Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Dan L. Flores

Commitee Members

Jeff Wiltse, Anya Jabour, Nancy Cook, Angelica Lawson


Gardner-Sharp, Indian Captivity, Jemison, Monuments, Progressive Era, Slocum


University of Montana


After the official closure of the frontier in 1890, small town boosters searched for ways to prove their participation in the national development on the frontier, to validate policies that promoted the Americanization of Native Americans, and to record for posterity their role as the vital hinge between past and present.

In seeking to understand the role of tales of Indian captivity in the national cultural identity, historians and scholars have usually focused on narratives from before 1890 or films after the turn of the century, virtually ignoring the tales reprinted during the Progressive Era. Yet as the danger of actual captivity by Indians disappeared, historical captives provided a method by which Americans examined concerns brought by modernization and a means by which they reinforced and retained traits that they believed had been created on the frontier such as individualism, bravery, ingenuity, enthusiasm, "manliness," patriotism, self-reliance and concern for others. Local boosters and cultural commentators celebrated Indian captivity because they lamented that the country was forgetting what they saw as pioneer bravery, and because they followed the premise of Frederick Jackson Turner‟s "frontier thesis."

Indian captivity narratives and monuments published, republished and memorialized between 1890 and 1916 celebrated historical captives, but they also congratulated those who made such celebration possible. By reprinting tales of local historical captives, and in some cases erecting monuments unveiled in elaborate ceremonies, Progressive Era Americans retold Indian captivity history. The retelling acted as a conduit through which the past spoke to the future. Preservation of a captive past meant the continuation of its basic elements in the future and the assurance that the local commentators and boosters who enacted the tribute would also be remembered as crucial to the creation of the national identity in the twentieth century.



© Copyright 2011 Molly Kathleen Burnett Varley