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Understanding Torture and Violence in Early America: The Execution of William Crawford and the Gnadenhutten Massacre

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With Disney’s The Lone Ranger limping towards its DVD release, now is a good time to reflect upon the ways in which Americans, Europeans, and their descendants have produced and consumed popular media which seeks to depict -and shape- how we view the Indians.  In the last episode of the podcast we examined how notions of savagery were depicted in one of the earliest films about Native Americans.  Today we’re going jump back to 1782 in order to explore how the published word accomplished something similar in the late eighteenth century.  Captivity narratives were one of the most important contact points between Native and white America, typically telling the story of European-Americans captured by the Indians in raids.  These narratives were usually deeply one sided, if not always in their content, then in their outlook.  They told stories about the Indians, but they told them from the perspective of non-Indians; sometimes the individuals who told these tales were sympathetic towards their Native American captors.  Often, however, these widely read tales focused upon the worst aspects of captivity, detailing those episodes or anecdotes which reinforced or helped to create some of the worse caricatures and stereotypes to be inflicted upon the Indians.

 

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In this episode of the American Studies and American History podcast we explore an eye-witness account of Colonel William Crawford’s execution.  This piece of text was published shortly after the event, exposing its readers to a lurid, vivid image of bloodshed on the early American frontier.  The account of this death, which completely ignored atrocities recently committed by white frontier settlers, was a piece of anti-Indian propaganda which can, if read carefully, provide an insight into the ways in which the Indians’ character was disparaged by the written word.

 

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