[I will keep adding to this list as I find more quotes.]

From the 1500’s thru the 1800’s, the most common derogatory term for Native Americans was “savages”.  In the 1830’s, large scale ethnic cleansing (called “Indian Removal”) become official government policy.  By the 1850’s, many settlers and local governments, especially in the Plains and Western states, advocated outright genocide.  During this period the term “redskins” appeared and was often used.  Here are all the examples I have found, in chronological order:

“Now that general hostilities against the Indians have commenced we hope that the Government will render such aid as will enable the citizens of the north to carry on a war of extermination until the last Redskin of these tribes has been killed.  Extermination is no longer a question of time– the time has arrived, the work has commenced, and let the first man that says treaty or peace be regarded as a traitor.” – Yreka Herald, August 7, 1853

“[Certain white men] who live in the vicinity of the [Indian] villages, and who are in the constant habit of committing the grossest outrages upon the squaws.  In a few instances these outrages have been avenged by the Indians, by shooting the aggressors or killing their stock.  These acts of retribution are called Indian outbreaks, and are made the pretext for fresh outrages upon the poor redskins.”  – Sacramento Union, October 1, 1858

“Those men from Eel River [involved in the Indian Island massacre near Eureka, California], becoming exasperated, followed the Indians, and determined to clean out every thing that wore a red skin.  Sheriff Van Ness thinks that the number of Indians (including men, women, and children) who have been thus slaughtered amounts, probably to about eighty.”  – letter to the editor, San Francisco Bulletin, February 28, 1860

“Seventeen of the Indians were killed and scalped by the volunteers, who, being from the immediate vicinity of the former massacre, are highly exasperated at the red-skins…  They are determined to drive off or exterminate the Indians, it is said.”  – Marysville Appeal (California), August 9, 1862

“The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.” – The Daily Republican (Winona, Minnesota), September 24, 1863

“A couple of shots from my soldiers with their trusty rifles caused the redskins to disperse instantly, and gave me a safe passage through this celebrated Gibraltar of the Navajoes.” – Albert Pheiffer, report to Major General Kit Carson, January, 1864

“We feel convinced that there is but one course to be pursued towards these treacherous red skins. We have long since thought they should be collected together and removed to some remote district of country, away from settlements, or to an island in the sea…” – editorial in the Mendocino Herald, April 22, 1864

“General Sherman remarked, in conversation the other day, that the quickest way to compel the Indians to settle down to civilized life was to send ten regiments of soldiers to the plains, with orders to shoot buffaloes until they became too scarce to support the redskins.”Army Navy Journal, 1869

“Reports are coming in from various points in Arizona that the old pioneers of the Territory, tempted by the reward of $250 for Indian scalps made by several counties in Arizona, have started out on the hunt for redskins, with a view to obtaining their scalps…. It is believed that several New Mexican cities and counties will adopt this plan of exterminating the savages.”  – Atchison Daily Champion (Kansas), 1885

“With [Sitting Bull’s] fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are.”  – L. Frank Baum (author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), editorial in the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Saturday Pioneer, December 20, 1890 (5 days after the assassination of Sitting Bull and 9 days before the massacre at Wounded Knee) Image

The first positive use of the term seems to come from Robert Louis Stevenson in 1893, when he lamented the loss of “redwoods and redskins, the two noblest indigenous living things.”  This, of course, is a prime example of “noble savage” stereotyping, a kind of conqueror’s guilt, that was prevalent in the wake of many massacres of Native Americans.

I have found one earlier use of the term, from 1786, though this seems to be an outlier. An unnamed Native “chief” was seeking French and other Native support to drive American pioneers out of Vincennes, a French outpost and mixed Native/White community on the Wabash River in what is now Indiana. He asked “other Redskins” for help to “destroy all the men wearing hats who are occupying this island.” This quote comes from a letter written between two white officials.

See my blog post for twelve things even more offensive than the Redsk*ins mascot.

See this blog post for a thorough academic review of the use of Native mascots in sports.

About Stephen Carr Hampton

Stephen Carr Hampton is an enrolled citizen of Cherokee Nation, an avid birder since age 7, and a former resource economist for the California Department of Fish & Game, where he worked as a tribal liaison and conducted natural resource damage assessments and oversaw environmental restoration projects after oil spills. He writes most often about Native history and contemporary issues, birds, and climate change.
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9 Responses to Redskins

  1. bigmoma says:

    The NFL has spoken so get a life Mike Wise

  2. gillyskins says:

    You should get fired from the post mike wise.

  3. gillyskins says:

    Your the one that started all of this name change talk and I know you the one pulling the strings behind the sceane but I say this you will not sucseed.

  4. RunningBear says:

    ^^^^^ Racists

  5. Rodrigo Running Wind Vera says:

    The name is not racist. The name Redskin is a word that tradition has shown to mean respect and heralded with dignity. The name was first used by the Algonquin Nation. I am Native American and understand the name to have been adopted for Lone Star Dietz and the eight natives that played in the 1933 team. Stop this witch hunt Oneida nation and the liberal media. Enough is enough, the power of the first amendment should trump their desire to force change.

  6. Who are all these people here to say the word is not racist? Football fans? Get yourself some history lessons, people. And, by the way, as the recipients of that disgusting and horrific slur, it is the Indigenous of the entire continent who get to say what is a slur against them.

  7. Pingback: Twelve Things More Offensive than the Washington Redsk*ns | Memories of the People

  8. Pingback: California closer to banning Redskins team names | Memories of the People

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