chapter  2
The Vanishing American (1925)
Pages 21

Cultural rhetoric about the ‘vanishing’ of the ‘first American’ was almost as old as the USA in the early twentieth century when, at the peak of its use, ‘vanishing’ was as wishfully proleptic as ‘first American’ was wishfully anachronistic. Less paradoxically than it may seem, this interest in Indians’ vanishing occurred at a time when the Indian population had been increasing – and when Indians were among the first and most frequent fascinations of early cinema. During the silent-film era, ‘vanishing’ Americans appeared in 300-800 pictures, as characters, extras, actors, and themes – probably more than any non-white group. In some silent films, Native Americans directed all-Indian casts. Between 1910 and 1913 alone, at least two films, on average, appeared each week with Indian themes, characters, or actors.1 The cinematic genre of the Western had yet to become known as a singular noun: in the trade press, the designation for these films was ‘Indian and Western subjects’. Indeed, half of all films in these categories produced between 1907 and 1910 had Indianthemed stories or an Indian central character or hero. A few studios, such as Biograph, specialized in making Indian pictures (Abel 1999: 164).