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“Come to the Wilderness”: Highlights for Native American Studies from American Pamphlets, 1820-1922

Posted on 04/06/2015

The March release from the New-York Historical Society’s collection of American pamphlets features several publications that focus on Native Americans. Generally using the terms Indians or Indian tribes, these pamphlets depict their lives both before and after European migration into their historic lands. Included in the current release are treaties between the United States government and specific tribes, accounts of travels to, and encounters, with various tribes, tracts about systems of reservations and Indian education, and even a pamphlet promoting tourism.

Massasoit's Town. Sowams in Pokanoket. Its History, Legends and Traditions (1904)

By Virginia Baker

During the Pilgrims’ first years in what became the Massachusetts Bay Colony they were befriended by Wampanoag Indian chief Massasoit.  The author of this pamphlet, in the course of attempting to ascertain the precise location of Massasoit’s place of residence, recounts much of the early history of the relationship between the native inhabitants of what became New England and the English colonists who would largely displace them. It is also a tribute to Massasoit who is described admiringly for his wisdom and generosity. One example is revealed in an episode when Roger Williams had been banned from Salem 1636 and sought refuge in Massapoit’s lands. “[I]n a bitter winter season” he “fled from the savage Christians of Massachusetts Bay to the Christian savages of Narragansett Bay.”

Sarah Winnemucca's Practical Solution of the Indian Problem. A Letter to Dr. Lyman Abbot of the Christian Union (1886)

By Elizabeth Peabody

A Paiute Indian, Sarah Winnemucca was an educator, an advocate for all Native Americans, a writer, and a lecturer. Her autobiography was the first by a Native American woman and was described by anthropologist Omer Stewart as “one of the first and one of the most enduring ethnohistorical books written by an American Indian.”

The author of this pamphlet, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, was a prominent Bostonian who became one of Winnemucca’s most important and generous patrons. Her intent in this pamphlet is to raise money in support of Winnemucca’s…

…grand enterprise of making a Normal School…of Indian teachers of English, for all the tribes whose languages she knows, and who will, in their turn, give their scholars, together with the civilizing English language, the industrial education that they have at the same time received…

Pe-e-shag-may-gwa-ock = Come to the Wilderness (1906)

Pe-e-shag-may-gwa-ock, according to this pamphlet, means “come to the wilderness” in the Ojibwa language, but the invitation to the northern Minnesota lakes and woods is not being extended by the Ojibwa. Rather, it is a commercial railway line in this “Little Booklet for those who love Nature; for all who delight in virgin wood-land and emerald lakes; for everyone who finds delight in God’s splendid out-of-doors. Telling of the beautiful Northern Minnesota Country, reached by way of the Minnesota & International Ry.”

Indeed, this is a travel brochure meant to bring business to the railway and to the businesses in this region geared toward tourists and outdoor sportsmen. It is an elegantly designed and produced booklet. Each page is adorned with background illustrations and throughout the text there are photographs that appear to be glass plates tinted by hand to provide subtle color. Several of these photographs are of Ojibwas pursuing their daily way of life.

For more information about American Pamphlets, 1820-1922, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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