This article investigates European and Euro-American desecrations of Native American graves from the early colonial period through the era of Indian Removal. It shows that though colonial-era grave desecration was driven by a variety of motives, such as animosity and greed for looted grave goods, from the time of the American Revolution grave desecration acquired an ideological dimension. By plundering and destroying the resting place of the Native dead, white American soldiers and citizens symbolically contested the continued indigenous ownership of territory claimed by the expansionistic U.S. republic. These acts of erasure represented a facet of the early republican myth of the "Vanishing Indian," and in the increasingly racialized climate of the early nineteenth-century era of Indian Removal, grave desecration imbued the ongoing process of dispossession and territorial conquest with scientific legitimacy, as the study and display of stolen Native remains and artifacts provided tangible evidence of the allegedly inevitable decline and disappearance of Native populations.


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pp. 281-314
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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