Clements Center Monthly Talks

Trains on Turtle Island: Indigenous Visions in a Railroaded World

Alessandra Link
Clements Center Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 |   Heroy Hall #153, 3225 Daniel Avenue, SMU   |  12 noon to 1 p.m. 
No registration necessary. 

For centuries, non-Native Americans have depicted Indians as antimodern bit players in a civilizing melodrama that pushed westward in successive tides. In these portrayals, locomotives often act as stand ins for modernity, potent symbols of U.S. industrial strength and ingenuity meant to contrast sharply with the primitive, anti-modern Indian. Link’s talk will explore how Native Americans, far from adhering to their scripted roles as segregated antimodernists, reinvented their cultural mores and material lives in response to railway-induced change. Indigenous peoples rode the iron horse, thwarted its advances, and profited from the increased mobility and access to distant markets it provided. Link excavates a hidden history of resistance, exploring how Native Americans vandalized rail lines, traveled by rail to lobby the U.S. federal government and moved freely on and off reservations—thereby undermining state efforts at containment and assimilation. In addition to these resistance efforts, she highlights how diverse, creative, and adaptable peoples capitalized on railway travel to build intertribal relations, earn a living, and imagine Indigenous futures within a settler society.

Alessandra Link is the Clements Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America. She earned her Ph.D. in History from the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU) in August 2018. Her research focuses on the histories of the American West and Native America, with a particular interest in the intersections of culture, technology, and the environment. While in Dallas Alessandra will revise her book manuscript, “The Iron Horse in Indian Country: Native Americans and Railroads in the U.S. West, 1853–1924.” This project explores how Indigenous peoples across the Trans-Mississippi West adapted to what scholars have called the “railroad revolution” of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 
Image: Alfred Hart, Indian Viewing Railroad from Top of Palisades. 435 Miles from Sacramento, 1865, no. 2005683020, Library of Congress

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