Looking Backward and Westward: The “Indian Wilderness” in the Antebellum Era

Mark David Spence

in Dispossessing the Wilderness

Published in print November 2000 | ISBN: 9780195142433
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199848812 | DOI:
Looking Backward and Westward: The “Indian Wilderness” in the Antebellum Era

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This chapter provides a clear understanding of early preservationist thinking and better recognition of the changing condition that reshaped American ideas about wilderness and Indians at mid-century. George Caitlin devoted his entire life to preserving and recording an “Indian wilderness.” His ideas about national parks somehow foreshadowed twentieth-century concerns and policies regarding wilderness preservation. To understand why Caitlin's proposal for a national park was superseded by the idealization of uninhabited landscapes in the late nineteenth century, it is important to situate it within the artistic, social, and political trends that shaped antebellum America. As Henry Brackenridge predicted, “different modes of life and habits altogether new” would transform American perceptions of the landscapes and peoples of the West. It was these new modes and habits and the policies they gendered that ultimately led to the creation of the first reservations and national parks later in the century.

Keywords: George Caitlin; Indian wilderness; wilderness preservation; Indians; national parks; uninhabited landscapes; antebellum America; Henry Brackenridge; preservationist thinking

Chapter.  7340 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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