Was Frank Baum a racist or just the creator of Oz?

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LAWRENCE, Kan. - Millions of children know the story of the "Wizard of Oz," a heart-warming story of a Kansas farm girl who is transported via a tornado to the enchanting land of Oz.

Around the United States many communities celebrate the L. Frank Baum stories with festivals and celebrations, but it is Kansas that has been forever tied to it, so tied in fact, that an $861 million theme park called the Wonderful World of Oz is planned for an area near De Soto.

But all is not wonderful in Oz. Recent revelations about its creator, L. Frank Baum, hit the front pages of area newspapers and opponents of the proposed theme park want to know why the state of Kansas is allowing a park to be built in honor of a man who called for the genocide of Native Americans, particularly those belonging to the Great Sioux Nation.

The beloved children's author did another kind of writing before the Wizard of Oz became a household name. Editorials reportedly written by Baum in the late 1800s called for the genocide of American Indians and called them a "pack of whining curs," a far cry from the stories of Oz and the tolerant, intelligent people who resided there.

From January 1890 through March 1891, L. Frank Baum was publisher of a weekly newspaper, The Saturday Pioneer, in Aberdeen, S.D. From all accounts the Pioneer wasn't much different from other newspapers of its day. What differentiated it from newspapers in neighboring communities were Baum's editorials that addressed the complete annihilation of the Indian people.

Two of his more infamous editorials concern the massacre at Wounded Knee and the death of Sitting Bull. Historians and scholars who have long studied both the Oz phenomenon and the man behind it are alarmed by Baum's call for the annihilation of the Indian people. Many condemned Baum's writings, calling them racist. Modern historians have even gone as far as calling them the ranting of a white supremacist or neo-Nazi.

The editorials can be found at various places on the Internet; the two most well known are the Sitting Bull Editorial and the Wounded Knee Editorial. Many people in Indian country may have heard about the editorials, but have never actually seen them.

The following is the first editorial, written by Baum Dec. 20, 1890, as it appeared in the Saturday Pioneer:

"Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead.

"He was not a Chief, but without Kingly lineage he arose from a lowly position to the greatest Medicine Man of his time, by virtue of his shrewdness and daring.

"He was an Indian with a white man's spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his. In his day he saw his son and his tribe gradually driven from their possessions; forced to give up their old hunting grounds and espouse the hard working and uncongenial avocations of the whites. And these, his conquerors, were marked in their dealings with his people by selfishness, falsehood and treachery. What wonder that his wild nature, untamed by years of subjection, should still revolt? What wonder that a fiery rage still burned within his breast and that he should seek every opportunity of obtaining vengeance upon his natural enemies.

"The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his 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 spirits broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these later despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.

"We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America."

The second editorial was printed on January 3, 1891, and is about the massacre at Wounded Knee:

"The peculiar policy of the government in employing so weak and vacillating a person as General Miles to look after the uneasy Indians has resulted in a terrible loss of blood to our soldiers, and a battle which, at its best, is a disgrace to the War Department. There has been plenty of time for prompt and decisive measures, the employment of which would have prevented this disaster.

"The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.

"An eastern contemporary, with a grain of wisdom in its wit, says that "when the whites win a fight, it is a victory, and when the Indians win it, it is a massacre."

Interpretations of the two editorials are varied among scholars and historians. In Kansas local historic societies have had to battle with the Oz label for years, Tammy O'Rear, Osage Country Archivist said every time she travels out of state, the questions and remarks about Dorothy and Toto have worn thin, "I am sick of it," O' Rear said, "I think the theme park is kind of ridiculous really"

O'Rear continued, "I think it's a shame they would honor a man like that (Baum). My most passionate interest is the Native Americans. I think they got the shaft, I've found the proof over and over again that they got the shaft, it was horrendous. I would rather they found a way to honor the persons ... Kansas, Osage, all the streams in this county are named for a Sac & Fox chief. I would rather see the state of Kansas honor the Native Americans than honor a man like Baum."

Nancy Koupal, director of research and publishing at the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre, S.D., apparently sees things very differently. Although Koupal was out of town when called for comment, in a recent interview with The Associated Press, she said, "He (Baum) didn't spend much ink on the subject. It was not a deeply felt conviction. I don't think it was a big side of Baum."

Native Americans contacted agree with O'Rear, saying that a man who called for the annihilation of an entire race doesn't deserve to be honored by a theme park.

Brad Hamilton, director, Native American Affairs Office for the state of Kansas, said that if the theme park was to honor Baum the man, rather than promote Kansas' tourism, he didn't like it. Hamilton added he hoped a cultural education center could be incorporated into the theme park to educate the public about Native Americans in the Kansas area.

Steve Ortiz, council secretary of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi, said the tribal council just began receiving information on Baum's history and the editorials and hasn't had time yet to make comments one way or another on the issue at this time.

Ortiz said that personally he had been shocked when he found out about the racist attitudes of Baum. "They don't teach you that in school."

Contacted, Kristin McCallum said, "I am not the spokesperson for Oz. There were a lot of misstatements in that article. Unfortunately again, the writer did not wait for a formal response from us."

McCallum said she was happy to be contacted and said Oz Entertainment CEO Robert Kory issued a statement regarding recent press reports. McCallum also said that has not been substantiated whether Baum actually wrote the editorials.

"We have heard unsubstantiated rumors about some negative editorials from over 100 years ago and a possible association with OZ author, L. Frank Baum," Kory's statement reads.

"The OZ Entertainment Co. is focused on working with the known legacy of Baum's work which includes the "Wonderful Wizard of OZ," an internationally recognized story of character, family values and a celebration of diversity."

McCallum went on to say the theme park will include exhibits to educate the public about Native Americans and other aspects of Kansas history, and that OZ Entertainment planned to let the public know about important contributions of Native Americans. She added that she was disappointed other publications had not taken the time to hear the whole story from OZ Entertainment, but was grateful Indian Country Today had listened to what the company was actually doing and saying.

"This park is being built on the legacy he is known for, not on L. Frank Baum."

She said she wanted the public to know she had been misquoted in other news stories which made her sound as though she were dismissing the whole Baum controversy. "I was quoted as being the spokesperson ... I am disappointed at the over-zealousness of the writer. It is an issue (Baum) ... it's too bad that (the writer) didn't cover any of the stuff I told him."

McCallum said the theme park has no final approval from the state or local governments to begin construction.

The Johnson County Commission and the Kansas Development Finance Authority must approve the Oz Entertainment's redevelopment plan for the old Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant which closed several years ago. Several proposals have been brought to the JCC.

The United Tribe of Shawnee Indians, which claim the land was formerly Indian land, asked to have the land returned to them at one point after the Oz Entertainment group proposed the theme park. The tribe filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to regain the old ammunition plant. Jimmy Oyler, spokesman for the tribe which is not state or federally recognized, was not available for comment.

The former Sunflower plant operations once encompassed more than 9,000 acres. In negotiated draft agreements, Oz Entertainment proposed to spend an estimated $45 million to clean up the site in exchange for the land.

As the debate continues, whether Baum was the actual writer of the two editorials is going to be a major issue with proponents and opponents of the park. Opponents point out that Baum's mother-in-law, Matilda Jose Gage, was a well-known feminist and worked with both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. This association, it is pointed out, means he was not ignorant of political views which favored Native Americans.

Wherever the truth lies, L. Frank Baum's legacy of enchantment and whimsy has been permanently scarred by the two editorials written 10 years before "The Wizard of OZ." Scholars and historians will continue to debate whether the 1890-91 editorials were merely a mirror of the society in which Baum lived or if he really wanted to see the Great Sioux Nation wiped off the face of the earth.