America The Beautiful?
Caliban, Coyote and the Knights of the Golden Circle
"It is a little surprising that when we entered into treaties with…the whites, their whole cry is more land! Indeed…it seemed to be a matter of formality with them to demand what they knew we durst not refuse…If…reconnoitring a country is sufficient reason to ground a claim to it, we shall insist upon transposing the demand, and you relinquishing your settlements…Let us examine the facts of your present eruption into our country, and we shall discover your pretensions on that ground. What did you do? You marched into our territories…you killed a few scattered and defenceless individuals, spread fire and desolation wherever you pleased, and returned again to your own habitations…Again, were we to inquire by what law or authority you set up a claim, I answer none! Your laws extend not into our country, nor ever did…
"Indeed, much has been advanced on the want of what you term civilization among the Indians; and many proposals have been made to us to adopt your laws, your religion, your manners and your customs. But, we confess that we…should be better pleased with beholding the good effect of these doctrines in your own practices…You say: Why do not the Indians till the ground and live as we do? May we not, with equal propriety, ask, Why the white people do not hunt and live as we do?" Corn Tassel of the Cherokee (Onitositah of the Tsalagi) quoted in From The Heart, a documentary account of the American Genocide edited with a narrative by Lee Miller, Pimlico 1995.
Dante was once asked why his great work was entitled a comedy, when so much of its content was ineluctable tragedy. He replied that in a tragedy we move from happiness and the heights to the depths and dark despair. In the poem he travels otherwise, guided by Virgil and Beatrice, from Pandemonium to Paradise, which is the essence of the divine (humanity reconceived as enraptured and exalted) comedy.
And so much for the distinction. Enough for now of comedy.
The only tragedy is, and all tragedies are, human. First and last, all along the length of the line; alpha, omega, nadir and zenith; human, human, human.
That portion of the human race which engages with history thinks its history in a viscous medium of sentiment and platitude. Thus, from the cloud-capped towers to which we imagine our western civilisation has risen we see at its roots the sanctity of life, our growing awareness of the same and our increasing attachment to such and so on as noblest, most shining, of our oh so many brightly shining, oh so very noble ideals.
The human race acts its history in blood and iron; knowing as it acts what it cannot think in repose, that in no known market is there anything so cheap, so crude, so casually tossed aside and trampled as human life.
Between the acts of our history and our reflection upon an immediately sanitised perception of those acts lies the ground, the heights, the depths, the plain, all the topography of all our tragedy. Our civilisation has been built on that ground. It is unceasing, on-going, not soon if ever to be ended, tragedy.
The great renaissance of western thought and feeling through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which I have hymned before and somehow hope to be able to laud again in an as yet undetermined, really unimaginable, future, was the period in which the ruling classes of Europe internalised the tragedy of its civilisation, preparatory to unleashing it upon the savage peoples of so many newly discovered uncivilised untragic worlds.
In that period of rebirth Europe and its diaspora discovered that a history lived in horror could be written as hypocrisy and then relived as an inevitable rise to ineffable progress through the irresistible stages of a human development from satisfaction to civilisation. That discovery sustained it through its adventures in the skin trade to its essays in the degradation and extermination of entire peoples. It sustains it to this day.
As I write this it is four days since New York was bombed by savages who have learned to internalise the tragedy of their lives and unleash it as an act of history. I do not know that they have also learned how to write that historical act hypocritically. But, as tragedy has been so successfully hammered into them, how could they fail to follow the logic of their knowledge of it? All I know of Arab historical writing to this point is Ibn Khaldun (who wrote in the fourteenth century in a culture that managed for the most part to be both civilised and satisfied, that was not grounded in tragedy). Now that the victims of the European diaspora's middle-east policy have taken to civilisation I look forward to reading the Islamic Hegel.
I do not mean any of this to in any way devalue the human tragedy which occurred in New York. That is immense and irreducible. All tragedy is human and every human tragedy is unique. No tragedy excuses any other. Nor does one efface another.
I mean only to stress and insist that the essential roots of this civilisation of ours which is said to be under attack from an undifferentiated monster do not lie in an appreciation of the sanctity of human life. Very much the reverse. The tragedy that is western civilisation has been brought home to its twin-towered heartland and pride. I could never applaud that. But neither can I bring myself to the hypocrisy of politicians and their tame schoolmen who scream condemnation from mouths stuffed with the fruits of centuries of pillage and rape, massacre, degradation and genocide.
I mean only to strain after understanding, seeking to explain. Trying while expecting to fail. Drawing back and trying again. I know no other way to proceed.
A Song Of Caliban
To my mind, Shakespeare's most accomplished, most fully realised and rounded, drama is The Tempest, at the heart of which lies William Strachey's account of Sir George Somers' voyage to the Americas in the Sea Adventure. (Somers and his crew were shipwrecked on the coast of Bermuda before carrying on to Virginia in two pinnaces which they built for themselves on the island. Strachey's narrative was not printed until 1625, as A True Repertory of the Wrack and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight, but was circulating widely and wildly well before then.)
The new man of Shakespeare's Brave New World, the Moon-calf Caliban, was in one aspect a reimagining of an antique figure—the Old Adam of the Teutoberger Wald, the Green Man, the wild man of the woods.
In another aspect he was the type of those 'Indian' 'savages' who had been brought to London by Captain Harlow and George Weymouth to be exhibited and wondered at in sideshows.
The American Shakespeare scholar, Elmer Stoll, described Caliban well (in The Tempest As Shakespeare Designed It, 1940)…
"Caliban, a moon-calf, is not only the offspring of witch and devil, but both a sea monster and a land monster, and also a native Indian or 'man in the making'…
"And the contrasts or contradictions in the Moon-calf's inner make-up, still greater and more various—his lawlessness and his instinct to worship and obey, his affectionateness and his vindictiveness, his abusiveness and murderousness and his craving and ready gratitude for human comfort and protection, his sensuality and his delight in the pleasures of imagination, that is, in dreaming and in listening to stories in their incongruity, within the wide and elastic limits of the primitive mind. Unfamiliar, he is conceivable enough; for like him, once upon a time, by ancestral proxy, were audience and author both, and, though with a shudder, they delight in the combination now."
The character of initial contacts between Wasichu (the Lakota name for the white man of the European diaspora's North American invasion) and native peoples were paradigmatically described by him as an apotheosis. Meeting the powers that be in the flesh for the first time naive savages took Wasichu for a god!
Now that is unadulterated nonsense. The mistake was all on the other side. Having no experience in Europe of simple, unrefined, uncivilised hospitality which was uninformed by fear or greed the earliest invaders misconceived the uncomplicated warmth of their welcome for worship.
So Caliban welcomed Stephano (and Trinculo)…
"These be fine things, an if they be not sprites. That's a brave god and bears celestial liquor. I will kneel to him."
But if Wasichu was any kind of a god he was Coyote.
Coyote was the trickster spirit of native North American belief systems. His closest European equivalent is the Norse Loki. Also, to some extent, Hermes of the Hellenes. Perhaps even more closely Satan, the 'adversary' of the Book of Job. The history of Wasichu/Coyote's relations with the authors of a to him incomprehensible hospitality has been a series of malicious tricks in which the nations were driven from pillar to post and made to jump through the hoops of illusory hopes. And Wasichu, secure in his civilised humours, found it all wonderfully entertaining! Shakespeare's Caliban sang…
"No more dams I'll make for fish;
Nor fetch in firing
Nor scrape trencher, nor wash dish:
'Ban, 'Ban, Cacaliban
Has a new master: get a new man."
He was trapped in the enchantment of civilisation, allowing himself to be fooled and fooling himself.
At one point Shakespeare's reimagining of Caliban as European civilisation's Old Adam permits the Moon-calf to express something that somehow (Shakespeare can have had absolutely no intimation of the reality he was approximating) captures a glimpse of the truth of the truly new man of an utterly new world. When Caliban sings…
"Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again. And then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again."
Caliban, like the Hodenosaunee, the Lenape, the Lakota and so many others, was a dreamer, who lived his dreams. The Savage was a singer, his songs rooted in a culture that had no cultivated knowledge of tragedy, no hypocritical pretence of a notion of the sanctity of human life. And he lived his songs.
And The Savage was a dancer.
Suzanne K. Langer wrote somewhere or other...
"Their worship is dance.
They are tribes of dancers."
For Wasichu they were devil dancers, what you might call cloven-hoofers. But to hell with Wasichu. And to hell for a moment or two with imaginings and reimaginings.
What follows is an anonymous translation of a Cherokee song, a war-song that was performed before battle. I seem to have been coming across it in anthology after anthology for most of my life. (As is pointed out in Lee Sultzman's First Nation Histories which are hosted on J. S Dill's website: "The most familiar name, Cherokee, comes from a Creek word 'Chelokee' meaning 'people of a different speech.' In their own language the Cherokee originally called themselves the Aniyunwiya (or Anniyaya) 'principal people' or the Keetowah (or Anikituaghi, Anikituhwagi) 'people of Kituhwa.' Although they usually accept being called Cherokee, many prefer Tsalagi from their own name for the Cherokee Nation (Tsalagihi Ayili).") What follows is a translation of a song of the Tsalagi.
Now I have come to step over your soul
(I know your clan)
(I know your name)
(I have stolen your spirit
and buried it
I bury your soul under earth
I cover you over with black rock
I cover you over with black cloth
I cover you over with black slabs
You disappear forever
Your path leads to the black coffin
in the hills
of the Darkening Land
So let it be for you
The clay of the hills covers you
The black clay of the Darkening Land
Your soul fades away
It becomes blue
When darkness comes your spirit shrivels
Anyone who cares to may compare the stark, but in no way tragic, reality of that song with the essence of tragedy that is the war poetry of Owen and Sassoon. I had thought of quoting the Anthem For Doomed Youth in contrast, but really that is as well known and freely available as can be. Recapitulating it is simply unnecessary.
A few months ago, reading Charles Frazier's wonderful novel of the American Civil War, Cold Mountain, I came across what I take to be his translation of the same song. Not being able to speak to the accuracy of either version, I will quote that also.
"Listen. Your path will stretch up toward the Nightland. You will be lonely. You will be like the dog in heat. You will carry dog shit before you in your cupped hands. You will howl like a dog as you walk alone toward the Nightland. You will be smeared with dog shit. It will cling to you. Your black guts will be hanging all about you. They will whip around your feet as you walk. You will be living fitfully. Your soul will fade to blue, the color of despair. Your spirit will wane and dwindle away, never to reappear. Your path lies toward the Nightland. This is your path. There is no other."
Once again, there are in life elements of tragedy which may very well also be moments of exaltation, but tragedy is not of the essence, it is not the very stuff of life.
And now, by way of a more immediate contrast, since I cannot be bothered to recapitulate Wilfred Owen, and since I cannot keep away from Monticello…
Songs of Tom and Sally
This is also by way of light relief, but perhaps really neither so light nor so relieving.
As the Tsalagi struggled both to engage with and resist the unengaging and irresistible onward march of white civilisation Wasichu's philosopher-king was campaigning in his first successful Presidential election. This is his campaign song, which was set to the tune of an Irish jig.
"The gloomy night before us flies,
The reign of terror now is o'er;
Its gags, inquisitors and spies,
Its herds of Harpies are no more.
Rejoice, Columbia's sons, rejoice;
To tyrants never bend the knee;
But join with heart, and soul and voice,
For Jefferson and liberty.
No lordling here with gorging jaws
Shall wring from industry the food,
Nor fiery bigot's holy laws
Lay waste our fields and streets in blood!
Here strangers from a thousand shores
Compelled by tyranny to roam,
Shall find, amidst abundant stores
A nobler and a happier home.
Here Art shall lift her laurel'd head,
Wealth, Industry, and Peace divine;
And where dark, pathless forests spread,
Rich fields and lofty cities shine.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Jefferson's platform in that election, as throughout his long career, was Manifest Destiny, on the other side of which for the Tsalagi and so many others, was a manifest lack of any destiny at all.
The following anonymous satire was written in 1798, while the philosopher-king was a mere vice-president.
"Now each Jacobinic face
Redden'd with guilt, with fear, disgrace,
While thro' the land, with keenest ire,
Kindles the patriotic fire!
See Jefferson with deep dismay,
Shrink from the piercing eye of day,
Lest from the tottering chair of state,
The storm should hurl him to his fate!
Great Sire of stories past belief!
Historian of the Mingo Chief!
Philosopher of Indian's hair!
Inventor of a rocking chair!
The Correspondent of Mazzei'!
And Banneker less black than he!
With joy we find these rise from coguing
With Judge M'Kean, and 'foolish Logan'.
And reeling down the factious dance,
Send Deborah's husband off to France,
To tell the Frenchmen, to their cost,
They reckoned here without their host;
Whilst thou, to smooth the ills of life,
Held sweet communion with the wife."
Finally, from the Boston Gazette of 1798, a scurrilous piece which satirises the alleged (and, I think, with very little reservation, proved) relationship between the racist and his mulatto slave, Sally Hemings, the mother of some of his children.
supposed to have been written by the
Sage of Monticello
(to the tune of Yankee Doodle)
Of all the damsels on the green
On mountain, or in valley,
A lass so luscious ne'er was seen
As Monticellian Sally.
Yankee Doodle, who's the noodle?
What wife were half so handy?
To breed a flock of slaves for stock,
A blackamoor's the dandy.
Search every town and city through,
Search market street and alley;
No dance at dusk shall meet your view,
So yielding as my Sally.
When pressed by loads of state affairs,
I seek to sport and dally,
The sweetest solace of my cares
Is in the lap of Sally.
Let Yankee parsons preach the worst—
Let Tory Wittlings rally!
You men of morals! and be curst,
You would snap like sharks for Sally."
For Jefferson and liberty indeed! For Jefferson and racism and rape is more like it. And his critics were no better, if not worse! Racism and rape were part and parcel of the tragedy that lay then and lies now at the heart of their civilisation. It was and it remains the essence, the very stuff of their life.
Caliban In And On The Market
Wasichu is a fool. He mistook the open hospitality of straightforward human beings untroubled by civilisation and the tragedy of its discontents for worship. He thought he was thousands of miles away in the Indies. He thought the natives of the continent he had mistaken for India, or China, or Japan, were red-skinned. They were not.
As to that third error—it arose from the fact that the most extensive of early contacts between the Swannuken, ('salt water people' as the Lenape called Wasichu), and natives of North America was between European fishermen and the Beothuk of Newfoundland (who were the 'skraelings' of The Vinland Sagas).
Many American Indian peoples used red ochre for decoration but none so lavishly as the Beothuk who painted themselves all over all the time. Even their Micmac neighbours called them the red people. Once the French had classified Native Americans as les peaux rouges all Europeans, for whom language is as much a way of coercing the world to their preconceptions as a means of communication, saw the text and shut their eyes to the people in front of them.
Except of course when there was profit involved. The slave trade knew the colour as well as the value of the skins it stole and sold. Its African merchandise was labelled as all shades of 'black'; its American merchandise was labelled 'tawny'—which is certainly more correct than 'red' and about as accurate as the trade's accountancy required.
(The first slaves in America, North and South, and the Caribbean, were Indians. A variety of the Beaver Wars in the North of the Continent similarly destabilised the nations in and around the Southern colonies during the seventeenth century as white traders based in the Carolinas incited internecine conflicts which provided them with slaves rather than furs. But American Indians did not make good slaves. They were too susceptible to European diseases and close enough to their homes to make escape seem a viable option. Overall, they were not good workers, refused to reproduce, and simply died. The first black merchandise arrived in Virginia in 1619. Following a long period of transition, by the eighteenth century the earlier pattern of Indian slavery had been replaced by a system of entirely black servitude.)
Native Americans became commodities at precisely the same time they entered into commercial relations with the white invaders of their homelands. The search for pelts to trade for European goods that quickly became indispensable necessities soon destabilised the balance of power and the character of relations of peace and war between the American Indian nations which had encountered Wasichu by the seventeenth century. It led to the Beaver Wars of 1630—1700, a ferocious series of European-sponsored inter-tribal conflicts which by the beginning of the eighteenth century had left the Ohio Valley an uninhabited hunting ground for the Iroquois (Hodenosaunee).
The spread of commercial relations and market values which had begun in Europe at the end of its Medieval period was more devastating by far to Native American peoples than the (often deliberate) spread of European viruses. It had been devastating enough already in Europe. (England as ever is the paradigm—not by any glimmer of a tone of euphony or a shade of meaning the paragon. There the enclosure of common lands and the reduction of commonly produced goods and services to commodities was from Tudor times on clearing the countryside to provide labourers for the sweatshops and sailors and soldiers for the Stuart surge to imperial expansion. Blair's New Labour administration is at present engaged in reversing Britain's brief twentieth century move away from that all-out, all or nothing, frantic riot of commodity production. The enclosure, now a privatisation, movement has begun afresh, without any appreciable resistance from its victims in the British working class. It shows no signs of slowing and really can only be expected to accelerate to nineteenth century proportions.)
The circumstances applying in the area between the Great Lakes and Ohio by the eighteenth century is very well and succinctly described by Lee Sultzman in the First Nation Histories article on the Delaware (Lenape)…
"People began to pick up and leave. The Mingo (adopted Iroquois) and Shawnee were the first. For the Shawnee, moving west was just a return to their homeland. As early as 1724, small groups of Shawnee had been moving to the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in western Pennsylvania, land made vacant during the fighting of the Beaver Wars (1630—1700). Angered by the Walking Purchase and Iroquois insults, small groups of Delaware also left the Susquehanna, without Iroquois permission, between 1742 and 1749 to join the Shawnee and Mingo. In 1751 some of the Mingo, Delaware, and Shawnee in western Pennsylvania accepted the invitation of the Wyandot to settle in eastern Ohio. The Delaware had split into two groups: those in the west along the Upper Ohio River, and the Munsee and about one-third of the Unami who had remained on the upper Susquehanna or the Wyoming Valley in the east. At the time, Ohio was claimed by the French, British, and Iroquois but had been empty for almost a century following its conquest by the Iroquois during the Beaver Wars. The mixed Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo villages which arose in western Pennsylvania and Ohio after 1740 supposedly owed their allegiance to the Iroquois League but in truth were independent of its authority. Concerned that these tribes would fall under French influence, the British urged the Iroquois to have them return to the Susquehanna, but when the Iroquois ordered them to do so, they were ignored."
All the native peoples of the entire region were in turmoil. Driven from pillar to post and back again they were losing contact with traditional values and patterns of life that were rooted in the land; the topography, the seasons, and the game of the land that had been taken from them. Their tragedy was meat and drink to the unassuageable appetites of Wasichu, the white civilisation that was harassing and pursuing, massacring and destroying them.
United Indian nations made two determined efforts to break free of their developing relationship to a genocidal force: the religious and military movements centred on Pontiac in the mid-eighteenth century and on Tecumseh at the beginning of the nineteenth.
Pontiac and The Enlightened One
Pontiac was a war chief of the Ottawa. In 1755, during what is misleadingly called the French and Indian War he led the Indian contingent of a French force (of 600 Indian warriors and 300 French Canadians) which destroyed the English General Braddock's 2,200 strong army in an ambush near Fort Duquesne. By 1760 the French had lost Quebec and Montreal and the war. That phase of white invasion the politics of which had been dominated by a European balance of power was drawing to a close. England's reaction to that sea change in the context of its realpolitik was disastrous on all levels to itself and to the Indian nations.
(The disaster to its own interest was the Proclamation of 1763 which forbade colonial settlement west of the Appalachians. This was an affront to Manifest Destiny which encouraged speculation about independence from Britain. Britain's utter failure to enforce the Proclamation immediately invested that speculation with all the moral force of practicability. New England's preoccupation with issues of taxation and representation was all very interesting and significant but the underlying impulse to a revolutionary independence movement was rooted in land hunger and Manifest Destiny.
On the American Indian side of the matter was the British commander in North America, Jeffrey Amherst's decision to discontinue the practice of giving annual gifts to tribal chiefs and raise the prices of trade goods, restricting the supply of gunpowder and rum).
By the summer of 1762, when there was drought in the Ohio Valley, epidemic disease and starvation drove the Indian peoples of the area to despair. In that climate a new religious movement was preached by the Delaware Prophet, Neolin (Enlightened One), who advocated rejection of European trade goods and a return to traditional values. The circumstance of that movement's origin in a momentary, political, unavailability of those goods was the circumstance of its inevitable failure to reestablish traditional values. The goods had only to become available again for the movement to collapse. But, in the meantime, Neolin converted Pontiac.
Through the winter of 1762 Pontiac built a coalition of his own Ottawa with Kickapoo, Illinois, Ojibwe, Potawotamie, Shawnee, Delaware, Seneca, Miami and Wyandot allies. The coalition struck in May 1763, immediately capturing eight of the twelve British forts west of the Appalachians. Three other forts, Detroit, Niagara and Pitt, were surrounded. Pontiac commanded at Detroit where he maintained a siege from May until October 31 when he agreed to a truce and withdrew to winter quarters in Indiana.
The insurrection, increasingly desultory, dragged on through 1764 to July 1766 when Pontiac met with the British Indian Commissioner, William Johnson, in New York and signed a final treaty in which he promised never again to fight the British.
The reasons for the movement's failure are to a certain extent reprised in the circumstances of Pontiac's death. In 1769, while visiting St. Louis, he went on a drinking binge and fell foul of a Peoria warrior who had a blood feud against him which was pursued to its conclusion with a tomahawk.
In brief, the movement inspired by Neolin and led by Pontiac failed because their coalition was not so much rejecting trade goods as protesting against their high price and unavailability and because they had nothing by way of military resources to deploy against the overwhelming military power (with all its implicit moral force) that the whites had unparalleled access to. Last, but far from least, Pontiac relied on support from the French which was never forthcoming as anything but promises and advice (mostly to cease and desist).
Tecumseh and The Open Door
In 1805 an alcoholic Shawanoe (Shawnee) called Lalewethika (the rattle) had a moment of clarity which changed his life. He experienced this as a religious vision, changed his name to Tenskwatawa (The Open Door) and began preaching Neolin's message of a rejection of Wasichu's goods and ways. The rattle who had become an open door was later, at the end of his career, to become a rattlesnake. And none of this would have been of any consequence at all except for the fact that his brother was the greatest American Indian leader of his (or very possibly any) age—Tecumseh (which name means the Shooting Star, and indeed he was).
Tecumseh could scarcely have been more different to his brother. Tenskwatawa was a vicious fanatic who, where he had the power so to do, condemned his opponents (and Christian converts of no other significance) as witches and had them burned. Tecumseh's aversion to wanton cruelty is well documented: in his youth he vowed never to mistreat or torture captives and proved this after a battle on the Raisin River in Michigan when he intervened to halt a massacre of captured Kentucky militiamen.
Tenskwatawa was also a military ignoramus. At the battle of Tippecanoe he ignored his brother's orders and launched an attack which resulted in an American victory.
It is easy to understand why Tecumseh, whose project was to unite the Indian peoples of the entire continent, from the Great Lakes to Mexico, felt he needed a traditional religious movement in his campaign for allies, but really he deserved a better prophet. As many as were won over by Tecumseh's vision and oratory were alienated by his brother's fanatical lack of judgment.
The first plank of Tecumseh's policy was that no leader had any legitimate authority to negotiate cession of his people's land and that no individual people had the right to cede lands which were held and used in common with other peoples. To underscore this point he built his home village on the site of the abandoned Fort Greenville where Shawnee lands had been given up in a treaty of 1774.
When, in 1809, a group of "peace chiefs", at a council in Fort Wayne, whom future president William Henry Harrison had, in his own phrase, "mellowed" with alcohol, ceded three million acres in southern Indiana, much of it belonging to peoples not represented at the negotiations, Tecumseh repudiated the treaty and threatened to kill the chiefs who had signed it. In June 1810 one of them, the Wyandot Leatherlips, was executed by Tecumseh's adherents.
In 1808 Tecumseh had been promised British support. Having built as much of coalition as he could among the peoples of the western Great Lakes (his coalition was never as extensive as Pontiac's, with many Shawnee and the Delaware and Wyandot remaining neutral) in 1811 he went South to Florida North Carolina and Tennessee to proselytise the Seminole, Creek, and Choctaw (there is no record of his having visited the Cherokee).
Tecumseh's propaganda was of both deed and word. He was a superb orator. These articles have presented more than enough of the dry texts of Winthrop and Jefferson. Here, in contrast, by way of exculpation, is Tecumseh's speech to the Osage in 1811…
"Brothers we all belong to one family; we are all children of the Great Spirit; we walk in the same path; slake our thirst at the same spring; and now affairs of the greatest concern lead us to smoke the pipe around the same council fire!
"Brothers, —We are friends; we must assist each other to bear our burdens. The blood of many of our fathers and brothers has run like water on the ground, to satisfy the avarice of the white men. We, ourselves, are threatened with a great evil; nothing will pacify them but the destruction of all the red men.
"Brothers,—When the white men first set foot on our grounds, they were hungry; they had no place on which to spread their blankets, or to kindle their fires. They were feeble; they could do nothing for themselves. Our father commiserated their distress, and shared freely with them whatever the Great Spirit had given his red children. They gave them food when hungry, medicine when sick, spread skins for them to sleep on, and gave them grounds, that they might hunt and raise corn.
"Brothers the white people came among us feeble, and now we have made them strong, they wish to kill us, or drive us back, as they would wolves and panthers.
"Brothers, —The white men are not friends to the Indians: at first, they only asked for land sufficient for a wigwam; now, nothing will satisfy them but the whole of our hunting grounds, from the rising to the setting sun.
"Brothers, —The white men want more than our hunting grounds; they wish to kill our warriors; they would even kill our old men, women and little ones
"Brothers, —Many winters ago, there was no land; the sun did not rise and set: all was darkness. The Great Spirit made all things. He gave the white people a home beyond the great waters. He supplied these grounds with game, and gave them to his red children; and he gave them strength and courage to defend them
"Brothers —My people wish for peace; the red men all wish for peace; but where the white people are, there is no peace for them, except it be the bosom of our mother.
"Brothers, —The white men despise and cheat the Indians; they abuse and insult them; they do not think the red men sufficiently good to live.
"The red men have borne many and great injuries; they ought to suffer them no longer. My people will not; they are determined on vengeance; they will drink the blood of the white people
"Brothers, —My people are brave and numerous; but the white people are too strong for them alone. I wish you to take up the tomahawk with them. If we all unite, we will cause the rivers to stain the great waters with their blood
"Brothers, —if you do not unite with us, they will first destroy us, and then you will be an easy prey to them. They have destroyed many nations of red men because they were not united, because they were not friends to each other.
"Brothers, —The white people send runners amongst us; they wish to make us enemies that they may sweep over and desolate our hunting grounds, like devastating winds, or rushing waters.
"Brothers, —Our Great Father, over the great waters, is angry with the white people, our enemies. He will send his brave warriors against them; he will send us rifles, and whatever else we want—he is our friend, and we are his children.
"Brothers,—Who are the white people that we should fear them? They cannot run fast, and are good marks to shoot at: they are only men; our fathers have killed many of them; we are not squaws, and we will stain the earth red with blood.
"Brothers,—The Great Spirit is angry with our enemies; he speaks in thunder, and the earth swallows up villages, and drinks up the Mississippi. The great waters will cover their lowlands; their corn cannot grow; and the Great Spirit will sweep those who escape to the hills from the earth with his terrible breath.
"Brothers, —We must be united; we must smoke the same pipe; we must fight each other's battles; and more than all, we must love the Great Spirit; he is for us; he will destroy our enemies, and make all his red children happy."
Spirited and sensible though Tecumseh's words were the Osage were not persuaded to fight. The grinding down of centuries had demoralised its victims, many of whom were pacified or prepared only to fight in the last resort; the last resort being always too late.
When the war of 1812 began Tecumseh's coalition fought as allies of the British. After some initial success, Hull's retreat from Canada to Detroit and his surrender there, it was downhill all the way to New Orleans. Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames on October 6th, 1813.
His Brother Tenskwatawa's later career is summarised by Lee Sultzman (op. cit)…
"After the war, Tenskwatawa remained in Canada, but most of his followers made peace with the Americans at Indian Springs in 1815 and returned to Ohio the following year. He was finally lured back to the United States by Michigan governor Lewis Cass in 1823 to encourage Black Hoof's Shawnee to surrender their Ohio lands and move to Kansas. In 1826 he left Ohio with a party of 200 Shawnee. Their two-year journey to Kansas was a horror of deprivation and hunger. When he died in 1836, the Prophet was hated as much as his brother was loved."
A rattle, an open door, at the heels of the hunt a rattlesnake.
All Things White And Wonderful
For all of the Beaver Wars in the North and corresponding Slave Wars in the South, towards the end of the eighteenth century American Indian culture was still recognisably uncivilised in its attitudes to war and peace and the place of those activities in an untragic round of living day by day to the day of death. A rare dispassionate observer, James Adair (possibly the same James Adair described by Angie Debo as "the ablest and most unscrupulous of English agents", I don't know for sure) was still able to write in 1775 (in Adair's History of the American Indians, quoted in A SPIRITED RESISTANCE, The North American Struggle for Unity, 1745—1815, by Gregory Evans Dowd, John Hopkins University Press, 1992)…
"Tradition, or the divine impression on human nature, dictates to them that man was not born in a state of war; and as they reckon they are become impure by shedding human blood, they hasten to observe the fast of three days."
Dowd comments on that…
"Preparing for battle, Indian men left the vicinity of peace and, with the aid of ritual, entered that of war. After a raid they returned both to their villages and, again with ritual assistance, to the place of peace."
Yet, almost as Adair was writing, George Washington was advising the Indian nations to "stop warring and adopt the White man's ways." (quoted on the front cover of William G. McLoughlin's Cherokees and Missionaries, 1789—1839, Yale University, 1984.)
All I can take from that remark is that Washington was irritated by the general American Indian contention that life was separated into distinct categories of a time and way of war and a time and the ways of peace, with the time and ways of peace inevitably predominant. He can only have meant that the nations should stop playing at war and, like the White man, make it the entire business of their lives. But he most probably meant nothing at all by it beyond platitude.
There is a view expressed almost in desperation by some academics, who disapprove of the expropriation and slaughter of American Indians but cannot admit that white American statecraft was genocidal from beginning to end, that George Washington's administration acted towards them on the basis of an enlightened 'peace' policy, which he is supposed to have devised in concert with his Secretary of War, Henry Knox.
Angie Debo, an historian with a clear sympathy for the victims of the American genocide, who served on the board of directors of the Association of American Indian Affairs, is as desperate as any of them. Her account of the enlightened peace policy is as follows: In 1785…
"…American commissioners called a council at Hopewell in South Carolina. There on November 28 the Cherokees—outside the Spanish sphere of influence—made their first treaty with the United States. They acknowledged its sovereignty, and they gave up land previously seized and occupied by settlers, but the new boundary was strictly defined and the United States promised to restrain its citizens from further trespass. Finally, they might 'send a deputy of their own choice, whenever they think fit to Congress.' This, of course, before the adoption of the federal constitution, was equivalent to statehood…
"…the weak Confederation Congress could not restrain the frontier. The Watauga settlers disregarded the new boundary, advancing and seizing lands in the very heart of the Cherokee country. Secretary of War Henry Knox informed Congress of unprovoked outrages amounting 'to an actual though informal war' against the Indians. Congress did issue a proclamation warning the intruders, but was not strong enough to enforce it." (A History Of The Indians Of The United States, University of Oklahoma Press, 1970, p. 88)
The United States had just practised the "White man's ways" in exemplary fashion through a five year war to establish its Manifest Destiny to overrun the continent. Congress had just fought a war to eliminate any possibility that the frontier might be restrained. It was not about to itself reissue the British Proclamation of 1763 which had led to the War of Independence. Debo demonstrably knows all that but cannot think it to say it. As so often with Wasichu, knowledge outstrips understanding. Everything is known, nothing is understood. (And the promise of statehood, to how many Indian nations was that promise made and immediately forgotten?)
She continues in a similar vein…
"The President and the Secretary adopted an Indian policy that was as humane as possible, given its underlying purpose of extending the frontier and protecting it as it advanced. They had no wish to exterminate the Indians, but to assist them in acquiring economic techniques that would enable them to prosper within more restricted boundaries. In his first long report to the President on July 7, Knox said this would be difficult and would require deep knowledge of human nature and patient perseverance, but that it could be accomplished. He would give them domestic animals and farm implements and appoint agents and encourage missionaries to live among them and instruct them in more advanced agricultural methods.
"Washington recommended this policy to Congress. Then in his annual message of 1791 he presented a carefully planned policy: impartial dispensation of justice, promotion of commerce under fair regulations, land purchase by orderly methods, training in civilization, and punishment of persons who infringed on Indian rights and violated treaties. Congress responded rather slowly with a series of trade and intercourse laws and provision for education and vocational training, but Washington's recommendations set the pattern of Indian policy throughout the subsequent history of the United States." (ibid, pp90—91)
The remaining 350 pages of her book demonstrate in detail that Washington's recommendations did nothing of the sort. Again knowledge outstrips understanding.
As also with William G. McLoughlin, the premier academic historian of the Cherokee. McLoughlin does not claim that "Washington's peace policy" determined the subsequent history of the United States' relations with the first nations. For him it lasted only until the election of the crude frontiersman Andrew Jackson to the presidency.
In The Cherokees and Christianity, 1794—1870, Essays on Acculturation and Cultural Persistence (edited by Walter H. Conser jr., published by The University of Georgia Press) McLoughlin describes the "peace policy"…
"After 1794, a general peace prevailed west of the Appalachians until 1812. George Washington's administration formulated an Indian policy that called for Congressional control over Indian territories and Congressional funding to civilize the Indians. By treaties with the various nations, the federal government guaranteed their boundaries and their right to manage their own internal affairs. The program of 'civilizing the Indians' was designed to persuade them to become farmers by giving them horses, plows, axes, and hoes, to teach them English, and to encourage them to become Christians. The ultimate goal was to admit the Indians as equal citizens of the new nation once they had become civilized and Christianized. As they became individual farmers, it was assumed that they would willingly cede what was left of their old hunting land in order to accommodate the influx of white settlers in the West. Washington expected that within fifty years all the Indians east of the Mississippi would be able to support themselves by their crops, that the tribes would cease to exist as independent nations, and that Native Americans and white Americans would live happily together as equal citizens in the new Republic." (page 38)
It never occurs to McLoughlin, any more than to Debo, that the policy they admire, had it ever been other than a gloss on the genocidal policies which were implemented in practice, was itself genocidal. The only policy Washington and Knox could have adopted which would not have been genocidal would have been to leave the Indian nations to their own devices, and had they been able to imagine anything of the sort they would immediately have dismissed it as complete insanity, as would Debo and McLoughlin. Given what America was from its foundation Genocide was the only option it could allow itself. Everything else is distraction, deception and displacement: the hypocrisies America engages in to allow itself to feel as good about itself as it always needs to feel.
Nowhere in his work is McLoughlin ever able to point to any example of the "peace policy" of Washington and Knox being implemented in any measures of practical significance. Which does not, of course, lead him to question whether it ever in fact existed. The most he can bring himself to do is admit some problems that it faced in a real world that may have been too crude for such a subtle form of genocide. Towards the end of his major work, Cherokees and Missionaries he forced himself to, very, very, briefly, mention these.
"In addition to the invincible racism of most whites there were fundamental flaws and ambiguities in George Washington's Indian policy which became evident when the missionaries tried to implement it. The policy nowhere stated when or how the determination would be made to admit Indians as full and equal citizens…missionaries preached as though integration could not take place until every single Cherokee met their high standards—standards which the missionaries frankly admitted were met by few of those frontier whites in the communities surrounding the Cherokee nation…Washington's policy never said what, if anything, could be done if the states into which the Cherokees were integrated chose only to allow them second-class citizenship…Washington's policy…called for every Cherokee to have his own fee-simple tract of land before he could become a citizen; but the Cherokees (like most Indians) quickly recognized that their only basis of resistance to detribalization and the loss of self-government was to maintain tribal land ownership…Yet missionaries continually urged 'division of the land in severalty' on the grounds that without individual land ownership, there could be no sense of personal independence and responsibility." (page 329).
In short, the problem with rhetorical froth as policy was of a piece with the genocidal reality: many Indians were determined to remain Indians and would in consequence have to be exterminated. And in the real world Washington, no stranger to the White man's ways of waging unceasing war while mouthing incessant platitudes, was entirely happy to do his bit in the extermination process.