Monday, March 30, 2015

Columbus, greed, slavery, and genocide: what really happened to the American Indians8

The Cheyenne and Arapaho men of Sand Creek were away on a buffalo hunt, leaving around 600 women and children together with some 35 braves and 25 old men. When the American cavalry approached, the elderly chief, Black Kettle, emerged with his family. He waved a white flag and an American flag, and explained that the village had already voluntarily surrendered all its weapons to prove they were peaceful. All the while, he reassured his people not to be afraid. However, the Cavalry commander, the Rev. Col. John Milton Chivington, a devout Methodist pastor and elder, was an extremist in no mood for peace. “I long to be wading in gore”, he had announced a few days earlier:
Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.
The stomach-turning notion that “nits make lice” was one of his favourite justifications for the wholesale butchery of Indian children. Accordingly, at Sand Creek he sent in his 700 troops, who slaughtered the entire village, including a six-year-old girl waving a white flag. When they were done, they scalped the bodies, hacked off fingers and ears for jewellery, and sexually mutilated a number of the corpses.
Soldier Blue was released at the height of the Vietnam War, and attracted some criticism for its timing. But it was a tearaway international box office success, chiefly remembered for introducing an audience weaned on films of spectacular and heroic cowboy derring-do to a far more shocking and sobering view of how the West was won.
“The order was massacre, and good soldiers follow orders. These soldiers were the best.” Strapline to original 1970 movie poster of Soldier Blue.
Perhaps equally as shocking is that Chivington was never disciplined for the atrocity, and President Theodore Roosevelt (1901–9) declared the Sand Creek massacre was:
… as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier.
He later went on to say:
I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe 9 out of 10 are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.

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