The Fort Marion Ledgers The most remarkable and important ledger books were produced by Plains Indian warriors imprisoned in Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. In 1874 war parties made up of young Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches, and Kiowas refused to live on the reservations, were frustrated and angered by the greatly diminished buffalo herd, and attacked white hunters and settlers. Defeated by an aggressive Cavalry in 1875, seventy-three of those considered most dangerous were rounded up and taken from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to Fort Marion in Florida by Captain Richard Henry Pratt.
Pratt was sympathetic to native people and very liberal for his time in wanting to educate Indians and make them self-sufficient. At Fort Marion he established an experiment in penal reform and education that came to fruition at the Carlisle Indian School, which he founded in 1879. As soon as the prisoners arrived, he had their hair cut and dressed them in army uniforms. He made them do calisthenics, drill for an hour a day, study reading and writing, and take religious instruction.
But he also encouraged them to pursue their native arts, sell the products to townspeople and tourists, and, in line with his aim to make them economically self-sufficient, keep the profits for themselves. Almost one-third of the prisoners made and sold a large number of ledger books, which contained drawings of remarkable complexity and power. While Pratt turned them into independent businessmen, at least for the time they were there, he also contributed to their independence as artists.
For their art was a form of resistance. The warrior-artists of Fort Marion resisted the loss of their cultural identities. They preserved their history--in historically detailed pictographic representations, drawn over the material records of America's western expansion. In the process, they could come to grips with the traumatic changes in their lives and negotiate new "individual tribal/identities."