It was intended, the organisers stated, to exhibit “the life, native industries, and ethnic traits of as many of the aboriginal American tribes as possible”. Yet the mock battles staged at the 5,000-seat grandstand only contributed to tropes and stereotypes.
Omaha’s world’s fair celebrated the development of the American West, a federally enforced progress that had displaced, killed and forcibly assimilated indigenous people. Exhibited as living displays at the exposition, they were presented as if on the brink of disappearance.
As souvenirs, visitors could buy a red hardcover photography book, emblazoned with the title ‘Rinehart’s Indians’, an embossed spear, a shield and a feathered headdress. Inside, the book’s introduction proclaimed:
“The camera of Mr Rinehart… was ever busy recording scenes and securing types of these interesting people, who with their savage finery are rapidly passing away. In a remarkably short time education and civilization will stamp out the feathers, beads and paint – the sign language and dancing – and the Indian of the past will live but in memory and pictures.”