The 1960s BATMAN series struck a chord with audiences through camp and silly premises. From Joker stealing keys to Riddler becoming obsessed with wax, the show came up with plenty of lighthearted stories. They still managed to have an episode with some social commentary. Ironically, said episode produced one of the silliest Batman villains in history. Somehow, it still managed to slip some commentary (though not perfectly) on an often-ignored part of American history — the treatment of the Native American.

The Native American Episode (AN EGG GROWS IN GOTHAM/THE YEGG FOES IN GOTHAM)

Egghead (a villain obsessed with eggs) wreaks havoc in Gotham. Bruce Wayne prepares to deliver beaver pelts to Chief Screaming Chicken (CSC).  The Chief is the last member of the Native American tribe that sold Gotham City to settlers. Per the agreement, the founding families must pay him in beaver pelts every five years. CSC shows bitterness over it, believing he could have negotiated a better deal.

READ: Is the GRAY GHOST Adam West’s best BATMAN moment?

Egghead uses this to his advantage. He causes the families to miss the deadline, giving Gotham back to CSC. CSC promptly sells it to Egghead but regrets the decision over time. As usual, Batman and Robin can foil the villain’s scheme, and CSC sells the land back.

The Bad

Most fans remember this episode as the debut of Egghead (played by the always entertaining Vincent Price). Price’s performance is a joy (per his reputation), but CSC also deserves note, for reasons both good and bad. The episode is subject to the stereotypical and inaccurate views of Native Americans which were prevalent at the time.

CSC is played by Edward Everett Horton, an actor of Scottish and Cuban descent. CSC’s tribe is the real life Mohican tribe, but he dresses in a stereotypical costume and acts stereotypically.

Batman Native American
Oh boy, does he.

CSC is problematic from the get-go. He looks and speaks like every Native American stereotype that exists (broken speech and ‘how’ as a greeting). It is also painful that the show portrays him as the last member of an entire real life tribe that is still around today. CSC’s complaints about the deal for Gotham mirror the famous bargain for Manhattan Island (where the entire island was traded for $24 of beads and jewelry).

READ: Marvel creates a classic Native American character with Dani Moonstar.

He gloats about his superior deal with Egghead, which contains another barb — control over the import and export of authentic American Indian blankets made in Japan. Eventually, CSC does turn on Egghead, but he has to rescued by Batman and Robin while looking helpless. Even Batman makes an unfortunate statement, as he refers to CSC as a ‘poor redskin.’

The Good

This story still has its fair share of good elements. It says something that Gotham still honors their centuries-long agreements with a Native American tribe. Batman, other than his comment, treats CSC with total respect. CSC even admires Batman for speaking his language and greeting him in the custom of the Mohican.

Batman Native American
…Sigh…

Even when CSC turns evil and sells the city, Batman refuses to blame him. He comments that CSC has endured years of mistreatment and seen the end of his people. It is simply no wonder that the Chief attempted to gain some measure of revenge. It is a statement that is summed up best in a conversation between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, about why SCS sells goods by the road.

“Why does he live like that, Bruce?”

“He used to be a bottle-washer. Then he got into an argument with his boss. The man told Screaming Chicken to go back to his country.”

“But this is his country!”

“I know.”

‘Hollywood Indian’

This statement is rather progressive for the 1960s and seems to go against the stereotypical portrayal CSC is saddled with. That could be the point though. The writers may have had to present SCS in this light because of the culture of the times. However, once he was onscreen, they were able to deliver some forward-thinking commentary along with the stereotypes.

Fans took note of Batman’s comments, and also how their beloved superhero treated another culture with (mostly) respect and dignity. At the time, stereotypes about Native Americans were rampant in Hollywood; even children’s films like PETER PAN had Native American characters singing a song called ‘What Makes The Red Man Red?

READ: REEL INJUN looks at Hollywood’s depictions of the Native American.

The tendency of Hollywood producing Native characters based on specific stereotypes was termed the ‘Hollywood Indian;’ but, this was not always the case. Director John Ford put sympathetic portrayals of Native Americans in his films SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON and FORT APACHE.

The Native characters in these films have speaking roles, and white prejudice causes the conflict. Ford’s film STAGECOACH showed Natives as both aggressive and sympathetic, making them appear more human. This episode of BATMAN is similar — the show has a stereotypical character but makes attempts to humanize him and justify his actions.

Final Thoughts

The problems with this episode are unavoidable. It paints a stereotypical image of Native Americans and does not cast a real Native actor. It confers to the vision of the time and adds to inaccurate perceptions. It also slips in comments about the actual mistreatment Native Americans endured.

The central hero is respectful to the culture and admits how past injustices have caused problems. This is by no means a culturally sensitive episode, but it deserves credit for making some heavy acknowledgments.

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