by Thomas St. John
Frank Baum (1856-1919) advocated the extermination of the American Indian in his
1899 fantasy "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". Baum was an Irish nationalist
newspaper editor, a former resident of Aberdeen in the old Dakota Indian
territory. His sympathies with the village pioneers caused him to invent the Oz
fantasy to justify extermination. All of Baum’s "innocent" symbols clearly
represent easily recognizable frontier landmarks, political realities, and
peoples. These symbols were presented to frontier children, to prepare them for
their racially violent future.
The Yellow Brick Road represents the
yellow brick gold at the end of the Bozeman Road to the Montana gold fields.
Chief Red Cloud had forced the razing of several posts, including Fort Phil
Kearney, and had forced the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty. When George
Armstrong Custer cut "the Thieves’ Road" during his 1874 gold expedition
invasion of the sacred Black Hills, he violated this treaty, and turned U.S.
foreign policy toward the Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee massacre.
The Winged Monkeys are the Irish Baum’s
satire on the old Northwest Mounted Police, who were modelled on the Irish
Constabulary. The scarlet tunic of the Mounties, and the distinctive "pillbox"
forage cap with the narrow visor and strap are seen clearly in the color plate
in the 1900 first edition of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". Villagers across the
Dakota territory heartily despised these British police, especially after 1877,
when Sitting Bull retreated across the border and into their protection after
The Shifting Sands, the Deadly Desert,
the Great Sandy Waste, and the Impassable Desert are Frank Baum’s reference to
that area of the froniter known always as "the great American desert", west and
south of the Great Lakes. Baum creates these fictional, barren areas as
protective buffers for his Oz utopia, against hostile, foreign people. This
"buffer state" practice had been part of U.S. foreign policy against the
Indians, since the earliest colonial days.
The Emerald City of Oz recreates the
Irish nationalist’s vision of the Emerald Isle, the sacred land, Ireland, set in
this American desert like the sacred Paha Sapa of the Lakota people, these
mineral-rich Black Hills floored by coal. Irish settlements in the territories,
in Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota–at Brule City, Limerick, at Lalla Rookh, and
at O’Neill two hundred miles south of Aberdeen–founded invasions of the Black
The Yellow Winkies, slaves, are Frank
Baum’s symbol for the sizable Chinese population in the old West, emigrated for
the Union-Pacific railroad, creatures with the slant or winking eyes.
The Deadly Poppy Field is the innocent
child’s first sight of opium, that anodyne of choice for pain in the nineteenth
century, sold in patent medicines, in the Wizard Oil, at the travelling Indian
medicine shows. Baum’s deadly poppies are the poison opium, causing sleep and
the fatal dream.
The Wicked Witch of the West is
illustrated in the 1900 first edition as a pickaninny, with beribboned, braided
pigtails extended comically. Baum repeats the word "brown" in describing her.
But this symbol’s real historic depth lies in the earlier Puritans’ confounding
of European witches with the equally heathen American Indians.
The orphan Dorothy’s violent removal
from Kansas civilization, her search for secret and magical cures for her
friends, her capture, enslavement to an evil figure–and the killing of this
figure that is forced on her–all these themes Baum takes from the already two
hundred year old tradition of the Indian captivity narrative which stoked the
fires of Indian-hating and its hope of "redemption through violence".
In the year immediately following the
huge success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum wrote a fantasy entitled The
Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. It is apparent that his frontier experiences
were still on his mind. The book was illustrated by Mary Cowles Clark–tomahawks,
spears, the hide- covered teepees, and the faces of Indian men, women, and
children, and papooses fill the pages and the margins. Baum describes the "rude
tent of skins on a broad plain".
Two crucial chapters are titled "The
Wickedness of the Awgwas" and "The Great Battle Between Good and Evil". The
Awgwas represent native Americans: "that terrible race of creatures" and "the
wicked tribe". Baum condemns the Awgwas:
"You are a transient race, passing from
life into nothingness. We, who live forever, pity but despise you. On earth you
are scorned by all, and in Heaven you have no place! Even the mortals, after
their earth life, enter another existence for all time, and so are your
Predictably enough, a few pages later,
"all that remained of the wicked Awgwas was a great number of earthen hillocks
dotting the plain." Baum is recalling newspaper photos of the burial field at
The Wizard of Oz in 1899 ruling his empire from behind his Barrier of
Invisibility evokes the 1869 Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Empire of the
South, the Ku Klux Klan. Baum’s figure King Crow and his by-play with the
Scarecrow relate to the Jim Crow lynch law at the turn of the century.
Lyman Frank Baum’s overwhelmingly
popular fantasy, and the more violent aspects of United States foreign policy,
were welded togehter in the American mind for the next century and beyond.
Frank Baum’s widow, at the Hollywood
premiere of "The Wizard of Oz" in 1939, complained that the story had been
sentimentalized. Indeed, the old and crudely direct political symbols had been
removed, and the sweetness poured in–the new U.S. foreign policy demanded more
"Those who cannot remember the past are
condemned to repeat it.".