"Their Spirits Were Trapped In Those Masks"
December 9, 2017 8:11 AM   Subscribe

At the end of the Southern Plains or "Red River" wars in 1875, the U.S. War Department shipped seventy-two Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Caddo Nations prisoners of war held without formal charges or trial from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. In 1878, the Smithsonian commissioned “life masks” — faces molded from clay — to be made of the Fort Marion prisoners. An American war trophy, the masks would become part of the United States' nationalistic propaganda effort to "depict indigenous peoples as vanishing, as nearly 'extinct,' and thus worthy of museum dioramas, not political rights." The masks are now stored in the Peabody Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology's collection at Harvard University. But to whom do they really belong?

After reading the main article in this post, see how the United States' National Park Service describes the "Plains Indians Incarceration" on their website. The prisoners' consent to being assimilated is assumed, despite the fact that they were specifically sent to St. Augustine and separated from their people in TX and OK because of their unyielding, defiant opposition to U.S. forces.

A history written, positioned and abridged by the victors.

Ten years later, 500 Apache prisoners would be incarcerated at Fort Marion.
posted by zarq (7 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think I did the main link in this post justice with the above description. Strongly suggest reading it in its entirety to learn more.
posted by zarq at 8:21 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, this is heartbreaking. Thank you for highlighting it, Zarq.
posted by anitanita at 12:20 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Very interesting and yes, quite predictably heartbreaking episode.

Just this morning I finished William Least Heat-Moon's Prairyerth, a very detailed history of the white settlement of a small area of eastern Kansas. The final chapters are an elegy for the Kansa, or Kaw (or many other names) natives who were displaced from the land. Heat- Moon includes, as items in a common-place book, many quotes from natives, Indian agents, historians and politicians to highlight the endless erosion of the rights of the indigenous people as treaties were ignored, land was stolen (jobbed, in the parlance of the place) and the people were put in impossible position after impossible position until they were virtually eradicated. He concludes with and interview with a contemporary survivor (the book was published in 1991) of the tribes.

The book is wonderfully written and I loved the experience of reading it, but I absolutely fault it for not placing those final chapters first, to color every single "struggle" faced by the interlopers who came after.

Also, intersectionally, I grew up near Carlisle, Pa. and the Indian School, whose most famous alum is Jim Thorpe. I had no idea who Pratt was, or how the school came to be founded.

Thanks, Zarq, this post is fantastic (!) for me.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:04 PM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

A bit more on the seventeen Fort Marion prisoners who went to the Hampton Institute.
posted by away for regrooving at 2:08 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Synchronicity strikes: in my recent FPP, there's an interestingly parallel case, though the respective issues lie more dormant: the photography installation "Molti", consists of series of striking, stylised black and white portrait photographs of a large number of African adults are displayed under glass, placed on the floor, all with their eyes closed. The immediate evocation of the installation - in tension with the seemingly peaceful expressions worn by those portrayed - is of the multitudes of Africans who currently succumb to the seas they attempt to cross.

Only by reading the accompanying catalogue, does it become clear that the photographs are actually of a series of masks that were made decades ago, and of which 120 are on display at the Museum of Natural and Physical Science in Naples (with hundreds more at the University of Witwaterstand). What's worse (or more poignant, depending on the point of view), the masks were created by one of the most significant proponents of a scientific basis for early Italian fascism, thus carrying a burdensome legacy which seems to have been consistently glossed over - to the point that it isn't even mentioned in the exhibition catalogue.

Lidio Cipriani carried out various expeditions in order to amass evidence on which to found his theories of racial superiority. The methods by which he convinced the individual subjects to submit to this kind of material profiling are largely left to the imagination - though it is known that he pioneered a method for photographing subjects without consent (by using a 90° mirror lens on his Leica). That he was already disgraced during his academic glory days (apparently for profiting off sales of a personal run of copies of the faculty-commissioned masks) seems fitting; that he was ultimately prosecuted for his signature of the "Manifesto della razza" - a fact he would later attempt to deny - rounds out the dark history of these witness-bearing visages. The ethics relevant to the masks - their ownership, as well as consent regarding historical artifacts - is an important issue for current research.
posted by progosk at 8:24 AM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Information about the Carlisle School and the kids who died there.
posted by SyraCarol at 3:14 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

One of those Cheyenne men was Making Medicine, later named a saint by the Episcopal Church.
posted by SyraCarol at 3:19 PM on December 10, 2017

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