All the documents of “homesteaders” stealing land from Native Americans is bumming me out.
We got a range of reactions to our recent series on the Homestead Act’s 150th anniversary - from angry to enthusiastic to, well, bummed out.
The Homestead Act is a difficult document. When we think of homesteaders, most of us probably think of “Little House on the Prairie" and not the Trail of Tears*. In many cases those recent immigrants who may have been disenfranchised at home and eager for opportunities of their own were now participating in the dispossession of another culture. It’s hard not to be conflicted.
But as the National Archives, we are supposed to present the records in our safekeeping. Our job is not interpret them beyond explaining the context of the time, although we exist for researchers, historians, and the public to use our records to research, understand, and interpret the past. However, we don’t always have the records from both sides—a challenge faced by many researchers and historians. As it was we could only allude to the impact on Native Americans with the digitized items that we found on short notice (thanks to some amazing colleagues who came through in a pinch), so this is a reminder to us to delve more deeply into our holdings to give a fuller idea of the documents that we hold, even if this part of history is difficult one to acknowledge.
Yes, history can get us down too: it’s full of stolen land, genocide, child labor, war, disasters and murder. But we’re obligated to present the records of U.S. history—the good, bad & ugly. If you’re not bummed out sometimes by our posts, then we’re probably not doing our job.
Of course we hope that’s not always the case—and we appreciate everyone that took time to comment, reblog or retweet with their own opinions on these posts.
(* Admittedly the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Trail of Tears predate the Homestead Act but the effects are similar.)