Culminating Project Title
Date of Award
Culminating Project Type
History: Public History: M.A.
College of Liberal Arts
Darlene St. Clair
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
Keywords and Subject Headings
Railroads, national parks, Native Americans, Blackfeet, national identity, tourism promotion
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, upper-class urban Americans began to feel that the ills wrought by a modem society, including the influx of European immigrants and labor disputes at various mills and factories, necessitated a stronger symbol of true American cultural identity. These wealthy folks needed to be assured that they were the true Americans, while also asserting that the luxuries available to them did not diminish their rugged vitality. Louis W. Hill, the son of "Empire Builder" James J. Hill, tapped into this need when he created the Glacier Park Hotel Company, a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway. The railroad 's "See America First" campaign advertised a Glacier National Park vacation as an entirely American experience, where tourists could escape the crowded and polluted cities and have adventures in the mountains of northwest Montana, something poor Americans and immigrants could not do. At the same time, Hill utilized another symbol of American identity that was common at this time, that of romanticized and generalized American Indians. The Blackfeet tribes lived next to Glacier National Park, and Hill christened them the "Glacier Park Indians," featuring them in countless advertisements between the years 1910 and 1935. He hired artists to paint them, arranged spectacles featuring them for visitors, and encouraged related newspaper stories that ran throughout the nation. This study examines the images of that advertisement campaign, the messages they sent about what constituted American identity, and compares that with the reality faced by the real people of the Blackfeet tribes. Though heavily featured in the advertisement campaign, real members of the Blackfeet tribes were discouraged from using Glacier backcountry for hunting, medicinal, or spiritual purposes. Also, in reality, the American government encouraged tribal members to adapt a white lifestyle, claiming that abandoning their cultural traditions would make them more "civilized," and therefore more accepted as true Americans. However, the marketing campaign sent clear messages that the Blackfeet, as well as other Native Americans, were not true Americans, but instead part of the scenery and adventure to be enjoyed. The Great Northern did not call on the Blackfeet to "See America First." That privilege was reserved for people who had achieved an accepted level of civilization. Only those Americans could escape. Therefore, the definition of "American" as promoted and distributed by the Great Northern Railway was extremely limited, romanticized, and exclusive.
Carlson, Caitlin A., ""Uniquely American": The Great Northern Railway, the Blackfeet, and the Creation of a National Identity in Glacier National Park, 1910-1935" (2014). Culminating Projects in History. 23.