Saturday, May 14, 2011

Critical Media Literacy: Misrepresentation of Apache Scouts

Last week I wrote about the use of Geronimo's name for Osama bin Laden. Since then I've been researching, reading, and thinking about Geronimo, his people, and how Apaches are portrayed.

One thing I did was search in the Comprehensive Children's Literature Database (CLCD) to see how many items in CLCD have "Geronimo" in the title. One of the results was an image that appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1886. Here's the image (source is Library of Congress):

Right away, I thought "but that isn't how they dressed..."  This is how they dressed (source is White Mountain Apache History):

Harper's led its readers astray. I'm going to see if I can find a copy of that issue so I can see what it said. Periodicals of the time, I think, led readers astray. They published sensational accounts of "atrocities" committed by "savage" Indians. Such accounts scared readers. They were then terrified of Indians. Over and over, you can read that Geronimo "struck terror" in the hearts of settlers.
UPDATE:  MAY 18, 2011, 10:38 AM---I am inserting this update from the Beinecke Rare Books Library at Yale (using italics to distinguish it from content uploaded previously). In an album of photos taken by Christian Barthelmess, I came across a couple of photographs he took of Apache scouts that include scouts dressed a lot like shown in the Harper's illustration, and scouts dressed as shown in the photo. I did a quick look on the web and found one of the photos here and am inserting it here for ease of comparison. 

 In the photo, there are five men. Here in front of me at Yale is the actual photo. It has much more clarity than the one above. All five hold either a rifle or pistol. All five are wearing moccasins with wraps that rise at least mid-calf. Three are in what is generally called a breech or loin cloth. One is wearing trousers, and the one in the middle is wearing an army uniform. 

The second photo in the album shows a campsite. Four men are in the photo. Two are white, but I can't tell if they are wearing army uniforms. One is sitting down and the other is standing beside a horse. To their left are two Apache scouts. Both of them are holding rifles. All four men are facing towards, and, looking at the camera, which tells me it is a posed photo. One of the Apaches is wearing only the breech/loin cloth and the other is fully dressed in a shirt, trousers, and, a loin cloth over his trousers. This photo is titled but the writing is hard to read. I can make out "Apaches" and "Siera Madre" and "(Mexico)." [An aside: I've found other photos by Barthelmess online that are also in this album. Some of the captions are in the same script, but have different info. In one place, the caption says it is of Sioux women; in the photo I'm looking at here at Yale, the caption says Navajo women. Not sure what to make of why the photographer (or whomever wrote the captions) would identify them as Sioux in one copy of the photo and Navajo in another. They are clearly (to me) Navajo women.] 

So who was this photographer? I'll have to find out...

It is important to remember that it was war.

Atrocities were committed by soldiers in the U.S. Army, too, as documented in reports of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. Indians were terrified of soldiers, and of settlers, miners, and mountain men, many of whom scalped Indian men and women.

In his Violence Over the Land, Ned Blackhawk writes about a mountain man named James Beckwourth who was in the west in the 1820s, working for a trading company. Gunning for the Pun-naks (Bannock), Beckwourth wrote that he and his group followed Pun-naks for 45 miles, and then attacked them. The attack continued (p. 172):
"... until there was not one left of either sex or any age. We carried back four hundred and eight-eight scalps, and as we then supposed, annihilated the Pun-nak band." 
I'm going to study Blackhawk's book to see if he talks about how Beckwourth was covered in the press. He does say that Beckwourth exaggerated what he actually did. I'll also read John Coward's book, The Newspaper Indian: Native American Identity in the Press, 1820-90.

For now, the scouts, as shown in Harpers, and as shown in the photograph, invite us to apply critical media literacy skills.


The pronunciation of "Geronimo"

Many people said (in private emails, but also in comments to articles) that they shout "Geronimo" when jumping into a pool. They note that paratroopers shouted "Geronimo" when jumping out of planes, and that they did this after watching a film in 1939 about Geronimo. I'm trying to get that film. A colleague said I can get it through Netflix.

Anyway, in thinking about that utterance (Geronimo) it occurred to me that, if it is true that the name "Geronimo" can be traced to Mexican soldiers, then, they wouldn't have been saying the name with a G sound as most people say it today. They'd have been saying it with an H sound.

I verified my hunch earlier by digging into archives of Harper's Weekly. In issue 4/10, 1886, there's an article called "The Chiricahua Apache Troubles." It is primarily about the death of Captain Emmet Crawford of the Third United States Cavalry, who was after Geronimo. He was killed by Mexican soldiers. The article says there was fear that his funeral train would be attacked by Geronimo and his band, but that didn't happen. The article references An Apache Campaign by Captain John G. Bourke:
"In Captain Bourke's book he [Geronimo] is called Hieronymo, which is probably the more correct way of spelling the name of this famous warrior than has during the present campaign been adopted in reports from the frontier."
I'm wondering who, in those frontier reports, started using "Geronimo" instead of "Hieronymo." Obviously his name became Americanized (if that is the right word for the change), but who did it, and when?