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Annette Kolodny - Fictions of American Prehistory: Indians, Archeology, and National Origin Myths - American Literature 75:4 American Literature 75.4 (2003) 693-721

Fictions of American Prehistory:
Indians, Archeology, and National Origin Myths

Annette Kolodny

In the midst of a national debate about the meaning and impact of Columbus's first landfall in the Americas, Vine Deloria Jr. attempted to alter the context of discussion by insisting that "we need to know the truth about North American prehistory." By using the term prehistory, Deloria followed common practice among archeologists and anthropologists in referring to events in the Americas that predate Columbus and (European) written histories, also known as the precontact period. His 1992 address to the Society for American Archeology argued "that unless and until we [Indians] are in some way connected with world history as early peoples, . . . we will never be accorded full humanity. We cannot be primitive peoples who were suddenly discovered half a millennium ago." A member of the Standing Rock Sioux nation, a political scientist, and a longtime analyst of Indian-white relations, Deloria wanted the assembled archeologists to understand how the various quincentenary observances (including their own) of Columbus's so-called "discovery" inevitably ended up "regard[ing Indians] as freaks outside historical time." For Deloria, that "interpretation" is "all wrong." 1

Interpretations of prehistory have never been solely the province of archeology, however. American prehistory has always been up for grabs, generating one fiction after another, with archeology providing just one source of such narratives. As a result, the fictions of prehistory offer a rich—and virtually untouched—field for the literary historian and, as I shall try to demonstrate here, an especially rich field for those interested in national origin myths and their implications for Native peoples. I call the field rich because from the earliest period of colonization onward, Euro-Americans told two dominant but competing [End Page 693] stories about continental prehistory. On the one hand, there were theories that the Americas had been visited by Canaanites and Israelites, by disciples of Christ, by Celts, by Vikings, by ancient Egyptians, and by any number of other civilizations, both real and imagined. On the other hand, there was an equal certainty about a first discovery in 1492. Although apparently mutually exclusive, in fact both versions converged in their harmful consequences for Native peoples.

Because the second scenario is still so much a part of what U.S. students learn in high school, I need to begin by acknowledging that the image of Native peoples as primitives "outside historical time" has a long and authoritative lineage. It began with Columbus, of course, but gained even wider currency in the sixteenth century when Bartolomé de las Casas chronicled the Spanish conquest of Mexico and South America. In a series of works that were subsequently translated into most of the languages of Europe, las Casas "describ[es] the [Native peoples] as having lived since the Flood behind the ‘locked doors of the Ocean Sea,' doors which Columbus had been the first to unlock." 2 The Spanish priest's first-hand accounts of what he had witnessed enjoyed not only credibility but three centuries of wide circulation. In the early nineteenth century, Alexander von Humboldt, German naturalist and the father of modern physical geography, visited the Americas and gave the imprimatur of science to this old and popular notion. His 1810 comment that "the peoples of America" had been "separated, perhaps since the beginning, from the rest of the human race" was, like the work of las Casas, repeatedly translated and reprinted. 3

So pervasive was this view that in 1838, as the Cherokee were being forced to leave their lands in Georgia and walk the fatal Trail of Tears to Indian Territory, the influential North American Review could declare without equivocation that "[t]he moment the new world was discovered, the doom of the savage races who inhabited it was sealed; they must either conform to the institutions of the Europeans or disappear from the face of the earth." 4 The obvious intent of the statement was to articulate, yet again, what Lucy Maddox has called "the almost universally shared assumption that there were only two options for the Indians: to become civilized, or to become extinct" (R, 24). But behind that assumption, lending it authority, stood the belief that the Native peoples of North America were isolates, long cut off from contact with other peoples and other cultures, and thereby also cut off from the progress of history itself. [End Page 694]

The imputed "science" of that belief had always tacitly been called upon to support public policy toward Indians. And in 1850, public policy and the veneer of scientific justification were again inextricably intertwined when the early ethnologist Henry Schoolcraft prepared a five-volume report commissioned by Congress from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Indian "probably broke off from one of the primary stocks of the human race, before history had dipped her pen in ink, or lifted her graver on stone," he writes in the first volume. 5 Having served as an Indian agent, living among and studying various tribal groups for thirty years, Schoolcraft carried considerable weight when he concluded, affirming long-held Euro-American suppositions, that "the Indian race appears to be of an old—a very old stock" that, in comparison with others, had "changed the least" over time (HSI, 1:17, 1:15). Isolation, in other words, had permitted the Indians to "preserve their physical and mental type, with the fewest alterations" (HSI, 1:15).

As Maddox and others have demonstrated, this construction of the Indian past had, for some time, proven strategically useful for policy making. Innocent of history and thus without advanced culture, it was claimed, Native peoples stood helpless and vulnerable before the onslaught of more "civilized" whites. Early nineteenth-century proponents of removing the Indians to lands west of the Mississippi could thus argue that theirs "was actually the most humane and beneficent policy the government could adopt, since the only way to accomplish the civilizing of the Indians, and thus assure that they did not become extinct, was to move them beyond the reach of unscrupulous whites who wished to do them harm. . . . Left on their own to compete with superior whites for territory in the East, the argument went, they were certain to be decimated" (R, 25). In his report for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, "published by the authority of Congress," Schoolcraft reinforces these arguments. It is inconceivable, he wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, "that erratic and predatory hordes of hunters, without agriculture, arts, or letters, and with absolutely nothing in their civil polity that merits the name of government, should have been able to . .. cope with the European stocks who landed here with the highest type of industrial civilization" (HSI, 1:v).

Yet in that same volume, Schoolcraft also reveals that long before Columbus, as he understood the matter, the Indians had already coped with "European stocks." In other words, Schoolcraft contradicts himself. [End Page 695] Elsewhere in his first volume he puts forth an alternative and competing version of pre-Columbian American history—a version with its own long and authoritative lineage. Citing as his authority Carl Christian Rafn's Antiquitates American (condensed and published in English in 1838), Schoolcraft confidently asserts that "America was visited early in the tenth century by the adventurous Northmen from Greenland, and that its geography and people continued to be known to them so late as the twelfth century" (HSI, 1:106). Rafn's edition of two medieval Icelandic sagas depicting voyages and colonizing efforts in a place called Vinland, as well as other documents collected by Rafn, persuaded Schoolcraft (and many other Americans too) that the Norse had visited "Newfoundland and Nova Scotia," attempted a colony somewhere near "the present area of Massachusetts and Rhode Island," and explored the Atlantic coast as far south as Florida (HSI, 1:106). But for Schoolcraft, there were also other candidates for pre-Columbian "discovery." "Not Scandinavia only," he avers, "but Phoenicia, Gaul, and old Britain, may be considered as claimants" (HSI, 1:118).

To his credit, Schoolcraft expresses a healthy skepticism about easy interpretations of rock drawings as evidence of Phoenician script or misreadings of Indian petroglyphs as Viking runestones. Nonetheless, as the young nation eagerly sought to establish a coherent identity, in part by uncovering its own unique origin stories, such errors were wholly understandable to Schoolcraft. "As Americans, we are particularly susceptible to this species of newly awakened interest," he explains. "Every thing in our own history and institutions is so new and so well known that . . . it appears refreshing to light on any class of facts which promises to lend a ray of antiquity to our history" (HSI, 1:109).

The problem was that most "facts which promise[d] to lend a ray of antiquity" to American origins were interpreted as evidence that Native peoples and their forebears were not the builders of the massive mounds and ceremonial centers that dotted southern Ohio, nor the artisans who created the effigy pipes inlaid with bone and pearl, nor the makers of the copper jewelry found at archaic burial sites. In 1820, amateur archeologist Caleb Atwater studied the mounds of Ohio and linked them with peoples from "Hindostan." 6 More popularly, the mounds were either attributed to ancient European visitors or were [End Page 696] viewed as natural features, since, as one 1842 newspaper account of the leveling of a mound outside of Galliopolis, Ohio, phrased it, "It is hardly probable that such elevations were made by savages." The reasons attested were that the Indians "were ignorant of the use of iron" and could not command "the amount of labor . . . require[d] to construct them." Thus, in total ignorance of what is now called the Hopewellian civilization that once flourished in that area, the reporter for the Louisville Advertiser confidently concluded that thoughtful observers would "not be very likely to ascribe their origin to the Indians." 7

More informed observers attempted to counter such assertions—but they still had to contend with them. The artist George Catlin, who lived among and painted the plains tribes from 1832 to 1840, described in some detail Sioux, Pawnee, and Crow "picture writings on the rocks, and on their robes." It wasn't "anything like a system of hieroglyphic writing," Catlin reasoned, but an "approach somewhat towards it." Variously interpreting the rock drawings as totemic figures and the pictorial buffalo robes as "represent[ing] the exploits of their military lives," Catlin recognized all these as the "state of the fine arts" among an "ingenious and talented" people. 8 But to do so, he challenged the increasingly popular notion that pre-Columbian visitations accounted for any and all sophisticated artifacts:

Many of these have recently been ascribed to the North-men, who probably discovered this country at an early period. . . . I might have subscribed to such a theory, had I not at the Red Pipe Stone Quarry, where there are a vast number of these inscriptions cut in the solid rock, and at other places also, seen the Indian at work, recording his totem amongst those of more ancient dates; which convinced me that they had been progressively made, at different ages. . . . 9

Passages like these from Catlin's Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians (1841) had two potentially salient effects. First, Catlin offered firsthand testimony that the Indians were capable of creating art and artifacts on their own. And second, although he didn't identify either the rock carvings or the illustrations on the robes as a system of writing, he nonetheless recognized their formalized communicative and representational import. With this understanding, he provided a somewhat different viewpoint than the Indian agents, who were everywhere arguing: "As fast as possible, [End Page 697] let Indians forget their own languages, in which nothing is written, and nothing of course can be preserved." 10 But Catlin's efforts were without impact.

Official government policy was bent on eradicating Indian languages and cultures as part of the civilizing process. And no amount of contrary evidence could weaken the certainty of those who believed that North America had been visited by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Celts, Hebrews, Norse, and others—and that these visitors had left behind evidence of their presence. The reason for the tenacity of that belief was not simply the inherently racist contemporary attitude toward Native peoples nor even the unquestioned respectability of those who had for so long promulgated such theories. All of that was important, of course. Like the competing theory of Indian isolation, however, the real appeal was political. It derived from a young nation's determination to construct (as Schoolcraft intuited) a self-serving "antiquity to our history."

Inventing Providential Prehistory

In 1773, Samuel Mather, Boston minister and last of the Puritan Mather dynasty, cited biblical, classical, and medieval sources in An Attempt to Shew, That America Must Be Known to the Ancients. As Mather explained in a prefatory letter to his little pamphlet, he had employed himself "in collecting, and putting together, such Testimonies, both sacred and profane, as will render it most highly probable, if not certain, that America must be known before the modern Discoveries of it, and even in very ancient times." 11 Mather was hardly the first cleric to put forward such a view. Catholic missionaries in Canada had long held that the various cross symbols employed by the Indians were evidence of some prior contact with Christian disciples or apostles. And Mather's father, the Boston minister Cotton Mather, had been convinced that the carvings on Dighton Rock on the Taunton River in Berkeley, Massachusetts, were ancient Hebrew letters. (They are Algonquian in origin.) But while most of his predecessors had contented themselves with tales of a single ancient visitation, Mather described an entire series of visitations and possible settlements.

Without ever specifically identifying which group makes up the ancestors of the Indians and without any discussion of possible cross-cultural [End Page 698] contacts, Mather nonetheless offers a sequential history of the peopling of America:

Thus it appears with sufficient Probability, that America not very long after the Flood was settled; and that, after the first Settlement of it, there were successive Removals to it, especially from the Northern Parts of Europe and Asia: And then, after some Ages had revolved, the Phoenicians might arrive and trade and settle here. And, by these various Ways, America became very well settled; and vast Numbers of People were found in this Western World, when Columbus, Americus [Vespucci] and succeeding Voyagers came to it: And perhaps the Inhabitants here might, for their Numbers, vie with those of the other Continent. (A, 18–19) 12

Among others, Mather sent his pamphlet to Benjamin Franklin, then in London.

Franklin, himself a student of natural history and a founder of the American Philosophical Society (established, in part, to pursue such scientific inquiries) was not entirely convinced by Mather's proofs. While Franklin did not dismiss the possibility of "Ancient" contacts, he nonetheless observed, in a letter to Mather in July 1773, that "the Intercourse could never have been very considerable" because the Native "Inhabitants" were "totally ignorant of the use of Iron." Franklin added that "[a]bout 25 Years since," he had been persuaded by "a learned Swede. . . . that America was discovered by their Northern People long before the Time of Columbus." 13

The exchange between Mather and Franklin establishes the seriousness with which educated Euro-Americans early on contemplated the possibility of pre-Columbian contacts. And it offers evidence that by the formative years of nationhood, Americans had developed a powerful set of competing images that pictured the continent and its people not as isolated but as densely settled and thickly embedded in history, long before Columbus. Indeed, in 1821, just as the Indian removal debates were beginning in earnest, a book of travels written by a former president of Yale College and published posthumously simply assumes this more complicated history as fact. 14 In his Travels in New England and New York, Timothy Dwight outlines the case for multiple waves of emigration to North America, including "origin[s] from the north of Europe," and adds: "Nor is there a single known fact which forbids us to believe that the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians in [End Page 699] their voyages to different countries on the Atlantic . . . wandered . .. to the western continent." 15 But to understand the vitality of this particular historical frame, we need to understand the circumstances in which it was being articulated.

Dwight's Travels is more than a detailed account of the scenery, local history, and social conditions that he encountered while hiking and taking horseback trips through New England and upstate New York in the years just after the Revolution. In reworking his experiences for publication, Dwight offered the small, self-governing, agrarian townships he had visited as a model of democracy for the new nation. And in offering local history, he sought also to weave a larger fabric of national history. Within this schema, a pattern of multiple emigrations to North America and significant pre-Columbian contacts served the purpose of anchoring the fledgling nation within events that long predated its British colonial beginnings. In other words, Dwight was trying to create a historical narrative in which British origins were only one among many others. Establishing a new nation, after all, required creating its history (and thus its meaning) anew.

Similarly, the exchange between Mather and Franklin had deep political roots. Franklin was in London in 1773 in what was virtually an ambassadorial role, protesting the incremental abrogation of colonial rights and arguing against the duties imposed on imported goods under the notorious Townshend Acts of 1767 and the Tea Act of 1773. 16 Mather's pamphlet on the ancients' knowledge of America includes an appendix that protests those same acts. In Mather's view, members of the British Parliament had exceeded their legitimate authority when they asserted their right "to tax us when, and how, and as often and as much as they please." To Mather, these policies constituted "so much Malevolence and Enmity manifested towards the natural and constitutional Rights and Liberties of the Americans, as cannot well admit of any just Apology, or fair Excuse" (A, 30, 29). He even went so far as to hint at the possibility of outright rebellion if the Acts were not rescinded. "The generous and brave Americans will be disposed and resolved to defend themselves and their Rights, and prepare in the best Manner they can for doing so," writes Mather. And lest any reader miss his intent, he prefaces those words with some lines of martial poetry from George Lillo's 1735 verse drama, "The Christian Hero"—lines that call for the need to "rebel" when "Tyranny prevails" (A, 34, 33).

Because Mather feared that his "An Appendix; Concerning the [End Page 700] American Colonies, and the Late Managements against Them" had overstepped the bounds of ministerial decorum, Franklin reassured him. "The Remarks you have added, on the late Proceedings against America," responded Franklin, "are very just and judicious; and I cannot at all see any Impropriety in your making them tho' a Minister of the Gospel." 17 Franklin thus quieted Mather's concerns about the propriety of a minister meddling so overtly in political matters and also let Mather know that his passionate outburst had not jeopardized any of Franklin's own delicate political negotiations in London. It is possible too that even as Franklin appeared still to be trying to work out some compromise between the colonies and Great Britain, he was tacitly signaling Mather that he also foresaw the possibility of armed rebellion.

Clearly, by 1773, both men could contemplate some form of revolution, and both were poised for nation building. "But all these Oppressions evidently work for our Good," hints Franklin in his letter to Mather. "Providence seems by every Means intent on making us a great People" (PBF, 20:289). What Franklin does not say explicitly is that Mather had already outlined a justifying providential history for a new nation in his pamphlet and its appendix. In fact, when read together, An Attempt to Shew, that America Must Be Known to the Ancients and the appendix, "Concerning the American Colonies," create a single, unified narrative.

Mather's interest in pre-Columbian contacts, it turns out, derived not from scientific curiosity but from a commitment to situate America in a biblical past and a redeemed future. "The primary Inhabitants of America," according to Mather, arrived "after the Flood" (A, 14). "But, after this first dispersion to the Western World," he continues, "we readily grant, that there might be various Removals to it from various Nations: For after the Scythians or Tartars, were settled here; the Norwegians and Icelanders might come; and so might some of the Sinensians [Chinese] from the East" (A, 15). Only after cataloging other possible early arrivals, however, does Mather get to the heart of his central argument: although he does "not presume to declare, that there is a clear, full and express Discovery of this Western Continent in the holy Writings," nonetheless, he "affirm[s], there are various Passages . . . from which attentive and considerate Minds might form a Judgment, that there were Regions and great ones beyond those, that were known to them in Asia, Africa and Europe" (A, 19). To prove his [End Page 701] point, Mather painstakingly rereads the Bible in order to demonstrate that "the Gospel of CHRIST . . . . was brought here by one or more of the Apostles and Disciples and many Brethren, and produced Fruit" (A, 24–25).

With that assertion, Mather not only diminishes British claims to priority—as Dwight, too, would do—but even more important, he effectively erases the symbolic significance of putative "discovery" by an evangelizing Catholic Columbus. To put it another way, Mather's construction of American prehistory essentially saves the continent from false religious affiliations and associates it with an earlier authentic (that is, Protestant) "Gospel of CHRIST." A gospel, he avers, that did once produce fruit.

Mather doesn't say what happened in the ensuing centuries. But he does acknowledge that the Indians appeared to have no concept of Christianity prior to the most recent arrivals of the Europeans when he states that "this Western World sinned away the Gospel." That loss becomes for him a promise of and a justification for the restoration of the gospel in the future. "We have good Grounds for hoping," he insists, "that the Gospel and Religion of Jesus will recover their lost Possession." In that event, according to his closing paragraph, "this whole Continent, as well as the Old World, may find the fullest and most perfect Accomplishment" (A, 25). But before what was lost can be redeemed, certain impediments must be removed. Those impediments—the abrogation of colonial liberties and the imposition of onerous taxes—are then the subject of Mather's appendix.

The appendix opens with a reference to an earlier Puritan divine who had determined "that this Part of the World seemed to him to be reserved in Providence for the great Seat of Empire and Religion and the Theatre of considerable Events before the End of the World." England, however, has interrupted this providential progress by "abridg[ing] the Freedoms, and cramp[ing] the Improvements of these Colonies" through its taxation policy. This leaves the American colonist with no choice other than "an honest and manly Resolution not to abide by it," observes Mather (A, 27, 28, 33). Then deftly mixing political appeals with Christian rhetoric, Mather converts the probability that "the generous and brave Americans will be disposed and resolved to defend themselves and their Rights" into a kind of divinely sanctioned crusade. "They will hope and trust in HIM," Mather says of his imagined rebels, "as their Cause is just and right . . .. For JUST & RIGHT is HE" (A, 34). [End Page 702]

In other words, read as a whole from cover to cover, Mather's 1773 pamphlet outlines a history in which America was once part of the larger world, had even received the gospel from some of Christ's followers, but then had somehow "sinned away the Gospel." Providentially destined to become "the great Seat of Empire and Religion," that is, destined for both material and spiritual greatness, America must now be redeemed—so that what was once lost may be restored. And the path to that redemption is a righteous resistance, even rebellion (a rebellion that latter-day Puritan ministers like Mather welcomed as a rejection of English Protestantism, which was, for them, still too close to Catholicism). Thus Mather concludes what is purportedly an argument against unjust taxation with an appeal to the "Avenger of Wrongs." "Shine forth, and arise, and stir up thy Strength, and come & save us," Mather implores his god. "Maintain our Cause against them, that would strive with us: Take hold of Shield and Buckler, and stand up for our Help" (A, 35). Few readers would have missed the implication that rebellion would wear the vestments of a holy war, redeeming a continent that had once already enjoyed the promise of salvation and needed now to be saved again.

What is so curious is that Mather never once mentions Indians by name nor articulates a place for them in his redemptive schema. Are we to assume that they are those "primary Inhabitants of America" who arrived "after the Flood"? Probably, but Mather doesn't say. And nowhere does Mather even suggest interactions between Indians and "Apostles and Disciples" or between Indians and any of the other ancient civilizations who may once have peopled the continent. 18 All he will say is that by the time of Columbus and Vespucci, "America became very well settled; and vast Numbers of People were found in this Western World."

But those "vast Numbers of People" were, of course, the Native peoples. So when Mather ambiguously states that "this Western World sinned away the Gospel," the inference to be drawn is that the Indians—the only identifiable people still around, after all—were the sinners. Thus, at least by implication, they are responsible for a lost Christian past and from them, too, as well as from the tyrannical British, the continent must be redeemed. In short, by the end of his pamphlet, Mather effectively erased Indians both from providential history (where they are not part of the redemptive destiny to come) and from prehistory (where they are never even explicitly named). [End Page 703]

Ironically, then, when yoked to Mather's religious rationale for political revolution, a narrative of prehistory that could have embedded Native peoples in complex historical processes served only to dispossess them. Whether he intended it or not, Mather's little pamphlet provided yet another set of arguments for removing Indians from their traditional lands. In the face of multiple pre-Columbian contacts, the continent had never solely been theirs in the first place. And if America were enfolded into a biblical history in which "the Apostles, went forth and preached every where," including America, then the sacred responsibility of modern Christians must be to "recover their lost Possession" (A, 23, 25). Indian claims to absolute priority in the land were now challenged by a version of national destiny rooted in one scholar's reconstruction of the "various Removals" of prehistory.

Exterminated Nations

If the continent truly had lain undiscovered before the coming of Columbus, its inhabitants "a branch of the human race whose history is lost in the early and wild mutations of men," then moving Indians to remote areas where they would not have "to compete with superior whites for territory" could be justified as reasonable, even humane (HIS, 1:ix; R, 25). If, on the other hand, the continent and its indigenous peoples were not isolated but had experienced multiple visitations and settlements—from the Phoenicians and Carthaginians to the Celts and Norse—then claims to Indian civilization and artisanship could be undermined by so-called "proofs" that the artifacts in question belonged to the more advanced ancient arrivals. When petroglyphs were "ascribed to the North-men," for example, Indian agents plausibly argued that the Indians had never developed sophisticated symbolic or writing systems. Either way, in conjunction with a host of other rationales (most famously, that the Indians didn't use the land productively and so had no "natural" right to its possession), these constructions of prehistory provided additional strong justifications for removal and reeducation west of the Mississippi.

No version of American prehistory proved as lethal to Native peoples, however, as the version that converted the burial and ceremonial mounds of the Southeast, the Ohio Valley, and the Midwest into the products of a prior, more advanced civilization that not only predated the Indian but was somehow displaced by the Indian newcomer. As I [End Page 704] am about to suggest, it may not be merely coincidental that this theory appears to have been articulated first in 1797, just two years after the Treaty of Greenville in which twelve tribes were coerced into ceding lands to white settlers in what was then the Northwest Territory, and just a year after Congress authorized the construction of a major road from Wheeling (now in West Virginia) to Kentucky, thus opening the route for white emigration into what had previously been Indian territory. The politics of that timing aside, it was widely believed that Benjamin Smith Barton's New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America "set forth the conclusion that the mounds were not built by the living Indians or their predecessors, but by a people of higher cultivation," now "lost." 19 Whether or not Barton actually made that claim so explicitly, the idea caught on immediately, and theories of lost races proliferated.

Whatever origins were posited—Egyptians, a lost Tribe of Israel, early Christians, Asians, Europeans, or ancient Norse (and all were put forward by someone)—one fact was claimed as indisputable. As Governor De Witt Clinton put it in his 1811 address to the New York Historical Society, "without the aid of agriculture," "without the use of iron or copper; and without a perseverance, labor, and design which demonstrate considerable progress in the arts of civilized life," neither the Indians nor their ancestors were capable of constructing any of "these antient fortresses." Therefore, he concluded, long before the arrival of the Indians, "[a] great part of North America was then inhabited by populous nations, who had made considerable advances in civilization." What had eventually routed these earliest settlers was "the irruption of a horde of barbarians, who rushed like an overwhelming flood from the North of Asia"—in other words, the ancestors of the present-day Indians. In the wake of that barbaric "horde," the mounds and raised earthworks of western New York State that were the subject of his address represented "the only remaining monuments of these antient and exterminated nations." 20

Even as Clinton was speaking, as he well knew, across New York and New England, former Indian allies against the British were losing their lands to white Americans who had begun settling within areas previously guaranteed to the Indians by treaties signed after the Revolution. Given that context, the governor's narrative and its dramatic denouement—"exterminated nations"—were both pointed and deliberate. Clinton was appealing to a mythic, even tragically heroic,past. [End Page 705] Where Mather's version of prehistory had called for a providential redemption of a continent already visited by "Apostles and Disciples," now Clinton's version raised images of righteous vengeance for the destruction of "populous nations." As in Barton's 1797 New Views, any latent sympathy for the plight of displaced Indians was thus muted by the identification of Indians with those barbarian hordes who had crushed a prior and superior civilization.

The instrumentality of that narrative was not lost on succeeding politicians. Already determined upon a policy of forced removals, President Andrew Jackson followed Clinton's lead when he addressed Congress in 1830: "In the monuments and fortresses of an unknown people, spread over the extensive regions of the west, we behold the memorials of a once powerful race, which was exterminated, or has disappeared, to make room for the existing savage tribes." 21 With that, Jackson had yet another pretext for pushing the Creek and Cherokee out of their traditional lands. As Robert Silverberg, the most thorough historian of the myth that the moundbuilders were non-Indians, explains, "Conscience might ache a bit over the uprooting of the Indians, but not if it could be shown that the Indians, far from being long-established settlers in the land, were themselves mere intruders who had wantonly shattered the glorious Mound Builder civilization of old. What had been a simple war of conquest against the Indians now could be construed as a war of vengeance on behalf of that great and martyred ancient culture." 22 To put it another way, the very real genocidal policies then in progress were now rhetorically subsumed (and tacitly justified) within the larger mythic narrative of prior displacement and "extermination."

Despite the transparency of political motives and a wealth of archeological evidence that clearly linked the mounds and their contents with native manufacture, the notion of a superior pre-Indian civilization tenaciously held on as both scientific fact and established history. In 1851, the Proceedings of the American Ethnological Society published a paper by C. A. A. Zestermann of Leipzig, "A Memoir of the European Colonization of America in Ante-Historic Times." For Zestermann, the mound builders of Ohio were early peoples from northwestern Europe, most probably "bearded men from Ireland," who had arrived in North America during the pre-Christian era. 23 Even the well-regarded and usually careful historian of the West Hubert Howe Bancroft could write as late as 1875 that "most and the best authorities [End Page 706] deem it impossible that the moundbuilders were ever the remote ancestors of the Indian tribes." 24 In short, this was not a myth that could be put to rest easily or quickly.

A Myth Dies Hard

Although best known for leading a team of nine other men in the first attempt to map the Green and Colorado Rivers and their surrounding canyons in 1869, John Wesley Powell later became the director of several federal agencies that oversaw the exploration of the West. As director of the United States Geological Survey and, subsequently, founder of the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology, Powell believed that science should guide public policy. In his role as director of the Bureau of Ethnology, he sponsored rigorous and extensive fieldwork, and he demanded that his researchers supplement their field materials "by a study of all the connected literature and by a subsequent comparison of all ascertained facts" ("RD," xxi). The outcome was a series of compendious reports which, in the words of one of Powell's researchers, would help Americans to "generally discard . . . the fanciful hypotheses which have been formed without corroboration" by facts or evidence. 25

Among the most important of these was the 800-page report on "Picture-Writing of the American Indians," compiled from 1888 to 1989 by Garrick Mallery and published, with illustrations, in 1893. 26 As with several other reports that preceded his, three emphases mark Mallery's report. To begin with, he employs a comparativist approach, examining various forms of Indian "picture-writings"—whether petroglyphs pecked on stone or the pictographic script written on birch bark by the Micmac and Passamaquoddy nations—in relation to forms of picture writings in other civilizations and other historical periods. To be sure, Mallery was not untouched by late-nineteenth-century Social Darwinist theories about classifications of cultures and races. In several places he suggests a taxonomy that progresses from mere "picturing" to "ideography" to "picture-writing" to the most advanced form of writing, alphabetic "phonetic writing." To his credit, he acknowledges that this taxonomy "is not in all respects approved," but he generally accepts it as a "chronologic if not evolutionary arrangement" ("P-W," 204). Still, even if he saw "the invention of alphabetic writing [as] . . . the great step marking the change from barbarism to [End Page 707] civilization," at least Mallery respected picture writing as "one distinctive form of thought-writing" ("P-W," 26, 25). And he argued that "the commencement of [picture writing's] evolution into signs of sound is apparent in the Aztec and the Maya characters, in which transition stage it was arrested by foreign conquest." Above all else, however, Mallery's comparativist approach returned Native peoples to prehistory in a new way. Picture writing may have been for him "a phase in the evolution of human culture," but it was a phase that the Indians shared with "the graphic systems of Egypt, Assyria, and China," and other great early empires ("P-W," 26).

The second significant aspect of Mallery's report is its linking of an indigenous past with a Native present (and presence). Just as Catlin had earlier challenged the notion that rock inscriptions were the product of "the North-men," asserting that he had himself "seen the Indian at work, recording his totem . . . in the solid rock," so too Mallery affirms that picture writing "is in actual daily use." He had himself "obtained a valuable collection of birch-bark pictographs . . . still made by the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes . . . in Maine." Indeed, he continues, Algonquian-speaking peoples of the Northeast "still use marks and devices on birch bark in the ordinary affairs of life"—like leaving messages for one another ("P-W," 201). And again like Catlin, Mallery also affirms that the petroglyphs are of Indian origin. Many are too ancient and weathered to be readable. And others are simply incomprehensible to the Indian peoples nearby. But very old petroglyphs in Machias Bay in Maine are not only known to the local tribes but are still decipherable by "a resident Indian there." The point to be made, according to Mallery, is that Indian cultures are not homogenous but various and distinct. "American pictographs, whether ancient on stone or modern on bark, skins, linens, or paper," writes Mallery, employ "symbolism . . . of individual origin" and "require separate study in every region" ("P-W," 82, 35). Thus, not only were contemporary Indians reconnected to their past; they were reconnected to a past in which cultural differences were scientifically established.

Mallery's third major emphasis is the debunking of prior "fanciful hypotheses." For example, early missionaries had misunderstood the many and age-old uses of cross figures among the Indians and so had erroneously explained their "presence . . . by a miraculous visit of an apostle." Cotton Mather's fanciful 1712 rendering of the carvings on Dighton rock as Hebrew letters is reproduced and dismissed ("P-W," [End Page 708] 733, 82–83). And Schoolcraft is criticized for reproducing illustrations of authentic rock inscriptions that are "nearly all colored according to his fancy" ("P-W," 758). As Mallery explains in the concluding pages of his volume, he had undertaken the study of "petroglyphs, because it has been supposed that if interpreted they would furnish records of vanished peoples or races," particularly "peoples so far advanced in culture as to use alphabets" ("P-W," 772–73). Clearly, that had not been the case. Petroglyphs were a form of picture-writing, but they were not alphabetic in structure; and Mallery had demonstrated that they were produced by existing Native peoples or by their direct ancestors. Similarly, with regard to "pictographs on other substances," these objects too "are in hand and their current use as well as their significance is understood." In Mallery's opinion, where theories of lost superior races are concerned, "[t]opers [that is, drunkards or imbibers] of the mysterious may delight in such dazing infusions of perverted fancy, but they are repulsive to the sober student." Mallery asserts that his meticulous research has once and for all put an end to "the theory about the mythical mound builders or some other suppostitious race. All suggestions of this nature should at once be abandoned," he pronounces ("P-W," 773). 27

Just a year after Mallery's work appeared, the Bureau of Ethnology published its Twelfth Annual Report in 1894, which includes the 730–page "Report on the Mound Explorations" by Cyrus Thomas. Sharing Mallery's impatience with unsubstantiated fancies, Thomas details the results of his own field research and that of others, concluding that "all the leading archeologists of the present day" concur in the view that the massive mounds and ceremonial centers are the work of the Native peoples who had inhabited the region at contact (or their direct ancestors), "especially as they are the only pre-Columbian inhabitants of that region of which we have any knowledge." 28 In his director's report that opens the volume, Powell stresses the thoroughness of the field research ("more than 2,000 mounds have been explored") and the extensiveness of those explorations ("conducted in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and West Virginia") ("RD," xiv). And he underscores Thomas's conclusions: "The spade and pick, in the hands of patient and sagacious investigators, have every year [End Page 709] brought to light facts tending more and more strongly to prove that the mounds, defensive, mortuary and domiciliary, which have excited so much curiosity and become the subject of so many hypotheses, were constructed by the historic Indians of our land and their lineal ancestors" ("RD," xliii–xliv).

Yet at the heart of Powell's otherwise sober report lies another story entirely. "In 1858, 1859, and 1860," Powell had himself examined "prehistoric mounds in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri" and for a time at least, he had come to share "the prevailing opinion" that these were "vestiges of a people more ancient and more advanced in culture than the tribes of Indians that occupied the continent at the time of the discovery by Columbus" ("RD," xxxix). His present purpose, he asserts, is to eradicate that erroneous notion by presenting the latest authoritative research on the subject. Thomas's "treatise . .. will be of interest," Powell continues, because "it seems to disprove the attractive theory that the ancient tumuli of the eastern half of the United States are the remains of a people more highly cultured than the tribes of who were Indians found by the white man, and who had vanished from the country anterior to the Columbian discovery" ("RD," xli). But look at his choice of language: "seems to disprove" rather than the simple declarative disproves; a theory so "attractive" that in claiming to dismiss it, he repeats it yet again; and rare in Powell's writings, the awkwardly phrased "tribes of who were Indians," suggesting Powell's continuing resistance to the conclusion that the tribes who built the mounds were Indians, after all. Despite the evidence amassed by researchers like Mallery and Thomas, Powell reveals that he is himself still in thrall to the myth.

At the heart of this particular annual report, therefore, Powell composes a kind of elegy:

It is difficult to exaggerate the prevalence of this romantic fallacy, or the force with which the hypothetic "lost races" had taken possession of the imaginations of men. For more than a century the ghosts of a vanished nation have ambuscaded in the vast solitudes of the continent, and the forest-covered mounds have been usually regarded as the mysterious sepulchers of its kings and nobles. It was an alluring conjecture that a powerful people, superior to the Indians, once occupied the valley of the Ohio and the Appalachian ranges, their empire stretching from Hudson Bay to the Gulf, with its flanks on the western prairies and the eastern ocean; a people [End Page 710] with a confederated government, a chief ruler, a great central capital, a highly developed religion, with homes and husbandry and advanced textile, fictile, and ductile arts, with language, perhaps with letters, all swept away before an invasion of copper-hued Huns from some unknown region of the earth, prior to the landing of Columbus. ("RD," xli–xlii)

It is not the generalized "imaginations of men" that have been possessed, we understand, but Powell's own.

Instead of dismissing the fallacy, Powell resurrects its romance and offers a lamentation that appears to commemorate a people who never were. Powell mentions the Indians, the people who did exist, only briefly in an appositive phrase. But then in highly charged language, tinged by the influence of Sir Walter Scott's historical romances (which remained enormously popular in the United States throughout the nineteenth century), he gives over the bulk of the paragraph to retelling the story of great empires and their heroic defeat. "For more than a century," he writes, "the ghosts of a vanished nation have ambuscaded" not in the perverted fancies of deluded believers, as Mallery had demonstrated, but in "the vast solitudes of the continent." The very structure of the sentence thus establishes a momentary reality for those ghosts. They have "ambuscaded" in the sense of having been concealed (as ghosts are wont to do), but in the more generalized sense of the word, they have also been lying in wait to ambush the enemies who will nonetheless vanquish them. By situating his ghosts "in the vast solitudes of the continent," moreover, Powell willfully ignores all the available archeological evidence of densely populated pre-contact Native sites across the continent and further erases Indian presence in favor of the "vanished nation." Perhaps inadvertently catering to popular nineteenth-century notions about the Indians as wandering nomadic bands without governance or political structures, Powell further supplants Native prehistory by offering in its place the romantically appealing notion of settled nations with "kings and nobles." And then, even as he claims to be dismissing it all as merely "an alluring conjecture," he nonetheless proceeds to people the continent with this once "powerful people," leaving virtually no segment of the continent untouched as far west as the prairies, and no civilized art (textiles to metallurgy) unnamed.

Finally, apparently unmindful of the way he is racializing the myth, Powell pictures the "vanished nation," the "powerful" and "superior" [End Page 711] people, as "swept away before an invasion of copper-hued Huns." Here the Indians return, imaginatively associated both by skin color and place of origin with the Huns, a nomadic people who, as every nineteenth-century schoolboy was taught, had swarmed out of Asia in ravaging military hordes to invade China and, later, most of western Europe. 29 In other words, intended or not, Powell portrays a "copper-hued" people overcoming a "superior" and, by implication, given the Social Darwinist theories then in ascendancy, a white (or Caucasian) "vanished nation." It is Governor Clinton's 1811 scenario all over again, couched in even more compelling language, albeit in the guise of now debunking "this romantic fallacy." Strongly resembling the classical elegy in its commemoration of those "vanished" peoples, the paragraph lacks what the more popular nineteenth-century form of the elegy—that is, the pastoral elegy (modeled on Milton's "Lycidas")—always offers: consolation. Nothing here consoles readers for the loss of the "vanished nation," unless, of course, they can find consolation in the fact that it was all only "hypothetic." Yet it is precisely that fact that the paragraph finally laments. For Powell, as for so many of his readers, there could be no consolation in the knowledge that it was, after all, only a myth.


There is a peculiar irony in the fact that the decimation of one false view only succeeded in reinforcing yet another oversimplification. Having proved the indigenous origins of the mounds and thus undermined theories about lost races, Thomas reverted to the other competing paradigm of continental prehistory: "the long continued isolation." Summarizing his own and others' views, Thomas sounds much like las Casas, von Humboldt, and Schoolcraft when he agrees that the Indians' "long and isolated residence in this continent has molded them all into a singularly homogenous race, which . . . has maintained its type unimpaired for countless generations." Approvingly quoting the work of another anthropologist, Thomas writes: "Never at any time before Columbus was it [the Indian race] influenced in blood, language, or culture by any other race." 30 This is the view that Vine Deloria Jr. would challenge a hundred years later when he addressed the Society for American Archeology in 1992 and demanded that Native peoples be "connected with world history as early peoples." [End Page 712]

There is another, perhaps even deadlier, irony that emerges from the research of Mallery and Thomas. Together, they had effectively demolished the idea that the cultural difference of the Indian is a difference both hereditary and unalterable. Mallery had understood the various forms of picture writing as "a phase in the evolution" of more advanced writing systems, and he notes that the "transition" to more sophisticated forms—at least among the Aztec and Maya—had been "arrested by foreign conquest." Similarly, Thomas had described flourishing and sophisticated moundbuilder cultures, some of them also known to have been arrested and destroyed by contact and conquest. In other words, even if the Indians as a race appeared relatively homogenous to some, they had never been culturally static or incapable of change.

Powell reinforces these findings in his director's report for the Thomas volume, noting that Native cultures were in transition or "in the stage commonly traversed toward higher culture" ("RD," xxiii). To be sure, Powell's comment—composed in 1891—refers specifically to white "misconceptions" surrounding "the ghost dance and ‘Messiah Religion'" that had begun among the Paiutes in the 1870s and quickly spread to most of the Western tribes. As Powell was aware, the popular press had so sensationalized the new cult that most Euro-Americans came to believe that the ghost dance religion prophesied the end of white expansion westward and the eventual return of the land to the Indians. He therefore links irrational white fears of the ghost dance with the massacre of Sioux at Wounded Knee in 1890. As he makes clear in his director's report, Powell genuinely regretted the "misconceptions" that "occasioned needless loss of life and treasure." He had hoped that "the problem of proper national dealing with the Indians" might be resolved through scientific understanding of Native cultures and belief systems, the kind of understanding his Bureau was trying to provide ("RD," xxiii). But in characterizing "Indian religious philosophy" (and, by extension, other aspects of indigenous culture as well) as a transitional "stage commonly traversed toward higher culture," he actually helps justify governmental policies intended to "civilize" Native peoples by forcing them to "become farmers and adopt ‘American' economic and cultural values." 31 However inadvertently, Powell (and his Bureau's annual reports) fueled increased support for the 1887 General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act.

Those who considered themselves friends of the Indian utilized the [End Page 713] new scientific studies to prove that the Indian was not only capable of change but deserved the opportunity for further cultural development through enlightened government intervention. The view that "[s]eparate property in land is the basis of civilized society" had been argued by Commissioners of Indian Affairs since the 1830s. 32 Armed with the Bureau of Ethnology reports of the 1880s, those determined to save Indians from extinction by integrating them into the dominant culture could now argue for helping them traverse the next transitional stage "toward higher culture": the private ownership of land. As historian Emily Greenwald explains, the 1887 Dawes Act, which was finally repealed in 1934, "sought to assimilate Indians into the American mainstream by dividing collectively controlled reservations into individually owned allotments of land." In this way, Greenwald continues, "Traits that Euro-Americans associated with savagery—such as nomadism, collective economic strategies, and tribalism—would be replaced by traits associated with civilization—sedentary agriculture, private property, and individualism" (RR," 1, 2).

Not surprisingly, Western land developers had their own motives for supporting the Dawes Act. By reawakening fears of Indian attacks on Western settlers, the ghost dance religion had frightened many. The Wounded Knee massacre, reasserting federal military might in the West, in combination with the Dawes Act, quieted those fears because both helped to undermine tribal autonomy; and the Dawes Act, in particular, permitted Indians to sell their "allotments" to non-Indians. Thus, as Greenwald so aptly puts it, the "attempt by humanitarians to assimilate Indians through the institution of private property" neatly "harmonized the interests of policy reformers with those of Western developers." The end result, of course—both through government mismanagement of the Act and unscrupulous dealings by white land speculators—was that by the early decades of the twentieth century, "Indians had lost more than half of their lands" (RR, 5).

But my purpose is not to point out, yet again, the always imperfect relationship between research and public policy. Clearly, the Bureau of Ethnology's careful reconstructions of Native American history and prehistory were either ignored or used in ways that Powell and his staff could never have predicted and did not approve. Nor is it my purpose merely to repeat the truism that history is always contested ground where competing interests, in Sacvan Bercovitch's fine phrase, try to forge "the forms and strategies of cultural continuity." 33 [End Page 714] Whether they are dealing with history or prehistory, professional historians today know that language is rarely neutral and historical narratives never disinterested. Instead, because I am a cultural studies scholar who interrogates literary history, my purpose here has been to unearth a signifying system that appears almost obsessively concerned either with isolating Indians outside of history (and, hence, apart from human progress) or with displacing Indian priority as historical fact. These are fictions that get told over and over again.

The imaginative anthropology that I have traced here is still attractive to the general public. The highly respected archeologist Dean Snow reports a "Celtic craze" in northern New England in the 1960s, whereby "nineteenth-century lime kilns suddenly became megalithic tombs." 34 And when in the summer of 2000 I researched the stories about possible Native-Viking contacts along the Maine coast, I encountered countless local history buffs who proudly showed me what they were sure were authentic ancient Viking (or Celtic or, in one case, Phoenician) artifacts but who had absolutely no interest in or contact with their Passamaquoddy or Penobscot neighbors on nearby reservations. For them, prehistory only peripherally referred to Indians. So why is this particular version of prehistory still so compelling?

When Schoolcraft composed his volumes for Congress, he understood perfectly that notions about the prehistory and origins of the American continent inevitably became implicated in the construction of national origin stories as a new nation tried to assert a unique (and, as with Mather, a providential) destiny for itself. What Deloria adds to that insight is that, in the process, stories about the pre-Columbian accessibility or isolation of the continent ineluctably also became stories about the history and identity of its Native peoples. But the reassertion of organized pan-tribal political activism that began in the 1960s had already given Deloria's statement a special meaning. That activism had encouraged, among other strategies, often successful litigation to restore land and water rights once guaranteed by treaties. While eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Euro-Americans could content themselves with images of the noble but ever vanishing Indian or with stories of lost races in order to justify the usurpation of Native lands, twentieth- and twenty-first century Americans living on lands once guaranteed by treaty to Native peoples in perpetuity now have to contend with the facts that there were no vanished races and that the Indians are still here, growing both in numbers and in [End Page 715] political savvy. And while a discussion of Indian land-claims suits and the role of modern archeologists and anthropologists (more and more of whom are themselves indigenous) in helping to prosecute those suits is beyond the scope of this essay, one thing is certain: a number of Native legal claims to their traditional lands are rooted not just in treaties but in the prehistory (or precontact) tribal locations that those treaties once recognized and codified. Canny political scientist that he is, Deloria calls for "the truth about North American prehistory" because he fully understands the potential legal and economic benefits that an enhanced and revised prehistory might offer.

My point, then, is relatively simple. The many versions of American prehistory are perhaps best understood not as faulty anthropology or inept archeology but, rather, as narrative sites of an enduring conflict over claims to the same living space by radically different cultures. This essay has attended to only one side of that narrative conflict, but tribal groups and Native nations retain their own store of stories about origins, ancient migrations, and the history that preceded the fifteenth-century arrival of Europeans. While narratives of prehistory have previously served the interests of Euro-American nation building, another version of those narratives may yet serve the interests of Native American tribal rebuilding. In other words, narratives grounded in modern archeology, anthropology, and Native peoples' own traditions may eventually bury what Mallery terms "perverted fancy" and what Powell calls a "romantic fallacy," thereby aiding Native peoples in their ongoing efforts to forge their own "forms and strategies of cultural continuity."

University of Arizona

© by Annette Kolodny.


My friends and teachers Patricia Clark Smith (Micmac) and Michael Running Wolf (Micmac) first inspired me to take up this work some years ago. Donald McNutt alerted me to De Witt Clinton's speech. Chadwick Allen joined in the research in Maine in June 2000, helping me take notes, gather materials, and always asking the right questions. My excellent research assistants, James Lilley and Melissa Ryan, patiently helped me track down texts, and Melissa Ryan also helped prepare the manuscript for publication. My deepest gratitude to all.

1. Vine Deloria Jr., "Indians, Archeologists, and the Future," plenary address, 57th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archeology, [End Page 716] 9 April 1992, Pittsburgh, Penn; printed in American Antiquity 57.4 (1992): 597. D'Arcy McNickle (Cree-Salish) raises similar issues in They Came Here First: The Epic of the American Indian (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1949; New York: Octagon/Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1975, rev. ed.).

2. Bartolomé de las Casas, Historia de las Indias, ed. AugustÌn Millares Carlo, 3 vols. (Mexico: Fondo de Cultural Económica, 1951), 1:149; quoted in Anthony Pagden, European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1993), 7.

3. Alexander von Humboldt, Vues des CordillÀres et Monumens des peuples indigÀnes de l'Amérique (Paris: F. Schoell, 1810), 1–3; quoted in Pagden, European Encounters, 8.

4. Review of History of the Indian Tribes of North America. . .. by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall, North American Review 47 (July 1838): 142; quoted in Lucy Maddox, Removals: Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Politics of Indian Affairs (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), 26. Further references to Removals will be cited parenthetically as R.

5. Henry R. Schoolcraft, Historical and Statistical Information, Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, published by Authority of Congress, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1851), 1:17; further references will be cited parenthetically as HSI.

6. See Caleb Atwater, "Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States," Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society, 6 vols. (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1820), 1:105–267.

7. "An Indian Mound Opened," Louisville Advertiser, n.d.; reprinted in Boston Courier, 30 April 1842. Hopewell culture (named for the landowner of one of its principal sites in the Ohio Valley) spread along the rivers of the Midwest and East, establishing extensive trade routes, large ceremonial centers, and Indian farming villages. Elaborately constructed earthen mounds served as ceremonial sites; other mounds were for burials. The Hopewell culture thrived until about 500 A.D. and then, for reasons still not known, went into decline.

8. George Catlin, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, ed. Marjorie Halpin, 2 vols. (1841; reprint, New York: Dover, 1973), 2:246.

9. Ibid.

10. Jedediah Morse, A Report to the Secretary of War, of the United States, on Indian Affairs (1822; reprint, New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1970), 357–59; quoted in Maddox, R, 24.

11. Samuel Mather, An Attempt to Shew, That America Must Be Known to the Ancients; Made at the Request, and to Gratify the Curiosity, of an Inquisitive Gentleman: To which Is Added an Appendix, Concerning the American Colonies, and Some Modern Management against Them. By an American [End Page 717] Englishman (Boston: Kneeland, 1773), 3; further references will be cited parenthetically as A.

12. "Americus" refers to Amerigo Vespucci (1454–1512), an Italian who sailed under the Spanish flag and claimed to have reached the North American mainland on 16 June 1497, eight days before John Cabot.

13. Benjamin Franklin to Samuel Mather, July 1773, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. William B. Willcox, 35 vols. (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1959–99), 20:287; further references will be cited parenthetically as PBF. Franklin held to this view for most of his life and expanded on it in a 1781 letter to Court de Gébelin: "If any Phenicians arriv'd in America, I should rather think it was not by the Accident of a Storm, but in the Course of their long and adventurous Voyages; and that they coasted from Denmark and Norway over to Greenland, and down Southward by Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, &c. to New England, as the Danes themselves certainly did some Ages before Columbus" (PBF, 35:35–36).

14. In the 1820s, the U.S. government began removing the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw peoples to lands west of the Mississippi River. The Indian Intercourse Act of 1834 designated the area of present-day Oklahoma, north and east of the Red River, as well as Kansas and Nebraska as "Indian Territory." Subsequently many other tribes were moved there.

15. Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New York, ed. Barbara Miller Solomon, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1969), 1:91. Dwight served as President of Yale College in New Haven from 1795 to 1817.

16. In 1767, Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, pushed through Parliament a series of acts that levied duties on goods that had previously been untaxed. These new taxes were particularly unpopular because the revenues would be used to pay the salaries of royal officials in the colonies, thus depriving colonial assemblies of their power to withhold salaries from uncooperative or overly meddlesome royal officials. When Americans demonstrated against the new taxes and boycotted the newly taxed goods, Parliament reluctantly backed down in 1770, repealing all the duties except the one on tea. Then in 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, granting to the British East India Company exclusive rights to sell its teas to the Americans and thus depriving American importing merchants of any share in the lucrative trade. The most famous act of resistance to this new Act was the Boston Tea Party. The consequences included increasingly punitive measures against the colonies by Great Britain and increasingly radicalized resistance in the colonies. By 1774, a proposal for a Continental Congress to coordinate the resistance was drafted; and in September 1774, a Congress of delegates from every colony except Georgia met in Philadelphia.

17. Franklin to Cotton Mather, July 1773, PBF, 20:288. [End Page 718]

18. Mather's narrative of sequential "Removals" to and "Settlements" in America by various groups strongly suggests admixture. That said, Mather's reticence on the subject of possible cultural and racial mixing was to be expected. For while the (mostly male) French settlers in New France and Acadia often mixed and intermarried with the local Native peoples, forming a distinctive métis population in Canada, the English in New England (who came as family groups) rarely did. Moreover, like most Christians through the eighteenth century, Puritan ministers believed in a single creation, thus suggesting at least a rudimentary equality between different peoples in the eyes of God. But at the same time, they also recognized what they saw as gradations in cultural development, with their own society having reached the highest levels of achievement. The symbolically powerful and politically pragmatic 1614 marriage of John Rolfe of Virginia to Pocahontas represented a union that Boston ministers would never have encouraged (not even with Indian converts like Pocahontas).

19. John Wesley Powell, "Report of the Director," Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1890–91 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1894), xlii; further references will be cited parenthetically as "RD." Despite Powell's attribution of the lost-superior-races theory to Barton, Barton is himself more ambiguous in New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America (Philadelphia: John Bioren, Printer, 1798). In discussing "the large earthen fortifications or walls, the mounds, and other similar works, which have been discovered in America," Barton concludes that these are "so many proofs of the higher degree of population" in certain parts of ancient North America (xcv). But a "higher degree of population" does not necessarily also imply a higher degree of civilization, even though many readers easily leapt to that interpretation.

20. De Witt Clinton, Discourse Delivered before the New-York Historical Society, at their Anniversary Meeting, 6th December, 1811 (New York: James Eastburn, 1812), 60, 61.

21. Andrew Jackson, "Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress . . . December 7, 1830," U.S. 21st Cong. 2nd House Doc. No. 2 (1830): 19–22; quoted in David Hurst Thomas, Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archeology, and the Battle for Native Identity (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 128. Jackson's description of "monuments and fortresses . . . spread over the extensive regions of the west" refers to the Mississippian culture (which appeared later than the Hopewellian mound-builder culture of Ohio). Mississippian sites were found throughout Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and, of course, Mississippi. About a millennium ago, Mississippian peoples began living in large towns dominated by mounds that supported residential and ceremonial buildings; some towns had more [End Page 719] than 100 mounds. Among other artifacts, they left behind beautiful carvings on stone, shell, and copper.

22. Robert Silverberg, Moundbuilders of Ancient America: The Archeology of a Myth (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1968), 58.

23. See Silverberg, Moundbuilders, 98.

24. Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America, 5 vols. (New York: Appleton, 1874–76), 5:787; quoted in Thomas, Skull Wars, 127. In fact, the great city-states of the Mississippian culture, with their monumental public plazas and ceremonial platforms, were thriving communities until initial contact in the sixteenth century. Hernando de Soto landed in Tampa Bay, Florida, in May 1539 with a private army of 600 soldiers, 200 horses, and 300 pigs. Seeking fabled cities of gold, for four years he marched through "what is now Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas," bringing both warfare and disease to the peoples he encountered. Even more lethal, perhaps, were "the pigs, which multiplied rapidly and were able to transmit their diseases to wildlife in the surrounding forest," according to Charles C. Mann ("1491," Atlantic Monthly, March 2002, 44–45). The result was cascading destruction of humans and other species. Mann writes: "[N]o Europeans visited this part of the Mississippi Valley for more than a century." When they did, Europeans saw only depleted populations in small widely scattered villages. Some anthropologists and epidemiologists estimate a population "drop of nearly 96 percent" in some areas, reports Mann (44–45).

25. Garrick Mallery, "Picture-Writing of the American Indians," Tenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1888–'89 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1893), 35; further references will be cited parenthetically as "P-W."

26. As Powell explains in his introduction to the volume, Mallery's interest in Native American petroglyphs and other forms of "picture-writing" "commenced in the field" when, as a colonel stationed "at Fort Rice, on the upper Missouri river, in the autumn of 1876," Mallery studied—and published articles about—a pictographic Dakota calendar. Powell continues: "Upon the organization of the Bureau of Ethnology, in 1879, Col. Mallery was appointed ethnologist, and has continued in that duty without intermission, supplementing field explorations by study of all accessible anthropologic literature and by correspondence" ("Report of the Director," Tenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, xxvii). Indeed, Mallery's report includes not only his own extensive first-hand research but also lengthy quotations from the work of many others. In "Picture-Writing," Mallery notes that "[a]n essay entitled ‘Pictographs of the North American Indians: A Preliminary Paper,' appeared in the Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. The present work is not a second edition of that essay, but is a continuation and elaboration of the same subject" (25). The earlier essay was also Mallery's. [End Page 720]

27. Mallery does not dismiss the possibility of pre-Columbian contacts, however. He was willing to contemplate occasional contacts, even influence. For example, he speculates that "if as many Japanese and Chinese vessels were driven upon the west American coast in prehistoric times as are known by historic statistics to have been so driven, the involuntary immigrants skilled in drawing and painting might readily have impressed their styles upon the Americans near their landing place to be thence indefinitely defused." In other words, Mallery does not altogether discount the possibility of limited contacts and even some cultural influence emanating from such contacts. But he is careful not to encourage the view that such contacts were responsible for Native sites and artifacts in prehistory; and he rejects the notion of large migrations and settlements of non-Indian peoples since no evidence has been found to support that notion. As he explicitly emphasizes, his speculation about wayward Japanese or Chinese vessels and "involuntary immigrants" in ancient times is only a hypothesis, and "[t]his hypothesis would not involve migration" ("P-W," 772).

28. Cyrus Thomas, "Report on the Mound Explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology," Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 730.

29. A nomadic people who originated in north-central Asia, the Huns employed small rapid horses and were organized into effective military units for invasion and conquest. Part of the Great Wall was built to help keep them out of China, following successful incursions in the third century B.C. In the fourth century A.D., they moved into eastern and western Europe.

30. Thomas, "Report on the Mound Explorations," 726–27.

31. Emily Greenwald, Reconfiguring the Reservation: The Nez Perces, Jicarilla Apaches, and the Dawes Act (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2002), 1; further references will be cited parenthetically as RR.

32. Representative Richard Wilde, Register of Debates, VI, 1093; quoted in Michael Paul Rogin, Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (New York: Knopf, 1975; reprint, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction, 1991), 116.

33. Sacvan Bercovitch, The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America (New York: Routledge, 1993), 30.

34. Dean R. Snow, The Archeology of New England (New York: Academic Press, 1980), 205.

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