.


Ragsdale, Bruce A. and Kathryn Allamong Jacob. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989 : The Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundredth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 1989, Inclusive.Washington D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1989. 100-34.


Tick, Judith, and Paul Beaudoin. Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.


“The Sioux Sun-Dance.” 1901. The Youth’s Companion (1827-1929), Sep 12, 1.

Indians’ Music Provides Ideas for Composers

This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times newspaper on March 29th of 1925. The author of the article is unknown. The article talks about an attraction on Hollywood Boulevard called Indian Village, which showcases, or rather exploits, Native American song and dance. Sid Grauman, the showman who is well known for creating the Egyptian and Chinese theaters in Hollywood, is responsible for bringing the tribe members from Wyoming to Los Angeles. They were brought to the theater by Sid as a form of promotion for a film that was playing at his Egyptian Theater, titled The Iron Horse. At the theater, the Natives played their traditional music and danced. The author explains that this music has attracted musicians and composers from the area to come and experience the music. In talking about the music, it appears that the author has very little knowledge of Native American music. By applying words like crescendo, tempo, baton, airs, and diminuendo to this music, the author’s classical western perspective becomes apparent. The author also shows his lack of respect for the music by describing it as “weird” and “uncanny”. The author goes even further in disrespecting the Native Americans by refereeing to them as “squaws” and “Indians”. The one part that the author gets right about the music is in their description of the importance of the aural tradition in Native cultures. The Indian Village is a clear example of exoticizing a marginalized group for commercial gain. This is something that happened frequently in the past, and still happens to this day. It is important to talk about these issues to prevent them from happening in the future. With the Chinese Theater, Egyptian Theater, and Indian Village, it seems as if Sid Grauman made a career out of exoticizing other people’s cultures.


The Lakota Flute

In September of 1896, The periodical The Musical Visitor, a Magazine of Musical Literature and Music includes an article titled “The Indian Flute.” While short in length, the article discusses briefly the sound and look of the flute, as well as compare it to the western flute and clarinet. While not necessarily attempting to undermine the importance of the Lakota Flute, the editor of the article does not seem to understand the full history and use of the instrument.


Throughout the article, there is no indication that author attempted to talk with a Dakota tribal member except in attempting to trade for one of their flutes. To play the flute, the only prerequisite is to “is to have a melody in the heart through the performance,” beyond that there is not indication that research was conducted of the tribe and its uses for the flute, only what appear to be assumptions made through observation. I make his conclusion because the author, in describing a general instance of a person playing the flute, said, “when the Indian begins to play in the tepee right after a hearty supper, you may be sure that he is going to continue until after breakfast.” This comment makes no culture references or gives a reason as to why the person is playing the flute, besides enjoyment.

Because of the age of the article, I read the comments and conclusions presented with a bias that they were made by a western man through primarily observation and with very little contact with the native tribe of the Lakota Flute.  To identify the biases observed in the 1896 article, I searched for more recent articles written by or about a Native American who knows the history of the Lakota Flute from an internal perspective. By doing so, I discovered Mat’o (also knowns as Jack Cardinal). Mat’o explanations expand on the rather minimal descriptions presented in the periodical. The flute is traditionally performed, according to Mat’o, during “the season of the popping trees,” meaning February when  men would try to court women. Beyond that, Mat’o uses the instrument to help tell stories of “the old ways.” In this regard, the periodical could be correct in assuming the playing of the flute with pleasure.

Although “The Indian Flute” does not seek to attempt to undermine the history of musical instruments with native American Tribes, the article does provide a glimpse into the way 19th century settlers attempted to understand their musical traditions in a western context, and in doing so miss the importance of these instruments to their tribes.


Article Sources

  • Fajardo, Renee. 2003. “A Maker of Flutes, a Weaver of Tales.” La Voz Nueva, Aug 20, 15.
  • “THE INDIAN FLUTE.” 1896.The Musical Visitor, a Magazine of Musical Literature and Music (1883-1897), 09, 258.

Image Sources

  • Russ, George. “Jack Cardinal Indian Logger Who Blamed Me When He Could No Longer Bear To Hear The Trees Scream – Russ George.” Last modified September 1, 2015.
  • Zimny, Michael. “Master Dakota Flute Maker Bryan Akipa Never Stops Exploring His Art Form.” South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Last modified November 4, 2015.

Mahnkato 45th Annual Traditional Wacipi

This past weekend I was able to attend the Mahnkato 45th Annual Traditional Wacipi Honoring the 38 Dakota on a field trip for my “Native and Immigrant Dance” class I’m enrolled in this fall. After attending the powwow, I was eager to learn more about the 38 gentlemen who lost their lives and how they now how they now have a whole weekend of celebration to remember them by.

According to Issac V. D. Heard in History of the Sioux War and Massacres of 1862 and 1863 at 10:00am December 26, 1862 38 Dakota men were killed. The article references “Drumbeats signalled the start of the execution.” I thought that was a more obscure detail to be recalled. Upon further reflection, it me of what the Spiritual Advisor (Ray Owen) mentioned at the powwow on Sunday about the what she referred to as “the spirit of the drum”. Pamela Sexsmith interviewed Gerald Okanee is the lead singer of Saskatchewan’s Big Bear Singers about what the spirit of the drum means to him in the article “Spirit of the Drum”.

In Pamela Sexsmith’s interview with General Okanee, she learns that “the drum has symbolized the circle of life and the heartbeat of Mother Earth”. He shares the spiritual experiences he has had involving the drum. Okanee remarks “Someone can be sick and the family will ask for a drum and a song to pray to the Creator for help… There are special blankets that are given to the drum specifically for the drum. The spirit of a drum is like a person; you have to keep it warm. It is part of the family and the sole purpose of a drum group is to honor the drum and treat it as you would your fellow singers”

One can not assume that the drum had the same significance to the 38 Dakota men as it does to Gerald Okanee; but, it is through music and dance that they choose to remember the 38 fallen at the Mahkato 45th Annual Traditional Wacipi today.

The Road West is Paved with Good Intentions

Richard Irving Dodge was a military man who spent his term serving in the American West.

Richard Irving Dodge

According to the introduction of his book Our Wild Indians, he felt compelled to share what he knew about Native American culture from the thirty three years he spent on the Western Frontier. What caught my eye about this particular account was a chapter I found to be completely devoted to music.

Transcription of a Song Irving Encountered. Transribed by Mr. Aschmann, leader of the band of the 23rd Infantry.

The excerpt on the left demonstrates the level of detail used to describe instruments thoruhgout the chapter. The author spends nearly two entire pages of the chapter on the significance of words in Native American Song alone.


Irving offers complex understandings of the intricacies of Native American music, recognizing the inability of the “uninstructed” ear to hear completely the changes in a song. The chapter finishes with transcriptions of several songs  Irving encountered.  Compared to other primary source accounts of meetings with Native Americans, like those collected by Judith Tick in her work Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion, this chapter provides a far more complete look at music as a part of Native American Culture.

But, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

When examining the greater context of the book, it is clear to see that Irving’s best intentions were eclipsed by latent, institutionalized racism. At the end of book, Irving offers up a chapter that tackles what he calls, “The Indian Question”. Irving makes an impassioned argument for the political agency of Native Peoples, demanding that they be granted citizenship and calling reservations the “foulest blot on the escutcheon of the Government of the United States”. In that same chapter, however, he refers to Native Americans as an “inferior race”. The introduction to the book, (written by none other than William Tecumseh Sherman) says this:

The fact that this book (at least in the eyes of Sherman) could be used to decide what is “valuable” to keep from Native American cultures is shocking to modern readers. Even the title, Thirty Three Years among Our Wild Indians, is (as the kids say) cringeworthy. In the chapter about music, specifically, Irving refers to Native drums as “primitive”, and, of course, attempts to transcribe in Western notation songs that were never conceived with Western methods.

So what do we make of this?

Primary source authors are steeped in layers of deep cultural socialization. Irving’s best intentions to represent an accurate picture of Native life were foiled by his inability to separate his own cultural prejudice from his observations. Even though he wrote an entire book detailing the culures of different Native American Tribes, the book still advocates for picking and choosing which part of the culturewas suitable for adoption into American society. However, this racism doesn’t become abundantly clear until one examines the introduction and conclusion to the book. Often times, I find it easy to focus just on the musical structures in play while performing historical musicological reserach. This work serves as a reminder: everything (even music) must be taken in context. The descriptions of instruments offered in the full chapter are still valuable, but responsible scholarship demands that we all take a closer look before beginning to pave our own research with good intentions.

A Medicine’s Man Music: Lessons in Notation

“[The medicine man] gives no drugs, but he beats his tom-tom; he makes no prayers, but sings his incantation”

Found in a work titled “Our Wild Indians”, Colonel Richard Dodge recounts, to the best of his ability, his thirty-three years spent amongst Native American tribes. This chapter comes from his observations of the Nez Perce people. As seen in both Frances Densmore and Bruno Nettl’s works, the processes of codifying and immersion in a culture demand a high level of intent. Dodge’s recollections are more similar to the other primary sources we have seen of white settlers’ experiences with various Native American tribes.

The music of Native American people left many white settlers and anthropologists struggling to describe the sounds they heard, and led to inaccurate notations of the music. Attempts at notating non-Western music in a Western fashion have their own flaws, but it’s important to recognize that like most forms of music, Native American music exists beyond the realm of recitation and enjoyment. Therefore the notation of ceremonial music inaccurately relays the sounds, and strips the music of it’s greater purpose.

Colonel Dodge presents the music of a Nez Perce medicine man at work, and there are certain aesthetic parallels consistent with some of the sounds we have studied to be common in Native American music. One example is the constant beating of a drum. “All night long a tom-tom was beaten…”. Taken aurally out of context, the drums are no different from other drums one might hear in music. Yet in this situation, the drums were part of a larger cure for a sick infant. “All night long a tom-tom was beaten immediately over the head of the poor baby; this music accompanied by the sing-song incantations of the priest and the mournful howls of half a dozen old women”. The medicine man’s music is highly functional. It can’t, and I would argue shouldn’t, be notated as a means for performance. From an ethnography perspective, any notation of this music could be one facet of preserving the Nez Perce culture. However, beyond preservation, notation serves only to Westernize the Nez Perce.

Dodge’s full chapter from which excerpts where quoted can be found here:
Medicine Man Music

Works Cited:
Dodge, Richard Irving. 1882. Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three years’ personal experience among the Red Men of the great west. Hartford: A. D. Worthington and Company. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, [Accessed September 23, 2017].

Charles Wakefield Cadman’s Exploitation of Native American Melodies

In Charles Wakefield Cadman’s 1909 work, “Four American Indian Songs,” he attempts to create a “purely American” music by setting original Native American melodies, as transcribed by Alice Fletcher, in a traditional Western harmonic idiom.  This musical effort, sometimes described as “Indianism,” may appear at first to be a laudable one.  By adding English words and Western harmonies, Cadman ensures that these Native American melodies will be heard by a wide variety of people.  If he could bring these Native American folk melodies into the mainstream of American song, they could be preserved and celebrated for years to come.

Artwork from the First Edition of “Four American Indian Songs”

Surely enough, Cadman purports to have a certain amount of respect for Native American culture, and his methods do strive for a sort of “authenticity.”  In his article “The ‘Idealization’ of Indian Music,” Cadman cites the importance of understanding the Native cultures that he borrows from.  He recommends that an Indianist composer should learn about Native American legends and rituals, attend powwows, and even spend time living on a Reservation if possible, before attempting “idealize” (read: Westernize) Native music.

Despite his lofty aspirations of sympathy and understanding, however, Cadman ultimately falls short of the mark.  Throughout his article, he consistently describes Native American people as “primitive,” and makes the claim that “only one-fifth of all Indian thematic material is valuable in the hands of a composer.”  Cadman does not view Native American musical traditions as inherently valuable and worthy of study, but rather as a quarry of raw materials that he can mine for his own profit.  His musical project, which initially appeared to be a beautiful marriage of two disparate traditions, instead smacks of exploitation and imperialism. . . is it possible, then, that perhaps he has succeeded in writing “purely American” music after all?



Blim, Dan.  “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.”  AMS 2016, Vancouver.

Cadman, Charles Wakefield. “Idealization of Indian Music.” Musical Quarterly, vol. 1, July 1915, pp. 387-396. EBSCOhost, accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

Cadman, et al. Four American Indian Songs : Op. 45, for Voice and Piano. Boca Raton, Fla., Masters Music Publications, 1989.

Garrett, Charles Hiroshi. The Grove Dictionary of American music. Second ed., vol. 2, New York, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Levy, Beth E.  Frontier Figures: American Music and the Mythology of the American West. University of California Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, accessed 24 Sept. 2017.


Fillmore’s Study on “Out of Tune” Indian singers

     The text I am sharing today is a paper published in The Journal of American Folklore  in 1895, written by music educator and studier of Indian music John Comfort Fillmore, entitled “What Do Indians Mean to Do When They Sing, and How Far Do They Succeed?”. John Comfort Fillmore was originally a teacher and textbook writer, though was asked by Harvard’s Peabody Museum in 1888 to examine a collection of Omaha Indian songs, which lead to a long exploration of Indian music of various tribes. This extensive ethnographic research informed many articles he published after 1888, many containing theories about universal harmonic sense and placing Western music tradition onto unrelated cultures’ musics. (McNutt, 62)

    This particular article similarly seems to work under an assumption that Western music theory and harmony have a certain objective truth. The title itself shows a certain amount of cultural superiority as it seems to assume that American Indian singing has to follow Western music rules and if it doesn’t, then it must not be successful music. There seems to be a lack of understanding that the way the American Indians’ music is sung could possibly be correct within its own standards, or that there is no conscious intention to be correct at all. He makes the claim that “the Indian always intends to sing precisely the same harmonic intervals which are a staple of our own music, and that all aberrations from harmonic pitch are mere accidents” (Fillmore, 138), again showing an attempt to extend Western music theory onto a musical tradition that evolved independently from it. He further makes the point that these “accidents” are due to “imperfect training, or rather to the total lack of it” (Fillmore, 138). This claim seems to function under the belief that only those trained in Western practice are “correct” and that an American Indian training within their own cultural practice still is not viewed as having training.

    In this article, Fillmore does not appear to be a very trustworthy author. Though he makes frequent mention to having worked with Indian singers and transcribed and studied Indian music, he spends mostly all of his focus on his perception that Indian singers are not able to sing consistently in tune within the Western scale. Instead of leaving his own cultural background to the side in order to focus on Indian music and singing in its own respective context, he attempts to apply his understanding of Western practice onto it, which leads to his focus upon pitch accuracy. A possibly more open-minded conclusion that could be reached from his findings of inconsistency in pitch value would be that perhaps precise pitch accuracy is not much of a focus in certain Indian singing. These biases shown by Fillmore perhaps represent much of the academic world’s view on Indian music during the 19th century, one not jaded enough to ignore the importance of studying and preserving Indian music, but still bearing the belief that it is culturally inferior, primitive, or unevolved in comparison to Western practice.

Link to the article


Fillmore, John Comfort. “What Do Indians Mean to Do When They Sing, and How Far Do They Succeed?” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 8 no. 29, pp. 138-142. April 1895. Web.

McNutt, James C. “John Comfort Fillmore: A Student of Indian Music Reconsidered.” American Music, vol. 2 no. 1, pp. 61-70. Spring 1984. Web.

William F. Cody: A Brief Story of America’s First Potential Sell-Out

After The Songs of Hiawatha was “dropped” in the 1850’s, there was a general divide in the act of preserving, viewing, and conceiving the Native American-European settler dynamic in the late 1800’s: one that was rooted in trivializing various tribes, and one that focused on a scientific interest in Native American culture. While notable musicologists, such as Alice Fletcher, focused on the latter of the divided cultural conquests, American bison hunter/showman William F. Cody, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill, led the charge on the belittlement side of the coin with his “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” variety show. With a bison-hunting career that quickly turned into a celebrated and brief scouting stint with the Fifth Army, Cody was slowly transformed into the star-studded cowboy he is considered today through various “vaudeville-esque” shows, inexpensive pulp-fiction magazines, and investments in hotels, mines, coal and forms of tourism.

Although Cody was known as a strong supporter of the “fair” treatment of Native Americans, his entire career was based off of creating a romanticized, Western-based reality that exploited countless stereotypes. This notion can find it’s needed support in the study of Cody’s entire career as a sell out, cowboy performer, but I, in an attempt to showcase the extremity of trivialization, will prove my point with the cover page of an 1881 Wild Bill dime novel entitled: “Heroes of the Plains.” One of the first details to take note of is in the front-piece title page, where a descriptive list of the characters is given. Listed in bold and bright text towards the top of the page is a list of seven white, heroic character names, while the only mention of the “celebrated Indian fighters” is found in much smaller text below in the “and other” category of characters. Cody, while exploiting his respect for the Native American community by referring to their characters as “celebrated,” also is clearly portraying the white, American cowboys as the heroes of the story, giving the Native Americans the stereotypical role of the villains. 19th century Americans east of the Mississippi lacked the cross-cultural contact between Native Americans and Europeans, and it was through these trivial, typecast “Buffalo Bill” adventure stories that they developed a misconstrued conceptual framework of the various tribes and cultures. This “heroes vs. villains” theme can also be seen through the artwork displayed on the cover page. While the two stars of the story, Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill, are presented in ornate, golden frames, the only Native American shown clearly is brandishing a threatening dagger towards a hunched over, white settler, defending himself from an attack. In a devastatingly bloody history of white men conquering, conforming, and destroying Indian tribes, it’s hard to imagine a Native American as a “savage foe,” but in a culture built upon shows such as Cody’s, it is still, to this day, a reality.


Bruel, James. 1881. Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill. Heroes of the plains, or, lives and wonderful adventures of Wild Bill, Buffalo Bill… and other celebrated Indianfighters.”


The American West

Frederic Remington was an American artist and writer. He specialized in interpreting the American West through various art forms such as drawings, paintings, sculptures, writings, etc. In his pamphlet “Drawings,” published in 1897, Remington depicts many scenes in American history ranging from portraits of Native peoples, to landscapes, to war scenes. Remington’s work contributed largely to what most people might think of as the “American West.” When I think of “the West,” I think of cowboys, saloons, Native Americans and the vast deserted landscapes waiting to be claimed! Remington’s art portrays the drama, action and contrast between peoples of the west.

Remington’s work is important for many reasons. The first is their cultural significance. As mentioned before, many of his works shaped the popular image of the west. Because his art is so influential, many different interpretations can lead to harmful attitudes and opinions. Being an influential artist is not inherently harmful, however it can be if we are unaware of the biases or implications their work exhibits.

Remington’s work generally represents how the European and other explorers viewed Native American cultures. Here are a few photographs of Remington’s work which most certainly align with the stereotypical image of the “west.”

A Misdeal

The Water in Arizona

Forsythe’s Fight on the Republican River

What is most interesting is this drawing, The Missionary and the Medicine Man.

the missionary and the medicine man

One interesting aspect of this drawing is the application of technique. In the sketch, the missionary is standing, while the medicine man is on all fours and on the ground. The contrast of their positions and height suggests a social hierarchy. It implies that the medicine man is less sophisticated than the missionary. The Natives Americans in the background are poorly lit and on the ground while the missionary is well lit with a light source from above. This indicates that he might have divine qualities, or is blessed by the divine. Through the application of visual art techniques such as form and value, this is an example that perpetuates the stereotypical image of the unrefined societies of the Native Americans.

Remington’s portrayal of both peoples represents the perceptions of the European explorers and other settlers. In this specific instance, Remington’s illustrations are problematic. This drawing portrays the Native American culture and inferior and unsophisticated. This is a strong bias that has influenced many other’s thoughts.

What we cannot infer from his drawing is the cultural significance of a medicine man in many Native American tribes. Medicine men in some tribes were highly regarded as people with supernatural healing powers. Another significant part of some of the Native American cultures was the Medicine Dances or Medicine Bundle Ritual like that of the Blackfoot. The Medicine Bundle Ritual was also accositated with the sacred medicine bundle. Remington’s work may not be accurate for interpreting the cultural significance of the medicine men, however it is not unimportant. It still provides information about how the Europeans and explores viewed the Native American culture.

This relates to Nettl’s studies, and even some of Densmore’s work regarding ethnography. Nettl emphasizes the importance of the method in which a culture should be “studied.” Much of a perception is based on the understanding of a culture. Nettl focused much of his time immersing himself and participating in a culture, not simply observing it from afar.  His approach to the study of a culture is very important when attempting to represent a different culture.

Works Cited

“Frederic Remington.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (March 2017): 1. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 21, 2017).

Lucas, Joseph S. “Civilization or Extinction: Citizens and Indians in the Early United States.” Journal Of The Historical Society 6, no. 2 (June 2006): 235-250. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 23, 2017).

Remington, Frederic. 1897. Drawings by Frederic [[Remington]]. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, [Accessed September 21, 2017].

George Clutesi and a Nootka Farewell Song

The Nookta Native American tribe has its origins in modern day British Columbia. The Nootka Farewell Song performed by George Clutesi is not only a fine example of a conscious effort to preserve the Native cultures of the region but also it is an example of traditional Native American music being given some light in the mainstream culture of today. Clutesi was the first Tseshaht mainstream celebrity in Canada. He was a multitalented artist who acted, wrote, and was an expert on native cultures. As a child, Clutesi was forced into participating in an educational system where one’s native heritage and culture was seen as a negative attribute and whose goal was to erase it. Fortunately, even as a young child Clutesi knew that there was something fundamentally wrong with this ideology and rejected it completely through his artistic talents. The song I’ve linked below is a representation of what Nootka music sounded like during the 20th century. Notable features of the song include an ad libbed introduction sung as a solo, then when the main tune kicks in the drum beat starts pounding a steady beat that continues until the ad lib outro. At the same time, as the drum beat beings we hear a choir singing in unison quietly in the background. If it weren’t for Clutesi and his activist contributions to the preservation of Native societies’ cultures there would be many songs such as this one which would be lost in the universe, never to be heard again.

Natalie Curtis: A dedication to preserving Native American culture

In her article entitled “The Perpetuating of Indian Art,” Natalie Curtis unveils a complicated attitude in regards to studying Native American culture. While her perspective is filled with racial biases, she does advocate for preserving Native American music in it’s most traditional and authentic form. This insistence on the importance of maintaining the original music in all its beauty is twofold: it is guided by an appreciation of the culture, but an appreciation driven by a western mindset. This mindset, shared by many scholars and white people in positions of power at the time, takes Native American culture apart in its attempts to honor and preserve what it so earnestly admires.

Natalie Curtis was an American ethnomusicologist particularly interested in preserving American Indian and African American music by transcribing songs as accurately as possible. Her work is often recognized along with the work of Alice Fletcher and Frances Densmore as an essential contribution to the preservation of a “vanishing” culture. In 1907 she published “The Indians Book,” a collection of about 200 songs transcribed principally from live performances. While that work would be thoroughly interesting to study and analyze, I have chosen to reflect on an article she wrote in 1910, which highlights a problematic approach to ethnomusicology of the time. This in no way diminishes its historical significance.

Natalie Curtis in Southwestern garb and Indian beads

“The Indians Book,” a collection of 200 Indian songs transcribed by Natalie Curtis










The abstract of her article is as follows:

“Those who have worked among the American Indians, and have learned to respect the thought, the art, and many of the religious ideas of this most interesting people, must feel a sense of almost personal gratitude to the present Secretary of the Interior for having appointed a Supervisor of Music in the department of Indian Education, whose duties shall be to “record native Indian music, and arrange it for use in the Indian schools.”1

If I could rewrite her thesis into my own words I would write that Indian art is beautiful and can be of use to white Americans, therefore we should preserve Indian culture instead of trying to stamp it out.

While Curtis recognizes that there are many American Indian tribes, she tends to cast large generalizations of American Indian culture in her descriptions and assertions. She refers to all Native Americans as an “underdeveloped race” and as “noble dogs.” These racially charged generalizations are contrasted with an intense attempt to exalt the beauty of the Indian music and art she witnesses, in order to spread her appreciation for this art to a larger white audience. Sharing this conflicting view of American Indians is Francis E. Leupp, whom Curtis cites in her article as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Francis E. Leupp, in his own work entitled The Indian and his problem, asserts that westerns can know nothing of Indian culture unless they observe communities from within, but in doing so reveals gaping holes in his understanding of Indian culture. Both Curtis and Leupp demonstrate a genuine interest in Native Americans, but struggle to view it without a western scope.

Curtis makes reference to the Carlisle Institute, the primary Indian boarding school from 1879-1918. The goal of the school was to Americanize Native Americans, and Curtis undoubtedly saw a problem with this model, shown by her critique of the governments push to destroy Indian culture. She instead believes that white teachers should encourage and inspire Indian children to learn and sing their own songs, free of western harmony and influence. Despite this honest effort to maintain American Indian culture, Curtis’ appreciation of Indian art still forces the culture to fit into her western model, as white people are the ones entrusted with preserving an art form that would disappear without the white savior.


The Carlisle Institute, an Indian boarding school.