Raymond G. Starr, Book Review Editor
The Newspaper Indian: Native American Identity in the Press, 1820-90.
By John M. Coward. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Illustrations, notes, index. X + 244 Pages. $39.95 Hardcover; $18.95 Softcover.
Most people understand that the United States’ images of Native Americans do not necessarily represent “reality;” rather they are invented cultural devices which often say more about the people expressing the images than they do about the people being described. For American Indians, the newspapers were one of the major vehicles for creating and perpetuating stereotypes and images, especially in the nineteenth century when newspapers became cheap and hence ubiquitous. Focusing on a number of pertinent topics and major Indian stories of the l820-1890 period (such as Indian Removal, the Sand Creek and Fetterman killings, Sitting Bull), communications professor John Coward has shown how nationally the newspapers depicted Indians and how those depictions became part of the white culture’s symbolism. Although San Diego is not discussed explicitly in the book, the material in it helps one understand much of San Diego history, since San Diego’s European-American population reflected the national values which the early settlers brought with them. In addition, if local researchers remember the issues and topics delineated in The Newspaper Indian as they use San Diego area newspapers of the era, they would see that the local newspapers reflected the national trends and that all their reportage on Indians was not necessarily “factual”. This awareness could produce a more sophisticated and a fairer San Diego history. Thus Coward’s book is highly recommended for anyone interested in or working on images of Native Americans and the role of Indians in America’s past and present.