Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tecumseh's War and Words

"Live your life so that the fear of death can never enter your heart..."   -Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

We're driving into the American Black Hills of Montana and South Dakota, which means also heading into Lakota Sioux Territory.  My daughters and I spent all of last year studying World History, what I called, "The Story of the World," and this year we are traveling the country reading American history, going to famous places, studying on the road, and just trying to soak up as much as we can of this great country.  You can call me a Kook, I'll happily accept.  We're having the time of our lives.
"Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.  Seek to make your life long and in the service of your people..."  -Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

The Black Hills mean Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and George Armstrong Custer.  It means Mt. Rushmore and Black Elk Speaks.  It means Deadwood and Devil's Tower or Bear's Lodge, and the history of the Sioux.  But... the whole point of this trip, driving around the country with my daughters, is not jumping directly into a single event in history, but telling the full back story, giving it context, letting the complete vision of America settle before trying to understand multiple layers of time.  I mean, we haven't even gotten to the Oregon Trail yet, or the Gold Rush, or the War of 1812!  So... just like all things, we begin slowly, astutely... with Tecumseh.  His war and his words.
"Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place.  Show respect to all people and grovel to none.  When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault likes only in yourself..."  -Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

Tecumseh (1768 - 1813) grew up in the Ohio County during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War.  As an amazing and eloquent leader, he hoped to unite many Indian tribes under one Native American nation.  Rejecting U.S. Military Treaties, he allied with the British to capture Fort Detroit during the War of 1812 after the defeat of his younger brother at Prophetstown.  He died a year later in a fierce Battle of the Thames.  Though his wisdom and words live on in legend, it would be 130 years later before Tecumseh's dream of a pan-Indian confederation would be realized with the founding of the National Congress of American Indians.   
"When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose lives are filled with the fear of death, so that when the time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.  Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."  -Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

Much of Tecumseh's writing has been preserved, as with the legendary poem printed above, along with an account of his death, recorded from oral history from the Saugeen First Nation by Dr. Edwin Seaborn.  The following is an excerpt:  "Grandfather was tall.  He carried himself as straight as an arrow for all his years.  HIs long white hair touched his shoulders.  On his great snow white horse he was easily marked. Shot through the body, he fell.  The fatal bullet came from behind a fallen tree....he fell, gone where the good fighting men go."  I choose Tecumseh to start with because he embodies so many of the great qualities native to this American land.  His bravery.  His voice.  His wisdom.  His vision.  His words apply to all of us.  We pulled the car over on the side of the road and climbed a little hill and read this poem out loud.  Letting the words carry on the wind.  Ready to plunge deeper into history.  




Friday, May 26, 2017

Tippecanoe and Bozeman Too

(We stopped in awesome Bozeman, an old western frontier town full of cool history and art.)

In November of 1811 America was moving toward war with England on two fronts.   On the Atlantic to the east, British warships, focused like all of Europe on the Napoleonic wars, were bottling up and hijacking American vessels to prevent trade with France.  To the west, Native American nations (secretly assisted by Britain to secure defense of Canada) were assembling and opposing expansion into their territory by U.S. settlers.  Tensions were high.  Violence was increasing.  
(Oh yes, we ate buffalo burgers too.)

Enter governor of Indiana William Henry Harrison, who wanted to secure Native American lands to form an Indiana State, negotiating numerous land cession treaties including the Treaty of Fort Wayne which sold over 3 million acres of tribal land to the United States.  This greatly outraged an Indian chief of the Shawnee named Tecumseh.  
(Working our way through American history doesn't always align with our travel destinations, but the more we drive, the more we read and study, the lines of this country's stories begin to blur together and overlap.)

Tecumseh was reviving the idea that all Native Americans owned the ancestral land and it could not be sold without agreement from all tribes.  He was assembling an army of Indian soldiers to attack American troops leaving his brother, Tenskwatawa, known as 'The Prophet' in charge in the Indian stronghold of Prophetstown.  
(That's what The West is, isn't it?  A vast network of overlaying legends and lies, myths and twisted fact, personal accounts and tall tales and lives that intersect and pass with a subtle tip of the hat.)

A year earlier, Tecumseh and Harrison met at Fort Wayne to discuss the treaty.  Tecumseh flatly refused, warning Harrison he would seek an alliance with the British if hostilities broke out.  Which of course, they did.  
(Bozeman is full of history.  From the buildings along Main Street to the many art galleries...)

On November 6, 1811, Harrison's forces approached Prophetstown and were camping on the banks of the Tippecanoe River causing panic in the native village.  Tenskwatawa, believing from a vision the only way to prevent war was to murder Harrison in his sleep, sent assassins to infiltrate his camp.  They were led by an escaped military slave who had joined forces with the Indians. 
(To all the cool cowboy art just.... root'n toot'n around!)

 When U.S. sentries caught the Indians approaching the alarm was sounded and all out hell broke loose.  Fierce fighting. Charging warriors.  Small caliber rifles.  A retreat was sounded.  Later that morning, Harrison was able to regroup his men and force the Indian warriors back to Prophetstown.  Suffering great casualties, the warriors confronted Tenskwatawa and accused him of using bad magic.  'The Prophet,'  blaming his wife, offered to cast a new spell, but the warriors refused.  Harrison then entered Prophetstown and burned it to the ground. His soldiers dug up many of the freshly buried Indian graves, scalped them, and threw their bodies upon the pyre.  Days later, after the U.S. soldiers had departed, the Native American returned, sifted through the ashes for remains of their fallen warriors, and scattered them on the winds.
(Of course, it's good to just sit on the sidewalk and color with chalk too.  Add our names to the long list of lives that have passed through here and faded away, pausing to remember them, before heading back out on the trail tomorrow.)

Thirty years later in 1840, Harrison, running for the Presidency, used this victory in a campaign song calling himself 'Tippecanoe.'  Though nowhere near a decisive victory, the legend of Harrison's crushing the Native American uprising helped promote him to the presidency.  I guess, history is always written by the victors.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ride with Me, Mariah Montana

"... I determined to give it a name and in honor of Miss Maria W---d called it Maria's River.  It is true that the hue of the waters of this turbulent and troubled stream but illy comport with the pure celestial virtues and amiable qualifications of that lovely fair one; but on the other hand it is a noble river..."  -Meriwether Lewis, June 8, 1805 (The Introduction to Ride with Me, Mariah Montana)

Driving through Montana, there's a lot of time on your hands to think.  Rolling landscapes.  Enormous open sky.  Lush wilderness stretching before you like flat pages of an open book and you are passing through the seam.
"Click.  From where I was sitting on the bumper of the Winnebago I was doing my utmost to outstare that camera of hers, but as usual, no such luck....as soon as she'd shot she says as if it was something the nation was waiting to hear, 'You're not such a bad-looking old coot, you know that?'
'The old part I do, yeah.'
CLICK  Her next snap of the shutter caught me by surprise as it always did.  After all this while, why didn't I know that the real picture Mariah wanted was ever the unexpected one, the one after you'd let your guard down."  -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana

I was thinking and remembering, twenty-five years ago zig-zagging across the west with my friend Rolf in a beat-up old Honda, high on caffeine and Key-Lite, and the fumes of Kerouac and Cassidy, we stopped in to see one of his old Kansas teachers.  
"Mariah eyed me severely from the passenger seat as if about to say something, though better of it, then resumed a fixed gaze out the window." -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana

He was an older gentleman (I won't mention him by name here) with peppered white beard, drinking martini's from a thermos, sitting on the back porch and grumbling to us.  He was my friend's favorite teacher, and so he became my teacher too for that evening, and we sat at his feet like children.  
 "He paused to see how that went down with her.  I eyed her too, but with a different question in mind.  How Mariah could even entertain the notion of retying the knot with Riley was beyond me.  I mean, after our too-green marriage blew up, you could not have paid me enough to get me to marry Shirley a second time.  Talk about double jeopardy."  -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana

It's such a rare memory, for nowadays no one teaches me anything.  Oh, men still speak with authority without a doubt in their voice, but they rarely say anything of significance, and sadly for me, all my learning is finished.  
"The next thing was, I was blindsided by Mariah, hugging and kissing me and declaring I had an entire new career ahead as a public spieler.  I told her I hoped to Christ not, then held her just far enough away to gauge as I said: 'Petunia, I hope you're ending up out of all this okay.'"  -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana

But he was talking about a book, a series of books actually, written about Montana.... about driving through this vast state and watching the history of a life and a family roll along with you.  How important that was to a man in his loneliness, in his solitude, to embrace.  The book was Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, about the fictional McCaskill family and preceded by Dancing at the Rascal Fair and English Creek... and I'll spare you the: Nobody reads books anymore spiel... but I liked it.  I liked that someone could tell me something years ago, and I carried it with me all this time, and finally did something about it.   I know, it's only a book, but it was more.
"So to speak, so we were; the mountainline of the Two country up over English creek and Noon Creek that the two of us had stitched on came flapping free... dancing in the sky.  I had to chuckle at that..."  -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana

It's about coming to peace with your life, the roads you've traveled, the places you've been.  Knowing the things you pass down will be remembered by those you love most and  knowing that's all that matters.  


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Missoula, Montana and The Non-Intercourse Act

(Missoula, Montana is a funny name for a town.  Kind of like that person you think is weird and quirky and then you really meet them and discover they are as rich and deep and grounded as anyone you've ever known.  Yeah, Missoula is like that!)

"Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power."  -Thomas Jefferson (sixty-five years of age) looking forward to his retirement.

Relationships are tricky.  One person's push is another person's pull.  We yank. We cut our teeth on the sharp stabs of guilt.  We manipulate leverage.  We're people after all: flawed and weak, and wonderfully resilient.  Countries, on the other hand, are far more depraved.  
(Of course, you kid yourself.  You think..  I like it here.  The streets are straight and wide, the buildings are funky and old.  There are corner shops of absolute wonder and surprise and little pockets of random absurdity to discover.)

In 1804, across the Atlantic, Napoleon declared himself emperor of France, aiming to straddle the world like an Alexander Colossus.  Yet his main struggle was at sea, for only the British had a navy as powerful as the French, and must be defeated for his global conquest to be complete.  America stood in the middle, a friend to France due to their help in the Revolutionary War, but also with strong trade ties to Britain, a rocky relationship which was strained at best.  England wanted American to stop trading with France, France wanted American to stop trading with England, and both countries pirated and raided American vessels, seizing merchandise of timber, cotton, and corn, depriving American businesses of much needed income.  Diplomacy came to a halt when Britain imposed a blockade of the Atlantic coastline, hijacking American ships and sailors, and forcing them to work under British rule.
(The people you speak to in the restaurants and shops seem very well-rounded.  They bike and kayak and hike in the mountains and every bookstore you head into has an endless array of travel guides and outdoor manuals, and adventure seeker tips.)

Enter Thomas Jefferson, who in the last days of his presidency passed "The Embargo Act of 1807" which stated that no foreign ships were allowed to import or export goods to or from America. Jefferson believed this was a kind of logic that other countries would adhere to, and that U.S. patriotism would fully support his ideals of punishment and reconciliation.  Of course, it failed miserably:  Farm prices fell; ships lay idle; sailors became jobless; and smuggling ran rampant.  Embittered, Jefferson left office to retire to Monticello, alone with his thoughts.  
(Missoula is a beautiful little city in the middle of nowhere.  Isolated, yes, but strong!  The people are confident, muscular and tall, and the sky overhead is so wide and brilliantly open, that the traveler thinks... I can make a go of it here.  This is my kind of town.)

The job was then passed to James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, who passed the "Non-Intercourse Act of 1809" which reopened trade with both Britain and France but stated that the first country to agree to respect American neutrality of trade, America would immediately stop commerce with the other. 
(But... then you get back on the highway and begin to race away.  Mile after mile click off on the dial and the little buildings seem farther and farther off on the horizon.  You tell yourself... maybe I'm not coming back.  Missoula is better off without me.   I'll just love it from afar, and so, you do.)

 Napoleon, seized the opportunity, lifted restrictions, and America cut all ties with England.  For 19 months, Britain and the U.S. went without trade.  Food shortages, mounting unemployment, and inventories were lost.  With both sides suffering, on June 1, 1812, Madison asked Congress to vote, and war with England was declared.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Buffalo Head on the Wall at the Oxford Bar, Missoula Montana

 We arrive out of the thunderous Montana prairies dirty and dusty, our throats parched and scorched as the barren earth.  Searching the horizon for a little oasis town to quench my thirst, I found it in Missoula, Montana.
 Come on down to the Oxford Bar on North Higgens Ave to wet your whistle.
There's a buffalo head keeping the pool table honest and a nice local crowd.  As old western bars go, this one will do fine, for a guy just passing through town.

The Federalist Papers in Big Sky Montana

(Montana is called Big Sky Country for a reason)

 "Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of European greatness!  Let the thirteen States, bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great American system."  -Hamilton, The Federalist Papers
(Driving the lush fields and vast prairies here gives you a feeling of holy inspired majesty.)

 "Why has government been instituted at all?  Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint."  -Hamilton, The Federalist Papers
(Endless rolling hills and vistas under an enormous canvas sky.  It's awe inspiring.)

 "Has it been found that bodies of men act with more rectitude or greater disinterestedness than individuals?  -Hamilton, The Federalist Papers
(But of course, as breathtaking as this landscape is, and we came here to ponder the spectacular views of our country, but we also came here to read.  I've spent my life crouched on library floors or crammed upside-down and sideways on unforgiving reading chairs, straining my eyes under desk lamps or flashlights under the bed covers as a boy... but now, with my daughters, I want them to experience the same joy of reading amid the glorious landscape of our amazing country.  I want them to read in the great outdoors, to become lost in books and close their eyes and imagine, and when they open them, they are surrounded with further feast of the senses.)

 "When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation."  -Hamilton, The Federalist Papers
(The Federalist Papers, sprawled out in thunderous quotes and magnificent prose, lended itself brilliantly to this barren landscape.  Read a little, pull over... catch our breath.  Read a little, pull over... spy a family of deer or an elk or a pack of coyotes in the distance howling.  We are howling too.  You may not agree with everything Alexander Hamilton idealized, but reading these essays here are inspiring as the landscape itself.)

"Men often oppose a thing, merely because they have had no agency in planning..."  -Hamilton, The Federalist Papers

Friday, May 19, 2017

I Don't Want to Talk About Hamilton

"I was younger than you are now when I was given my first command.  I led my men straight into a massacre, I witnessed their deaths firsthand."  -Hamilton, the Musical


We drove out of Spokane out along the back country roads saying a fond farewell to Washington State.  We're heading east into Idaho, Montana, and beyond.
"I made every mistake and felt the shame rise in me and even now I lie awake knowing history has its eyes on me."   -Hamilton, the Musical


American road trips are made for American music, and I'm no dummy.  Like lyrical juice boxes and Costco snack-packs, I've stuffed my kids so full of Chinese language tapes and Korean audio vocabulary lessons and books on tape.  Just this trip alone we've read Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Ryan's Esperanza Rising and London's Call of the Wild.... but what about music?
"Let me tell you what I wish I'd known..."  -Hamilton, the Musical


How else do you introduce your kids to Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly and Little Richard, Ray Charles and James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis and.... well pulling the car off on the roadside to take a knee while Johnny Cash sings about... the Beast in Me.
"When I was young and dreamed of glory..."  -Hamilton, the Musical

Parents need to take their time with these things.  Plan it out. Books.  Language.  Music.  Travel.  These early childhood memories are the soundtrack to a person's life, and one of the things often overlooked, or completely dominated by Disney, is the Great American musical.  Parents!  Don't sleep on Mary Poppins and West Side Story. Don't overlook Grease and Guys and Dolls, The King and I, and Singing in the Rain.  Don't pass over The Music Man and Fiddler on the Roof and The South Pacific.... and certainly, without question, don't duck and weave on Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton.
"You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story." -Hamilton, the Musical

Now, I know what you're going to say.  Tickets are almost a thousand dollars and who can just fly off to New York for a show?  Even seats in my local Portland theater are off the charts... but the soundtrack is different.  Just hearing the songs of the life of Alexander Hamilton, his childhood in the Caribbean and how he ended up in New York, his rise to become George Washington's principal aide and their struggles in the Revolutionary War, his post-war legal career in New York and work on 'The Federalist Papers' and which thrust him into political life, which created allies and enemies in Adams and Madison, his affair with Maria Reynolds which ultimately destroyed his political career but not before casting the crucial vote for the Presidency that allowed Jefferson to ascend, and Burr to challenge him to a duel, the most famous duel in American history.
"I know that we can win I know that greatness lies in you..." -Hamilton, the Musical


Ah, the duel.  Hamilton and Burr meeting in the early morning in Weehawken on the New Jersey shores overlooking Manhattan.  Hamilton firing first, a shot straight into the air, and Burr, steadying his aim, landing a bullet in Hamilton's breast, killing him the following day, realizing too late that revenge cost him his place in history.  Yes, Hamilton, that musical.
"But remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you."  -Hamilton, the Musical

There's a lot of music to listen to in the car, just as there are many roads one can travel down.  Although my heart is still with the Great American Musical canon, allowing a new one to enter is just fine with me.  Cruising through Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and into Montana, singing along with Hamilton... I'm still smiling.