10 Literature Essay Topics on “The Red and the White: A Family Saga of the American West”

Topics and ideas
Posted on April 13, 2016

“The Red and the White: A Family Saga of the American West” by Andrew R. Graybill is one of the interesting works of literature that covers race relations on the frontier and re-visits an obscure historical event that has no marker commemorating its location. A good read for individuals interested in the history of the 19th century West, it is part of many higher education courses as it is quite rich with history, details, and themes.

If you have to write a literature essay on “The Red and the White: A Family Saga of the American West”, you first need to decide on a topic. While you are welcome to check our list of 20 topics on “The Red and the White” for a literature essay, take a look at the following 10 facts first to understand this book better and possibly come up with your own topic.

  1. “The Red and the White” by Andrew R. Graybill is a multi-layered read. In “The Red and the White: A Family Saga of the American West”, Andrew R. Graybill tells the story of the Clarke family. The narrative focuses on events which occur during multiple generations of the Clarkes. The book is a thought-provoking examination of Indian-white interracial marriages.
    The author has masterfully presented the issues faced by the interracial families during the late 19th and early 20th century periods in American history. The person at the center of the historical narrative is Malcolm Clarke, a fur-trader who failed at being a member of the military. He is married to Coth-co-co-na, a member of the Piegan tribe. The narration follows their three successive generations, detailing the struggles they had amongst their surroundings.
  2. The novel chronicles the Marias Massacre. Utilizing primary sources at the Montana Historical Society and interviews with the Clarkes’ living relatives, Graybill uncovers forgotten history related to the Marias Massacre, an epochal event for the Blackfeet, but hardly mentioned in history.
    The Marias Massacre, also called the Baker Massacre, occurred on January 23, 1870. The second US Cavalry, under the command of Major Eugene Baker, mistakenly attacked a Piegan Blackfoot encampment with full force. The Piegans were camped near the Marias River, Montana. The attack was so fierce that the soldiers brutally killed 170-220 Indians.
    While most were killed during the initial attack, eight of them were executed after they had been recaptured after fleeing. The reason behind the inhumane slaughter was revenge for the murder of Malcolm Clarke by his Piegan wife’s cousin.
  3. The book goes over the aftermath of the Marias Massacre. People living during the massacre’s time as well as many present-day historians blame Major Eugene M. Baker for the massacre. A known alcoholic, he is held entirely responsible for the Marias Massacre. Furthermore, he failed to accurately report the scale of the killings. The situation was further exacerbated when the US Army discovered that the Blackfoot camp was full of people suffering from smallpox.
    The political fallout was dealt with by General Sheridan, who supported Major Baker and managed to prevent an official investigation into the matter. After the massacre, the Blackfeet Nation was weakened significantly. They did not have the numbers to retaliate.
  4. The book beautifully depicts the Blackfoot tribe of the North American Great Plains. The Blackfoot tribe belong to the largest North American native language groups, the Algonquian. They were split into three tribes, the largest of which was the Piegan (or Piikáni in the Blackfoot language). The Piegan was one of the three groups that lived in the North American Great Plains and made up the Blackfoot Confederacy. The other two were Kainai and Siksika. During the nineteenth century, the Piegans were dominant over a large part of the northern plains.
  5. “The Red and White” shines the light on the demise of the Blackfoot population. The Blackfoot tribe’s numbers reached around 20,000 in the 1900s. The population declined dramatically during times of severe illnesses. Their immune systems could not fight off Eurasian diseases. Infectious diseases, such as smallpox, resulted in epidemics. During the year 1837, a smallpox epidemic wreaked havoc and killed off 6,000 members of the tribe. The Blackfeet also faced severe starvation because of disrupted food supply lines and wars. During the year 1882, a desperate group set out on a buffalo hunt, but failed. Therefore, the next year became known as the Year of Starvation.
  6. The book also points out the division of borders and the formation of Nation States. Historians are of the opinion that the Blackfeet nation was a confederacy of three distinct and independent tribes. They lived in distinct parts of the Plains. The Piegan occupied the south, the Bloods occupied the central region, and the North Blackfeet lived in the northern region. There were definite differences among the three tribes though they shared a common culture and a common language. The formation of Canada and USA forced the Piegan to divide their homeland. The tribe signed treaties with both the nation-states and reservations created as a result.
  7. Andrew R. Graybill shared the whereabouts of the Blackfeet today. The descendants of the Piegan people in the current times occupy the Blackfeet reservation in Montana. The North Blackfeet and the Bloods live in Alberta on the Canadian reservation.
  8. The book detailed how the Blackfeet sustained themselves. The Blackfeet tribes partly relied on agriculture and partly lived off the land. They were also nomadic to some extent. When they mastered the use of horses and guns, they moved westwards to improve their bison hunting. Later on, around the 19th century, they were integrated into the cultures of the Plains Indians.
  9. The Blackfoot territories shrunk immensely like the tribe itself. Implementing an executive order by President Ulysses S. Grant in the years 1873 and 1874, the territory controlled by the tribe was reduced. The stretch of land bordered by the Sun River in the south and the Marias River in the north was removed. In the year 1887, the Blood sub-tribe signed a treaty with the Canadian government. Known as the Treaty Number Seven, it effectively restricted their land only to reservations located in Alberta. However, the Piegan still occupied a part of the vast reservation located in the north of the Missouri river.
  10. “The Red and White” discusses the signing of the Sweetgrass Hills Treaty of 1888. The year 1882 was one of the most excruciating times for the Blackfeet. Even though some buffalo hunts proved successful, they were destitute and 600 members of the tribe died from starvation. As a result, they were forced to rely on the US government. The leaders of the tribe, White Calf and Three Suns, decided to sell of a part of the Reservation to fulfill their needs. The Sweetgrass Hills Treaty was signed and ratified by the Congress in the year 1888. The huge Montana Indian reservation was broken apart.

This list of facts is quite substantial and will be a great help to any student struggling with their literature essay. If you are also having trouble writing this academic piece, go through our guide on how to write a literature essay on “The Red and the White”.

Ewers, J. (1958). The Blackfeet; Raiders on the Northwestern Plains. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Hungrywolf, A. (2006). The Blackfoot papers. Skookumchuck, B.C.: Good Medicine Cultural Foundation.
Indians, S. (2016). Soldiers Massacre the Wrong Camp of Indians – Jan 23, 1870 – HISTORY.com. HISTORY.com. Retrieved 29 March 2016, from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soldiers-massacre-the-wrong-camp-of-indians
Schultz, J. (1962). Blackfeet and Buffalo. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
The Marias Massacre. (2016). Legendsofamerica.com. Retrieved 29 March 2016, from http://www.legendsofamerica.com/na-mariasmassacre.html
Nye 23 Paul Hutton, Montana, the Magazine of Western History The Piegan Massacre , Army Politics and the Transfer Debate vol 32 no.2 Spring 1982, 33
Black, George (2012). “The View from Mount Washburn”. Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Scheick, W. (2015). The Half-Blood. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky
Utley, Robert M. (1973). “Grant’s Peace Policy, 1869-74”. Frontier Regulars the United States Army and the Indian, 1866-1891. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Perry, A. (2001). On the Edge of Empire. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
“EARLY BLACKFOOT HISTORY”. American Anthropologist A5: 153–164. April 1892.
Grinnell, George Bird George Bird Grinnell Blackfoot Lodge Tales “Blackfoot Lodge Tales”

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