Thoughts that Fester: Native Americans & Me.
I have thoughts that fester. More and more since 2016, when the country I loved so much fell off its pedestal, the way your parent does when you start to see more than their providing day to day needs. I am haunted by so many things now. Occasionally I will share one here in hopes you will have some perspective on the truth of our history, not the rewritten homogenized version I called my own for most of my years.
On some post or other that crossed my path, I saw this map. “Where is that,” I wondered. Then I saw Florida. “Wait, that’s my country? Huh?”
This map should be in every American history book. Page one. This map of our continent before my Hinckley ancestors arrived on the scene, shows all the different tribal territories that made up North America. Two hundred years later? We conquered it all, and more tragically, and it fills me with shame, we wiped out almost an entire civilization of native Americans.
Native Americans lived in their own spaces for centuries. Lots of them. And, while some of them were not so peaceful with their neighbors, they can’t even come close to our brutality, lies, slaughter and destruction.
I was talking to a friend about the map and how it shook me last night and he said, “We also wiped out the buffalo.”
“Do you know why we destroyed the buffalo,” I queried?
“Because we knew it would kill the Indians. They needed the buffalo for warmth and food and winter sustenance. So the government had the military slaughter them. And the tribes starved. And they froze. Yep. That’s the reason.”
“It was near the end of September, an unusually warm week in 1871, and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and a group of wealthy New Yorkers stood atop a grassy hill near the Platte River in Nebraska, where, two miles off, they spotted six huge brown beasts.
Cody was a legend of the frontier era, part myth conjured in dime novels. The men from New York had expected to find him as a “desperado of the West, bristling with knives and pistols,” but they did not. Cody was loquacious and friendly, an expert hunter. He knew that with the wind blowing from behind, the men risked their scent being carried to the animals and scaring them away. Then again, a buffalo is a lumbering, hirsute cow, and the men were outfitted with some of the quickest horses and held the best guns owned by the United States Army, which was outfitting the hunting expedition. The Army wasn’t in the business of guiding hunting trips for soft-skinned Wall Streeters, but it was in the business of controlling the Native Americans in the area, and that meant killing buffalo. One colonel, four years earlier, had told a wealthy hunter who felt a shiver of guilt after he shot 30 bulls in one trip: “Kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” …
That ended that phone call.
The banned version of To Kill a Mockingbird is the least of our nation’s efforts at hushing history. We have ignored our brutality for all our time on this continent, and when I look at this map, I wonder at how we can repair what we decimated. I fear that, like the climate we have destroyed, it is too late.
America is one of the most brutal, destructive nations of all time. I just didn’t know it for most of my life. Most civilizations die, peter out - destroy themselves. Sometimes it’s a virus. Sometimes it’s battles, but whatever happens next, we have earned the right to say our time is done.
So that is one of the thoughts that will fester for me. This map is imbedded in my soul now and all I can do is apologize to those who were destroyed.