The policy of the United States Federal Government around the turn of the twentieth century toward Native Americans was moving away from the idea that Indian tribes were separate, autonomous governments. "The prevailing view among whites was that Indians should be absorbed as rapidly as possible into the dominant society: their reservations broken up, tribal authority abolished, traditional religions and languages eradicated."1
On February 8, 1887, the General Allotment Act or Dawes Severalty Act was signed into law reversing the removal and reservation policy which had been in since the 1820's. This act of Congress was aimed at dislodging Native Americans from their land by taking away the government guaranteed land allotted to them. By reversing this decades old policy, Native Americans would be forced into the process of assimilation within the American society where they would, in turn start to lose their culture identity and practices.
As an agent of social change, baseball was introduced to Native Americans by whites for the same reason the Dawes Severalty Act was signed into law; to facilitate assimilation and the removal of the culture of Native Americans. However, unlike the Dawes Act, baseball nearly had the opposite effect upon the assimilation of Native Americans. They were able exercise their athletic ability and find a middle ground with the white media, fans and teammates. Through the success in baseball, it aided in the two-sided culture relationship between Native Americans and whites, outside of the frontier.
There is substantial evidence that Native Americans adopted the sport as a way for them to rid and overcome the stereotypes and prejudice that they faced. Although Native Americans were already proud of their culture and heritage, I will argue success in an adopted sport such as baseball, furthered this pride. The success that they possessed, allowed for a greater degree of respect among whites, in a period where the prospects of assimilation had created a deep divide within the native culture.
By examining the historiography, newspaper accounts and photos related to the Native American experience in baseball from 1897 to the early 1920's, we gain an understanding in the effect of baseball as it pertained to Federal Indian Boarding Schools, Native American Barnstorming Baseball Clubs and Native Americans in professional baseball. Through this evidence, the case is made that points to an education of whites toward Native American culture.
Respect of Native American ballplayers by their teammates, coachesThe stereotypes, racism and prejudice, while never completely subsiding, turns to admiration due to success, athletic ability and the achievement of Native Americans in baseball.
Historians have recently began to shine the light on the importance and significance baseball had on Native American culture from 1897 to the early 1920's. It helped to fill a void in the lives of Native Americans due to their removal from their native lands on to government forced reservations. The historiographical approach to the study of Native American education and assimilation is placed within the social construct of white culture lending credence to the materialist approach by historians.
They argue that by coming to terms with the policy put in place by the Federal Government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Native Americans empowered themselves through the fracture of their native cultures by playing baseball. Following the important and well documented scholarship on the subject, we have a better understanding of the trials and tribulations faced by Native Americans that was often reconciled through baseball.
The Journalism of the early twentieth century depicts the prejudices Native Americans faced in baseball. At the same time, media accounts of Native Americans in baseball illustrate how they undermined whites at their own game through their fearless competition.
These primary sources help tell the story of Native Americans playing baseball, allowing us to better comprehend the argument of a two-sided cultural relationship between whites and Natives.
Following a long custom of traditional photos, where Native Americans posed to show the elegance, authority, spirit and noble posture of their people, the demeanor of Native American baseball players in the many photos taken since their introduction into baseball, proves that they continued to be a proud people while suffering through many injustices.