Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

"Indian" Summers: Querying Representations of Native American Cultures in Outdoor Historical Drama

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Scott Magelssen

Second Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lynda Dixon (Committee Member)


Since the emergence of outdoor historical dramas as popular summer tourist fare in the late 1950s and 1960s, Indian characters have played a dominant role in this theatrical genre. In many cases, the depictions of Native Americans in these dramas have remained static over the years and continue to portray Indigenous cultures in ways that reflect white constructions of the Indian “Other.” In some instances, such as in the cases of Unto These Hills and the Under the Cherokee Moon, Native Americans in the area surrounding the production site have instigated changes to the way their cultures are represented in these performances. This project is a historical study that analyzes production and performance choices which engage representations of Native Americans in outdoor historical dramas, representations that have historically tended toward reinscriptions of unhelpful stereotypes. Specifically, I analyze recent changes in these representations to explore how Native American cultures are now portrayed in this type of performance. The dramas I examine include Trumpet in the Land, The White Savage, Tecumseh!, Blue Jacket, Unto These Hills, and Under the Cherokee Moon. My research calls upon interviews with production participants, close readings of the productions, archival materials, and secondary sources. Instead of treating each production as a separate case study, I read across the various dramas in order to explore the issues that emerge from the representational practices of outdoor historical dramas. Some of the issues I consider include how the absence or presence of a Native American community in the area surrounding a productions affects the depictions of Native American cultures in the show; the Native American stereotypes that have tended to traditionally result from these dramas; the issues of accuracy and authenticity in the productions; and the changes that have been made to production choices, and thereby representations, in some outdoor dramas. The depictions of Native American cultures in outdoor historical dramas are not innocuous. It is important to problematize how and by whom indigenous cultures are presented to audiences in these dramas, as well as the effects these presentations have on the cultures being represented.