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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > Native American Indians 1880-1920 > Place in Time
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

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Private collection of Marge Bruchac.

Place in Time : Hiding in Plain Sight

By 1890, the keeper of the United States Census declared that the United States frontier essentially no longer existed. Even the more remote areas of the west contained pockets of American settlement. This unending stream of people and goods moving westward took a terrible toll on Native American economies and societies in those regions. The transcontinental railroads and the settlements that sprang up alongside them disrupted traditional migration routes. The railroads also played a role in destroying the bison herds so central to the Plains Indian diet and culture. Mining operations, cattle grazing and large-scale farming took away land and diminished resources. Thousands of Native people succumbed to disease, hunger and violence as a result of these government-sanctioned policies . Those who survived struggled to retain their autonomy and cultural identity, often living marginal lives on barren and tiny reservations, all that remained to them of their once vast homelands.

Meanwhile, Native Americans in the northeast continued "hiding in plain sight" by practicing the strategies of integration and anonymity they had developed over the previous century. While most whites accepted their disappearance as established "fact," Native people worked in a variety of occupations. These included farming, logging, and working the high steel in the construction of skyscrapers and bridges. The man and child in this picture are Jesse Bowman and his daughter Marion Flora Bowman. Bowman was an Abenaki logger and farmer. He also ran a small general store. Bowman came from a family of basketmakers who sold baskets to tourists in the resort town of Saratoga Springs, New York.

Jesse Bowman lived in an era of deep prejudice against Native Americans and other people of color. A eugenics movement in Vermont and other states targeted Native women in its mission to sterilize people it deemed intellectually inferior or racially undesirable. In a time when it was dangerous to talk about one's Native ethnicity, Jesse Bowman is remembered for having been amazingly outspoken about his heritage. His daughter Marion Flora Bowman, subsequently would conceal her Native identity to protect her family. His grandchildren, Marge and Joseph Bruchac, are well-known writers and storytellers. They have done a great deal to bring regional Native history to light and to life.

 

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Jesse Bowman, Abenaki logger and basketmaker, with daughter Marion Flora Bowman

accession #   #M.12


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See Also...

Abenaki Knitting basket

Logging at the Oxbow on the Connecticut River near Holyoke, Mass.

"Gang of Loggers Arrive"


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