Friday, June 23, 2017

The Battle of Wounded Knee

Let's jump for joy... we've finished another Literary / Historic Unit on our travel around America.  This time: The Native Americans!  From early ancestral tribes through broken treaties and failed government polices, through the Trail of Tears and Sand Creek Massacre, and Custer's Last Stand to eventually now... The Battle of Wounded Knee.  
The Battle of Wounded Knee occurred on December 29, 1890 on the Pine Ridge Reservation when U.S. Cavalry soldiers fired on and killed over 150 men, women, and children who had been participating in a ceremonial dance.
After the murder of Sitting Bull, remaining Native Americans assembling on the Pine Ridge Reservation to participate in the Ghost Dance, which was an ancient ceremony to erase all Whites from the Earth and bring the Buffalo back.
The massacre was a symbolic end to Native American Culture.
My daughters and I visited the National Monument and then started making the long trip back toward Yellowstone and eventually, Oregon.  This also marks the end of our Native American Unit.  
This was an incredible unit for myself and my daughters.  Traveling to these locations, reading and discovering Indian culture really connected us to our American history and the land itself.  We now turn about face... heading west, and home.

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse was a war leader of the Oglala Lakota who fought against George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.  He was murdered by a bayonet-wielding guard after surrendering at Camp Robinson, Nebraska.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is the largest mountain carving in the world, located in the Black Hills, South Dakota by Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and started in 1948. The massive memorial, university, and Native American Center is still under construction and survives on donations.
This was a wonderful place to visit with my daughters. The Lakota dancers, the great museum full of artifacts and information, and the spirit of the site, created a great educational experience all dedicated to this inspirational Sioux figure.

I Will Fight No More, Forever

(The following photos are at the Indian Memorial at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Park.)

"I am tired of fighting.  Our chiefs are killed.  The old men are all dead.  It is the young men who say yes or no.  He who led on the young men is dead."  -Chief Joseph

October 6, 1879:  The Carlisle Indian School
Richard Henry Pratt and Sarah Mather arrive at Carlisle, Pennsylvania with 82 Indian children recruited from the Dakota Territory for a new school that assimilates Indian children into the English language, Christianity, and American society.  
(There are so many events to study in the history of the Native Americans, so many turning points in their culture.)

"It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death.  My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food."  -Chief Joseph

September 4, 1886:  Geronimo Surrenders
During the Mexican / American War, Geronimo, a young Apache named Goyahkla or 'One Who Yawns,' was out hunting while Mexican soldiers raided his village, killing his wife, children, and mother.  Vowing revenge, he fought for many years against Mexican invaders.  After the war, when American soldiers began to infiltrate his lands, Geronimo, now a chief, transferred his hatred onto the white man.  After many battles, his friend Cochise surrendered and signed a peace treaty, a promise that was eventually broken by the U.S. government.  Geronimo continued his one man war until almost 5,000 soldiers were sent to his capture and he surrendered.  His fame was legendary, and as an old man he even attended the World's Fair in 1904.  He died in 1909 on the reservation after being thrown from his horse.  
(So many facts and historical dates and legends and pieces of wisdom... that seem lost now.)

"No one knows where they are- perhaps freezing to death.  I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find.  Maybe I shall find them among the dead."  -Chief Joseph

February 8, 1887:  Dawes Severalty Act
The Indian General Allotment Act or Dawes Severalty Act, authorized the U.S. President to slice existing Indian lands into 160 acre plots to be distributed to individual Native American households.  Any 'surplus land' remaining, is to be purchased by the federal government and sold to white homesteaders. The proceeds from these sales are diverted to 'education and civilization' of the Indians.
(It takes careful study to bring them back to life, to find new meaning, but it's still there.. waiting to be re-discovered.)

"Hear me, my chiefs!  I am tired; my heart is sick and sad.  From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more, forever."  -Chief Joseph

October 5, 1877:  Chief Joseph Surrenders
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe in Wallow Valley, Oregon was born in 1840, his name: Hin-man-too-yah-lat-kekt which mean 'Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain.' As a young man, Chief Joseph watched his father sign a treaty with the governor of Washington stating their ancestral land would remain Nez Perce.  Yet, when gold was discovered in 1860, these lands began to be seized.  Upon his father's death, Chief Joseph promised him that no other lands would be sold.  This lasted until 1877 when some members of his tribe got into a skirmish with white settlers, killing them.  Chief Joseph, facing retribution from the U.S. Military, led one of the greatest retreats in history.  Terribly outnumbered with only 200 warriors and 800 people facing an army of thousands, Joseph marched his people over 1,400 miles toward safety with Sitting Bull in Canada, fighting numerous battles along the way which became known as the Nez Perce War.  However, he was captured just as he was about to enter Canada and placed under arrest on a reservation in Oklahoma.  He died some years later, doctors said, of a broken heart.  He is remembered as one of the greatest leaders, statesman, and proponents of anti-war and peace in American history.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Take Your Kids to the Little Bighorn Battlefield

Dear American Parent:  

The following are pictures of the Little Bighorn Battlefield.
We traveled here on a beautiful summer day driving all the way from Oregon.  My daughters and I have been studying American history, spending a great amount of time just driving around the country and reading.  It's been a wonderful physical and literary adventure.
Visiting the battlefield is quite incredible, the massive open and barren landscape...
The wide vast plains, the endless horizon, one cannot help but let their imagination wander onto that summer day in 1876 when Custer, surrounded by fiercely screaming and arrow-shooting natives, wiped out his entire cavalry unit in a matter of hours.
It's an eerie and somber place, and depending on your personal opinions of history and these wars against Native Americans, distinct and diverse opinions will be formed from walking the grounds.  
I can't recommend enough traveling here with your children... but in the right way: Reading the stories of these varied people, learning their names and voices, allowing history to become forever vivid in their mind.  Visiting here, I was a little ashamed to see many American children complaining about the heat and the short climb up toward the historic markers.  Kids crying, kicking the dirt, demanding sweats and treats for the effort ... just to enlighten themselves.  
It's shameful that we've come to this.  If you're an American parent dragging your kicking and screaming kid down the highway in a minivan for a couple of hours with their pristine iPad and headphones and video games just so that they can moan and pitch a fit because you're trying to teach them some history... really, my heart goes out to you.  Just remember that you're still the parent! That what you're doing has value.  Maybe all these soldiers died in vain 150 years ago for an unjust and villainous cause, but that doesn't mean we as American parents have to give up educating our children and learning from past mistakes.  My kids loved this place.  We sat down and read Dee Brown's incredible Indian history Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, it took us almost a month, and visiting the Battle of Little Bighorn National Park was invaluable in our understanding of that long and tragic narrative.  I encourage all parents this summer to get on the road.  Pack up your idle and screaming kids and your library books, and get on the road!  Go explore and learn!

Custer's Last Stand

"There are not enough Indians in the world to defeat the 7th cavalry."  -George Armstrong Custer

The Battle of Little Bighorn was fought between the 7th U.S. cavalry and an alliance of Indian tribes of mostly Sioux and Cheyenne along the Bighorn River in Montana on June 25, 1876.  It is commonly referred to as 'Custer's Last Stand.'
(Touring the grounds of the Little Bighorn National Park with my daughters, we are overcome with the peaceful serenity and natural beauty of the barren landscape.  It is an incredible place to journey to and amazing living historical monument, cemetery, and museum.)

Signing a treaty with the Lakota Sioux in 1868 promising the Black Hills of South Dakota would remain theirs forever,  then breaking their word when gold was discovered in those same hills, the U.S. army rushed in to mine for resources.  The Lakota refused to give up their ancestral land, led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, they mounted an attack against Custer's forces, surrounding him, and wiping out his entire detachment of 210 men.
(There are miles of paved walkways and vistas marked with historical information and the museum, which is loaded with cool artifacts, has a movie theater as well.)

In the aftermath, the U.S. army doubled its efforts against the Sioux who were scattered among the plains.  Sitting Bull led his people into Canada, but later returned to reservation life where he was murdered by a group of his own people.  Crazy Horse surrendered but was also killed in revenge.
(This was a cool pilgrimage for my daughters after having studying the west and the Indian wars for many months, to come here, view this battlefield, was awesome.)

The Battle of Little Bighorn has lived on in legend, inaccuracy, and cinema including Disney's Tonka and the Errol Flynn movie They Died with Their Boots On.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Custer, Stone Forehead, and the Peace Pipe Ashes

"The only good Indian is a dead Indian,"  -General Philip Henry Sheridan

"The army is the Indian's best friend."  -George Armstrong Custer

Invariably, someone will pose the question to you:  Would you rather be loved or feared?  Lives are led depending upon this response.  Yet if the question were:  Would you rather be remembered or forgotten?  The legacy of a life's focus shifts.  We live in a celebrity culture and 'Any publicity is good publicity,' but what if we are only remembered for our misdeeds, blunders, and cruelty?  Now we are in the heart of history, for this is the story of the American West.
(U.S. Cavalry Uniforms, Little Big Horn Museum)

History is karmic justice for George Armstrong Custer.  He is center stage, his name in lights. Not many Americans can claim an entire shelf in the library devoted to their combined heroic martyrdom and epic tactical foolishness.  Born in 1839 and raised in Michigan and Ohio, Custer graduated from West Point in 1857, last of his class, but rose in prominence and reputation during the Civil War as a highly effective cavalry commander due to his instinctual ability to send soldiers into imminent peril and death.  He was at both Bull Run and Appomattox and after the war, he gained legendary status as an Indian fighter as leader of the U.S. 7th Cavalry.
(Indian Traditional Clothes, Little Big Horn Museum)

The Indian Wars were brutal:  

1838:  Trail of Tears:  Mass removal of Cherokees marching westward to new lands in present-day Oklahoma.

1864:  Sand Creek Massacre:  Colonel John Chivington slaughters over 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho (mostly women and children) in the Colorado Territory.

1865:  Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho warriors raid and burn the town of Julesburg, Colorado in retaliation for Sand Creek.

Into this madness rides George Armstrong Custer.
(Indian War Bonnet, Little Big Horn Museum)

One of the most famous Custer stories is that of Stone Forehead and the Peace Pipe Ashes.  On November 27, 1867, Custer led the 7th on a surprise dawn attack against Chief Black Kettle and the Cheyenne in what later would be called the Battle of Washita River, reportedly killing 103 warriors, women, and children, and shooting 875 Indian ponies.  Later, marching into the decimated Indian camp, Custer dictated terms of surrender with surviving Chief Stone Forehead.
(At the Little Big Horn museum... Rebekah tries on some cavalry gear.)

As the story goes, Stone Forehead put ink to paper, signing the treaty and offering the peace pipe to Custer saying that if Yellow Hair should ever break this promise of peace, he would turn to dust.  Custer refused the pipe, so Stone Forehead dumped the ashes onto Custer's boots in a symbolic gesture lost on the ambitious soldier.  Eight years later, according to Native American lore, as Custer's body lay riddled with arrow piercings and bullet holes in the bloody grass of Little Big Horn, the Indian women who survived Sand Creek and Washita, and remembered Stone Forehead's warning, sewed awl into each of Custer's ears, saying they hoped he would be a better listener in the afterlife.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Greatness of Sitting Bull

"I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle."  -Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull was born a member of the Lakota Sioux tribe in South Dakota, a land known as 'Many-Caches' by his people.  His father, Jumping Bull, named him 'Slow' because he was cautious and careful in his actions.  By the age of ten he had killed his first buffalo and by fourteen joined a war party and knocked a Crow tribesman off his horse, earning him the name 'Buffalo Bull who Sits Down' or Thathanka Lyotanka for his bravery.  
"Each man is good in his sight.  It is not necessary for eagles to be crows."  -Sitting Bull

As Sitting Bull grew older and more and more white settlers entered his land, he began to take up arms.  In 1868 he supported Red Cloud in his war against the American Forts but opposed all treaties signed with the U.S. government.  By 1869 Sitting Bull was considered Supreme Chief of the Lakota Sioux Nation. In 1874, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, he refused to be 'Shut up in a corral' after being ordered off his lands to the reservation.  Forming a war party with neighboring Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, he defeated General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 after receiving a vision of U.S. soldiers 'falling like grasshoppers from the sky.'  The victory was costly and Sitting Bull and his people retreated to Canada until finally surrendering in 1881 and finding life on the reservation.  
"They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own use, and fence their neighbors away from her, and deface her with their building and their refuse."  -Sitting Bull

Ten years later in 1890, after creating a mysterious religious group known as 'The Ghost Dancers'  believing that God would make the white people leave and the buffalo return, Sitting Bull was planning on fleeing the reservation and forming another great resistance to the U.S. government, but he was arrested and killed by Indian police in an act of revenge he himself predicted.  His warriors, wanting revenge, gathered along the Wounded Knee Creek to perform the Ghost Dance but were massacred by U.S. forces.  
"When I was a boy the Sioux owned the world.  The sun rose and set on their land; they sent ten thousand men to battle.  Where are the warriors today?  Who slew them? Where are our lands?  Who owns them?"  -Sitting Bull

By all accounts, Sitting Bull led an amazing life.  He was a man of 'great medicine,' who led his people to inspiring victory and mystic understanding.   For a time, he even joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show witnessing the greatness and the folly of American culture.  He is remembered for his wisdom and courage, and his death signifies the end of the mighty Sioux nation.