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.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Battle of Little Big Horn

It's one of the most crushing defeats in American history:  'Custer's Last Stand.'  On June 25, 1876, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and over 600 soldiers of the 7th U.S. Cavalry arrive in the Little Big Horn Valley of southern Montana.  The Blue Coats have come to subdue a group of defiant Indians.  
At the same time, thousands of Sioux and Cheyanne under the leadership of the great Indian holy man, Sitting Bull, were also assembling to fight back.  For over a century, the western frontier had been encroaching on Native American land and thousands of dislocated refugees were sent away onto designated reservations.  The Sioux and the Cheyanne refused to give up more lands and came together in one massive village to rebel.  
The Indian villages were always on the move, and Custer followed Sitting Bull across the Wolf Mountains toward a valley of bluffs along a river the Indians called 'The Greasy Grass.'  The army called it, 'The Little Big Horn.'  On the morning of June 25, Custer arrives  into this valley filled with low hills and rolling channels, perfect for hiding native soldiers who knew the contours of the land.  
Around noon, Custer makes what historians collectively agree is his greatest tactical mistake.  He divides his troops into three columns to attack the Indian village without actually surveying the scene or knowing how many warriors he would be facing.  It is a disastrous blunder.  Custer himself takes the north bluff and when he finally sets eyes on the massive village he realizes his mistake.  Overmatched, he quickly sends a rider south for help: More men.  More ammo.  
At the same time the Sioux and Cheyanne, led by Sitting Bull and a fierce young warrior known as Crazy Horse, are surrounding Custer and moving in fast.  U.S. soldiers are scattered and trying to regroup, picked off one by one from advancing braves who have created an enclosing circle of death.  Volleys of arrows are raining down.  A barrage of bullets are dropping the men one after the other.  Custer retreats to a bluff overlooking the valley, what is now known as 'Last Stand Hill.'  In a desperate effort at survival, Custer and his men shoot their own horses for cover.  Later, Indian warriors said, 'When we saw them kill their own horses, we knew the battle was over.'  Their arrows arched down and when the shooting was over, the Indians raced in and the slaughter was complete.  
News of the Little Big Horn Battle, of the death of George Custer and 200 of his men,  shocked America.  It was the Plains Indian's greatest victory, but also caused the U.S. military to send more forces and less than a year after the battle, Sitting Bull flees to Canada, and Crazy Horse surrenders in Nebraska.  Custer's Last Stand has been studied more than almost any other battle in American history.    Today, the battlefield lies silent as a National Park along the cottonwood trees of the Little Big Horn River.  

"Ich Rufe Mein Volk" -On a Roadside T-shirt!

"You see, I had been riding with the storm clouds, and had come to earth as rain, and it was drought that I had killed with the power that the Six Grandfathers gave me."  -Black Elk Speaks

When I was a young college student just laying in the aisles of the old dusty library napping on chairs and awaking with pages stuck to my drooling mouth... one of the most profound books I read was Black Elk Speaks about an Oglala Lakota medicine man and the mysterious Ghost Dance of the Sioux.  
 "Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking."  -Black Elk Speaks

Black Elk Speaks is a 1932 book by American poet and author John G. Neihardt but became famous when Swiss psychologist Carl Jung had the book translated into German in 1955 called: Ich Rufe Mein Volk or 'I Call My People.'  This was how I discovered the book, reading Joseph Campbell which led be to Jung which led me to the side tangent of Black Elk Speaks.  Thank God... for tangents. 
 "Grown men an learn from very little children for the hearts of little children are pure.  Therefore, the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people miss."  -Black Elk Speaks

Neihardt, the poet laureate of Nebraska, received special permission in 1930 to go onto the Pine Ridge Reservation to meet the Oglala holy man Black Elk.  Through the translation of his son, Flying Hawk, he described a series of visions about the earth and all mankind.  Black Elk was 13 years old at the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn and also survived the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.  The old wise man also shared many Oglala rituals he performed as a healer.
"There can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which is within the souls of men."  -Black Elk Speaks

I'm struggling to know what a book means nowadays.  Black Elk and the wisdom of the Sioux have been reduced to nothing more than a T-shirt slogan in a roadside trinket shop.  I don't know what is important to anyone anymore.  I spent years abroad defending America to anyone who would criticize her saying... there is a wealth of knowledge here, of goodness, of thoughtfulness.  America is more than just the foolishness reported on TV, but those words fall on deaf ears now.  Might as well stick my complains on a T-shirt and hang me out to dry with the rest of them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Alexis de Tocqueville and the Trail of Tears

(As we tour the Bad Lands and Black Hills of South Dakota, we pause to read selections of Democracy in America by the French author de Tocqueville.)

"In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn't watch without feeling one's heart wrung.  The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn.  There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country.  'To be free,' he answered, could never get any other reason out of him.  We... watch the expulsion... of one of the most celebrated and ancient American peoples."  -Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Memphis, Tennessee, 1831
(We tour past the bear skin arts and tomahawks and Winchester rifles, relics of the old west.)

The Trail of Tears was a series of forced Indian removals of Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee, Seminole, and Chickasaw from ancestral homelands in the southern United States to areas west of the Mississippi River  after the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  
(We try to remember, we try to keep the memory alive, even just by allowing ourselves to feel.)

More than 4,000 of the relocated refugees died during the trek of 1,000 miles due to disease, starvation, and exposure.

Sidenote: The Autobiography of Peggy Eaton.

(In the middle of all these Native American museums, tomahawks and war bonnets and buffalo skins hanging on the walls... I saw this woman's dress and thought about Peggy Eaton.  So, here goes...)

"She did not know her place; she forthrightly spoke up about anything that came to her mind, even topics of which women were supposed to be ignorant.  She thrust herself into the world in a manner inappropriate for a woman... Accept her, and society was in danger of disruption."  -Historian John F. Marszalek, explaining why Washington's elite found Peggy O'Neill unacceptable.

I can't help myself, it's just too juicy.  After the Petticoat Affair, John Eaton lost favor with President Andrew Jackson and was ostracized from society until his death in 1856.  Three years later his wife, Peggy O'Neill, married an Italian music and dancing teacher named Buchiganani. She was 59; he was early 20s.  Of course, this Italian dancer robbed Peggy's of her life savings, ran off with her 17 year old granddaughter to Italy, and Peggy was left with only her memoir:  The Autobiography of Peggy Eaton.  She died in 1879, unknowingly helping to usher in an era of feminism due to her brash outspokenness and unfiltered opinions.  Her life was later turned into a 1936 movie called: The Gorgeous Hussy, starring Joan Crawford.  How about that!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Petticoat Affair

(The vast highways of America's Bad Lands.)

 Great classes wander off into tangents.  It's always been this way.  Students try everything within their power to distract and derail, but careful teachers know the value of a pressure valve.  So, as we...  wander lonely as clouds through the Big Sky Country of Montana, through Indian Territory and Reservation, we pause for a tangent... and ugh!  Heaven Help Me! We turn on CNN!
(We stop in the little town of Broadus, Montana.)

Like Public Enemy's Chuck D to Elvis, believe me, Andrew Jackson never meant much to me.  But as I crouch around a little hotel TV set with my daughters in the middle of a South Dakota nowhere watching, like all my other fellow American knuckleheads: The Comey Testimony, I can't help but think back to Old Hickory and some of the scandals he faced during his tenuous presidency and their lasting impact.  For starters, look no further than the Petticoat Affair.  
(America!  You're in for a bumpy four years.)

I cringe to say it, but Andrew Jackson was a bad ass.  Cut from that frontier's cloth, researches have him participating in 10 to 100 different pistol duels of honor during his life: one for revenge with a lawyer who tore his argument to shreds in court; one with the incumbent governor of Tennessee to defend a friend, and one, most famously, over an unpaid horse racing bet that left one man dead and Jackson with a bullet in his chest too close to his heart to be surgically removed. Yeah, I'd say history is pretty solid on Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, going down as a frontier legend!
(I love these moments, pulling into a town and standing on the corner surveying the world, drawing it all inside, knowing you will never pass this way again.)

The Petticoat Affair surrounded the controversial Jackson cabinet appointment of John Eaton as Secretary of War in 1829.  You see, Jackson, a total non-conformist, appoints Eaton despite his marriage to Margaret 'Peggy' O'Neill, an ex-bar maid and woman of ill-repute.  Raised in a boardinghouse, Peggy, a 'gorgeous hussy,' entertained then-Senator Jackson and Eaton on numerous occasions and had many illicit affairs before her marriage.  When she hooked up with Eaton, her husband who was a Navy sailor, reportedly killed himself.  Their relationship caused a stir around Washington D.C. especially with Vice President John Calhoun's wife, Floride who led the capitol city's elite in snubbing the Eatons at social affairs and started the 'Anti-Peggy' coalition.  Opponents used the 'Eaton Affair' or 'Petticoat Affair' to attack the president's moral judgment in the press.  There were even cigar boxes depicting Peggy's beauty and Jackson fighting duels to defend her honor.  All in all, it was an epic American scandal.  
(The ceremonial trophies and relics people display, the memories of a life long lost... the Americana...)

Of course, President Jackson wouldn't be swayed.  He sympathized with his friend Eaton because his own wife Rachel, whom he had unwittingly married before her divorce, and who had also been the victim of social gossip and the cause of many of his duels, had to have her honor defended on multiple occasions.  Say what you like about Jackson's politics toward Indians, but as a defender of women, you have to give him his props!  By 1831, the Petticoat Affair had proved immensely divisive and politically damaging to Jackson.  In response, Secretary of State Martin Van Buren and Eaton resigned.  Vice President John Calhoun was replaced on the presidential ticket and returned to (you guessed it) South Carolina where he became a staunch proponent of State's Rights, Slavery, and Secession from the Union.  
(And then back on the road again... what a feast for the eyes!)

All of this division, turmoil, and strife, over some petty Washington D.C. power play gossip.  It puts the Comey Testimony in a different perspective, doesn't it?  The danger of rivalries and political ambition.  The need to burn down the world if only to stay in power one day longer.  While all these political Big Shots were arguing about rude social behaviors and offensive eye glances... thousands of Native Americans were being slaughtered and marched to their death on the Trail of Tears.  Keep your eye on the ball, America.  Level swings.  Level swings.