FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Indian-Hating in “The Wizard of Oz”

by THOMAS ST. JOHN

Lyman Frank Baum (1856-1919) advocated the extermination of the American Indian in his 1899 fantasy “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. Baum was an Irish nationalist newspaper editor, a former resident of Aberdeen in the old Dakota Indian territory. His sympathies with the village pioneers caused him to invent the Oz fantasy to justify extermination. All of Baum’s “innocent” symbols clearly represent easily recognizable frontier landmarks, political realities, and peoples. These symbols were presented to frontier children, to prepare them for their racially violent future.

The Yellow Brick Road represents the yellow brick gold at the end of the Bozeman Road to the Montana gold fields. Chief Red Cloud had forced the razing of several posts, including Fort Phil Kearney, and had forced the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty. When George Armstrong Custer cut “the Thieves’ Road” during his 1874 gold expedition invasion of the sacred Black Hills, he violated this treaty, and turned U.S. foreign policy toward the Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee massacre.

The Winged Monkeys are the Irish Baum’s satire on the old Northwest Mounted Police, who were modelled on the Irish Constabulary. The scarlet tunic of the Mounties, and the distinctive “pillbox” forage cap with the narrow visor and strap are seen clearly in the color plate in the 1900 first edition of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. Villagers across the Dakota territory heartily despised these British police, especially after 1877, when Sitting Bull retreated across the border and into their protection after killing Custer.

The Shifting Sands, the Deadly Desert, the Great Sandy Waste, and the Impassable Desert are Frank Baum’s reference to that area of the froniter known always as “the great American desert”, west and south of the Great Lakes. Baum creates these fictional, barren areas as protective buffers for his Oz utopia, against hostile, foreign people. This “buffer state” practice had been part of U.S. foreign policy against the Indians, since the earliest colonial days.

The Emerald City of Oz recreates the Irish nationalist’s vision of the Emerald Isle, the sacred land, Ireland, set in this American desert like the sacred Paha Sapa of the Lakota people, these mineral-rich Black Hills floored by coal. Irish settlements in the territories, in Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota–at Brule City, Limerick, at Lalla Rookh, and at O’Neill two hundred miles south of Aberdeen–founded invasions of the Black Hills.

The Yellow Winkies, slaves, are Frank Baum’s symbol for the sizable Chinese population in the old West, emigrated for the Union-Pacific railroad, creatures with the slant or winking eyes.

The Deadly Poppy Field is the innocent child’s first sight of opium, that anodyne of choice for pain in the nineteenth century, sold in patent medicines, in the Wizard Oil, at the travelling Indian medicine shows. Baum’s deadly poppies are the poison opium, causing sleep and the fatal dream.

The Wicked Witch of the West is illustrated in the 1900 first edition as a pickaninny, with beribboned, braided pigtails extended comically. Baum repeats the word “brown” in describing her. But this symbol’s real historic depth lies in the earlier Puritans’ confounding of European witches with the equally heathen American Indians.

The orphan Dorothy’s violent removal from Kansas civilization, her search for secret and magical cures for her friends, her capture, enslavement to an evil figure–and the killing of this figure that is forced on her–all these themes Baum takes from the already two hundred year old tradition of the Indian captivity narrative which stoked the fires of Indian-hating and its hope of “redemption through violence”.

In the year immediately following the huge success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum wrote a fantasy entitled The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. It is apparent that his frontier experiences were still on his mind. The book was illustrated by Mary Cowles Clark–tomahawks, spears, the hide- covered teepees, and the faces of Indian men, women, and children, and papooses fill the pages and the margins. Baum describes the “rude tent of skins on a broad plain”.

Two crucial chapters are titled “The Wickedness of the Awgwas” and “The Great Battle Between Good and Evil”. The Awgwas represent native Americans: “that terrible race of creatures” and “the wicked tribe”. Baum condemns the Awgwas:

“You are a transient race, passing from life into nothingness. We, who live forever, pity but despise you. On earth you are scorned by all, and in Heaven you have no place! Even the mortals, after their earth life, enter another existence for all time, and so are your superiors.”.

Predictably enough, a few pages later, “all that remained of the wicked Awgwas was a great number of earthen hillocks dotting the plain.” Baum is recalling newspaper photos of the burial field at Wounded Knee.

The Wizard of Oz in 1899 ruling his empire from behind his Barrier of Invisibility evokes the 1869 Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Empire of the South, the Ku Klux Klan. Baum’s figure King Crow and his by-play with the Scarecrow relate to the Jim Crow lynch law at the turn of the century.

Lyman Frank Baum’s overwhelmingly popular fantasy, and the more violent aspects of United States foreign policy, were welded togehter in the American mind for the next century and beyond.
Frank Baum’s widow, at the Hollywood premiere of “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939, complained that the story had been sentimentalized. Indeed, the old and crudely direct political symbols had been removed, and the sweetness poured in–the new U.S. foreign policy demanded more subtle justifications.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”.

THOMAS ST. JOHN graduated from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and lived in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is the author of “Forgotten Dreams: Ritual in American Popular Art” (New York: The Vantage Press, 1987), a collection of essays on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, Reverend Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, the black history driving the films “Casablanca” and the cartoon “The Three Little Pigs”, and the Dakota Indian territory symbols in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. The short book “Nathaniel Hawthorne: Studies in the House of the Seven Gables” is now almost complete and online. He can be reached at: seekingthephoenix@yahoo.com


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail