Noble Savage: Depictions of Native Americans throughout U.S. History

byTeresa Tansey Pardee


Indians. . .what is the first thing you think of? You may think of horses, teepees, buffalo hunting and scalping parties. You may think of popular culture Indians like Tonto, the Lone Ranger's sidekick, or Chief Iron Eyes Cody shedding a tear when litter was tossed on the side of the road. You may think of a sports team—the Chiefs, the Seminoles, the Redskins, or the Atlanta Braves and the tomahawk chop. None of those thoughts come close to an encompassing or inclusive view of Native Americans. First, these thoughts are too restrictive and try to group over 500 different socio-economic and political cultures into one stereotype. Second, they often freeze Indians in time and expect them to retain a culture that existed for a few tribes generations ago. While these views are not accurate for all Native Americans, they do provide us with an insight into those making the assumptions.

This unit is designed to explore how Euro-Americans viewed Native Americans at different points in U.S. History. In terms of misconceptions, it does not matter what the reality of the Native American situation was; what matters, for the purpose of this curriculum unit, is what the Euro-Americans thought of them. The Euro-American view changed over time depending on the interactions between the Native Americans and the Euro-Americans (Jennings, 1975:59). The interaction often took place on the frontier or the West. As an Easterner, it is easy for me to forget that the West, the frontier line, was a moving and jagged line for most of American history, starting on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, moving to the Appalachians by 1763, reaching the Mississippi River by 1803 and declared closed in 1890 by the Superintendent of the Census. It was at the frontier where contact was made. It was from the frontier that word was sent back to civilization— whether that be the East or Europe, as to what the Native Americans were like.

Once I decided what I wanted to do I needed to determine how to approach it. I debated the use of written works which would include journals, newspaper accounts, letters and diaries; and/or visual images which would include woodcuts, sketches, paintings and photographs. I wanted to use an approach that I could apply to all of my classes in some manner using differentiation.

I teach U.S. History to high school juniors. I teach all levels as determined by the state of North Carolina which include Standards, Honors, and Advanced Placement. In addition to those my school has an International Baccalaureate program, and I will teach the junior level History of the Americas. The students self-select their levels. This inevitably means there are some whose abilities do not match the level. Once the year has started it is very difficult for them to change levels. As a result my classes are more heterogeneous than homogenous.

For the most part my students are not readers. The history texts are large and not very interesting. The size of the books is an instant turn off for many students and the presentation does nothing to excite them either. While considering using the written works I realized that would discourage some of my students because of the style and vocabulary of many of primary sources. While I could edit the sources to their level, that would remove much of the sources' impact. My students are visual. They are the MTV generation. I have been experimenting using images to tell the story of American History.

Images are good to use with students for many reasons. If the right image is used the concepts can be taught using only the image. Certain images evoke an emotional response. Images allow the students to visualize in a way textual material does not. Images make the portrayed person or event more real to my students than words do. This emotional response, this visualization, this realism allows the student to more readily connect with the past. Differentiation with images does not change the image but changes how the image is approached in the classroom. For a short time I debated using a combination of written works and visuals. For now I have decided to focus only on the visuals for this unit with the idea that it could be expanded in the future.

Rationale for Use of Images

The use of images permits me to differentiate in my classroom. All students can be successful reading an image on some level. This is not true of written materials. To be successful with written materials students have to be able to read, comprehend and have a basic mastery of the vocabulary and style used. While it is possible to differentiate written materials, in my experience, the downside is that often times the reading levels are obvious. Some students take exception to the reading assigned to them. They may feel they are being treated like they are less intelligent, or they may feel that they are being punished for being bright. With an image differentiation isn't accomplished by providing them with different images. It is accomplished by asking the appropriate level questions to particular students and by having the students perform different tasks in relation to the image.

The students need to be taught how to read and evaluate images. They need to look and see what is there not only on the surface but also in the layers of the images. The students need to hear the voices of the images. They need to be able to evaluate the image as a source and determine its reliability in terms not only of the topic but also of the underlying message as well. How do we feel about Native Americans at any point in time? My use of the term "noble savage" in the title of this unit was deliberate. It captures a sense of the conflicted feelings Euro-Americans have had towards Native Americans. At times and in some ways Native Americans were idealized and glorified while at other times Euro-Americans demonized them and wanted them eliminated (Deloria, 1998:4). The students will use images to determine which Euro-American mood was being expressed. The students need to learn to determine the tense of the image as well. Does the story represent the past, present, future or a combination? Brian W. Dippie points out Native Americans are often remembered in a kinder light once they no longer inhabit an area but while they are present they often are considered a threat (Dippie, 1992:94) Therefore, the tense of the story will impact the type of story that is told, and the way feelings about the Native Americans are expressed.

Students are very comfortable with images. Images do not threaten them the way some textual material does. By using images instead of text I am presenting concepts in a manner that is less threatening to many students. I do not want to use an image and lecture about it. I want to use an image and have my students visually discover the concepts related to it. The use of images takes a teacher-centered activity and makes it student centered. The students become a dynamic and integral part of the lesson. They will view and analyze the images in order to bring the stories to life. They may even become part of the image. This will increase their visual literacy, utilize higher level thinking skills, and make them practice deductive reasoning (Bower, 2004:28). The students will interact with the image. If the image and the story is powerful enough it will remain with them much longer than the memory of a lecture or even a discussion. It is also easier for me to make connections when called upon to do so later in the school year. They are much more likely to remember when prompted to recall a picture that looked like. . .than remember when I or you said. . . Sometimes there is truth in trite expressions like "Take a picture; it lasts longer."

Strategies for Use of Images

Once I determined that I wanted my unit to be based on images I needed to decide what to do with each image. One image can be utilized in a number of different ways. The objectives of the lesson and the reason a particular image is used will guide me in selecting the techniques I deploy and when in the lesson I present the image. It is important to remember the images themselves are tools to help the students' understanding of larger historical concepts. I will use some of these strategies alone and some will be used in concert with others.

Most of the strategies I use are adapted from the Teachers' Curriculum Institute (TCI) Approach. They are elements of a program called History Alive. I use the TCI approach for several reasons. First, I think they are good instructional techniques. Many of the activities I used before I was trained in the TCI approach were similar to it. Those activities were fairly easy to adapt to it. Second, my district looks for these techniques when they observe Social Studies teachers.

This is probably a good place to make a few quick points about using images. I project the images using either a transparency or an LCD projector and computer. The images need to be as large as possible. This will be limited by the room arrangement. I bought a large table cloth from a restaurant supply store to use as a screen. Size does matter, and the bigger the better. To focus on details I use a piece of white unlined paper, printer paper is good. By holding this paper in front of the detail I want to examine, it blows the image up and helps focus the students. Plus they really get a kick out of this.

Spiraling Questions

Spiraling questions help students learn how to analyze and interpret images and lead them to higher level thinking skills (Bower, 2004:31). Because students are not trained to investigate images, this is an excellent strategy to use early in the year. These types of questions will increase the visual literacy of the students. There are three basic types of questions.

The first type of question has the students gather evidence (Bower, 2004:31). The students look at the image and describe what they see. The simplest question to ask is "What do you see?" Another way of putting this is "How would you describe this scene?" I like to ask my lower level students these questions. Because there is very little chance they will get it wrong, they are more willing to answer and not respond with an "I don't know." After a few positive experiences at this level, I have found they are more willing to try other types of questions. Questions on this level that are a bit more challenging ask them to identify important details in the image or to describe what they might hear or smell if they were there. I am always amazed at the details some students will pick out. They particularly love it when I tell them I had not noticed something. Details in the images will be clearer the farther back you are from it. For this reason I make sure I view the image from the back of the room and also have the students switch seats while looking at an image.

Once they finish this type of questioning, we move on to the second level which is interpreting what they see or making inferences (Bower, 2004:31). Questions on this level will have them answer when or where the image made or what was happening in the image. I follow up their answer with asking for one or two pieces of evidence to support the answer. Those supporting bits of evidence often come from the details that were described as answers to level one questions or the student's prior knowledge. These questions will determine the what, when, where and who. It is very important to have them support their answers. I firmly believe that skills used in one area should re-enforce and transfer to other areas. When my students answer written prompts they have to defend their answers using evidence. This is the same skill in a different form. Lower level students can answer these types of questions as well. The questions may need to be phrased a bit differently, particularly the first several times this is done. Usually, I start out prompting them with one piece of evidence and then ask the question. After they answer I will ask for other evidence to support their answer. After a few times of doing this I start out with the question and then prompt if they are having trouble. For example: the image is of Washington, DC. I ask, "What city is this?" The student tells me and provides the Lincoln Memorial as evidence. If I am not getting a response I would say, "We said the U.S. Capitol is in this picture. Where is that located?" This often gets results and is less threatening to many students.

The third level of questions requires the students to make a hypothesis based on the evidence and interpretations. (Bower, 2004:32) The students determine motives. Why and how are key to this level. Why are the people in the picture doing this? How would you feel if you were there? These questions use the higher level thinking skills and require the students to justify, synthesize, predict and evaluate (Bower, 2204:32). By previously asking level one and two questions, it is easier to get all students to answer these questions. I have led them through the thought process. Depending on the ability range of the class and/or student, I tailor the questions so that they can be successful answering them. After all, success breeds success.


My district is very large. We have 20 traditional high schools each of which is fed by three or more middle schools. Students frequently transfer from one school to another. We have been working on a vertical teaming model. The focus has been on the eighth and eleventh grades because U.S. History is taught at these levels. The teachers with vertical team training are to act as lead teachers and instruct the other Social Studies teachers the skills learned in the training.

In Advance Placement U.S. History the Document Based Question (DBQ) is vital. Students are given a prompt and are provided with a series of documents to aid in their answers. They are to answer the prompt using the documents and outside information. They need to be able to analyze the documents to answer the question. Starting in sixth grade the students begin experiencing mini-DBQs. We use common analytical tools to help the students deal with the documents which might be written or visual. The theoretical advantage for me teaching on the junior level is that most of my students will have mastered the techniques or they are at least familiar with them.

There are four acronyms that I frequently use to help students analyze documents. SOAPSTone is the first one they are taught. While this is best with primary source textual material, I have adopted it to images. This prompts the students to identify speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, subject, and topic. This is taught starting in the sixth grade. A variation of that which is also best used with primary source textual material is APPARTS. This cues the students to identify author, place/time, prior knowledge, attitude, tone, reason and subject. This is taught in the honor eighth grade classes and in all freshmen World History. We have been working with the English departments to have them use this technique as well. The last two work well with visuals and well as written material and secondary as well as primary sources. I have my students create graphic organizers to record their data. The students use the documents and categorize what they observe and/or infer with the help of these devices. The third analytical device is PERSIA which encourages them to find political, economic, religious, social, intellectual and artistic connections. The last is ASPRITE which stands for artistic, social, religious, intellectual, technological, and economic.

This type of analysis is not as student friendly as spiraling questions because there is not as big a safety net for my reluctant participants. I am just starting to teach students who have been using the SOAPSTone approach since middle school. I do see a huge difference in their comfort level and willingness to trust their instincts in answering. I also find it easier to have them use one of the other techniques because they have a basic understanding of how to do the analysis and why they are doing it.

Image Interaction

After the students have analyzed the image I need to assess what they have learned from it. A good way to do this is to have them interact with or become part of the image. This can be done in a variety of ways. I have found that many students feel "silly" about this at the start of the year. After we do it a few times they are more comfortable with the technique, and we get better results. I also have found that if they use props they are more likely to get into character. It is as if the prop gives them permission to pretend. The prop can be anything from a construction paper hat they made, a yardstick standing in for a rifle, or a piece of yarn for reins. Sometimes I proved mask templates that they can personalize to their liking. These props allow them to be someone else.

Early in the year I will script out a little play. By reading the script and representing the people in the image which is projected in the background, the students are introduced to this type of activity. Some of the scripts use the actual words of historical people—a discussion between Hamilton and Jefferson. Some are made up to illustrate the point. Some I write and others are adapted from other sources. After we do this a few times, I vary the activity by providing several students with role cards prior to the analysis section. A role card provides a name, a brief description of the role, some ideas or key phrases and questions that are important to the role (Bower, 2004:34). After the analysis the students take their place and stand against the backdrop of the picture. I might act as a TV news reporter and interview them or have them carry on a conversation. Another possibility is to have the students pose like one of the persons in the picture. When called on the student steps out of the picture and explains their thoughts, feelings and reactions to the activity in the image. This provides them with a "you are there" experience. For example when I am teaching the Whiskey Rebellion, a student representing one of the farmers becomes part of the picture. The student looks up and sees the huge horses and the thousand of soldiers coming towards him/her. Then the student may better understand how those farmers felt and why the rebellion crumbled. Another way to have them interact with the images is to divide the students into small groups and have them write scripts. I use this technique later in the year after we have practiced becoming the picture, and they are comfortable with acting. I try to limit groups to no more than four. With this number I can be fairly sure that all are participating in the preparation process. I assign group roles: one person is in charge of props, one writes, one researches, and one ensures historical accuracy. All have to act in the play. I also have discovered this works better on days I use more than one image. Each group analyzes their own image, writes and performs their skit. Their skit is responsible for teaching the other students the information they learned from their images. With a tight time schedule it is possible for me to do this in do 90 minute class period. If it runs into two days inevitably the student who has the script is absent. The students appear to enjoy these because they are active. They are getting out of their seats. They are moving around. They are involved and they have ownership and responsibility.

Writing with Images

Probably one of the most common ways of assessing students is by having them write. Writing has the students clarify, organize and express what they have learned (Bower, 2004:56). I want my students to write at a level which requires them to use the higher level thinking skills as they make connections, analyze and synthesize the information. In formal writing assignments, like an essay or DBQ, my students use a thesis statement which I explain is an argument. I then stress that they need evidence or specific factual information (SFI) to support their position. We look at examples of opposing viewpoints with strong supporting arguments for each side. Because many of them are anxious about being wrong, I explain the argument is not the key to the validity of statement. The key is the SFI. Because the writing is their thoughts and their reasons the students take ownership of it (Bower, 2004:58). This is not always the case when they are assigned to answer the questions at the end of a textbook section.

Writing also allows for differentiation. I define writing in a broad sense. Writing requires them to put their thoughts, feelings, ideas, etc. on paper. It might include the formal assignments mentioned above. We write in other ways as well. The less formal situations tend to allow the students to be more creative. My lower level students and out of the box thinkers usually like these experiences more than the upper level and grade conscious ones.

Sensory Figures

This is a simple way for the students to demonstrate their mastery of concepts connected to a historical person or groups of people. It shows thoughts, feelings, and experiences (Bower, 2004:61). I may provide my students with paper that has a drawing representing the person or group, or I will ask them to make a sketch of the representation. Doodlers really enjoy this. They draw lines from appropriate body parts to connect to various statements that they finish. I use phrases like: "My eyes see. . .," "My ears hear. . .." "My heart feels. . .," "My hands touch. . ..," and "My head knows. . .." The students can add others, but I do stress they must be appropriate. Imagine what they could write based on a Cherokee figure during the Trail of Tears. An advantage for them sketching their own figures is that it will increase the perspectives because they will draw male/female and young/old. When I provide the figures, they are the same for each student. Depending on the person or group, it may better to use the past tense for the verbs.


In this type of writing assignment the students work in pairs. Each represents an opposing viewpoint (Bower, 2004:61). They write a script of a discussion that might have occurred between the two sides. They could represent actual historical figures or fictional characters. They are required to the write the conversation making valid and historically accurate points. What would a Buffalo Soldier say to an Arapahoe in 1868? If time permits some of the students model their dialogues.

Letters to the Editor

As the name implies, in this form of writing the students write a mock letter to the editor of the local paper. The topic has to be controversial. I usually provide them with the slant of the letter. The slant generally forces them to look at an issue from a position they would not normally hold. After we discuss how the U.S. Government established an assimilation policy towards Native Americans and established boarding schools for Native American children, most of my students agree that this was a bad thing to do. Their assignment is to write the Editor and explain why the boarding schools were a positive experience for the children. They have to support this position with SFI and explain each bit of supporting evidence. Depending on the class/student, I might specify that they need two or three supporting reasons. This assignment puts them in a particular moment in history.


Journals and diaries are good ways to demonstrate change over time. The student is once again placed in the historical moment. Rather than examining just one moment from a persona's perspective, the student follows that same persona through a series of events. Each entry needs to be properly dated, provide a detailed account of observations, thoughts and feelings (Bower, 2004:62). I also demand that they be as historically accurate as possible with the details. They cannot leave for the gold fields of California one day and arrive the next. I have discovered that the more guidelines I provide then the better the product is. The guidelines might specify the number of entries or give the dates of the entries. They might indicate required topics for certain entries.

Visual Simile-Metaphor

This is one of my favorite assignments! It involves writing and drawing. I usually assign paired groups to do these. The assignment stresses that there are various sides to arguments and each side has reasons for their positions. The components are two versions of the same statement, two drawings, and two "Because" sections with three reasons each (Bower, 2004:78). The students are given unlined paper that they fold in half width-wise. At the top of one side they write, "From the perspective of settlers, Manifest Destiny was like. . ." and they finish the statement with a simile. Under the simile they illustrate their statement. This means the simile has to be visual. Under the illustration they write "Because" and provide three reasons to support the simile. On the other half of the sheet the top statement reads, "From the perspective of Native Americans, Manifest Destiny was like. . ." The same steps are followed. This is an open ended assignment that has them consider points of view from multiple perspectives (Bower, 2004:78). It is also an assignment that can easily be broken down. I could have them write similes without the drawings. I could have them do just the drawings which often make a good political cartoon.


At the end of this unit the students will be able to:

  • Analyze images using one of the following tools: SOAPSTone, APPARTS, PERSIA, or ASPRITE.
  • Interpret images from the Euro-American perspective.
  • Explain how the Euro-American perspective illustrated in the images impacted Native Americans economically, culturally, and politically.
  • Understand that groups of people and cultures change over time and that change may be related to situations beyond the control of those groups or cultures.



I do not intend to teach this unit all at once. It will be taught throughout the course. The images will be introduced at the appropriate chronological time. The framework of the unit provides a thread for me to follow all year. This approach will act as a bridge between material currently being covered, previously mastered concepts and anticipated future material. As the year progresses the students' visual literacy will improve and twill become more confident reading the images.


Three themes have been identified in art representing the last 500 years the settlement of North America by the Europeans. They are discovery, erasure and invention, and these themes can be found simultaneously in one work (Prown, 1992:vii). With these themes in mind, I have identified phases of Euro-American perceptions 0f Native Americans upon which I wish to focus. In the contact or discovery era, I want to use the idea that the "New World," as it was called, was a "New Eden." The Native Americans were portrayed as noble and exotic. This point of view changed when the colonists and Native Americans began the unavoidable clash of cultures particularly on land issues. The savage emerges as Native Americans are portrayed as kidnapping, scalping, killing and burning villages. While there was some truth to these portrayals, over-exaggeration utilizes the theme of invention. It provided Euro-Americans with propaganda devices to overcome moral objections to how Native Americans were displaced, dispersed, dispelled, and dispatched (Jennings, 1975:vii). During the Manifest Destiny era the art tended focus on erasure as Native Americans were being driven out so progress could take place. If they are not seen being pushed out they are often found on the side or the corner of a painting watching Euro-American civilization pass them by. At this same time period we find images that are sympathetic to the Native Americans. Painters tried to revive them as a noble and dying race. Many artists who practiced this genre actually thought the Native Americans were facing extinction and needed to be recorded. This is a form of invention. To examine the assimilation policy of the federal government we will use photographs from boarding schools and a poster selling Indian land. We will look at images that use Native Americans as advertising tools and discuss stereotypes. To discuss Native Americans in modern society I will continue to use photographs. The Mohawk steelworkers will make the point that Native Americans still exist and they are not frozen in time.


The images that are discussed here are recommendations. Teachers should feel free to substitute images of their choosing. Images that relate to the geographical area where the unit is being taught will impact the students to a greater degree than images from another part of the country.

"Indians Fishing" by John White and "Their Manner of Fishynge" in Virginia by Theodor DeBry

John White was an artist and cartographer hired to proved an accurate portrayal of the peoples, flora, fauna and geographical features of the "New World" as it was called. He was part of a 1585 expedition to the Carolinas and Virginia. White's opportunity to record Native Americans was unique in that he was the first contact these Indians had with Europeans (Hutton, 1984:27). He produced over 70 watercolors which were not published until the 20th century. While his work was not published, it was the basis for a series of engravings by Theodor DeBry. In 1590 several engravings were printed in Thomas Hariot's account of exploration entitled A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. It is easy to see White's work in the engraving, but it is important to note changes made by DeBry.

White's work represented many similar scenes and not just one place. In the foreground we find a small stretch of land with some vegetation; in the water we can easily identify crabs, a hammerhead shark and other forms of sea life; the center of the picture has a dug out canoe with one oarsman, one dip-netter and two men crouching on either side of a fire. The men look healthy and are dressed in loincloths. Huge fish are in the bottom of the boat. In the background two men are spear fishing, a fish weir is present, more fish can be seen in the water, a few birds are in the sky, and another canoe appears to be in the distance. DeBry has the same elements but more of them. There are more plants on the shore, turtles are swimming in the water, there are three fish weirs, more canoes, more spear-fishers, and more birds flying. A coastline with trees, hills and what appears to be village is now in the background. The canoe with the four men is still the focus. There is a subtle difference between the occupants of the canoe in the two works. DeBry's men seem more muscular. The faces that can be seen have a classical Greco-Roman look to them which was probably more acceptable to Europeans of the time. DeBry's engraving is definitely a call to come to the "New World," which a land of plenty was found.

These images need to be shown together. They introduce the students to the idea of compilation. While White witnessed all these things, he did not see them in one place. Showing the two together demonstrates that artists did copy each other. The copies had minor changes but over the course of several artists those changes could become substantial.

"Pocahantas" by Simon van de Passe and "Pocahontas" by unknown artist

The Simone van de Passe is an engraved portrait of Pocahontas made in 1616, and was the only portrait of her made in life (Scheckel, 1998:41). She is dressed as if she is ready to attend the queen at court. Around her in a frame and inscribed at the bottom of the engraving is information about her. The engraving revealed that she was born Matoaka, became a Christian and given the name Rebecca, was the daughter of the Prince Powhatan who was emperor of Virginia, and married John Rolfe. This provides a sense that she was an important person of the day.

Unlike the White/DeBry works, the Pocahontas engraving came first. The portrait by the unknown artist is an oil painting and there are several variations. In the oil we can see she was made a little more European. Her skin is white, her hair and eyes are brown, and her features are soften somewhat. She is still dressed in court attire, but it does not appear to be as flamboyant and detailed. One of the interesting differences is that the engraving properly identifies her English husband and John Rolfe while the oil lists his Christian name as Thomas.

The tradition is that Pocahontas was a "good Indian." She saved John Smith's life and helped Jamestown survive. In part, her goodness is manifested because she recognized the European superiority (Schekel, 1998:50-1). How do we know this? She became a Christian, she married an Englishman, and she went to England. To Europeans, she was an Indian princess who gave that up because the European culture was better.

Again these two images need to be shown together. The students can explore the royalty connection and why was it important to the Euro-American point of view that she was willing to become Anglicized. They also need to explore the reasons why the oil does not provide an accurate representation of her or properly identify her husband. For that matter might they question the accuracy of the engraving?

The Massacre of the Settlers in 1622" by Mathaeus Merian

Merian was a printer/engraver from the DeBry workshop ( This work is a hand-colored engraving from the German edition of the book America published in 1628. It is a composition illustration, like White's work, which was not intended to represent a single event but to show a series of events.

The image is of an English settlement under Indians attack. There are substantial looking houses—some of which are two storied, made with smooth wood, and probably did not exist. One group of colonists is sitting at a cloth covered table and eating a meal as they are being attacked. Another is hewing a timber from a log. One, perhaps a woman, is calling for help from a second story window. A shadowy figure in the next window seems to be an attacker. Colonists, including women and children, are being stabbed, chased, and beaten with clubs. In the background four canoes loaded with Indians are moving toward the shore. Puffs of white smoke from the distant shore hint at some defensive acts by the colonists. Some of the elements are anachronistic, European publishers often used the works of artists who imaged the scenes ( It was this uprising that marks the change from the theme of discovery to the need for erasure. What changed?

The first impression Europeans had of the Native Americans was one of hospitality and cooperation. Every kindergartener knows how Squanto saved the Pilgrims. The hospitality ended when they entered a phase of struggle for land and power (Berkhofer, 1978:18). As far as the English were concerned this was a winner take all proposition. In 1614 the Powhatans agreed to a peace with the English at Jamestown. It should be noted this was after Pocahontas was taken as a hostage. More colonists came, and they wanted more land to establish tobacco plantations. Finally the Powhatans had enough and on March 22, 1622 they attacked English settlements. This attack is the subject of the engraving. Approximately 347 colonists or 16th of the English population was killed (Fausz, 1998). Jamestown was spared because two Indians informed the settlement of the plot. The colonists retaliated. In May of 1623 peace talks were held. The Indian representatives were given poisoned wine, and 200 fell ill or died immediately. Another 50 were shot and killed. (Fausz, 1998) The war dragged on for another ten years.

In reality neither the English nor the Native Americans could take the high moral ground. In Europe only word of the native America atrocities was published. The Merian engraving and others like it served as propaganda to justify an extermination policy. Brian W. Dippie has said that these types of portrayals placed native Americans in the role of villains, pure savages, an obstacle that needed to be removed.

Massachusetts Bay Colony Seal of 1629

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was chartered in 1629 by Charles I of England. Part of the charter stated a goal of the colony was to convert the Native Americans to the "one true God" (Jennings, 1975:230). With the charter was the authority to use a seal. The first seal was used from 1629 to 1686 and again from 1689 to 1692.

The seal was oval in shape. The figure in the center of the seal is a Native American with open arms holding a bow in his left hand and an arrow in his right. The gesture appears to be a welcoming one. He is saying, "Come over and help us." The open arms and words stress the missionary and commercial intent of the colonists. As an aside, on several versions of the seal the Indian is not holding an arrow but a pine tree. This version stresses more clearly the commercial nature of the venture.

The Indian's words are a quote from Acts 16:9 of the New Testament. The students should connect the use of the Bible with the Puritans' quest for religious freedom. The students should see this as a blatant display of English superiority. It is as if the New England tribes now need the British to survive. Students should also be able to identify this artifact as following the discovery theme.

Massacre of Whites by Indians and Blacks in Florida by D.F. Blanchard

This woodcut is composed of a series of illustrations representing massacres in Florida between December 1835 and April 1836. The woodcut's text claims that over 400 men, women, and children were murdered. Starting in the upper left corner, the first depicts Seminoles and blacks dancing around a fire. The Seminoles to the left are smaller than the blacks to the right. The second scene shows the Dade Massacre. Major Francis Dade and 108 soldiers were ambushed by 300 Seminoles near Fort King. The third top cut is of a white woman taken into captivity by Seminoles. The woman who is the third figure in line has her arms outstretched either in prayer or pleading to be released. Moving to the bottom left image, we find on the far left a Seminole holding a hatchet high in the air. His intention is clear. He is about to slay the young boy kneeling in front of him. To the right of the boy is a woman kneeling; her hands reaching out toward a tiny white babe. The baby is returning the gesture from the arms of a Seminole woman who is taking the infant away. Has the little one just been torn from the mother's arms? Is the mother begging for the return of her child? The next two scenes portray killings. In the first blacks are attacking two white men. One of the whites has fallen backwards and is on his knees. A muscular black man is ready to bring down a cane knife. A black stands in the space between the two. He is weaponless. His hand and a finger is pointed skyward. It is almost as if he is lecturing the soon to be dead man. To the right of these three in the same scene one white is fighting back. The next panel again shows two white men. This time it is Seminoles who are the killers. To the far left a Seminole with a knife raised high above his head has grabbed the wrist of a white man, perhaps preventing the white from striking him. The placement of the hands and feet of the men give them almost a dance like quality. The second white man has lost his footing. He is down. A Seminole has grabbed his wrist with one hand. His hatchet is posed to do its work in the other. Behind the white a Seminole stands. He has the young man's hair pulled up in one hand and a knife in the other. Scalping is imminent. The faces of the whites are fairly clear. We can see the looks of fear. The only Seminole face which has any facial expression is the scalper. While it is a bit blurry, he is smiling. The last image is on the right side of the woodcut and covers the entire side. In the upper left section we again see Seminoles dancing around a fire. The right side shows a building engulfed in flames. In the foreground, two Seminoles are standing on either side and looking down on two white women, a mother and daughter perhaps, Each is begging with a Seminole. Because no weapons are present we can assume the women will be made captives.

The Second Seminole War started on Dec. 28, 1835. On that day an Indian agent was killed and Dade Massacre occurred. The Seminoles were suppose to be removed to the Indian Territory and did not want to go (Mihesuah, 1996:31). Prior to 1818 Florida belonged to Spain. It was used as a haven by runaway slaves. The runaways were often accepted by the Seminoles. Even after acquisition by the United States, runaways particularly from Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina had a better chance of escaping to the Seminoles than finding freedom using the Underground Railroad. It was a matter of geography. Because of the runaway component, abolitionists in the North were generally opposed to this war. Southerners tended to be in favor of it. They wanted the Seminole removed, and they wanted to eliminate a haven for runaways. The war itself was fought using guerilla tactics. The Seminoles were outnumbered 40 to one. They fought wisely and were constantly on the move. Because of that they did not take many captives even through three of the scenes depict them doing so. The depiction of the blacks killing the whites had been published five years before after Nat Turner's Rebellion in Virginia. When the war in Florida ended, 1,000 Seminoles and 1,500 American soldiers were dead. The fighting ended in 1837 when the Seminoles ran out of food and ammunition. It had coast the government approximately $20 million dollars to subdue them. Many of the Seminoles were removed to the Indian Territories, and others disappeared into the Everglades. The formal peace treaty ending this war was signed in 1956 (Mihesuah, 1996:31).

Students can easily identify the theme of erasure. Because this focuses upon the South, students will be alert to the dual fears of slave uprisings as well as Indian problems. This image is excellent to use to make connections to the issue of slavery and the sectional tensions that were heightened by it.

Pigeon's Egg Head (The Light) Going to and Returning From Washington by George Catlin

In this oil painting we see two views of an Assiniboine leader. It is a version of the modern before and after picture. On the left Pigeon Egg Head is dressed in his finest. He is wearing a long feathered headdress. The fringe work and colors of his buckskin is clearly visible on his ceremonial outfit. In 1831 he was invited, as were many other Native American leaders, to Washington, DC where he spent a year. On the left side we can see how he returns. He has traded in his clothes for a single feathered beaver skin hat, a military uniform complete with gold epaulettes, and high heeled boots. He holds a blue umbrella and a fan. Out of is back pocket a whiskey bottle is visible (Catlin, 1989:58). Catlin reported he had been back a half hour before he was recognized. This visual graphically demonstrates how contact with Americans led to the corruption of Pigeon Egg Head.

Catlin is considered the first great painter of Native Americans and was responsible for about 600 portraits and sketches which he made from life. His interest probably stemmed from stories his mother told him. She had been captured by Indians when she was eight and had been redeemed (Axelrod, 1990:132). He painted them to preserve them (Groseclose, 200:171). His work is based on the dual themes of erasure and invention. He thought Native Americans were going to be exterminated and needed to be shown as a noble and proud civilization. He was not above exploiting them. He compiled his work into an Indian Gallery. He took this on tour in Europe. To promote his Gallery he had a Wild West Show. In Liverpool he hired 20 Englishmen to dress as Indians and do war dances (Axelrod, 1990:249).

Catlin is only half of the story. After Pigeon Egg Head returned from Washington, he told stories about what he experienced in Washington, DC. Catlin reported that the tribe thought he was a liar and imposter. He was disgraced and shunned by the leaders. Eventually, he was killed by his own tribe who either tired of his bragging because he met President Andrew Jackson or deemed his tales to be dangerous lies (Axelrod 1990:57).

Students can view this painting in two ways. They can focus on the evils of Euro-Americans and how they brought about the downfall of the Native American race, which was Catlin's point of view. The other option is to focus on the weakness and vulnerability of Native Americans when confronted with Euro-American culture that would cause them to gravitate to the worst that Euro-American culture had to offer, i.e. alcoholism.

American Progress by John Gast

The eye-catching feature of this painting is the central figure of the woman. Her long blond tresses are held back by a headband that prominently features a star. She is floating above the landscape sensuously clad in an off one shoulder diaphanous white sheath. She is carrying a large book in her right hand and from her left elbow dangles a coil. A line stretches from the coil to her left hand. If we follow that line further, we discover it is a telegraph wire. In the bottom left is a bear, growling his head is turned rearward. Above him is a group of Native Americans moving out of the picture like the bear. They are running is a herd of buffalo just above them. In the front center, we see a road and on it is a group of men easily identified as a fur trapper and miners. Following them is a yoke of oxen and two farmers, one of whom is pushing a plow. We find the trappings of the start of civilization by them in the form of a fence and a cabin nestled in the lower right corner. To the left of the floating figure is a Conestoga wagon and a single horse rapidly moving west. By her foot is a stagecoach and below the telegraph lines is a train. In the distance can be seen wagon trains and more trains. In the upper left are snowcapped mountains and on the right is a body of water with large ships and a city. The left side of the picture has a dark quality while the right is light. In fact, the light seems to emanate from the central female figure.

This painting which was completed in 1872 is an excellent expression of Manifest Destiny. We see civilization marching westward driving the Native Americans before them (Groseclose, 2000:158). The buffalo and Native Americans are being pushed further west into the dark. We can trace how Euro-Americans moved west by examining the figures and what they represent. We get a sense of how they moved west by their positions on the canvas. This work is a form of a commemorative which celebrates the displacement of Native Americans for progress (Dippie, 1992:96).

The students can use the image to trace Euro-American westward migration. The light and dark imagery really bring home how that generation felt about Native Americans and what Manifest Destiny was all about.

Fantasies by Walter Ufer

This paining has a definite feel of nostalgia about it. The central figure is an artist with pallet and paintbrush in hand. He is dressed in what could be construed as a military uniform. We can barely see the edge of his current work in progress. He is standing amid Native American artifacts—a woven rug, a ceremonial drum, and pottery are scattered around him. A woman in a black dress is seated and reading a book. Between the artist and the his easel appears a ghost like image of a Native American.

This image marks a change from the previous one. When Native Americans occupied the lands desired by Euro-Americans, they were seen as an impediment to progress. Once they were defeated, they could be viewed romantically (Oswalt, 199:4). This work is part of that romantic ideal. The threat that Native Americans had been perceived as posing was gone. They could once again be viewed sympathetically.

The students will identify the change in mood of this painting and the reasons for that change. The theme is invention as Native Americans will be cast in a new light.

Before and After Photographs of Apache Children at the Carlisle Indian School

These two photographs must be used together. The first is a group photo of Apaches, male and female, in their traditional garb. The second poses the same children in American style clothing and haircuts four months later. These children were sent to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.

The Carlisle School was founded by Army Captain Richard H. Pratt in 1879. His slogan was, "Kill the Indian and save the man!" The boarding school and others like it were attempts to assimilate Native Americans into the Euro-American culture. The schools had programs of rigorous studies, military discipline and harsh punishment. By the end of the 19th century, there were 148 such school scattered across the nation trying to assimilate about 20,000 youths (Mihesuah, 1996:41). There were problems with this arrangement. The students had trouble communicating with the teachers; they lost the involvement and support of parents, which is important in most Native American cultures; and they were no longer allowed to speak their native languages or practice their religions. Some accepted this, some tried to run, and a few committed suicide (Mihesua, 1996:42). The irony is that Euro-Americans still did not accept them as equals, and they lost the acceptance of their tribes.

The students will evaluate these images while focusing upon the assimilation policy of the United States. They will examine the ramifications of these actions and the outcomes. They will understand that the basis for assimilation is the inherent belief that the Euro-American culture is superior.

Photographs of Contemporary Native Americans

In spite of the fears of George Catlin and efforts by the U. S. Government, Native Americans are still a presences in our nation. It is important that students understand that Native Americans still exist and are contributing members of American society. These images have to move away from the teepee and feathers stereotypes. There are approximately 2.1 million Native Americans in America. Some of them live in one of the 286 official reservations. Many, about one million, do not live on reservations and never have (Mihesuah, 1996:75-6). These figures account only for tribes that are officially recognized by the United States government. There are many tribes, like the Lumbee in North Carolina who do not have official status.

When possible these photographs should be from the local area. I have received permission from a teacher in my school who is Cherokee to use her as an example. This makes a local connection with which the students can identify. To this I will add photographs of the Mohawk Sky walkers both working on buildings and helping with the World Trade Center rescue efforts. It is important to show Native Americans working, playing and living in the modern world. The goal is to have the students understand that Native Americans are just like other Americans.

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan One: American Progress


  • Students will analyze the effects of territorial expansion (NCSCOS 2.01).
  • Students will trace patterns of westward migration.
  • Students will identify push-pull westward migration factors.
  • Students will describe the concept of Manifest Destiny.


Projectable image of John Gast's "American Progress." Make this as large as possible


Have students discuss what it is like to move to a new town or how they feel when a new family moves in the neighborhood.


  1. After warm-up, project image.
  2. Ask spiraling questions.
    Samples: What do you see in this painting? What kinds of people do you see? What types of transportation exist? Where is this suppose to be? Provide evidence. What is this suppose to depict? Provide evidence. Is this a realistic scene? Provide evidence. What represents progress in the image? Provide evidence. What is an allegory? Who is the woman suppose to represent? Explain your answer. Why is the light different on the sides of the painting. Explain your answer. What would you name this painting? Why?
  3. Act-It Out.
    Select four students to pose in the painting. Interview them. For settlers ask about their motives in moving west and expectations. For Native Americans ask about their feelings and why they are fleeing instead of fighting.
  4. Explanation.
    Define Manifest Destiny. Discuss different elements of the image as it relates to Manifest Destiny. Stress the Euro-American view of progress in relation to the scene.


The students will create a visual metaphor. The prompts for the metaphor are: "From the perspective of Euro-Americans, Manifest Destiny is like. . .;" and "From the perspective of Native Americans, Manifest Destiny is like. . ."

Lesson Plan Two: Pigeon Egg and Treaties


  • Students will evaluate the impact that settlement in the West had upon different groups of people and the environment. (NCSCOS 4.02)
  • Students will describe the impact of U.S. government policy had upon Native Americans.
  • Students will practice negotiation skills.


"Pigeon's Egg Head (The Light) Going and Returning from Washington"

Outline map of an area. (I use North Carolina and would suggest using an area local to the students.)


Students will list types of advertisements that use before and after shots. Discuss if this is a good advertising technique and why. Discuss the positive and negative impacts of these techniques.


  1. Project the image as large as possible.
  2. Have the students analyze the painting using PERSIA. Discuss the lists.
  3. Use the Venn Diagram to compare and contrast the two versions of Pigeon Egg Head. Discuss what might have caused him to change, and how his tribe might have reacted to the change.
  4. Explain U.S. government treaty policy with various Indian nations. Discuss Supreme Court cases in relation to this. Tell the story of Pigeon Egg Head after his visit to Washington, DC.
  5. Divide the class into four groups. Two groups will represent the U.S. Government. One group will represent Native Americans who have not been to Washington, DC; and the last group will represent Native Americans who have been to Washington, DC. If the class is large, you may want to have six or even eight groups.

Allow the groups time to with the outline maps. The Native Americans must decide what they want from a treaty, and so does the U.S. Government. The groups must take into account their history, who they represent and natural resources.

Pair a Native American group with a government group. The groups must negotiate a treaty. The treaty is to be written and signed by the participants.

Present treaties to the class. Discuss similarities and differences in the treaties and how the terms were reached.


Students will write a letter to the editor of the local paper explaining how the U.S. Government has the best interests of the Native American in mind when they negotiated treaties. They need to have three supporting reasons for this position and reference two historical figures of the nineteenth century—one Euro-American and one Native American.

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