For the second time in one week I was fortunate to spend several hours at the New-York Historical Society working in the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library. On this visit I was chiefly concerned with utilizing a digital camera to document a number of the images I had discovered on the previous Tuesday. I had enough time to take over 170 pictures, while also working my way through four books and three additional boxes of archival material before the doors closed.
While most of the pictures covered images from the Bella C. Landauer collection, I was also able to snap a few from the Gosman family papers. These two collections offered me a broad spectrum of materials that presented a variety of views of Native Americans from the 1840s through the early 1940s. Landauer was chiefly concerned with the advertising world and as a result, the bulk of images I’ll be analyzing from her group included pamphlets and broadsides related to so-called Indian patent medicines. The Gosman collection, as I mentioned the other day, was a completely unexpected piece.
The Gosman family’s papers reach back to the eighteenth century but the contributions from a teenaged Richard Gosman are thus far the only pertinent pieces. Gosman was heavily influenced by publications like Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. Below, a comparison between an actual Leslie’s publication and a cover for Gosman should give readers a sense of what I am seeing when working with the material.
Gosman clearly consumed and understood the manner in which these papers operated as well as their intended audience. Much of his written text as well as the general content for his versions of the press contain stories that mirror the style one would see in the time period in question. Gosman’s pieces were brought to my attention largely because of the large number of Native Americans included throughout his newspapers. Gosman’s images reflect a general nineteenth century American sensibility about what Native Americans “should” look like. Despite the fact that the young boy grew up in a state with a strong Native American presence, (the Iroquois Confederacy), Gosman only seemed to envision natives as ensconced in fringed leggings, eagle feather headdresses, and, typically, involved in conflict with white Americans. If indeed Gosman had seen Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show at Madison Square Garden (as is implied in one edition), it is no wonder that his understanding of Native Americans would prove so limited. Another comparison is apt so I’ll include another sample from a Leslie publication (one aimed at younger boys and girls) and a piece from Gosman.
There is much more to be done with Gosman’s pieces and I have a number of examples to more thoroughly analyze. I’m also convinced that if similar collections to Gosman can be discovered, there will be value in pursuing a separate project that explores how children and young people co-opt elements of the adult world in creative ways. Between Gosman and the Landauer collection though, I believe I have extended the possibilities of the study. The day before I returned to the archives, I determined that a database would prove necessary in terms of keeping track of the types of images, region of origin, purported Native American tribes represented, scenes depicted, media, etc. I’m hopeful that building a catalog of the examples I find will allow myself and other researchers to more thoroughly understand the choices made by individuals in representing native people as well perhaps shed some light on why this problem continues.
Although I will explore Landauer in more detail separately, a few brief words and an example of this collection is worth remark. The bulk of the collection I examined focused on medicine companies from the late nineteenth-century, many of which were located in the northeastern United States, yet that laid claim to close connections with Native American medicines and “spiritual” solutions to physical ailments. In particular, the Kickapoo Medicine Company of New Haven, CT took great liberties with the history of the Kickapoos in general, presenting an invented “sagwa” liquid as a cure all for many an ailment. In large, lavishly illustrated pamphlets, the company presented the “history” of the Kickapoos and the arguments for why their medicines were of great benefit to the general public. A cursory level of research on my part reveals zero connection between the founders of this company and the Kickapoos themselves. Like Gosman, the founders of the company chose to illustrate native life on their own terms. While I’m not surprised by my initial findings, I am curious to see where the pursuit of additional ephemera takes me.
*Gosman and Landauer Collection images from the NY-Historical Society