Reservation Blues

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Phil Sheridan Character Analysis

An executive at Cavalry Records, who works with George Wright and under Mr. Armstrong. Sheridan is a perfect caricature of the slimy record executive, driven by commercial concerns and willing to compromise whatever morals necessary on the way to a successful signing. Like the other two Cavalry Records executives, he is also a modern version of a famous historical U.S. Army Officer implicated in the slaughter of Native Americans. Philip Sheridan (1831-1888) was a general who pioneered scorch earth tactics during the Civil War, and then oversaw the Indian Wars on the Great Plains. He is rumored to have said that the “only good Indian is a dead Indian.” The personality of this historical general breaks through into the present in one scene, where Sheridan threatens Checkers in an intense nightmare.

Phil Sheridan Quotes in Reservation Blues

The Reservation Blues quotes below are all either spoken by Phil Sheridan or refer to Phil Sheridan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Grove Press edition of Reservation Blues published in 1995.
Chapter 8 Quotes

“I remember once,” he said, “when I killed this Indian woman. I don’t even know what tribe she was. It was back in ’72. I rode up on her and ran my saber right through her heart. I thought that was it. But she jumped up and pulled me off my mount. I couldn’t believe it. I was so angry that I threw her to the ground and stomped her to death. It was then I noticed she was pregnant. We couldn’t have that. Nits make lice, you know? So I cut her belly open and pulled that fetus out. Then that baby bit me. Can you believe that.”

Related Characters: Phil Sheridan (speaker), Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

Phil Sheridan, who is a record executive and, somehow, also an infamous Army officer from the Indian War, speaks to Checkers alone in her New York hotel room, where he has shown up unannounced. He describes in graphic detail a scene from a battle in 1872, when he killed a pregnant Native woman who fought back with remarkable ferocity before succumbing to his violent attack. Then he describes his cruel decision to kill her unborn child, since “nits make lice,” a horribly callous justification for an unjustifiable act of cruelty that equates Native people to insects. At the same time, this decision shows Sheridan’s awareness that violence and a desire for revenge are passed down through generations, a truth that has been borne out today, since the members of Coyote Springs are all still embroiled in the same suffering that was begun by this historical trauma. 

By collapsing time in an act of magical realism, and bringing this historically real Army officer into contemporary New York to attack Checkers, Alexie makes the continued consequences of that racial violence abundantly clear. Sheridan is still in a position of power over Checkers, although his methods of violence have changed; he wields the power of capitalism as a record executive who killed their contract after trying to appropriate their culture, and now he has the power of a potential sexual aggressor. 

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Chapter 9 Quotes

“These women have got the Indian experience down. They really understand what it means to be Indian. They’ve been there.”
“Explain.”
“Can’t you see the possibilities? We dress them up a little. Get them into the tanning booth. Darken them up a bit. Maybe a little plastic surgery on those cheekbones. Get them a little higher, you know? Dye their hair black. Then we’d have Indians. People want to hear Indians.”

Related Characters: Phil Sheridan (speaker), Mr. Armstrong (speaker), Betty, Veronica, George Wright
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Sheridan pitches his repugnant idea for selling Betty and Veronica as a Native American band to Wright and Armstrong, the head of the record label. This is the negative form of cultural transfer, what one would call appropriation - and a particularly backhanded and deceptive instance of it, since Betty and Veronica would be masquerading as actual Native Americans. The fact that “people want to hear Indians” is another reminder of the appetite of the white mainstream majority for the exotic flavors of minority culture - and the fact that Betty and Veronica could satisfy this appetite shows that it is at its base a shallow and ignorant desire equivalent to the one that Betty and Veronica were pursuing in joining the band.

Every suggestion that Sheridan makes for transforming Betty and Veronica into passable Natives is callous, surface level, and deeply racist, from plastic surgery to a tanning booth. In no way do the pair actually “understand what it means to be Indian” - as Alexie’s novel has made clear, the only people capable of truly understanding that identity are the Natives themselves, and to assert ownership over their identity is theft. Witnessing this new racism, a form of cultural violence that has lasted while the explicit violence of the Indian Wars has faded, George Wright finally decides that enough is enough, and he leaves Cavalry Records for good.

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Phil Sheridan Character Timeline in Reservation Blues

The timeline below shows where the character Phil Sheridan appears in Reservation Blues. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...seated at a table across from the General, where they wait in silence for General Sheridan to arrive. (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
When Sheridan, a second, larger white man, arrives, he offers Junior his hand, but then realizes his... (full context)
Chapter 6
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...of the car and knock on the door. They introduce themselves to Thomas as Phil Sheridan and George Wright, executives from Cavalry Records in New York City. A fax from the... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Wright and Sheridan are on the phone with Armstrong, who tells them to go check out a pair... (full context)
Chapter 8
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...urban Indian who dreams of the reservation. At Cavalry Records, the band warms up nervously. Sheridan and Wright are nervous for Mr. Armstrong’s decision, hoping these Indians can make them money.... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...says he just wants to be good at something. Back in the studio, Wright and Sheridan return, suggesting Coyote Springs may be able to try again in a couple of months.... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...the pair as missing now. Checkers falls asleep in the hotel room, and dreams that Sheridan has come to apologize, waving a cigarette like a saber and telling her that the... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
In Checkers’ nightmare, Sheridan tells her that he has known her and dreamed of her for centuries, and she... (full context)
Chapter 9
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...avoid death threats and the danger from the now even more mentally disturbed White Hawk. Sheridan has continued to haunt Checkers’ dreams, and she creeps fearfully through the night toward the... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...future while Checkers sleeps on the floor beside their bed, escaping from her nightmares of Sheridan. Chess wants to return to Arlee, the Flathead reservation, but Thomas cannot imagine leaving his... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...in Cavalry Records’ recording studio in Manhattan. Armstrong arrives to listen to them play, as Sheridan explains his plan. Because Betty and Veronica are a tiny bit Indian, the label can... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
Armstrong and Sheridan call Betty and Veronica into the control booth and explain their plan to sell them... (full context)
Chapter 10
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...to bed after the funeral. Chess asks her if she’s still bothered by nightmares of Sheridan, and Checkers explains that now she is haunted by memories of their father Luke, who... (full context)