From Daniel Boone to Captain AmericaPlaying Indian in American Popular Culture

From Daniel Boone to Captain AmericaPlaying Indian in American Popular Culture

Chad A. Barbour

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9781496806840

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


This book examines the transmission of the ideals and myths of playing Indian in American popular culture. In the nineteenth century, American art and literature developed and nurtured images of the Indian and the frontiersman that exemplified ideals of heroism, bravery, and manhood, as well as embodying fears of treason, loss of civilization, and weakness. During this time, Daniel Boone emerged as an exemplary figure of crossing the white-Native line. In the twentieth century, comic books, among other popular forms of media, would inherit these images. The Western genre of comic books participated fully in that genre’s conventions, replicating and perpetuating the myths and ideals long associated with the frontier in the United States. A fascination with Native Americans was also present in comic books devoted to depicting the Indian past of the U.S. In such stories, the Indian is always a figure of the past, romanticized as a lost segment of U.S. history, ignoring contemporary and actual Native peoples. Playing Indian occupies a definite subgenre of the Western comics, especially during the postwar period when a host of comics featuring a “white Indian” as the hero were being published. Playing Indian migrates into superhero comics, a phenomenon that heightens and amplifies the notions of heroism, bravery, and manhood already attached to the white Indian trope. Instances of superheroes, such as Batman and Superman, playing Indian corroborate with the depictions found in the strictly Western comics. The superhero as Indian is revived in the twenty-first century via Captain America, attesting to the continuing power of this ideal and image.