Written by Christopher W. Czajka
"The Crow Country is exactly in the right place. Everything good is to be found there.
There is no country like the Crow Country."
-- Arapooish, a Crow Chief
Note: For the purposes of this essay, we have chosen to use the word "Indian," rather than "Native American," since many American Indians feel that the term "Native American" is too vague and applicable to anyone born in this country.
|Treaty Commission 1879. Montana Historical Society.
y 1883, the year in which FRONTIER HOUSE is set, certain areas of the United States were, of course, fairly "civilized" and "settled." In 1873, cable cars began climbing the hills of San Francisco. In 1874, Philadelphians could take in the sights at the nation's first zoo. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone, and Mark Twain published THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER. By 1879, the first Woolworth store had opened, and Thomas Edison had invented the electric light. The United States was riding a wave of progression and technology that would carry it into the twentieth century.
Simultaneously, an entire civilization was passing out of existence in the American West. The destruction of the buffalo herds of the Great Plains, the inexorable push of settlers into the previously untouched areas, and the removal of native people to reservations was changing a way of life that had existed on the continent for thousands of years. In 1879, as F.W. Woolworth was collecting his first nickels and dimes, 84 Lakota Sioux children arrived at the United States Indian Training and Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to be "reformed of their Indian ways" and "civilized." In 1880, in the corner of Montana where FRONTIER HOUSE was filmed, the Crow Indians agreed to a land sale, and moved to the smallest reservation they had yet experienced. While the cookstoves and calico in FRONTIER HOUSE are as authentic as possible, there is no way to recreate the culture of the neighboring Crow Indians in the year 1883, or the role they played in the day-to-day lives of homesteaders and other settlers.
Throughout the 19th century, westward settlers viewed Indians with wary eyes. While many settlers discovered that the Indians they met on the trail and in their new homes were not the "murderous savages" they had imagined them to be, Indians remained the perennial villains of the time. Referred to in the press as "heathens," "dogs," and "brutes," Indians were generally viewed to be bloodthirsty, backward, and dangerous. Emigrant guides warned settlers to, in the event of an Indian attack, "save the last bullet for themselves," rather than fall prey to the brutal torture that surely awaited them in Indian camps. An entire sub-genre of American literature, the "captivity narrative," emerged around supposed Indian atrocities. These lurid, sensational, and mostly fictional -- though presented as fact -- stories recounted the scalpings, disembowelments, and murders that hapless white prisoners had faced at the hands of Indians.