Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Memory on the Move: Confronting Indigenous and Settler Colonial Commemorations in Stone and Bronze
Lisa Blee and Jean M. O’Brien, Monumental Mobility: The Memory Work of Massasoit. Chapel Hill NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019. 288 pp. Figures, notes, bibliography, index. Paperback. $29.95.
Cynthia Culver Prescott, Pioneer Mother Monuments: Constructing Cultural Memory. Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019. 408 pp. Figures, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Hardcover. $39.95.

Thousands of visitors trek through Plymouth, Massachusetts each year, seeking connections with the iconic terrain of English colonial settlement that took shape within longstanding Wampanoag homelands of Patuxet. Their numbers will likely grow in 2020, the 400th anniversary of Anglo-American colonization in this corner of the Atlantic World. Many gravitate toward “Plymouth Rock,” seemingly unaware of or undeterred by the fact that the rock’s purported role as a Pilgrim stepping-stone is a fiction of antiquarian remembrances. These crowds may or may not notice the towering bronze statue situated immediately behind the rock on Cole’s Hill. The statue represents the seventeenth-century Pokanoket Wampanoag leader 8sâmeeqan, as his name is spelled by the present-day Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, who met and negotiated with the Pilgrims following their arrival in 1620. The casting is the handiwork of Cyrus Edwin Dallin, an influential American sculptor who had specific intentions when he produced Massasoit for the 1921 Pilgrim tercentenary (“Massasoit” being a Wampanoag leadership title). Yet the meanings of Massasoit could never be neatly pinned down. The statue and its myriad replicas have been pivotal objects in debates over memory and meaning in Indigenous and settler colonial contexts, as Lisa Blee and Jean M. O’Brien detail in their study of the statue’s surprisingly far-flung transits.

Dallin (1861–1944) was born during the U.S. Civil War and died during the Second World War, and over the course of his long career he sculpted many figural works pertaining to American history, Native Americans, and [End Page 82] potent ideas of “pioneering” and the “frontier.” Raised in Utah Territory in close proximity to Ute, Shoshone, and other Native communities navigating tremendous upheaval and violence, Dallin developed vivid (mis)perceptions of Native people in regional as well as continental pasts and presents. He sculpted stylized “Indians” in works like his four-part The Epic of the Indian, which concluded with the iconic equestrian sculpture Appeal to the Great Spirit installed outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Dallin’s oeuvre is one of the common threads linking Monumental Mobility and historian Cynthia Culver Prescott’s Pioneer Mother Monuments, a wide-ranging survey of monuments paying gendered homage to U.S. westward expansion. Among the scores of monuments that Prescott scrutinizes is Dallin’s lofty bronze Brigham Young Pioneer Monument that he produced for Salt Lake City. Epitomizing particular forms of Anglo-American masculinity and patriarchy, the Young statue in many respects fits with Dallin’s larger oeuvre centered on influential men, Native as well as colonial.

Less well-recognized is Dallin’s interest in monumentalizing women. As Prescott demonstrates in her careful reconstruction of the development and installation of Pioneer Mother (End of the Trail) in his hometown of Springville, Utah, Dallin tapped into a deeply rooted monumental pattern of using representations of Euro-American women to address present-day social dynamics and shifting gender norms. For Pioneer Mother, Dallin drew upon a likeness of his own mother, Jane Hamer Dallin, creating a half-bust bearing a wide sunbonnet atop a pedestal with a bas-relief featuring an ox-drawn covered wagon. As with scores of other “pioneer women” monuments, its representational frame included not a single Indigenous person, not even in the most grossly stereotypical form, conveying an impression of uncontested westward colonization and hardy frontier womanhood. Yet the bronze visage’s placid expression belied simmering controversy, some of which bubbled up during the monument’s dedication. Years earlier the Dallin family became estranged from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and socially ostracized in Mormon Utah, while Cyrus Dallin’s eastward transits raised questions among Utah residents about Dallin’s loyalty to the region of his birth. As Prescott, Blee, and O’Brien argue, there is nothing simple about any of Dallin’s monuments or the ways they circulated and were received in geographically disparate regions.

Monuments are everywhere in North America: on street corners, in parks, on college and university campuses, in state and national capitol buildings, and in other mundane as well as prominent settings. It would be a Sisyphean task to count them all, never mind attempt reckoning with their individual histories. Sometimes they hover mutely and invisibly in the background, largely ignored by passersby. On other occasions they spring into relief by attracting protests and painted messages of dissent. Monuments make headlines [End Page 83] when interlocutors physically dismember or topple them, as when activists pulled down the controversial Silent Sam, or Confederate Monument, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018, or when Indigenous Mapuche people protesting Chilean politics confronted monuments to Spanish conquistadors in 2019.1

Given these contentious dynamics and forms of iconoclasm, it perhaps is not surprising that the origins and afterlives of monuments have recently galvanized an outpouring of scholarly attention. We might conceptualize this partly as a critical response to the “memory boom”: an efflorescence of museums, public history sites, memorials, heritage tourism, and other texts and activities designed to emotionally engage various publics about the past and its meanings, often through means that selectively portray or outright distort the past for ideological purposes.2 In U.S. contexts, scholars from multiple disciplines as well as activists in movements like Black Lives Matter have scrutinized the many public installations that pay troubled homages to the Confederacy, emphasizing how these memorials perpetuate racist and exclusionary social orders. Others have critiqued monuments and signage related to American Revolutionary War sites, anti-Mexican-American violence in the Texas-Mexico borderlands, Japanese-American internment camps in the U.S. West, and much more, parsing complex memorial configurations that speak to shifting currents of identity, race, nation, and belonging.3 These studies stress that monuments are not strictly or even primarily about the past. They are conduits linking past, present, and future, attempting to activate and legitimate particular notions about right and desirable societies.

Within this burgeoning literature, growing numbers of studies center Native American and Indigenous histories and memories, underscoring their foundational roles in continental and hemispheric trajectories rather than treating them as marginal or merely additive.4 From these currents have arisen multivocal, award-winning studies of violence and resilience involving Indigenous and settler colonial encounters at Sand Creek, Aravaipa Canyon, and the lava beds by Tule Lake, to mention just three examples. Indigenous-centered interventions interject vital complexities into conversations about collective remembrances.5 As this constellation of works insists, the deep currents of debate about North American memories are not exclusively about race or settler nation-centered frameworks. They are also about enduring Indigenous sovereignties, contested homelands, and foundational claims to legitimacy across the land.

Memorialization is so frequently grounded in place, making it essential to grapple with specific geographies of remembrance because they are pivotally involved in Indigenous experiences with and resistances to expansionist settler colonialism, which has at its core ongoing processes of dislocation and dispossession. Despite these dispossessive histories, many Indigenous people, communities, and nations have maintained abiding connections with meaningful [End Page 84] places and ancestors through means other than tangible sculptures, plaques, or related genres of memorialization. Commemorative walks, horseback and canoe journeys, ceremonies, performances, artistic works, and many other kinds of expression are creative, embodied, and place-specific forms of connection with essential Indigenous geographies. It is incumbent upon scholars to cultivate capacious, decolonizing methodologies that recognize, comprehend, and value these other modes of recollection, engagement, and transformation.6

Monumental Mobility and Pioneer Mother Monuments push these conversations forward. They invite reckonings with the historical and contemporary impacts of settler colonialism in Indigenous homelands, and with understanding how many colonial monuments have attempted to amplify and valorize settler claims to North America. “American popular culture needs an innocent and innocuous reframing for the founding principles of taking and profiting,” Blee and O’Brien argue about U.S. mythologies of origins “premised on the transfer of land from Indigenous people to colonists” (pp. 62–63). Focusing on a series of physical monuments in stone, bronze, and other materials, these two books track how specific instantiations of memory have traversed changing social and material contexts. Together, they spotlight how contested currents of monumentalization in North America have taken shape along multiple axes of identity and political economy, rather than being neatly distillable into categories of “Native” or “non-Native.” Additionally, these studies illuminate central issues pertaining to methodology, particularly how scholars can rigorously yet inventively open up different pathways into representations and the historical contexts that give rise to them. Both employ a range of critical tools well-poised to recast the grounds of scholarly inquiry into memory’s changing forms.

Monumental Mobility recovers a marvelously fine-grained history of Massasoit’s creation, offering a template for other scholars interested in tracing the extended biographies of specific monuments. Blee and O’Brien excavate the statue’s origins among the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM), a Euro-American fraternal organization established in 1834 during Jacksonian Indian Removal. IORM members were invested in promulgating settler mythologies and laying claim to New England prominence in colonial origin accounts. They peered warily over their shoulders at the earlier English colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia (1607), and sought to prop up articulations of New England exceptionalism centered on Protestant religious dissidents’ arrival in Massachusetts in 1620.

Motivated by a blend of regionalism, filiopietism, and colonial nostalgia, IORM leadership felt the Wampanoag leader who initially interacted with the Pilgrims had been unduly marginalized by historical narratives. They sought a physical, visible monument to restore his prominence, and reached out to Cyrus E. Dallin, a rising star in the American art world. Seeking expanded [End Page 85] professional opportunities, Dallin had left Utah and moved east at age 18 to study sculpture in Boston. He later burnished his artistic credentials through further study in Paris and immersion in European aesthetics, and in New England moved in increasingly rarified circles by developing affiliations with sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens—famous for his memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment adjoining Boston Common—and painter John Singer Sargent. Sargent provided a key resource for Massasoit. As Blee and O’Brien recount the fundraising, planning, and drafting stages of the statue’s production, they draw attention to the revealing detail that Dallin employed as a live model not an actual Native American person— many of whom still lived in nearby Wampanoag and Nipmuc homelands and as urban residents of greater Boston—but an African American man named Thomas E. McKeller, who had also been working for Sargent. McKeller’s visage and body became the source for Massasoit’s bare-chested representation, manifesting complicated ideas around race and identity.

The choice of location for the statue offers a vivid lens onto the politics of place. Rather than situating Massasoit at the actual location of Wampanoags’ first encounter with English colonizers, memorial planners strategically selected a highly trafficked location by Plymouth Harbor to attract crowds. Following the statue’s unveiling and dedication in 1921–1922 during the Pilgrim tercente-nary celebrations, an accompanying textual placard endeavored to clarify the particular resonances of the Massasoit statue by characterizing the sachem as a “protector and preserver of the Pilgrims” and highlighting the year “1621” as a reference to a Wampanoag-English treaty (p. 88). Blee and O’Brien deem this imposition of narrative as an act of settler nostalgia: “because the memory inscribed on the statue comes from a settler perspective and is stripped of its Indigenous political context, there is no clear motivation for 8sâmeeqan’s peace treaty. Viewers of this didactic public art may then conclude that Massasoit represents the universal values of friendliness and charity and that the leader’s true greatness comes from recognizing the importance of the English colonizing mission” (p. 47).

The monograph underscores that Euro-American memorializing of historic Wampanoag people through art and their attendant conciliatory narratives occurred at the same moment that enormous damages were inflicted upon actual Indigenous homelands, ancestral remains, and material heritage items. This comes through most clearly in the detrimental excavation and outright looting of Burr’s Hill, a sensitive Wampanoag burial area believed to be associated with 8sâmeeqan, after which antiquarians sent the unearthed items to New York City for museum display. The book proffers entangled histories of creation and destruction, stressing that production of memorial representations occurred in tandem with the dispossession and dislocation of original Indigenous heritage materials. [End Page 86]

One of the most surprising sections of Monumental Mobility tracks how a statue with seemingly irrevocably localized meaning in Patuxet/Plymouth left that geography to travel westward. In 1922 Dallin became persuaded to donate the statue’s plaster model to the state of Utah, where it took up prominent residence in the capitol rotunda. Yet Dallin held mixed opinions about the installation: he had wanted his sculpture of Chief Washakie installed as the centerpiece, representing a Salish and Shoshone leader who interacted with Brigham Young and other westward migrants and endeavored to stabilize Shoshone homelands amid rising violence. Chief Washakie would have furnished a regionally specific touchstone for Indigenous histories and their connections to Utah’s emergence. Yet a confluence of politics and money won out, causing the statue of a seventeenth-century Wampanoag, completely out of context, to be the entrant into Utah political space.

Dallin did not authorize reproduction of the Massasoit statue during his lifetime (i.e., making additional bronze castings from the plaster model), and sought to control the movements of his larger oeuvre out of concerns for value and quality. But posthumously Utah political leadership arranged for the plaster to be used for casting another, unauthorized bronze Massasoit, which was then installed outside on capitol grounds. It was a bid to “banish the statue from the halls of political power” (p. 91), which sparked a controversy memorably described as “Thunda in the Rotunda” by the Deseret News—one of many minor gems the authors have unearthed (p. 93). Regarding this banishment, which occurred as Utah politicians and residents grew unhappy at the prominence accorded to an “Indian” and began lobbying for its replacement by artwork paying homage to Euro-American settler “pioneers,” the authors use archival sleuthing to discuss a letter from the era written by “an Indian” who protested the removal. They contextualize this protest amid relocations of Native people from various western reservation areas to Salt Lake City in the 1940s-1950s, a process that brought many Diné and other Native people into an urban setting and exposed new arrivals to hardships of employment and housing, as well as creating grounds for pan-Indian political organizing.

The Massasoit plaster suffered damage over the years and eventually wound up at Brigham Young University (BYU), where it became enmeshed in fraud, counterfeiting, and tax shelter schemes. The authors follow acrimonious debates over mechanical reproduction, authenticity, and commercialization as Massasoit became tangled up in a burgeoning art market, contending that Dallin was both “craving the attention and recognition he received from Utah and violently reacting to its cavalier disregard of his rights as an artist,” revealing “how little control he maintained over the fate of his sculptures in the commercial art world” (pp. 51–52). The intrepid authors have labored through a web of uneven and outright fraudulent documentation to recover the proliferating number of reproduced Massasoit bronzes and their ensuing [End Page 87] “micromobility” (p. 112). One statue wound up in the hands of Kansas City Parks and Recreation, others in Spokane, Washington and a suburb of Chicago, still another in private hands, and various “body parts” created from sections of the plaster in unknown locations. The Massasoit, in other words, originated as a singular work of art but rapidly turned into a very different kind of memorial commodity that now exists in multiples, in settings far removed from Wampanoag homelands.

While Monumental Mobility digs down into a single monument to track its peregrinations and reproductions, Pioneer Mother Monuments casts its net widely to assess an entire genre of public sculpture focused on “pioneers,” here primarily signifying westward-moving Euro-Americans of the nineteenth century. A strength of Prescott’s methodology is her survey of roughly 200 monuments related to westward expansion and pioneers, most situated across the trans-Mississippi West. Ample color as well as black-and-white images accompany the text and make the monuments visually accessible to readers. Recognizing the constraints of a printed monograph, Prescott has also created an interactive digital resource through which users can access detailed information about each installation and its backstory.7 The book includes a series of original maps keyed to an appendix that specifies in chronological order and by state location this set of monumental installations. This methodology takes a sweeping as well as temporally and spatially granular view of monumental production and reception, allowing synthetic argumentation about notable currents in monumentalization.

Prescott’s analysis centers on how shifting social, political, and gender norms in the nineteenth- through twenty-first-century United States shaped representations of pioneer women and families. Early incarnations lifted up “Pioneer Madonnas,” their visages framed, halo-like, by the openings of covered wagons or by sunbonnets designed to preserve their pale complexions. Such representations conveyed notions of moral motherhood, gentility, and other qualities deemed desirable by Anglo-American descendant groups. Later monuments depicted rifle-toting, Bible-carrying, purposefully striding pioneer women who manifested more assertive, independent womanhood, often with young children in tow to underscore maternal nurturing of future generations. These morphing monumental forms registered profound changes in American society at large.

Prescott is particularly compelling in discussing how “New Women” ideals of the early twentieth century, with their accompanying flapper dresses, cigarette smoking, short haircuts, and liberation politics, created a complicated memorial matrix. On the one hand, the primarily white, male, elite underwriters of such monuments often pushed for more conservative, demure representations of pioneer women (“True Women”), seemingly in reaction to the emergence of gendered categories and behaviors in their own times that [End Page 88] challenged patriarchal norms. On the other hand, Euro-American women’s organizations began lobbying for greater influence over these representations and angling for depictions of women that better resonated with their own ideals and ambitions. In the case of a Portland, Oregon suffragists’ group, members’ commitments ultimately led to their support of a monument to Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman and mother who guided Lewis and Clark west. In later eras, such as Cold War contexts of the 1950s-1960s, Prescott diagnoses renewed valorization of sculptures featuring pioneer family groupings, which she interprets as reflecting Western Euro-American anxieties about communism. And so the book’s chapters proceed, using specific moments in time to explicate the evolving intentions and received meanings of these installations.

One recurring challenge that Prescott faces is that while some monuments seem clearly to fall into one dominant representational “type” or form of pioneer iconography, many others inhabit liminal spaces, blend disparate elements, or wrestle to formulate coherent messages. This is particularly evident in public monuments that have been subject to high levels of scrutiny and political approval: as Prescott argues, such expressly public memorial formations are almost certainly inherently more conservative than artwork intended for private or museum collections. Many were subject to public competitions in which local residents cast ballots for their preferred works and oftentimes vigorously opposed disliked contenders.

Statues that did press avant garde edges of representation often came under the most heightened scrutiny, or even backlash. A vivid case is the proposed pioneer family monument slated for installation on the campus of the Texas State Women’s College in conjunction with the 1936 centenary of Texan independence from Mexico. Sculptor William Zorach’s submission Pioneer Family Group was deemed too outrageous, largely on grounds that it depicted a Euro-American mother, father, and children as nudes. Many members of local and state publics recoiled, and eventually the selection committee substituted a far more chaste sculpture, Pioneer Woman, by Leo Friedlander, for the place of honor.8 Focusing on such episodes allows Prescott to delve with nuance into specific localities’ responses to changes in their memorial landscapes, and to bring to the surface a panoply of alternative contenders—the “what ifs” and unrealized visions of American memoryscapes.

Pioneer monuments began to fall out of popularity in the latter half of the twentieth century in a shift that Prescott diagnoses as an outcome of urbanization, immigration, and pop culture, among other factors. Yet, well into the twenty-first century such iconography has continued to attain traction, even as contemporary statuary has added postmodern or ironic twists. As Prescott explores monumental struggles through the 1980s-1990s (and the “culture wars” era), she argues that monuments in the Great Plains became notably more conservative, even as certain communities placed greater emphasis on [End Page 89] diversity and inclusion. Developments like protests by Native activists around the Columbian Quincentenary of 1992 and the rise of the New Western History—both of which potently critiqued erasive Manifest Destiny narratives and trained spotlights on the genocidal violences of colonialism—reshaped the stories presented. What emerges from the occasionally dizzying array of monumental case studies is that there is no simplistically linear trajectory. Indeed, it is a testament to Prescott’s historical rigor that her analysis repeatedly complicates what could easily have been presented as monolithic or binary narratives about appropriate memorialization.

Prescott’s commitment to delving into temporally and geographically particular permutations of memory is especially evident in Chapter 4, focused on Mormon “exceptionalism and assimilation” from 1890–1990 and the ways that sculptures reflected “LDS efforts to balance their cultural distinctiveness against assimilation into mainstream society” (p. 131). Examining how the LDS church strategically supported visual and musical arts to bolster LDS identity and serve as ambassadors to a larger American culture, Pioneer Mother Monuments probes how artistic representations tapped into sacred and secular conceptions of the past in Utah. Prescott identifies a transition from earlier monuments focused on Brigham Young and his associates to ones more squarely interested in lifting up pioneer families as the key unit of LDS society and as exemplifications of Mormon whiteness. Dallin received a commission from the Brigham Young Memorial Association for a sculpture honoring Young as well as for a sculpture of the angel Moroni for the spire-top of the Salt Lake Temple. Prescott notes ambivalence in the choice of Dallin: his father was excommunicated over religious beliefs and his family marginalized, while the younger Dallin expressed dissent from LDS doctrines. Nonetheless, Dallin accepted the commission for Brigham Young Pioneer Monument, unveiled in Salt Lake in 1897. Dallin’s ensuing pioneer iconography featured Young atop a pedestal with other figures, including a stylized Indian, at the base to convey notions of “the social Darwinist progression from Indian and trapper to Brigham Young” (p. 141). These teleological, stadial, racist visions of human “progress” and “civilization” were never stable or universally validated, however—and herein lie the enduring tensions of both monuments themselves and historians’ efforts to narrate their meanings.

Pioneer Mother Monuments and Monumental Mobility both run into the challenges of researching, analyzing, and narrating memory work in ways that are necessarily about more than formalist analyses of sculptures. Blee and O’Brien evince an ongoing commitment to situating Euro-colonial representational projects within dynamics that frequently involved actual Indigenous people and their strategies for survival and self-representation. Native people are not merely represented subjects but living, dynamic historical agents in their own right, whose presence and words could unsettle or overturn intended colonialist messaging. [End Page 90]

As Monumental Mobility walks through the 1921 unveiling of Massasoit at Plymouth, it emphasizes that IORM organizers were keen to invite participation by Wootonekanuske, a Wampanoag woman and 8sâmeeqan descendant also known as Charlotte L. Mitchell. Mitchell and her family, living in nearby Lakeville and other parts of Massachusetts, had attracted local and media attention for years, and the book is illustrated with compelling photographs of the Mitchell family in carefully crafted and proudly worn regalia (Figs. 13–15). Plymouth organizers may have intended to co-opt Mitchell’s presence to aid a performance of “the persistence of friendly and cooperative relations between settlers and Indigenous people” (p. 76), using Mitchell as a prop exemplifying a “last” of the Wampanoags or “vanishing” trope then popular among antiquarians.9

But Mitchell had other ideas. She did participate in the unveiling of Massasoit, laying flowers at the base of the statue. Yet she later reported ambivalence and unrest about her role, which put her directly on stage with Dallin as well as representatives of an array of Pilgrim and heritage societies. In her commentaries, Mitchell was deeply critical of colonialism and insistent upon Native resistances. Moreover, the chapter underscores that the conciliatory performance of the statue dedication happened at the same time that the Mitchells and other Native people of southern New England were navigating contentious disputes with cities and the State of Massachusetts, especially regarding Wampanoag reservation lands and rights around Watuppa in the Fall River area.

By widening the analytic lens, the authors locate conciliatory monumentalization campaigns within ongoing struggles and resistances by Native communities. Drawing on decolonizing theory by scholars such as Kevin Bruyneel, they probe how “the collective memory that structures the perpetual refounding of the settler state may be disassembled” (p. 63). The ceremonies of dedication that unfolded around monument unveilings can be analyzed to reveal how “staging” is “complex, layered, and contested” (p. 65). They recuperate and emphasize the agency of Indigenous people in responding to representations of them, in ways “that defied non-Indians’ intentions and expectations” (p. 65).

The authors follow these contentions to the later twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries, noting that Cole’s Hill has been the setting for activism and critique by Wampanoag and other Indigenous people as well as non-Native allies. In 1970, Frank James (Wamsutta), an Aquinnah Wampanoag community member, delivered a scathing address that departed from Pilgrim-centric memorializing. James underscored the genocide, epidemics, and violences that accompanied and underwrote Pilgrim colonialism, creating devastating conditions for Native people in the region and hemispherically. As a result of James’s counter-memorial address and efforts by the United American Indians of New England, the “National Day of Mourning” has been commemorated [End Page 91] at and around Cole’s Hill for nearly five decades, drawing together throngs of community members and activists to recall other histories and express ongoing forms of resilience and solidarities. These actions have also resulted in competing narratives atop the hill. Massasoit is now situated alongside a separate memorial boulder and plaque installed in 1998 that commemorates the National Day of Mourning. In the resulting “war of words” that Blee and O’Brien describe (p. 133), visitors—or at least those who decide to ascend the steep staircase from the harbor—confront conflicting messages about the past.

Prescott is similarly attentive to sites of monumental contestation and struggle. For example, her study examines protests by more than three hundred tribally diverse Native people at the 1993 dedication in Ponca City, Oklahoma of the statue This Land Is Mine, which valorized the Oklahoma land rush and ignored contentious histories in so-called Indian Territory. Protestors articulated problems with this form of colonialist space-claiming and used “pan-Indian” strategies of organizing. They encountered dismissive responses from the chair of the centennial committee, who described their pushback as “background music” (p. 208). The story did not end there: the controversy prompted local Native communities to create their own 22-foot monument to Standing Bear, the influential Ponca activist who argued a landmark Native American rights case in 1879. A colonialist monument, in other words, provided momentum for an Indigenous counter-monument and resulted in articulation of a much more complex regional memorial terrain. In recovering such counter-histories, Prescott acknowledges a spectrum of Indigenous interactions with pioneer memory projects. For example, a controversy erupted in Portland, Oregon in the 1990s, when plans to erect a pioneer statue titled The Promised Land butted up against the city’s progressive politics as well as multicultural commitments to a variety of forms of diversity and inclusion. While the debate spiraled beyond the local context to USA Today and Rush Limbaugh’s television show, it elicited little more than a shrug from certain Native representatives. Antone Minthorn, chairman of the general council of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who was also involved in Oregon Trail Coordinating Council, declined to substantively engage the problematic monument. He suggested that if some disagreed with its messaging, they were welcome to propose alternate commemorations.

Episodes like this invite larger ruminations on the lived dynamics of social memory. Just because a monument or public artwork exists does not mean it is engaged or treated as a meaningful, symbolically resonant component of local landscapes, whether positively or oppositionally. How do real people in real places encounter and interact with statues in their midst—or, alternatively, disengage from them? The authors offer a colorful palette of responses. Prescott often turns to documentary sources to reconstruct engagement, and also makes profitable use of a wide spectrum of local archival collections and press coverage [End Page 92] to operate at a granular scale of research. She couples this approach with more anthropological fieldwork in the form of on-the-ground visitation to markers to convey just how neglected, weed-choked, derelict, and otherwise marginalized and out-of-view many memorials have become. They do not mean in the ways their promoters and sculptors intended. She acknowledges the challenges of method, especially regarding markings—sometimes deemed “graffiti” through a lens of assumed criminality or deviance—that have been imposed on monuments:

individuals’ motivations for vandalizing monuments are often difficult to uncover. While some are clearly politically motivated, in other cases, the attacker’s intent is less clear. Are they making a political statement? Or simply targeting what they perceive to be an outdated piece of public art? Because such actions typically are done in secret, their intended meaning can be difficult to parse. Whether motivated by politics or personal gain, however, attacks on pioneer statuary make clear that not all westerners embrace the racial and gender ideology those statues promote

(pp. 263–264)

Blee and O’Brien make similar use of local press coverage and archives related to debates over these monuments. The authors also test out more systematic methods for accessing present-day participation in monumental landscapes—“how multivalent historical meaning making can be in divergent places” (p. 117). While art historians have noted that reception of works is famously difficult to gauge and analyze, Blee and O’Brien devise techniques for describing specific forms of monumental interaction.

Physically locating themselves next to the multiple Massasoit monuments that form the core of their study, Blee and O’Brien solicited input from passersby by asking six questions about the monuments. This structured interview format, deriving more from social science than humanistic approaches, allowed them to probe how everyday people thought about and visually noticed the installations. While the sample sizes were modest, the authors conducted careful analysis of the commentaries that were shared. Sometimes they encountered disinterest and had to prod for reflections. On other occasions they heard misinformation, generalizations about “Indians,” or ruminations on contemporary Indigenous people and topics. One respondent in Kansas City attempted to identify the Massasoit statue’s referent as Sasquatch (a.k.a. Bigfoot). A take-away from this section is just how wide-ranging individual interactions with public monuments can be: there is no single perception. Additionally, this methodological inventiveness underscores how much time the co-authors invested in accessing reception, offering a model for other scholars considering such undertakings.

Two final dimensions of monumental histories stand out in these books. The Massasoit study grapples with the relative salience of Dallin’s bronze within [End Page 93] much broader contexts of public history performance and education. It does this through a dual-pronged analysis of the living history museum Plimoth Plantation and Colonial House, a 2004 PBS television series. Both public-facing, popularizing vehicles foreground ways that “Indigenous people insist on a reckoning with the past and the present that refuses narratives of frozen Indians in a place sanitized of the violence of settler colonialism” (p. 118). The chapter conducts a thorough genealogy of Plimoth’s origins and opening in 1959, and its evolution into a tourist venue that expressly engages both colonial Pilgrim histories and those of Wampanoag people, the latter particularly through the Wampanoag Home Site staffed by contemporary Indigenous people. Interpreters repeatedly challenge visitors’ expectations about the supposed disappearance of Native people from the Northeast by educating them about ongoing communities and traverse emotionally and psychologically difficult terrain attendant to speaking to colonialism, disease, and genocide on a daily basis.

The richness of this section of Monumental Mobility arises from detailed interviews and site visits with Wampanoag Indigenous Program (WIP) staff such as Darius Coombs. Coombs has played the role of 8sâmeeqan in recent public programming scenarios and thought deeply about the nature and stakes of these portrayals in a cross-cultural educational setting.10 Blee and O’Brien pair their analysis of Plimoth and the WIP with the reality TV-style Colonial House, in which participants lived and worked as if they inhabited Passamaquoddy/colonial Maine lands in 1628. Native experts from Wabanaki and Wampanoag communities provided tremendous guidance on the show, and also navigated tense encounters as participants confronted ongoing forms of settler colonialism.

Monumental Mobility teases out a useful distinction between the types of memory work occurring at the top of Cole’s Hill, where statues and signage tend to invite more “passive and contemplative” engagement, and those occurring in settings intentionally made “dynamic and participatory” (p. 153). The book recognizes that the latter format tends to foster unease among visitors, and inquires: “Can a public history that embraces discomfort as an educational aim produce a deeper engagement with a complex history….?” (p. 140). Similarly, Blee and O’Brien foreground Native-produced programming and installations designed to engage vast tourist interest around Plymouth, such as the Captured! 1614 exhibitions and multimedia produced by Paula Peters, a Mashpee Wampanoag, which unflinchingly related Indigenous experiences with kidnapping and enslavement. It also addresses the intentions and effects of “counter-tours” that resist Pilgrim-centric mythologizing such as “Native Plymouth Tours” hosted by Tim Turner (Cherokee). What emerges from this multi-stranded vantage is a strongly multivocal treatment of memory as always dynamic and contested as well as dialogic, taking shape from competing and clashing understandings. [End Page 94]

Finally, both monographs assess how profitable memory can be by examining the ties between monumentalization and capitalism. Prescott’s Chapter 6, “Memory Makes Money, 1980–2005,” discerns intentional efforts by small Western communities to use provocative monuments as well as reconstructed forts and other heritage sites to attract tourist interest and “spur further growth” (p. 211). These efforts have sought to capitalize on claims of historical authenticity and to increase suburban property values through strategic uses of heritage attractions. These boosterish projects have sometimes arisen from communities struggling amid economic downturns that have left certain parts of the West marginalized in socioeconomic terms, even as they are still, at a fundamental level, beneficiaries of the displacement of Indigenous populations from traditional homelands. Blee and O’Brien similarly contend that the acquisition and situating of public artworks representing Native people is often driven by “pursuit of profit” and favorable tax codes “rather than any coherent popular understanding of the role of Indian representations in American culture” (pp. 58–59).

This attention to the marketplaces of memory adds complexity to the characterization of public memory by delineating it as not merely symbolic but also as commodified and capitalized. Monumental Mobility conducts efficient analyses of colonial modes of memory production, circulation, and profiteering, especially in Chapter Four, “Marketing,” which recuperates an astonishing traffic in Massasoit statues, Pilgrim-themed salt and pepper shakers, and related forms of kitsch and souvenirs. These marketable items have emerged from long histories of Plymouth tourism that began in the late eighteenth century.11 Yet, a signal contribution of Blee and O’Brien’s book is the recognition that marketplaces of memory have never been univocal colonial enterprises, profitable only to Euro-Americans. Commemorative spectacles and tourist events like staged “Indian Camps” from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflected colonial mentalities and desires for neatly packaged “Indian” experiences, but they also were complicated spaces where living Indigenous people from communities such as Passamaquoddy and Mashpee Wampanoag performed for wages and sold wares to sustain themselves amid circumstances of migration and dispossession. Indigenous agency and strategic engagement with colonialist memorial projects are important in these historical dynamics.

Where to from here? That is an animating question for both monographs following their fine-grained tours through rough and contested commemorative terrain. Both speak to the importance of counter-memorials, new interpretive signage, and educational programming that convey more complex, multiperspectival understandings to different generations and communities, helping cultivate more accurate and critically minded vantages on past and present. And there is an optimistic quality to both accounts. They recognize [End Page 95] the mutability of memorialization and communities’ capacities not only to confront differences but also to actively transform present-day societies’ relationships with the past. They simultaneously wrestle with the intransigence and inertia of so many colonialist commemorative projects, and, moreover, with anti-Indigenous mentalities and behaviors entrenched in settler colonialism that continue to find detrimental expression in law, policy, and myriad other forms of social exclusion and inequity across Indigenous homelands. Cosmetic alterations to memorial landscapes arguably mean little when Native communities and nations like Mashpee Wampanoag are, at this very moment, enduring the threatened loss of reservation trust lands.12

But the intertwining of memory and historical materialism runs deep. Cedric Cromwell, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman, deliberately invoked a particular version of the past to help make the case for continued security of tribal lands: “Our ancestors gave the Pilgrims the land to establish Plymouth Colony.”13 If strategic recollection of Indigenous-colonial histories can be mobilized for present-day Indigenous sovereignty and land bases, well, there may be a sequel—or several—merited to these thought-provoking journeys into the social lives of monuments.

Christine M. DeLucia

Christine M. DeLucia is assistant professor of history at Williams College and author of Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast (Yale University Press, 2018), which won awards from the National Council on Public History, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and the Massachusetts Historical Society. She has published articles on Indigenous and settler colonial histories, memories, and places in The Journal of American History, The William and Mary Quarterly, Early American Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies, and other publications.


1. Kristina Killgrove, “Scholars Explain the Racist History of UNC’s Silent Sam Statue,” Forbes, Aug. 22, 2018; Laurence Blair, “Conquistadors tumble as indigenous Chileans tear down statues: Mapuche protestors in south launch attacks on symbols of Spanish colonial rule and distant government in Santiago,” The Guardian, Nov. 5, 2019.

2. On this phrase, see Jay Winter, “The Generation of Memory: Reflections on the ‘Memory Boom’ in Contemporary Historical Studies,” Canadian Military History 10:3 (2012), Article 5.

3. For example, Edward Tabor Linenthal, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields (1991); Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (1997); David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001); Sarah J. Purcell, Sealed with Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America (2002); Robert T. Hayashi, Haunted by Waters: A Journey through Race and Place in the American West (2007); Sally Webster, The Nation’s First Monument and the Origins of the American Memorial Tradition: Liberty Enshrined (2015); Andrew Lichtenstein and Alex Lichtenstein, Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory (2017); Monica Muñoz Martinez, The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas (2018).

4. Lisa Blee has taken up some of these currents in her recent essay “Struggles Over Memory: Indigenous People and Commemorative Culture,” Reviews in American History 46:4 (Dec. 2018): 597–604.

5. Joe S. Sando and Herman Agoyo, Po’pay: Leader of the First American Revolution (2005); Karl Jacoby, Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History (2008); Michael V. Wilcox, The Pueblo Revolt and the Mythology of Conquest: An Indigenous Archaeology of Contact (2009); Tiya Miles, The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story (2010), and Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era (2015); Boyd Cothran, Remembering the Modoc War: Redemptive Violence and the Making of American Innocence (2014); Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (2013); Andrew Denson, Monuments to Absence: Cherokee Removal and the Contest over Southern Memory (2016); Lauret Savoy, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (2015); Carey Newman and Kirstie Hudson, Picking Up the Pieces: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket (2019).

6. For example, see Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, ed., In the Footsteps of Our Ancestors: The Dakota Commemorative Marches of the 21st Century (2006); Coll Thrush, Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire (2016).

7. Cynthia Culver Prescott et al., Pioneer Monuments in the American West: Explore Statues Honoring Early Settlers in the Old West, (accessed Nov. 3, 2019).

8. Zorach’s bronze group eventually did become installed in Colorado Springs, retitled as The Family, in the 1960s.

9. O’Brien extensively explored this theme in her Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England (2010).

10. These conversations and ethnographic fieldwork offer useful complements to anthropologist Siobhan M. Hart’s incisive and quite critical analysis of Plimoth Plantation in Colonialism, Community, and Heritage in Native New England (2019), which focuses more on analysis of formal, public-facing interpretive fixtures.

11. John Seelye adroitly traced these histories in Memory’s Nation: The Place of Plymouth Rock (1998).

12. Carrie Jung, “What’s at Stake in the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Land Bill,” WBUR News, May 13, 2019,

13. Cedric Cromwell, “Chairman’s Column,” Nov. 2018, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe website,

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