Chief Sitting Bull
Today I take a break from my recent run of posts concerning the Great War to discuss something of a different nature. Today I considered the end of the American Frontier. In the 1890s, an enterprising young historian named Frederick Jackson Turner wrote an article entitled "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." It was first presented to a special meeting of the American Historical Association which met at the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. This just happened to be where the country's first identified serial killer also stalked the fairgrounds! Later that year, what came to be known as the Turner Thesis was published and reached a wider audience.
Simply put, Turner argues that the existence of the frontier shaped American life and culture and thus ensured that American followed a different pattern of development than the rest of Europe. I am inclined to agree with what much of Turner said. I think Europe might also agree. When Europeans think of Texas, they often think of the Wild West which hasn't been wild in over a hundred years. The legacy still exists.
For a different group of people though, the end of the frontier meant the end of a way of life. Plains Tribes were slowly pushed out of their own territory and onto reservations by the end of the 19th Century. The "Battle" of Wounded Knee (really more of a massacre than a battle) is considered to be the last real "battle" of the Indian Wars. It took place in 1890, just three short years before the debut of the Turner Thesis.
Discussing Native Americans is a controversial topic because it doesn't fit with our nationalistic view of American History. We don't like to acknowledge the fact that our government committed genocide against our Native Populations. The English did it before we won independence and the Spanish also did it in their possessions. I doubt anyone reading this article today has ever murdered a Native American, so I have a hard time understanding the hesitance to accept that what our government did to them was wrong. (This is similar to the English view that nothing they ever did to the Irish was wrong.)
When I talk about the Indian Wars in class, I show a You Tube video that someone put together which has images from The Sand Creek Massacre, The Battle of Little Big Horn, and the Wounded Knee Massacre. The song that plays in the background is Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day. It is a fabulous song and an appropriate one for this topic as the song deals with a loss that cannot be regained. Native Americans lost their way of life once the Europeans. Now, tribes try desperately to keep the language and culture alive. I hope they do. We need a constant reminder of the price that comes with progress.
As my memory rests
and never forgets what I lost
wake me up when September ends
Summer has come and passed
the innocent can never last
wake me up when September ends
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who has been a Green Day fan since high school!