Re: history and speculations

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Posted by Tom on July 08, 1998 at 23:31:51:

In Reply to: history and speculations posted by Petra on July 08, 1998 at 00:30:11:


I was a little worried last night that my post on Keegan's view on the Indians would ignite a firestorm of controversy. But I am pleasantly surprised by the calm and thoughtful remarks that have been made here. Personally I found Keegan's remarks very thought-provoking especially the comment on the "selfish rich." At one point the Lakotas, whose seven bands could not have exceeded a population of 50,000, laid claim to most of the Dakotas and large parts several other states. You know as well as I do that those states are still sparsely populated even with their populations running into the tens of millions and that they are a breadbasket that feeds untold millions throughout the world. Yet the claim of 50,000 people to that vast region for the sole use as a private hunting preserve with trespassers facing death or worse does not strike you as a tad greedy? Also this was conquered territory even before the whiteman arrived on the scene. The Lakotas, who orignated from Minnesota, had siezed it from other tribes. Would you be as passionate in the defense of the prior claims of the Crows and the Pawnees to this land? Or is just white migration and conquest that people find so offensive? Personally from my 1990's moral perspective I cannot defend how the United States government treated the AmerIndians. But I do appreciate the fact that without size the United States would not have become the great country it is today and that would have been a tragedy for world history.

As for speculation on what could have stopped American advancement toward the west. My opinion: nothing, nada, nihil, and zilch could have prevented the eventual conquest of the west. As much as I hate to admit it, the conquest of the west had little to do with any military hero, great scout, or battle between soldiers and Indians; it had everything to do with millions of ordinary people migrating west and the tiny native population being unable to absorb the newcomers. This inexhaustable tide of emigrants won the west: they tilled the land, mined the creeks and mountains, built the railroads, erected farms and towns, and, in the process, destroyed the buffalo herds and brought disease epidemics so horrible that they killed more Indians than US Army could have achieved with a million campaigns. Starvation, not military might, was the most effective enforcer of the reservation system. The army was not particurarliy effective in fighting the Indians whose ways of warfare were as baffling to those veterans of the Civil War as the tactics of the Vietnamese were to our veteran commanders from WWII and Korea a century later. It speaks volumes that most famous Indian battle in American history was a humiliating defeat for the Army. Disease and starvation did most of the work; the Army still had the tough job of rounding up the small bands of die-hards who made life on the frontier interesting but were never a threat to offsetting the wave of emigration. Thus it was not the Custers, Crooks, or McKenzies who won the west but millions of anonymous people who moved westward in search of a better life but probably unknowingly destroyed a unique culture.

As for Indian nationalism: I find it fascinating that even in the 1870's, with the presence of the whiteman becoming more intrusive everyday, Sitting Bull and his bands of "free roamers" were more interested in fighting their traditional enemies, the Crows, the Flatheads, and the Assinboines, than confronting the oncoming tides of American emigration. Even with their world about to disappear they could not put away their traditional hatreds of each other.

As for those tribes who served the US Army being "traitors;" this is like accusing Irishmen and Scots who served with the French against the English in the 18th century of treason against England. The Crows and the Pawnees were not large tribes and they were constantly at odds against the powerful Lakotas. The Lakotas stole Crow and Pawnee hunting grounds, raped and stole their women, and killed their old and young. The Pawnees, Crows, Shoshones, and other tribes who served the US Army reasoned "your enemy is my friend." After the Indian wars, though, the US government treated their former allies with the same arrogant contempt they had treated the beaten hostile tribes which leads to the some confusion among the modern descendants of these tribes about their place in the history of west. I recently saw a special on A&E about the Little Big Horn and the lone AmerIndian interviewed for the special was a Crow who lived along the banks of the Little Big Horn. This man was interviewed to get some insight on the Indian perspective of the battle and he willingly obliged on giving some thoughts on what the warriors who defeated Custer must have been thinking. This was pretty sad since on June 25, 1876 this man's ancestors were riding alongside the 7th Cavalry as scouts and allies yet he did not even acknowledge this fact.

Keegan was not attempting to describe Eastern European immigrants as people quaking in terror to escape the Mongols and Huns. He is quite aware that they had faded from history; although the Cossacks existed into the 20th century with the Russian Csar using them in his armies during WWI. The point Keegan was trying to make is that in European eyes the "horsepeoples" were viewed as the arch enemies of civilization whose only purpose in life was to "crush their enemies, see their enemies flee before them, and to rape their enemies' wives and daughters." Keegan believes that this image of the "horsepeoples" was so ingrained into the European psyche that they reacted negatively to the Plains Indians whom they saw as the North American equivilant of this image from Europe's distant past. I apologize that I did not make this clearer in my last post.

Whew, finished. I am sorry to go and on like this but this a HUGE subject and opinions vary to WIDE degrees. I feel when it comes to subjects like this you should either steer clear or wade in and take your lumps. Most of the time I try to steer clear of debates like this but tonight I was bored and so I jumped in with both feet. If anyone has read this far then I thank you for your fortitude.

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