Brain Dropping #96
Cowboys and Indians. Buck Jones, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Shane – I grew up with these iconic figures of The Old West. Except for Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Native Americans were pretty much in the background, senselessly circling the wagon train being slaughtered – bows and arrows against long rifles. In our child’s play, on the vacant lots of Brooklyn, those of us who were the Indians against the cowboys, dutifully voiced the inarticulate grunts and gutteral blurts of the ‘savages.’
This past November 29, was the 160th anniversary of the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, in Colorado, of close to 200 mostly women and children of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. It is also called Chivington’s Massacre after U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington who ordered the guns to open fire. The men of the U.S.Army, as was the fashion, took scalps and severed genitalia as trophies.
On December, 29, 1890, Colonel James W. Forsyth ordered his troops to open up with Hotchkiss guns, the forerunner of the modern machine gun, to mow down nearly 300 Minicojou and Hunkpapa Lakota at Wounded Knee, S. Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation.(See Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart At Wouded Knee.”)
Sixty years before on May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson ordered the implementation of the “Indian Removal Act’, passed by Congress, to force the relocation of Native Americans from the South Eastern United States to land west of the Mississippi. Too few prominent persons actively opposed this blatant example of, what we now call, ‘Ethnic Cleansing.’ Among those who voiced opposition was the missionary Jeremiah Evarts and Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennesee. The arduous march of the dispossessed across the continent resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands and came to be called by the native peoples, “The Trail Of Tears.”
There is an historical irony about the removal policy. The tribes who suffered the deportation to the West were called “The Five Civilized Tribes” because of their accommodations to the attributes of colonist culture – Christianity – Central Government – Literacy – Markets – a Constitution – Intermarriage with whites – even Slave Holding.
The most notable achievement of “The Five Civilized Tribes” was the work of the Cherokee silversmith Sequoia. In 1821 he introduced a kind of alphabet called a ‘syllabary’ which brought about almost one hundred percent literacy among the Cherokee, far surpassing the ability of the European settlers around them, to read and write. Philologists believe that this is the only instance in history of a single man inventing an original alphabet which came into common usage. Though I would like to think the giant trees of California, the Sequoia, were named after him, there is some credible doubt in the matter.
To my mind, the above history shows a brutal impulse for the expansion of empire predicated on the slaughter of other people. And from what I see, it continues unabated to this day.