Native American Imagery in Marin Advertisements

By Carol Acquaviva

Native American stereotypes have long been used to market commercial products. The Land O’Lakes maiden is one of the most well-known examples. Popular culture has a knack for distorting reality, and Native Americans are often depicted as primitive people rather than what they really are: members of highly defined and complex societies.

Tamalpais Mineral Water

Bottle label for Tamalpais Mineral Water, circa 1915. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

In Marin, Meyer’s Bottling Company of San Rafael featured a Native American drinking from a stream, on labels of bottles of Tamalpais Mineral Water. The label illustration shows Native American man drinking fresh water from a stream, surrounded by trees and rocks with Mt. Tamalpais in the background. He is dressed somewhat accurately in his apron or breechcloth, although the unknown illustrator seemed to subtly outfit it with a “patriotic” belt of blue stars and the red and white striped material.

Rocky Ford Cigar Brand

Advertisement for Rocky Ford Cigars, from the Mill Valley Independent, November 5, 1909.

Rocky Ford Cigars was a popular brand for many decades and originated on the East Coast. But Rocky Ford Cigars was named for an area of Colorado inhabited by a number of Indian tribes, many of whom had been displaced by westward expansion. Trading posts in the area of Rocky Ford facilitated bartering and selling of goods — including cigars — to and from settlers and Native Americans. So popular were cigars during this time that they acquired the name “stogies,” a reference to the Conestoga wagons that populated the landscape of the mid-nineteenth century. The 1909 advertisement shown above for Rocky Ford Cigars from the Mill Valley Independent shows a Native American surveying land with once-abundant natural resources. In another print ad, below, the Chief is still looking toward the distance, this time passively.

Grocery Stores

Advertisement for Golden Gate Markets, Sausalito News, August 26, 1964

A cartoonish approach to representing Native American culture for profit is represented in this 1964 full-page advertisement for Golden Gate Markets. Again, the significance of traditional clothing is diminished in both the copy — “put on your moccasins” — and in an attempt to portray an Indian Chief, who is reduced to a parody. As part of a marketing tie-in with the Disney film “Savage Sam,” the Mill Valley Food Mart advertised an offer for an “authentic Indian Chief headdress.”

Mill Valley Food Mart advertisement from the Mill Valley Record, June 5, 1962

“Savage Tires”

Savage Tire Wholesale Distributors, part of the Spreckels “Savage” Tire Co., advertised their brand to local distributors from about 1913 through the mid-1920s. Their “History of the Red Man Series” by “Indian” Miller featured folklore adjacent to their newspaper advertisements. Short essays like “The Campaigns of Geronimo,” “Fire Signals,” and “The Powwow” reduced intricate aspects of Native culture to unabashed commercialization.

“The new Savage Cord Tire is a product of many powwows. Opinions, ideas, practices and methods; each were tested and given weighty consideration before final specifications were given for the making of the tire that is Built to Excel.”

“All signals convey messages to those who can read them. Savage Cord tires on an automobile are a signal that all is well. The motorist is surprised when he finds how many miles those tires give and how little their actual cost per mile of service is…”

San Francisco Call, 1916
San Francisco Call, 1916
San Francisco Call, 1916

Tomahawk Lodge, Novato

Novato’s Tomahawk Lodge, in operation from July 1962 until 1964 (when it was re-branded “The Lodge”) featured a cocktail lounge, coffee shop, dining and banquet rooms, motel, and a garden swimming pool. Cocktail parties given there were referred to in jest as “pow-wows.” Music for dancing was provided by the group “Three Little Indians.”

Matchbook for the Tomahawk Lodge restaurant and hotel, in Novato

Portrayals and motifs again oversimplified Indigenous culture in the Tomahawk’s advertising: glorifying a singular fighting symbol and the reduction of culture to a costume.

Advertisement from the Daily Independent Journal, on the opening of the Tomahawk Lodge in Novato, July 1962.
Cartoon drawing from a newspaper advertisement for the Tomahawk Lodge in Novato, 1962. Daily Independent Journal.

For thousands of years, the Coast Miwok people inhabited — and continue to inhabit — the area where we live. They successfully engaged in sustainable land and water use, long before such concepts were politicized. Coast Miwoks have always had knowledge of the natural world: the land and its waterways and all of its living beings; ingenious skills in hunting, fishing, and trapping; and respect for the the resources around them. Recognizing this, the use of Native imagery used to commodify is made all that more egregious.

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Anne T. Kent California Room

Anne T. Kent California Room

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