In the opening scene of Indians, a buffalo skull, a bloodstained Indian shirt, and an old rifle serve to provide historical atmosphere as Buffalo Bill Cody enters, riding an artificial stallion. At once, the audience learns that it is seeing a rendition of Buffalo Bill’s famous “Wild West Show.” Indians, too, are present; Cody claims to them, to the audience, and to himself that “I believe I . . . am a . . . hero . . . A GODDAM HERO!”
The next scene is set outdoors in the winter, somewhere in the West. Sitting Bull and other chieftains greet Buffalo Bill in the company of three United States senators, emissaries of and substitutes for the president, who has not come to the Indian council to discuss shared problems, even though Cody promised to bring him. Cody calls the Native Americans his brothers, but his use of the word is shallow and hypocritical. In the following scene, Cody continues to discuss the Native Americans’ plight with them, but the audience has seen him callously destroying the livelihood of the Native Americans, shooting one hundred buffalo. Ned Buntline, the reporter who first made Buffalo Bill a popular American hero, is oblivious to the import of this destruction. The Native Americans are depicted as victims and the white people as callous and unworthy adversaries and victors.
Scene 4, the shortest in the play, shows both the senators and Sitting Bull’s Lakota community watching Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Scene 5 is this show itself, something of a play-within-the-play: Geronimo, by reputation the fiercest fighter against the coming of the white settlers, parades around the stage pitifully, a pale imitation of his former self, while boasting vainly about past atrocities against white people.
The next scene is the structural center of the play. Here, the three senators interview John Grass, a Native American spokesman who has some knowledge of the ways and thinking of the white people. Grass wants to know what happened to the money the federal government had used to purchase the Black Hills from the Native Americans. Senator Dawes’s reply is that “the Great Father is worried that you’ve not been educated enough to spend it wisely. When he feels you have, you will receive every last penny of it. Plus interest.” The senator explains that the money is in a “trust.” Grass also lists other verbal promises that the whites have not kept, among them a promise to deliver a steamboat to the plains. The meeting ends with the native community reminding Cody that he has not brought the Great White Father himself, the president, to talk to them as he promised.
In the second half of the play the action shifts first to the White House and then back to the Old West. In scene 7, the longest one, Buffalo Bill, Buntline, and Wild Bill Hickok all play themselves in a performance wherein an indigenous...
(The entire section is 1187 words.)