Anthropology / Everything Human

Conflict on the Plains

PHOTO ESSAY / Reflections

Conflict on the Plains

The images in this series represent my interpretation of the struggle of Native Americans throughout the Plains Indian Wars between 1855 and 1890. During this period, the U.S. government actively sought to destroy or assimilate the entirety of Plains Indian culture.

The photographs are montages created from my original contemporary photographs of battlefield, military, sacred, and massacre sites, layered with 19th-century ethnographic photographs of Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, and Lakota peoples. The historic sites represented in these images include the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and Battle of Summit Springs site in Colorado; the Battle of Blue Water Creek site, Ash Hollow State Historical Park, and Fort Robinson State Park in Nebraska; Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana; Washita Battle National Historic Site in Oklahoma; the Wounded Knee Massacre site in South Dakota; and the Fetterman Fight site, Fort Laramie National Historic Site, and Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

These montages are not intended as historical documents—they are meant to evoke the feelings I experienced when visiting these places of conflict, struggle, and violence, and the sincere reverence I felt for the people who lived and died there. The sacredness and spiritual power I encountered at the sites was palpable, yet the experience remains difficult to put into words. Only through images can I express my sense of how the past imbues these places that endure today.

I am an archaeologist who works with Native Americans to address some of the most painful parts of our collective history. This project was inspired by watching the healing process between Euro-Americans and Native Americans—one that is happening, albeit too slowly. That process involves acknowledging our tragic past, coming to grips with its consequences, and finding a way to create a new future together. Perhaps these images will further inspire us to more closely examine the past and the necessity for healing in the present.

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  • Sunday Eiselt

    Amazing photographs. Thank you

  • gbossa_25

    This is a healing process that is long overdue. It is the responsibility of those of us of Euro-American heritage to reach out, initiate and acknowledge what we have done to Native American peoples on Native American lands.

  • Michael JS Cox

    This is an imaginative interpretation of your work and very well done; I don’t think I’ve ever seen history done quite this way. It must have taken a lot of research to find the archival images that would match each site! You are aware, I hope, of the work being done in Canada with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission publishing its findings recently? And how we now have First Nations people represented, directly, in the federal cabinet of our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau? A lot remains to be done to repair the decades of abuse, particularly by the residential schools which were a terribly misguided attempt to integrate native people by denying children their parents, their language and culture: basically “beating the Indian out of the Indian,” which didn’t stop until only a few decades ago, resulting in broken families, alcoholism and abuse, poverty to this day. It is our great shame that what began as an often cooperative venture between native and Europeans (in this country) became antagonistic. I recommend reading John Ralston Saul: The Comeback

    • Thomas Carr

      Thank you Michael. I have followed some of the progress in Canada. We have some catching up to do. President Obama just nominated the first woman Native American judge. I’ll look into that book recommendation. Best Wishes!

  • Alice Beck Kehoe

    Let’s quit this “healing” tag and be realistic: First Nations people need radically improved economic opportunities, the medical services and preventive practices promised by their treaties, real fights against the pervasive powerful racism that surrounds reservations, and exploitation by spiritual seekers and other romantics naive about the racism and primitivism they enforce upon our fellow citizens who are also citizens of their own nations.

    • Thomas Carr

      Hey Alice! I know you. We spoke at the SAA meetings this year about some of these issues. You are correct that we need to be more proactive, and in my professional work for over the past 25 years I have tried to do my part. This doesn’t mean I can’t have a creative and artistic take on it though. I agree that my style is somewhat romantic but the aim is to increase awareness. Also, I use the word “healing” because this is how many of my Native American friends from a number of tribes characterize it. Thanks for your input and emphasis on keeping things real.