Land & Landscape: Views of America’s History and Culture is a teacher resource kit produced by the National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution. It examines the history of American landscape painting and photography from the early 19th century to the present using four components:
  1. a 26-minute video presenting historic photos and landscape paintings and photographs in a fascinating program that explores the significance of America’s wilderness, geologic wonders, agricultural abundance, and ecological diversity in shaping the nation’s social, cultural, and political history
  2. a 56-page study guide providing background information for chronological units on historical stages of interaction with the land, from exploration of uncharted territories to historical and modern debates on landownership and management issues
  3. a 32-page workbook with reproducible worksheets containing excerpts from literary and historical documents and critical thinking questions
  4. 15 color reproductions of landscape images that supplement the guide and workbook

The materials in the accompanying article include two landscapes images that appear in the video: George Catlin’s Buffalo Chase with Bows and Lances (1832-1833) and Fanny F. Palmer’s Across the Continent: The Course of Empire Takes Its Way (ca. 1868). Also included is the workbook lesson “Dividing Native American Lands” and answer sheet, as well as a map of the Diminished Kickapoo Indian Reservation, Kansas (1919). And, there is a sectional map of Kansas showing the route of the Union Pacific Railway and the Kickapoo Reserve as it existed in 1854.The resource kit may be purchased through Crystal Productions by calling 1-800-255-8629.

Perspectives on the American Landscape: The Conflict between Native and European American Ideas of Landownership

Faye Powe
Our purpose in creating Land & Landscape: Views of America’s History and Culture is to present landscape paintings and photographs not as straightforward depictions of nature, but as images that speak directly to the history of the nation and the American experience. We trace the development of landscape painting from the early 19th century, when lands form a backdrop for portraits to reveal the status of early landowners, on through mid-19th century depictions of the cultivated East and the undeveloped West, to 20th century images where human intervention has completely transformed nature. This presentation is not a comprehensive survey. Instead, we concentrate upon selected examples that reflect American ideas about wilderness, land management (ownership, use, and preservation), and industry.
To appreciate the significance and power of landscape images in illuminating American history, it is necessary to understand that artists, sometimes with the guidance of patrons or with an eye toward potential buyers, make conscious and deliberate decisions about the subjects of their works and how to depict them. Their compositions reveal attitudes about nature engendered by the social, cultural, and political history of the nation. They are documents, as it were, of strongly held beliefs about the land.
Those beliefs may not always be held in common. Our special concern in the extract from the workbook that appears in this article is to show how European American views about landownership affected Native American lands. In other words, what possible bearing can different ideas about landownership have upon the land as well as upon landscape images?
The answer to this question must begin with the early republic, which legislated that only those men who held property could vote. European Americans believed in the concept of private property—absolute individual ownership of parcels of land—though they did reserve some lands for ownership by the federal, state, or local government on behalf of the entire community (for example, city squares, schools, parks, and roads). Native Americans, on the other hand, traditionally regarded the land as a communal resource, with ownership vested in the group rather than in any one individual.
To explore the bases for these conflicting views about landownership, the workbook opens with a lesson on “Owning the Land” and presents the words of three important figures in the early days of the republic: American farmer Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (in 1782), Thomas Jefferson (in 1785), and Shawnee warrior Tecumseh (in 1810).
Crèvecoeur makes a direct connection between owning and farming land and having political privileges, while Jefferson emphasizes that owning and managing land will give Americans the sense of obligation necessary for responsible citizenship. Tecumseh, in contrast, pleads for all Native Americans “to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be yet; for it never was divided, but belongs to us all, for the use of each.”
Both Crèvecoeur and Jefferson have an ideal image of individual landowners cultivating and controlling the natural landscape. Nineteenth-century landscapes mirror this ideal of harmony between nature and culture by presenting a bountiful nature transformed by human activity. Control over nature is implied by a measured progression from the foreground into the distance, and the presence of cows is used to reinforce the idea of domesticated nature. Paintings often show farmhouses surrounded by fields, with sheep and cattle grazing, and lands divided into vegetable and flower gardens, farmland, and pasture.
When George Catlin set out to document Native Americans in the early 19th century, he painted a different kind of landscape, a wilderness untouched by settlement or cultivation. Catlin’s space—even when peopled as in Buffalo Chase with Bows and Lances (1832-1833)—is vast, measureless, and without any boundaries in sight. Nothing presages the future parceling of the land and establishment of individual land ownership.
This, of course, was not the direction of events. After the Revolutionary War, the new government had acquired a vast amount of land in addition to the thirteen original states. To sell and settle the newly-acquired territory, called “public lands,” the government enacted what has been called the most significant U.S. land law—the Land Ordinance of 1785. Under the Land Ordinance, new lands would be surveyed by means of a rectangular system based on the township, an area six miles by six miles. Townships were divided into thirty-six sections, each a mile square. Sections, in turn, were divided into half and quarter sections.
The survey system profoundly affected the physical appearance of western lands, dividing them into grids that identified boundaries in a precise manner. It facilitated the Homestead act of 1862, which provided that migrating settlers were entitled to occupy “one quarter section (160 acres) or a less quantity of unappropriated public lands” with the proviso that the land must be settled and cultivated. The grid may be seen in depictions of family farms where houses are set squarely apart from vast fields divided into rectangular sections.
The General Allotment Act (known as the Dawes Act) passed in 1887 was an attempt to divide Indian lands in the same way, forcing Native Americans to claim individual ownership of an allotted portion of land. In specifying that Native American lands “advantageous for agricultural and grazing purposes” would be allotted to individual owners, the Dawes Act encouraged farming or ranching.
What American landscape would best reveal the attitudes that led to the Dawes Act?
Fanny Palmer’s lithograph for Currier & Ives, Across the Continent: The Course of Empire Takes Its Way (ca. 1868), was the obvious choice. Palmer applauds the coming of the railroad, giving prominence to its tracks—they cut diagonally across the center of the picture—and placing them next to a prosperous town with well-dressed families and human structures (cabins, church, and schoolhouse) that symbolize the refinements of religion and education. Palmer’s lithograph forcefully represents the displacement of Native Americans by making the train’s smoke a barrier between the two Indian horsemen and the wild country—or hunting grounds—lying ahead. The buffalo herd retreating toward a distant mountain range symbolizes the disappearing wilderness.
The workbook lesson that follows, “Dividing Native American Lands,” encourages students to analyze maps as well as landscape images (the answer sheet is on p. 133). Archaeologist Randall Thies of the Kansas State Historical Society told us about Donald Stul#146;s book on the Kansas Kickapoo Tribe. He pointed us to the 1919 map of the Diminished Kickapoo Reservation, which graphically illustrates the effects of the Dawes Act.1 Tribal Council Members of the Kickapoo Tribe expressed concern, however, that the map shows present-day reservation boundaries that they are disputing. Happily, a map selected for the workbook lesson “Developing Railroads” indicates the 1854 Treaty boundaries of the lands claimed by the Kickapoo (see page 132 of this article).
In 1934, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, the policy of land allotment established by the Dawes Act was reversed by the Indian Reorganization (Wheeler-Howard) Act. This act of Congress gave legal sanction to tribal landholdings, returned allotted lands that remained unsold to tribes, and made provisions for the purchase of new lands.

1. Donald D. Stull, Kiikaapoa: The Kansas Kickapoo (Horton, Kansas: Kickapoo Tribal Press, 1984; Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1994), 100.

Faye Powe is an education specialist in the Office of Educational Programs, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. She produced the video program and workbook components of Land & Landscape: Views of America’s History and Culture.

6 Dividing Native American Lands

Passed in 1887, the General Allotment Act (known as the Dawes Act) was an attempt to break up tribes and “Americanize” Native Americans by dividing their lands into individually owned allotments. As a result of the law, many allotments passed into non-Indian ownership. Government policy changed in 1934.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in all cases where any tribe or band of Indians has been, or shall hereafter be . . . the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, authorized, whenever in his opinion any reservation or any part thereof of such Indians is advantageous for agricultural and grazing purposes, to cause said reservation, or any part thereof, to be surveyed, or resurveyed if necessary, and to allot the lands in said reservation in severalty to any Indian located thereon in quantities as follows: To each head of a family, one-quarter of a section; To each single person over eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; To each orphan child under eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; and To each other single person under eighteen years now living, or who may be born prior to the date of the order of the President directing an allotment of the lands embraced in any reservation, one-sixteenth of a section. . . .

Sec. 5. . . . That at any time after lands have been allotted to all the Indians of any tribe as herein provided . . . it shall be lawful for the Secretary of the Interior to negotiate with such Indian tribe for the purchase and release by said tribe . . . of such portions of its reservation not allotted as such tribe shall, from time to time, consent to sell. . . .

Sec. 6. That upon the completion of said allotments and the patenting of the lands to said allottees, each and every member of the respective bands or tribes of Indians to whom allotments have been made shall have the benefit of and be subject to the laws, both civil and criminal, of the State or Territory in which they may reside; . . . And every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States to whom allotments shall have been made under the provisions of this act, or under any law or treaty, and every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States, and is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of such citizens. . . .

Worksheet: Dividing Native American Lands


Map • Diminished Kickapoo Indian Reservation, Kansas, 1919

Key Works • George Catlin, Buffalo Chase with Bows and Lances, 1832-33
• Fanny F. Palmer, Across the Continent: The Course of Empire Takes Its Way, ca. 1868

1. How do you think Native Americans were expected to make a living on lands alloted to individual owners as a result of the Dawes Act? Compare and contrast those activities with the ones presented by Catlin and Palmer.

2. Discuss the ways in which Catlin and Palmer relate Indians, wilderness (uncultivated and undeveloped land, occupied by wild animals), and European American structures or arrangements (houses, fences, machines, etc.). Do the artists reveal a point of view similar to the one legislated by the Dawes Act?

3. Do the artists convey any sense of changing lifestyles for Native Americans? Are there any clues that the future will bring legislation such as the Dawes Act?

4. Results of the Dawes Act are evident in the 1919 map of the Diminished Kickapoo Indian Reservation in Kansas. Find the non-Indian owners (look for European American first and last names). Do Indians or non-Indians hold the largest plots of land?

[MAP] Diminished Kickapoo Indian Reservation, Kansas, 1919. Diminished as a result of an 1862 treaty, Kickapoo lands held in common were allotted under the Dawes Act to individual owners. The Kickapoo dispute the the boundaries shown above and claim a much larger area (defined by an 1854 treaty), which is identified in the upper left section of the Kansas Sectional Map on page 132 as the Kickapoo Reserve.

Worksheet Answers: Dividing Native American Lands

1. In specifying that Native American lands “advantageous for agricultural and grazing purposes” will be allotted to individual owners, the Dawes Act encouraged farming or ranching. Catlin, on the other hand, presents Plains Indians as hunters successfully pursuing buffalo, which were the basis of their economy. Palmer, in contrast, renders Native Americans as inactive—helpless in the wake of the train’s smoke. Though continuing to characterize Indians as horsemen, Palmer depicts them as severed from the buffalo retreating in the very far distance. Their inability to move forward distinguishes them from the industrious white citizens inhabiting the town.

2. No. Catlin places the Native Americans in a pristine environment free from European American structures or devices. In effect, they are one with the wilderness. While Palmer, in the same vein, places Native Americans in the wilderness, she juxtaposes wilderness and “civilization,” separating Native Americans from European Americans by means of the telegraph lines and the railroad. The Dawes Act, on the other hand, attempted to unite the two cultures by imposing on Indians European American ideas about landownership and land use and offering citizenship in return. While the Dawes Act does not refer specifically to wilderness, its provision for assessing cultivation and grazing potential of all lands indicates a complete lack of interest in “wild” lands.

3. Though Catlin’s writings reveal his awareness of how Native Americans were adversely affected by their encounter with whites, the painting provides no clue to any encounter. Palmer’s lithograph, produced more than thirty years after Catlin’s painting and almost twenty years before enactment of the Dawes Act, signals widespread changes in the view of Plains Indian culture. It represents a point of view that would be legislated by the Dawes Act.

4. The largest landowner is the European Gottlieb Wenger, who owns two quarter sections (230 acres). One Indian (Char-co-tha) owns a quarter section (160 acres). Non-Indians own the other large plots—240 acres: Martin Strube; 160 acres: Len Roberts, Fred E. Graham, J. E. Arnold, Roy Schumaker, Chas. Lamberton, E. Kneisel, and Geo. W. Pennell.

©1998 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.