The Book of the American Indian

Written by Hamlin Garland
Pictured by Frederic Remington

Edited by Keith Newlin


About Remington's Illustrations

. . . When he and Garland had first planned the volume, Edward Marsh [Garland's editor at Harper & Bros.] had proposed including extensive illustrations by Frederic Remington to increase sales. Like Garlandís stories, the illustrations had previously appeared in Harperís Magazine or Harperís Weekly, periodicals published by the Harper firm, so the material would be available without payment of permission fees to another publisher.

At first, Garland opposed including Remingtonís work, in part because he detested the man--Garland, a teetotaler, was repelled by Remingtonís drinking, as he recorded in a diary entry of January 5, 1899: "Remington was at the club and we talked of the trail together. He was against the man who stood in criticism of the army, lumping me with Bryan and the Injuns, all sons-a-bitches. He would assault me if he dared to do so, no doubt. That is to say, on the question of the army and the Indians. He was a little confused by drink, so I said nothing." But he was also deeply opposed to the manner of Remingtonís sketches, which he believed to be markedly at odds with his own perspective. Years later he summarized his objection: "My design was directly opposite to that of Remington, who carried to the study of these hunters all the contempt, all the conventional notions of a hard and rather prosaic illustrator. He never got the wilderness point of view. His white hunters were all ragged, bearded, narrow between the eyes, and his red men stringy, gross of feature, and cruel. I recognized no harmony between his drawings and my text . . . ." Marsh apparently convinced Garland that the firmís bottom line needed the illustrations, for they planned a handsome, oversize book (12" x 9"), with a generous page size (a text block of 7" x 4"), both to set off the illustrations and to compensate for the shortness of text, that would sell for $6.00, rather than the usual $1.50. Harperís was also busily building a list of books about the American Indian, with such titles as Adventures of Buffalo Bill, William Codyís autobiography; Crooked Trails and Pony Tracks, Remingtonís collections of illustrated essays (both reissued in 1923); and a number of other novels and collections. The large-format The Book of the American Indian, marketed as an art book (with the authorial credit reading "Written by Hamlin Garland / Pictured by Frederic Remington"), would be the standout book of the list.

The inclusion of Remingtonís illustrations proved to be a wise marketing decision. Although the book was not a bestseller, it did sell "more than ten times the number of copies" Garland anticipated, and today copies are in demand in used- and rare-book stores. Reviewers tended to praise the stories as an important moment in the nationís history. The New York Times Book Review, for example, lauded Garland for his "service to American literature." Of the stories, the review concluded that "If they do no more than prick our conscience as to a national responsibility toward an ancient race which, as the Indian Bureau reminds us, is slowly increasing, then they will bring their greatest honor to a distinguished American writer." The New York Evening Post called the book "an American document of distinct value," and Henry B. Fuller, reviewing for the New York Herald, praised Garlandís "full knowledge of the various human elements involved" and his spirit of reform: "He writes with indignation and with a strong emphasis on special cases." Fuller certainly well understood Garlandís aims, for as Garlandís closest friend, he had read the drafts of "The Silent Eaters" in manuscript and knew the pains Garland had taken to make his stories an accurate reflection of the life he had witnessed. Indeed, the review focuses on the accuracy of Garlandís portrait of Sitting Bull. "Here at last," Fuller remarked, "is a detailed account of the affair and its culminating catastrophe from the Indian viewpoint.

As a volume designed as a "gift book"--what today we would call a "coffee table book"--The Book of The American Indian has a certain appeal, for it was indeed a handsomely executed volume. As Garland later realized, the book would not have been published if it hadnít included Remingtonís illustrations, but he also appreciated the irony of their inclusion, for the illustrations have virtually no connection with the stories themselves, having been selected largely because of their availability and the appeal of Remingtonís name. Indeed, he must have been aghast at the disjunctive effects of some of the illustrations. For example, the illustration "A Kiowa Maiden" appears within "Wahiah--A Spartan Mother," a story about Cheyenne Indians at the Darlington Agency in Oklahoma, not the Kiowa. Worse, the illustrationís caption is markedly and vehemently at odds with the plot of the story. "Wahiah" is about the subjugation of Cheyenne children to the white manís desire to put them in school. The focus of the story is the headmasterís discipline, which involves whipping a child who refuses to attend school until his spirit is broken. And the whipping is no mere show whipping: the headmaster wears two rods to a frazzle before spanking the boy, the shame of which finally breaks him. The parents are ready to kill the teacher but finally come to respect the headmaster, who points out that unless the children learn English and adapt to conditions, they are doomed; in response, the mother snaps in two her sonís bow and arrows, his "symbols of freedom." But the caption of the illustration ignores the plot and theme and substitutes instead a fantasy of wish fulfillment:

That Indian parents are very proud of their childrenís progress is evidenced by the eagerness with which they send their sons and daughters to the schools established by the Government on the different Indian reservations. The Kiowa maiden here pictured is one of the many Indian girls and boys who are more and more availing themselves of the opportunity to obtain an education and thus fit themselves to take their places in civilized society.

The illustration was originally published as an accompaniment to Richard Harding Davisís "The West from a Car Window," in Harperís Weekly of May 14, 1892. That illustration included no caption, as indeed did none of the illustrations in their original magazine publication. When assembling The Book of the American Indian, some functionary at Harperís, with an eye out the window rather than on the text, apparently wrote this and the other captions without reading the stories themselves.

Similar effects occur elsewhere in the volume, suggesting that the uncredited caption writer had devoured popular accounts depicting Indians as blood thirsty savages. The sketch "An Apache Indian" is placed within "The Iron Khiva," a story of the Hopis, and its caption describes the "hideously cruel" Apache of the title as a "red-handed murderer." Occasionally, the editorial writer had better luck: "The Medicine Manís Signal," originally illustrating Remingtonís report "The Sioux Outbreak in South Dakota," appropriately appears within "Rising Wolf, Ghost Dancer." And the writer may have been familiar with Garlandís other work, for the caption to "Footprints in the Snow," illustrating "The Storm-Child," about a child lost in the snow, warns the unwary trapper about Indians "popping out of some coulee," and Garland had made the coulee country of Wisconsin his domain in his non-Indian stories. Sometimes, too, the caption writer simply gave up and confessed his ignorance. The caption to "An Indian Trapper," incongruously placed within "The Story of Howling Wolf," reads, "This Indian trapper depicted by Remington may be a Cree, or perhaps a Blackfoot . . . ." Ironically, although Remington did illustrate "Drifting Crane" for its original 1890 publication in Harperís Weekly, that illustration did not appear in The Book of the American Indian. . . .

                . . . snip . . .

back from The Book of the American Indian, edited by Keith Newlin (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), pp. xli-xlv.