steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

"Red Indians" in play

brisingamen's post today about Buffalo Bill's Wild West show (amongst other things) reminded me of a question I've occasionally prodded at but found no real answer to. When and how did the idea of "Red Indians" first take hold in the imagination of British children, as a possible basis for role play? Was Buffallo Bill himself a carrier? Or maybe Longfellow, or James Fenimore Cooper? I don't mean just the bare knowledge that such people existed so much as the tropes (or cliches) that were clearly already well in place by say, 1904, when Barrie wrote Peter Pan.

The earliest account I've found is from Kenneth Grahame's The Golden Age (1895), where he's describing the games of his own childhood (Grahame was born in 1859):

They [i.e. the adults, aka 'Olympians'] were unaware of Indians,
nor recked they anything of bisons or of pirates (with pistols!),
though the whole place swarmed with such portents.  They cared
not about exploring for robbers' caves, nor digging for hidden 
treasure.  Perhaps, indeed, it was one of their best qualities
that they spent the greater part of their time stuffily indoors.

To be sure, there was an exception in the curate, who would
receive unblenching the information that the meadow beyond the 
orchard was a prairie studded with herds of buffalo, which it was
our delight, moccasined and tomahawked, to ride down with those
whoops that announce the scenting of blood.  He neither laughed
nor sneered, as the Olympians would have done; but possessed of a 
serious idiosyncrasy, he would contribute such lots of
valuable suggestion as to the pursuit of this particular sort of
big game that, as it seemed to us, his mature age and eminent
position could scarce have been attained without a practical 
knowledge of the creature in its native lair.  Then, too, he was
always ready to constitute himself a hostile army or a band of
marauding Indians on the shortest possible notice: in brief, a
distinctly able man, with talents, so far as we could judge, 
immensely above the majority.  I trust he is a bishop by this
time,--he had all the necessary qualifications, as we knew.

The combination of Indians and Pirates (or at least robbers) is particularly striking for Peter Pan watchers. But clearly by this time (the late 1860s?) most of the conventions of the game are well established. Are there any earlier instances of British children playing this game, in fact or fiction?
Tags: books
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