Transformaciones Religiosas en la Conquista del Oeste

Transformaciones Religiosas en la Conquista del Oeste

Llevar al Dios cristiano al país indio en el Siglo XIX

During the nineteenth century, Americans sought the cultural transformation and the physical displacement of American Indian nations. Native people resisted these efforts. Though this process is often understood as a clash of rival economic systems or racial ideologies, it was also a profound spiritual struggle. The conflict over Indian Country sparked crises for both Natives and Americans. In the end, the experience of intercultural encounter and conflict over land produced religious transformations on both sides.

missionary, Christianity, cultural practice, Indian Country

The man painted his body white. He stretched out his arms and stared directly into the sun. He asked the sun to pity him and give him dwdw, or sacred power. He needed it to aid him in hunting and war. He also implored the sun, one of the many natural phenomenon imbued with dwdw, to bless his family that they might live long and be healthy. The man danced for hours and did not eat or drink for four days. He stood near the banks of the You’-guoo-o-poh’, or Sweetwater Creek, which flowed east through the southern portion of the North American Great Plains. The land surrounding the creek lay flat and waved with tall grasses. Clumps of mesquite and juniper trees stood nearby. In winter, strong winds raced across the waters. In summer, the sun bore down, with few options for shade. On this day in the season of picking plums, or the month of June, the man painted white stood by the creek seeking dwdw to aid his people.1

His people were Kiowa Indians, who migrated from the north and had lived near Sweetwater Creek for just under a century when they gathered in 1873 for the Kiowas’ version of the Plains Indian Sun Dance.2 In their ritual encampment of a few thousand people, they told stories about their ancestors who had once lived farther north in the mountains near the Yellowstone River’s mouth in what is now western Montana.3 These ancestors had migrated eastward onto the northern plains and close to the Black Hills, where neighboring Indians taught them skills in horsemanship.4 They learned to hunt buffalo, not only with bows and arrows, but also with guns made available by Spaniards and brought northward through vast networks of Indian trade. Eventually, Kiowas moved to the southern plains, where they capitalized on their hunting skills to make a place for themselves near Sweetwater Creek and a massive rock formation, Xoqaudauha, or the Medicine Bluff.5 Chálkṓ̱gái (Black Goose) noted these and other special sites in maps he made of his homeland (Figure I.1).6


Figure I.1. Chálkṓ̱gái’s (Black Goose) map of Kiowa lands and sites of significance. Two Sun Dance lodges, commemorating celebrations in 1869 and 1870, are featured by the side of a tributary in the left center of the map. Sweetwater Creek, the site of the 1873 Sun Dance, is the tributary further south on the same river.

Credit: Department of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, catalog no. E233091, photo by Donald E. Hurlbert

When Kiowas migrated south, they brought with them rituals they had learned from their neighbors on the northern plains. Crow Indians had befriended them and shared their Sun Dance ritual, an annual celebration that acknowledged the sun’s power and showed gratitude for the abundance of buffalo.7 In their new southern homeland, Kiowa bands that were scattered across the region for most of the year came together for the summer ceremony. Over the course of several days, they made offerings, fulfilled vows, and socialized with relatives and friends. They prayed for the people’s welfare.

Figure I.2. Replica of the Tá̱imé, the sacred object at the center of Kiowa Sun Dance practices and considered a mediator between the sun and the people.

Credit: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, GN 01458

The Sun Dance required a specialist to gather the scattered community, handle special objects, and direct ritual action. In 1873, Jṑhé̱jè (Without Moccasins) served in this role. Kiowas called him the Tá̱imé keeper for his care of the Tá̱imé, the people’s most sacred (p.3) object. The Tá̱imé, a replica of which is pictured in Figure I.2, came as a gift from the Crows. It epitomized the sun’s power and mediated between the sun and the people.8 Jṑhé̱jè avoided dangerous conditions that threatened its power. He kept the Tá̱imé safe during winter while he considered a site for the next summer’s Sun Dance encampment. Once decided, Jṑhé̱jè sent a messenger to Kiowa camps, telling the people where and when to gather. Kiowa artists created many visual accounts of their Sun Dance activities, including the image in Plate 1 of people receiving news about the upcoming celebration.9

Plate 1. Gùhâudè’s (Stripping Off of a Rib Cage) drawing of a crier bringing news about an upcoming Sun Dance. Gùhâudè was known by Americans as Wohaw.

Credit: Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, image no. 1882-018-0030

As Kiowas moved toward the Sun Dance site, Jṑhé̱jè prepared them for their ritual undertaking. He rode out to the camp’s periphery. Carrying the Tá̱imé in a bag around his neck, Jṑhé̱jè circled the people and called them to come together. He brought the people into a posture of respectful devotion to the buffalo, animals that received dwdw from the sun. They began with a buffalo hunt designed to respect taboos against bloodshed during the Sun Dance. Rather than use more recently available technologies such as rifles, Kiowas chased, killed, and processed the animal using older methods. Hunters used bows and arrows and directed them at the bull’s heart, but not the lungs, as depicted (p.4) in Figure I.3. They aimed carefully lest any blood come out of the animal’s mouth and bring misfortune.10

Figure I.3. Gùhâudè’s (Stripping Off of a Rib Cage) image of Kiowa men hunting a buffalo with bows and arrows. The hide then hangs on the Sun Dance lodge’s central pole.

Credit: Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, image no. 1882-018-005

Once they killed the animal, the hunters processed its body and implored the sun to look on them with pity. One Kiowa informant recalled the hunters’ words as they transported the hide to the Sun Dance site: “Look at me, Sun! Let our women and children live good, and buffalo cover the earth. Let sickness be put away.”11 Once brought into the encampment, the section of hide was subjected to a purifying sweat. Kiowas then presented offerings to it, including cloth, beads, and feathers.12

With the buffalo hide procured and purified, it was time to establish the central ritual space, the Medicine Lodge, which housed the encampment’s primary activities. The process began with a battle performance in which men fought over a tree that would serve as the lodge’s central pole. After making offerings to the tree and cutting down the pole, the people took up the pipe. Ceremonial smoking, practiced widely across Native North America, marked the people’s efforts to engage sacred power. Kiowas then brought the tree pole to the encampment’s center. Informants recall that the Tá̱imé keeper shook rattles, blew whistles, and sang songs during the transport. American observers of later celebrations noted the community cooperation and pleasant mood. Good times continued through the lodge’s construction, which was accompanied by (p.5) singing and dancing.13 As shown in Figure I.4, Kiowas worked to clear a space, install the central pole and other branches, and hoist the section of buffalo hide with its attached offerings to the top.

Figure I.4. Zó̱tâm’s (Driftwood) rendition of Kiowa women and men building the central Sun Dance lodge. Note the forked pole, made from a cottonwood tree, at the center.

Credit: Richard Henry Pratt Papers, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Jṑhé̱jè then called for the buffalo to enter the lodge, but he did not anticipate the arrival of actual animals.14 Instead, he gathered people. Kiowas of all ages dressed in buffalo hides and acted the part of their favored prey, as depicted in section (b) of Figure I.5. Two men worked to lure the “buffalo” into the lodge, encouraging them to dance around the central pole. Their effort, which also involved no weapons, recalled older forms of buffalo hunting in which Kiowas trapped buffalo in closed areas. In the process of bringing the people into the lodge, Jṑhé̱jè and the hunters mimicked an ideal hunt.

Figure I.5. Unidentified artist’s drawing of the “calling of the buffalo.” The lower drawing shows Kiowas dressed in buffalo hides as they processed toward the central lodge. The drawing above depicts the lodge, ritual specialist, and several sacred objects.

Credit: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, manuscript 392725

With the central pole planted, the buffalo hide in place, and the lodge finished, Jṑhé̱jè put other special objects into place. He removed the Tá̱imé from its protective wrappings and carried it inside, as depicted in Figure I.6. Jṑhé̱jè placed it in a screened area, to which other important objects would be added. Over the years, Kiowas supplemented the Tá̱imé with other figures, creating a Tá̱imé complex.15

Figure I.6. Hā̱́ugū́’s (Silver Horn) image of the primary ritual specialist bringing the Tá̱imé to the Sun Dance lodge.

Credit: Silverhorn (Haungooah) (1860–1940), Kiowa, Oklahoma. To-hane-daugh and Party Carrying “Medicine” to Medicine Lodge, as captioned by D. P. Brown, 1883. One of the 75 drawings contained within a bound book; graphite and colored pencil on paper, 11¾ × 14¾ inches (29.8 × 37.5 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Dudley C. Brown, 64-9/14

Jṑhé̱jè then invited bearers of Tá̱imé shields to hang them on a cedar screen behind the central pole.16 The shields displayed powerful symbols and colors in designs received in visions. Along with other decorated shields, Kiowas considered the Tá̱imé (p.6) (p.7) shields to be powerful objects. The men who owned them were considered to have doi, or medicine.17 As such, they had access to sacred power for healing, discernment, and success in war. They held prominence in Kiowa society. With the shields in place, Jṑhé̱jè’s assistants brought the last of the necessary items, including earthen censors for cedar smoke, ceremonial fans, rattles, and animal skulls into the lodge.18 At this point, the lodge was ready and the central rites of the Sun Dance could begin.

Jṑhé̱jè and other men who had taken vows began a four-day process of dancing and praying without the benefit of food or water. The Tá̱imé keeper asked the sun to bestow its protective power through the Tá̱imé, depicted in the lower right corner of Plate 2. Other men raised their arms, prayed, sang, and stared into the sun. Hungry and humbled, they asked the sun, the buffalo, and the Tá̱imé to pity them and protect their families. Unlike some other Plains Indian nations, Kiowas did not practice any form of cutting or bleeding. But they modified their bodies in other ways, usually by painting themselves. The Tá̱imé keeper painted his body yellow, with images of the sun on his chest and back. The men who joined him were painted white. Dancing continued most of the day, demanding perseverance. Female relatives looked on and encouraged the dancers.19


Plate 2. Gùhâudè’s rendition of a Sun Dance lodge, Tá̱imé keeper, Tá̱imé, and natural elements such as the crescent moon, morning star, and thunderbirds. Note the line, signifying sacred power, connecting the thunderbird and Tá̱imé.

Credit: Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, image no. 1882-018-0046

The 1873 ceremony along Sweetwater Creek also included the introduction of medicine bundles, sometimes referred to by outsiders as the “grandmothers.”20 The bundles predated Kiowa Sun Dance practices. Some Kiowas affirmed that the bundles “grew up with Kiowa” and went back to the people’s time of origin.21 Keepers, or custodians, passed on these sacred items to their descendants. Bundle keepers talked to them and approached them with prayers for the people. They consulted the bundles when asked to settle disputes. Men going out to raids or battles made vows before them. Informants recall that bundle keepers brought them to the central lodge in order to smoke with them in the Tá̱imé’s presence. During the Sun Dance, bundles were placed on a platform of sage and subjected to a sweat. Fanning the steaming rocks, the Tá̱imé keeper and his assistants prayed for those who had brought the bundles, asking for good life, success in war, and healing from sickness.22

As the Sun Dance progressed, Jṑhé̱jè received people as they made more offerings to the Tá̱imé.23 When the men who made vows finished their four days of dancing and fasting, Jṑhé̱jè brought the Tá̱imé down from its central position and wrapped it carefully. He called for women to bring food to those who had fasted. He took water, made it powerful by adding elements from the bundles, and distributed it to the people as they departed.24 In this way, every person ingested a substance empowered by contact with the lodge and its sacred contents.

During the Sun Dance, Kiowas declared who they were as a people and engaged the dwdw, or sacred power, present in their homeland.25 Unlike centuries before, when they lived in the northern Rocky Mountains, or even more recently when they lived on the northern plains near the Black Hills, they were now a southern plains people. They were connected to Sweetwater Creek, Medicine Bluff, and the surrounding landscape. Living there meant adapting to the place and relating to the sun, buffalo, mountains, rivers, and plants. Kiowas also acknowledged the special people among them who engaged dwdw on their behalf. These included Jṑhé̱jè, the Tá̱imé keeper, as well as other leading men who healed, sought visions, and beseeched a number of animals and natural elements capable of bestowing protection and providing guidance. While these special people certainly harnessed these powers for their benefit, Kiowas did not monopolize them. Just as Crow Indians shared the Sun Dance with them generations before, Kiowas in 1873 celebrated with Comanches, Apaches, Cheyenne, and Arapahos, their Indian allies and friends.26

That summer, a new friend joined Kiowas as they celebrated the Sun Dance. A Quaker schoolteacher named Thomas Battey sat on the banks of Sweetwater Creek and watched the Sun Dance unfold.27 Battey had been assigned to teach school on the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache (KCA) reservation in what the United States designated as Indian Territory (Figure I.7). He had arrived in the autumn of 1872 and started teaching a few months before the Sun Dance. For a variety of reasons, Kiowa parents were reluctant to send their children to the already established school at the nearby military post. As a result, Battey volunteered to live in a Kiowa camp and presented lessons in his tipi. Embedded in camp life, he encountered Kiowas’ starkly different cultural (p.9) practices: nomadic movement; hunting game and drying meat; using skins and blankets for clothing; no discernable structures for educating the young. Battey hoped to trigger the transformation of Kiowa ways by modeling Anglo-American alternatives. In time, he convinced a few parents to send their children to his lessons. But most in the camp expressed suspicion about schooling and kept their children away. Frustrated, Battey concluded that Kiowa “heathenism,” or non-Christian religion, explained the people’s resistance to education.28

Figure I.7. Charles Roeser’s 1879 map of Indian Territory. The Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache (KCA) Reservation is in the territory’s southwest section.

Credit: American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries

Nothing symbolized that “heathenism” like the 1873 Sun Dance that Battey witnessed. Over many days, the Quaker teacher encountered painted bodies dancing, special objects he perceived to be “idols,” and leaders who used their power to change the weather. He had never seen anything like it. He later wrote that what he “saw and heard of this pagan rite” was “enough to cause my heart to swell with deep and conflicting emotions in beholding the depth of heathen superstition into which this people have fallen.”29 Battey, convinced of all people’s need for the Christian God, as well as the joy and consolation this communion provided, worried about Kiowas’ lack of “true religion.”30

The Quaker teacher’s considerable concern did not overwhelm the confidence he had in his mission. Referring to the Christian God as the “Great Disposer of all things and events,” Battey affirmed that “[God] saw fit to cast my lot on earth in a land where the blessed light of the gospel of truth shines.”31 Battey counted himself part of a nation (p.10) destined to bestow true religion upon Kiowas and other heathens. He shared this attitude not only with other Quakers concerned about Native Americans, but with a range of Protestant ministers, missionaries, and reformers who deemed themselves “friends of the Indian.”32 As such, Battey and his contemporaries claimed a superior knowledge about Native life. They deemed their approach to the “Indian problem” less self-interested and more effective than solutions proffered by most government officials and nearly all military leaders.33 As “friends of the Indian,” they planned to civilize, and thereby Christianize, Native people.

In several respects, the civilizing project advocated by “friends of the Indian” overlapped with missions targeted at other groups living in the United States and around the globe.34 These Christian workers promoted an internal process of religious conversion signaled by external markers of newly adopted Anglo-American cultural practices. But engagement with the nation’s Native peoples involved an additional feature. Indians occupied lands that the United States did not yet fully control, and some Indian nations had successfully resisted US rule for decades. When Americans spoke of the “Indian problem,” they referenced not only Native people and their uncivilized practices, but also the lands they inhabited, which Americans desired.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, American officials used diplomacy and military power to exert authority over lands stretching from the Appalachian Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Securing these lands seemed crucial as Americans migrated west in search of new places to settle. But when Thomas Battey entered a Kiowa camp in 1873, tens of thousands of American Indians still lived to some degree outside of American authority. Kiowas and Comanches in Indian Territory, Apaches in the Southwest, Sioux on the northern plains, and a number of Indian nations in the Pacific Northwest thwarted US efforts to reduce their lands and make way for American overland migrants. “Friends of the Indian” sought to change this situation. As Battey noted after the Sun Dance, I “hope that the day might not be far distant when the darkness enshrouding this portion of our country may be dispelled by the everlasting Sun of Righteousness.”35

To support their civilizing work, “friends of the Indian” relied on church resources. They also partnered with the federal government to direct the pace and nature of American expansion.36 Battey, again, provides a useful example. Prominent Quakers serving on the Society of Friends’ Indian committee nominated him to teach. But the federal government provided financial support for his efforts, and Battey reported to the Indian office in Washington, D.C.37 Through this partnership, Battey and other “friends of the Indian” hoped to convince federal officials and the American public that theirs was the only ethical and practical way to transform Indian people and claim the vast lands that Native nations controlled.

But in the hot summer of 1873, things were not going as planned. As noted earlier, only a few Kiowa parents sent their children to Battey’s tipi-school. Little could be shown after more than four years of Quaker effort to promote civilization. Kiowas still lived in tipis and moved them frequently in order to follow the game herds. The Indians (p.11) showed little interest in farming and their fields languished despite the Friends’ encouragement to plow and plant seeds. To Battey and other Quakers’ chagrin, Kiowas had not changed their ways. Most unnerving, they continued to raid for horses, mules, and human captives deep into Texas and Mexico. Settlers in these frontier regions sought to defend their families and resources against Indian plunder. Some retaliated, and still others initiated counter raids by attacking Native people’s camps and stealing from their horse herds. Encounters between settlers and Indians in the region often erupted in spectacular violence.

Indeed, violence between Americans and Kiowas had prompted Battey’s visit to the 1873 Sun Dance.38 He came to deliver a message about Kiowa leaders incarcerated at the nearby military post. The two men had led an 1871 attack and had killed seven Americans. They served two years in a Texas prison and had been returned to Indian Territory. Kiowas expected their imminent release. But Battey had bad news. Modoc Indians in Oregon had recently attacked and killed Americans at a meeting to negotiate peace. The incident fueled a surge in anti-Indian sentiment across the country. American officials felt they could not release the Kiowa leaders given the national mood. Kiowas expressed outrage. They could hardly see why Indian actions in Oregon affected them. Several demanded an immediate response, calling for Indians across the southern plains to rise up against the Americans. As Kiowas debated their options, Battey counseled peace. By the time the Sun Dance ended, Kiowas and their allies decided not to engage in armed resistance, at least for the moment.39

While Battey came away from the Sun Dance relieved that war had been avoided, the experience unnerved him. He watched as Kiowas and their allies gathered in an enormous encampment to express their attachment to each other and their homeland, as well as the sacred power that circulated among them. He looked on as Kiowas considered violent resistance to the Americans. From Battey’s perspective, much work remained to be done before Kiowas could be freed from their savagery, heathenism, and violence. “Friends of the Indian,” with the government’s support, had a monumental task before them in transforming Kiowas into civilized, Christian, and peaceful citizens of the American republic. The Quaker teacher, ever an optimist, was sure it could be done.

The Gods of Indian Country
Thomas Battey’s visit to the 1873 Sun Dance was one of many meetings between Kiowas and Americans. This book traces these encounters between 1803 and 1903 in order to make two arguments. First, in light of American expansion into Indian lands and encounters with Native peoples, Christian ministers, missionaries, and reformers cast themselves as “friends of the Indian” who could acquire land and achieve Native people’s cultural transformation through peaceful means.40 They presented their methods as an alternative to the argument made by some politicians, army officers, and settlers that expansion necessitated force, and perhaps the extermination of Native people. By (p.12) contrasting their approach to the violence of Cherokee removal, the Indian wars, and settlers’ assaults, “friends of the Indian” rendered benign acts of physical and cultural dispossession they both supported and perpetuated. These acts ranged from cutting children’s hair and suppressing Native languages to calling on the military to threaten, arrest, and incarcerate Indian people. In bringing the Christian God to Indian Country, these Protestants obscured their role in violent and coercive expansion and constructed an image of themselves as benevolent believers who imparted life-saving gifts to Indian people.

Second, Kiowas relied on their practices of making kin, giving gifts, engaging in diplomacy, as well as their rites for engaging sacred power, to respond to American efforts to reduce their lands, change their way of living, and break their tribal bonds.41 They continued and adapted practices, including the Sun Dance, which had sustained them throughout their long history of migration. They also engaged new sources of power and experimented with new rites, such as ritual peyote ingestion, Ghost Dancing, and affiliation with Christian churches.42 They evaluated these new options in light of their capacity to protect their families, fulfill communal obligations, and secure blessings and protection. In terms developed by one scholar of religion, Kiowas invoked “gods” insofar as they had “relationships” with “special, suprahuman beings” imbued with power.43 For Kiowas, the “gods” both old and new were central to their struggle to survive and flourish as Americans invaded Indian Country.

Americans often referred to “religion” as they sought to transform Kiowa culture and secure Kiowa lands. They considered the ethical implications of their own Christianity on westward expansion, as well as the meaning of the non-Christian ritual practices they observed among Kiowas. As theorists of religion have demonstrated, myriad intercultural encounters during the modern era shaped the creation of “religion” as a category.44 As English speakers, the Americans chronicled in this book inherited ideas about religion from their Christian European forebears, who had developed it as a way to understand and categorize a variety of peoples. These included Jews and Muslims, as well as so-called pagans, primitives, Orientals, and idolaters.45

Like their European ancestors, these Americans developed their identities as Protestant Christians in the midst of encounters with not only American Indians, but also Africans and African Americans, Catholic immigrants from Europe and Mexico, immigrant workers from Asia, practitioners of new religions like Mormonism, and a variety of other peoples outside their ken.46 “Religion” served to mark one of many differences Protestant Christians perceived between themselves and others. It played a central role in American debates about Native peoples’ place in the nation’s future.47 Kiowas and other indigenous societies, on the other hand, had no word that translated as “religion.” Instead, they had ways of interacting with a variety of powerful beings and forces, as well as a multitude of words that described or dictated the forms of these interactions. Even so, Kiowas eventually classified some aspects of their ritual power-seeking as “religious” in order to secure protection for these activities.48

(p.13) This book, then, tracks the ways that “religion” was central to Americans’ acquisition of Indian lands, as well as Kiowa efforts to defend their sovereignty and secure their community’s survival in the face of American territorial expansion.49 For Protestant “friends of the Indian,” “religion” made an ethical demand on methods the nation used to acquire Indian lands and civilize Indian communities, as well as validated their campaigns to bring “true religion” to Native people.50 But Protestants were not the only Christians interested in the nation’s Indian peoples. America’s period of westward expansion coincided with a surge in its Catholic population. Leaders in the emerging American Catholic Church leaned on their European co-religionists to assist in the work of civilizing and evangelizing American Indians. Catholic missions to Native people in the United States reflected broader developments in the global church, as well as American Catholics’ efforts to gain a foothold in a nation dominated by Protestants and teeming with anti-Catholic sentiment. Within this context, Catholics developed a distinctive sense of themselves as the Indians’ “friend.” They emphasized the long history of Catholic missions in North America, work that both predated the United States as a political project and contributed to a centuries-long effort to create a universal church. In missions started in the decades after the nation’s founding, Catholics aimed to civilize Native people, but often lacked the Protestants’ assumption that this process overlapped precisely with Americanization.

Over time, however, Catholics reframed their efforts on Indians’ behalf. As Americans debated the role of religious schools in American democracy, Catholics demanded religious freedom for Catholic Indians who experienced discrimination at the hands of government officials and Protestant reformers. They argued that support for Catholic schools on reservations signaled the nation’s commitment to religious freedom for all. Catholic leaders considered their efforts to start religious schools on reservations as central to their labors as the Indian’s “friend.” By century’s end, they also claimed that these schools achieved the goal of transforming Indians into proper American citizens.

Kiowas, of course, had their own ways to determine who their friends were. For centuries, they had migrated among and lived near other Indian nations. Upon their arrival in the southern plains, they participated in a borderlands economy that included Spanish officials, French traders, New Mexican leaders, as well as numerous Native peoples. In this context, Kiowas participated in a gift-based trading economy that relied on kinship ties. They made alliances and economic partnerships sealed with gifts and strengthened by shared rituals for seeking sacred power. Kiowas’ reception of the Sun Dance from Crow Indian allies is only one example of this dynamic. When the Americans arrived on the plains, Kiowas came to the encounter with these expectations about how nations interacted, how they worked to benefit each other, and how rituals like the Sun Dance could solidify such relationships. In sum, both Kiowas and Americans made “religion” central to their determination of who their friends were, how friends acted, and how relationships with other people affected their territorial claims.

(p.14) Methods and Significance
Indian people and Indian lands have been mostly absent from narratives about nineteenth-century US religious history. To be sure, scholars have produced outstanding studies focused on particular Native nations and their interactions with sacred powers.51 But these rich and detailed stories have yet to be integrated into broader interpretations of the period. Indeed, our histories mirror nineteenth-century policy goals in which white Americans occupy the center and Native people dwell on the periphery. In contrast, the scholarship on colonial-era engagements offers excellent accounts of the ways encounter transformed both Native and British settler communities.52 Work on the early republic, however, quickly loses track of Indians and mentions them primarily as the subjects of a fiercely debated removal policy.53 Scholarship on the middle part of the century rarely references Native people, reflecting the policy of separation that drove reservation building in this era. At best, Indians appear throughout the rest of the century only as practitioners of a new religious movement, the Ghost Dance, and victims of horrific colonial violence, namely the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee.54 Readers are left with histories that are, at best, partial in terms of Native people. More worrisome, this absence betrays scholars’ unwillingness to grapple with American acquisition of Indian lands and the actions that US citizens took to effect that dispossession.55

Placing Indian lands and nations at the story’s center seems obvious when we consider that these lands made up most of the nation’s massive expansion.56 Growth during the nineteenth century was staggering. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase was by far the most significant acquisition, but expansion also included Spain’s cessation of Florida, the annexation of Texas, treaties establishing the Oregon Territory, and forced land cessations from Mexico. The United States also invaded Hawaii, acquired Alaska from Russia, American Samoa from Germany, and the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam from Spain. These new possessions prompted questions about how to govern the hundreds of thousands of Indians, Mexicans, Chinese immigrants, and others who occupied newly acquired regions. Complicating these debates were shifting ideas about racial and religious difference.57 Taking Indian land and governing Native people, then, prompted serious debate about integrating these particular lands and peoples into the United States.58 It also connected to similar issues raised by the acquisition of other places.

The study of settler colonialism and imperial history offers particularly helpful tools for understanding the ways that managing lands and peoples, as well as indigenous peoples’ responses to those efforts, shaped American religion in this period. Historians of settler colonialism explore intercultural contacts that came after colonizers’ early efforts to explore new places and extract resources from them.59 These scholars investigate how colonists settled permanently in new lands and established dominance over indigenous populations through policies of segregation and exclusion. They also analyze the ways indigenous societies unwilling to cede their claims to land and autonomy responded to settler colonial policies. Scholars engaged in the critical study of empire also offer (p.15) models for exploring Indian-American encounters.60 They analyze the ways colonizing societies established social hierarchies, regulated space, and theorized differences in terms of race and culture. They consider how imperial outposts connected to and impacted colonial centers. I use tools from both subfields to understand how “friends of the Indian” participated in US expansion into Indian lands and how Kiowas reacted to the Americans’ colonial strategies.

As noted earlier, the situation in Indian Country reflected other issues in American life. Questions raised by taking Indian lands and the effort to manage Native populations connected to debates about Mexicans who became American citizens and the status of Hawaiians and Filipinos after the United States acquired and colonized them. More broadly speaking, Americans’ efforts to transform Kiowa cultural practices, including those understood as religious, reflected white Americans’ campaigns to change the ways of life of numerous peoples, including formerly enslaved African Americans, Chinese workers, Mormons, and immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, especially if they were Catholic or Jewish. Kiowa responses also connect to broader themes in this period. Numerous people dealt with white Americans’ efforts to transform them. The realm called the “religious” was one place in which these responses could be formulated.

The sources for this book include local and national stories that come from both Kiowa and American perspectives. While no one group can represent the diverse Indian communities across the American West, I focus on the Kiowa for a number of reasons. Their migration onto the southern plains and their shifting cultural practices show that Indian worlds were already changing prior to contact with Europeans and Euro-Americans.61 As a thriving plains culture by the turn of the nineteenth century, Kiowas make for an interesting comparison with other groups living as far south as Texas and as far north as southern Canada. Further, Kiowas’ alliance with one of the most powerful Indian nations at the time, the Comanches, made them central to American debates about westward expansion and the “problem” of ongoing Indian political autonomy.62

Kiowas also created materials that allow us to study their perspectives. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, some Kiowas learned to speak, read, and write in English. We have some letters and diaries written in their hand. Even so, most Kiowas hardly had access to print publications or fluency in the English language. While Kiowas may not have written their history, they had alternative forms for recording their past. Like indigenous cultures across the Americas, the Kiowas developed ways of carving, painting, and drawing about their communal and personal histories.63

I employ these sources, particularly sai-cut (calendars), ledger drawings, tipis, and shields. Like many Plains Indian nations, Kiowas created rock art that depicted supernatural encounters as well as personal and tribal histories.64 They also developed (p.16) modes of painting on bison hides. Again, this production recorded events from the past and signaled personal and communal accomplishments. Older Kiowa men made calendars, on hide and later on paper, which included symbols meant to recall memorable events from each year. Through the work of early ethnologists, we have access to several Kiowa calendars, some of which include entries dating back to the 1820s and 1830s (see Figure I.8). More recent anthropologists have offered contextual details and interpretive tools for understanding these sources.65

Figure I.8. Jòhâusàn’s (Little Bluff) sai-gut, or calendar, with entries about memorable events dating back to the 1830s. Winter events are marked by a black rectangle and summer events with the lodge built for Sun Dance rites. An infrared camera was used to make the entries more legible.

Credit: Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology and the Regents of the University of California, catalog no. 2-4933

I also use Kiowa drawings on paper made in ledger notebooks, such as the ones featured in my earlier description of the 1873 Sun Dance. Scholars have collected and studied Kiowa ledgers, which they view as an extension of an earlier tipi and hide painting tradition. These ledger notebooks include depictions of Kiowa life both before and during their containment on a reservation. Anthropologists have carefully documented the way that these forms of material culture track changes in Kiowa life.66 Art historians have deciphered many of the colors, objects, and symbols depicted in the ledgers and have considered how ledgers and other drawings can be used as sources in historical inquiry.67 (p.17) The calendars and ledgers, as well as oral histories and historical work documenting Kiowa engagements with the Spanish, Comanches, and Americans, serve as sources for considering Kiowa perspectives on the changes they experienced in this period.

Americans interested in this land, whether they visited it or not, left behind reams of reflection. They wrote endless reports issued for governmental and denominational authorities. They penned newspaper and magazine articles in national, local, denominational, and religious outlets. They published memoirs. The archive they left behind features the full array of players in Christian endeavors to civilize Indians, including Catholics and a variety of Protestants, men and women, and workers from throughout the country and beyond its boundaries. Americans such as Thomas Battey, who visited and worked among the Kiowas, left documents of a more personal nature, including diaries and letters that spoke to their aspirations, difficulties, and unresolved questions. These written sources are crucial to my historical labor to capture the variety of American viewpoints on Indian lands and “religion” as they developed over the course of the nineteenth century.


Open Lands
This part covers the period in which Kiowas maintained political autonomy within their homeland. It begins in 1803 when the Louisiana Purchase made the southern plains a part of the United States. It ends with the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge, which created the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache (KCA) Reservation. It traces American ideas about acquiring the vast Louisiana Territory, including arguments for its potential as a site for separating Indians from Americans and the debates surrounding Indian removal. It also traces Kiowa alliances within the Southwest borderlands and the prosperity they experienced in the decades before Americans arrived in the region. It continues with American settler migration across the Mississippi River and corresponding ideas about maintaining Indian separation despite this movement. It focuses on proposals to achieve separation through the creation of reservations. It also follows Kiowa responses to Americans heading west, exiled Indian nations settled on nearby lands, and federal proposals about a reservation. During this period, Protestant activists fashioned themselves as “friends of the Indian” and Catholics slowly established a series of western missions. Meanwhile, Kiowas maintained their ritual work as Americans came increasingly close to their lands.

Closed Lands
This part examines life on the KCA Reservation from 1868 to 1881, spanning the reservation’s early years to the eventual calls for its dissolution. It details President Ulysses S. Grant’s so-called “Peace Policy,” by which he turned reservation administration over to Christian denominations. It also chronicles Kiowa responses to Quakers’ civilizing mission. The section considers the resulting conflict, the 1874–1875 Red River War, in which Kiowas and their allies mounted a campaign to push the Americans out of Native homelands. The military crushed the endeavor and sent some (p.18) fighters to a military prison. Part II also follows the war’s aftermath, in which Kiowas experienced separation from kin and increasing pressure to change their way of life. Throughout the period, American Protestants and Catholics debated what it meant to be the Indians’ friend, especially during times of violent conflict. Kiowas, under mounting pressure and newly introduced to Christian missionaries, struggled to maintain their ritual obligations, even as they adjusted them in the midst of changing circumstances.

Divided Lands
This part spans 1882 to 1903 and follows the efforts of “friends of the Indian” to dissolve reservations and break down tribal bonds, as well as the myriad Kiowa responses to that process. It focuses on American arguments for individual landholding, economic activity, and citizenship as keys to Indians’ cultural transformation. Because breaking apart reservations threatened their livelihoods and tribal connections, Kiowas mounted a campaign to block it. The section follows the Americans’ success in securing this dissolution, along with the “surplus” lands left over. It ends with Kiowas’ last-ditch effort to defend their lands before the Supreme Court. Throughout this period, “friends of the Indian” promoted multiple forms of dispossession as benevolent gifts to Indians. Kiowas, facing the Americans’ campaign of cultural genocide, experimented with a variety of new powers and rituals in order to secure their lands and community.

Echoes from Indian Country
The story that unfolded in 1873 on the banks of Sweetwater Creek reveals that Kiowas and Americans made their gods central in the contest over Indian Country. But the significance of that story is hardly limited to that distant time or place. Stories of contact and transformation intersected with territorial claims starting in 1607 when British settlers set foot on North American soil and engaged with indigenous people. It continued as Americans claimed their freedom and expanded their country’s boundaries throughout the entire nineteenth century. The story, then, stretches over centuries and spans the continent. It continues as Americans expand their global influence. In the end, we might consider how the peoples and gods who came together in Indian Country remain with us even today.

3 comentarios en «Transformaciones Religiosas en la Conquista del Oeste»

  1. Buen texto sobre las «Transformaciones Religiosas en la Conquista del Oeste». Pero, no podrían haber puesto un título algo más corto? Es dificil de recordar «Transformaciones Religiosas en la Conquista del Oeste», quizás hubiera sido mejor ponerlo todo bajo Transformaciones Religiosas o bajo la Conquista del Oeste, uno de los dos.

  2. Transformaciones Religiosas en la Conquista del Oeste es un punto poco recurrente de la historia. Celebro encontrar información aquí sobre las Transformaciones Religiosas en la Conquista del Oeste, pues hay muy poco en español.


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