The Red Man’s Greeting, (1893) Chicago, IL


Simon Pokagon was born in 1830 at the height of Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. He also lived through the General Allotment Era (1890s-1910s), when settler-colonizers continued to reduce the land of already diminished American Indian reservations.1 William Clements notes that the Pottawatomie chief “was regarded as the best-educated American Indian of his generation.”2 As Chief of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Natives of southwestern Michigan, Pokagon was invited to speak at the opening ceremony of the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the World’s Fair.

The World’s Fair was meant to extol the country’s technological advances in the wake of the so-called defeat of American Indians. As evidence of this defeat, invitations for American Indian leaders to speak publicly boomed in the 1890s.3 Having become “safe” as vanquished indigenous nations, surrender and farewell stories of Indians were attended to by the public as colonial stories of how the nation had fulfilled its Manifest Destiny. Due to the limitations placed on Native speakers, myths of how “the Indian simply disappeared without . . .  resist[ing]” were rampant throughout the United States.4

Though American Indian voices were largely confined to stories of defeat or wrong-doing, Native historian Frederick Hoxie claims that Pokagon had a knack for being “largely immune to the nation’s boosterism and self-satisfaction.”5 Native leaders in Pokagon’s generation were the first to attend boarding schools and to learn about so-called “civilization” and its failures and foibles. Hoxie writes, Pokagon “was a survivor of the American onslaught that the fair had been organized to celebrate.” Pokagon, like other American Indians of his era, “had suffered from . . . the technological progress displayed and praised in the exposition’s massive exhibit halls: the coming of the railroad, the clearing of the Midwest’s forests, the advent of mechanized agriculture, and the spread of large-scale industrial manufacturing.”6

When speaking at the World’s Fair, Pokagon addressed the largest audience (comprised of both domestic and international listeners) that any singular American Indian speaker had in U.S. history. His speech, much to the chagrin of the Fair’s hosts, “turned the table on [the Native’s] tormenters” by citing the many atrocities committed by white people and the U.S. government against American Indians.7 Pokagon’s speech, titled, “The Red Man’s Rebuke,” was one of the most popularized rhetorical instances of a Native leader “talking back” to a gathering of white audience members. As Hoxie puts it, “While not the only example of a ‘civilized’ Indian speaking critically of American culture prior to 1900, it was certainly the most widely disseminated statement of its kind delivered by a living tribal leader.”8

Pokagon’s speech was printed on birch bark and sold at the Fair for the entirety of its staging. The title was softened for the pamphlet form to “The Red Man’s Greeting.” His lawyer, C. H. Engle, contracted for Pokagon to print, distribute, and sell the speech pamphlet in bookshops and at his various speaking engagements following the World’s Fair.9 Overall, Pokagon’s popularity, according to Hoxie, was hinged on his refusal “to accept definitions others had of [Natives]—savage, backward, doomed.”10 Pokagon died in 1899, just a few years after giving his speech at the World Fair.11


  1. See Jason Edward Black, “Remembrances of Removal: Native Resistance to Allotment and the Unmasking of Paternal Benevolence,” Southern Communication Journal 72, no. 2 (2007): 185-203; and Jason Edward Black, American Indians and the Rhetoric of Removal and Allotment (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015).
  2. William Clements, Native American Folklore in Nineteenth Century Periodicals (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986), 237.
  3. Greg Dickinson, Brian L. Ott, and Eric Aoki, “Memory and Myth at the Buffalo Bill Museum,” Western Journal of Communication 69, no. 2 (2005): 85-108.
  4. Jason Edward Black, “Native Resistive Rhetoric and the Decolonization of American Indian Removal Discourse,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 95, no. 1 (2009): 67.
  5. Frederick E. Hoxie, Talking Back to Civilization: Indian Voices in the Progressive Era (Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001), 3.
  6. Hoxie, Talking Back to Civilization, 29.
  7. Ibid.,21-22.
  8. Ibid.,31.
  9. Jonathan Berliner, “Written in the Birch Bark: The Linguistic-Material Worldmaking of Simon Pokagon,” PMLA 125, no. 1 (2010): 73.
  10. Hoxie, Talking Back to Civilization, viii.
  11. For a more in-depth analysis of Pokagon and his speech at the World’s Fair, see: Jason Edward Black, “We Celebrate our own Funeral, the Discovery of America: Pathos, Promise, and Constraint in Simon Pokagon’s (Potawatomie) Resistance to the 1893 World’s Fair,” Canadian Journal of Native Studies 38, no. 1 (2018): 165-182.