Little House / Wounded Knee: Week 6, Empty Woods and Good Indians

In the sixth week of Little House/Wounded Knee, the Ingalls survive in the Big Woods and General Sheridan defines a “good Indian.” Sound interesting? Then let’s get started!

Laura in the “Big Woods”

little house big woodsOkay, first of all I have to have a little tiny nostalgic freakout moment, because I FINALLY got to a Laura book after 5 weeks! Woo! Also, this book takes places less than a 2 hour drive from my house! Double woo! (I might have to go on a field trip.)

That said, I didn’t get very far before I was reminded just how different this read-through will be:

The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them. (p.1-2)

Folks, this is literally the first page. And already there is a huge problem: “There were no people.” As if the woods are just pristine and untouched. There WERE people!

wisconsin Native tribes wLaura
Side note: For a great explanation of why mapping Native tribes is an inexact science, click this picture.

If we look at a map of now-Wisconsin marked with the names of the original inhabitants (a map to which I have added the Ingalls cabin, just north of Pepin, WI), we can see that Laura’s cabin was built on land that the Santee Dakota (Sioux) called home. As I’ve read/written about previously, the Dakota were tricked into signing away their lands after which they were rounded up, starved, cheated, imprisoned in a camp, hanged in Mankato, and forced into a tiny, barren reservation where many of them died. So, there WERE people. But they were killed and “relocated” so that families like Laura’s could be given “free land.” (Also, some were still there.)

That all took place from 1852-1863 or so. Laura ‘s older sister Mary was born in their Big Woods cabin in 1865, followed by Laura in 1867, which means the Ingalls were there no more than two years after the Dakota were forced out. That totally blows my mind. And 1867 — Laura’s birth year — is the same year that Red Cloud and the Lakota were resisting invasion and entreaties out west. This is happening at the SAME TIME, folks! And yet, there is a ginormous blind spot in how this story is being told, because the reader has NO IDEA how the Ingalls got there. They’re just there.

Now — I realize and I will grant that this book is (a) for children and (b) narrated by a child narrator, so I get why there aren’t vivid descriptions of, for example, the Sand Creek Massacre of 1862. But it would have been nice — and more honest — if Author-Laura had included a little bit of historical context in her narrative. I’ll cross my fingers that perhaps we get some later. That being said, the lack of any humanization of Indians indicates that to most white settlers, the Native inhabitants just don’t matter. Out of sight, out of mind. The Ingalls are concerned with getting their piece of land and staving off bears and wolves and subsisting. They give no thought to the fact that there used to be other people living on that land. The land is just “theirs” and that’s that. This is what the doctrine of Manifest Destiny does: it allows the white settlers to feel entitled to something that isn’t theirs while also ignoring and dismissing an entire people group.

I guess I can move past the first page now… so here are some notes and themes from the other 237 pages:

  • The Big Woods are so vivid they are almost like another character. From the opening page and throughout the book, you get an overwhelming sense of the isolation and the “wildness” the Ingalls feel living out in the forest. One night Laura stays up to listen to the wolves howl outside their door, and there’s nothing between her and them but a door and the guard dog, Jack. (And Pa’s rifle.) I didn’t count, but I’d bet money there are more anecdotes in this book about the Ingalls interacting with wild animals (bears, panthers, etc) than there are about them interacting with humans!
  • Even though Laura is only a very young child, we can already see her precocity and struggle with gender roles. Because I’ve read the whole series, I already know that Laura is the feisty one and Mary is the “perfect” one, so it’s interesting to see that this dichotomy is already emerging as early as page 23 of Book 1. Also, later in the book Laura learns that her Pa letting play outside is unusual compared to the norm of “Little girls had to sit in the house and stitch on samplers” (p.96).
  • Weird casual racism… is weird. And racist. So I remembered that Pa played lots of songs on his fiddle all the time. But somehow I glossed over the part where he sang a song that prominently featured “an old darkey [whose] name was Uncle Ned” (p.100) ???? That was a really jarring cognitive dissonance for me. I mean, yes, this book was published in 1930, but still — I read this! As a six-year-old! It just clearly demonstrates to me how embedded in white/American culture racism was/is, that a children’s author would think it appropriate to include a song about a “darkey” with no explanations or notes (and that the publisher would, too!).
  • There actually are a couple historical/cultural references, but I just didn’t notice them as a kid. First, I forgot that Laura’s Uncle George, a Civil War veteran, makes an appearance in the book. So there is at least a slight mention of “the war” here. Second, we get a tiny hint of Ma’s “townie” past when she gets out her fancy party dress “made by a dressmaker … in the East, in the place where Ma came from when she married Pa. … Ma had been very fashionable” (p.128). So she’s come from relative wealth to isolation and total self-run subsistence forest living. Totally different than the girls, who have never seen a store or a town or a machine before.

There are a few other things, but for the most part this is a pretty simple book told in a simple, childlike fashion. Bottom line: it’s a different time and place in a lot of ways. I’m sure all these themes will get more complex as we read through Laura’s growing up years and her thoughts get more complex.

“The Only Good Indian Is a Dead Indian”

Chapter 7 of Wounded Knee finds us following the Southern Cheyennes who decided to head south to rejoin Black Kettle and the “peaceable” crew rather than stay up north with Red Cloud and the Lakota Sioux. Unfortunately, they arrive just in time to be subject to yet another ridiculously belligerent US Army General. Yes, friends, it’s time for Good News, Bad News!

  • Good news: Southern Cheyennes reunited!
  • Bad news: Almost immediately two factions re-form: the “friendlies” rejoin Black Kettle and the more militant Dog Soldiers split off to follow Roman Nose.
  • Good news: US General Hancock says he wants to meet to sign further peace agreements.
  • Bad news: He insists that both Roman Nose and all the Cheyenne women and children must be there, despite the fact that these Sand Creek survivors are CLEARLY (and rightly) suspicious and cautious about allowing soldiers to march into their village/camp. (So basically Hancock is SUPER SKETCHY.)
  • Good news: Our old Cheyenne ally friend Major Wynkoop was able to become the agent for the tribe, so officially their advocate.
  • Bad news: He has no power to protect them from other US military officials. He later resigns in protest.
  • Good news: When Hancock & co. arrive at the Cheyenne village/camp, most of the people are able to quickly flee on horseback.
  • Bad news: Hancock & co. methodically inventory and then burn the hastily abandoned camp and everything in it, leaving the people destitute.
  • Good-ish news: After Red Cloud’s successful resistance in Powder River, a peace commission is organized and General Sherman offers “one great reservation south of the Arkansas River” to be shared by the Cheyenne, Arapahos, Kiowas, Comanches, & Prairie Apaches.
  • Bad news: The US Government is still “arguing over the treaty and had not provided money to buy [the Cheyenne] food and clothing as promised” (p.162), so the people suffer through a starving winter.
  • Bad news: When Roman Nose & Dog Soldiers try to mount some resistance against General Sheridan, the new general sent after them, Roman Nose is killed in battle. Sheridan orders General Custer (yes, that Custer) “to destroy their villages and ponies, to kill or hang all warriors, and bring back all women and children” (p.168).
  • More bad news: When the Cheyenne get wind of this, they ask a neighboring fort commander for protection. He tells them they will be fine and sends them back to be killed, even though he knows Sheridan’s plans… 
  • Worst news: Black Kettle decides in the morning he will take a delegation of warriors to meet the soldiers and convince them of their peacefulness… but before they even wake up the next morning Sheridan and his soldiers ambush the whole tribe out of the fog. “They killed 103 Cheyennes [even the conciliatory Black Kettle], but only eleven of them were warriors” (p.169).
  • Good-ish news: Few scattered Cheyenne survivors, as well as Arapahos and Comanches, come in to surrender peacefully, identifying themselves as “Good Indians.”
  • Ick: General Sheridan replied, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” (p.170)

Good heavens, what is the deal with this strange fixation with being confusing and randomly destroying native people groups EVEN WHEN THEY WANT PEACE, EVEN WHEN THEY’RE WILLING TO SUFFER SIGNIFICANT LOSSES TO GET IT??? I am so DISCOURAGED about the evil that humans are capable of when I read this. Though, Major Wynkoop’s struggle to be a good advocate and Black Kettle’s persistent attempts to lead peacefully remind me of the good that humans are capable of. So I guess I should try to focus on that. It’s just hard to feel hopeful when it feels like the “bad guys” win.

(**Note: Since I already did the “Where are they now” for both the S. Cheyenne and Arapahos, and there are upcoming chapters about the Kiowas, Comanches, and Apaches, we’ll skip for this week.) 

Conclusion

Between the stubbornly white-focused Manifest Destiny worldview of most white settlers (and most of white American history!) and the actively destructive determination of the US military Indian extermination effort, I feel like I’m starting to understand a little bit of why many Natives today might feel so depressed and invisible and hopeless. The country and culture they’re surrounded by mounted a purposeful campaign to steal their land and destroy and whitewash them, and now it has written them out of history and made their ancestors and their people sound like a sad but inevitable stepping stone on the path of “Human” (aka white) “Progress”. I feel a little hopeless just reading about it, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up in this space. It must be exhausting to perennially be located in a space where your mere existence is active resistance to the dominant order, and to feel like you’re a tiny megaphone shouting into a hurricane of oppression and centuries of physical and psychological and spiritual trauma.

Don’t really know what else to say about that, so I’ll just end there for today.

Tune in next week for Wounded Knee Ch. 8 and Little House on the Prairie (LH #2).

Little House / Wounded Knee, Week 5: On Independence

In the fifth week of Little House/Wounded Knee, Red Cloud wins a rare victory (maybe) and Almanzo learns to be an Independent Farmer Boy. Sound interesting? Then let’s get started!

“Red Cloud’s War”

This sixth chapter of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is basically a giant game of cat and mouse between Red Cloud, an Oglala (Lakota) chief, and various U.S. commanders, most notably General William T. Sherman (whom I’m sure we will meet again later). Here’s what happened:

  • While the events at Powder River were still going on, the US sent a “treaty commission” to boat along the Missouri River and try to get any official-sounding body from any tribe to sign a peace treaty. The commission sent special messengers to Red Cloud and the Oglala Lakota, because they occupied the Powder River area, which is where the US wanted to build a road.
  • Red Cloud and some other tribes came to camp and begin peace talks. Meanwhile, a large group of US soldiers arrived at that very site, with orders to begin construction on the road and forts no matter the outcome of the peace talks. Red Cloud thought that was pretty lousy — “Great Father [US President] sends us presents and wants new road. But White Chief goes with soldiers to steal road before Indian says yes or no!” (p.130) — so he and most of the other Indians left.
  • Soldiers marched right into the heart of Lakota country, stopped on the best hunting grounds, and built a fort (to accompany the existing Fort Connor/Fort Reno).
  • Since the forts looked a little hard to crack, several Oglalas (including Crazy Horse) practiced setting traps and running decoys. They used these tactics to draw a group of soldiers out into an ambush in which the combined N.Cheyenne/N.Arapaho/Lakota warriors killed all 80-100 soldiers, an event known by settlers as the Fetterman Massacre. The Indians also mutilated many of the bodies, as Col. Chivington had done to the Cheyenne earlier at the Sand Creek Massacre. This battle was the “worst defeat the Army had yet suffered in Indian warfare” (p.138).
  • After this, the US Government took a decidedly more conciliatory and cautious tack with Red Cloud & Co. They sent General William T. Sherman to offer gifts to any chiefs who came to another set of peace talks in western Nebraska. Several chiefs came (Red Cloud only sent a representative), but when pressed Sherman revealed the real goal: to get the Powder River Lakota to move to a reservation elsewhere. “We therefore propose to let the whole Sioux nation select their country up the Missouri River, …to have their lands like the white people, forever…” (p.143)
  • Red Cloud let it be known loud and clear that he would sign no peace treaty until the white settlers removed themselves from Lakota land. “If the Great Father kept white men out of my country, peace would last forever, but if they disturb me, there will be no peace.” (p.144)
  • Finally, in July of 1868, the War Department ordered that all forts in the Powder River area be abandoned. Red Cloud and the Oglalas burned one, then the Cheyennes burned the other in celebration. Red Cloud made the treaty-makers wait a few weeks, then rode in to sign a peace treaty. The End… (Not.)

There are a lot of mixed feelings here for me. On the one hand, it’s sad to see the mutilation continue, even if it is in retaliation. On the other hand, it’s pretty exciting to FINALLY see something go the Indians’ way. Red Cloud’s persistence and military strategy forced the US Government to respect his boundaries and treat him like a human being and a worthy adversary. HOWEVER… my excitement is a nervous, hesitant one, because I know it won’t end like this. Even Brown ends the chapter with doom-and-gloom foreshadowing. Why can’t you let me have my moment of wishful happiness, Dee Brown??

Wind River Indian ReservationThe Northern Arapaho: Where are they now?

(Since there are several more chapters about Red Cloud and the Oglala/Lakota, I will hold off on their “Where are they now” until that narrative concludes in the book. Today — the N. Arapaho!)

Today, the Northern Arapaho are a federally recognized tribe with over 9,000 enrolled members. After their initial treaty with the US was broken and their land taken, they were moved and now share the Wind River Reservation in west-central Wyoming with the Shoshone. You can read more about the Northern Arapaho here.

Farmer Boy

farmer boy - laura ingalls wilderAhhhhhh children’s books. So many memories. Actually, it was a little nostalgic and a little surreal to reread Farmer Boy. There were a lot of familiar stories — like my favorite, when Almanzo throws the blacking brush at Eliza Jane and makes a huge spot on the parlor wallpaper and thinks Pa is going to take him to the woodshed when he gets home! Dun dun DUNNNNNNNNNN! But there were also a lot of “teaching moments” and other little tidbits that I didn’t remember so much. It’s quite a long book, so I’ll just highlight a few overarching themes and trends that I noticed…

  • Almanzo’s family is (relatively) loaded. Much of the start of the book is dotted with Almanzo’s descriptions of his family’s farm in Malone, New York.  It is repeatedly made clear that the Wilder farm is NICE. Mr. Wilder is one of the wealthiest men in the area — his family can afford luxuries like store-bought cloth and white sugar, and the Wilders rent the best “parking shed” for their horses at church. (This is in contrast to Laura’s family, who we will see later are not quite so well-off.)
  • Despite their wealth, farm life is still depicted as a constant battle to survive. At one point Almanzo parrots his father and says “Idleness is sinful,” and you can definitely feel that axiom permeating the book, because little time is spent in what we would call recreation, and if it is, it’s either for a national holiday or on a day when it’s impossible to do anything else useful (e.g. a rainy day). After dinner, when it’s too dark to do farm labor, the family sits around the family room together and… does more work! Ma Wilder knits, Pa Wilder smooths down a new ax handle, big brother Royal whittles, one sister crochets, and the other sister reads the newspaper aloud to everyone (p.33). When the older children are away at school, Ma uses her “day off” to weave cloth while Pa trims new shingles for the roof. These folks simply never stop working, except when they sleep. Subsistence is their aim, and hard work is their game!
  • Life is very isolated. Except for intermittent school attendance and seeing folks briefly at church, the Wilders pretty much pass their days working alone or with each other on the farm. Additionally, when Almanzo is given time to play (i.e. when siblings are all away at school), he plays alone. When he gets a new sled for his birthday, he takes it out himself and sleds alone for an hour.
  • As such, community events are a big deal! The stop-the-presses importance of both the Fourth of July celebration and the State Fair are staggering, especially to 9-year-old Almanzo. Even small things, like the arrival of the travelling cobbler to make the family’s boots, is a notable event — because otherwise they’re all just at home, working on the farm as usual.
  • Indians are weirdly not present. As with the Wong Ming-Chung Diary in Week 1, I was surprised at how non-existent Indians seem in this book. There were a few passing references, but they were so small as to feel unimportant. For example, Almanzo wears moccasins “exactly like the moccasins that Indians wore” (p.4). Almanzo has a diatribe about how the Indians must have introduced popcorn to the Pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving (p.33). Mrs. Wilder tells the children not to “yell like Comanches” (p.79). An Indian randomly runs in a horse race at the fair and people bet on him (p.265). Mr. Wilder sows “rye-n-injun” so that they can eat “rye-n-injun bread (p.93 et al). NONE of these references are in any way explained in the book, other than the Thanksgiving one, which is narrated almost like a fairy tale. To me, it feels a little bit like there is some shared knowledge about Indians that “everyone knows” that is being referenced in many of these cases, almost like a shared fairy tale canon. Whatever it is, Indians definitely don’t feel real in this book. More like mythical creatures, if anything. What’s weird to me is that everything else about farm life is explained so painstakingly — how to make butter, how to carve an ox yoke, how to cut and store ice — but these references to entire people groups are not. It just feels like a weird elephant in the room… er, book. I don’t know how else to explain it.
 But by far the strongest theme of the book — mostly because this is what the main conflict/resolution of the plot revolves around — is this:
  • It is important to be an Independent Freedom Farmer because you can Be Your Own Man, and everyone else can’t. Two of Mr. Wilder’s biggest speeches in the book revolve around the nobility of farming. On the Fourth of July: “[America is] the biggest country in the world, and it was farmers who took all that country and made it America, son” (p.188-9). And then this longer one at the conclusion of the book: “A farmer depends on himself, and the land, and the weather. If you’re a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear…. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You’ll be free and independent, son, on a farm” (p.370-1). Based on the time I spent living in farm-country western Kansas, I’d say this rugged individualism is still very much alive and well today (and not just on farms, either).

This is the backbone of the “pioneer spirit” at the root of white American dominant culture, I think — to be your own man and be beholden to no one. But it’s hard for me to reconcile that idea with the fact that a pretty similar goal — to live on and with the land as they had for generations and to be left alone by white settlers — was wrenched away from Native tribes all across the continent. To make room for (mostly) white farmers to “take all that country and make it America”.

I can really feel the disconnect — the not-honesty — when the story is told the way Mr. Wilder tells it, as if “taking the country and making it America” were the simplest, most innocent, most noble thing ever, and as if the Indians who already lived there didn’t even exist, except as a brief cultural touchstone to name your bread after. I can see the American pioneer spirit, and I can also see how it eclipsed (and is still eclipsing…) the Native story before (and during, and after) it.

P.S. I looked up a map of Malone, NY (where the Wilder farm was/is) and a map of Indian tribe locations. Turns out the Wilder farm was/is located on Mohawk land. You can read more about the Mohawk and their neighbors here.

NY Indian tribes

Conclusion

This week, the clear theme is independence. Red Cloud fought tooth and nail to force the US to treat him as an equal and to make sure he would only sign a treaty on his terms. He worked hard to make sure he could give his people the best chance at staying the independent, autonomous occupants of their land. Meanwhile, off to the east in New York, a bunch of white pioneers and farmers also valued stubbornness and independence. Buuuuuut between the two, there was this weird thing called the “Frontier”… where Indians were annihilated and/or relocated. I’m a Connector, so I’m really struggling with this GIANT disconnect between the lives and stories of Indian tribes and the lives and stories of many simple immigrant farmers. There’s a huge amount of violence in that disconnect… but it’s like it disappears! I don’t get it. Perhaps as we go on the stories will start to touch each other a bit more… we’ll see.

Tune in next week for Wounded Knee Ch. 7 and Little House in the Big Woods (LH #1)

Little House / Wounded Knee: Week 4, The Good, the Bad, and the Evil

In the fourth week of Little House/Wounded Knee, freed blacks have to wait a lot and we see the best and worst of white settler behavior. Sound interesting? Then let’s get started!

[content note: graphic description of violence – not for children.]

“I Thought My Soul Would Rise & Fly”

i thought my soul would rise and flyThis fictional diary, based on a one-line description of a real person and other historical documents of the time, tells the story of “Patsy, a Freed Girl” right after the end of the Civil War in 1865. I found myself a little bored reading this one, probably because the main concern of most of the book was waiting. The things Patsy and the other newly freed blacks waited for were actually pretty interesting, though.

  • They waited to see if they were still emancipated now that their emancipator, President Lincoln, was dead.
  • They waited for news of their loved ones who had been sold away from them, or they waited for a chance to leave themselves. (Side note: It was cool to see how black churches came to function as community centers for support, information, education, etc.)
  • They waited for the right to vote (and women had to wait till the 1900s).
  • They waited for a white teacher to come establish the school they were promised in exchange for continuing to work their plantation. (She never came, because no one would house her.)
  • They waited for the plots of land they were promised. (Instead, most land was returned to former slaveholders.)
  • Patsy waited to see if it was still illegal for her to read and write.

Overall, it was educational to learn about how long and confusing the emancipation process was for many of these black folks. They had been forbidden to learn to read or write, they had little access to information, and they were constantly being fed misinformation by their white former owners, so it’s not that surprising that it took a while for slavery to actually be done. Not to mention that once the white plantation owners went to Washington D.C. and took their oaths of allegiance they pretty much regained their former influence, which they used to codify new restrictions on free blacks (see the “Black Codes”).

Basically, the Reconstruction Era was chaotic because of all the migration and massive socio-political upheaval caused by literally reorganizing an entire society all at once. Some blacks were able to band together and purchase land through associations (as the folks in this diary do in the epilogue), but many were roped into the “new slavery” of sharecropping and never really got a chance to stand on their own two feet.

“War Comes to the Cheyennes” & “Powder River Invasion”

In Chapter 4 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Brown relates the story of Black Kettle and the Cheyennes, who worked hard to maintain peace with white folks, even sending a few chiefs (Black Kettle included) to meet with President Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C. Black Kettle received from Lincoln a medal, papers, and a huge American flag, which he flew constantly and insisted would protect his tribe from being mistaken for non-peaceable Indians.

Despite this proactive diplomacy, and despite having several other local white advocates (I was happy to find a few finally, goodness!), the Cheyennes were still told to camp close to Fort Lyon to ensure that they stayed peaceable. This relatively neighborly arrangement continued under the sympathetic Major Wynkoop, until complaints from less Indian-friendly officials that he was “letting the Indians run the place” resulted in his being relieved of command. He was replaced by one Major Anthony who, along with his commanding officer Colonel Chivington, was bent on “collecting scalps” and “wading in gore” (Chivington’s words). They kept up a peaceful front with the Cheyennes and neighboring Arapahos until they had time to amass their troops. When some of Anthony’s officers objected that an attack on the Cheyennes would violate the peace treaty and “would be murder in every sense of the word”, Colonel Chivington replied, “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians!” (p. 86) (Did I mention that Chivington was also an ordained Methodist minister?)

The ensuing Sand Creek Massacre was horrific. Due to the sense of safety from Major Wynkoop’s friendship and Major Anthony’s facade of peace, the Cheyenne camp was almost totally unguarded. A witness in the camp later remembered this scene:

…in the camps themselves all was confusion and noise — men, women, and children rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at sight of the troops; men running back into the lodges for their arms. … I looked toward the chief’s lodge and saw that Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and was standing in front of his lodge, holding the pole, with the flag fluttering in the gray light of the winter dawn. I heard him call to the people not to be afraid, that the soldiers would not hurt them; then the troops opened fire from two sides of the camp. (p. 88, emphasis added)

The soldiers in this slaughter were particularly brutal, killing most of the 100-200 people and scalping and mutilating the bodies. One soldier graphically described the carnage: “In going over the battleground the next day I did not see a body of man, woman, or child but was scalped, and in many instances their bodies were mutilated in the most horrible manner — men, women, and children’s privates cut out, &c. …to the best of my knowledge and belief these atrocities that were committed were with the knowledge of J. M. Chivington, and I do not know of his taking any measures to prevent them” (p. 90). Brown notes that “in a public speech made in Denver not long before this massacre, Colonel Chivington advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, even infants. ‘Nits make lice!’ he declared” (p. 90), thereby adding his name to a (sadly) long list of those who have justified extermination and genocide by comparing people to pests.

To me, this chapter illustrates both the best and worst of white-Indian relations. On the one hand, Major Wynkoop and many other soldiers lived in peace and perhaps even friendship with the Cheyenne. They knew and respected honorable behavior when they saw it, and spoke up even when their own people violated that honor. On the other hand, Colonel Chivington is clearly a man sick with hate and racism and violence, orchestrating and gleefully executing the slaughter and mutilation of hundreds of blatantly innocent people. If only, I keep thinking, if only the U.S. Government had listened to the Major Wynkoops and worked toward peace and stability instead of privileging the Colonel Chivingtons and participating in deceit, murder, and evil.

Unfortunately for Chivington’s goals of wiping out the Cheyennes, many of the tribe had been off hunting. The Indians he had slaughtered and desecrated were, in fact, the least threatening — over two-thirds women and children. The remainder of the Cheyenne split — a disheartened Black Kettle (who somehow survived) and several hundred followers headed south to join the Southern Arapahos, while the rest headed north to the seemingly impenetrable stronghold of the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux in the Powder River area to mass for a revenge attack. The Northern group defeated an outpost of soldiers and retreated to Powder River, hoping they would now be able to keep the whites at bay. (More on that later.)

Meanwhile, down south of the Arkansas River, Black Kettle and his band of Cheyennes joined with Little Raven and the Arapahos who had also been driven off of their land. Since the new territory of Colorado could be proved through previous (broken) treaties to stand on Cheyenne and Arapaho land, government representatives organized a council meeting to sign a new treaty. When Black Kettle and Little Raven argued that it would be difficult for their peoples to leave their homelands and fallen loved ones behind, they received this reply:

We all fully realize that it is hard for any people to leave their homes and graves of their ancestors, but, unfortunately for you, gold has been discovered in your country, and a crowd of white people have gone there to live, and a great many of these people are the worst enemies of the Indians…. Under the circumstances, there is, in the opinion of the commission, no part of the former country large enough where you can live in peace. (p.100, emphasis added)

What is so evident here is the instant privilege given to anyone who is white over and above anyone who is Indian, and the proprietary sense of manifest destiny. “Since we white folks have discovered gold,” it seems to say, “naturally we have a right to your land and will do nothing to prevent current and future whites from crossing your borders and taking your land.” Any white desire for Indian land is assumed and normalized — and granted — and the Cheyenne/Arapaho desire to maintain their land “just to be near their fallen ancestors” is not worth preserving in the face of such potential monetary gain. This whole statement is heavy with self-righteous inevitability.

Left with no other options to secure peace, the leaders of the remaining Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos signed the new treaty in October of 1865, agreeing to “perpetual peace” and totally relinquishing all claims to their former homeland in exchange for a tiny reservation in Kansas.

Chapter 5 of Wounded Knee is short; it details the ever-hardening resolve of both the white settlers and the federated Dakota/Cheyenne/Arapaho to entertain no other option than killing each other. We also meet our first Indian “mercenaries” in the Pawnees, who were old tribal enemies of the Dakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos and hired themselves out to the soldiers at Fort Connor. The aforementioned Connor (a general who named the fort after himself) took a band of soldiers and went out to “hunt like wolves” any Indians he could find. They destroyed a peaceful Arapaho village before being stopped and held in place by the Dakota/Cheyenne/Arapaho federation, who harried their supply trains to keep them starving and demoralized. The chapter ends at this uneasy stand-still, with the Indian alliance temporarily keeping the soldiers at bay but knowing they cannot match the firepower of Civil War arms and howitzers. We’ll read more about these tribes, I’m assuming, in Chapter 6, “Red Cloud’s War.”

The Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne: Where are they now?

Since there are many tribes in these and later chapters, I’ll try to break them up a bit and do a few at a time.

After the Southern Arapahos and Southern Cheyennes were given a small reservation in Kansas, the land was not to their liking, so their reservation was relocated to “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma. However, in 1907 the federal government dissolved all formal Indian reservations land ownership in order to allow Oklahoma to be admitted to the Union as a state. Today the state of Oklahoma has reinstituted tribal sovereignty, but in a non-land-owning way. Instead, it recognizes “tribal jurisdiction” of various sectors designated as “Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Analysis (OTSA) areas“. You can see a map of the former Indian reservations below.

Former Indian Reservations in Oklahoma

 

Today, the Southern Arapahos and Southern Cheyennes live together in the combined Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe in western Oklahoma. Of over 12,000 enrolled tribal members, over 8,000 live in Oklahoma. In 2006, the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe worked with Southwestern Oklahoma State University to found the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal College. You can learn more about the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe here.

Conclusion

This week, the common theme is how far some people will go to defend the privileges granted to them by their entrenched beliefs and power structures. To me, Chivington is the epitome of evil in the book so far — his actions turn my stomach and makes me want to shrink away. But even though it really disgusts me how evil humans can be, I also believe it’s important for us to keep reading and knowing and sharing true stories, because that’s what happened. And even though it’s hard sometimes to admit “yes, my government endorsed deception and thievery and massacre and mutilation, and I still benefit from it today,” it is still true. I feel like the very least I can do is to tell the truth as best I can.

Tune in next week for Wounded Knee Chapter 6 and (finally) Farmer Boy (Little House #3).

Little House / Wounded Knee: Week 3, Cardinal Directions

In the third week of Little House/Wounded Knee, the entire continent is in uproar as two totally separate wars go on in two totally different parts of the land. Sound interesting? Then let’s get started!

The Civil War — Emancipation & Gettysburg

This week I read a lot of history.

In fall of 1862, the Civil War had already been going on for over a year. In September, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that “on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free”. Most folks (including myself) think of the Emancipation Proclamation and immediately think, “Oh, that’s when President Lincoln freed all the slaves!” But in rereading the actual text I was struck by a few things I didn’t remember from history class.

  • The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery or free all slaves. You’ll note in the above-quoted snippet that only people held as slaves in states “in rebellion against the United States” are declared free. In fact, later in the Proclamation Lincoln specifically states that in parts of the U.S. that are not rebelling, that these “excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.”
  • It ends with an “Uncle Abe wants YOU for the U.S. Army!” I remember learning that part of President Lincoln’s motivation to issue this Proclamation was to try to gain support, military and otherwise, from freed slaves, but as a content writer I was a little surprised with the straightforwardness of the call to action at the end.
  • Slaves magically change from property to “persons”! Maybe there are lots of historical examples of whites referring to slaves as “persons”, but for some reason that language of personhood just struck me here. Perhaps I just feel the elephant in the room of there being no mention of slavery having been morally wrong. It’s “fixed” sort of, but there’s no hint of repentance, reconciliation, or closure.

Those things said, definitely still a historically important document, paving the way for the full abolition of slavery vis-a-vis the 13th Amendment and turning the tide of the Civil War.

The following July, the Union soldiers won the Battle of Gettysburg, but there was great loss of life on both sides. Later that autumn, in November of 1863, President Lincoln gave one of the most famous (and shortest) American speeches ever at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is simply an impressive work of oratory — especially when you consider that it’s less than 300 words! — but I couldn’t help hearing those words with different ears this time. For example, I couldn’t read “our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation” without thinking about the nations those fathers steamrollered and deceived in order to establish their new nation. Everything sounds different when you try to read “facing east”.

My main sense, though, was how surreal it felt to read all this about the Civil War and have no sense at all that thousands of Indians were also fighting a war to preserve their nations. It’s almost like there were two totally separate parallel wars going on at this time — the Civil War between the Union/North and the Confederacy/South and the War for Survival between the Indians/West and the settlers/East. 

As the war between the Bluecoats and the Graycoats increasingly consumed national attention, federal distraction set the stage for the spark that would ignite the tinderbox of decades of frustration between the Eastern Dakota and Euro-settlers.

“Little Crow’s War”

In Chapter 3 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, we make the acquaintance of Little Crow (Ta-oya-te-duta) and the Santee Dakota. Just to clarify for all us non-native folks, there are multiple tribes that fall under the umbrella of “Sioux”, the main three being the Dakota (east), the Nakota (central) and the Lakota (west). All of these three larger tribes also have sub-groups (e.g. the Mdewakanton Dakota). The Santee Dakota are the easterly, forest-dwelling members of the Sioux relations. (Or they were before they were relocated. But I get ahead of myself.)

This particular chapter and story really hits home with me, because these are the people whose land I’m sitting on right now, as I write this. The state of Minnesota was created from land “acquired” by deceptive Euro-American traders whose false treaties tricked the Santee into signing away 90% of their ancestral land to whites. I’ll sum up the whirlwind of events that followed, because I want to have time to unpack it all.

  • In the 10 years before the Civil War, Little Crow (a Mdewakanton Dakota chief) was tricked into signing treaties that allowed whites to take land and confine the Santee to smaller and smaller reservations, living on a paltry monetary allowance from the U.S. government.
  • In 1862, because of funds being occupied fighting the Civil War, the Santees’ payment from the government was delayed, leaving them starving and angry. A couple rash young men got in an argument about who was too coward to kill a white man and ended up shooting five white settlers.
  • When they told their chief and Little Crow, it was decided that the tribes should band together to pre-empt the settlers’ revenge attack. Little Crow gave a masterful speech about the feeling of inevitability surrounding this conflict: “…Braves, you are little children — you are fools. You will die like rabbits when the hungry wolves hunt them in the Hard Moon of January. Ta-oya-te-duta is not a coward; he will die with you.”
  • While initially successful at taking several hundred white and mixed-race prisoners, the group of Dakota warriors was unable to fully defeat either the settlers at New Ulm or the soldiers at Fort Ridgely.
  • When Little Crow refused to surrender his warriors or the prisoners, another of the chiefs in the group sent a secret message to the white commander saying that he and his followers would surrender themselves and the prisoners.
  • At this point, the Santee Dakota split: Little Crow and his followers fled west to join up with the prairie Dakota, while the rest surrendered themselves and their prisoners into the hands of Commander Henry Sibley, who assured them that they would be treated as friends. He immediately sent all of them to a camp where they were prisoners.
  • 330 Santee men were “tried” in a kangaroo court. 303 were sentenced to hang. With a goal “to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other,” President Lincoln insisted the cases be examined by lawyers and approved 39, then 38 of the executions. On the day after Christmas, 1862, these 38 Dakota were hanged in Mankato, MN. It is the largest mass execution in American history to this day.
  • The remaining Dakota were then transported to a tiny, barren reservation at Crow Creek where over 300 of the 1,300 brought there didn’t survive the winter.

Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past

spirit car - diane wilsonI made a slight addition to my reading plans and read chapters 1-4 of Spirit Car, in which Diane Wilson imagines a fictional (but historically based) scene of the events of the Dakota War based on the life of her great-great-grandmother, who was married to a French-Canadian man and was able to hide with him and their children inside Fort Ridgely. (A big thanks to Pastor Jim Bear Jacobs for this great addition to my list!) I won’t retell the whole sequence of events. What really got me about this book is how caught between two worlds Rosalie (the great-great-grandmother) and the other mixed-race folks were. She laments that her eldest son, who enlisted in the army to fight “the Graycoats” but is called back to quell the fighting between the Santee and whites, will have to choose which family members to shoot at, his French-Canadian and mixed-race relatives or his Dakota ones. These multicultural families really got caught in the middle of things. It’s an interesting perspective to add.

The most powerful point in this reading for me, though, was this passage that occurs right after the remaining Santee were marched to the camp at Fort Snelling:

They [the Dakotas] were told to surrender their medicine bundles and sacred objects, all of which were burned in a large fire. Missionaries… immediately began the work of converting the vulnerable prisoners to Christianity. (p.42)

When I read this, my stomach sank. I feel so gross seeing my faith used as an excuse to strip an already beaten-down people of their last remaining ties to their culture. The simple brute force of single-minded destruction in this story is mind-boggling. Not only did the settlers cheat the Santee out of their land, not only did they imprison and hang their men, not only did they treat them as less than human for decades, but then on top of that they took what few sacred objects the Santees had left to cling to and threw them into the fire. And then, with no time for grief or processing, picked up with the imperialist push of white Christianity.

So much for the “friendly reception” promised to those who surrendered peacefully.

Spirit Car also notes that missionaries were able to baptize most of the 38 who were hanged. As a Christian, I’m used to baptism being cause for celebration, so my younger self would have been totally thrilled at this fact. But now that I’ve read the whole story, and seen so much questionable power usage and advantage-taking going on here, I feel totally conflicted. I want to feel happy that baptism happened… but I don’t. Do you?

The single-mindedness with which the Minnesota government pursued the destruction of the Dakota is horrifically thorough.  Then-Governor Ramsay of Minnesota publicly stated that all the Santee Dakota needed to be “exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of our state”. Then he declared a $200 bounty for Dakota scalps. A few years later, Little Crow was shot dead while picking berries with his son. His skull and scalp were collected and displayed in a museum. Even the Dakota who fled were reachable targets for vengeful settlers.

Dakota land mapThe Santee Dakota: Where Are They Now?

Today the Santee Dakota reservation is located in Knox County, Nebraska, where it was moved in 1863. The passage of the Homestead Act, which provided land to non-Indian settlers for $1.25 per acre, caused the reservation land to be cut by half. You can see on the map at right the difference between the original ancestral land of all the Sioux (in green) and the land they occupy today in the form of reservations (in orange).  The total tribal enrollment of the Santee Dakota today is around 2,600, about 900 of whom live on the Nebraska reservation. You can learn more about the Santee Dakota here.

To learn more about the executions in Mankato, watch the excellent documentary Dakota 38. You can watch/download it for free here.

Conclusion

So basically… during the Civil War there were TWO separate and parallel wars. With the story of the Dakota, you can really see encapsulated the single-minded, no-mercy destruction with which many settlers pursued the Indians. Also, we get another perspective from the mixed-race white/Indians, who were caught between worlds as their two sides faced off.

Tune in next week for Wounded Knee Ch. 4 & 5 and I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly.