Wizard of Oz author: kill all the Indians

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Oct 12 08:09:18 MDT 2000


The Lawrence Journal-World (Lawrence, Kansas) October 9, 2000

'Oz' author sought Indian holocaust:

Baum penned 'wonderful' book, plus editorials advocating genocide

By Tim Carpenter

L. Frank Baum's fairy tale about a Kansas girl swept by a tornado to a
magical world of munchkins and witches made both author and state
synonymous with Oz. So deeply is "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" ingrained in
American popular culture that a development company is poised to build an
$861 million Wonderful World of Oz theme park and resort near DeSoto to
capitalize on the tale's popularity. If built, the Oz development would
stand as a tribute to a genius storyteller whose essential work spawned the
most-watched film ever, "The Wizard of Oz." But one slice of the story is
largely ignored. It is the piece of Baum's legacy that belies his place as
the man who captured the imagination of children with a book about the
adventures of Dorothy, Toto, Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. And
it's contrary to a notion expressed in "The Wizard of Oz" that creatures of
great diversity can put differences aside and work together in respect and
harmony. Step back in time to Aberdeen, S.D., in late 1890. Conflict among
white settlers and American Indians was intense. It was a decade before
"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" became a bestseller.

Genocidal editorial

Salesman, typesetter, press operator and editor L. Frank Baum was the
publisher of The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. It was in the pages of his
weekly newspaper that Baum left his mark as a racist who repeatedly called
for the mass murder of American Indians. Baum's first appeal for genocide
was printed immediately after the slaying of Sitting Bull and 10 days
before U.S. Army troops, supported by Indian mercenaries, killed about 300
Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee Creek, S.D. Here is what
Baum wrote: "The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast
prairies, inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their
possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With this fall the
nobility of the redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack
of whining curs. "The whites, by law of conquest, by justice of
civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of
the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the
few remaining Indians. "Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their
spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the
miserable wretches that they are. We cannot honestly regret their
extermination."

Theme park hurdle

On Jan. 3, 1891, after Wounded Knee, Baum published an editorial suggesting
that the remnants of a dying culture should be eradicated to make safe the
ascendancy of another. "The Pioneer has before declared that our only
safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians," he wrote.
"Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our
civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and
untamable creatures from the face of the earth." Jimmie Oyler, a resident
of DeSoto and self-described principal chief of United Tribe of Shawnee
Indians, said an Oz theme park on former Shawnee lands near DeSoto would be
offensive. "He more or less said kill them all," he said. "If it has
anything to do with Baum ... it's never going to be on Shawnee land." Joe
Reitz, a business professor and director of the International Center for
Ethics at Kansas University, said the Baum editorials were sufficient
reason to rethink the Oz project. "To build a monument to a man who
advocated genocide among Native Americans in this part of the country seems
to be financially suicidal," he said. "If you give people a reason not to
spend money, they probably won't do it."

Other hurdles

But Kristin McCallum, a spokesperson for Oz Entertainment Co. in Los
Angeles, said Baum's 110-year-old editorials weren't relevant. "I don't see
the relation," she said. Oz Entertainment has negotiated draft agreements
with state and federal agencies to transfer 9,000 acres to the company in
exchange for the firm's commitment to spent an estimated $45 million to
clean up industrial contamination at the former Sunflower Army Ammunition
Plant. Before the transfer can occur, the Johnson County Commission and the
Kansas Development Finance Authority must approve Oz's redevelopment plan.
McCallum called immaterial the fact that American Indians were once
occupants of land where World of Oz would be located. She said there were
many regrettable episodes in U.S. history that shouldn't have a bearing on
World of Oz. What about the writing? Sally Roesch Wagner said Baum's
writings - all of them - are worth exploring. Every element of his
character should be open for discussion, she said. Wagner was raised in
Aberdeen and now lives in the former Fayetteville, N.Y., home of Baum's
mother-in-law, feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage. Wagner is executive director
of the Gage Foundation and plans to turn the house into a museum that
interprets Baum's life. She said there was benefit to studying both
laudatory and loathsome aspects of his personage. "I think we need to
understand him as both," Wagner said. "He was both a man who wrote these
(Oz) books and a man who called for the extermination of the entire Sioux
nation." It's useful to put Baum's unfortunate editorials in the context of
the times, said Nancy Koupal, director of research and publishing at the
South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre, S.D. The society recently
published a book, "Baum's Road to Oz: The Dakota Years." Baum was concerned
for his safety and that of other settlers, she said. But the genocide of
Native Americans wasn't a common theme in his later writing and novels. "He
didn't spend much ink on the subject," Koupal said. "It was not a deeply
felt conviction. I don't think this was a big side of Baum. You scratch any
of your heroes, you're not going to like what you find in the closet. There
is no perfect man."

Intellectual freedom

Leonard Bruguier, a Yankton Sioux and director of the Institute of American
Indian Studies at University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D., said
Baum's views were repugnant. But, he said, the author had the right to
express his opinion in 1890. That same intellectual freedom should be
granted citizens today, he said. "There are skinheads, neo-Nazis saying 'Do
away with people of color.' I have to tolerate their opinion," Bruguier
said. Donald Fixico, director of KU's indigenous studies program, said the
editorials shouldn't necessarily doom the Oz project. He said Baum's
commentary should stand as a cautionary lesson to young writers. "You never
know when you're going to write something influential like the Wizard of
Oz," Fixico said. "Some things may come back to haunt you." Perhaps,
Bruguier said, it's fitting irony that World of Oz developers want to build
a memorial to "The Wizard of Oz" on land ravaged by pollutants from the
manufacture of munitions. "Maybe they deserve each other," he said.



Louis Proyect
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