As a high school student I was always annoyed by students who would ask: Why do we have to learn this stuff [history] anyway? We learn history so we don't repeat our mistakes. This is the common answer that my teachers, my father, and just about any other adult would give. This answer made perfect sense to me then, and I easily accepted it. In high school, students learn about the Nazi-Holocaust, and rightfully so. Information abounds regarding this topic. However, my teachers never taught me that our country has a Holocaust of its own (actually there are two; one killing 40 to 60,000,000 Africans, and one killing 100,000,000 Native Red Peoples).
Hitler himself often expressed his admiration for the expediency in which the American Christians removed the Native Americans and gave them mass graves like the one in Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Have you ever heard the words American Holocaust(s) before? As I read about history I was drawn to the Indian Wars. One day I began reading Dee Brown's book "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." I was shocked by what I read. I had never been taught these things, yet this history seemed so important and unparalleled in American history. Recently, I picked up Brown's book and read it a second time. Finally, the words shook me from the sleep in which we Americans love to overindulge; the sleep of denial, materialism, and hedonism. The thoughts and images evoked in Brown's book came back and my heart filled with an indescribable feeling of painful anger again. I thought to myself, I'm glad that is all over with, I don't know what I would have done if I had been alive then.
The words of William McPherson of the Washington Post regarding Brown's book reassured my emotion: Shattering, appalling, compelling. . . .One wonders, reading this searing, heartbreaking book, who, indeed, were the savages." If you take from the reading of Brown's book and others something remotely resembling what I take, the societal and environmental problems of today find their roots: roots which are still being well nourished.
Parts of Browns book remained in my mind, in particular, the Sand Creek Massacre (in present day Colorado). I went to the library to read more about the subject. I was in a hurry, so I quickly grabbed an encyclopedia. I first looked under Sand Creek Massacre, shocked at finding nothing, I searched under Battle of Sand Creek and found nothing. The Sand Creek Massacre did not appear anywhere! I was, to use Mcpherson's word, appalled. I kept looking, surely the World Book would have it. To my surprise, the book ignored one of the bloodiest and most grotesque massacres in American history. Well, I thought, surely the Encyclopedia Americana will have it. Blank. All encyclopedias had somehow forgotten those Native American men, women, and children. Why was it that the Boston Massacre, wherein 5 men lost their lives, was in every book? The 133 human beings who lost their lives in the most grotesque and mutilated way on Sand Creek were nowhere to be found. If a massacre like Sand Creek did not appear in encyclopedias and textbooks how were young people (and adults) to be taught of the Camp Grant Massacre, the Piegan Massacre, the Massacres of California, the Marias Massacre, the Washita Massacre, Guatemala in the 70s and 80s, the Chiapas Massacre of 1997, the present day massacres in South America, Present day East Timor and so many others? What else is missing? What does this say about Americans today in 1998? What I did not realize then, and have come to realize now, is that I have stumbled onto a shameful and continuing history of genocide and holocaust. The reader, I am convinced, would be appalled also if he or she knew how many high school textbook publishers also thought Sand Creek and other historic events were unimportant. I looked through many textbooks until I found one, published in 1994, that gave a blip about Sand Creek.
On October, 13, we celebrated, or at least observed others celebrating, Columbus Day. What did we celebrate/observe? In 1492 Columbus' ships appeared off the coast of San Salvador.
The Fifteenth Century...
The Taino Indians greeted Columbus with unimaginable hospitality. Columbus reported to his queen: "So tractable, so peaceable, are these people, that I swear to your Majesties there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy." (Brown pp. 1) Columbus soon lost site of the generosity and kindness of the Taino people. During the following conquest Columbus felt himself required at least to inform the natives of the terms by which he would steal their lifestyle and life itself; though they could not understand a word he said:
"I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of Their Highnesses. We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of then as Their Highnesses may command. And we shall take your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey and refuse to receive their lord and resist and contradict him." (Stannard pp.66)
This was known as the Requerimiento, such conquest ushered in the 16th century in South America. Most of the religion-professing conquistadors, Cortes, Pizzaro, de Soto, and others adopted this practice. The Holocaust of Columbus alone killed four million people on San Salvador in 4 years, without automatic weapons or merciful gas chambers (Stannard pp.72). The genocide did not stop after this first four million people; they were only the beginning. The missionary Bartolome de Las Casas recorded what he witnessed and I will later quote him at length. The analogies between the conditions in the death camps of the conquistadors and of Nazi concentration camps are appalling, keeping in mind that we still have a Columbus day.
The Sixteenth Century...
War, conquest, pestilence, and genocide continued in the 1500s with Fernando de Soto and Hernando Cortes, among others, commanding this page of the Holocaust. Evidence strongly suggests that both Cortes and de Soto were heartless killers. Both men raided islands looking for humans to sell as slaves. The Spaniards found natives often, and under the command of de Soto, Columbus, and others, put them to work in mining camps, starving, beating, raping, and burning them to death. In describing these events, missionary Bartolome de Las Casas wrote: ". . . Whenever the Spaniards found them, they piteously slaughtered everyone like sheep in a corral." It was a general rule to be cruel; not just cruel, but extraordinarily cruel so that harsh and bitter treatment would prevent Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings or having a minute to think at all. So they would cut an Indians hands and leave them dangling by a shred of skin and they would send him on saying Go now, spread the word to your chiefs. They would test their swords and their manly strength on captured Indians and place bets on the slicing off of heads or the cutting of bodies in half with one blow. They burned or hanged captured chiefs. (Stannard pp. 70 & Las Casas, History of the Indies)
The Spaniards found pleasure in inventing all kinds of odd cruelties, the more cruel the better, with which to spill human blood. They built a long gibbet, low enough for the toes to touch the ground and prevent strangling, and hanged thirteen natives at a time in honor of Christ Our Saviour and the twelve Apostles. When the Indians were still alive and hanging, the Spaniards tested their strength and their blades against them, ripping chests open with one blow and exposing entrails, and there were those who did worse. Then straw was wrapped around their torn bodies and they were burned alive. One man caught two children about two years old, pierced their throats with a dagger, then hurled them down a precipice. (Stannard pp. 72)
A group of Dominican friars on the treatment of infants recorded when:
"Some Christians encounter an Indian woman, who was carrying in her arms a child at suck; and since the dog they had with them was hungry, they tore the child from the mothers arms and flung it still living to the dog, who proceeded to devour it before the mothers eyes. . . . When there were among the prisoners some women who had recently given birth, if the newborn babes happened to cry, they seized them by the legs and hurled them against the rocks, or flung them into the jungle so that they would be certain to die there." (Stannard pp. 72)
To give the reader some background detailing the stereotype many whites had/have for the Native American, I have taken quotations from John Frosts book entitled, "Pictorial History of Indian Wars and Captivities." Frosts book was published in 1873, nine years after the massacre at Sand Creek, and seventeen years before the Wounded Knee Massacre (both will be discussed later). Inside the front cover the title page bears the word Captivities in gory fashion. Frost's account of de Soto paints him more as a benevolent hero than a murdering-Hitler. The title also screams pictorially with bloody weapons that are no doubt those of the Native American; the most savage weapons, the white man's many different rifles and cannon, are conveniently missing. Frost's book loses its historical credibility by constantly slanting the adjectives in the white man's favor, and by using the noun "savage" hundreds of times. As a sidenote; the word savage, I am told, was used so commonly to describe the Native American that even authors like Emerson used the term. I acknowledge that Indians were not innocent in all cases involving violence on their part. When one reads, however, in many cases the Indians used violence only as a last resort or in retaliation, one must form his or her own opinion. I acknowledge that such a book cannot speak for all white people; however, when one reads in Dee Brown's book of severed Indian heads being displayed in the local town square, and of the Sand Creek Massacre atrocities, Frost's words seem to embody white sentiments regarding Indians. Here are some brief passages from the beginning of Frost's book:
"The coasts [of Florida etc.] were carefully explored [by de Soto and Cortes etc.], and colonies planted, but they were soon given up as expensive, and involving too much hardship and danger." (Frost pp. 1)
"The Indians on the coast where he [Vasquez de Ayllon] landed made a feast, and induced the Spaniards to advance into the interior of the country. Two hundred men were killed there, and the others were assailed on the shore, and Vasquez de Ayllon himself fell a victim to the cruelty of the natives." (Frost pp. 2)
The Indians harassed the Spaniards with an indomitable spirit; but they [Spaniards] at last returned safely to the coast, and embarked." (Frost pp. 13)
"Fernando de Soto, originally possessed of nothing but his courage and his sword, had followed the fortures of Pizarro, and returned to Spain from Peru, laden with wealth, and crowned with the laurals of a successful warrior. His reception was brilliant; and having obtained the favor of Charles V., he sued for permission to conquer and rule the territory of Florida."(Frost pp. 14)
"He [de Soto] strove, by every means, to mitigate the hatred of the Indians, but in vain." (Frost pp. 16)
"De Soto continued to advance, and at length reached the fertile district of Acali, where the troops felt the ground beneath their feet. The prince of the country tendered his submission; but soon after, while the Spaniards were crossing a river, they were attacked by the savages with a cloud of arrows. De Soto repulsed the enemy, and in keeping with his policy, refrained from revenging himself." (Frost pp. 16)
Before his death in 1862, Henry David Thoreau, believing the Indian to be wholly misunderstood by whites, wrote: "It frequently happens that the historian, though he professes more humanity than the trapper, . . . [who] shoots one as a wild beast, really exhibits and practices a similar inhumanity to him, wielding a pen instead of a rifle." (Jacobs pp. 29) Thoreau continues saying that history, recorded by one who believes his race superior to others, is no history at all. Thoreau wrote to many different people, but as was and is still common practice, he was ignored. Evidence for this argument is provided by the fact that when an Indian-lover was unknowingly appointed to a command, he was quickly removed. The reader is invited to read of such cases involving Edward Wyncoop, Ely Parker, Lieutenant William B. Pease, Lieutenant James Connor, Captain Silas Soule, and Lieutenant Joseph Cramer, among others.
Returning now to our timeline progression, we are approaching the mid-1500s. Under Hernando Cortes, the American Indians suffered greatly. The slave trade of natives was being highly and cruelly exploited. Cortes, arriving on islands "entirely shorn of their inhabitants,"e; continued the Holocaust by importing slaves. Entire peoples were divided, regardless of family ties, and were appropriated to a Spanish lord. The natives were shipped to unfamiliar lands and made to work in mines. As Las Casas puts it: "the mountains looked like anthills." The natives were given no food and worked to the death, supplying gold and material wealth for the Spanish lords. The natives were treated as non-humans, their masters being described by other Christians as ministers of Hell. When natives would try to escape, the Spaniards hunted them down with mastiffs whereupon they were torn apart. If a native survived recapture, a show-trial was held. Warnings were passed to other natives, then the master: ". . . flogged them until blood ran from their naked bodies, mere skin and bones from starvation." (Stannard pp. 73)
Slaves were made to work, even when deathly ill, and were kicked and beaten night and day. The death rates on some Islands were so steep that blood of natives flowed in streams as if a great number of cows had perished. Another slaughter at the hands of Cortes claimed forty thousand people in a single day (Stannard pp. 78). Cortes himself recorded that: "so loud was the wailing of the women and children that there was not one man among us whose heart did not bleed at the sound." (Stannard pp. 79) Regarding this same massacre against Montezumas people Cortes himself recorded that: "The people of the city had to walk upon their dead. . .And in those streets where they were we came across such piles of the dead that we were forced to walk upon them." (Stannard pp. 79) This did not deter the Spaniards in their conquest, as such events were repeated. It has been noted that Cortes himself held nearly 27, 000 slaves under his own hand, nearly all of whom died.
In an attempt to remain objective in this brief essay, I will not overlook accounts of human sacrifice by the Aztecs. Indeed these atrocities were committed by the Aztecs on some captured male prisoners. The degree to which these operations were carried out is debated by historians. Some estimates suggest that the Aztecs sacrificed up to 20,000 captives a year. Stannard reports that some modern scholars view the number of 20, 000 to be greatly exaggerated as a result of conquering interest. Whatever the case may be, Stannard quotes Pedro de Cieza de Leon, a conquistador in 1553, as saying: "These and other things are the testimony the Spaniards raise against these Indians. . . endeavoring by these things we tell of them to hide our own shortcomings and justify the ill treatment they have suffered at our hands. . . I am not saying that they did not make sacrifices. . . but it was not as it was told." Stannard also notes that: ". . . in the siege of Tenochtitlan the invading Spaniards killed twice that many people in a single day Including (unlike Aztec sacrifice), enormous numbers of innocent women, children, and the aged." How does this information on the great explorers contrast what we learned in school? All of the people I have talked to remember celebrating Columbus Day in grade school, and learning of the conquistadors as heroes. I can't describe the look I saw on one womans face after she had seen and read about some of the pictures in Standard's book.
The Seventeenth Century...
Within these brief accounts, we now approach the 17th century. Life in North American would rapidly change, and the face of the Earth Mother would be changed forever. Europeans arrived in 1607 at Jamestown. Gradually, in comparison to Spanish techniques, the new Englishmen began to settle in Powhatan country. This began with the crowning of Wahunsonacook, or, King Powhatan. King Powhatan was torn between his people and supplying the Englishmen with food. After King Powhatans daughter, Pocahontas, married John Rolfe, Powhatan was placed in an unenviable position. The Powhatan Indians became angry as they were made to supply the demands of the bearded men from the big boats. After Wahunsanacook died, the Indians tried to push the English back into the sea, but underestimated English weapons. Of the 8,000 Powhatans, less than a thousand survived. Another source tells of the war beginning as a result of Englishmen desiring the return of some whites who had chosen to live among the Indians. Powhatan gave proud and disdainful remarks. This, having enraged Thomas West De la Warr, may have brought about the war. As the historian Edmund S. Morgan puts it: "The Indians. . . could have done the English in simply by deserting them."
When the colonists landed at Plymouth in 1620, the Indians did not desert them. A Pemaquid named Somoset and three Wampanoags named Massasoit, Squanto, and Hobomah became self-appointed missionaries to the Pilgrims. (Brown pp. 3) All spoke some broken English, as a result of contact with earlier explorers. The new colonists were viewed as helpless children. The colonists were shown how to fish, and were given corn from the winter store of the Indians. The next Spring, the Indians showed the colonists how to plant corn.
Despite the horrors they had endured in recent decades, the Indians continuing ability to produce enormous amounts of food impressed and even awed many of the earliest British explorers. (Stannard pp. 103) The gardens were tended with such care that they looked like huge gardens rather than farmlands. Early settlers also admired the Indians democratic government which contrasted sharply with the hierarchical ruler, King James I, whom they had left in Europe. And it is especially telling that throughout the seventeenth and on into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while almost no Indians voluntarily lived among the colonists, the number of whites who ran off to live with the Indians was a problem often remarked upon. (Stannard pp. 103)
In an exclamation of his discontent, Benjamin Franklin wrote:
"When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return. [But] when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them." (Stannard pp. 104)
Stannard quotes J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur as stating "Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of these Aborigines having from choice become Europeans!" Whites who lived among the Indians noted that Indian life possessed a strong sense of community, abundant love, and uncommon integrity and. . . social equality, mobility, adventure, the most perfect freedom, ease of living, and absence of those cares and corroding solicitudes which so often prevail with us. What happened? This Indian behavior was looked down upon by the uncompromising colonists, who viewed their race and religion far superior. Similar accounts occurred in the 19th century also. Peace between the Indians and the settlers was growing fragile with each new shipload of settlers. The settlement became too crowded. In 1625, a request was made for 12,000 acres more of Indian land. Such transactions and ideas of ownership were so strange to the Indians and their religion that the land was given. After a ritual intended for humor, Samoset made his mark on a paper for them. This was the first of many land transactions that would take place on American soil.
Settlers arrived by the thousands, all wanting land to settle. After Metacoms father, Massasoit, died in 1662, Metacom was crowned King Phillip of the Pokanoket by the whites. King Phillip formed an alliance to remove the white settlers from their homeland. In 1675, after a series of arrogant actions by the colonists, King Phillip led his Indian confederacy into a war meant to save the tribes from extinction. (Brown pp. 4) The Indians were defeated, largely in part to the firepower wielded by the colonists. King Phillps head was publicly displayed in Plymouth for 20 years. Settlers sold the captured women and children as slaves in the West Indies.
Elsewhere on the North American continent, the European economic system, devoted to personal wealth and materialism, began to flourish. The fur trade was big business, and the land was raped in search of fur-bearing mammals. Fur traders and companies stole the lifeblood and foodsource of the Iroquois, and other northern tribes. Many Indians could not understand this way of life; this proto-capitalistic ideology. For most Indians, killing animals for anything other than food and shelter was a high crime. (Jacobs 1972)
The Eighteenth Century...
We move into the 18th century ever mindful of rapidly changing lifestyles, unjust war, ethnocentrism, sickness, greed, proto-capitalism, and a new nation kicking in the womb. Indian territories, the causes of many Indian skirmishes, were now becoming heated warzones. In 1730 the French traders in the north formed alliances with the Indians and began to subdue other tribes, in particular the Fox. The Fox were interfering with French fur-trade profits as middlemen, so the allied French and Indians thoroughly thrashed them (Wrone and Nelson, pp. 39). The French were also plundering in Louisiana. This time the Natchez Indians would fall victim. The Natchez were not hunting people, but rather, they were farmers with their own government. In 1714 the French built Fort Rosalie near the great Natchez settlement known as the Great Sun. The relations were stressed when the French wanted the site of a village, and wanted a secondary ruler in the Natchez government. In 1729, the Natchez retaliated against the French, killing a French official. In 1730, the French (again with Indian allies) attacked the Natchez and removed them.
During the colonial era, the British and the French waged violent wars with the Indians of North America, often taking their lands by force and using the treaty more as an instrument of surrender than as a peaceful diplomatic tool(MSNBC On Air). Treaties were written and Indian chiefs forced to sign; often times the treaties were written with ink and pencil. The pencil parts of the treaty could be erased and rewritten in a different way, or a new key clause could be added. It was common for the European governments, especially those of the English colonies, to offer bounties to rid the community of pests (squirrels, crows, wolves, etc.) (Wrone and Nelson pp. 50) During a time of trouble with the Indians, colonials paid out cash for scalps and, on occasion, for the heads of the Indian enemy (Wrone and Nelson pp. 50). In 1756, the governor of Philadelphia included premiums for [Deleware] scalps. Whites were encouraged to embrace all opportunities of "pursuing, taking, killing, and destroying the said Delaware Indians. . ." The Delaware receded daily from their original lands farther and farther westward as the Europeans encroached. This foreshadowed Indian Policy to come.
After the Boston Massacre in 1770, victory in the Revolutionary War, and the writing of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington renounced the crown, becoming our first President. MSNBC Quoted George Washington in outlining Indian Policy:
"I am clear in my opinion that policy and economy point very strongly to the expediency of being upon good terms with the Indians, and the propriety of purchasing their lands in preference to attempting to drive them by force by arms out of their Country."
In researching, I have found this speech by George Washington. These words given September 7, 1783, were an outline of Indian Policy to James Duane (then head of the Indian Affairs Committee). What MSNBC leaves out, is that in this same letter Washington states that:
". . . The gradual extension of our Settlements will as certainly cause the Savage as the Wolf to retire; both being beasts of prey tho they differ in shape." (Prucha, 1975)
Thus the tone and manner of American Indian Policy (genocide) was born, though government officials in the 1800s probably did not use bribery (money) to drive off the Wolves as much as Washington would have liked.
The Nineteenth Century...
In the 1800s, without compromise or recollection of those first Indians who saved the Puritans from starvation and were the envy of many a European, the Indians were brutally removed. In 1805, the Nez Perces saved the Lewis and Clark expedition from starvation and scurvy, only to be slain in Yellowstone National Park in 1877 (it was a park then, and one of the most beautiful lands in the world had been set apart for whites to enjoy). The Eastern Tribes were forgotten, the Wampanoag, Chesapeak, Potomac, Powhatan, Chikahominy, Pequot, Mohican, Montauk, Nanticoke, Machapunga, Narangansset, Catawba, Cheraw, Miami, Huron, Erie, Mohawk, Susquehanna, the Seneca and more. Who remembers them? The 1800s followed suit, most tribes leaving only their Anglicized names on the white mans newly claimed land. There is far too much of the 19th century. It is hard to know what to include and what to leave. Dee Brown's book is a great introduction for those who want to learn more. In my research, it seemed that everywhere I looked I discovered a forgotten Indian massacre. There are too many of them. They are not taught in school. There is no listing anywhere of Indian Massacres, they just appear while you are reading, like something emerging from a dreary fog. It is clear, however, that the American Holocaust continued with few people (other than Indians) speaking out or doing anything to stop it.
To contrast what we do, and do not learn in school, I will first give a short description of the Boston Massacre, which, according to one World Book, was not a massacre at all! If you do not already know how many people died in the Massacre, perhaps you might guess using the impression left you from high school and/or paintings you may have seen in a history book. In March of 1770, tension was high between colonists and British soldiers. The "Massacre," as it was later dubbed by colonial speechmakers (in an effort to rouse colonial mobs), was initially instigated by 50 to 60 colonists attacking a British official. Colonists were angry about taxation, and other Acts like the Quartering Act. A British Captain, Captain Preston, brought men to the assistance of the attacked official. When colonists attacked these additional men, they reacted by firing at the angry mob, killing five and wounding six. My goal is not to belittle human death or justify British presence, but to make a stunning comparison. The following information is taken from the book, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."
"On the morning of November 29, 1864, 600 Cheyenne and Arapahos camped on a bend of Sand Creek were awakened by the sound of charging hooves. Two thirds of these 600 were women and children as the government granted able bodied men to go east and hunt buffalo to feed their hungry families. Only 35 braves were in the camp. This made the ensuing charge all the more frightening for the women, children, elders, and remaining braves.
So great was the fear of the coming charge that men, women, and children ran from their lodges into the biting cold taking no time to fully dress. The partially dressed Indians began to gather under a huge American flag above Black Kettles lodge (Black Kettle was given the huge American flag and peace medals by Abraham Lincoln and Colonel A. B. Greenwood in Washington only a year earlier and was told that as long as the American flag was above them, no one would be harmed). The braves present surrounded the women and children gathered under the flag. At 8:00 am more than 700 cavalry men under the command of Colonel John M. Chivington and Major Scott J. Anthony, rode in and fired on the huddled Indians from two directions. After the initial charge the US soldiers dismounted and continued the indiscriminate killing of men, women, and children. During the killing unspeakable atrocities and mutilations were committed by the soldiers. Accounts from two white men, John S. Smith and Lieutenant James Connor, described the acts of dehumanization."
According to John S. Smith, Colonel Chivington knew these Indians to be peaceful before the massacre. Smith witnessed, as did helpless Indian mothers and fathers, young children having their sex organs cut away. U.S. soldiers mutilated Native American women, cutting away their breasts and removing all other sex organs. After the Massacre, soldiers displayed the women's severed body parts on their hats and stretched them over their saddle-bows while riding in the ranks. The sex organs of every male were removed in the most grotesque manner. One soldier boasted that he would make a tobacco pouch with the removed privates of White Antelope, a respected elder. Conner witnessed a soldier displaying the body parts of a woman on a stick. The fingers of Indians were cut off to get at the rings on them. Connor remembered a baby only a few months old who had been hidden in the feed box of a wagon for protection. When the soldiers discovered the baby some time later, the baby was thrown onto the frozen ground to die. In going over the site the next day, it was noted that every corpse was mutilated in some way, and scalped.
Two other men, Robert Bent and James Beckwourth were forced to ride with Chivington that morning. They recorded similar images. Beckwourth noted that before the massacre, White Antelope (age 75) ran out to meet the soldiers. He came running out to meet the command, holding up his hands and saying Stop! Stop! He spoke in as plain English as I can. He stopped and folded his arms until shot down. Bent remembered seeing the shooting of a little girl carrying a white flag. He also remembered seeing an Indian woman on the ground whose leg had been shattered by a shell. As she lay helpless, a soldier drew his saber, breaking the arm she had risen in defense. She then rolled over on her other side. The soldier did not leave until breaking her other arm with his saber, whereupon he left without killing her. Bent saw a pregnant woman who had been cut open and disemboweled. Her unborn child lay mutilated almost beyond human recognition beside her. Quite a number of mothers were slain; still clinging to their babies. Such was the scene that cold gray morning at Sand Creek, November 29, 1864.
Treaties continued to be made and then broken without compunction by the government. Whites were pushing the Indians further and further west towards the setting sun. Eventually the whites wanted the Indian Holy Land, The Black Hills or Paha Sapa. The Sioux were guaranteed the Black Hills forever by the Treaty of 1868. The Treaty stated that any white man in those Hills would need permission from the Indians to be there. However, gold was discovered in the Black Hills of the Sioux. So, in keeping with the greedy and sacrilegious tradition begun in America by Columbus (1400-1500s), and continued by fur traders(1600-1700s), the gold seekers too began to pillage and plunder, demanding Indian land. The government chose to listen to white people, and decided to purchase the Sacred Black Hills. The Sioux and other Indians would have none of this, and 20,000 showed up at the treaty ratification to prove it. The treaty party returned to Washington, and informed them that the Indians would not sign. The result was an armed forced removal. Whites were swarming on Indian land like bees, looking for mineral honey. General George Armstrong Custer, architect of the Washita Massacre (which the reader is encouraged to read about), was assigned to protect them. This would spawn arguably the most significant event in North American Indian history, Custers Last Stand on the Little Bighorn.
Custer was illegally trespassing on Sioux territory in 1876 in blatant violation of the Treaty of 1868 when his well-armed men were attacked by Indians from all directions. The Indians wanted soldiers out of their home, much like the colonists wanted the British out of their homes. Needless to say, the long haired Indian killer, Custer, and all his men, would not see another dawn. This absolute defeat enraged and embarrassed whites across the country into a crazed frenzy. Years after Custers defeat, his wife would painfully admit that Custer was in the wrong saying: "There was a time after the Battle of the Little Big Horn when I could not have said this, but as the years have passed I have become convinced that the Indians were deeply wronged." (Gessner pp. 7). In 1887, The General Allotment Act gave reservation Indian males 160 acres of the worst land to make farms. The land surplus created by giving Indians only 160 acres, reduced the size of reservations by 10s of millions of acres, angering the dispossessed Indians. The white land claims that followed were romanticized by recent movies like "Far and Away." Nowhere in this movie were dispossessed Indians noted.
To have an understanding of what led up to the Wounded Knee Massacre, one must at least read Dee Brown's book. A greatly shortened version will be presented here. Fourteen years after the Little Bighorn Battle, and after many wars between whites and Indians, the evil Massacre at Chankpe Opi Wakpala, or Wounded Knee Creek, took place. On December 28, Big Foot and his band of Minneconjous were sighted by US soldiers. They agreed to follow the soldiers to Pine Ridge near Wounded Knee, as they were headed there for protection anyway. Of the Great Sioux Chiefs, only Red Cloud, in his old age, was still alive. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were already slain, and the Ghost Dance Religion (which promised an end to obliteration of the land by whites) kept the people from complete destitution. On a bitter cold December morning, captured Indians, who had already been disarmed, were gathered in a shallow valley of Wounded Knee Creek. Soldiers, many still hungry for avenging Custers defeat, were positioned all around the surrounding bluffs. The soldiers had positioned four Hotchkiss guns around the encampment (Hotchkiss guns could hurl shells and shrapnel for a distance of two miles).
When the disarmament process was nearing an end, a misunderstanding occurred. Brown reports that a young Indian named Black Coyote, who was deaf, did not know what was going on, and the soldiers harassed him. It is unclear who fired the first shot, many say it was Black Coyote. The 1998 Encyclopedia Americana says a medicine man incited a young man to resist, and that firing broke out. These things aside, it is clear who was ready to execute a massacre. Gessner reports that 12 drunk soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry staggered to the ailing Chiefs tent during the disarmament and beckoned him to come outside; when he crept to the teepee entrance, 12 bullets entered his body. At that point, the Indians, 230 women and children and 120 men, fled in terror. The Hotchkiss guns and the soldiers opened up on the Indians indiscriminately. The huge Hotchkiss guns were firing almost a shell a second (Brown pp. 444), raking and shelling all of them. Their teepees were torn to pieces, and to be sure, so were many women and children. Nearly 300 of the original 350 men, women, and children, lay dead. Some accounts put the number at exactly 308 dead, and everyone else, wounded. The soldiers lost 25 dead and 39 wounded, most of them struck by their own bullets or shrapnel (Brown pp.444). The dead Indians were left scattered on the ground. A blizzard was blowing in, so those soldiers who were collecting the bodies of the dead and wounded, left to return after the blizzard. When the soldiers returned, the bodies were frozen into grotesque shapes (Brown pp. 445). The dead were buried in one mass grave. Today, in 1998, 20 Medals of Honor, are recognized by the U.S. government for soldiers who took part in killing 300 unarmed people. Black Elk would later say:
"I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A peoples dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. . . the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."...(Brown after page 445)
Today, in 1998, the US recognizes 20 Medals of Honor for soldiers who took part in the massacre of 300 unarmed people at Chankpe Opi Wakpala. Today, these medals are known as the 20 Medals of (Dis)Honor among Indians and others. A movement has been underway for some time to have the medals rescinded, but with no success.
The Twentieth Century...
We return to our continuing century timeline, moving into the 20th century. After the savages had been subdued, and finally all moved onto reservations, the whites began to show them how great white culture was. Indians were to become as whites, "be industrious, and want to learn the ways of men who killed their people." This would be like Hitler attempting to turn Jews into Nazis, or Christians trying to turn Muslims to Christ as Savior. As could be expected, the assimilation project has had notoriously failing results. The government pushed Indians onto reservations of dry, arid, and desolate land; land known as the Badlands. The government classed this land as farmable; however, one government official exclaimed that," There is at least 100,000 acres down there you would not take." (Gessner pp. 13) In fact there were well over 100, 000 leftover acres that Native Americans were forced to take. There, Indians were expected to somehow grow livestock and crops with no water. The fertile Black Hills were distant memory, as they were and are claimed by whites. Government and armed soldiers forced Indian children into boarding schools where they were flogged and beaten with brass studded whips, among other things for clinging to their culture. Many reservations had trachoma rates of 60 to 100%, but government reports in 1915 and onward listed such reservations as having adequate water. Trachoma is a contagious eye disease prevalent in poverty stricken areas caused above all by lack of water (Professional Guide to Diseases; 1995).
Government reports detailing the reservations are revealing. In his book, "The Winning of the West," the American hero and Bigot Theodore Roosevelt wrote that the Indian was a lazy, dirty, drunken beggar, whom the (. . .) frontiersman despised and yet whom they feared; for the squalid contemptible creature might at any moment be transformed into a foe whose like was not to be found in all the wide world for ferocity, cunning, and bloodthirsty cruelty. Theodore Roosevelt's last term ended in 1909. I am willing to bet that Congress had no intention of correcting this racist view. The 33rd Annual Report from the Executive Committee of the Indian Rights Association details the conditions on Indian reservations 25 years after the Massacre at Chankpe Opi Wakpala. The Following are excerpts taken from the 1915 report. The fact that a mind set such as Roosevelt's was so high up in government offers a clue to the way Indians would be treated. These reports are decisive evidence for over 25 years of extreme neglect of basic human rights, and the persistent struggle of a people.
These Indians [Modocs on Fort Bidwell reservation, CA] were allotted individual tracts of land in 1891 and 1894, and although 64,000 acres were parceled out to them, not more than 8,000 acres are of any value agriculturally, and then only when there is water for irrigation; but as that important element is lacking, the possible arable land is practically useless. ( 33rd Annual Report pp. 20)
The living conditions of these Indians [Modocs] are wretched. . . Trachoma is quite prevalent: 60 out of 75 children in the boarding school had contracted the disease. (33rd Annual Report pp. 20)
One would hardly expect, under these deplorable conditions, that the Indians would have any desire to embrace the white mans religion, yet they had erected a crude chapel on the borders of the town of Fort Bidwell. (33rd Annual Report pp. 20)
They [Indians on the Pauma reservation] are surrounded by white ranchers, and there is a considerable demand for their labor, as is the case at other points of the Pala jurisdiction. (33rd A. R. pp. 23)
It [Ute Mountain Agency] contains 480,000 acres, mostly desert land that is practically worthless, and that part of it capable of irrigation is without water. (33rd A. R. pp. 24) The present superintendent, Mr. J. E. Jenkins, certainly took up a white mans burden when he assumed charge of this Agency [Ute Mountain Agency]. (33rd A. R. 1915)
These statistics, as telling as they are, were submitted to Congress. I also have the 34th and the 37th Annual Reports. It should come as no surprise that little changed from year to year.
The same story of neglect is true for Indian schools. They gave the Indians schools didn't they? I am commonly asked this question by skeptics and people in denial. First of all, many boarding school children were orphans because US soldiers had killed their parents. In examining these Indian schools, often times schools without teachers, one will see why Indian children did not do well. From the beginning the boarding school experience has been an American horror story (Reed pp. 5). Attendance rates often far outnumbered the capacity of the schools on most reservations (33rd Annual Report). It [a school] is badly needed and the Indians want it. They were promised the school and doubtless are wondering whether it will be like so many other promises made to them in the past (33rd Annual Report pp. 24). After the government stalled for reasons such as water supply Indians often built schools for themselves. Some of the schools were actually old soldier forts; one can only imagine what images a soldier fort conjured up in the head of a young Indian child whose parents met brutal death at the hands of those same soldier fort soldiers. Unlike their Anglo counterparts, many of the Indian children were captured at gunpoint by the U.S. Military and taken to distant BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) boarding schools (Tullburg quoted in Reed pp. 4)
The Canadian government also used these practices. Indian children were shipped from their homes to distant lands, often 6000 miles away, where they could have no contact with their parents. Moreover, as Indian parents were poor, most earning two or three figures a year in the early and almost to mid 1900s, they could not pay to have their children brought home. Since the parents could not pay to bring their children home, kids were sent to work as domestics in non-Indian homes during the summer. This became known as Legalized Kidnapping (Reed. pp. 5). Policy known as the Outing System placed Indian children in the homes of white people for three years following graduation (Fuchs & Havighurst quoted in Reed. pp 5). In many boarding schools Indian children were placed in solitary confinement for speaking the only language they knew how, their native tongue. These dungeons had no windows, each cell having only a cot and a toilet, the rest was gray brick and concrete (filmed in The Native Americans vol. 1). Children would freeze to death while trying reach their homes on foot. Children as young as 10 were committing suicide, and are today. Even in our enlightened age in the latter 20th Century, Indian children in Alaska are shipped as far away as Oklahoma, 6000 miles from their parents (Cahn, 1969, quoted in Reed pp. 5). Christianity was forced upon the children and continues to this day to be stressed over tribal religions at the boarding schools (Reed 1993). In Utah boarding schools, many of the teachers are Mormons, Whose religion teaches them [Indian children] that American Indians are Lamanites, the remnants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, condemned to wear dark skins and to wander for their sins against God. (Reed pp. 7) There is not one Indian child who has not come home in shame and tears after one of those sessions in which he is taught that his people were dirty, animal-like, something less than a human being (Cahn quoted in Reed, pp. 7). Many students were made to work and go to school, even when terribly ill with tuberculosis.
Much talk of future improvement was to be found in the Executive committees Annual Reports regarding schools and living conditions. Committee leaders spoke often of newly appointed officials that were doing a great job on the reservations. The reports I focused on were from 1915 to 1919. Skipping a few years to 1956, Carlos B. Embry opens his book with a description 37 years after the 1919 reports and 66 years after the Wounded Knee Massacre. The Indian is the worst fed, worst clad, and worst housed of any racial group in the United States. . . He gets the poorest schooling, the poorest medical care, and the poorest government services of anyone in the country. . . While the average life of a white person in the US is now 68, and that of a Negro is 60, the life expectancy of a baby born on the Papago reservation in Southwestern Arizona is 17 years. The figure is approximately the same for the Navajo, the Hopi, the Ute, the Sioux, and other reservation Indians. . . Lack of ample and well-balanced food is another cause of the high mortality rate on the reservations. . . As a result of this sub-standard living, the Indian has an extremely high death rate from tuberculosis, diarrhea, dysentery, trachoma, dental caries, skin and venereal diseases, in addition to malnutrition, or simply starving to death. . . Opportunities for physical advancement on Indian reservations are practically non-existent. . . The Indian as an individual or as a tribe, cannot buy, sell, mortgage of lease land on a reservation without the consent of the Government. . . He lives in a capitalist economy, in which the bulk of business is carried on through credit, but it can be said of the Indian that he has no credit whatsoever.(Embry 1956)
It is surprising to me that so many well educated white men tried to figure out how to improve the conditions of the Indians. It does not take a genius to figure out that as long as the Indians were living on barren wasteland leftover from greedy whites, Indians had no way to sustain a living in the capitalist system. What these white people did prove while ignoring the real issue was prove that they were racists and supremacists, offering only seasonal labor to the Indian. Even Indian war veterans from W.W.I and W.W.II were ineligible for the GI Bill (and college) because graduates of Indian schools were only recognized to have completed the sixth grade (Embry pp. 222). What you then had/have is whites living and profiting on fertile green land looking at the Indians on their worthless allotments and saying: Damn, why dont you red people get it together?
Injustice to Native peoples on a racial scale did not end in the early part of this century, or the middle part of this century, or in 1998. Indians still do not have equal rights as human beings. In the late 60s, in keeping with the tradition of mistreating the Earth and casting aside the rights of Native Americans, the government dammed the Little Big Horn River on the Crow Agency reservation. Many Indians were opposed to the building of the dam. When Indians made it clear they did not want the dam built on their reservation, the government interceded and bribed Indians into signing for the dam, undercutting the well respected elder, Robert Yellowtail. Robert Yellowtail, a first generation boarding school student and self taught lawyer, fought passionately against the dam but to no avail. In the end, the dam was built. In a final irony and insult, the government named the dam Yellowtail. In the early 70s the dam grossed well over 8 million dollars annually, the tribe did not see a penny. Today, though I could find no figure on the current income of the dam, I did notice that the dammed part of the river, once on Crow land, now belongs to the state in the form of a state park and recreation area. None of the money earned from the park goes to the tribe either. Instead, the Crow are forced to mine the land and tear up the Earth underneath them for the minerals if there is to be a tribal income. This scenario, in various forms, was(is) not uncommon, as goals for reservation development remain largely industrial.
Many injustices sparked the AIM (American Indian Movement), occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. (this is where you come in) As Americans we cannot hide the fact that we are wasteful; shamefully wasteful.
I should give the reader an update. The 1997 version of Encyclopedia Americana for the first time gives one undetailed (and in my opinion, useless) paragraph of the Sand Creek Massacre. The 1998 Encyclopedia Britannica, however, has forgotten the Wounded Knee and Sand Creek Massacres altogether. Encyclopedia Americana lists Sand Creek as a Massacre, but refers to the Wounded Knee Massacre as an engagement.
Manifest Destiny, today in the form of globalization and a world economy are destroying the Earth at a rate matched in the past only by the Ice age and a 300 km wide meteor. (I have many examples of violations of human rights of Indians (by American big business and foreign big business) in South America from Victor Menotti of the IFG (International Forum on Globalization.) What you have today in South America is the 1800s all over again, and like the 1800s, little is being done for the sake of those Native Peoples because the Governments goals are still the same; to get ahead of everyone else. This illustrates the connectedness that the Native Issue has to world issues. The problem no longer belongs to Americans (though the larger part does), the problem is global. The US needs to keep it's economy ahead of Japan and China. China needs to catch Japan, and Japan needs to keep up with us. Throw in Singapore, Canada, France, England, Russia, and Mexico (NAFTA) and you have a warp speed raping of the world in the name of getting ahead i.e., big business and a materialistic society. This downward spiral was set in motion long ago. Many view globalization and a world economy as the final stage of what began on this continent five hundred years ago, and what was begun in Europe and the Middle East thousands of years ago.
Another form of racism toward Indians occurs every time the Cleveland Indians take the field brandishing the racist logo of Chief Wahoo, a leftover from the racist comic days. For almost half a century Native Americans have vehemently opposed the use of chief Wahoo, not to mention the fact that in a league where most teams are named after animals, you will also find Native Americans. The same is true for pro football also. Names like the Buccaneers or the Packers, although they are human figures, are not representative of a race of people. Workers World national newspaper recently ran the story of protestors being arrested this year for protesting the use of chief Wahoo. Interesting, isn't it, that when white people find a name like Washington Bullets offensive it is changed relatively overnight to Washington Wizards, and yet Native Americans and others have fought such things as the Tomahawk Chop, Chief Wahoo, Washington Redskins, and others for almost half a century to no avail.
The Jerico 98 March brought Yellow, Black, Red, White, and Mixed brothers and sisters together for one cause; to free all political prisoners in the United States.