restricted access "It's Only Half a Mile From Savagery to Civilization": American Tourists and Southeastern Alaska Natives in the Late 19th Century
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‘‘it’s only half a mile from savagery to civilization’’ American Tourists and Southeastern Alaska Natives in the Late 19th Century Sergei Kan In the last decades of the 19th century, with the establishment of a regular railroad service between the two coasts and the complete ‘‘pacification’’ of the Plains Indian tribes, touring the western part of the United States became a popularactivityamong upper-middle-class Americans (see Pomeroy 1957; Hyde 1990). ‘‘Sublime’’ landscapes and ‘‘picturesque’’ Indians were the region’s major attractions, with the desert Southwest quickly becoming the most populardestination.Tourists flocked towitness what railroad company brochures promised: majestic scenery, poignant ancient ruins, exotic native rituals, and authentic crafts. The visitors watched and photographed Hopi Snake Dances and purchased beautiful Pueblo pottery and returned home refreshed with by their encounter with a fascinating and peaceful ‘‘vanishing race’’ (Dilworth 1996). Once regular steamship service between several West Coast ports and southeastern Alaska had been established, a smaller but steadily increasing number of well-to-do Americans began touring the Inside Passage as well. If in 1884 there were only 1,650 visitors to the area, by the end of the summer of 1890 some 5,000 travelers had toured southeastern Alaska (Hinckley 1965:71). As in the Southwest, a combination of beautiful scenery and exotic natives were the two main magnets that drew curious visitors to the recently acquired United States territory. While the reasons for a strong and persistent American fascination with the indigenous peoples of the Southwest and the mythic images of the region ’s Indians constructed by and for the tourists have been explored in a numberof studies (e.g.,Wade 1985; Weigle 1990; Dilworth 1996; Howard and Pardue 1996), little has been written about the early Alaskan tourism.1 The main exceptions are a brief but important pioneering article by a historian Tseng 2004.8.9 07:12 7132 Mauze / COMING TO SHORE / sheet 241 of 548 on the Inside Passage tourism (Hinckley 1965) and a study byan art historian of the work of two major area photographers (Winter and Pond), which was stimulated by and, to a large extent, served the turn-of-the-century tourist market (Wyatt 1989). Given the importance of the early southeastern Alaska tourism in the process of constructing a distinct image of the area’s native peoples (most importantly Tlingits but also Haidas and Coast Tsimshians) and stimulating a proliferation of the manufacturing of marketable arts and crafts by them, this lack of scholarly interest in the subject is surprising. The goal of the present essay is to fill this gap by focusing on the images of theTlingits constructed by thosevisitors to Alaska’s Panhandlewhowrote travel books and thus played a major role in shaping those representations. My argument is that, although these images had been influenced by such earlier ones as those of the ‘‘noble/picturesque’’ and the ‘‘primitive savage’’ as well as the ‘‘vanishing Indian,’’ theydiffered significantly from those of the Plains or the Southwestern indigenous peoples. In fact, in the popular and semipopular literature of this era, the coastal natives were often described as being very different from and even totally unrelated to those of the rest of the western United States. These differences had to do not only with the area natives’ distinct physical characteristics and way of life but also their unique socioeconomic and political status. In fact, the tourist writers’ insistence on the coastal peoples’ uniqueness had itself been inspired to a significant extent by these visitors’ encounters with the Protestant missionaries and government officials (who in the early days of U.S. rule were often the same persons ) who had preceded them by less than a decade but had played a key role in ‘‘civilizing’’ the local natives (see Hinckley 1972, 1982; Kan 1999:174–244). Reading the missionaries’ writing and conversing with them on this subject as well seeing the results of their efforts convinced many of the turn-of-thecentury visitors that the Tlingits, the Haidas, and the Coast Tsimshians were superior to the Sioux or the Hopis and could save themselves from extinction by becoming civilized and productive ‘‘lower class’’ citizens of the new territory. Paradoxically, however, the coastal Indians’ ‘‘progressive’’ potential and impressive commercial skills made them less ‘‘exotic’’ and ‘‘picturesque ’’ and thus less interesting to many of the tourists. Consequently, by the 1910s the majority of the visitors to the Inside Passage were paying a lot more attention...