Lyman Frank Baum, The Wizard Of Oz

Lyman Frank Baum, Hollywood, California.jpg

Lyman Frank Baum (1856-1919) advocated the extermination of the American Indian in his 1899 fantasy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum was an Irish nationalist newspaper editor, a former resident of Aberdeen in the old Dakota Indian territory. His sympathies with the village pioneers caused him to invent the Oz fantasy to justify extermination.

All of Baum's "innocent" symbols clearly represent easily recognizable frontier landmarks, political realities, and peoples. These symbols were presented to frontier children, to prepare them for their unavoidably racially violent future.

The Yellow Brick Road represents the yellow brick gold at the end of the Bozeman Road to the Montana gold fields. Chief Red Cloud had forced the razing of several posts, including Fort Phil Kearney and had forced the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty. When George Armstrong Custer cut "the Thieves' Road" during his 1874 gold expedition invasion of the sacred Black Hills, he violated this treaty and turned U.S. foreign policy toward the Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee massacre.

The Winged Monkeys are the Irish Baum's satire on the old Northwest Mounted Police, who were modelled on the Irish Constabulary. The scarlet tunic of the Mounties and the distinctive "pillbox" forage cap with the narrow visor and strap are seen clearly in the color plate in the 1900 first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Villagers across the Dakota territory heartily despised these British police, especially after 1877, when Sitting Bull retreated across the border and into their protection after killing Custer.

The Shifting Sands, the Deadly Desert, the Great Sandy Waste, and the Impassable Desert are Frank Baum's reference to that area of the frontier known always as "the great American desert," west and south of the Great Lakes. Baum creates these fictional, barren areas as protective buffers for his Oz utopia, against hostile, foreign people. This "buffer state" practice had been part of U.S. foreign policy against the Indians, since the earliest colonial days.

The Emerald City of Oz recreates the Irish nationalist's vision of the Emerald Isle, the sacred land, Ireland, set in this American desert, sacred, like the Paha Sapa of the Lakota people, these mineral-rich Black Hills floored by coal. Irish settlements in the territories, in Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota - at Brule City, Limerick, at Lalla Rookh, and at O'Neill two hundred miles south of Aberdeen - sent invaders into these Black Hills during the gold fever.

The Yellow Winkies, slaves, are Frank Baum's symbol for the sizeable Chinese population in the old West, emigrated for the Union-Pacific railroad, creatures with the slant or winking eyes.

The Deadly Poppy Field is the innocent child's first sight of opium, that anodyne of choice for pain in the nineteenth century, sold in patent medicines, in the Wizard Oil, at the travelling Indian medicine shows. Baum's deadly poppies are the poison opium, causing sleep and the fatal dream.

The Wicked Witch of the West is illustrated in the 1900 first edition as a pickaninny, with beribboned, braided pigtails extended comically. Baum repeats the word "brown" in describing her. But this symbol's real historic depth lies in the earlier Puritans' confounding of European witches with the equally heathen American Indians.

The orphan Dorothy's violent removal from Kansas civilization, her search for secret and magical cures for her friends, her capture, enslavement to an evil figure - and the killing of this figure that is forced on her - all these themes Baum takes from the already two hundred year old tradition of the Indian captivity narrative which stoked the fires of Indian-hating and its hope of "redemption through violence."

In the year immediately following the huge success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum wrote and published a fantasy titled The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. It is apparent that his frontier experiences were still on his mind. This book was illustrated by Mary Cowles Clark---tomahawks, spears, the traditional hide-covered teepees, and the faces of obviously Indian men, women, and children, and papooses fill the pages and their margins. Baum describes the "rude tent of skins on a broad plain."

Two crucial chapters are titled "The Wickedness of the Awgwas" and "The Great Battle Between Good and Evil." The Awgwas represent native Americans: "that terrible race of creatures" and "the wicked tribe." Baum condemns the "Awgwas," which is the backwards spelling of "Sawgwa," the medicine man, or holy man---

"You are a transient race, passing from life into nothingness. We, who live forever, pity but despise you. On earth you are scorned by all, and in Heaven you have no place! Even the mortals, after their earth life, enter another existence for all time, and so are your superiors." Predictably enough, a few pages later, "all that remained of the wicked Awgwas was a great number of earthen hillocks dotting the plain."

Baum is recalling newspaper photos of the burial field at Wounded Knee---

Wounded Knee Battlefield.jpg

The Wizard of Oz in 1899 ruling his empire from behind his Barrier of Invisibility evokes the 1869 Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Empire of the South, the Ku Klux Klan. Baum's figure, King Crow, and his by-play with the Scarecrow relate to the Jim Crow lynch law at the turn of the century.

Lyman Frank Baum's overwhelmingly popular fantasy, and the more violent aspects of United States foreign policy, were welded together in the American mind for the next century and beyond.

Frank Baum's widow, at the Hollywood premiere of The Wizard of Oz in 1939, complained that the story had been sentimentalized. Indeed, the old and crudely direct political symbols had been removed and the sweetness poured in---the new U.S. foreign policy demanded more subtle justifications.

The British writer David Herbert Lawrence observes in his "Studies in Classic American Literature" that Benjamin Franklin has a specious equation---

Rum + Savage = 0

Lawrence then asks the telling question---

But is a dead savage naught?

In the weeks before and after the massacre at Wounded Knee, Frank Baum printed his editorials calling for the total extermination of all Indians remaining in the United States and its territories. These editorials may be seen at the website of Professor A. Waller Hastings at

The success of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" inspired many imitators, the most popular being Eva Katharine Gibson's Zauberlinda; or, The Wise Witch (Chicago: Robert Smith Printing Company, 1902). Gibson actually names the Black Hills specifically as the setting for her fiction.


Lyman Frank Baum: Looking Back To The Promised Land

Land of the forest and the rock;
Of dark blue lake and mighty river;
Of mountains rear'd aloft to mock
The storm's career, the lightning's shock--
My own green land forever.

John Greenleaf Whittier

After Lyman Frank Baum died in 1919, his widow took the original manuscript of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" from an attic trunk in Hollywood, California and burned it, with other papers, in a backyard incinerator. She later explained that "she could see no point to cluttering up the attic with a lot of worthless paper".1

But Frank Baum's allegory already compelled the conscience of Americans. That few dared comment on the then-obvious racial sources of this fantasy served Baum's purposes as well, for he needed to keep a safe distance from the idol-worshipping and the innocent alike.

Baum seemed to be an ordinary man---well humored and sociable, leading an ordinary life. But the image of the bluff, hearty salesman masked an astute observer of the Gilded Age which oppressed him. He wisely chose never to reveal this deeper self.


Hamlin's Wizard Oil.jpg





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