What does this book have to do with Dickinson County, Kansas history? Not much at all. But while reading it, I was greatly reminded of the hardships of the Kansas Plains Indian tribes in the late nineteenth century. In her book, Vowell shows how upon their arrival in Hawaii, New England missionaries not only taught natives about the God of the Christian Bible, but also implemented an entirely different way of life for the Hawaiians. The Hawaiians were introduced to new styles of clothing, home construction, and a plethora of other concepts and ideas. Native American tribes living on the plains of the Midwest found themselves in a similar situation. Boarding schools sprang up across the Midwest at the turn of the twentieth century, of which many Native American children were forced to attend. This is not necessarily a topic I discuss with young schoolchildren as they visit the Heritage Center, but we do talk about how the lives of Plains Native Americans drastically changed as pioneers moved west. One of the best ways to present this idea to kids is to talk about buffalo, or American Bison. As kids, most of us are taught that Plains Indians used every part of the buffalo. This is an idea that is ingrained into our heads at a young age. As kids visit the museum, we talk about how many tribes were dependent on the buffalo for many aspects of their lives. I then remind the kids that as explorers and pioneers traveled west, buffalo hides became worth a lot of money. It has been estimated that over four million buffalo were killed from 1872 to 1874. Some historians even place this figure upwards of seven million. Suffice it to say, this greatly changed the way of life for many Native American tribes on the plains.
American history is filled with situations such as this. After all, the United States is a melting pot of different cultures, people, and ideas. Of course, there were many positives and benefits that westward expansion and growth caused, but we must never forget the people that were hurt by this progress.
To learn more about Sarah Vowell and her work, visit here.