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Indians at the Post Office

Native Themes in New Deal-Era Murals

The Arrival Celebration and The Round Up

The Arrival Celebration and The Round Up
The Arrival Celebration and The Round-Up by Andrew Standing Soldier, Oglala Lakota Nation
Blackfoot, Idaho Post Office
Image by Jimmy Emerson. Used with the permission of the United States Postal Service®.

The Arrival Celebration and The Round-Up by Andrew Standing Soldier, Oglala Lakota Nation
Blackfoot, Idaho Post Office
Image by Jimmy Emerson. Used with the permission of the United States Postal Service®.

The murals The Arrival Celebration and The Round-Up, in the Blackfoot, Idaho Post Office, were created by Andrew Standing Soldier, an Oglala-Lakota artist, born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1917.  He received his primary school education at Pine Ridge Boarding School, and, in the 1930s, he studied with Olle Nordmark, a Swedish artist who worked and taught as a federal artist-in-residence at Pine Ridge.  Mr. Nordmark was then employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to teach at the Indian Art Center in Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1938.  Standing Soldier studied with him there, as did other American Indian muralists, including Woody Crumbo and Stephen Mopope. Nordmark also taught at the Phoenix Indian School from 1941-1943, and his students included Walter Richard West, Sr.

In 1939, at the age of 22, Standing Soldier won a major prize at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco for a watercolor submitted to the United States Pavilion. That same year, he was commissioned to paint the mural in the Blackfoot, Idaho Post Office. The mural took nine weeks to complete, painted in egg tempera and then covered in a protective coating of clear starch. Standing Soldier did most of his work by commission, and was later asked to illustrate a series of primers for American Indian schoolchildren sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The primers were aimed at teaching children to read and write and were bilingual, printed in both English and a native language, including Siouan and Navajo. In 1961, Standing Soldier and his family moved to Gordon, Nebraska, where he continued to paint, setting up a studio space in the auto showroom of local auto dealer Douglas Borman, who collected much of his work. He died in 1967. Standing Soldier is known for a distinctive style that was considered “simple” and “subdued,” yet utilized proper perspective and captured the unusual land formations in and around Pine Ridge and other areas he depicted. He is also credited with depicting “authentic” human subjects, lending them an individuality and humanity.

The mural is located in the town of Blackfoot, Idaho, in the Southeastern part of the state.

The first general store was built in Blackfoot in 1874, in anticipation of a railroad that was to be built through the area. In 1878, the track was laid, and a railway station was built, allowing for use of the unloading platform at the General Store. The first Post Office was also opened in 1878. In 1879, the town’s name was changed from Grove City to Blackfoot, and the town was formally incorporated in 1907.  Prior to the establishment of the General Store and the introduction of the railway, the nearest community was the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, 13 miles South, which was established in the aftermath of the Bear River Massacre of January 1863. U.S. Army Colonel Patrick Edward Conner and members of California Volunteer Infantry Regiment had been sent to the Utah Territory to “chastise” the Shoshone in 1862 and, on January 29, 1863, they engaged the Northwestern Shoshone under Chief Bear Hunter at Bear River, near what is now Preston, Idaho. After the Shoshone ran out of ammunition, the battle became a massacre. There are conflicting reports of the number of Shoshone casualties, but there is a general consensus that over 400 Shoshone men, women and children were killed in the incident. Having been warned of Conner’s advance, Chief Pocatello led another band of Shoshone away from the battle and the path of the California Volunteers. In response to the Bear River Massacre, Pocatello sued for peace, and signed the Box Elder Treaty in July 1863. The treaty called for peaceable relations between the bands of the Shoshone Nation and the United States, and included a promise by the U.S. to pay the Shoshone $5,000 yearly as compensation for the "utter destitution" inflicted by war. It also recognized the claim of Chief Pocatello and his people to the land "bounded on the west by the Raft River and on the east by the Porteneuf Mountains.” In 1868, the Shoshone and Bannock peoples signed the Fort Bridger Treaty, establishing the Fort Hall Indian Reservation on the Snake River Plain in Southern Idaho. The Fort Bridger Treaty affirmed the Fort Hall Indian Reservation as a “permanent home” for the Shoshone and Bannock people for their “absolute and undeterred use and occupation.” The Treaty reserved off-reservation rights including hunting, fishing, and gathering to tribal members on “unoccupied lands of the United States.” However, food assistance promised by the United States government rarely came, and many of the Shoshone-Bannock endured starvation. The Indian Allotment Act of 1887, or the Dawes Act, also allowed for the seizure of Shoshone-Bannock Lands. The Fort Hall Reservation once consisted of 1.8 million acres but due to government acts and encroachment, it was ceded twice and now consists of 544,000 acres (804,270 sq. mi.), reducing the total original size to less than half.

Given the close proximity of Blackfoot to the Fort Hall reservation, and the occupation of the whole of southern Idaho by the Shoshone and Bannock for thousands of years, it is logical to conclude that the Shoshone-Bannock are the American Indians depicted in Andrew Standing Soldier’s mural. The Shoshoni language is a part of the Numic languages branch of the large Uto-Aztecan language family. The Shoshone and Bannock are related linguistically under the Uto-Aztecan speaking group, but otherwise call themselves “Newe,” which means “the People.” The Shoshone, grouped into the Northern, Eastern, and Western Shoshone, lived across a large part of the country that included Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and California. The Bannock were a tribe of the Northern Pauite people, indigenous to the Great Basin area. After the Bannock War of 1878, they moved to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation and merged with the Northwestern Shoshone. Today, the two tribes are federally recognized as the Shoshone-Bannock. The Shoshone and Bannock were hunters and gatherers who moved with the seasons, gathering food and resources. The Northern Shoshone stayed close to the Snake River, but traveled over vast areas for big game, salmon, camas roots and other important food sources. The Bannock traveled much of Oregon and spread over Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming.  The bands also made regular expeditions to buffalo country, often following the proverbial Bannock Trail through Yellowstone Park into Canada. Shortly after the signing of the Fort Bridger Treaty in 1868, the federal government restricted the tribes’ off-reservation rights for a time in an attempt to turn tribal members into farmers and ranchers. Unfortunately, crops failed in drought years, and families faced near-starvation. However, many tribal members have continued the ranching traditions to the present day.

Andrew Standing Soldier’s murals, The Arrival Celebration and The Round-Up are unusual in its representation of American Indian peoples who have integrated modern and European-American influences into their lives. Though the people in the mural are shown to live in tipis and wear their hair long, they are also dressed in trousers and collared shirts, riding horses with full saddles and tack, and utilizing horse-drawn carts and covered wagons. Instead of freezing the American Indians in a primitive past devoid of outside influence, Standing Soldier paints an authentic portrait of the integration of tools, technologies, and clothing that occurred in American Indian communities throughout history. In The Arrival Celebration, American Indian people are shown going about their daily lives, preparing food, communing with one another, roping cattle, traveling by cart and horseback, and gathering wood. The name of the mural, The Arrival Celebration, could refer to the mural scene as a depiction of a group arriving at a seasonal encampment. The presence of tipis signals this as a winter encampment, as they were used as winter dwellings by the Shoshone and Bannock. This is also accurate to the area, as what is now Blackfoot was traditionally an area used for winter encampments. Though he himself was not a Shoshone-Bannock person, Andrew Standing Soldier appears to have had an understanding of the different seasonal dwellings used by the Shoshone-Bannock people, and recognized the seasonal nature of the historical relationship between the people and the surrounding area. Even the surrounding landscape is painted with attention to detail, accurately representing the environment and natural features. Particularly, though there are some features in the mural that prominently denote those it depicts as American Indians, Standing Soldier does not go out of his way to draw attention to the fact that his subjects are American Indians; in other words, he does not exoticize, romanticize, or “other” them. In many Post Office murals, American Indians are either pictured alone, in a mythical and romanticized past bearing no sense of historical continuity, or with white colonists or settlers, with whom the contrast is stark. The Indians are frequently situated lower in the mural, and have dramatically different clothing and physical features. Andrew Standing Soldier’s mural provides an authentic, respectful, and fairly accurate representation of Shoshone and/or Bannock seasonal life in Southern Idaho.

By Meghan A. Navarro


Sources:
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