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The Ignoble Savage: The Drunk Injun
 
Description
The Drunk Injun
The Ignoble Savage: The Drunk Injun
The Drunk Injun is a derogatory, negative caricature. At its heart it seeks to portray Native Americans as an inherently inferior race that lacks self-control, self-respect, dignity, honor, and morality. The drunk injun is shiftless, lacks any sense of responsibility, and will shamelessly pander to whites for a taste of "fire water". He is dirty. He doesn't take care of himself or his family. He often begs. He can sometimes be a source of comedic entertainment for Whites. Wrapped up in the caricature is the notion that Native Americans on reservations, as wards of the State, are free-loaders who are taking advantage of American taxpayers and, rather than seeking productive enterprises, while away their hours being a burden on Uncle Sam. By placing the blame for the plight of Natives on their own inherent inferiority, Americans were able to forget the ugly consequences of their expansionist past. This historical amnesia allows for the continued dehumanization of real people who still exist, and for modern society to largely ignore the existence and plight of Native Americans today.
Background
Most indigenous peoples in North America did not have alcohol in their cultures. In some areas of the American Southwest, a beverage of fermented corn called tesvino was used during rites of passage rituals. The Pimas and Papagos created alcohol from the Saguaro cactus and used it as part of a spiritual ritual believed to bring rain. The Aztec fermented maguey to make pulque, also used in rituals. Because spiritual power was derived from the drink, its consumption was strictly controlled. European colonization introduced alcohol to most American Indians and altered the drinking patterns of others.

The alcohol trade was probably introduced in the mid-Seventeenth Century, as part of the fur trade. French and English colonists distilled brandy and rum from sugar grown in the West Indies. Native Americans tended to favor rum, which helped keep the English competitive with the French. English colonists also favored rum, and they consumed far more alcohol than did Native Americans. Colonists in America tended to view alcohol as gift from God, and only the action of abusing alcohol was from the devil. Colonists recognized that alcohol abuse often created havoc in some Native American communities that did not have a history of alcohol in their culture. Particularly devastating was the influence it had over young Native men, who often had control over the furs and skins being traded. Trading for alcohol often left Indian communities in a state of poverty, which then undermined their efforts to cope with European colonialism. During the colonial period, both colonists and Indians recognized this trend and took steps to limit the alcohol trade, but the Euro-American traders recognized the vast economic potential of a trade in which they supplied a product in high demand. Some Colonial officials also recognized that the rum trade was too important a link in the economic chain to be severed.

1894 cartoon mocking "Temperance Indians"
Spread of the alcohol trade in the West following the Revolution prompted the federal government to include a provision in the 1802 Trade and Intercourse Act granting authority to the president to stop the sale of alcohol to Indians. Meanwhile, urbanization in the East created its own set of social pathologies, including alcoholism, prompting a new attitude toward alcohol and the formation of the American Temperance Society in 1826. The Natives themselves carried out the most effective temperance efforts among Indians. Attempts to end the business of selling alcohol to Indians were fruitless because of the vast profits to be made by
unscrupulous traders, and because of the social and cultural damage inflicted on the Indians displaced by the Federal government's removal policy. These Indians were confined in what became officially known as Indian Territory in 1834 in present-day Oklahoma, easy prey for aggressive White alcohol traders.
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The building of the transcontinental railroad, the destruction of the buffalo, and the resulting Plains Indian Wars devastated the Plains Indian culture. Confined to reservations and forbidden to hunt, they became wards of the federal government, reliant on sporadically delivered welfare for their very survival. This new reality plunged the American Plains Indian into a state of cultural shock and poverty ripe for the spread of alcoholism. Subsequent Government policy, whether it be attempts to create reservations, disband reservations, assimilate Indians, or to obliterate Indian culture created an astonishing range of Native American social pathologies associated with alcohol that continue to the present day. Euro-Americans played the multidimensional role of creating this environment, supplying the alcohol, and then perpetuating stereotypes of Indians by identifying alcoholism as a sign of some inherent weakness that justified the centuries of treatment they received and the righteousness of their subjugation.
 
The ongoing presence of the noble savage stereotype has created a schism in America over associations of the American Indian and alcohol. In some cases, Indians were and are singled out for discrimination, as evidence in the first three images below. At the same time, however, towns like Whiteclay Nebraska exist purely to sell alcohol to Indians of the Pine Ridge reservation who can not buy alcohol on the reservation. Meanwhile, noble savage imagery has appeared on alcohol products in the past, and one product, Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, was the subject of a long-standing controversy that ended in 2001 with production of the brand ending.
Imagery
Sign: No Liquor Served To Indians After Sundown (1919)
No Liquor Served To Indians After Sundown (1919; modern-day reprint)
1938 photo: "No Beer Sold To Indians"
1938 photo: No Beer Sold To Indians
1941 photo: "positively no beer sold to Indians"
1941 photo: "positively no beer sold to Indians"
   
Iroquois Indian Head Beer Can
Iroquois Indian Head Beer Can
Chief Oshkosh Beer Can
Chief Oshkosh Beer Can
Wild West "Firewater" Can with Flaming Arrow
Wild West "Firewater" Can with Flaming Arrow
Crazy Horse Malt Liquor
Crazy Horse Malt Liquor
Cleveland Indians Beer Sign
Cleveland Indians Beer Sign (2 views)
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Also available on the open market are numerous novelty decanters, shot glasses, jiggers, and flasks. Most of these mock Indians through attempted humor with silly, cartoonish, childlike depiction of Indians and their drunkenness. Others are more forthcoming with their contempt, such as the remarkable totem pole decanter below, complete with drinking cups and a drunken Indian hanging on the pole, flask in hand. Still others continue the noble savage theme, such as the metal flask below.
Indian "Firewater" Decanter
Indian "Firewater" Decanter (2 views)
Indian "Firewater" Decanter
Indian "Firewater" Decanter
Alcohol Decanter with Drunk Indian and Totem Pole
Alcohol Decanter with Drunk Indian and Totem Pole
Glass: Indian Sneaks Some Alcohol
Glass: Indian Sneaks Some Alcohol (4 views)
Alcohol Shot Glass
Alcohol Shot Glass
Shot Glass: Chief Nip Nip
Alcohol Shot Glass: Chief Nip Nip (2 images)
Wall Drug Alcohol Jigger
Wall Drug Alcohol Jigger (2 views)
Alcohol Shot Glass: Little Shot, Big Shot
Alcohol Shot Glass: Little Shot, Big Shot (2 views)
  Indian Chief Metal Alcohol Flask
Indian Chief Metal Alcohol Flask
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Souvenir Alcohol Flasks
Most remarkable of the novelty items connecting Indian with alcohol are the souvenir alcohol flasks featured below. These appear to have been mass-produced and mass marketed to national park gift shops and tourist destinations around the country, probably in the 1950s and 1960s. The graphics are identical, and the name of the tourist place is typically embossed in gold. Many of these are from places that are generally not immediately associated with Indians, including Lincoln's Boyhood Home and the U.S. Capitol. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is one sold at gift shops at or near the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. The front of these flasks typically features a drunken Indian and a reference to "firewater." On the reverse of some are consumption levels, with dergatory names for each level, such as "feelum better" and "wantum sing." The person who drinks the entire flask, is a "dead injun." Front and back views are provided for each flask below.
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Detroit, MI
Detroit, MI
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Ghost Mountain
Ghost Mountain
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Grand Coulee Dam
Grand Coulee Dam
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Pocono Mountains, MI
Pocono Mountains, MI
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Cherokee Indian Reservation, NC
Cherokee Indian Reservation, NC
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Lincoln's Boyhood Home
Lincoln's Boyhood Home
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin Dells
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Yellowstone Park
Yellowstone Park
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Waltham, MA
Waltham, MA
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: US Capitol
US Capitol
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Iron Mountain, MI
Iron Mountain, MI
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Soo Locks, MI
Soo Locks, MI
Mackinaw City, MI
Mackinaw City, MI
Texas
Texas
Mass-produced Souvenir Alcohol Flask: Unmarked
Unmarked
Atlantic City
Atlantic City
Garden of the Gods Alcohol Jigger
Garden of the Gods Alcohol Jigger
Yellowstone Park Alcohol Jigger
Yellowstone Park Alcohol Jigger
 
 
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