North American Indian Concert Band, Onondago Tribe, Syracuse, NY, Archive Including Photographs, Documents, Correspondence, & Band Manager's Traveling Trunk
Approx. 121 items related to David Richard Hill, Karl Wahler, and the North American Indian Concert Band, Syracuse, NY. Ca 1910-1927.
Around the same time Buffalo Bill closed his Wild West Show, David R. Hill and Karl Wahler tried to capitalize on the remaining Europeans and Americans who were still fascinated by the American West and American Indians. The men planned a grand tour through Europe with the American Indian Concert Band, the only concert band in the world of its kind [with] unlimited repertoire, picturesque costumes, [and] a host of novelties and effects. The show sensationalized the American Indians, but on the other hand, offered work and the opportunity to travel.
This fine collection of items relates to the North American Indian Concert Band and performances from the 1910s as well as attempts to reassemble the band in 1926. The lot includes multiple letters between David R. Hill and Karl Wahler, band manager and representative; original handwritten contract agreement; print advertising; photos; postcards; logs; documents pertaining to passage and performances in Europe via the Red Star line with the program and passenger list with the band members; receipts business cards/blotters; Wahler's wicker basket luggage; and 35 letters and telegraphs from Wahler's son, Bill Aithem.
Karl Wahler was a German-American who emigrated from Augsburg, Germany to the United States in 1882. When he was fifty, he returned to Germany to tour with the band. David Russel Hill was an American Indian man who was reportedly Chief of the Onondaga Indians. The Onondaga people are a part of the Haudenosaunee, “People of the Longhouse.” During the 1910s they lived on a reservation near Syracuse, NY were the people reside today. As an American Indian businessman, Hill demanded fair wages for himself and his men. In the middle of negotiating their European tour, Hill wrote to Wahler:
I do not expect other than twenty-eight ($28) Dollars per man a week....I know the people in Germany think that I am charging an unreasonable high price but Mr Wahler you realize fully what this means to me, to yu, and to this country, I am paying as high as $40 a week to several of my men.... (May 7, 1910)
The majority of the men in the band came from American Indian Schools. They were trained to play classical and marching band music, not traditional American Indian songs. A hand-written list of band members and their tribes show that many of the men were from Southwestern tribes and a few from the Onondaga. Several postcards illustrate their elaborate costumes while holding Western instruments. The costumes make the instruments look oddly out of place. The set list on a cruise ship pamphlet shows that the band played American and European concert pieces such as Chamber's "Alahambra" and Ivanovici's "Danube Waves." As a novelty, the band played Bellsted's "Indian War Dance" and Moret's "Indian Summer." Hill understood the importance of showing the audience what they wanted to see. Sometimes that meant playing stereotypical songs that did not necessarily properly represent the heritage and diversity of the American Indian members' tribes. Hill wrote, Do you suppose that we could use an Indian lady signer? I think that we need all the novelty we can possibly take over I know of one I think would just fit the position (May 7, 1910.)
The band successfully toured through Germany, France, and Italy. The men looked fondly on the trip and tried to gather another group for the same tour in 1926. It is unknown whether Hill and Wahler succeeded.
Many of the telegraphs are in poor condition. The letters are from good to fair. There is some tears in the folds. The post cards and programs are still brilliant in color.