American Indians continued to adjust to the challenges and changes they faced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While some accommodated to new circumstances, others flat out refused to do so. However, both formal education and allotment did bring forth progressive opportunities for those who successfully adapted themselves without abandoning their values.
The biggest challenge that American Indians faced was the federal government’s deliberate and multifaceted effort to dismantle reservations and obliterate tribal cultures through allotment and assimilation. So, what did it mean for the people who had to live through the assimilation and allotment?
Wohaw: Interpretation of His Art
Wohaw—a Kiowa—was a veteran of the Red River War during the 1870s. He was probably 20 years old when he was transferred from the Indian Territory to Fort Marion. During his time there, he created a drawing called ‘Wohaw in Two Worlds’. It seemed to present a pretty typical bifurcated view of identity. On the left side, Wohaw depicted a bison and a teepee. Both of them were meant to represent the old ways. On the right side, he added symbols of a new way of life—a steer and a farm. And in the middle, Wohaw drew himself.
Upon his release from Fort Marion in 1878, Wohaw returned to the Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, where he served in the reservation’s Indian police force and, later, in the U.S. Cavalry.
Yet, at the same time, Wohaw made some other interesting life choices. He served as a member of a Kiowa warrior society and supported a revitalization movement known as the Ghost Dance. Wohaw also practiced the peyote way—an indigenous religious tradition revolving around a spineless cactus that some considered to contain a hallucinogenic property.
Thus, Wohaw’s art presents a much more complicated and nuanced view of education and assimilation. He seems to have been a person quite adept at accommodating to new circumstances rather than someone who felt compelled to abandon one identity for the sake of another—to trade one culture in exchange for a different one.
Learn more about the Ghost Dance.
Daklugie: Refusal to Accommodate
We can gain similarly complex insights in the lives of students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, such as of Daklugie—a Chiricahua Apache who fought against the U.S. Army during the 1870s and 1880s. He characterized the process of becoming immersed in civilization as being thrust into a vicious and hostile world that was both hated and feared.
Scarred by his experiences at Carlisle, Daklugie went so far as to abandon Asa, the name he was given there. Daklugie, like Wohaw, defined his encounter with assimilation on his own terms. However rather than accommodate, he flat out refused.
This is a transcript from the video series Native Peoples of North America. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Luther Standing Bear: Defining Own Terms
Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota, told yet another story.
Raised among the Oglala on the Great Sioux Reservation during the late 1860s and early 1870s, Standing Bear described going to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School as an act of bravery. While he was frustrated by the treatment he received there, he didn’t reject Henry Pratt’s vision or the Carlisle experiment.
Standing Bear played an instrument in the school band. As part of the Outing System, he worked for a local non-Indian farmer and gained useful vocational skills. Later, he took an internship at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia.
Upon his return to the Rosebud Reservation during the late 1880s, he recruited students for Carlisle and joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. He eventually relocated to Los Angeles and spent the early decades of the 20th century making Western films. He also began what would become a successful career as a writer, which included his now classic 1928 memoir, My People the Sioux.
Learn more about leaders such as Standing Bear and Lone Wolf.
The Other Side of Assimilation and Allotment
Taken as a whole, allotment proved devastating. And yet some American Indians successfully adapted to individual ownership and profited from farming and leasing their lands.
Other American Indians adopted subtler techniques to resist assimilation. One of those techniques involved selecting contiguous allotments to preserve the integrity of extended kin groups, or to use private property to escape the watchful eye of agency superintendents.
Still others, like Comanche chief Quanah Parker, devised strategies of accommodation and subversion that allowed their people to endure as a people despite radically changed circumstances.
Comanche Chief Quanah Parker
In 1867, Parker opposed a major treaty that would have sequestered his people on a reservation. He later fought the United States during the Red River War of the mid-1870s.
Although Parker submitted to reservation life by the end of the decade, he didn’t abandon his values or give up his resistance. Instead, he transformed them. For instance, Parker could be seen in photographs wearing a suit and top hat at times, and buckskins at others, but he was never without his long braided hair. In fact, he protected traditional religious practices as a judge on his reservation’s Court of Indian Offenses.
During the allotment of the Comanche estate, Parker took a subtle approach to resistance, as well. He represented his Comanche people in formal negotiations with the federal government to secure larger allotments, demand just compensation for surplus lands, and prevent half a million acres of the reservation from being allotted at all. He also helped Comanche people select the best lands possible for their homesteads.
Adaptation, Persistence, and Survival
The experiences of Wohaw, Daklugie, Standing Bear, and Quanah Parker are only a small part of larger and more complex narratives of Indian adaptation, persistence, and survival.
They remind us, in their own unique ways, that there was more to assimilation and allotment than a choice between Native and non-Native cultures.
Common Questions about How American Indians Adapted to Assimilation and Allotment
On the left side, Wohaw depicted a bison and a teepee. Both of them were meant to represent the old ways. On the right side, he added symbols of a new way of life—a steer and a farm. And in the middle, Wohaw drew himself.
Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota, wrote My People the Sioux, his memoir.
One of the techniques involved selecting contiguous allotments to preserve the integrity of extended kin groups, or to use private property to escape the watchful eye of agency superintendents.