oil on linen (91/2' x 15')
Buffalo and Choctaw skeletons take center stage
in this dark painting. They appear as museum exhibits. The cast of characters
who planned the extinction of the buffalo, knowing the Indian's demise would
follow, encircle them. The Strategy of the Indian Wars was severe: total war,
scorched earth, extermination.
The generals planning the strategy are Sherman
(seated on the right), and the circle of officers (from right to left):
Custer, Devin, Forsyth, Merritt, and Sheridan. Grant is seated on the left.
This group is based on a photograph as they
planned their strategy for a push against the Confederate army. Months after
the Civil War, they took their war to the Plains. The Indian Wars lasted from
1860's until that cold day at Wounded Knee, 1890.
All of the characters in the painting played
their part in the near extinction of buffalo or Indian. Buffalo Bill Cody,
with his Wild West Show, paraded the Indians around showing Easterners and
Europe what the West was like, from the white settlers perspective. Queen
Victoria spoke to Black Elk as he toured England with the show in 1886:
- Today I have seen the best looking people
- If you belonged to me, I would
- not let them take you around in a show
-Black Elk Speaks
Buffalo Bill was also scout and buffalo hunter.
The buffalo hunters did more, Sheridan acknowledged, to settle "the vexed
Indian question than the entire army has done in 35 years." Sheridan, the
military strategist advised the Texas legislature in 1875 to support these
...for the sake of a lasting peace, let
kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are
exterminated. Then your prairies can be
covered with speckled cattle and the
festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as
a second forerunner of an advanced
Texas Legislative Hearing, 1875
The portraits of two presidents hang on the wall. Andrew Jackson, on the
right, defied the Supreme Court and went ahead with his plan to relocate the
Indians to clear the way for westward expansion. The Indians were marched
west in a Trail of Tears, many dying along the way. Abraham Lincoln,
liberator for the slaves, was not liberator for the Indians. He fought the
Indians as head of the militia before he was president. As president he
signed the death sentence for the largest mass execution in American
History, for some 30 Native Americans. He was prouder of his position as
head of the militia to fight Indians than of the title of President.
The perception of the whites as the "advanced civilization" molded
General Pratt's policy toward the Indians. Pratt, who stands at the left of
the painting with his model Indian pupil under his strong arm, originated
the Indian Schools. These boarding schools would "educate" the
Indians, "civilize" them. The theory was that if you took children
away from their family and homes, cut their hair, stripped them of their
festive costumes, dressed them in white men's suits of the day, whipped them
when they spoke their language, then they would become like the white man -
or the image the white men like to hold of themselves. The Indians would
become civilized, peaceful, with all traces of their way of life beaten out
of them. "Kill the Indian, save the man" was the motto.
One Apache said this of the white man's intentions:
Their alibi is they want to civilize us.
means they want to make thieves and liars
of us like themselves. We will become
weak and useless from the illness and
of the white eyes.
-James Kywakla, Warm Spring Apache
Although Pratt's policy was enlightened for its day (others wanted to kill
all Indians), it resulted in cultural genocide. People, tribes were stripped
of their culture, spirit, language and way of life.
This circle of characters represents the forces the Native Americans
struggled against. Geronimo was the last warrior to surrender to a foreign,
imposed way of life, after resisting the U. S. Army for about two years.
"Once I moved about like the wind.
Now I surrender to you. That is
Wildcat's canvas tells the tale of characters and strategy that changed the
millions of stampeding buffalo into piles of bones and museum exhibits and
who did their best to exterminate the people who lived on these plains.
"A cold wind blew across the prairie
when the last buffalo fell...
a death wind for my people"
These are the men, the self proclaimed "forerunners of an advanced
civilization" as General Sheridan put it. This was their strategy. And
yet, as Wildcat suggests in the title of his exhibit, the strategy did not
result in extinction. Against all odds, the buffalo and Native Americans