April 18, 2017
From big screen pictures to popular trade paperbacks, the relationship between Native Americans and the United States Army in the 19th century has been portrayed as violent and controversial. However, history has more to tell about this relationship, and that story is being told by Catharine Franklin, Texas Tech assistant professor of history.
Franklin's book manuscript is titled, "The Army Stands Between: The United States Army, Federal Indian Policy, and Native Sovereignty, 1862-1902." In 2012 she secured a publishing contract with the University of Nebraska Press. Franklin's work requires extensive research; she expects to complete the book by 2018 with the help of her recently awarded long-term fellowship at the Newberry Library in Chicago.
Because the Newberry Library has a wide-ranging collection of Western Americana (including detailed field notes and manuscripts from the 19th century West), the research environment will be conducive to her work. The Texas Tech Office of the Vice President of Research offers additional incentives to faculty members who win prestigious awards such as the Newberry Fellowship.
"The office has been incredibly supportive—beyond my wildest dreams," Franklin said. "Kathleen Harris has been really supportive and helpful throughout the process. Without this kind of support from Texas Tech, it would be extraordinarily difficult for any professional academic to live in Chicago for nine months because it's so expensive."
Because the American West has become so sensationalized by popular media, Franklin seeks to clarify the stories that have become the standard.
"There are a number of fairly recent trade publications that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies—all written by journalists, newspaper editors, retired attorneys—people who are not professionally trained historians," Franklin said. "They're writing about this topic; most academic historians are not. What I'm trying to do in my work is bridge connections between popular history and academic history. I want to write a book that regular people will read. That's my goal."
Franklin's book begins with the Dakota Uprising of 1862 and follows the army and Indians through the Great Plains, detailing battles, treaties and the stripping away of native culture. But unlike the majority of historians who focus on well-known battles in their writing, Franklin has chosen to examine both peaceful and violent interactions between Native Americans and the army as a way to surpass sensationalism and show "the story behind the story."
Though an exciting depiction of a dream world, this sensationalism causes more harm than good. Not only does it paint Native American culture in a harsh light, but it obscures truths about their people, which she highlights in her manuscript.
"The point of my work is not only to talk about the army but to remind people of how powerful, intelligent, sophisticated and adept Native people were in the 19th century," Franklin said.
Franklin believes she has a responsibility to tell history in a balanced and objective way. Far too often, she adds, the writers of trade books fail to contact Native people when writing about their history. Franklin, on the other hand, hopes to send her manuscript to Native academics and tribal elders.
"Writing about Native history, I feel an obligation to my Native friends and colleagues and to the larger Native community to tell a story that honors them and their past by being honest," Franklin said.
She adds that she wants to do away with "damaging stereotypes" that exist today.
"My hope," she concludes, "would be to help right some of the wrongs."