What To Remember on Memorial Day
William Norman Grigg
Recently by William Norman Grigg: The
Rape of Delaware County, Oklahoma
you are proposing is murder," Lt. Joseph Cramer told his commanding
officer, Colonel John Chivington of the Third Colorado Cavalry,
shortly before daybreak on the morning of the planned assault. Cramer
and several other members of Chivington’s command staff had severe
misgivings about the prospect of a sneak attack against a band of
defenseless of Cheyenne Indians who had been promised protection.
Kettle had distinguished himself through repeated efforts to secure
the peace – on one occasion riding weaponless between opposing skirmish
lines to prevent a battle from breaking out. In witness of his non-belligerency
he had been provided with a United States flag by military officers
who promised to protect the Cheyennes and Arapahos who lived in
of Sand Creek could be considered the last engagement in which the
U.S. flag flew over Americans who mounted a desperate defense of
their homes and families against a barbarous aggressor.
months leading up to the November 1864 attack on the Sand Creek
Reservation, Black Kettle had cooperated in efforts to identify
and apprehend Indians who had stolen horses and attacked white settlers.
He had also repeatedly petitioned both civilian and military officials
on behalf of Indians who had suffered similar abuses.
talk very bitterly about the whites – say they have stolen their
ponies and abused their women, taken their hunting grounds, and
they expected that they would have to fight for their rights,"
wrote Lt. George Hawkins in an official report filed during the
bitter winter of 1863. The concept that Indians had rights they
were entitled to defend was foreign to Colorado Governor John Evans
and General Samuel Curtis.
During a September
1864 conference in Denver, Evans disingenuously insisted that owing
to a "state of war" the military had plenary authority
over Indian affairs, and that he was powerless to negotiate a peace
treaty. Curtis wasn’t interested in a modus vivendi with
the Indians: "I want no peace until the Indians suffer more,"
he wrote in a directive to Colonel Chivington. "Pursue everywhere
and chastise the Cheyennes and the Arapahos…. No presents must be
made and no peace concluded without my consent."
was indecently eager to carry out that barbarous directive. Considered
a war hero of sorts following a Civil War engagement with Confederate
forces in New Mexico, Chivington chafed under the restraints placed
on his volunteers. He also resented the fact that the Third Colorado
Cavalry, which had yet to see action, had been saddled with the
sardonic sobriquet "The Bloodless Third."
zeal for combat was highly selective, however. In staging his punitive
expedition he was careful to avoid contact with any group of Indians
who were actually capable of fighting back.
Kettle’s people still mired in slumber, and dawn’s tentative fingers
peeling away the blanket of darkness, Chivington dismissed the complaints
of his underlings as an offense to his exquisitely refined sense
of honor: "I believe it right and honorable to use any means
under God’s heaven to kill Indians who kill and torture women and
children. Damn any man who is in sympathy with them."
gave the order, and 750 troops opened fire on the undefended village.
The pitiless rifle onslaught was intermittently punctuated by the
throaty report of four twelve-pound howitzers.
by the sight of an unarmed and helpless opponent, Chivington’s troops
swarmed the camp and surrendered themselves unconditionally to their
most depraved impulses.
are gruesome eyewitness accounts about braining live children, cutting
off fingers to get rings, cutting off ears to get silver earrings,
and multi-scalping the same corpse," recalled historian J.
Jay Myers in his book Red
Chiefs and White Challengers. A volunteer named Robert Grant
later testified that he saw one dead Indian mother "cut open
with an unborn child lying by her side. I saw the body of [a Cheyenne
named] White Antelope with the privates cut off."
More than 150
Cheyennes – most of them women and children – were slaughtered at
Sand Creek. Black Kettle, his gravely wounded wife Medicine Woman,
and the other Cheyennes and Arapahos who survived were forced to
sign another useless treaty and relocate to an even more desolate
reservation on the shores of the Washita River in Oklahoma.
years to the day after Chivington’s murderous raid, Black Kettle’s
band endured another unprovoked massacre, this one carried out by
George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry at Washita. Black Kettle
and his wife were gunned down while carrying a flag of truce.
In his book
and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, Hampton Sides
points out that the Sand Creek Massacre, which became the U.S. military’s
template for murderous "pacification" operations against
the Indians, "is now widely regarded as the worst atrocity
committed in all the Indian wars." At the time, it was celebrated
as a brave and noble deed.
returned to Denver in triumph," writes Sides. "At a theater
his men paraded their war trophies before the cheering crowds: Scalps,
fingers, tobacco pouches made from scrotums, purses of stretched
pudenda hacked from Cheyenne women. The Denver newspapers praised
the Colorado Volunteers for their glorious victory."
will speak of me as the great Indian fighter," boasted Chivington.
"I have eclipsed Kit Carson."
Kit Carson – unlike Chivington – didn’t specialize in sneak attacks
on unarmed Indians to whom official protection had been promised.
A few days
before Chivington's "victory" over defenseless Cheyenne
women and children, Carson had fought a real battle against a huge
force of Comanches and Kiowa on the plains of Texas. Out-numbered
ten-to-one and facing other strategic disadvantages, Carson managed
to eke out a nominal "victory" in the Battle of Adobe
to think of that dog Chivington and his dirty hounds, up at Sand
Creek," Carson commented contemptuously to Army Inspector Col.
James Rusling after returning from battle. "His men shot down
squaws, and blew the brains out of little innocent children. You
call such soldiers Christians...? And Indians savages? What do you
suppose our Heavenly Father, who made both them and us, thinks of
these things? I tell you what, I don't like a hostile Redskin any
more than you do. And when they are hostile, I've fought 'em, hard
as any man. But I never yet drew bead on a squaw or a papoose, and
I despise the man who would. I've seen as much of 'em as any man
livin', and I can't help but pity 'em, right or wrong. They once
owned this country.... But now they own next door to nothing, and
will soon be gone."
a brief term as commissioner of the Bosque
Redondo Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, a project he understandably
came to view with unalloyed disgust. The reservation’s creator,
General James Henry Carleton, regarded that reservation to be a
model experiment in the forcible assimilation of Indian populations.
the army from their homeland -- "severity will be the most
humane course," Carleton insisted – the Navajo were forced
to endure what they call the "Long Walk" to Bosque Redondo.
As the defeated
Navajos were enduring their murderous trek to the Bosque Redondo
gulag, Carleton wrote what he thought was a gallant and generous
epitaph for that people:
of this whole people from the land of their fathers is a touching
sight. They have fought us gallantly for years on years; they have
defended their mountains and their stupendous canyons with heroism,
but at length, they found it was their destiny, too, to give way
to the insatiable progress of our race."
The land in
the new Navajo "home" was desolate, its water supply brackish
and unfit for either consumption or cultivation. Promised supplies
and farm implements arrived sporadically, if at all. Many of the
Navajo, provided with bags of white flour for which they had no
practical use, died of malnutrition from eating uncooked handfuls
of the unfamiliar dust contained therein.
interest in the Navajo ended once they were cattle-penned at Bosque
Redondo. Rather than seeing to the welfare of their new wards, the
Feds focused on Carleton’s fanciful claim that the stolen Navajo
lands abounded in gold.
told Washington that the "only peace" that could be made
with the Navajo "must rest on the basis that they move onto
the lands at Bosque Redondo.... Either subjugation or destruction
... are the alternatives." He frequently wrote of the need
to "chastise" and "overawe" the Navajo, to let
them "feel the power and the sting of the government."
He nearly chastised them into oblivion.
Navajo were felled by starvation after a cutworm infestation struck
their cornfields. The entire Navajo population would likely have
died at Bosque Redondo if they hadn’t been given grudging permission
to leave in 1868 after signing yet another treaty surrendering ninety
percent of their original lands.
notion expressed by a few throwbacks like Kit Carson that Indians
should be dealt with as human beings created in God's image was
widely regarded as a relic of a less "progressive" era.
Indeed, by the late 19th Century, the term "progressive"
was used to describe Indians willing to undergo federally mandated
reconstruction; "conservatives" were those who stubbornly
clung to their rights.
conquest of the independent South, the Regime turned its eyes westward.
General William Sherman, whose infernal columns had carved a bloody
highway to the sea, was given the task of clearing the path for
the corporatist railroad combine – which meant either subjugating,
expelling, or liquidating the Plains Indians.
A little more
than two years after Chivington’s slaughter at Sand Creek, a vainglorious
boob named Lt. Col. W.J. Fetterman, commanding a detachment of eighty
men tasked to guard a supply train, abandoned his assignment to
stage a punitive expedition of his own. He led his men straight
into a fatal ambush laid by Red Cloud and American Horse.
When U.S. troops
butchered Indian women and children, the event was called a "battle";
when they were killed by Indians defending their own territory,
the incident was described as a "massacre." (Contemporary
defeats of that variety are referred to as "terrorist attacks.")
Rather than treating Fetterman’s death and the annihilation of his
command in Wyoming as the product of insubordination and lethal
ineptitude, Sherman turned Fetterman into a martyr.
massacre should be treated as an act of war and should be punished
with vindictive eagerness, until at least ten Indians are killed
for each white life lost," Sherman instructed those under his
command. This didn’t mean waging war against the battle-hardened
Indian warriors who had defeated Fetterman in a fair fight, of course.
Notes historian Heather Cox Richardson in her recent book Wounded
Knee, "Sherman told the commander of the Department
of the Platte to consider all Sioux in the Power River region hostile."
The object was to "punish them to the extent of utter extermination
often heard the grim but irresistible summons to slaughter. In a
letter to his wife Ellen written during the War Between the States,
Sherman noted the "the problem of war consists in the awful
fact that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed
outright rather than in the conquest of territory." He expressed
nearly identical sentiments toward the Plains Indians in a letter
to his brother John, a Republican Senator from Ohio, declaring that
the Sioux and Cheyenne "must be exterminated, for they cannot
and will not settle down, and our people will force us to it."
notable Indian opponents didn’t share his Total War ethic. After
Custer’s Seventh Army was defeated in Battle of Greasy Grass – known
by the losers as the Battle of Little Bighorn – Sitting Bull issued
orders not to pursue and kill off the survivors: "Let them
live. They came against us, and we have killed a few. If we kill
them all, they will send a bigger army against us."
That army came
anyway. Sitting Bull and his band fled to Canada, where they were
initially given refuge. The vengeful Regime in Washington used its
influence to intimidate the Canadians into denying the refugees
a suitable tract of land. Confronting the prospect of mass starvation,
Sitting Bull and his followers returned to the United States in
illegally imprisoned at Fort Randall, Sitting Bull was forced to
endure a totalitarian homily preached by Republican Senator John
Logan of Illinois.
"You are not
a great chief of this country," Logan lectured. "You have
no following, no power, no control, and no right to any control.
You are on an Indian reservation merely at the sufferance of the
government. You are fed by the government, clothed by the government,
your children are educated by the government, and all that you have
and are today is because of the government…. The government feeds
and clothes and educates your children now, and desires to teach
you to become farmers, and to civilize you, and make you as white
the policy described by Logan was designed to kill, through attrition,
any Indians who refused to be assimilated. As Charles Eastman described
the process, the government – through corrupt appointees – "robbed
the Indians, then bullied them, and finally in a panic called for
troops to suppress them" if the haggard and starving captive
Indians exhibited the slightest capacity for resistance.
was murdered by police at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on the
morning of December 15, 1890. The unarmed chief was shot in the
chest after refusing to submit to an unlawful arrest. This was an
overture to the climactic slaughter on the frozen shores of Wounded
Knee Creek two weeks later.
To this day,
the U.S. Army proudly displays the "battle streamer" of
what is called the Wounded Knee "campaign." Dozens
of participants in that atrocity – which can properly be called
Yar – were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The monument
to the "heroes of Wounded Knee Creek" still exists at
Ft. Riley, Kansas
turn of the [20th] century, Wounded Knee had become a
symbol of the strength of the American government and its democratic
idea," writes Heather Richardson in Wounded Knee. "The
military tactics used at Wounded Knee not only won Medals of Honor
for the soldiers, they also became the face of the modern American
Army. Lieutenant Henry L. Hawthorne, who had directed the artillery
unit until he had been shot in the groin, took his Medal of Honor
with him to MIT, where in 1891 he became a professor of military
A decade later,
the U.S. Army would apply the lessons it learned at Wounded Knee
in its effort to pacify the Filipinos whom they had "liberated"
from Spanish rule. By some estimates the military relieved roughly
two million Filipinos of their corporeal burdens during its errand
of enlightenment in the archipelago.
In 1883, with
the Plains Indians effectively broken, a retirement-bound William
Sherman boasted that his campaign of extermination against the Indians
"did more good for our country and for the human race than
I did in the Civil War." Since he died and went to hell on
Valentine’s Day 1891, roughly a month and a half after the Wounded
Knee Massacre, Sherman didn’t survive to see the uses to which his
example would be put by his 20th Century imitators.
were not subjects of fascism who clubbed to death infants in the
arms of Indian mothers," writes historian John Upton Terrell
in his study Land
Grab. "They were not Nazis who shot running Indian
children to demonstrate their prowess as marksmen. It was not a
dictatorship which condoned the illegal appropriation of territory
awarded to Indians by solemn treaty for `as long as the waters run
and the sun rises.' It was not ... a fuhrer or a duce
who herded [Indians] into prison camps and let them die of malnutrition,
cold and disease.... The bugle calls of American history proclaim
not only noble victories and morally justified accomplishments.
They proclaim, as well, base deeds and infamous triumphs."
Memorial Day – during which Americans are barraged with admonitions
that we sing hymns of chastened gratitude to the memory of those
who killed and died on behalf of the State that rules us – coincided
with the 182nd anniversary of Andrew Jackson’s Indian
Removal Act. Only by remembering the latter can we put
the former in proper perspective.
with permission from Pro
Norman Grigg [send him mail]
publishes the Pro
Libertate blog and hosts the Pro
Libertate radio program.
© 2012 William Norman Grigg
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