10 Little Indians

Shan Goshorn
11.5” X 11.5” X 13.5”
Arches watercolor paper splints printed with archival inks, acrylic paint

This single-weave basket features two historical photographs (collection Smithsonian Institution; National Anthropological Archives) of ten Indian boys, representative of five different tribes. The photo of them wrapped in blankets wearing traditional hair styles was taken the day they arrived at the Hampton Boarding School (VA) in 1878; the photograph on the opposite side of the basket shows them shortly thereafter in military uniforms and shorn hair illustrating their “civilized” reform. These images are combined with the lyrics of three versions of the children’s song “10 Little Indians”, including the original version written by Septimus Winner in 1868. Sample phrases from all three versions of these hostile lyrics include: “one got executed and then there were nine, one got syphilis and then there were eight, one shot the other and then there was one, one broke his neck and then there were six, one chopped himself in half and then there were six, one dead drunk and then there were three, one passed out drunk and then there were two, one shot himself and then there was one, he went and hanged himself and then there were none.” The musical staff with the notes to this song is woven around the center of the basket further emphasizing the nature of the song. On the interior of the basket are drawings of dancing children dressed as Indians, taken from a sheet of children’s music illustrating this song. 

Hand-written around the rim of the basket are the true names of the boys.