DANIEL BOONE (1960)

Filmic Context

[1]    The Daniel Boone series was featured in four parts on the ABC weekly TV series Walt Disney Presents, airing in order on December 4, 1960, December 11, 1960, March 12, 1961, and March 19, 1961.  In the sections below, I will briefly explore different aspects of the historical context in which the series was produced and presented to the TV public.  I have divided this filmic context into four sections and arranged those sections in an order that is practical to my purposes:  The 1950s and early 1960s, TV and culture in the 1950s, Walt Disney
and Disneyland, and Native Americans in the 1950s.

The 1950s and Early 1960s

[2]    It seems to me that Americans prefer to think of history in the tidy terms of decades.  We all have heard it, “Oh, the 1950s were so-and-so, and the 1960s were this-and-that, and geez, the 1970s were . . ..”  Certainly, our decimal system lends itself to periodization by decade, so here I will employ this periodization for its convenience, though decades surely are not separate chapters in history.  Viewing history in terms of decades is simply a handy way of perceiving and discussing history.

[3]    So, according to history textbooks, what happened in America in the 1950s?  Generally, the 1950s is written as a decade marked by America’s emergence as a world power, the entrenchment in a Cold War after World War II (1939-45) and the Korean War (1950-53), an increasingly pervasive popular culture, and mounting domestic racial tensions.  It is also generally agreed that the leadership of Dwight D. Eisenhower helped to mitigate postwar tensions and instabilities.  His military reputation and his “dynamic conservatism” strengthened the credibility of his pledge for peace and moderation.  Enjoying a high level of popularity, the Eisenhower administration (1953-60), the first Republican administration in twenty years, provided a welcomed image of security after war had shaken the world.  Despite slow economic growth, creeping inflation, and a few economic downturns, the 1950s are generally regarded as a period of ostensible equanimity, peace, and prosperity, all of which the middl class could graft onto the destiny of a great nation.

[4]    With a population of about 150 million people, America had established itself as a world power capable of safeguarding democratic virtues and freedoms, as it armed itself for a Cold War against a spreading Soviet bloc.  A space race initiated by the Soviet Sputnik launches in 1957 heightened the competition betweeen the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.  With the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency in 1960, the new Democratic administration vowed to maintain the nation’s commitment to the preservation of democracy and pledged to pursue the reconciliation of America’s racial divisiveness.   History often depicts Kennedy as a man who issued a monumental challenge to his countrymen:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."  In this way, American history is said to take a great turn when Kennedy delivered his inaugural address in 1960. Among other things, a critique of the pervasive complacency that had too long characterized U.S. domestic and foreign policies.  While the notion of 1960 as a pivotal point in history may be true to some extent, it also simplifies history.  Certainly a so-called “new” politics usually isn’t very new at all, though it broadcasts itself that way.  And although their policies and politics differed, neither Eisenhower nor Kennedy expunged all that the previous administration had enacted, and neither laid out a completely new direction for the country.  Both administrations shared a common belief in gradual social and economic progress. Citing numerous contemporary periodicals, four Gallup polls, and a slew of studies and reports including Prospect of America in 1961, Godfrey Hodson asserts that this period “was an age of consensus . . . [I]t is impossible not to be struck by the degree to which the majority of Americans in those years accepted the same system of assumptions” (112).  These shared assumptions he calls the “liberal consensus."  Editor William H. Chafe efficiently summarizes Hodgson’s notion of the “liberal consensus”:

the belief that improvement is always possible within a fundamentally sound economic and social system, that right-minded and intelligent people can create a healthy and viable social system, that moderation is preferable to extremism, and that an economy committed to growth will provide the basis for eliminating almost all social problems while assuring prosperity for the middle class. (Chafe 91-92)
As I shall show elsewhere, this liberal consensus prevails in the Disney Boone series and also in Eisenhower’s policies to assimilate Native Americans into the cultural mainstream.  In the TV film series, Boone himself advocates a form of the liberal consensus to the British government, the American colonists, and the Native Americans, too.

[5]    The Cold War permeated different aspects of American life and politics.  Just the threat of nuclear annihilation in itself was frightening enough.  Little imagination is needed to see how this fear was very real in the lives of many people.  For example, air raid drills were routinely performed in American schools and enmity grew between suburban neighbors who bickered over the politics of reserving spaces in backyard bomb shelters.  People read newspapers to see how the international chess match had proceeded or, to use J. Robert Oppenheimer’s metaphor, to watch the two scorpions in a bottle.  The news, magazines, radio, TV, popular literature, corporate advertisements, churches, and countless other mediums and producers of American culture were consumed with Cold War fears and Cold War politics, reminding the country on a daily basis of the “real” possibility of nuclear warfare.  Despite this threat, says John Updike, the Cold War did not dominate life in the 1950s:  “the nuclear jitters coexisted with a private optimism and a shy, domestic hedonism.  The thought of atomic war, like that of one’s own death, was too big to be useful” (36).  Yet, on a larger scale, the nuclear arms race, the increased nuclear weapons testing, and the spread of Communist rule in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Cuba stirred much of the world into a Red Scare.  In the United States, Senator Joseph Mccarthy’s campaign to unmask Communist infiltrators in the U.S. government demonstrated that just about anything could be suspect as “unAmerican."  Conversely, anything identifiably American was celebrated as an object of amplified pride, such as the emerging corporate society and the prospect of unlimited capitalist enterprise.

[6]    The 1950s is also noted for an exploding popular culture.  A so-called “affluent society” emerged as evidenced by economic growth and demographic trends in which people spread to the suburbs, bought cars, hosted backyard barbeques, took family vacations, sent their kids to college, and relished in modern conveniences based in the consumer markets, the adjustments, successes, problems, and reactions that attended this “affluent society” formed a foundation for an American popular culture (Benton 433).  One side of popular culture was replete with numerous polished, wholesome figures like the Nelson family, the Cleaver family, Dinah Shore, Pat Boone, Lawrence Welk, and Betty Furness (the Lady from Westinghouse).  Another side featured figures like Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, and James Dean who were all the rage for a young generation enamored with popular culture. Like the generations before them, the youngsters of the 1950s were inclined to challenge what
they had inherited from their predecessors, but in the case of this generation, the challenge was validated and legitimized by the vibrant popular counterculture.  And this, of course,  propelled that culture even more.  For the older generation, this popular culture invited the word “rebel," a term that national politics also adopted for some youngsters.  Rebels without causes were a popular reality.  Rock ‘n’ roll, the movies, Hollywood sex symbols, Beat poets, racy fashion crazes, Playboy magazine, and countless other things prospered and, some would say, thumbed their noses at tradition.  In a country where the cars were getting faster, the food was getter faster (McDonald’s), industrial production was getting faster (automation), and domestic chores were getting faster (numerous household inventions), an accelerating American lifestyle theoretically produced dividends of leisure time.  And what did people do with this so-called leisure time?  Among other things, they watched television (see the next section below).

[7]    As racial tensions mounted in the 1950s, oppressed races demanded that their voices be heard, and the media responded.  In the early fifties the Supreme Court began to tilt toward granting more civil liberties for African-Americans, though the populus certainly did not offer unanimous support.  In 1954 the Supreme Court reversed the Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling for “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites (1896).  The 1954 landmark case, Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, outlawed segregation in schools and consequently prompted media attention to the series of racial injustices that followed.  Stories about racist incited killings were spread across American newspapers.  For example, Reverend George Lee, an official of the NAACP was murdered, Lamar Smith was gunned down in broad daylight by racists who objected to his right to vote, and a fourteen-year-old Chicago black boy named Emmett Till was killed for reportedly whistling at a white woman (Halberstam 429-36).  A civil rights movement emerged as Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other newsmakers offered an African-American discourse that could no longer be silenced.  But by 1956, two years after the Brown decision, fewer than two percent of eligible blacks shared educational
facilities with whites.  Eventually events came to a crisis in September, 1957.  In Little Rock, the Arkansas governor mobilized the National Guard to prevent when nine black students from entering Little Rock Central High School.  Eisenhower responded (perhaps hesitantly) with the mobilization of U.S. troops who escorted the nine students into the school.

TV and Culture in the 1950s

[8]    In the 1950s, television had become a national phenomenon. Owning a TV was a status symbol in many communities.  To be one of the first households on the block to own a TV set was enough to inflate an ego.  By the end of 1952, 19 million TV sets were in operation, and each month, a thousand new retail stores selling TVs popped up across the country (Halberstam 195).  After the car had qualified, the TV was the new addition to the
American dream.  And as the popularity of the TV continued to grow, it surpassed the radio as a primary vehicle of commmerce and became a substantial part of the cultural mainstream. Since its arrival on the market, television has been not only a cultural medium and a cultural production but also a producer of culture and consumerism.  Many postmodernists assert that television has contributed to the loss of the real and the propagation of the simulacrum. Nowhere may this continual interplay of insubstantial images be more obvious than on the tube,
where image and reality conflate and sign and referent collapse.

[9]    But beyond this notion of the hyperreal, television served several social functions in the 1950s.  Television served a civic function as it aired news, presidential addresses and debates, and Congressional proceedings. And apart from the obvious functions of informing and entertaining its audiences, television also channeled consumerism right into American living rooms.  Undeniably, advertising was a major thrust of television right from its inception.  Television demanded much more of advertising than the radio had.  While the radio employed only a voice, the TV required a stage set, people, blocking, cameras, directors, and even the product itself.  Marketing had become a production of images, sounds, angles, motion, and time.  And although the TV ads in the 1950s weren’t as crafty, elaborate, and expensive as ours are today, they were a necessary element of programming.  In fact, the ads were arguably a larger part of the programming than they are today.  Whereas we tune out commercials and go channel surfing during breaks, the audience of the 1950s was probably more attentive to commercials as that facet of programming was a rather flavorful part of TV.  Considered an integral part of the program itself, ads were often presented live on a side stage.  An example of a live ad will serve us well here.  Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night show featured live ads, and weekly viewers could count on seeing ads for Lincoln and Mercury.  With a touch of autoeroticism, these classy car ads featured Julia Meade, a picture of elegance in her evening dress and mink stole.  Typically, she described and caressed the cars and then often pretended to drive them.  Meade initiated a entire line of TV personalities who would be identified with a single product (Marling 148-150).

[10]    The variety of TV programs in the fifties was not all that different from what we have today.  There were sitcoms, soap operas, news broadcasts, game shows, hobby shows, talk shows, feature films, variety shows, and other popular programs.   And while TV offered a new, exciting facet of modern life and elicited enthusiasm in all corners of the nation, it also received some nasty criticism.  For example, in 1961 Newton Minow would issue a series of scathing remarks about TV:

I can assure [that the television viewer] will observe a vast wasteland.  You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, Western goodmen, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons.  And, endlessly, commercials--many screaming, cajoling, and offending.  (qtd.in Bailey 942)
This kind of criticism is certainly familiar to us today as well.

[11]    TV produced a new dimension of popular culture in a consumer society.  It spawned all kinds of occupational fields in talent agencies, production companies, the media, technology, and advertising, just to name a few.  Likewise, a new commodity market boomed with unlimited entrepreneurial opportunities.  Retail shelves and showroom floors overhauled stocks to make room for TVs and the slew of products related to the television viewing culture.  The commodity market overbrimmed with new products such as TV dinners, TV table trays, TV snacks (like stovetop popcorn), newfangled lounge chairs and other furniture, TV antennae, color converter
screens, and countless other gizmos and gagdets to improve or otherwise complement the viewing experience.  Additionally, homes across the nation were rearranged to accomodate this box of images, the commodity that replaced the hearth and the radio as the new focal point of American living spaces.  Television had changed the commodity market, the home, and the family dynamic.

Walt Disney (1901-66), HUAC, the Hollywood Blacklist, and Disneyland

[12]    It is hard to deny that Walt Disney was and still is an American icon.  Perhaps no other mogul has sunk his teeth into American Pie the way that Disney has, producing an inimitable entertainment empire.  From creating a little mouse named Steamboat Willie to spawning an expansive corporate world, Walt Disney has done it all.  The cartoons, movies, TV series, merchandise, theme parks, and production companies associated with his name are
inextricable parts of American culture.  I will not attempt to quantify or even approximate Disney’s impact other than to say that most any discussion of American culture will probably invoke the Disney name in some way.  Heck, the man has even changed parenting!  I can be excused if I don’t take my kids to see the Grand Canyon, the Lincoln Memorial, the Alamo, the redwood forests, ancient native ruins, the Rocky Mountains, the bends of the Shenandoah River, or New Orleans, but I am a blasted criminal if I deny them a trip to Disneyland!

[13]    Walt Disney’s life is an American success story.  He was born in 1901 into a Midwestern family that had moved several times as the father pursued get-rich-quick schemes.  Biographies note his domineering father, who physically punished his children with a heavy hand.  Later, when Walt expressed his artistic interests, his father offered little support.  Along these lines, Marc Eliot’s biography looks beyond the “commercially viable image” of Disney and develops the thesis of Disney’s “troubled soul” (xxii).  When World War I erupted and America
joined the war, Disney wanted to enlist but was too young at age seventeen.  Eliot adds that when Disney applied for a copy of his birth certificate in Chicago, he was told that no such person was born on December 5, 1901, there or anywhere.  This, says Eliot, justified Disney’s fear that he was not really a Disney but had been adopted:  “thus began his lifelong search to find out who his real parents were” (xix).  It doesn’t take a scholar to see how the estranged child-figure is prevalent in many of Disney’s early films, like Bambi, Cinderella, Snow White, Dumbo, and Pinocchio.  Eventually, Disney did escape his father when he joined the American Ambulance Corps.  After the war, Disney was initially employed in commercial art, and, with his brother Roy, he hatched a plan that established the West Coast’s first cartoon studio (1922). Later he worked independently, publishing his first “short” in 1928.  Titled Steamboat Willie, this cartoon starred the mouse who was to become Disney’s emblem cartoon character, Mickey Mouse.  This short also featured a Disney innovation:  “the first imaginatively integrated sound track in cartoons” (Canemaker 112).  From that point on, Disney’s work expanded his innovation into more and more elaborate shorts and feature films, the first of the latter being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).  John Canemaker calls this film Disney’s masterpiece: “the culmination of his personal vision of animation as synthesis of motion, sound, color, narative, and personality" (113).

[14]    Disney’s so-called golden period (1935-1941) led to a time of uncertainty and controversy.  His first five animated feature-length films appeared from 1935-1941, Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Dumbo, and Fantasia.  Although Disney himself refused to give credence to the psychological analysis of the content of his films, all five of these films do share one of Disney’s greatest themes:  “the sanctity of family life and the tragic consequences when that sanctity is broken” (Eliot xx).  Disney’s so-called golden period was suddenly halted when an artist’s strike plagued his studio in 1941.  At this time, Disney struck an agreement with J. Edgar Hoover.  For Disney’s information on communists in Hollywood, Hoover gave Disney access to FBI services to help him find his real parents.  The ramifications of the 1941 strike did not end with its resolution, however:  “After the 1941 strike, when Disney became disillusioned with animated film, and through his alliance with the FBI, Walt cast himself in the role of his greatest ‘character’ yet, a real-life hero devoted to ridding the nation of the subversive element that threatened the great American family politic” (Eliot xi).  In 1944, the Interracial Film and Radio Guild expressed its concern that Disney’s film-in-progress, then titled Uncle Remus, would employ degrading portraits of blacks.  Disney changed the title of the film to Song of the South and “declared the film would be a ‘monument to the Negro race’” (Eliot 184).  The Guild did not warmly receive his comments.  In January 1945 Disney resigned as president of his own production company and went into reclusion until later in that year. Although his resignation was directly preceded by his difficulties with the production of Song of the South, it isn’t prudent to attribute the resignation to this one event.  Rather, it seems Disney was frustrated with many issues and concerns.  We cannot overlook, however, that during the same week of his resignation the FBI opened a file on the activities and members of the Interracial Film and Radio Guild (Eliot 184).

[15]    After reassuming a large role in his production company, Disney went about trying to clean up this company.  Observing how Warner Brothers maintained its anti-labor stand with an eight month hold out against a strike led by Herb Sorrell and the Conference of Studio Unions, Disney decided to weaken the Cartoonists Guild with which his production company had recently negotiated a contract.  Disney and John Reeder, the new president of Walt Disney Productions, told Disney employees that the 25% wage hike contracted to the Cartoonists Guild had forced the company to curtail costs elsewhere.  The result was a lay off of four hundred fifty of the company’s one thousand employees (Eliot 186-88).

[16]    In 1947 Disney supported the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) when it resumed its investigations of the entertainment industry.  Initially the hearings were called an “investigation of Communism in
motion pictures," but the target shifted from the subversive content of movies to the politics of the movie makers and actors (Roffman 196). Led by chairman J. Parnell Thomas, an antilabor congressman, HUAC was openly endorsed by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the American Legion, the Catholic Church, and Hollywood’s studios.  The HUAC hearings resulted in a Blacklist, one with greater potential than its 1930s precursor (Ceplair 196).  At the top of the Blacklist were the Hollywood Ten, ten screenwriters who under the First Amendment refused to respond to “the most famous question of the era:  Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?” (Eliot 189).

[17]    At New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in November 1947, a group of Hollywood’s most prominent producers and executives (including Disney people and representatives of the Motion Picture Association of America) met with Eric Johnson, the president of the MPAA, and Roy Brewer, “the fanatically anti-communist head of the Hollywood branches of the IATSE” (Ceplair 196).  There they drafted a united response to the Hollywood Ten.  Published as a joint proclamation called "The Waldorf Statement," this statement declared that the coalition would fire and not rehire any of the Ten until they were aquitted or publicly declared that they were not Communists.  Further, they proclaimed, “On the broader issues of alleged subversive and disloyal elements in Hollywood, our members are likewise prepared to take positive action” (Eliot 189-90).  Earlier, in October 1947, Disney appeared before the HUAC committee as one of the forty-three “Friendly Witnesses” from Hollywood to testify about the subversive activity of Communism in Hollywood and his own company.  Disney said of the 1941 strike, “I definitely feel it was a Communist group trying to take over my artists and they did take them over” (qtd. in Eliot 192).  Disney was questioned about Herbert Sorrell as an agent of the 1941 strike, and he replied that he certainly believed Sorrell was a Communist and as a result of the strike, Disney’s own name was smeared in “all of the Commie front organizations” (Eliot 193).  Disney’s testimony helped to debilitate Sorrell’s Congress of Studios Union, which soon after collapsed  (Later, Disney apologized for having misnamed the League of Women Voters as an organization that had smeared his name.  It was really the League of Women Shoppers, and he asked the HUAC to amend his testimony).

[18]    The Hollywood Blacklist was kept for more than a decade, and its influence in the movie industry is undeniable.  Disney’s testimony strengthened the hold of the blacklist.  Through the hearings that proceeded from 1951 to 1956, the threat of the blacklist prompted many executives to “name names” lest their own work be scrutinized for seditious content.  They knew that political hysteria could find unAmerican sentiments in just about any film (Ceplair 194). At one point, even “graylists” were written to include people who were just a bit left of center, who had at one time a direct or indirect connection with Communist activity.  The blacklist remained unchallenged until 1959 when Kirk Douglas demanded that one of the blacklisted (Dalton Trumbo) receive due credit for having written Spartacus.  Although the blacklist and graylists included only about 500 of the 30,000 Hollywooders (1.6%), those individuals were shadowed by interminable scrutiny and harassment, what Larry Ceplair calls a “dark cloud of professional and personal opprobrium” (196).  If nothing else, the lists did accomplish a large part of its goal: to rid Hollywood of the left’s political pull.  In the 1940s and 1950s many anti-Communist films were made, the sum of which grew from the Red hysteria and in many cases intensified it (Leab 26-27).  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the blacklist eventually yielded to the Kennedy’s administration in 1960.  Larry Ceplair summarizes how the industry changed after the anti-Communist hysteria had subsided:

Never daring in the first place, the studios of the Fifties had retreated from any project hinting at controversy or social significance.  Hollywood films did not, however, lack political content; most reflected the conservative, chauvinistic doctrines that had triumphed with HUAC and McCarthy.  The studios took giant steps backward in the depiction of women, war, crime, and government practices; the poor, workers, blacks, and other minorities (except for Indians--depicted as savage targets for heroic white soldiers to massacre disappeared from the screen. (198)
I must say that Disney’s Boone series evinces these same regressive politics.

[19]    We can’t end the Disney story here, though for Disney’s greatest empire is yet untold: TV and amusement parks.  After World War II, Disney’s studios found itself in debt for more than $4 million. The studio suffered from a lack of revenue as the nation’s war economy turned to wartime production.  Nonetheless, brother Roy and Walt Disney were saved by numerous government contracts to produce hundreds of propaganda and training films during the war.  When the war ended, Disney could again turn his attention to feature-length animated films and a new endeavor, the live-action features, such as Treasure Island in 1950 (Canemaker 114).  In the same year, Disney’s enterprises expanded tremendously when he turned to TV, with his first television special “One Hour in Wonderland.”  In 1951 he returned with “The Walt Disney Christmas Show.”   In 1954 Disney again returned to TV, and there he would stay for the next twenty-nine years.  In that year, the Disneyland series premiered as a weekly family show, a show that enjoyed the longest run in TV history (The Lawrence Welk Show might dispute this).

[20]    Premiering on October 27, 1954, this show catapulted Disney into TV superstardom.  Airing every Wednesday night at 7:30, the show changed the dynamic of the American home, as families crowded around the set to see what excitement Disney had imagined for this week.  The show went through several modifications, changing its name at least five times and appearing on all three networks, beginning on ABC in 1954, shifting to NBC in 1961 (NBC offered more money and color broadcasting!), and finishing its run on CBS in 1981.  On December 15, 1954, the feature episode was Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter, an episode that “rocked the nation and created a fad . . . Based on the early exploits of the legendary frontiersman, the show left kids around the country clamoring for their own coonskin cap” (Vault Disney).  Disney tried to capitalize on the success of Crockett with the production of the four part Daniel Boone serial, “but they did not take off the way their predecessor did” (Maltin 318).  Through the fifties and into the sixties, the TV pioneer would continuously reinvigorate the theme of the frontier pioneers, Western good guys, and Revolutionary heroes, with more episodes of Davy Crockett, the many Tales of Texas John Slaughter, Johnny Tremain, and Daniel Boone.  Disney tried to alter it a bit in 1956 with the first episode of Zorro (Maltin 321-23).  In 1955 The Mickey Mouse Club also premiered and reigned as the most popular kiddie show in TV history, rivalled only by Sesame Street  (Maltin 318).

[21]    Also in 1955, Walt Disney opened what was nothing short of monumental, Disneyland.  The California amusement park was well-marketed.   Beginning in 1954, Disney wisely employed his weekly TV series to keep millions of people abreast of his theme park plans and the construction progress in Anaheim.  Of his marketing plan, Disney said, “I saw that if I was ever going to have my park . . . [here] was a way to tell millions of people about it--with TV” (qtd. in Marling 122).  And tell he did!  Each week Disney introduced the park’s principal
themes to his audience (Frontierland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland) and presented a show that paralleled one of those themes.  Criticized as the longest trailer and the longest commercial in TV history, the Disneyland marketing shows continued to paint a dream and urge American families to plan a vacation around Disneyland:  “by rehearsing the proposed features of the park, the TV show eliminated all grounds for apprehension:  Disneyland--the theme park--was just as safe, wholesome, and predictable as the living room setting in which the family gathered every week to watch Walt talk about it” (Marling 122-23).  In other words,
going to the Disneyland theme park would be even better than watching the Disneyland show! Imagine that!  To the American viewer, the themepark and the TV wonderland were one and the same, a real fantasyland.  And in this way, image and reality, the sign and the referent, were indistinguishably conflated in one word, Disneyland.  Readers can pursue this topic of Disneyland as a postmodern showcase in Karal Ann Marling’s chapter “Disneyland, 1955:  The Place That Was Also a TV Show” and in Jean Baudrillard’s Simulations.  Baudrillard calls Disneyland the sign that hides an absence:  “Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the ‘real’ country, all of ‘real’ America that is Disneyland . . . Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real” (12).

[22]    Disney’s success continues after Disneyland opened in 1955, but for our purposes we will stop here.  When watching Disney’s Boone film series or any one of the TV features, we should consider Disney’s own politics.  Among other things, he tried to preserve his vision of American history and the American family, both of which are plainly evident in the Boone series.  And we certainly cannot forget that his own stalwart conservatism did not remain confined to private quarters but was broadcast and consumed weekly by the country that was his audience.  Although the Daniel Boone series is a very small element of the Disney empire that traveled the air waves, it certainly participates in the discursive field of American history.

Native American Affairs from 1924 through the 1950s

[23]    For the Native American peoples in the United States, the twentieth century gradually granted them a voice in American politics, though the authenticity and power of this so-called voice is variously heard, read, and written.  In the second volume of the recently published Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas (1996), the years 1880 to 1995 are divided into two periods.  The years 1880 to 1960 Frederick Hoxie calls “The Reservation Period” and the years 1960 to 1995 editor Wilcomb Washburn calls “The Native American
Renaissance.”  In this history of the Native peoples, the Disney Boone films were produced in transitional years.  In his book First Peoples:  A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, Colin G. Calloway titles the chapter on the years 1870 to 1924 “Kill the Indian and Save the Man,” referring to the massive movement to Americanize the American Indian.  His next chapter “From New Deal to Wounded Knee, 1933-1975” covers the era of Indian policy reform, the termination policies, and the militant stand of Natives at Wounded Knee in 1973.  In this history, Disney’s Boone films were produced in the thick of the conflicts over termination policies and tribal autonomy, all of which would escalate to the crisis at Wounded Knee.  Here, I will incorporate information from both sources to provide a brief overview of the Native peoples in the 1950s.  This, I hope, will firm up the filmic context.

[24]    In the first few decades of the twentieth century, the American Indians saw changes in their legal status and a growing interest in their living conditions and cultural lives.  In 1924, all American Indians were granted American citizenship.  In 1926 the Department of Interior commissioned a group of scholars to conduct a survey of Indian affairs.  Titled The Problem of Indian Administration (1928), the report revealed startling statistics on
the problems that faced most Natives: poverty, ill health, and despondency.  The report recommended that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA, est. 1824) be reformed to help the Indians advance socially and economically in American society, “so that they may be absorbed into the prevailing civilization or be fitted to live in the presence of the civilization at least in accordance with a minimum standard of health and decency” (qtd. in Calloway 415).  The Indian needed to be further Americanized and assimilated into American life.  The report provided a
substantial body of evidence that proved previous policies ineffectual, particularly the Dawes Allotment Act (1887) which had terminated communal ownership of land, encouraged Indians to enter mainstream society, and offered “surplus” lands for private purchase (Calloway 355). Additionally, the report recommended that the Indian boarding schools, like the off-reservation school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, be phased out.  Removing the children from the reservations and forcibly educating them to be Americans was simply not working.

[25]    The 1930s offered a New Deal for the Native Peoples.  The most significant move by the U.S. government in this decade came when Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed the American Indian enthusiast and admirer John Collier as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1933 to 1945).  Collier wholeheartedly believed that the American Indians were probably the only surviving people in the West who still possessed “the fundamental secret of human life--the secret of building great personality through the instrumentality of social institutions" (qtd. in Calloway 417).  If we lost the Natives, Collier believed, we would lose a great opportunity to save our own society. An “Indian New Deal” enacted new measures and policies that were intended to revitalize Indian tribal life.  Among other things, Collier’s commission “tried to reverse the assault on Indian lands, rejuvenate tribal governments, preserve native languages, and revive tribal cultures” (Calloway 417).  Yet despite these efforts the New Deal, in the end, was nothing new. Still, non-Natives were doing what they thought was best for the Natives, instituting one policy for very diverse Indian peoples and populations.  Historian Lawrence Kelly also notes that Collier’s propagandist tactics had cast political opponents as enemies, thereby lessening his effectiveness and leaving the work cut out for his successors (Calloway 418).  Collier and his policies provoked a lot of criticism, even to the point that in 1937 a Senate committee held hearings on the actions of the BIA, during which Collins was reportedly called a representative of “atheism, communism, and unAmericanism” (qtd. in Hoxie 231).  Although Collier’s policies did not answer the Indian question nor solve all the problems, they did make headway in the efforts to increase Indian reservation autonomy, return Indian governments to Indian hands, end allotment, consolidate tribal lands, recognize the tribal right to retain tribal rituals and heritage, end off-reservation boarding schools, and build on-reservation schools and hospitals (Calloway 418-19).

[26]    Collier’s greatest move in instituting these changes for improving Native life was the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) in 1934.  The accompanying reports openly admitted that the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 was a mistake.  The IRA terminated the act and prohibited any further allotment.  Collier’s original proposal also contained provisions for Congress to promote Indian traditions and a national court to hear cases involving Indian
governments.  When the Act passed in Congress, however, these two provisions were stripped.  Some legislators did not want to risk giving Indian governments the power to reverse the government’s previous efforts toward assimilation.  In the early 1930s and late 1940s bills were filed to repeal the IRA, though none made it through committee (Hoxie 229-31).  Another significant part of the IRA was the federal government’s commitment to train Indians in land management, public health, and law enforcement, and to prepare them for employment in the BIA.  Scholarship monies were also provided for Native students.  Individual tribes were granted the right to accept or reject the act through referendum.  Collier set out on the road to explain the act to tribes, holding ten regional conferences and marking the first time in American history that legislation on Indian affairs was explained to the natives.

[27]    The Act was greatly disputed within individual tribes, and unanimous votes were a rarity.  The results showed 174 tribes had accepted the IRA and 78 tribes rejected it (Hoxie reports 164 and 94, respectively).  Among the rejections were those filed by the Senecas, the Crows, and the Navajos.  Each tribe had its own reasons for accepting or rejecting the Act, but perhaps the case of the Navajos is one of the most interesting (I don’t have room for it here, but readers will find that even a little research on the matters of the Navajo will repay tremendously!).  Simply put, just when the Navajos had largely recovered from the numerous injustices and expropriations of the U.S. government, Collier’s efforts to help them resulted in a substantial reduction of Navajo land and a massive slaughter of the sheep herds around which Navajo life revolved.  When the referendum was before them, the largest tribe in the country rejected the IRA by a slim margin.  Although Collier’s Indian New Deal did not achieve a majority of its goals, Natives did regain millions of acres of tribal lands and did see noticeable improvements in self-management and the preservation of their cultural heritage (Calloway 419-21).

[28]    Despite some improvements in the 1930s, Indian life in the 1940s and 1950s was characterized by persistent civic, social, economic, and health problems.  In January, 1944 Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes wrote that the 25,000 Indians who had served in the armed forces during World War II could “see in a victory of the democracies a guarantee that they too shall be permitted to live their own lives” (qtd. in Hoxie 235-36).  When all was said and done, however, the 1940s and 1950s challenged the Native peoples to sacrifice their Indian traditions and rights in order to participate in national life of the United States.  When the Indian veterans returned home from war, they found “a renewal of hard times and a renewed assault on their tribalism” (Calloway 421).  The progressive reform of New Deal politics was countered by the conservatism that would prevail in the coming decades.  The rampant fear of communist infiltration and the enthusiasm for “Americanism” impeded further progress toward recognizing the diversity that the American Indian represented.  Having had 25,000 enlisted in the U.S. forces and another 50,000 or so employed in war-time production at home, the Native Peoples expected more positive reception than what they received (Calloway 421-22).

[29]    In some places, racial prejudice and discrimination roiled Indian relations with the white majority.  Segregation in public schools was not only a black issue but a Native one as well. While the integration of Indian students had neared completion in the northwest, the 1954 Supreme Court decision did not quell adversity in other parts of the country.  For example, in Robeson County, North Carolina, public schools and other facilities were segregated in threes: white, Negro, and Indian (“Indians Rout the Klan”).  And although the 30,000 Lumbee Indians generally maintained fairly good relations among Robeson’s 40,000 whites and 25,000 blacks, the Ku Klux Klan actively terrorized Lumbees with cross burnings and literature of hatred (“The Natives are Restless”).  After tolerating the Klan for so long, however, the Lumbees decided to act in January 1958.  During a meeting of about seventy-five armed Klansmen, a mass of three-hundred-fifty armed and war-whooping Lumbees descended upon the Klansmen and quickly dispersed them.  The rout was publicized in widely distributed periodicals such as Time, Life, Commonweal, and Christian Century.  And although the Lumbees’s stand against the Klan was highly lauded nationwide, there were mixed reactions to the Indians’ attempt “to revert, however weakly, to ancient Indian customs” (“The Indians Rout the Klan”).  Aside from these demonstrations of fortitude, the Natives generally suffered from ill health.  In 1955, one Christian Century writer cited information compiled by James R. Shaw in his 1950 U.S. Public Health Service report:  “’In 1950 the average age at death for Indians was 36 years, in contrast to 61 years for the white population.’ The life expectancy for the Papago is said to be 17 years, for the Navaho about 20” (1294).  The author also cites the latest report from Glenn Emmons, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  The report notes how “’the Indian population during 1953 had twenty times as many deaths from measles as did the non-Indian population, nine times as many deaths from tuberculosis, four times as many deaths from pneumonia and influenza, three times as many infant deaths and twice as many accidental deaths’” (1294).

[30]    Colin Calloway sums up the government’s postwar policies in Indian affairs as “a three-part program of compensation, termination, and relocation” (422).  These policies, as designed and implemented, clearly privilege what Godfrey Hodgson calls “the liberal consensus," or the shared assumptions that individual economic success will eliminate social inequalities and social injustices (Hodgson 118-19).  The end through these policies was an amenable, final resolution of Indian affairs, a restitution for the injustices of the past.  It was time to settle it all and then move on.  First, in 1946 Congress established the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) which opened a five- year span when it would begin reviewing any grievances filed over treaty and land disputes.  The commission purposed to address these grievances and to award compensation as needed.  The project, however, ran into problems, some of which involved tribes that thought indemnity should not be paid in cash but in land.  Also, the terms of monetary compensation were hotly disputed.  By 1978, the ICC had settled 285 cases and settled for more than $800 million (Calloway 424).

[31]    Second, the government enacted a termination policy that would end the federal government’s services to Native tribal groups. In 1950, Dillon S. Myer, the former head of the Internal War Relocation Program which
had rounded up West Coast Japanese Americans and placed them in internment camps during World War II, became the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.  He believed that a primary purpose of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was not to provide unlimited services to the tribes but to provide enough for the Indians to take care of themselves.  He implemented a plan of termination and relocation that was later continued by his successor, Glenn Emmons, in 1953.  In this year the House Concurrent Resolution 108 (HCR 108) proposed that the Indians receive the same rights and privileges as other U.S. citizens (Calloway 424).  In effect, the government would end the Indian status as ward and cost the U.S. Treasury $150 million annually (Neuberger 49).  In the next decade, federal services to over sixty Indian tribes were terminated.  In one fell swoop in 1958, federal support to forty-one California tribes was cut.  In 1953, a second measure called Public Law 280 (PL280) transferred Indian lands in California, Oregon, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to the jurisdiction of state and local governments.  Eisenhower deflected criticism of this last act, for it “represented still another step in the Indians’ movement toward complete political equality” (Hoxie 241).  Termination also included efforts to dismantle the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the transfer of Indian hospitals to state control, and the shift of Indian health issues from the BIA to the Public Health Service (Hoxie 250-51).

[32]    The American Indians group didn’t acquiesce to the politics of termination, however. Leading the Native defense was the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), an organization founded in 1944 and initially comprised of twenty-seven Native groups.  Its constitution declared its purposes:  “to preserve Indian cultural values” and “to secure and preserve Indian rights under Indian treaties with the United States” (qtd. in Hoxie 251).  By 1954, membership to the NCAI had grown to forty-three Native groups.  In February, 1954 a Washington conference of the NCAI counterattacked termination, adopting a “Declaration of Indian Rights” which said, “Reservations do not imprison us . . . they are our ancestral homelands, retained by us for our perpetual use and enjoyment.  We feel we must assert our right to maintain ownership in our own way, and to terminate it only by our consent” (qtd. in Hoxie 252).  The NCAI, joined by Christian Century magazine and other reform groups, proved formidable opposition to termination policies (Hoxie 252).

[33]    Third, urban relocation programs for Natives were sponsored by the federal government. These programs grew out of the need to assimilate Natives into American life, and, for this reason, the cultural diversity and opportunities that cities offered made urban areas premium destinations.  The government also observed a recent trend in which many Indians were leaving reservation life for urban centers.  Beginning with the modest success of a pilot program in 1948, the Bureau of Indian Affairs offered incentives to Natives to move.  From the years 1952 to 1960, more than 30,000 Natives left reservations for distant cities.  Los Angeles was a center for Sioux relocation, the San Francisco Bay Area for Anishinaabeg, New York for Kahnawake Mohawks, and Chicago for Navajos and Alaskan Natives.  J. Matthew Shumway and Richard H. Jackson report that the 1950 census indicates that 13.4% of the Indians counted lived in urban areas; by 1970 the number had grown to 44% and by 1990 it reached 63% (Calloway 427). City life, however, was vastly different from that on the reservations.  In short, Natives were unaccustomed to the fast pace of city life and struggled to meet the demands of urban industry. Also, they weren’t very experienced in asserting themselves in an environment where multi-cultural racial tensions were so concentrated.  Many Natives quickly found themselves straggling behind in the race for financial success and the acquisition of commodities and private property (Calloway 426-28).  Yet relocation did spark Native solidarity.  In many cities, small Indian middle class communities and new Indian organizations formed.  Also “Indian centers” were established to help city newcomers, and in time, they evolved into social service agencies (Hoxie 243).

[34]    Predictably, the implementation of the compensation, termination, and relocation policies did not go without difficulties.  The three measures were commonly justified as a way to alleviate Native dependence on others and to deliver Indians from the squalid isolation of the reservation.  Rather than subjecting the Natives to more restrictive federal measures, some government officials rationalized that a retreat from Indian affairs would help ensure the autonomy that the Native Peoples had wanted for so long.  Others may read this not as relinquishing control but as the government washing its hands of the problems.  Unfortunately for the government, these policies created a new set of problems.  For one, there existed a real fear among Native tribes that government support would be terminated prematurely.  This fear was justified when, prompted by the visit of two outspoken Cheyenne and Oglala chiefs, the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) admitted that some “corrupt local practitioners [had] received support from short-sighted and stubborn administrators in governmental circles” (America June 4, 1960, 328).  Echoing the NCAI’s “Declaration of Indian Rights”, the two visiting chiefs proclaimed “What the Indians want is ‘self-determination without termination’” (“What the Indians Want” 7).

[35]    In 1954, the programs were under rapid fire when Oliver de La Farge, the president of the AAIA, charged the United States with breaking the trust of the Indians.  In one specific case, LaFarge condemned the government’s sudden interest in Paiute affairs after oil had been discovered in their Utah lands (The Christian Century May 19, 1954, 604-05).  Along the same lines, several cases for policy reform were made in many contemporary journals and newspapers, including one lengthy editorial that appeared in the November 9, 1955 issue of The Christian Century.  Titled “How to Help the Indians,” the author convincingly argues that government responsibilites to the Indians should not be abdicated but intensified and broadened.  Calling for an extended life for the Indian Claims Commission and the rescindment of House Concurrent Resolution 108, the author urges citizens to act on local and national levels, for the good of the Indian cause.  This plea for public action ends with a litany of the names and addresses of government organizations actively involved in Indian affairs.

[36]    In the late 1950s, policy came to issue in the cases of the Menominee and Klamath tribes.  The Menominees, an Algonquian tribe inhabiting the area along Wisconsin’s Menominee River, had exhibited enough self-sufficience to make them likely candidates for termination in the early 1950s.  The act to terminate their federal support was signed by Eisenhower in 1954 after the Menominees had sought an early settlement on a per capita basis.  After a four year extension of government services, termination was complete in 1961, at which time, a new county was formed and Menominee Enterprises Incorporated took over the management of their lands and lumber mills.  As it turned out, however, the Menominees faced financial ruin for they could not sufficiently overcome the tough economic times that followed.  Their situation worsened when they were forced to sell some of their lands in order to pay taxes.  Only after many years of continued contestation was the Menominee Restoration Act passed in 1973, at which time it was signed by Nixon.  The young Menominee social worker Ada Deer was a major force in the lobbying efforts, and she eventually served in the Clinton administration as the first Indian woman to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Calloway 426).

[37]    Facing a similar situation were the Klamath Indians, a Penutian speaking tribe inhabiting parts of the Cascade Mountains in northern California and southern Oregon.  Like that of the Menominees, the Klamath termination was signed in 1954 and readied for a 1961 implementation.  Also like the Menominees, the Klamath tribe was a model tribe for termination, as their timber sales annually brought $2 million into the reservation (Calloway 426).  But because the Klamaths relied so much on government services and contracts, they too suffered economic ruin under the provisions of termination.  When many Klamath commmunities saw no option but to sell premium timber lands, lumber companies were waiting at their doorstep to buy.  As Donald Fixico points out, these companies profited more from termination than the Klamaths, who were supposedly the intended beneficiaries of termination.  As a result of their termination, both the Menominees and Klamaths battled for the restoration of tribal status. Both tribes learned that for Indians, economic success could most likely mean termination (Calloway 426).

[38]    The Disney Boone series was in production during the critical time when the Klamath situation was so broadly publicized.  For this reason, I find it hard to believe that the producers and writers of the Disney Boone series weren’t aware of the situation, especially when we consider the fact that Disney’s studios were located in southern California, and the Klamath struggle took place in southern Oregon.  It is certainly not a stretch to say that the Disney Boone series presents a situation parallel to the Menominee and Klamath situations.  In the end, Boone, the prudent capitalist, wrests Indian land and settles it for the purposes of a growing population and an expanding economy.

[39]    Rather than get into the finer details of the Klamath case, I will present it in brief form.  The Klamath termination was amended when eleventh hour, bipartisan legislation was passed on July 28, 1958, which effectively saved the Klamath reservation and forest.  The Klamath Basin Ponderosa pine grew on about 590,000 acres and also awarding the 2,133 Klamaths $58,000 each (Neuberger 48) (Netboy reports 2,095 Klamaths receiving about $40,000 each).  Before this legislation, the Klamaths could only survive by selling the timberland to loggers, but under the legislation the forest remained protected by “prudent harvesting . . . in perpetuity” (Neuberger 49).  This was regarded as a great conservationist victory in two ways:  1.  the timberland was saved from commercial rapacity, 2. the Klamath Indians kept their reservation and each was also awarded a nice sum of money. Oregon Senator Richard L. Neuberger writes of the outcome:  “nobody in our state talks very much these days about getting the United States government out of ‘the Indian business' ” (52). Despite this victory for the Klamaths, they did not regain tribal status until 1986.

[40]    As I have merely scratched the surface of the Klamath situation, here is a more complete listing of contemporary articles involved in the discussion:

Dean, William.  “Klamath Hearings in Oregon.”  American Forests.  63:12+ November 1957.

Jenkins, Bill.  “Klamath Water Big Cog in Oregon’s Prospects.” American Forests.  64:24-6 March 1958.

Jenkins, Frank.  “Klamath Editor Speaks.”  American Forests.  63:12.

Magnuson, Don.  “How the Trick was Turned:  Bill to Amend the Klamath Indian Termination Act.”  American Forests.  64:8  September 1958.

Morse, William B.  “Land of the Wocus.”  American Forests.  63:24-6+. June 1957.

Netboy, Arthur.  “Uproar on Klamath Reservation.”  American Forests. January 1957. 20-1+.

Neuberger, Richard L.  “How Oregon Rescued a Forest.” Harper’s Magazine. April  1959. 48-52.

Sawyer, Robert W.  “Klamath Timber Should Be In National Forests.” American Forests.  64:25-6+.

Talney, Mark A.  “Question Validity of Klamath Plan:  Institute Report Indicates Ending of Federal Control Over Tribe in Oregon is Undesirable.” The Christian Century.  July 25, 1956. 882-84.


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Copyright (c) 2001 by Keat Murray, Graduate student at Lehigh University.

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