Western History & Genealogy Blog

Native American Brass Band

Native American Brass Band

Wonder how they sounded?

Ralph Stanion worked as a teacher and as a superintendent on reservations beginning in 1898 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  By the 1920s, he was working at Fort Apache in Arizona where he took this picture.  Other images in the collection, WH644, portray his family and Native Americans including one image of Buffalo Bill's Brule Sioux.  Papers and photographs are available on the 5th floor of the Denver Public Library in the Western History/Genealogy Department.

To play a horn - or not

Is there a book about this man and his life's work?

Has there been any record of how any of the Native Americans felt about this man and his work?

Every person has an opinion about assimilating the Native Americans into white culture. Some people praise men like this man, who made it their life's work to turn the Native Americans into good white people, doing what white people do, such as playing a horn in a band.

I am a Native American, and I played a trombone in school for nine years. I had a wonderful time, and I loved every minute of it. But I've been criticized by other members of my tribe for selling out to white culture. They called me "white" and acted like they wanted to spit on me. Would I repeat my horn-playing?

Both of my parents grew up in Indian Boarding Schools. My Dad ended up earning three Masters, and my Mother earned two. They were both college professors. But many of our people treated my parents like they were traitors. Were my parents better off for having a white man's education?

My first reaction to the photograph was intense sadness.

What a wonderful, expressive

What a wonderful, expressive letter!  I regret your sadness at viewing the photograph of the Fort Apache students but certainly understand it.  None of the students in the photograph smiled either.  Yet, they should not be forgotten and sharing their images seems important.  Unfortunately, the collection is very small and I know of no published works about Mr. Stanion.  It may be helpful for you to refer to the American Indian Science and Engineering Society which actively pursues education for Native Americans while respecting cultural values.