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The centerpiece of New York State's 150th anniversary of the Sullivan Expedition of 1779 was a pageant, the "Pageant of Decision." Major General John Sullivan's Revolutionary War expedition was designed to eliminate the threat posed by Iroquois allied with the British. It was a genocidal operation that involved the destruction of over forty Indian villages. This article explores the motivations and tactics of state officials as they endeavored to engage the public in this past in pageant form. The pageant was widely popular, and served the state in fixing the expedition as the end point in settler-Indian relations in New York, removing from view decades of expropriations of Indian land that occurred well after Sullivan's troops left.

Key Words

Revolutionary War, settler colonialism, collective erasure, New York State, memorializing genocide

Patriotic fervor swept central New York in the summer of 1929 as residents prepared a giant pageant to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Major General John Sullivan's Revolutionary War expedition. When the US Post Office released a commemorative Sullivan stamp in June, it sold out in Binghamton the first day it was on sale.1 All year, headlines announced Sullivan historic marker dedications and associated festivities. But the main event was the "Pageant of Decision," a massive performance held three times with three separate casts in Leicester, Geneva, and Elmira on September 14, 21, and 28, respectively. As The Sunday Gazette announced at the conclusion of the final performance, "75,000 WITNESS PAGEANT, Greatest Gathering in History of Elmira." New York State Historian Alexander C. Flick described the event as "successful beyond anticipation." Why so successful? In his view, this was because "The weather was perfect. The parking facilities were excellent. The seating and standing spaces were inadequate to accommodate comfortably the enormous throng of people who came to see the [End Page 7] colorful outdoor drama retelling the beginnings of the white man's invasion of Western New York."2 This article explores motivations for developing this pageant at this time. The mid-1920s are associated with a return of the Ku Klux Klan, a "eugenics craze," and new anti-immigrant legislation, and so a pageant retelling "the white man's invasion" could be construed as embracing the white supremacist sentiments of the era.3 The Sullivan Expedition it commemorated, however, was in fact a scorched earth campaign against Native American settlements, and we can read in this pageant a particular kind of racist policy, settler colonialism, that helped mark this region of New York State as white space.

There is a growing consensus that settler colonialism represents a distinct colonial form.4 Australian historian Patrick Wolfe described settler colonialism as "first and foremost a territorial project, whose priority is replacing natives on their land rather than extracting an economic surplus from mixing their labor with it." In Wolfe's view, the underlying "logic of elimination" on which settler societies are based has led disconnected countries to develop similar policies designed to cope with the threat posed by the continued survival of indigenous groups.5 Scholars are now turning to the ways this underlying eliminatory logic has also shaped settler-colonial historical consciousness and public memory, examining how the "long history of contact between indigenous and white colonial communities" has been narrated.6 Anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose has contributed to [End Page 8] this discussion by asking how it is that incoming settler peoples come to imagine a sense of belonging to their beloved homelands. "We cannot help but know that we are here through dispossession and death," she observes, "What are some of the stories we tell to help us inscribe a moral presence in places we have come to through violence?"7

Jean O'Brien's Firsting and Lasting is a pioneering work on these questions for the United States.8 Through her analysis of hundreds of nineteenth-century historical texts, she identifies the rhetorical strategies of "firsting" and "lasting" that New Englanders used to establish a "replacement narrative," an "origin myth," that "assigns primacy to non-Indians who "settled" the region in a benign process . . that led to an inevitable . . . Indian extinction."9 O'Brien lays bare an obsession in local texts for documenting "firsts": the first white baby born, the first settlement, the first house, and so forth. Through this narrative device, New Englanders seized indigeneity for themselves and reframed Indian peoples as part of an inauthentic prefatory history.10 Part of the "replacement narrative" they constructed also involved establishing monuments and texts about the "last" Indian whom they were replacing. Although O'Brien's empirical evidence is drawn from New England, she notes that the entire construct of firsting and lasting can be found in local histories across the country, an assertion born out by the pageant under consideration here.11

Energized by these developments and work in Native American studies, public historians have analyzed how the "violence over the land" has been commemorated publicly, considering episodes of nineteenth-century Western frontier violence and monuments that commemorate Cherokee absence.12 Relatively understudied has been the anti-Indian violence associated with the Revolutionary [End Page 9]

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Vast parking lot created for pageant spectators, Mark Twain Park, Elmira, New York, September 28, 1929. (Photographs of Observances of the 150th Anniversary of the American Revolution, Series B0567-85, Folder 26, Elmira Scenes, New York State Archives)

War.13 Indeed, the war itself has often provided a handy rationalization, allowing later narrations to bracket off acts of destruction or dispossession of Native peoples as the result of "unfortunate" but necessary wartime exigencies. Part of a whole commemorative complex that involved marker dedications, exhibits, and parades, the "Pageant of Decision" offers an especially fruitful site for considering these questions. The pageant was the culminating event of the state's eight-year-long Revolutionary War sesquicentennial celebration, directed by the New York Board of Regents, and conducted on a grand scale. At the same time, it commemorated an [End Page 10] extended mission of violence and destruction, providing a novel justification for the "white invasion" that was based on evasions and omissions.

The Sullivan Expedition was a complex military campaign carried out from June to September 1779 at a tenuous time of the Revolutionary War. Six Nations members (also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee) aligned with the British were carrying out increasingly devastating raids on white settlements in the sparsely populated frontier regions, and causing food shortages that threatened the Continental Army.14 Sullivan's orders, developed by General George Washington, were to cause the "total destruction and devastation" of all Six Nation villages and the "capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible."15 In order to force the Indians to become reliant on the British for their survival, Washington directed Sullivan "to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more."16 From the perspective of Sullivan and his men, the operation was a remarkable success. Because most inhabitants fled in advance of the noisy army, troops engaged in only one major battle and suffered few casualties; most of the time they carried out a mission of devastation, obliterating some forty settlements—homes, fields, orchards, crops and all. From the vantage point of the Native inhabitants of the region, it was a disaster. Although the expedition did not involve the loss of Native life soldiers were prepared to inflict, many Indians died by starvation and exposure that winter after seeking shelter at Fort Niagara and points further north.17

Scholars still debate the long-term results of the mission. Barbara Graymont points out that it was designed to break the power of the Iroquois and make the border regions safe, but did not achieve either and in fact rallied Iroquois to increase attacks against white settlements for the next few years.18 Sullivan never made it to [End Page 11] Niagara, one of his objectives, and never obtained the prisoners Washington had hoped could be used in future bargaining.19 Others have argued that the operation helped shift the wartime balance of power, and link it to untold bounty including American victory over the British and all that has meant.20 Regardless of the outcome of these debates, it is difficult today to imagine developing a mass reenactment of what now would be considered a genocidal mission.21 But before turning to the pageant origins and message, we should first consider its unusual form.

The "Pageant of Decision" was held when mass historical dramas were in vogue. The pageant movement commenced as an anti-modernist movement in rural England at the turn of the century.22 During the Progressive Era, a "pageantry craze" swept across the United States.23 These years were characterized by strong patriotic fervor and of bringing history making to the people, an effort historian Michael Kammen has identified as "democratizing tradition."24 The American pageantry movement spanned the ideological spectrum, and hereditary patriotic societies like the Daughters or Sons of the American Revolution, progressive recreation workers and educators, and artists and drama professors worked together with the grand goal of building community and changing society by putting on historical pageants.25 At its height, a standard local community history template emerged. Because of the extensive temporal sweep of these dramas, they often depicted a shift from indigenous to white dominion that involved "firsting" and "lasting."26 Community history pageants invariably started with a "pre-history" phase, one that acknowledged Native American predecessors, but which did so in such a way that it was made clear that this past served to set the stage for the arrival of the "first" people, the white settlers. The transition from Indian to settler was presented as seamless and untroubled, sometimes enacted in dance form or carried out through the device of a "Medicine Man" or prophet who foretold of "his race's decline." If there was any contact between Indian and settler societies, it came either in the form of Indians attacking settlers (never the other way around), or through peaceful land transactions. Pageants thus offered what David Glassberg [End Page 12] describes as a "conservative evolutionary approach to social change."27 Indian residents thus dispatched, white pioneers appeared and community pageants then shifted into celebrations of "firsting," narrating the story of the "first" houses, town government, schools, and churches.28

The historical sweep of these early pageants was typically quite long as they often had a goal of linking contemporary inhabitants to the values and contributions of a community's earliest settlers. Pageants minimized internal ethnic or class conflict, using history to "present an idealized portrait of local social relations."29 Most pageants had no overt war scenes, and even the Civil War was usually only alluded to, represented by depictions of families' sad farewells to the brave departing heroes, and the return of wounded men.30 Since the community history pageant was also meant as an exercise in community building, organizers sought participants through a diversity of local organizations, including historical societies, church, ethnic and fraternal organizations.31 Many pageants were inclusive in text if not in casting, depicting waves of immigrants who settled in the area. As Glassberg points out, the most recent immigrant populations and African Americans were usually missing from representations of the community, and Native Americans rarely if ever played themselves, although notable exceptions occurred in some Western pageants and in pageants written and directed by Indians.32

The "Pageant of Decision" was developed at the end of this movement, when the return to community history pageants was accompanied by a new fashion in historical accuracy.33 It shared elements of previous community history pageants, including the involvement of a wide swath of the local community. The pageant is unusual in its state sponsorship and ambitious scope, for the imagined subject and audience of this community history was not a single town, but an entire state and its residents. Moreover, rather than addressing Native/white replacement obliquely or in a prelude to frame a white community's history as the main pageant focus, the plot of the "Pageant of Decision" was almost entirely centered on the Native/white transition, deploying national public history trends to confront very local concerns.34 The state historian found in a Revolutionary era story a way to develop [End Page 13] a unique replacement narrative for New Yorkers at a time when questions about early land deals New York made with Indian nations were resurfacing.

Iroquois Activism

In the early 1920s, New York State was rocked by what some scholars have termed a "pan-Iroquois resurgence."35 Six Nations activism, while largely nonstop, only increased in response to the conscription of non-citizen Indians during World War I.36 A land claim issue further mobilized Iroquois both within New York and beyond. "Is White Man's Title to More Than Six Million Acres of One-Time Indian Land in New York State Threatened?" asked The Knickerbocker Press in a dramatic first page of its Sunday issue on April 30, 1922. This uncertainty was raised by the conclusions drawn by a New York State Indian commission chaired by Potsdam assemblyman Edward A. Everett. After holding hearings at each Haudenosaunee reservation, Everett determined that the Six Nations in New York State "have title to lands estimated at 6,000,000 acres and valued at approximately $2,500,000,000."37

The Commission was not supposed to come to these conclusions. It was created after a US District Court voted to return land to an Oneida family in 1920, stating that New York courts couldn't remove the Oneida as they were a federally recognized tribe.38 This case exposed serious jurisdictional confusion, and the New York legislature created the commission to determine for once and all whether the Six Nations of New York were under federal or state control. As historian Andrew Bard Epstein writes, regardless of the answer, the next step was clear: "the abolition of tribal governments, the allotment of land, and the conferral of citizenship," goals New York legislators had been contemplating for much of the nineteenth century.39

By the end of the Revolutionary War, aside from some two thousand Iroquois and allied Indians who moved to Canada, most Iroquois had returned after Sullivan's devastation, and held vast amounts of land, including all of western New York, most of central New York, and much of northern and western Pennsylvania.40 New states were trying to find ways to obtain these territories, however, even before the Treaty of Paris ended the war in 1783. New York's [End Page 14] legislature tried to use Six Nations land for military bounty as early as July 1782, and state Indian commissioners evaded state law by concocting a private company that made fraudulent 999-year lease arrangements that were later revoked.41 The federal government periodically asserted its authority in this early time of flux. Congress signed a treaty with the Six Nations in 1784, a treaty that formed one of the bases of Everett's conclusions, and additional federal laws were cited by the Haudenosaunee that Everett's commission interviewed.42 These laws included the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act in 1790, which mandated supervision by a federal agent, Indian consent, ratification by the Senate, and a presidential signature in order to purchase Indian land, and the federal Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794 that recognized Haudenosaunee sovereignty in two thirds of the state, treaties Haudenosaunee leaders and activists continue to highlight to this day.43

New York state speculators and political leaders nevertheless proceeded to claim lands, carrying out "colonialism by treaty," making twelve separate land disposition agreements with distinct Haudenosaunee nations from 1785 to 1796.44 The state also took Native lands to build canals and roads and made outright fraudulent deals, so that by the time of Everett's inquiry, Haudenosaunee were living in scattered tiny reserves, or had been removed to Canada, Wisconsin, or Oklahoma.45 New York's meteoric growth in the nineteenth century was only possible by the taking of Indian lands.46

As Everett's commission looked into these details, it confronted the fact that the lines separating state and federal power were never clearly drawn, and that multiple state treaties had not followed federal law.47 Everett concluded that much of New York State, including entire cities such as Buffalo and Syracuse, as well as large industrial centers, power plants, railroads, the Erie Canal and more, all rested on an [End Page 15] unstable legal foundation. Although he presented these radical conclusions to the New York Assembly in February 1922, the other commission members never signed on to his report, and the report was never disseminated to the legislature. Before it was completely silenced, however, Everett had already released his findings to Haudenosaunee nations.48

Haudenosaunee from across the country began gathering at Onondaga to plan a legal strategy, and New York press noticed. "Six Nation Remnants Seek Return of Old Holdings," the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle announced on November 30, 1924, continuing, "The Six Nations are out on the war path. Not with tomahawk and sharp pointed arrows for the heart of an enemy, but with lawyers and ancient records." On February 22, 1925, the Buffalo Courier announced, "Land on Which Buffalo is Situated Sought by Tribes of Six Iroquois Nations." During the time that the future of much of the state was possibly at stake, a state historian was planning a state-wide celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Revolutionary War.

Commemorating the Revolutionary War

New York State was not alone in marking the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Revolutionary War; similar celebrations were being held across the country. In New York, the original idea of developing a statewide commemoration of key Revolutionary War moments did not originate within state government, but was first suggested by Utica industrialist W. Pierrepont White. White, the son of a railroad executive, William Mansfield White, and the nephew of Canvass White, an early engineer on the Erie Canal, had made a name for himself by promoting New York State road construction. In 1922, as president of the Mohawk Valley Historical society, he continued to think in grandiose terms. He joined with six other historical societies to pass a resolution calling on the state legislature to record and observe "New York State's magnificent Revolutionary record," and to provide for "celebrations, markers and school exercises involving the entire eight year Revolutionary period."49 The state provided seed money allowing the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) to form a committee, and gave them a year to develop a plan.50 At this point, there was no clear consensus regarding which events to celebrate (Sullivan's Expedition was barely a footnote), nor how they might be identified or prioritized. The committee took on this challenge with a decidedly democratic approach. It sent a letter July 20, 1923 to hundreds of historical and patriotic societies across the state [End Page 16] soliciting the public's help in this quandary.51 This strategy yielded remarkable results. At the committee's next meeting in September 1923, the executive secretary distributed a list of 457 local historical events and sites worthy of recognition that was eventually expanded to 640 by February 1924.52

With hundreds of possible events to be carried out across the state, how to decide between them and what guidance might the committee offer state citizens regarding their proper recognition? The result was an early articulation of public history goals and practices. After a proposal requesting a new state commission and millions of dollars failed, a more modest bill was passed that placed the project under the purview of the New York State Board of Regents.53 The regents formed a committee (hereafter, the "150th Committee"), chaired by State Historian Alexander C. Flick and assisted by Executive Secretary Peter Nelson.54 Concerned that historical observances would "evaporate in noise and show without leaving results that are either permanent or uplifting," the 150th Committee recommended the promotion of "solid historical addresses," the establishment of "permanent markers," and the development of "instructive, realistic pageants."55 Since the Revolutionary commemorative activities would be carried out at the local level, the state historian prepared a 371-page monograph in 1926 for a popular audience titled, The American Revolution in New York, and distributed fifty-thousand copies to schools, libraries, and organizations across the state.56 Flick's "Program Suggestions for 150th Anniversary of the Revolution" offered guidance for local organizers.57 In it, he encouraged them to have "as many members of the community participate" as possible, and outlined an array of possible programming elements including literary or musical recitations, addresses, a play and music, a parade and fireworks, moving pictures on American history, historical exhibitions, and especially pageantry, writing, "Nothing will arouse more interest that this, and it has the further advantage of using large numbers of all ages from the community."58

Although the Sullivan Expedition did not feature extensively in White's early materials or the historical textbook Flick prepared for popular audiences, Flick [End Page 17] began to envision it as a key element of the commemoration.59 In 1927, he proposed a major Sullivan initiative to the regents, arguing, "Next to the Burgoyne campaign the Sullivan expedition was the largest military operation within the Empire State during the Revolution," involving a stretch of what is "twenty or more" of the present counties. "Both the magnitude and importance of the operation justify the observance of its sesquicentennial" so that "the youth of our Commonwealth" will learn of its historical significance.60 The regents and the governor approved his proposal, retained the executive committee and provided it $70,000 to fund the proposed Sullivan activities.61 Since pageants had already marked previous Revolutionary War programming such as the Oriskany Battle on August 6, 1927, it follows that Flick would envision celebrating the Sullivan Expedition in this format as well.62

Inventing Sullivan-Clinton

Because the Sullivan expedition was a relatively unknown piece of Revolutionary War history for most New Yorkers, Flick first took steps to draw out the "proper" messages to educate the state's citizens. One of his first hurdles was the matter of branding, and Flick took on its very appellation, writing that Washington and Congress had used the phrase, "Indian Expedition," but when it was completed, "it came to be known as the Sullivan Expedition," nomenclature that "endured for 150 years." Flick claimed that new research suggested that it is "more correctly designated as the "Sullivan-Clinton Campaign." "Campaign" and not "expedition" due to its extensive geographical scope and multiple major and minor "operations."63 General James Clinton's name was added as he was second in command and conducted "one major and one minor movement."64 However, Sullivan was a major-general, while the four men beneath him were all generals and thus of equal rank (Clinton was from New York, Edward Hand was from Pennsylvania, William Maxwell was from New Jersey, and Enoch Poor came from Massachusetts). The fact that General Clinton was the only New Yorker, and brother of New York State's first governor, George Clinton, may have encouraged Flick to elevate his status on the commemorative materials. Clinton was included on equal footing with Sullivan in its official nomenclature and on every sesquicentennial plaque in New York, while sesquicentennial plaques in Pennsylvania commemorate a "Sullivan Expedition." [End Page 18]

Turning the "Sullivan-Clinton Campaign" into a set of events that people might commemorate posed challenges no matter what it was called. It was difficult to determine what to celebrate—there were only a few military engagements over the course of the several-months-long journey, and these were relatively small skirmishes that involved far fewer troops than the battles that were the focus of great pageants in the preceding years. The soldiers' main "achievement" was a destructive one: they spent most of their time destroying houses, fields, crops, and trees. In this era of accuracy, how might such a pageant be developed? Surely not with reenactments of soldiers burning houses or girdling fruit trees?

Flick traveled the state suggesting a range of ideas and in the process measuring local response. Early news stories presented his proposal as a kind of giant march around the state, perhaps sardonically suggesting that Sullivan's army was going to "March Again."65 At a meeting in February, Flick was asked if he had abandoned his "original plan of forming an army and marching over the exact route of Sullivan's Expedition." He replied, "We never had planned to march over the entire route. It was merely suggested. But it has been dropped, for we could not ask men to march from Tioga Point through the heart of New York." He added, suggesting that this prospect had been contemplated, "And if we used busses it would mar the effect."66

At the annual meeting of the Livingston County Historical Society in Geneseo in June 1928, Flick spoke of the tremendously successful Saratoga pageant, emphasized similarities between the Sullivan and Burgoyne campaigns, and claimed that Sullivan's was of "more importance that it generally gets credit for." He explained that although Sullivan did not reach Niagara as intended, he did "conquer the Indians and forever stopped their depredations" (a claim that was patently untrue).67 In case the attendees at the historical society meeting that day found something distasteful about commemorating a mission of destruction, Flick told them that "next year's celebration is not to be for the commemoration of the military victory gained by Sullivan but more for the results of the campaign and its significance afterward." He emphasized the historical nature of his plans: the goal was to survey historic places "along the line of march," and establish markers. He wanted not to celebrate destruction, but rebuild, and told the audience that we "would like to see an Indian village built just south of the Boyd and Parker lot, with true models of Indian homes, growing crops like they had, and even domestic animals if they should be found practical."68 He also began to take Washington's thinking at the time in new directions. He told members of the historical society, "Washington had a much further view than subduing Indians. He was keen enough [End Page 19] to see that in conquering these Indians he was getting possession of a vast Western territory and that when peace came he would be able to demand as American territory not just a narrow strip fringing on the Atlantic but a section reaching clear to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River."69 At this early stage, Flick was painting a picture of the Sullivan campaign as one designed to seize a good portion of the continent rather than a desperate attempt to win a war.

As Flick traveled the state to solicit interest in the pageant, his ideas evolved. Eventually, the model Indian village idea was abandoned, as was the early idea to reenact the march itself. In February 1929, he made a pitch to the mayor and people of Elmira suggesting an all-out reenactment of the Battle of Newtown, one in which local Indians would play a role. This battle "will be enacted in full costume," he claimed, adding, "arrangements are now being made with the Iroquois Indians on the state reservations to take part, representing their forefathers who fought under Joseph Brant, Mohawk war chief."70 This idea too was dropped.

The executive committee eventually prepared a list of elements of the campaign that might be celebrated, and selected Leicester, Elmira, and Geneva, future pageant sites, for major observances. The first two towns were near sites of combat that had been the focus of prior settler commemorations: Leicester was near an ambush site, the "Groveland Ambuscade," and a lengthy local white settler complex, and the Battle of Newtown, the sole pitched battle, occurred near the present-day city of Elmira, and had been the focus a centennial commemoration a half century before.71 The Geneva location was in an important tourist center, home of the Finger Lakes Association, a regional chamber of commerce that had expressed early interest in the state's sesquicentennial planning.72 By April, when touring potential pageant sites in Elmira, Flick explained that "arrangements will be made to leave standing a field of corn near the battlefield," and proposed burning the corn and a reconstructed Indian village to illustrate the aftermath of the Battle of New-town."73 Apparently this idea was met with local enthusiasm, and the burning of crops became the climax of the four-hour-long event. [End Page 20]

Enlisting the Community

To produce the massive pageant, the state hired Ware and Francis, a Boston pageant production company, which in turn hired George V. C. Lord to write the text. Lord was a Harvard University drama coach who also produced Broadway shows for the Shubert family.74 He based his text on materials prepared by state historian Flick, who also reviewed and approved the script. Percy Jewett Burell, the man who had directed the Saratoga pageant, was brought on as "General Pageant Director," and Charles W. Ware became official costumer because of his past success in putting on the Saratoga pageant. He had the ambitious task of preparing "period costumes" for some 7,500 people.

Much of the work was in the hands of members of local communities, led by executive committees composed of directors of historical societies, newspaper editors, and local boosters. These individuals then managed dozens of separate committees that concerned themselves with all manner of details including casting, caring for the animals in the pageant, transportation, safety, and so forth (for a sense of the scale of these pageants, see image on page 10). At a "mobilization meeting" held in Elmira on August 19, over one thousand people showed up at the State Armory where they learned of committee composition and heard pep talks by William J. Francis, pageant company co-director, former state senator of Massachusetts, and veteran of the Spanish-American War. Francis told the gathering of pageant workers and actors that they should consider themselves soldiers: "It is up to you to make this the greatest thing that has ever happened in your city. You have enlisted like soldiers, and you must serve like soldiers, obeying the orders of your commanders."75

The "community" that enlisted in pageant activities was a decidedly "non-Indian" one, despite the presence across the state of multiple Haudenosaunee reservations and settlements, descendants of the very people central to the Sullivan story. If the state's Revolutionary War exercises were to be truly inclusive, these residents should have been involved. On some level Flick and other committee members were aware of this problem for they addressed the inclusion of "the Iroquois" in making preparations for the Sullivan-Clinton festivities in an early report to the regents:

The purpose of the memorialization of the 150th anniversary of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign is to obtain an intelligent understanding of its meaning and results in the history of New York State and the American Republic, and not to revive old hatred or to gloat over defeated foes, consequently representatives of the Iroquois, of Canada, and of Great Britain should be cordially welcomed to take a part in the commemoration (emphasis added).76 [End Page 21]

The committee, however, did not outline how "representatives of the Iroquois" might "take a part." In organizing marker dedications, Flick and Nelson reached out again and again to different Indians seeking their involvement.77 Flick wrote to a former student at Syracuse, William Newell, then president of The Society for the Propagation of Indian Welfare in New York State, about his Sullivan-Clinton plans and his hope "to have the Indian's side of this bit of history brought out," seeking names of potential Indian participants. Newell sent him several names, and assured him that he was sure that "a great number of New York Indians will be greatly interested in whatever you do in this respect."78

Despite Flick's efforts, no Indians performed in the pageant, and only a few participated in the marker dedications. When they did, their presence was reframed to suit white settler needs. A ceremony held at Cayuga Lake organized by Auburn lawyer Richard C. S. Drummond involved Chief Wilber Shongo and colleagues from Buffalo. Newspaper reports couldn't help but describe their participation in melodramatic fashion as an instance of "lasting":

What may have been the last Council fire of the Cayugas to be lighted on the shores of Cayuga Lake was extinguished with becoming rites of the descendants of the men who built similar fires centuries ago. It was a touching climax in a beautiful setting to a deeply impressive and moving ceremony, which brought to a fitting close the Sullivan Sesqui-Centennial observance in this county (emphasis added).79

We can see echoes of the "vanishing Indian" trope and the "lasting" construct here.80 Flick was thrilled by this inclusion of Cayuga participants, writing Drummond later, "the exercises at Great Gully were unusually impressive. The presence of the Indians and their participation added a note which, I regret to say, was lacking in most of our dedication observances."81

It is difficult to interpret the lack of Native involvement in the pageant. Although unusual in the East, Native peoples were sometimes incorporated in western pageants, such as the Pageant of Paha Sapa, held in Custer, South Dakota, starting in 1923 and in which Lakota Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation appeared.82 Native peoples also participated in several Canadian pageants, including the [End Page 22] multisite pageant designed to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Hudson Bay Company held in 1920. On the other hand, when Minnesota Ojibwa offered to play Indian roles in the St. Louis pageant of 1914, they were refused.83

One reason for the lack of Native participation in the Sullivan anniversary commemorations may have been related to their celebration of Indian decline. It is worth noting that some Seneca participated in other pageants during this period, such as a centennial honoring the underground railroad that was held in 1927 in Jamestown, New York.84 Other inhibiting factors may have been the Haudenosaunee land claim case; ongoing state assertions of sovereignty over Indian fishing, hunting, and other rights; travel costs; or the insulting nature of these kinds of performances.85 Linea Sundstrom points out that the view of Indians as a "vanquished and vanishing race" appears consistently in pageants penned by whites, as we saw in the Cayuga Lake performance. Pageants written by Indians were void of such a message. She cites "Duhamel's pageant," which was written and directed by Oglala spiritual leader Nicholas Black Elk in 1927 to educate whites about Lakota culture.86 Native participation in white pageants appears to be inversely related to Indian nationalism. For instance, Lakota participation in the eight-decades performance of the Pageant of Paha Sapa dropped off after World War II, especially as Sioux tribes were confronting the 1877 illegal taking of the Black Hills in the US courts.87

Because of the massive casts and crew required, participants were drawn from a wide area. The Elmira executive committee decided to farm out the casting process to the city's civic organizations. Members of the "Junior Service League" were designated roles in the Albany Minuet; the Loyal Order of Moose was in charge of portraying the Easton Market Day scene; the Catholic Daughters of America participated in the Indian Council scene; and members of the more elite civic institutions, such as the Sons of the American Revolution and the Masonic orders, chose men to play members of the Continental Congress.88 Indian-themed clubs helped staff the Indian roles. The "Red Men" society, an all-white fraternal order, was assigned to pick seventy-five men to portray Indians in an Indian village, and Indian women were selected by the "Daughters of Pocahontas."89 The Elmira [End Page 23] press joked that casting was to be carried out by hair color: "Most everyone who is willing to do his or her bit in the pageant will be gladly accepted by the directors.... While the blondes will yield to brunettes as Indians, squaws and girls—the same applying to men as well as women—the fair-hued will have their innings as the ladies and gentlemen of the colonial villages, taking part in the grand military ball and reception which was held in Albany prior to the Clinton campaign."90 There was a burlesque quality to some of the images taken in Elmira on pageant day (see image above).

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"Indian women," Elmira Pageant, September 28, 1929. (Photographs of Observances of the 150th Anniversary of the American Revolution, Series B0567-85, Folder 26, Elmira Scenes, New York State Archives)

Pageant Day

As pageant day neared, activity picked up for local community members and pageant directors. Flick, Nelson, and the general pageant director, Percy Jewett Burrell, crisscrossed the state, meeting with local committees to help determine pageant timing and location.91 Pageant producers Ware and Francis brought their [End Page 24] sons Theodore Ware and W. J. Francis, Jr. to help them in a "fleet of four automobiles," driving "nearly 100,000 miles."92 Local officials often expressed concern about the logistical challenges associated with safely orchestrating a gathering the size of a large town, whereas historically credible staging was often Flick's overriding concern, who sought pageant grounds where modern structures were not in sight.93

Interest in the pageant was fanned by press releases prepared by the Office of the State Historian that emphasized the Indian-war aspects of the drama. Discussing a rehearsal of the Cherry Valley Massacre Scene by the Horseheads Citizen's Group, Elmira papers wrote, "It sounded like the real thing when the women and children ran shrieking around the Armory, besieged by imaginary Indians."94 Another reported, "back of the pageant stage, a small cornfield is now well tasseled and workmen are busily engaged erecting an Indian village of 15 Long Houses, cabins and huts."95 The day before the presentation, another reported, "the war-whoop of bronze skinned Indians, equipped with muskets, knives and tomahawks, the rattle of musketry, the boom of six-pounders, the flash of a hundred different rich colored costumes, and the Indian village backstage, all unite to present a picture 150 years old."96 News stories also discussed practical matters such as parking, policing, and the general welfare of the influx of people, and especially the weather. "Natives to Return for Celebration," the Mount Morris Post reported August 30, 1929, with no irony whatsoever in discussing the return of former white residents for the festivities.

Although aspects of the pageant seemed designed to entertain and drew from cowboy-and-Indian popular culture, pageant materials also reflected the fashion for historical accuracy. This was carried into the published brochure distributed gratis at each pageant: the script contained copious footnotes, with references given with full scholarly apparatus for Washington's statements, or reports made in Congress.97 Also included in the pamphlet was a scholarly treatise on the Sullivan Expedition. In press releases, the state historian's office announced that the text closely followed the "actual facts." It was described as a "dramatized textbook," one [End Page 25] that was "devoid of symbolic dances and grandiose speeches."98 Its focus on a curtailed time frame helped foster a myopic treatment of its subtitle, "Why the Republic Westward Grew."

Finally, the September pageants arrived. Each of the pageant days was organized similarly. Factories, shops and stores were closed to facilitate full enjoyment of the populace; mayors declared the day a civic holiday.99 While some officials tended to the morning marker dedications, the action was at the pageant grounds where thousands of people gathered for hours to secure seats.100 By media accounts, the massive event went well in all three locations. Public safety systems were apparently busy in Elmira, with more than fifty-five emergencies ("heat prostration, sun stroke, heart attacks, lacerations and bruises") but no major incidents. Seven lost children were restored to their families.101

The pageant lasted well over four hours, twice as long as reported in the schedule printed in local papers. With a pageant stage close to a half-mile long, it was difficult to discern the activity.102 As one observer noted, the stage was "so long that music played by the band at the west end reached the crowd at the center through the amplifying horns quicker than the air," and binoculars were in high demand and passed around by the spectators trying to catch a glimpse of their friends.103 The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle suggested that sitting through it was an endurance test: "as the strains of 'America' were amplified through the huge horns in the center of the field, the crowd rose in a body and stood throughout the number and then settled down for more than four hours before the pageant was finally brought to an end."

Many journalists commented on the juxtaposition that day of the old with the new, as was common at the time.104 The Elmira press outlined the "complicated system of communication," set up with four miles of wire to assist in communication between director Percy Burrell in the signal tower on the hill behind the spectators, and the headquarters backstage in the ravine (see image on next page).105 The Democrat and Chronicle commented, "Words not in the script were brought out by the amplifiers to the amusement of the crowd when Gouverneur Morris, played by Burt Goody of Batavia, asked to step over in front of the mike. As Morris finished his speech the crowd added their applause to that of the members of [End Page 26] Congress, while two airplanes, soaring overhead, and a passing freight train, added to the general noise of this scene."106

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The crowd awaits on Pageant Day. In the distance can be seen the pageant director's viewing station. Elmira, New York, September 28, 1929. (Photographs of Observances of the 150th Anniversary of the American Revolution, Series B0567-85, Folder 26, Elmira Scenes, New York State Archives)

Sullivan and the Making of the Empire State

What story did thousands of spectators observe? The pageant was an impassioned celebration of settler colonialism expressly designed for non-Indian residents of the "Empire State." When we turn to the text, we see it as both a celebration of westward expansion (more specifically, the "white man's invasion") and a community-history writ large.

Composed of fifteen acts, the "Pageant of Decision" starts like many community pageants with a prologue involving a "symbolic dance" depicting "The Wilderness." Unlike other community pageants, however, Indians do not vanish at this point, but reappear in Act 1, "Indian Life at the Beginning of the American Revolution." [End Page 27] The script explains, "the noble Red Man lives at peace, unspoiled by civilization." Trouble arrives in the form of Tory emissaries, who try to entice Indians to help them in their war with the colonists, explaining that the "rebel horde" "would steal from you your lands and drive you forth with fist and with sword." A proffered alliance with the king of England is refused by the Indian chief who says, "We want but peace." Colonists arrive on the scene asking the Indians to remain neutral, and Indians accept a "peace belt" guaranteeing that they will remain at home. But the Tories return, promising an easy win and payment for scalps. The chief asks his people what they should do, and they agree to join the king after all, thus breaking the peace treaty they had just made with the colonists.

This initial account is a gross simplification. The formidable Iroquois Confederacy endeavored to stay neutral as hostilities began between the British and the rebels. By end of the Revolutionary War, most Mohawks, Cayugas, Senecas, and eventually Onondagas sided with the British, whereas most Oneidas and Tuscaroras supported the American side. Maintaining neutrality was difficult as both British and Patriot envoys used lavish gifts and "vast Quantities of Rum" to convince them otherwise.107 This act also neglects to mention several key treaties the Haudenosaunee made in 1763 and 1768 establishing boundaries to separate populations that were regularly broken by white pioneers.108

This fateful decision made, the next act, "Causes of the Campaign," relates the Cherry Valley Massacre. This act depicts Joseph Brant and other Indians attacking individual militia men and scalping them, and then a "general melee" in which sixteen men and thirty-two women and children are killed and the rest of the white settler civilians are marched away. Cherry Valley was one of many settlements sacked during the shift in warfare strategies after British losses in 1777 and this was one of the losses the Continental Congress had in mind in ordering Washington to respond.109

In Act 3, "Appeals to Washington," we witness George Washington at the headquarters of the Continental Congress receiving word about the incident at Cherry Valley. Washington makes the following statement: "Our frontiers must be protected and the only way to do it is to send an expedition into the Indian country. Our claims must be staked down for westward expansion when the time comes to make peace." These statements attribute to Washington an anachronistic vision of Manifest Destiny.110 [End Page 28]

The next act depicts the Continental Congress resolving to send three thousand men to carry out an Indian expedition proposed by Washington. There is a bit of drama here when a "member from Pennsylvania" stands up to "protest against this measure," which he views as "unwise, impracticable" and likely to produce "no lasting results whatsoever." Gouverneur Morris, an elite New York delegate to the Continental Congress known for his lengthy speeches, challenges the Pennsylvanian, describing his remarks as "cowardly, unwarranted and absolutely indefensible." He reminds the members of the group of "the horrible massacres at Wyoming, Cherry Valley, Minisink and the numberless, horrible atrocities," describing in grotesque detail the mutilation of women and children.111 Morris, in this rendition, is a visionary of the future Empire State:

This proposed expedition is . . . a sensible solution of our frontier difficulties. . . . And now for a moment glance with me into the future. See the thin red barrier which bars our Westward expansion melt away. See the fair lands west to the Mississippi dotted with homesteads unharrassed by savage or Tory and the mighty wave of American Civilization rolling onward to the Western coast.112

By this point, it has been made clear to the audience who the heroes are in this simplification of the past: "good" characters include the colonists, especially Gouverneur Morris, Sullivan, and Washington. The Indians too are mostly "good" (but clearly sub-human, called "savages" and dehumanized as a "thin red barrier" in Morris' speech), while the Tories are "bad," as is the pacifist from Pennsylvania.

In Act 5, Washington gives the command to Sullivan. Act 6 offers the diversion of a ball in Albany before the departure of General James Clinton, with the governor, his brother George side-by-side, visually connecting Sullivan's expedition through General Clinton to New York's political leadership. Act 7 shows people gathering at the market in Easton, Pennsylvania (where Sullivan first gathered his troops), Act 8 shows Clinton traveling to Lake Otsego, and Act 9 depicts Sullivan and Clinton meeting up at Tioga Point.

The turning point of the whole affair then happens at an imaginary Indian Council at Canadasaga, the event of Act 10.113 This council of Indians "stripped to their waists," includes Red Jacket, Joseph Brant, Little Beard "and other chiefs" on one side, and John Butler, his son Walter, and other Tories on the other. Famed Mohawk leader Brant starts right out with a dramatic speech:

My brothers of the Long House! Tonight, you must decide a great question. Whether you will take the hatchet from the heads of the rebels of our great [End Page 29] Father, the King, to whom you justly owe allegiance, and go to your homes until the war is over, while the rebels destroy your houses, crops and cattle, so that you starve and die next winter, or whether you will remain on the warpath and drive these cruel destroyers from our land.114

Butler makes a strong plea for them to stay on, describing the rebel colonists as "but a lot of weak old women with blood like water." His speech is impassioned and immediately followed by Queen Esther, who brags about having torn fifteen scalps off the heads of the rebels, saying, "And why? Did not these eyes watch my castle burn and all my village?" She turns into a maniac, shouting "Go out! Strike!! Kill! Kill!! Kill!!!"115 The decision made, Sullivan's troops have no choice but to carry out their orders.

The inclusion of Queen Esther, a woman made famous in early white renditions of the Battle of Wyoming (Pennsylvania) of 1778, is pure fantasy.116 Pageant boosters knew it and discussed this fact in their publicity, stating, "With the exception of the introduction of bloody Queen Esther into the plot, the pageant follows accurately historical fact."117 But in order to include this image of Indian barbarism and icon of the "savage Indian" made famous with Wyoming Battle lore, historical accuracy was cast to the winds.

The Battle of Newtown (Act 11) follows. The Groveland Ambuscade, the focus of Act 12, was a well-known ambush that was elaborated in local white settler commemoration at a site of supposed Indian barbarism.118 Tories are about to kill two ambushed men, Thomas Boyd and Michael Parker, but Indian leader Joseph Brant spares their lives as they are members of the same secret society. Tory Walter Butler comes over and begins hitting the two men, and orders the Indians to avenge themselves on them. The men are crippled and dragged off. Sources remain conflicted over how Boyd and Parker were killed, by whom, and how gruesome may have been their deaths.119 [End Page 30]

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Mary Jemison appealing to two "Indians." Leicester Pageant, September 14, 1929. (Photographs of Observances of the 150th Anniversary of the American Revolution, Series B0567-85, Folder 26, Elmira Scenes, New York State Archives)

If there were any remaining feelings in the audience that Sullivan and his men were behaving immorally, Mary Jemison sets them straight in Act 13 (see image above). Mary Jemison was a white woman captured by the Indians at age fourteen in 1758. Later, she was transferred from the Delawares to the Senecas and adopted by them. The narrative of her life story became a classic of American literature.120 She is likely included in the pageant because her story was well known by this time. What is perplexing is just how far the pageant strays from her account published in 1824. She reported then that as Sullivan approached, the Senecas "sent all their women and children into the woods a little west of Little Beards Town, in order that we might make a good retreat if it should be necessary."121 But the pageant [End Page 31] version of Mary Jemison criticizes the Indian chiefs for leaving the women and children behind: "Brothers!" she shouts, "The white man is not cruel. He will spare your lives if you surrender and agree to remain by your camp-fires." There is also a poignant moment at the end of the scene when Mary Jemison looks back, saying "Farewell, beautiful Genesee!" What is remarkable is the fact that while Jemison may have fled in advance of Sullivan's army, she returned and lived in the area until 1823, as her popular narrative had made abundantly clear.122

The shortest scene (14) is that which depicts the actual activities of the Sullivan Expedition, reduced down to one event, the "Destruction of Genesee Castle." The mock Indian villages and cornfields are destroyed: "Troops are seen in the distance, busily destroying the corn and other crops and burning of the houses." After a bugle cry indicates that the destruction is complete, the expedition is over, there are three "rousing cheers," and "the return march is begun." In the much longer Act 15, and there are celebrations and toasts.

The epilogue, entitled "Washington's Dream Comes True," offers a glimpse into the present-day. It states, "Across the broad expanse of the Empire State come throngs of settlers to claim the wonderful country, teeming with untold wealth and resources, made possible of habitation by the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign," concluding, "To the strains of 'Onward, Christian Soldier' they come—on and on—they pass, on and still on, without abating, the throngs of happy, eager, God-hewn pioneers, secure at last in assured prosperity and peace still roll on—and our story ends."123 The pageant closes with a rousing patriotic "Manifest Destiny" version of US history in its final scene.

Unpacking the Pageant

Couched as historically accurate, developed and approved by the state historian, the rendering of Sullivan's expedition in "Pageant of Decision" would have appeared to most of Flick's audience as authoritative. The inclusion of a historical essay in the pageant booklet, as well as the use of footnotes in the pageant script, further lent a scholarly air to the production. Pageant readers likely assumed that anything presented without disclaimer was grounded in historical documentation.124

Despite the authoritative trappings, the pageant text involved gross simplification, fiction, and lying by omission. There was the fanciful inclusion of Queen Esther, and the cast included only those Indian leaders best known to white settlers. Flick's attribution of a vision of westward expansion to the Pacific Ocean to Washington was conjecture—scholars of the Revolutionary War stress the precarious nature of popular support for the war and note that Washington rarely had the luxury of long-term planning.125 When Flick later published "New Sources" on [End Page 32] the Sullivan campaign, he again made a similar claim regarding Washington's vision, and yet never revealed any new sources defending this assertion.126 Many other elements, such as the imaginary congressional debates or the Indian council dialogue, were creative compilations developed from multiple such events. At the same time, the pageant was not so crude as to depict the Indians as thoroughly immoral. Aside from Queen Esther, Indians appear as "noble savages." If anything, their tragic flaw was their continued trust of the British. The ignoble characters were the Tories, especially Walter Butler, and adding a bit of New York chauvinism, the unnamed "man from Pennsylvania."

Most significant is the special replacement narrative it developed. Compared to most community histories in which the transition from Indian-to white settler-dominated space was a prelude to a story about the non-Indian community, in this pageant, the transition from Indian to settler is the story. This point is worth developing further. Those who win out often share a great desire to explain to themselves, their children, and outsiders how they came to be on the land, as settler-colonial scholarship asserts. Prior community pageants often presented this transition obliquely, vaguely, as inevitable, or through an evolutionary logic, as we have seen. The "Pageant of Decision" in contrast, targeted this transition directly. It attributed "untold wealth and resources" directly to the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. In this version of the Sullivan story, the shift from Indian to white settler occurred because of a set of difficult decisions that were taken by the Indians themselves. In this framing, Indians lost the land because of a fateful decision they made when they decided to join the wrong side in the Revolutionary War. This decision is also framed as one in which they break a treaty made with the American side. In an amazing twist of historical facts, especially given the legacy of treaties broken by white settlers and their governments before and after the Revolutionary War, it is not the white settlers who are depicted as breaking treaties in this pageant, but the Indians. In the pageant text, it is only after they do so a second time, after the Newtown battle and the fabricated council with the Tories, that Sullivan's troops begin to destroy fields and homes. And in the pageant rendition, the troops' destructive activities are collapsed to one moment, while in actual fact the troops were destroying crops and towns all along the entire four months of the expedition.

What was most damning about the pageant text is not what was said but what it served to erase. Flick engaged in a magical sleight-of-hand. By implying that the Indians were removed from the land by Sullivan, never to return—which was patently not the case—he was able to erase through omission the whole sordid history of New York State's dispossession of its Iroquois populace that occurred well after the Revolutionary War was over. Federal treaties, notably the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794, had promised secure title to vast stretches of the state fifteen years after the Sullivan Expedition. Perhaps most directly related to the pageant text [End Page 33] is the Seneca ceding of hundreds of thousands of acres of rich farmland in the Genesee Valley, land reserved for them by both the Canadaigua Treaty of 1794 and the Treaty of Big Tree in 1797. Land and canal speculators became rich by convincing Mary Jemison to sell her vast holdings in deals in 1817 and 1823 that were never ratified by the US Senate, as mandated by law.127 The pageant, however, depicted the well-known heroine sadly waving good-bye to her beloved Genesee Valley while troops began their destruction, falsely implying that she and her adopted Native brethren left for once and for all in Sullivan's wake.

Flick's neglect to mention later federal treaties is all the more remarkable because these treaties were the basis of the Haudenosaunee land claims that were causing turmoil in the state in the mid-1920s. In response to the Everett Report's conclusions, a Haudenosaunee coalition organized and brought a suit to federal court on June 6, 1925, starting with a case against a power company that plaintiffs argued was occupying land that had belonged to the Mohawk Nation and which was illegally acquired by the State of New York.128 This was intended as the first of a series of such suits with an eventual goal of a monetary settlement for the millions of acres they believed had been taken illegally. They lost their case after all, however, because of the 1924 passage of the federal Indian Citizenship Act (ICA). New York hired a prominent attorney who did not argue on the legality of the land claim, but instead moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that the federal court had no jurisdiction—since the passage of the ICA, both plaintiffs and defendants were citizens of New York. Appeals were soon filed. At the time when Flick was traversing the state to garner interest in his pageant, appeals and amended appeals were still in play. The Haudenosaunee plaintiffs did not exhaust their appeals until May 7, 1929, just a few months before the pageant was staged.129

Performed at a time when New York/Native relationships were particularly fraught, the pageant assisted in marking New York as white space. In Monuments to Absence, Andrew Denson argues that commemoration can serve as a form of placemaking, that writing "public history assigns meaning to location, linking stories, events, and values to physical space." In this way, commemoration can serve as an "act of possession."130 We might see Flick's pageant in this light. The "Pageant of Decision" broadcasted a replacement narrative that told New Yorkers that it was the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign that paved the way for the "white man's invasion" of New York. In so doing, it indirectly addressed the damages to state honor caused by the Everett Report and the Haudenosaunee lawsuit, asserting New York's "innocence."131 This replacement-by-just-warfare construct [End Page 34] explained to white settlers why they lived on Haudenosaunee lands and helped lay to rest any remaining concerns about the legality of their dominion.

In looking back at his pageant, Flick commented, "it is safe to say that never before in the history of New York, were so many persons interested in the observance of an historic event. Thousands of them learned for the first time the significance of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign and its relation to the western portion of the Empire State."132 Flick and his fellow committee members hoped that the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign sesquicentennial activities would have a lasting effect, and they likely did. Someone unaware of the actual events in Indian land tenure history could safely assume that Sullivan's raids had indeed eliminated the Indians. The combination of the pageant with authoritative-looking historical markers that remain on the New York landscape to this day was likely a powerful combination that we can consider paired "acts of possession."133 The pageant instructed those present into a certain understanding of their relationship to the land as well as to their Native American neighbors, whose ancestors were constructed as having made a decision that sealed their fate. It offered a plausible and palatable justification of white settler occupation by rooting that occupation in the heroic Revolutionary War past. The roadside markers, established at the same time across the state and presenting the same narrative, reiterated this perspective on the past. It is here that the Indians once lived, they instruct the public, and now they are gone. This is no longer Indian country, the markers inform the tourist passing by, and we owe that fact to Sullivan and Clinton.

As Laurence Hauptman and other scholars have so clearly shown, the rise of the "Empire" State was possible only with the dispossession of its indigenous residents.134 The pageant helped teach white state residents to see in this dispossession a unifying event they could all celebrate. [End Page 35]

Andrea Lynn Smith

Andrea Lynn Smith is Professor of Anthropology at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Lafayette College, Easton, PA whose research focuses on collective memory and settler colonialism. Her book Colonial Memory and Postcolonial Europe: Maltese Settlers in Algeria and France (2006; Indiana University Press), won the William A. Douglass Prize in 2007, and she recently published Rebuilding Shattered Worlds through Recollection (with Anna Eisenstein, 2016; University of Nebraska Press). She is completing "Celebrating Sullivan," a monograph on public commemorations of the Sullivan Expedition of 1779 in Pennsylvania and New York and their reverberations into the present day.


1. "Postoffice [sic] Deluged by Requests," Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), June 17, 1929, 5.

2. In "Sesqui History," page 688. Typed manuscript, New York Education Department, Division of Archives and History, General Files Relating to Observances of the 150th Anniversary of the American Revolution and other events, Series 13912–00, New York State Archives, Albany, New York [hereafter NYSA]. Please note that the manuscript is stored as follows: pp. 1–139 are in 13912–83, box 1; pp. 140–290 are in 12912–00, box 2; and pp. 291 and above are in 13912–00, box 1. Since I cite from all sections of the manuscript, I will include the relevant page number and "Sesqui History," NYSA.

3. Wendy Wall, Inventing the "American Way": The Politics of Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 21–24.

4. Caroline Elkins and Susan Pedersen, Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies (New York: Routledge, 2005); Margaret D. Jacobs, White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880–1940 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009); Lynette Russell, Colonial Frontier: Indigenous-European Encounters in Settler Societies (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001); Daiva K. Stasiulis and Nira Yuval-Davis, Unsettling Settler Societies: Articulations of Gender, Race, Ethnicity and Class (London: Sage, 1995); Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Patrick Wolfe, "Structure and Event: Settler Colonialism, Time, and the Question of Genocide," in Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History, ed. A. Dirk Moses (New York: Berghahn Books, 2008), 102–32.

5. Wolfe, "Structure and Event," 103. Policies Wolfe considers include the abduction of Native children, forced sterilization, the creation of boarding schools and reserves, dispossession, removals, and forced assimilation.

6. This is the focus of the larger work, "Celebrating Sullivan," in preparation. This research was generously funded by grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and a Richard King Mellon Summer Research Fellowship, Academic Research Committee, Lafayette College. I thank anonymous reviewers of the journal as well as Laurence Hauptman, Jim Remsen, Randy John, and Jim Folts, New York State Archives, for their insightful suggestions. Any errors are of course my own. Annie E. Coombes, Rethinking Settler Colonialism: History and Memory in Australia, Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand and South Africa (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2006), 1; Elizabeth Furniss, The Burden of History (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1999); Karen Kosasa, "Sites of Erasure," in Asian Settler Colonialism, ed. Candace Fujuikane and Jonathan Okamura (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008), 195–208.

7. Deborah Bird Rose, "New World Poetics of Place: Along the Oregon Trail and in the National Museum of Australia," in Coombes, Rethinking Settler Colonialism, 228.

8. Jean M. O'Brien, Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

9. O 'Brien, Firsting and Lasting, xv.

10. O 'Brien, Firsting and Lasting, 52–53.

11. O 'Brien, Firsting and Lasting, xiii-xiv.

12. Ned Blackhawk, Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Chip Colwell, Massacre at Camp Grant: Forgetting and Remembering Apache History (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007); Boyd Cothran, Remembering the Modoc War: Redemptive Violence and the Making of American Innocence (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Andrew Denson, Monuments to Absence (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2017); Karl Jacoby, Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History (New York: Penguin Press, 2008); Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

13. The public memory of the Revolutionary War is explored in a broad literature. An early source is Michael G. Kammen, A Season of Youth: The American Revolution and the Historical Imagination (New York: Knopf, 1978). See also Robert E. Jr. Cray, "The Revolutionary Spy as Hero: Nathan Hale in the Public Memory, 1776–1846," Connecticut History 38, no. 2 (March 1999): 85–104; Michael McDonnell et al., Public Memories, Private Lives: The First Greatest Generation Remembers the Revolutionary War (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013); Christopher J. Young, "Memory by Consensus: Remembering the American Revolutionary War in Chicago," Journal of American Studies 50, no. 4 (November 2016): 971–1997. None of these works explore violence against Native Americans as a central theme.

14. Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1972), 194.

15. The Confederacy first included five nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca); the Tuscarora joined in the early eighteenth century. See Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution, 6.

16. Washington 's orders were as follows: "The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more." In Joseph Fischer, A Well-Executed Failure: The Sullivan Campaign against the Iroquois, July-September 1779 (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1997), 41.

17. This summary is developed largely from Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution. See also Colin G. Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Max M. Mintz, Seeds of Empire: The American Revolutionary Conquest of the Iroquois (New York: New York University, 1999); Glenn F. Williams, Year of the Hangman: George Washington's Campaign against the Iroquois (Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2005). Journals of Sullivan's soldiers were published by the State of New York. See Frederick Cook and George S. Conover, eds., Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 (Auburn, NY: Knapp, Peck & Thomson, Printers, 1887).

18. Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution, 220, 223–58.

19. Mintz suggests that Washington's reception of Sullivan was cold, and noted that Sullivan resigned three days later. Mintz, Seeds of Empire, 154.

20. A. Norton, History of Sullivan's Campaign against the Iroquois (Lima, NY, 1879) makes this point. See Fischer, A Well-Executed Failure, 6–8 for a discussion of historians' debates about the expedition's long-term strategic impact.

21. Article 2 of the "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" of the UN General Assembly adopted December 9, 1948, included in its definition of genocide "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

22. David Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry. The Uses of Tradition in the Early Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 43–44.

23. Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry, 1.

24. Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory. The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 299, 300.

25. Ibid.

26. O 'Brien, Firsting and Lasting.

27. Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry, 139, 147.

28. Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry, 139–40.

29. Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry, 126.

30. Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry, 209.

31. Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry, 113.

32. Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry, 131; Linea Sundstrom, "The 'Pageant of Paha Sapa': An Origin Myth of White Settlement in the American West," Great Plains Quarterly 28, no. 1 (2008): 10–11, 18–21. Sundstrom (p. 20) points out that in a pageant developed by Yankton Dakota ethnographer Ella Deloria that celebrated Lumbee heritage, all roles, including those of whites, were played by Indians.

33. Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry, 265.

34. For another example of this process, see the chapter "Making Places in California," in David Glassberg, Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001).

35. Andrew Bard Epstein, "Unsettled New York: Land, Law, and Haudenosaunee Nationalism in the Early Twentieth Century" (MA thesis, University of Georgia, 2012), 85.

36. Laurence M. Hauptman, Coming Full Circle: The Seneca Nation of Indians, 1848–1934 (Norman: Oklahoma University Press), chapter 9.

37. Everett Believes Indian Claims Good," The Courier and Freeman, February 15, 1922, in Epstein, Unsettled New York, 74.

38. Laurence M. Hauptman, The Iroquois and the New Deal (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1981), 11.

39. Epstein, "Unsettled New York," 48.

40. Robert W. Venables, The Six Nations of New York: The 1892 United States Extra Census Bulletin (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995), xii; Barbara Graymont, "New York State Indian Policy After the Revolution," New York History, no. 4 (1997), 376.

41. Graymont, "New York State Indian Policy," 381.

42. Epstein, "Unsettled New York," 69–72.

43. Epstein, "Unsettled New York," 12; Graymont, "New York State Indian Policy," 386. For Native American perspectives, see G. Peter Jemison and Anna Schein, eds., Treaty of Canandaigua 1794: 200 Years of Treaty Relations between the Iroquois Confederacy and the United States (Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers, 2000).

44. Dorothy V. Jones, License for Empire: Colonialism by Treaty in Early America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 180–81. See also Deborah A. Rosen, American Indians and State Law: Sovereignty, Race, and Citizenship, 1790–1880 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 33–49.

45. The Cayugas sold the last of their lands, and live among Senecas on Cattaraugus Reservation or other reservations; many Mohawks moved to Canada, many Oneida moved to Wisconsin or to family at Onondaga, and other Oneida moved to Canada in 1849. Graymont, "New York State Indian Policy," 404–9. For the fate of the Oneida, see Laurence M. Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests: Iroquois Dispossession and the Rise of New York State (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999), Part One. Part Two offers an excellent discussion of the machinations involved in taking Seneca lands.

46. This is the focus of Hauptman's masterpiece, Conspiracy of Interests. Deborah Rosen has concluded that despite state and federal conflicts over the control of Indian lands, in the end, they worked in tandem to control both Indians and their lands. Rosen, American Indians and State Law, 78–79.

47. Epstein, "Unsettled New York," 17.

48. Epstein, "Unsettled New York," 85; Hauptman, The Iroquois and the New Deal, 11–12.

49. White involved the Oneida, Herkimer, Montgomery, Fulton, Schenectady, and Schoharie county historical societies. "Memorial" No. 1381, introduced by F. M. Davenport to the Senate of the State of New York, February 14, 1923, in "Sesqui History," 3–8, NYSA.

50. "New York State, Chapter 687 of the Laws of 1923. An Act Making an Appropriation for a Preliminary Survey and Report by the New York State Historical Association for the Appropriate Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Important Events of the Revolutionary Period," May 24, 1923, in "Sesqui History," 10, NYSA.

51. Letter from Peter Nelson, Executive Secretary, July 20, 1923, in "Sesqui History," 17.

52. "Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the American Revolution," in "Sesqui History," 27, 57, NYSA.

53. William Leland Thompson, "The Observance of the 150th Anniversary of the American Revolution in New York," New York History 15, no. 1 (1934): 60.

54. Committee members included Alexander Flick and the president of the University of the State of New York as well as members representing the Board of Regents, the Department of Education, the New York Historical Association, the New-York Historical Society, the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Minutes, May 28, 1926, in "Sesqui History," 90–95, NYSA.

55. Thompson, "The Observance of the 150th Anniversary," 61.

56. "Sesqui History," 130.

57. A. C. Flick, "Program Suggestions for 150th Anniversary of the Revolution," Bulletin to the Schools, State Department of Education, April 15, 1926., in "Sesqui History," 133–34.

58. Flick, "Program Suggestions," 134.

59. Sullivan's expedition is summarized briefly on page 169 of Alexander C. Flick, American Revolution in New York (Albany: State University of New York, 1926).

60. Flick, "Suggestions for the Observance of the Sesquicentennial of the Sullivan Campaign," Albany: The University of the State of New York, December 15, 1927. "Sullivan Clinton" folder, Ononadaga Historical Association archives, Syracuse, New York.

61. Thompson, "The Observance of the 150th Anniversary," 64.

62. Thompson, "The Observance of the 150th Anniversary," 62–65.

63. "The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign in American History," in "Sesqui History," 2, NYSA.

64. "The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign in American History," 2.

65. "Sullivan Army to March Again In Sesqui Celebration Pageant," Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, February 22, 1929, 15.

66. "Sullivan Army to March Again."

67. The failure of this expedition to thwart future raids of the western frontier inspired Fischer's title, A Well-Executed Failure, 1997.

68. "Says Sullivan Expedition had Far-reaching Effects," Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle June 10, 1928.

69. "Says Sullivan Expedition had Far-reaching Effects." Colin G. Calloway argues that Washington always had his sights on Indian land as a way to build the new nation. Calloway, The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 14.

70. "Sullivan Army to March Again in Sesqui Celebration Pageant," Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette February 22, 1929.

71. For a thorough review of Newtown commemorations, see Brant Venables, "A Battle of Remembrance: Memorialization and Heritage at the Newtown Battlefield, New York," Northeast Historical Archaeology 41 (January 2012): 144–65. Sources conflict over how Boyd and Parker were killed. See Mintz, Seeds of Empire.

72. The Finger Lakes organization began planning its involvement in the Sullivan festivities as early as January 1928. By July 1928, they were already preparing a "celebration" on the anniversary of the destruction of Seneca Castle on the site of Geneva. "To Celebrate Sullivan Blow at Six Nations," Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, January 8, 1928, 50. "Sullivan Sesqui Program to be Mapped To-morrow," Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, July 16, 1928.

73. "Sullivan's Victory to be Re-enacted in Pageant on Actual Site of Battle," Star-Gazette, April 27, 1929.

74. "Sesqui History," 549, NYSA.

75. "2,000 Persons Sought to Participate," in "Sesqui History," no page.

76. "Sullivan-Clinton" folder, Onondaga Historical Association, Syracuse, New York.

77. See "Celebrating Sullivan," in preparation.

78. William B. Newell to Alexander Flick, January 9, 1929, "Indian" folder, B0566, "Correspondence files of the Supervisor of Public Records and Secretary of the Advisory Committee on the Commemoration of the Sullivan Campaign," NYSA.

79. "State Historian Delivers Presentation Address on Site of Ancient Iroquois Village," in "Sesqui History," 674, NYSA.

80. O 'Brien, Firsting and Lasting, xiii. For more on the "vanishing Indian" in American culture see Brian W. Dippie, The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy, 1st ed. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1982); Robert F. Berkhofer, The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present (New York: Knopf, 1978).

81. "Dr. Flick Congratulates Cayuga County on Success of Its Sesqui Celebration," n.d., in "Sesqui History," 663, NYSA.

82. Sundstrom, "The Pageant of Paha Sapa," 12.

83. Alison Norman, '"A Highly Favoured People': The Planter Narrative and the 1928 Grand Historic Pageant of Kentville, Nova Scotia," Acadiensis 38, no. 2 (2009): 131; Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry.

84. "Real Indian Braves Appear in Pageant," Dunkirk Evening Observer, June 4, 1927.

85. Hauptman, Coming Full Circle, details several additional Seneca struggles with New York State initiatives that continued in the 1920s and 1930s.

86. Sundstrom, "The 'Pageant of Paha Sapa,'" 18.

87. Sundstrom, "The 'Pageant of Paha Sapa,'" 12.

88. "Two thousand Persons are Engaged to Take Part in Sesqui Show," n.d., "Two Lead Characters Named for Sesqui Pageant Event," Elmira (NY) Star Gazette, August 17, 1929, in "Sesqui History," 674, NYSA.

89. The Society of Red Men was created in Philadelphia in 1812; an "Improved Order" was created in Baltimore decades later. These white-only fraternal societies were widespread. In Elmira, three "tribes" of "Red Men" and associated "councils" of the "Daughters of Pocahontas" were meeting in the 1920s, and continued into the 1970s (Star-Gazette, October 29, 1921; July 13, 1974). For a history and analysis of the "fraternal Indian" movement, see Philip Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 38–70.

90. "Two thousand Persons are Engaged to Take Part in Sesqui Show."

91. "Sesqui History," 549, NYSA.

92. Frank E. Brimmer, "Sesquicentennial Pageant Producers Ware and Francis," "Sesqui History," Part IV, 13912–00, box 1, NYSA, no page.

93. "Five Counties are to Take Part in Great Sullivan Pageant Here," Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, April 26, 1929; "Sullivan's Victory to be Re-Enacted in Pageant on Actual Site of Battle," Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, April 27, 1929.

94. "Armory Rings with Shrieks as Actors Rehearse Scenes of Noted Indian Massacres," Sesqui History, Part IV, 13912–00, box 1, no page.

95. Frank E. Brimmer, "All in Readiness Geneseo Area Sesquicentennial September 14," release, "Sesqui History," 562, NYSA.

96. Frank E. Brimmer, "Geneseo Sesquicentennial," release, September 13, 1929, in "Sesqui History," 563.

97. George V. C. Lord, The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. A Historical Pageant of Decision. Why the Republic Westward Grew (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1929).

98. Frank E. Brimmer, "Pageant Text Sullivan Campaign Celebrations at Geneseo, Geneva and Elmira Closely Follows History," in "Sesqui History," Part IV, 13912–00, box 1, NYSA, no page.

99. "Sesqui History," 566, NYSA.

100. "Arrive Early," newspaper clipping, Sesqui History, Part IV, 13912–00, box 1, no page

101. "Field Hospital Workers and Red Cross Give Aid," newspaper clipping, "Sesqui History," Part IV, 13912–00, box 1, no page.

102. "Choosing Site for 'The Pageant of Decision,'" Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, August 22, 1929.

103. "Continental Soldier, Red Men and Others Provide Small Bits of Diversion," Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, September 15, 1929.

104. Michael G. Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1991), 299–300.

105. "Complicated System of Communication to be Installed at Park," "Sesqui History," 703, newspaper clipping, NYSA.

106. "Continental Soldier, Red Men."

107. Graymont, "New York State Indian Policy," 374–75.

108. Treaties of 1763 and 1768 established lines that white settlers were not to cross. In the 1768 treaty, the Iroquois Confederacy granted huge land cessions in exchange for the British government's promise to prevent white settlement on the western side of the new line. These treaty lines were regularly crossed by pioneers. Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution, 3, 49.

109. Cord, "A Historical Pageant," 13; Mintz, Seeds of Empire, 74.

110. Calloway suggests that Washington was indeed thinking ahead to the acquisition of these lands at the end of the war, and cites Flick on this point. Calloway, The Indian World of George Washington, 259.

111. Lord, A Historical Pageant of Decision, 14–16.

112. Ibid., 16.

113. This council appears to be an imaginative reconstruction of several different meetings held both prior to and during the Revolutionary War. It took Sullivan's men two days to destroy the town of Canadasaga. Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution, 216.

114. Lord, A Historical Pageant of Decision, 23.

115. Lord, A Historical Pageant of Decision, 24.

116. According to some accounts, Esther Montour was part French, the sister of Catherine Montour, and lived near Tioga. She is attributed with sixteen deaths, but this story is highly debated today. See Nëhdöwes (Randy A. John), Seneca People: Places and Names (Allegany Territory of the Seneca Indians: RAJ, 2017), 231; see also Fischer, A Well-Executed Failure, 28.

117. "Over 1,000 at Mobilization Meeting," August 20, 1929, newspaper clipping, in "Sesqui History," Part IV, 13912-00, box 1, NYSA.

118. Part of Flick's sesquicentennial ceremonies included the white settler marking of a "torture tree" with state-sponsored plaques and detailed descriptions. A detailed discussion of county public history commemorations from the 1840s to 2004 can be found in Amie Alden, ed., The Sullivan Campaign of the Revolutionary War. The Impact on Livingston County, NY, 1779–2004 (Henrietta, NY: Pioneer Print & Copy Center, 2006).

119. Lieutenant Thomas Boyd was sent to find the village of Chenussio (Geneseo), but disobeyed orders, brought more men than ordered, and walked into an ambush. Some fourteen men were killed; Boyd and Private Michael Parker were captured alive and later killed. Soldier accounts described their awful torture; oral history accounts from Indian eyewitnesses challenge this perspective. See Glenn F. Williams, Year of the Hangman: George Washington's Campaign against the Iroquois (Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2005), 284; see also Lyman Copeland Draper, Notes of Border History: Taken on a Trip to the Western Part of Penn., & the Adjoining Parts of New York & Ohio, from Jan. 30th to March 9th, 1850, ed. Randy John and Jaré Cardinal (Salamanca, NY: RAJ Publications, 2017).

120. Jemison was living in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and captured by French and Shawnee and brought to the Ohio River where she was adopted by two Seneca women. She eventually adopted Seneca cultural practices, and her children (first with a Delaware husband, and after his death, with Hiokatoo, a Seneca leader) were legally recognized as Seneca; many Seneca and other Haudenosaunee today are her descendants. Laurence Hauptman, personal communication; George Abrams, "Foreword," in A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, ed. James Seaver (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1990), vii-xv.

121. Seaver, A Narrative, 54.

122. Lord, A Historical Pageant of Decision, 33.

123. Lord, A Historical Pageant of Decision, 35.

124. "The Sullivan," 1–2.

125. Fischer, A Well-Executed Failure, 34–35.

126. A. C. Flick, "New Sources on the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign in 1779," The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association 10, no. 3 (1929): 185–224.

127. Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests, 7–8, 144, 150.

128. Hauptman finds it notable that Everett, whose career was finished after his report was submitted, went on to represent the Iroquois in a 1927 land case. See The Iroquois and the New Deal, 12.

129. Epstein, "Unsettled New York," 115.

130. Denson, Monuments to Absence, 12.

131. According to Boyd Cochran, restoring American innocence was one of the motivations for a public history complex developed around the Modoc War. Cothran, Remembering the Modoc War.

132. "Sesqui History," 550, NYSA.

133. Denson, Monuments to Absence, 12.

134. Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests.

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