“The Boy General With His Flowing Yellow Curls”

November 22, 2010

So Mr. Obama has included Sitting Bull among the “Great Americans” eulogized in his children’s book Of Thee I Sing. Sitting Bull’s story is indeed an epic, tragic Indian saga, but as has been pointed out elsewhere, it is simply logically impossible that someone who was a mortal enemy of the United States could also be an “American.” But at this point perhaps it may be beside the point to oppose Mr. Obama’s view of what constitutes an American on the basis of logic and non-contradiction. His claim makes perfect sense according to the liberal view of American-ness that has taken root since the 1960s. In that view, anyone in the world of any background whatever who manages to arrive in the United States and reside there permanently is an American. A corollary principle is that anyone who ever resided within our borders is also an American – and in fact, American Indians have more or less been granted status within the culture as the truest Americans, as indicated by the title “native Americans” by which they are now known.

Well, I can’t imagine that any American today would have the audacity to deny Indians their special status and right to be here. I would suggest to my fellow (non-Indian) Americans, though, that they think twice before consenting to the notion that American sovereignty belongs to the Indians. The Indians are not about to re-take the United States, but the non-Western immigrants who are currently carrying out an aggressive transformation of our demographics and culture are very much emboldened in this endeavor by the belief that white Americans are, at best, “immigrants” with no particular right to this country, and at worst, invaders who ought to be expelled. Thus an African illegal alien and welfare recipient like Mr. Obama’s Aunt Zeituni claims that America belongs to God, not Americans, and that Americans owe her a living – a sentiment I have also heard expressed by Somalis living here. Thus “Hispanic” immigrants justify their hoped-for takeover of our society on the grounds that they are genetic kindred to American Indians – “we didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us.” (In the linked article, “conservative” Linda Chavez, who had a civil rights appointment under President Reagan, advises Hispanics not to use this slogan, for strategic reasons.) No, we had better affirm America’s European, English-speaking identity and announce that we intend to keep it that way. Do we really want to go the way of Aotearoa/New Zealand?

While Sitting Bull was not an American, George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876), killed by a coalition of Indian forces who had gathered at Sitting Bull’s camp, certainly was. It is not a matter of liking or disliking Custer; it is simply a fact that Custer was a soldier and citizen of the United States and an ethnic member of that nation. But is there any point in saying this to those numerous Americans of European descent who, as a result of 50 years of a liberal-left rewriting of American history, have never once entertained the notion that they belong to nation of people with a particular nature and history?

Such deracinated Americans are likely to buy into the view of Custer presented in the 1970 film Little Big Man, which portrays him (admittedly with obvious satirical intent) as a delusional, narcissistic lunatic. If you scan the comments on the YouTube video showing the scene of Custer’s death in that film, you will find self-professed Americans saying things like “This land belongs to the Indians,” “Custer was a genocidal killer,” etc., in the usual atrocious spelling and mixed with the usual obscenity. Similar comments are made by foreigners who clearly despise the United States, but this apparently doesn’t strike the Americans as meaningful. In Custer’s case there are a few comments made by Americans who sympathize with the man or defend him. For this we should be thankful.

Who the heck was this Custer anyway? An ambitious military officer, one of the best known of the Civil War, distinguished by his fearlessness and readiness to strike quickly and decisively, though the high casualty rate for his men may be taken as an indictment of his tactics. A practical joker who graduated last in his class at West Point and accumulated numerous demerits for stunts and violations of rules – though we should remember that about two-thirds of his entering class were culled out by graduation; anyone who graduated was a success! A Michigander (and partial Ohioan) who led his Michigan Brigade into battle at Gettysburg with the call “Come on, you Wolverines!” A self-promoter and publicity seeker, but to some extent necessarily so – military leaders, then as now, needed to paint their deeds in a good light and cultivate political connections if they were to succeed.

…A prodigious letter writer. An anti-Abolitionist Democrat and sympathizer with the South who nevertheless took the Union side with no hesitation. A critic of Indian agents who sold goods for personal profit that were meant to assist the Indians, and wrote “If I were an Indian, I often think, I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people adhered to the free open plains rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation, there to be the recipient of the blessed benefits of civilization, with its vices thrown in….” (1) And, undeniably, a figure who owes his present fame not to his interesting and impressive career, but from being immortalized by his disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. The exact sequence of events at that battle will never be known, although archeological excavation seems to shed some light on the matter. This historian gives what sounds like a balanced account, refuting the idea that Custer was a megalomaniac or madman.

At different times and by different people, Custer’s merits and flaws have both been exaggerated. Yet the drama and horror of his “last stand” quite understandably excited the imagination of his fellow Americans. How could one be indifferent to an event like this? Custer is one of ours, and we relate to him, and easily imagine ourselves, with horror, in his place. If we relinquish our right to judge for ourselves his merits and demerits, or indeed whether to remember him at all, we are giving up a piece of our heart. You might as well ask us to stop caring about missing white girls. No, that way lies extinction. The history of a people is in part a spiritual drama, represented by iconic events remembered collectively. The nature of this drama, and how it shall resolve itself, is the great question we face, and this is a question which no number of archaeological digs can resolve.

(1) George Armstrong Custer, My Life on the Plains, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK: 1962.


Another Atrocity in Deerfield

May 23, 2009

Deerfield Massacre

The images had remained with me since childhood: an Indian dashing a baby’s brains out outside a house, and a great wooden door with a jagged hole chopped in the middle, through which the same Indians fired a gun at English men, women, and children taking shelter from the attack.

I learned about the Deerfield Massacre from a family visit to the Deerfield Memorial Hall, and from two books: The Boy Captive of Old Deerfield (originally published in 1904) and The Boy Captive in Canada (1905) (1), both by Mary P. Wells Smith, a college-educated Unitarian and supporter of women’s suffrage who had an active career in community affairs. The books tell the story of the year of captivity among the Indians suffered by Stephen Williams, the 10-year-old son of the Reverend John Williams, minister of Deerfield. I was about the same age as Stephen when I read them. The small frontier town of Deerfield was attacked by French and Indians in 1704 as part of the conflict known as Queen Anne’s War. 50 residents were killed and 112 captured and marched 300 miles to Canada to be held for ransom.

The two volumes are classics for older children, combining truthful accounts of the brutality of the attack which make the reader shudder, with romantic imagined episodes of young Stephen’s interactions with the Indians. The latter would be perfect in a Disney version of the story: the kind Indian girl; the nasty boy who pushes the white boy under the ice; the one who befriends him and teaches him to hunt. Stephen is described as intelligent and sensitive, unwavering in his Christian, Protestant faith (some of the Indians are partially-converted Catholics) but willing to learn Indian ways from his captors. The Indians, despite their willingness to instantly dispatch of any captive lacking the strength to travel, by and large treat him well once they have determined to adopt him and teach him Indian ways. Since Stephen, after attending Harvard College, did go on to become a minister active in missionary efforts with the Indians, Smith’s portrait of him is reasonable.

It is essential for American children to be acquainted with stories such as that of Stephen Williams. Through them they can understand their link with the settlers of 300 and more years ago, and understand the hardships and adventure and human drama of the formation of the country. The author also portrays the absolute centrality of religion in Puritan society in terms a child can easily understand. In a Preface to the second book, she writes:

In reading this true story, we can but wonder afresh what superhuman power enabled a young boy, suddenly dragged from home and friends by savages, to endure and survive such an ordeal, and realize anew that in the religious faith instilled by our Puritan forefathers lay the secret of this power of enduring seemingly unbearable hardships and sorrow, so often manifested by our ancestors in the trying times of the old French and Indian wars. (p. vii)

I was disappointed, though, when I recently returned to the Memorial Hall. The door was there, of course, and various portraits and artifacts displayed; but there was no coherent narrative of the events of 1704-5. The lack of clarity came, of course, from the unsuccessful attempt to reconcile contemporary concern with the suffering of displaced Indians with the original and inherent purpose of the museum, which was to commemorate the experience of the white forebears of modern America. The display on the massacre (now called a “raid”) featured numerous Indian artifacts and explanatory texts musing over how “Natives” are ambivalent about the memorializing of Deerfield.

Even worse, the exhibit attacked the more recent inhabitants of Massachusetts for their supposed bias against Indians. For instance, a photographed re-enactment of the “raid” from, I suppose, the early 20th century, showing an “Indian” carrying away Stephen Williams’s younger sister, Eunice, was described as follows:

The darkly painted face on the “Indian” contrasts sharply with the white Puritan cap and innocent face of little “Eunice,” drawing a firm symbolic line between the sinister “savage” and the helpless child.

Another photograph shows young men of perhaps college age standing outdoors, dressed in “Indian” garb and pretending to perform a prayer. The text helpfully informs us:

In pretending to be engaged in a Native American religious activity, they belittle the customs of Native people.

Now I am the first to agree that it is desirable for objective information be given about the three tribes involved in the Deerfield incident and the reasons for their actions. And some devices do not work today, like having the Indian characters say things like “heap good fire,” as Smith did in her novels. Nevertheless, Deerfield is not and never can be a monument to American Indians. It was a town built by English settlers and partly destroyed in a horrific attack which became enshrined the memory of their descendants. These settlers ultimately prevailed against the French and Indians alike to form a new nation.

Have white Americans been guilty of demeaning and belittling the Indian peoples who inhabited the continent before them? No doubt; but in the history of human affairs I do not see why they should be singled out for doing what all people do: placing their group first and seeing things from their group’s perspective. And of course a tradition of humane concern for and admiration of Indians has existed for as long as Europeans have been in contact with them. I would like to defend the young men “praying” mentioned above, who were obviously conducting an innocent ritual that expressed, if anything, admiration for Indians, with no intent to belittle anyone. And if the seizure of a seven-year-old white girl by an Indian warrior can be portrayed without making the girl look innocent and the man sinister, I would like to know how! Further, it seems to be assumed that to identify with the English in the Deerfield incident somehow means to demonize American Indians, which is obviously not the case.

If the reader wishes to see an even more nightmarish deconstruction of Anglo-American identity, he may refer to the website entitled “The Many Stories of 1704,” which attempts to give equal “airtime” to each of three Indian tribes involved, the French, and, yes, the hapless English. To get a flavor of the bias of the website, note the picture which visually suggests that the settlers had destroyed an Indian village to build their own, and the anthropological description of the English as just another human “tribe” driven by economic and other pressures (supplemented by a painting reinforcing a view of them as a collective mass). Amazingly, the website even emphasizes Stephen Williams’s lack of cultural sensitivity – apparently he was an ungrateful captive and “offended” his captors with his eagerness to be ransomed and preference for the French.

This is the kind of “Indian atrocity” that takes place today. The massacres are long past, but our memory of the white founders of America is under continual attack, and the ferocity of the attacks is increasing. If they are not countered, the day may come when the lovely colonial buildings in Old Deerfield, and the Memorial Hall, no longer tell their story at all – if they are even still standing. (If the reader believes that “Old New England’s” future existence is secure, he should look up demographic statistics for cities like Springfield, Massachusetts, now about 30% Hispanic.)

Today, it is not Stephen Williams, but his younger sister, Eunice, who draws the interest of historians (2). Eunice Williams, like one-third of the Deerfield captives, never returned to her original home. Only seven years old when captured, she forgot her English and assimilated completely to the society of her captors, marrying an Indian and converting to Catholicism. Stephen and others made contact with her and repeatedly attempted to persuade her to return to Massachusetts, but to no avail. In our era, in which non-European immigrants steadily move in to overwhelm the white, English-speaking, Protestant population, assimilation out of the founding population is the new ideal for historians, most of whom support the change. Eunice thus replaces Stephen as the subject of interest and sympathy. I too find her to be a sympathetic and interesting character. Nevertheless it is the survival of Stephen that is most important for Americans to remember, symbolizing as it does the roots of our nation and, one hopes, the strength we will find to survive threats of a very different sort.


(1) Mary P. Wells Smith, The Boy Captive of Old Deerfield (Deerfield, Massachusetts: Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, 2004), and The Boy Captive in Canada (ibid).

(2) The Unredeemed Captive, by John Demos (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), is a very popular and scrupulously researched account of the incident which focuses on the fate of Eunice. I do not make use of it in this essay, however. The Memorial Hall also gives her story much attention. The Indian practice of adopting whites into their tribes, suggesting that they were less “racist” than the English, seems to be generally admired these days.

A Healthy American Diversity

August 30, 2008

Note to readers: postings may be lighter in the next few weeks, but I will continue to put up at least a short entry each Friday (plus or minus a day) in accordance with the policy for this blog. Thanks to all for your support and for your excellent comments! 

Have you ever investigated the origins of the town or community where you grew up? If you are lucky there may be a museum on this theme located at one of the prominent buildings or sites of the area; local libraries and local government also often have information.  I recently started paying more attention to such issues (for reasons I need not explain to my regular readers) and now try to pull over in my car when I pass a historical marker, statue, or the like. 

Compared with Europe, America’s historical sites are often modest and relatively new; and some of the most important sites may have been destroyed or burned down long ago. But the key to appreciating historical sites is to bring your imagination. It is not the place itself, but the people and the stories it conjures up, that move one’s feelings. In that respect the amazing story of America’s growth as a country makes even a humble building or mound of earth a vital link to our larger people and nation. 

In the Midwest, where I grew up, the typical town was founded in the first half of the 19th century by a semi-spontaneous grouping of settlers, usually of a particular ethnic and religious character, and directed by community leaders, educated men with wealth and with a philanthropic desire to create an attractive and permanent community. One thing that amazes me is how highly developed American towns were by the late 19th century. The same town 100 years ago was an utterly different place than it is today, although the basic layout is the same and some prominent buildings remain. And it is not necessarily the case that the town today is more developed than it was in the past. For instance, in my hometown, streetcars used to run regularly to the nearest, larger towns, 10 miles or more away, and railroads linked it to major cities. All of these conveniences are gone and you essentially have to drive everywhere now. Also, in the 19th century, it was possible to see famous lecturers and performers in surprisingly rural areas, booked by organizations like the Lyceums and the Chautauquas. The Midwest was also dotted with fancy resorts located near lakes and other scenic areas, where the wealthy could enjoy boating and health treatments and ice cream and other luxuries. I would give the health treatments a miss, but otherwise can’t see what is so much better about today’s environment! 

I have recently been reading James Fenimore Cooper’s (1789-1851) early novel The Pioneers (1823). (Here is the website for a society that promotes Cooper’s work.) It includes a great deal of description of a town founded by one Judge Marmaduke Temple and modeled after Cooperstown, New York, founded by Cooper’s own father. Cooper himself admits the novel’s weakness (general to his fiction) of an overabundance of descriptive passages of nature, discussions of history and the character of the community, and long dialogues having little to do with the plot. In fact, after about 150 pages the plot can be described in just a few sentences. The story is set in 1793. Judge Temple, a widower with a beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, whom he is escorting home from boarding school, gets in a disagreement with an old woodsman, Natty Bumppo, over who shot a buck. The Judge’s unskilled shot had lodged a ball in the shoulder of Natty’s companion, a mysterious young man, part Indian, named Oliver Edwards. Oliver is brought back to the Judge’s estate to have the ball removed by a local doctor, with the help of John Mohegan, the Delaware, who applies Indian remedies. The villagers then all attend a Christmas Eve sermon by an Episcopalian priest, and the main characters gather in an inn to drink. It is hinted that a romance will develop between Elizabeth and Oliver.

However, I find the non-essential material to be extremely interesting in itself for its description of an early American community. One can honestly say that early American towns like the fictional Templeton were quite “diverse,” so much so that Cooper feels compelled to “explain the reason why we have been obliged to present so motley a dramatis personae” (implying that American communities had already become more homogeneous a few decades after the time of the story). The cast of characters includes local persons who sound “New England” or even a bit Irish, like the housekeeper with the wonderful name Remarkable Pettibone, or the proprietors of the inn “The Bold Dragoon.” There is a Frenchman, Monsieur Le Quoi, owner of a general store and a former French nobleman in exile following the French Revolution. There is a German, Major Hartmann. There are the woodsmen, Natty and Oliver, and the Indian John (Chingachgook, an aged Christian convert who seems at any moment ready to revert to savagery). There is the black slave Aggy (Agamemnon). There are Quakers, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and Universalists.

Now, it is common these days for historians to focus on the supposedly marginalized people of America, such as women (yes, 50% of the population was marginalized), blacks, Indians, religious minorities, and so forth. It is also standard to focus on the “diversity” of early American society, to bring history more in line with the present-day marginalization of the historic white Christian majority. A newer history of colonial America, Alan Taylor’s American Colonies: The Settling of North America (2002), exemplifies this approach. According to the Publisher’s Weekly review quoted on Amazon, the work

…challenges traditional Anglocentric interpretations of colonial history by focusing more evenly on the myriad influences on North America’s development. Beginning with the Siberian migrations across the Bering Straits 15 millennia ago, Taylor lays out the complicated road map of ownership, occupation and competition involving the Native Americans, African slaves and Spanish, Dutch, French and English colonists. He covers settlement and conquest from Canada to Mexico, and from the West Indies and mainland colonies to the Pacific islands. “The colonial intermingling of peoples and of microbes, plants, and animals from different continents was unparalleled in speed and volume in global history,” he writes.

Entirely by coincidence I see that Taylor previously wrote a history of Cooperstown, New York, called William Cooper’s Town! Perhaps his theme of the diversity of the early American population was influenced by The Pioneers.

Taylor’s history is full of fascinating information and I may write more about it in the future. However, it is completely lacking in the sense of the particular American nationhood we are concerned with in this weblog. Or, more accurately, it explicitly aims to undermine that sense of nationhood. Since “America” is simply a name we attach to a mass of people who live in a particular geographic region, and is the product of various random struggles for power between brown-skinned people, black-skinned people, and white-skinned people (as well as microbes and animals), from which the English-speaking whites ended up temporarily on top as a result of luck and cruelty, there is no sense of a history that links us with our forebears and explains who we are. The result is odd statements treating white settlers and their black slaves both as “immigrants,” one group of whom unaccountably oppressed the other. And there is the usual bias against the white settlers, evident in the use of language, as noted by at least one Amazon reviewer. 

Yet if we look at the town in Cooper’s novel, we should also note the homogeneity of the populace in important qualities. First, all the settlers are white and at least nominally Christian (there are no Jewish characters, though perhaps they appear elsewhere in Cooper’s work). They all speak English, though in a variety of dialects and accents, which provide spice and humor to the story. The Indian is Christianized and lives on the outskirts of the community; the black slaves are simply subordinate laborers. 

Further, the lives of the settlers are intimately connected. The whole town is managed under the aegis of the Judge, the owner of most of the land, who settles disputes and directs the construction of a local academy and other public works. Indirectly, he decides to some extent who gets to live in the village. People help each other in times of trouble and need, and of course everybody knows everybody else’s business. They argue about religious issues, but share basic values and pride themselves upon having “a moral community.” Furthermore, people who break the law are swiftly punished – the stocks are still in use in this town. It is not hard to see how in a generation or two the people of such a town would be much more homogeneous. 

Furthermore, though there is an American disdain for European notions of class, there definitely exists a wealthy, educated (by the standards of the time) elite who have authority in the community but also a sense of responsibility for contributing to its excellence. This is personified by the somewhat vain but well-intentioned and intelligent Judge Temple. In fact, Temple is a kind of environmentalist, critical of settlers who waste the timber and hunt recklessly. He has a sense of his own position, admonishing his housekeeper for calling his daughter “Elizabeth” and forcing her to use the term “Miss Temple,” much to the housekeeper’s chagrin. It is only stating the obvious to suggest that the character of our American communities was shaped by community leaders like Marmaduke Temple. If new American developments and communities are as characterless as they seem to me today, does that not suggest that our new leaders are lacking in some basic qualities of character and education? 

A question for another time. Meanwhile, the diversity of early Templeton (Cooperstown) suggests to me a model for those of us trying to strengthen European-American community. We are inevitably diverse – Northern and Southern, elite and working class, belonging to various sects or no sect at all. Yet we have to come together in our common heritage and work to build the foundation for our communities of the future. (We may also find that the old wars and rivalries with those of other European nationality are now irrelevant, making possible some very interesting and rewarding interactions with people in other countries.) So maybe we should indeed learn to “celebrate diversity,” as the multiculturalists put it. Not the false, anti-American diversity they speak of, but our own American diversity. “Out of many, one,” indeed.

Does the Land Belong to Us? Do We Belong to the Land?

August 1, 2008


Indian Mound near Helen, Georgia

Indian Mound near Helen, Georgia

A commonsense definition of “country” is a land inhabited by a particular people. Is the United States of America a country anymore?

Robert Frost, our last truly national poet, expressed the idea of a people “belonging to the land” in a poem written for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. He acknowledged the sometimes rough and violent origins of our nation, but never questioned the fact of American nationhood:


The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

This familiar poem, written only a few decades ago, is now a little strange to read because its central premise, that there is a “we” who possess a particular land, no longer feels true. Are “we” the mosaic of all the races and languages of the world now presented by our public institutions as “America”? Is this increasingly crowded land with its host of competing religious and ethnic groups still “our” land?

An exploration of the theme of “pioneers” and the “frontier” in American culture reveals the importance of the physical territory, the land, of a nation. Thus one issue that appeared of its own accord in my previous discussion of David Crockett was the dispossession of land from the Indians. It was not, of course, my intention to promote white guilt over past treatment of Indians or any other group. Real and imagined injustices perpetrated by whites against nonwhites are used in such a poisonous way today that it would probably be better not to teach about them at all than to teach them as is done now. Still, if we dip into the American experience prior to the 20th century, the memory of the Indian presence is so strong that it is impossible to ignore. Not for their sake, but for ours, we should remember how our encounter with them shaped us as a people. In understanding is strength.

Ancient Mystery, Recent Forgetfulness

One of the mysteries of our land is the people who inhabited it in ancient times. The Midwestern United States, where I grew up, is the site of numerous Indian burial mounds and earthworks built between about 3000 B.C. and the 16th century A.D. A number of excellent museums also exist that display artifacts and explain what is known about the people that created the mounds, mostly through archaeology. Here is the site of an excellent museum in David Crockett’s home state.

When I was a child my parents took me to a famous Indian mound park, and I still remember my feeling of speechless awe as I gazed at these simple yet profound structures. I also remember that the museum displayed items excavated from the mounds, including several human skeletons. This summer I returned to the museum for the first time in decades. The exhibits had improved dramatically, with beautiful, sophisticated recreations of scenes from the various cultures that inhabited the area in succession. (One fact I was reminded of was that the Indians we associate with particular American places were often relatively recent arrivals, and themselves knew little about the ancient earthworks.) But the skeletons were gone. I asked one of the curators what had happened to them, and she said that they had been removed many years ago to one of the state historical institutions for safekeeping. She stated what I already knew, that displaying “native” remains is too sensitive an issue nowadays.

What bothered me was not so much that the remains had been removed, but that the fact that these bones had once been displayed, and why they had been removed, was nowhere indicated. Why would the museum suppress its own history?

The Fraud of “Repatriation” to Indians

In a remarkable article in the journal Academic Questions, “Scholarship vs. Repatriationism” (1), and in a shorter article on the website Friends of America’s Past, attorney and professor James W. Springer reveals exactly what is going on behind the “return” of non-European human remains and other artifacts to self-designated representatives of the “indigenous” peoples of North America. The issue is what he calls “repatriationism,” the idea that living American Indians should have exclusive custody of prehistoric remains and that the interpretation of such remains should be made to confirm to traditional Indian beliefs. As in every area of American life, aggressive claims ungrounded in facts or fairness are being made by minority groups against the institutions and practices of the historic American people, and the targets of those claims are, by and large, surrendering to those demands. Not only that, this surrender is institutionalized in government agencies and legal decisions.

Springer’s article demonstrates well that any time anti-Western forces are given power in our society, our legitimacy as a people and our very ability to pursue and speak the truth is undermined. He writes:

…[The] ideology of repatriationism, often promoted by those with academic backgrounds, has attacked the entire basis of natural science and genuine scholarship, and sought to replace it with a combination of racial collectivism, animistic religion, and postmodernist ideology…. It has been endorsed, perhaps unwittingly, by the United States Congress and the President of the United States; and it is in a position to demand that scholars defer to its dictates, or be deprived of the information that is essential to their work. (p. 6)

Springer discusses the study of human remains, and the amazing wealth of knowledge it can bring us, especially with sophisticated techniques currently being developed. Human bones teach us about demography, diet, disease and accidents, amount and type of violent conflict, biological relationships between populations, and attitudes toward the dead. Of course, such knowledge is almost entirely the product of Western science, just as much of our knowledge of the Indian mounds comes from the labors of Americans who excavated them from the 18th century onward. (In fact, the very existence of many mounds was only revealed when settlers cleared the forests.)

None of this matters to the repatriationists, who want to deprive European Americans of all access to these remains. Springer describes three streams of repatriationism, which assert the following. (1) “[N]o matter how scientific, scholarly, and objective [researchers] may claim to be…traditional methods of analysis are racist, and the racist taint cannot be overcome except by embracing repatriationism.” (2) The attempt to use conventional methods of history, archaeology, and the like cannot give genuine knowledge of the Indian past. This can only come from individuals who are “genetically and culturally Indian,” and from the perspective of traditions involving “spirits, the supernatural, the creation of the world, and the origin of the tribe.” In particular, concerning human remains, “the spirits of the dead are disturbed when their bodies are not buried or are disinterred. An Indian can sense such spirits and their disturbance. One who handles human remains will be punished by the spirits of the dead with illness or death.” (3) American Indian tribes are sovereign nations that should have control over their cultural heritage, including all human remains, whether or not these are the ancestors of any living individuals. (p. 12-13)

Springer then discusses recent laws that have been used to enforce repatriationism, most notably the National Museum of the American Indian Act of 1989, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990. What he describes is alarming. Essentially, Native American religious, tribal, and political organizations have the power to demand that institutions hand over human remains to them, and it appears that tens of thousands of skeletons have been thus handed over. These tribes then do as they please with the remains, not only reburying them but doing such things as ritually burning plant materials with the bones, thus contaminating them with modern DNA and ruining the possibility of further study.

Springer shows that one motivation of the contention over Indian remains is that scientific study of these remains often contradicts Indian oral traditions regarding their own origins. For instance, a tribe that claims to have lived in a land forever may have actually migrated there only recently. And as far as treatment of the dead is concerned, Indian mutilation of the bodies of enemies is well-documented by archaeology, and even burial of kin could involve practices like pushing aside the older remains to make way for the newer. More importantly, Springer refutes the idea that white “racism” has generally led scientists to disrespect Indian remains. In fact, Caucasoid remains have often been displayed and photographed, with the deceased individuals sometimes being named. Springer suggests that the celebrated “Ice Man” of ca. 3300 B.C., now on public display in Italy, would have been destroyed or otherwise hidden from scholars had he been found in a glacier in the United States. (p. 26)

Giving Ourselves Outright

The sorry story of the repatriation movement shows once again the ubiquitousness of the assault against Western civilization. In this case, our identity and culture are attacked not directly, but indirectly through the attack on our traditions and practices of scientific and historic inquiry. Concessions to minority interest groups out of goodwill or desire to avoid conflict lead inexorably to greater and greater demands that soon come to have great political significance, such as the Hawaiian sovereignty movement or the ceding of oil fields to Indian tribes in Canada.

George Orwell has said something to the effect that no aesthetic experience is possible to someone who is hungry or ill. Similarly, we Americans will not be able to look with joy and wonder at our land, whether our beautiful natural scenes or the ancient Indian earthworks, when we no longer possess it. I don’t know the answer, and I don’t think Robert Frost meant it this way, but the time has come to once again give ourselves outright for our nation. We still have strong ties to our land, so let us keep in mind its rich history, and ours, as we look for ways to rebuild.

(1) James W. Springer, “Scholarship vs. Repatriationism,” Academic Questions, vol. 19, no. 1 (2005-6), 6-36.

A Portrait of Grandfather David

July 26, 2008

Myth and History

I wrote last week that even for those who reject political correctness, it may be difficult to love David Crockett as he was loved in the past. Having worked through a biography of Crockett since then, I no longer feel any need to distance myself from him. That such a man lived, and died, as he did in the early years of our nation is a wonder to be cherished. Here is how the people of Tennessee reacted to his martyrdom at the Alamo:

When the news of the massacre in the Alamo reached Nashville, Tennessee, the writer well remembers seeing adult men and women shed tears on account of the death of David Crockett. None ever knew him personally, who did not love him; none who were familiar with his public career, that did not admire him. The whole people of the state were then, as now, proud of him. (1)

James Shackford’s biography includes an appendix entitled “Portrait of David Crockett,” which tries to ascertain what Crockett looked like. Paintings of Crockett clearly conjure up a single individual with a real personality: the long, parted hair, high forehead, prominent nose, boyishly twinkling eyes, and cheerful demeanor are common to all. But perhaps Crockett’s portraits, like Shakespeare’s, reflect a graphic tradition as much as first-hand experience. Even Crockett’s grandchildren remembered hearing little about what the man looked like. The problem of reconstructing someone’s appearance struck me as symbolic of the problem we Westerners face today in recovering a workable heritage. How much vanishes with the passing of even one generation!

How do we begin a portrait of Crockett? An obvious approach is to talk about how the historical man differs from the myth, though even the myth is largely forgotten. First, there is Crockett as the primitive backwoods man, a child of nature, born in a cabin, killing bears with his bare hands, and so forth. Second, and related, is Crockett of the “tall tale,” as

…an American Hercules – wading the Mississippi, steering an alligator up Niagara Falls, straddling a streak of lightning, wringing the tail off a comet, and kicking the sun loose from its frozen axis. With his pipe-smoking pet bear Death Hug and his singing buffalo Mississip, [roaming] the West, and sometimes far beyond, in search of adventure. (2)

Third is Crockett the backwoods Congressman, reporting naively to Washington to serve the ordinary people of his state, and there battling the sophisticated Eastern politicians representing moneyed interests. This is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Finally there is the heroic martyr for Texan independence, as played by John Wayne in 1960’s The Alamo, blowing up the powder magazine of the besieged mission before succumbing to his wounds.

All of these myths do reflect something of the historical Crockett, not least because he encouraged the creation of such legends in his own time to promote his political aims and to make money – not that he was famously successful at either.

David Crockett, Novelist

There is truth to the image of Crockett as a teller of tall tales. His fame and his political success owed much to his charisma as a public speaker. He had Ronald Reagan’s quality of appealing to the people with down-home, simple, amusing stories, and like Reagan could be accused of using this charm to avoid discussing issues. In his autobiography, Crockett portrays with exaggeration his ignorance of politics at the time of his first campaign for the state legislature, seeing that as something that would please, not trouble, his constituents: “It now became necessary that I should tell the people something about the government, and an eternal sight of other things that I knowed nothing more about than I did about Latin, and law, and such things as that.” (3) He then describes a speech in which he lured the crowd from his opponent by entertaining them:

But the worst of all was, that I couldn’t tell them any thing about government. I tried to speak about something, and I cared very little what, until I choaked up as bad as if my mouth had been jam’d and cram’d chock full of dry mush. There the people stood, listening all the while, with their eyes, mouths, and years all open, to catch every word I would speak.

At last I told them I was like a fellow I had heard of not long before. He was beating on the head of an empty barrel near the road-side, when a traveler, who was passing along, asked him what he was doing that for? The fellow replied, that there was some cider in that barrel a few days before, and he was trying to see if there was any then, but if there was he couldn’t get at it. I told him that there had been a little bit of a speech in me a while ago, but I believed I couldn’t get it out. They all roared out in a mighty laugh, and I told some other anecdotes, equally amusing to them, and believing I had them in a first-rate way, I quit and got down, thanking the people for their attention. But I took care to remark that I was as dry as a powder horn, and that I thought it was time for us all to wet our whistles a little; and so I put off to the liquor stand, and was followed by the greater part of the crowd. (4)

So Crockett was indeed a storyteller. However, he was not exactly a teller of tall tales, if that means lying, bragging, and spinning stories from nothing. As the above passage shows, he enjoyed portraying himself in a humorously self-deprecating manner. And his 1834 Narrative appears to be mainly accurate. Perhaps there is exaggeration in the astonishing number of bears he claims to have killed (105 one year, with help!). His encounters with Indians and other adventures are fantastic but not unbelievable.

A similarly charming tale is that of his first courtship at about age 19:

[Though] I have heard people talk about hard loving, yet I reckon no poor devil in this world was ever cursed with such hard love as mine has always been, when it came on me. I soon found myself head over heels in love with this girl, whose name the public could make no use of; and I thought that if all the hills about there were pure chink, and all belonged to me, I would give them if I could just to talk to her as I wanted to; but I was afraid to begin, for when I would think of saying anything to her, my heart would begin to flutter like a duck in a puddle; and if I tried to outdo it and speak, it would get right smack up in my throat, and choke me like a cold potatoe. (5)

Crockett’s tale of youthful love, rejection, hurt pride, and eventual success at finding a mate is as sweet as any a novelist could make up.

The paradox of Crockett’s homespun stories is that they would not exist for us had they not been compiled and published by other, more literary, men. Crockett has three major “autobiographies”: the Narrative of 1834, which seems to be his work down to the fine details, though in the language of another; an 1835 account of his political tour of the eastern states, almost entirely ghostwritten by Whig politicians; and an 1836 account of his adventures in Texas, a hoax written to cash in on his death at the Alamo. The 400-odd page Life I referred to last week combines these three works, ranging from highly authentic to completely fictional. Thus was the unlearned Crockett a collaborative novelist of sorts.

The Frontiersman Builds a Nation

Crockett’s political career, as state legislator and then congressman, may seem an odd fit with his genuine backwoods background. That someone as unsophisticated as Crockett could be elected to Congress disturbed Tocqueville, who wrote “(Tennesseans have elected…) an individual named David Crockett, who had received no formal education, could read only with difficulty, had no property, no fixed dwelling, but spent his time hunting, selling his game for a living, and spending his whole life in the woods.” (6) Yet viewed within its own milieu, Crockett’s career path looks natural enough. Living in the woods was not an antisocial life, since survival depended on cooperation with neighbors. From that base Crockett began to rise in society, beginning with military service under Jackson and an appointment as local justice of the peace. Evidently Crockett had a talent for arbitrating disputes and the like. So what if his writing skills remained frozen at the grade-school level?

We are progressing very Slow with business owing to the great party Sperit that exists here on the great political question the old hickory is like the dimond in the hill of no value until it is Rubed and poliched So with Genl Jackson the harder they Rub him the briter he Shines…. (1827) (7)

It struck me as I read that Crockett’s political career fits perfectly with his career as frontiersman, because the function of the frontiersman was to tame and occupy the land so it could be added to the nation. When we modern folk go camping and exploring, we may feel we are re-living the frontier experience, but the purpose of a real pioneer (whether he knows it or not) is not temporary escape from civilization, but to domesticate and civilize it and destroy it as frontier.

This is shown by the fact the Crockett’s primary political project from start to finish was the Tennessee Land Bill, which he was never able to get passed. Crockett shaped the bill to protect the right of squatters in western Tennessee to purchase their land from the federal government at an affordable price. His devotion to this cause alienated him from the Jacksonian “democrats” of his state and eventually made him the public enemy of Jackson. Like Crockett, these Tennessee politicians tended to favor expansion of land, internal improvements, and low tariffs, but they were also beholden to wealthy planters and land speculators who backed Jackson financially. Shackford theorizes that Crockett cut a deal at some point with Whig politicians to act as an anti-Jackson spokesman, a move which destroyed his integrity and turned him into a political tool. He even links Crockett’s hatred of Jackson to his death in Texas, since it aligned him against Jacksonite Sam Houston, leading his group to disobey Houston’s order to evacuate the Alamo. (8)

Crockett’s move to Texas after electoral defeat represented not an abandonment of politics but an attempt to resume his career as frontier politician: he would settle his family in a rich new land and once again run for office. He joined the militia because “…all volunteers is entitled to vote for a member of the convention or to be voted for, and I have but little doubt of being elected a member to form a constitution for this province. I am rejoiced at my fate.” (9) He had no expectation of becoming a martyr. What exactly happened at the Alamo, of course, remains unknown. Shackford was convinced that Crockett died early in the final attack, while Michael Lofaro, in a new introduction to the book, gives evidence for the story that Crockett was one of a group of survivors who surrendered and were ordered killed by Santa Anna.

Crockett and the Indians: Sometime Foe, Sometime Friend

Last week, I took a detour on the issue of the Indians, not dealing specifically with the experience of Crockett, who fought Indians in the Creek War of 1813-14. Crockett is simply matter-of-fact in relating the horror of what happened in the battle of Tallussahatchee in 1813. His tone is certainly not especially sympathetic to the Indians: 

We pursued them until we got near the house, when we saw a squaw sitting in the door, and she placed her feet against the bow she had in her hand, and then took an arrow, and, raising her feet, she drew with all her might, and let fly at us, and she killed a man, whose name, I believe, was Moore. He was a lieutenant, and his death so enraged us all, that she was fired on, and had at least twenty balls blown through her. This was the first man I ever saw killed with a bow and arrow. We now shot them like dogs; and then set the house on fire, and burned it up with the forty-six warriors in it…. (10)

In later passages, Crockett states that he has no taste for war, and is glad he is finished with fighting, hardly coming off as an enthusiastic Indian fighter. Later, Crockett gained a reputation as a friend of the Cherokee, opposing the Indian Bill for their removal of 1830 in a moving speech that he may or may not have actually delivered (he reported to his pro-removal constituents that he had opposed the bill but did not supply the speech). Shackford is skeptical that Crockett was a lover of Indians, seeing the speech as a Whig composition designed primarily to harm Jackson by fanning up eastern pro-Indian sentiment. However, observing no particular hatred for Indians in Crockett’s autobiography (he got along well with those on his side), and knowing his willingness to stand against his political colleagues, I wonder why the sentiments of the speech should be presumed not his own? Crockett stated that the Cherokee were recognized as a sovereign nation by the United States, and that

[i]t had never been known that white men and Indians could live together; and in this case, the Indians were to have no privileges allowed them, while the white men were to have all. Now, if this was not oppression with a vengeance, he did not know what was…. He knew that he stood alone, having, perhaps, none of his colleagues from his state agreeing in sentiment. He could not help that. He knew that he should return to his home glad and light in heart, if he voted against the bill. (11)

Crockett’s skepticism that Indians and whites could live together does not preclude an attitude of sympathy and understanding. Interestingly, the conflict between the harsh western/southern position on Indian removal and the more sympathetic and sentimental eastern position seems to parallel the incipient clash over slavery. Crockett appears to stand somewhere between the east and the west in this regard.

What is Our Next Frontier?

Crockett’s significance to us is in his embodiment of the life of the American pioneer. Men like Adams and Jefferson helped create our systems and institutions, but men like Crockett physically and politically subdued the land that would become the bulk of our territory. Whatever the flaws of such men may have been, Crockett’s courage, persistence, love of life, honesty, and humor exemplify the good qualities that went into the building of our nation.

The question being asked in 1956, still not long after World War II, was: where do we go next? Shackford saw the issue as follows:

By the very act of conquering geographical barriers, man created a different sort of world and set himself upon a new and entirely different sort of quest. Having learned to live with, then master, all physical frontiers until he reduced the world to one small demesne, man must now learn to live with and to master the frontiers of the human mind, heart, and spirit until he reduces that demesne to one home. Man’s new frontier is the spiritual frontier of universal brotherhood where all men are their brother’s keepers. Not until he masters this frontier will man make a home of his narrowed world.

[Crockett] grasped the philosophy of the new spiritual man who judges a people intrinsically in terms of their inherent worth and their divine potential in a universe where all are the sons of God and where all before God are of inalienable value and entitled to equal dignity and justice. (12)

I suggest that the subsequent 50 years of American history, during which we have thrown our borders open to mass non-Western immigration, systematized racial discrimination against the founding population, and presumed to take responsibility for the welfare, defense, and livelihood of every nation on earth, show us that Shackford read the lessons of David Crockett’s life incorrectly. We need to focus less on Crockett’s democratic spirit and more on his cause, which he ultimately died for, of securing land for his people. Towards the end of his life, defeated by what he saw as a corrupt, moneyed, political machine, he feared for America’s future. His words reflect his own personal bitterness towards Jackson, but are still germane today:

I am gratified that I have spoken the truth to the people of my district regardless of the consequences. I would not be compelled to bow to the Idol for a seat in Congress. During life I have never known what it was to sacrifice my own judgment to gratify any party, and I have no doubt of the time being close at hand when I will be rewarded for letting my tongue speak what my heart thinks. I have suffered myself to be politically sacrificed to save my country from ruin and disgrace, and if I am never again elected I will have the gratification to know that I have done my duty…. (13)

(Here I have corrected the spelling and punctuation.) May we learn from the sacrifices of the men and women who built our nation and stop squandering what they gave us for the false ideal of a borderless global utopia. Then we can take revenge for David and send our false leaders tumbling from power and into oblivion.

(1) Quoted in Shackford, James Atkins, David Crockett: The Man and the Legend, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956, p. 238.

(2) Paul Andrew Hutton, “Introduction,” David Crockett, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1987, xxxvii-xxix.

(3) Crockett, David, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1987, 139.

(4) Crockett, Narrative, 141-2.

(5) Crockett, Narrative, 47-8.

(6) http://www.comedyontap.com/pantheon/crockett/crockett4.html.

(7) Shackford, p. 89.

(8)  This theory is criticized by Thomas E. Scruggs in “Davy Crockett and the Thieves of Jericho: An Analysis of the Shackford-Parrington Conspiracy Theory,” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 19 (Fall 1999), 481-98.

(9)  Shackford, 216.

(10) Crockett, Narrative, 88.

(11) Filler, Louis, and Allen Guttmann, The Removal of the Cherokee Nation: Manifest Destiny or National Disgrace? Malabar, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1962.

(12)  Shackford, 251.

(13)  Shackford, 205-6.

David Crockett, Indians, and Us

July 17, 2008

Note: I discuss David Crockett in greater detail in the follow-up to this post, A Portrait of Grandfather David.

It seems to me that when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, even as one radical social change after another was setting in motion the disaster of the present, a certain core culture and way of life continued relatively unchanged for most people. As I look back upon my own childhood in small-town America during that period, I imagine that it was not so different from the 1950s. Our fathers worked and we kids ran around the neighborhood watched by our mothers as they did housework. We played many of the same games our parents had played. Not only that, 1950s culture itself was still present on TV and radio.

For instance, my childhood image of frontiersman and Alamo hero David Crockett (1786-1836) came directly from the “Davy Crockett Craze” of 1954-55 (1), which started with a Disney movie and its theme song “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” It was characterized by phenomenal sales of merchandise, most notably the coonskin caps worn by small boys. The “craze” died down within a year or so, but I myself remember running around with a coonskin cap and watching the movie on TV in the early 1970s, so Crockett obviously remained in the culture to some extent.

What about Crockett appealed to Americans so? Undoubtedly it was the way he embodied the “frontier spirit” of America. Long after the frontier was settled, well into the 20th century, Americans saw their national character as being derived from the frontier experience: the restless craving for discovery, the ambition to build a new and better life in a new land, the courage and rugged individualism, and sometimes the crudeness and base acquisitiveness of those who led the westward expansion of our nation. From Westerns and books like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series the word “frontier” may be associated more with late 19th century images, but of course it expresses a central theme for all pre-20th century U.S. history.

Crockett’s 1834 autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of Col. David Crockett, Written by Himself (2), is a fast-moving episodic account of the high points of his life, peppered with dialect and folk humor. Its full title summarizes the contents: Life of David Crockett, the original humorist and irrepressible backwoodsman: comprising his early history; his bear hunting and other adventures; his services in the Creek war; his electioneering speeches and career in Congress; with his triumphal tour through the northern states, and services in the Texas war. To which is added an account of his glorious death at the Alamo while fighting in defence of Texan independence.

The book was written to promote Crockett’s political career. It consists almost solely of episodes, told in an amusing style apparently capturing something of the charm of Crockett’s public speeches. According to James Shackford, the Narrative is almost certainly ghostwritten, since it contains deliberate “backwoods” dialect and errors different from those that appeared in Crockett’s letters. However, the material is considered highly reliable, suggesting that Crockett checked the material and approved the final contents. Shackford (writing at the time of the Crockett craze) considers the narrative a forgotten classic of American literature, depicting the life of a real-life frontiersman who became overshadowed by a myth.

In today’s myth-debunking climate, Crockett the man may actually be faring better than in the 1950s. A newer children’s book, David Crockett: Sure He Was Right (3) , for instance, is a reasonable recreation of Crockett’s autobiography, though largely omitting the Indian fighting and bear hunting that gives his story most of its flavor. But we have lost the legend. Crockett is, after all, a White Man With A Gun. He killed bears, he killed Indians, and he killed Mexicans, activities essential to the creation of our country but which our liberal society, seeking to incorporate groups such as these (including the bears) as fully privileged citizens, finds shameful and ugly.

While American traditionalists will have no trouble rejecting the political correctness that leads to the expunging of figures like Crockett from history, it may still be hard to love him the way previous generations did. Indian fighting is central to Crockett’s character, even if he only spent a few years at this activity. In retrospect, the removal of the Indians seems like a sad inevitability at best, and in cases like the Cherokee removal, a cruel atrocity, not something to be celebrated wholeheartedly. Shackford lays out the problem in the opening passages of his biography:

The frontiersman was history’s agent for wresting land from the American Indian. How often – and how well – did he play his bitter role! Pursued by civilization which crowded him too closely behind, he arrived inevitably at the “final” boundary set by the latest Indian treaty. In front of him lay the rich wilderness and the trail of the retreating game upon which his very life depended. Pushed from behind, pulled from in front, he moved on inexorably into Indian territory.

Just as inexorably, the Indians resisted his encroachment. Angered by this betrayal of their established rights, they attempted to enforce the white man’s treaties in the only way they knew, by attacking the invaders – by pillage, burning, and scalping. Then came a new “war,” and a new treaty. Always the new treaty gave legal sanction to the latest accumulation of lands illegally acquired by these frontiersmen. No power on earth short of overwhelming physical force could have made them retrace their steps and abandon their “improvements” and the wild game on which they lived. Then the cycle would be renewed: new encroachments upon the new treaty, the inevitable massacres, the consequent accommodating treaty, – and new encroachments. So dwindled the hunting grounds of the redskin. (p. 3)

Elsewhere Shackford exhibits a very contemporary and, as we are seeing in the 21st century, unworkable liberalism in his assessment of the lessons of American history, something I will return to in a subsequent post. For now, I would like to consider, based purely on personal perceptions, the role of the Indian in white American identity.

It is part of the American tradition to be fascinated with the Indian and to seek to emulate the perceived bravery, discipline, and honor of the aboriginal American peoples. For instance, when I was in the Boy Scouts there was a society called the Order of the Arrow (which still exists) with an initiation rite that was supposed to emulate a manhood ritual of the Indians. More broadly, there are, of course, the names of sports teams and so forth that were understood to express the warrior spirit. I have talked about Crockett in my boyhood but in fact I was much more an “Indian” kid, doing my best to make Indian weapons and running around half-naked in a loincloth. In fact I generally sided with the Indians in my mind.

We cannot deny that America was created as a country by Europeans who claimed the land essentially for the reason that they wanted it, and could take it. Yes, this also meant the spread of Christian civilization, but we can hardly claim this was done for the Indians’ sake! It is a good thing for Americans to reflect on this aspect of their nations history.

However, contemporary discussions of the Indian problem are twisted by anti-Americanism. First, whites are judged by today’s standards, as if they were a 21st century army marching in to exterminate Stone Age people. In fact most Americans prior to the 20th century lived by the sweat of their brow, many died young, and all were dependent on the support of family and neighbors to survive. Society was violent, with wars fought and murderers hanged and duels and violence of all sorts common. In this context the settlement of the continent – at one’s own risk – was perfectly legitimate. From the European point of view Indian ways were backward and Indian societies were not “countries.” Further, many whites strove to find a humane and just solution to the Indian problem. In the end, sheer demographic force made the European settlement of the continent inevitable. The U.S. government broke its promises, but it had made promises it had not the power to keep.

Second, Indians are romanticized, as we can see in any contemporary movie that portrays them. Forgotten are the incredible cruelty they were capable of and the ongoing warfare between tribes and clans.

Finally, precisely the wrong lesson is derived from the conquest of America: that to atone for driving out the Indians, we must open our society up for the rest of the world to colonize. To the contrary, the American experience showed that Indian assimilation into white society didn’t work. Is it not madness that we now import whole “tribes” just as alien as the Indians into our society en masse? What kind of “Indian wars” are we setting up for the future?

In the next entry I will discuss some particulars of Crockett’s life and autobiography. Interested readers may be able to read it electronically on the University of Michigan Library website at:


(1) http://www.geocities.com/toppsgreen/01FrontPage.html.

(2) Crockett, David, Life of Col. David Crockett, Written by Himself, Philadelphia: G. G. Evans, 1860. This version includes an account of Crockett’s death at the Alamo.

(3) Shackford, James Atkins, David Crockett: The Man and the Legend, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1956.

(4) Wade, Mary Dodson, Davy Crockett: Sure He Was Right, Austin, Eakin Press, 1992.