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  • "The Coming of the White Man," Onetime Oregon White Supremacist Icon
  • Jeffry Uecker (bio)

PRIOR TO THE QUADRICENTENNIAL of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Caribbean, both houses of Congress issued a joint resolution directing President Benjamin Harrison to encourage Americans to observe the anniversary of "the discovery of America" on October 21, 1892. Harrison proclaimed in an address to the nation: "Let the national flag float over every school house in the country and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship."1 When the day arrived, many offices and buildings closed, and people staged historical processions and parades in parks and schools throughout the country. Chicago also celebrated the dedication of the World's Columbian Exposition, held in commemoration of the anniversary of Columbus's Caribbean landfall, although the fair did not officially open until the following year. With a decidedly European telling of the country's origin story, the fair celebrated American exceptionalism and assured the White middle class of their increasing domestic and foreign influence.2

In Portland, Oregon, schools held parades and festivities across the city, including at Josiah Failing School, where patriotic songs preceded the unveiling of an engraving of The Landing of Columbus. Students at the school had collected pennies to purchase the reproduction of John Vanderlyn's 1847 mural located in the U.S. Capitol, which features frightened Native people (presumably Taíno) first encountering Columbus and his crew.3 About eighty-five miles up the great river bearing the adventurer's name, students in The Dalles marked the day with a parade, patriotic music, and a chalk drawing in the school's hall that depicted Columbus's ship, the Santa Maria, and echoed themes of Vanderlyn's print in Portland. The Dalles Daily Chronicle described the chalk art as "the small fleet of Columbus, drawing near to the strange land whose stranger people stood on the shore awaiting them, is one which no American can consider without a thrill of admiration and of marveling."4 Although no first-hand Taíno descriptions of Columbus's arrival exist, Euro-Americans created historical narratives about observers and those being [End Page 6]


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Architect of the Capitol

PROBABLY THE MOST RECOGNIZABLE first encounter image, John Vanderlyn's The Landing of Columbus presents the adventurer's unplanned Caribbean landfall as a divinely sanctioned accomplishment. Called the "definitive 'Landing' iconography," the large painting hanging in the U.S. Capitol rotunda includes hidden, helpless Indigenous observers, the key element of the "Coming of the White Man" genre.

observed—invaded and invaders—that justified the incursion and seizure represented in these works of art. In Oregon, by the turn of the twentieth century, publicly accessible pictures of first encounters moved beyond the classroom to become an important local artistic subgenre. "The Coming of the White Man" (hereafter referred to as CWM), is the most common title for this type of scene in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The genre, which proliferated during the first three decades of the twentieth century, reinforced popular social and political narratives that centered Euro-Americans and subjugated Indigenous peoples' experiences in the state's public memory. Oregon art is defined here as any visual work that was created either in or within proximity to Oregon, created by an artist with close links to Oregon, or created outside Oregon but with a significant relationship to Oregon history or culture.

CWM covers any image that features Native people witnessing the initial arrival of people of European origin—usually explorers or traders—who are unaware of the Natives' presence. In CWM renderings, Native people are portrayed as powerless, devoid of culture, and unable to change the [End Page 7] course of their conquest. Because these compositions depict only first encounters, art that portrays Native people observing the establishment of new communities or the encroachment of the railroad—largely secondary encounters—is excluded. While well-known Oregon works such as The Pioneer atop the Oregon State Capitol and The Circuit Rider on the state capitol grounds certainly deal with White incursion in the area, they fall well outside the CWM classification...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2329-3780
Print ISSN
0030-4727
Pages
pp. 6-39
Launched on MUSE
2022-04-01
Open Access
No
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