Custer and other lies

June marked the 145th anniversary of Custer’s debacle at the Little Big Horn. Custer’s death as a hero fighting for white dominance of the Plains against savage and hostile Indians contributed to the increased military pressure that ultimately did clear the West for white expansion. The true history of that day and Custer, shrouded in the hero mythology promulgated by, among others, his widow, Libby, has been debated and recreated in more books and movies than almost any event in American history.

We now know that Custer was a blunderer and a boaster, a man who had promulgated atrocities against Indians and led his troops into certain death; in less than an hour, the Sioux and Cheyenne had won the Battle of the Little Bighorn, killing Custer and every one of his men. The country was shocked—and ready to believe a story of heroism against the savages. Read The Article

Ken Burns and “The Americans”

Hollow Horn Bear–1923 US Postage Stamp

I’ve been a big fan of Ken Burns’ documentaries—like many I watched the Civil War series as it came out; like many (though not as many) watched “Baseball” explore the post Civil War Civil Rights journey; and I caught most of the recent “Vietnam” series the first time around and will watch the one episode and parts of others I missed as they come back to my screen.

Yet there is a giant hole in the work of Ken Burns. In the September 4 issue of the New Yorker, author Ian Parker profiles the documentarian, and the headline writers call it “Mr. America.” Parker recounts many of Burns’ triumphs, from “The Brooklyn Bridge” to “Mark Twain” and the “Dust Bowl.” And he quotes Burns on at least ten ideas for the future, including “Hemingway,” “Crime and Punishment in America,” and “Country Music,” which is already in the can and set to run. He’s Read The Article

So the President lied?

Which president, which time?

President Ulysses S. Grant

Indian trails of tears are littered with Presidential lies. We could pick almost any one, but why not take the hero of the Civil War and the man on the $50 bill. He had some interesting dealings with the Nez Perce, so I am somewhat familiar with President Grant’s “Peace Policy” and stated attempts to do better by Indians than had his predecessors.

The Nez Perce had signed a treaty with the nation in 1855 that left them much of their traditional homeland, including the Wallowa Country. In 1863, gold was found on that reservation in Idaho, so the government negotiated a new treaty, centered in Lapwai, Idaho, which reduced the size of the reservation by about 90 percent. Old Joseph and the chiefs of several other Nez Perce bands did not sign, and Joseph went back to the Wallowas, where no gold had been discovered, and where he was briefly left Read The Article

Standing Rock slips away

There’s no word from Standing Rock in the New York Times or on CNN today. Indians slip into the national news on occasion—and then, on most occasions, slip out as quickly.

Both CNN and MSNBC did report yesterday about an oil spill from another pipeline just three hours from Standing Rock. The spill happened more than a week ago, on December 5. According to CNN,

“State officials estimate 4,200 barrels of crude oil, or 176,000 gallons, have leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline in Billings County. Of that amount, 130,000 gallons of oil has flowed into Ash Coulee Creek, while the rest leaked onto a hillside, said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager at the North Dakota Department of Health.”

Had it been in New York or Pennsylvania, the Times would have had someone on it, and it would not have slipped away from its reporters in just a day. In North Dakota and elsewhere in Indian Country, such national Read The Article

The Custer Myth and Henry Luce

The July 2, 1971 issue of Life Magazine carried a story by Alvin Josephy called “The Custer Myth.”  In the late 1960s, during the filming of “Little Big Man,” for which Alvin was a technical advisor, he took some Indian friends to see the Custer Battlefield, While they looked at exhibits, the government “interpreters” went on about the battle, calling the Indians “savages,” and even intimating that some kind of plot to discredit the American military was sweeping the country (this was during the Vietnam War). 
The Indians became increasingly uncomfortable, muttering that “Crazy Horse was no savage, he was a great man.”  Alvin goes on to quote a Nez Perce friend about the importance of Custer to all American Indians:
“The white man’s knowledge of Indians is based on  stereotypes and false, prejudiced history. Custer is the best known hero of that myth to the whites. Therefore, to every Indian in the country, it is the biggest and most
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Thomas King, G.A. Custer, Lois Riel, David Thompson…..


Years and years ago, novelist Thomas King came to Fishtrap. Alvin Josephy had met him at a Sun Valley conference and recommended him as a reader and conversationalist. 
King ran for office in Guelph
King, tall, handsome, wearing a good white Stetson as I recall, lived up to promise, and two of his novels, Medicine Riverand Green Grass Running Water, remain personal favorites. I kept meaning to invite him back to Fishtrap—but he kept getting further away, going from the University of Minnesota to the University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, where he is a professor of English today. He also has a radio show, “The Dead Dog Cafe Hour,” on CBC, and has written extensively on Indian issues on both sides of the border.
King was born in California, and his ancestors were Cherokee, Greek, and German, but he has managed to absorb Indian history and culture
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The Shadow Catcher


The name came to Edward S. Curtis from Indians, who were the subject of his life work—a twenty volume study in words and pictures of The North American Indian. The title of Tim Egan’s fascinating new biography is Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: the Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.

It must have been easier for the ones with firm beliefs and intentions, the purists: the original Europeans who thought the indigenous peoples on the new continents were less than human and best used as slaves, and, if worked to death or killed, of no moral consequence; the northern Europeans who started on the Atlantic seaboard and drove Indians west with diseases and superior weapons, duplicity, and sometimes savagery; and those on all fronts who thought and said that the best Indians were dead Indians.  Col. John Milton Chivington, who engineered the Sand Creek Massacre of friendly
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