The United States relies on a celebratory, rather than critical history. Myths have been created through the romanticization of the landscape and American progress. Justification is utilized to separate the U.S from the terror caused towards the indigenous groups. The Myth of Discovery, critiques the praising of Columbus for the “discovery” of America and highlights his genocidal violence and “othering” through religion. The Pristine Myth investigates the landscape of the Americas and looks at the blatant disregard of the advanced Indigenous society of the late 15th – 18th century, where at the time it was perceived as barren and up for grabs. Lastly, the Myth of The Promised Land, which has been used to create justification through religion as the Pilgrims and Puritans believed God had sent them to this land and believed they were rulers of it. These inaccurate narratives have been used to justify the violence, corruption, and oppression in American history.
McKees Rocks, PA, a small borough a few miles outside of the city of Pittsburgh, has a prominent Native American history. It can be viewed as a sort of “terrestrial paradise”, a common theme found among the inaccurate narratives because of the rich nature of the landscape with many natural resources, wildlife, fruits, as well as vegetation. These benefited the many generations of Native American groups such as the Adena/Hopewell, Shawnee, and the Delaware. The Adena and Hopewell peoples built a burial mound on the land of the McKees Rocks Bottoms, it was the largest mound in Western Pennsylvania, that is until it was fatally destroyed, and then allegedly used to pave the roads of McKees Rocks. Before it was destroyed, a young boy named James J. Westwood, stumbled upon the mound and found a skull and kicked it into the Ohio River that borders the area. Westwood went on to live a life of corruption, greed, power, and violence. The Adena/Hopewell people’s burial mound, the life of Westwood, and McKees Rocks are connected to the myths created through American History as embodiments of these myths through the character of Westwood and the landscape of McKees Rocks.
The photographs in Violent Histories take the viewer through the story of James Westwood’s illegal undertaking that took the form of defrauding, election crimes, and murder, while questioning the justification of violence in United States history. The use of the landscape, the burial mound, the road, the money, the staircase, the window, the bullets, the lock, the boat, the water, and the bed, are clues in this critical investigation of the narratives. They metaphorically embody corruption, greed, theft, violence, and power surrounding many violent histories.