Browse Exhibits (7 total)

The Indian Primer by Alexis Jakubowski

This essay shows the similarity between Frank Cushing's role as an anthropoligst and John Small's role as a missionary and how they both were able to impose on the Native American community.

The Precedents Set by Thomas Jefferson's Excavations

This practicum compares the description of grave digging in Skull Wars, by David Thomas, and Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, by Edwin James. I will expand upon the idea that Thomas Jefferson set the precident of mound excavation and diresgard for Native American traditions, and that his behavior set the stage for the later expedition recounted by Edwin. 

Vladimir Kremenovic

Analysis of Frederick Hall's Statistical Account of the town of Middlebury

Edwin James

Edwin James and Alice Cunningham Fletcher were both anthropologists who shared relatively similar views regarding the Native Americans with whom they each interacted, both attempting to help prolong the livelihoods of the people they studied. However, the manners in which the two approached this final goal differed greatly, along with the mindset that drove each of their strategies.

Fletcher, subject of chapter seven “the Anthropology of Assimilation” in Skull Wars, the book by David Hurst Thomas, was certainly of the school of thought—and although well intentioned—that was sorely and unfortunately misguided in the long run. The treaties and policies devised by anthropologists and government officials alike seemed the best method of ensuring the prosperity of the Indians, who, appearing to be in decline in terms of population and of culture, was to enact legislation designed to provide lump sums of income to the natives by means of selling of plots of land to white American settlers.

While it must have seemed a good idea at the time, the attempts of Fletcher and those who aided her in promoting these politics were sadly lacking in understanding of the true issues faced by the native peoples whose “authentic” cultural identities at that time were far from “things of the past.” Their populations, their cultures, their economies may have seen somewhat less damage had it been understood that to sell their lands would be quite the opposite of a long-term solution, instead becoming a seemingly irreparable impediment to the prosperity that the “so-called Friends of the Indian” had ever intended (Skull Wars, 175).

On the other hand, it must be understood that Fletcher faced pressure from other white American politicians and settlers who were eager to take the Indian land for their own use and profit regardless of whether or not it was bought from the Natives. Thus, “civilizing” the Indians seemed the only logical approach at that time to anthropologists.

Now James, author of these pages pictured here, believed that the best policy towards the Native Americans was simply to “let them alone,” quite contrary to the anthropological trends of the era. The idea of removal of the Indians from their lands seemed far less useful to James, who instead preferred the notion of a laissez faire approach to the white American relationship with the Native Americans. To him, surely the idea of preserving the lands from settlement by Euro-Americans seemed far more appealing—and far more productive—than forcing the Natives to sell of their land in exchange for poor offerings of money and the obligatory boarding school experience for Indian children, taken far from their native land and far from their families to be given Christian names and taught English to elevate them above the “upper savagery” and “lower/middle barbarism” that many believed accurately described the native peoples of the United States.

James appears to have had far more respect for the American Indians, with far more accepting views of the native, and views that opposed Fletcher’s desire to remove the natives from their sacred lands. In fact, in a manner quite antithetical to the ubiquitous idea of “savagery,” James describes the anatomical and physiological traits of the Omaha natives, in such a way that expresses his admiration for them. He marvels in their tolerance for pain, their mental fortitude, their bravery, and actually appears to consider them on a similar level that he might describe one of his own race.


He discusses the marriages of couples within the Omaha tribe and their practices of forming family ties. Although clearly noting their lack of ceremony and polygamous marriages, he shows a fascinated respect for these cultural differences.

He seems especially impressed with a mother’s dedication to her children, willing to sacrifice herself in order to save her child and to provide the best life for him or her. The imagery he uses in his relation of the stories he was able to collect from his interactions with the Omaha people is just as striking as the stories themselves. While it is likely that his own implicit thought processes have an influence over the ways in which he perceives and understands the behavior of the Omaha, it is clear that there is a healthy respect for these people with whom he immerses himself.

            This is not to say that Fletcher did not have the same perception of these people, with whom she was also able to interact, though mainly in her presentation of the plan that she so fervently believed would be the savior of the Native Americans. She misunderstood their responses as support of her plan when they requested “strong papers to make [their] home[s] secure.” Now, with the benefit of history, it is clear to us that this was a mistake, but were it not for people like Fletcher and James, we would likely not have the same quality of records of the Native Americans before the avarice of the West swept across the hills and plains of the United States, and for that we can take some solace.

This should yet be a lesson to not repeat history, though we see those who continue to steal the lands of Native Americans, time and time again in the pursuit of wealth with little regard for the land or the people who inhabit it. We might continue to point out James’s words to people like those in charge of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline: “let them alone.



Thomas, David Hurst. "The Anthropology of Assimilation." Skull Wars: Kennewick

Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity. New York, NY: Basic, 2000. 167-77. Print.


John Eliot's Conversion of Native Americans and Indian Primer By Abigail Nadler

This exhibit highlights the work of Puritan missionary John Eliot and his work with Massachusetts Native Americans in the 1630s. Eliot learned Algonquin and with that knowledge was able to translate the bible and other religious texts seen in the Indian Primer and bible fragment artifacts in the exhibit. In the exhibit, Eliot's missionary work is compared to Frank Cushing's anthropoligical research in Skull Wars. 

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Abenaki and English Dialogues: The Grammatical System documented by Chief Jos. Laurent (Exhibit by Katharine Fortin)

In “New familiar Abenakis and English Dialogues,” Chief Joseph Laurent preserves the Abenaki language and teaches English to the Abenaki youth through direct translation of relevant words, grammar, and phrases from Abenaki to English language. This exhibit highlights the importance of this rare and early attempt by a native speaker to preserve an indigenous language in the wake of white Americans simultaneously trying to destroy all Native American cultures. 

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