This is a narrative poem that describes the exploitation of Native Americans at the hand of Buffalo Bill and his pawn shop. Buffalo Bill serves as the “middle man” that aids the Native Americans in their addiction to alcohol.
The first stanza acts as the antecedent scenario which sets up the scenery and background of the poem. The fact that Buffalo Bill’s pawn shop is opened on the reservation – right across from the liquor store – and stays open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week allows the audience to have a visual image about how and where this shop is located.
Historically, Native Americans have been the victims of several forms of exploitation; however, alcoholism has played a major role in their demise. Introduced centuries ago by white settlers, alcohol made its damaging mark on the Native American culture. With low tolerance and desperation, the Native Americans will trade anything in order to get more alcohol into their systems and Buffalo Bill, a soldier, bison hunter, and showman, took full advantage of this addiction- as many white men did- and used it to his advantage. At the end of the poem when the audience learns about what happens to all of the valuable merchandise that have been pawned off in order to support the Native American’s addiction and the fact that Buffalo Bill has then closed his pawn shop and has opened a museum of those same items instantly sums up history. Not only does Buffalo Bill gain profit off of their addiction, but he then charges them to go see all of the cultural items- most of what they had left of their past life and dignity- that they pawned for this shameful addiction.
The language of this poem also paints a vivid picture for the audience of how these people were seen and respected, or had lack thereof. Using “Indians” instead of Native Americans for instants paints more of a historical picture as to how the Native Americans were portrayed. In the third stanza when the speaker is describing how the last Indian “has pawned everything but his heart, Buffalo Bill takes that for twenty bucks” also shows how ruthlessly the Native Americans were exploited and taken advantage of. This demonstrates the “evolution” of the Native American people and how they came from being the first and the superior people in the Americas to the bottom of the barrel, sort of speak.