Why Did Native Americans Turn Scout?

Apache Scouts

“For tribes subject to Sioux pressure for decades, the combination of revenge and self-defense would constitute a powerful motivation, even without the other possible motives of individual warriors. The suggestion that they were betraying ‘the Indians’ would have been meaningless to them. They knew too well who their enemy was.” (Dunlay)

And here we have an uncomfortable truth: history is not as simple as we would hope. As convenient as it may be to imagine,  not all the members of certain gene pools are evil and others good. Life isn’t set up that way. So often in our need for certainty we invent fairy tales and one-dimensional villains.

Just as it was a disaster for Hitler (and many others in the eugenics movement) to declare some people pure and others not, it is foolish (and demeaning) to classify the Native Americans who fought the age-old fight for land and power (like the rest of humanity) into noble or savage stereotypes.

“Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.”
Margaret Mead

Whether it is to admire or exterminate, defining people solely by their group affiliation is dangerous and, if nothing else, gives us a very distorted version of history. Not all Indians were peaceful shamans. Not all white people were slaveholders (or even supported slavery). Not all Germans hated the Jews (see DIETRICH BONHOEFFER). And certainly not all generations are responsible for the sins of their great-great grandfathers and mothers. Not all humans are Mother Theresa either. Not all Trump supporters are racist. Not all liberals are Antifa. The list goes on.

But so often this is how we act. Some Irish still talk about the BATTLE OF THE BOYNE (1690) as if it were yesterday.  I understand the temptation. Hate is so easy to rationalize. Hate is lazy.  It’s why Christ’s command to love one’s enemies is so revolutionary — and such an impossible standard of behavior to achieve without supernatural help. 

Native Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War (and some owned slaves). When I wrote about a Civil War veteran and his struggles with addiction in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD, I decided it would be interesting to make him part Delaware. It’s only a tiny part of the story but I wanted to play with the fluid nature of identity in nineteenth century America. This does not mean there weren’t prejudices and hatreds among all people — including Native Americans.

“Competent scholars have concluded that far more Indians perished in intertribal warfare in the nineteenth century than in wars with the whites … Intertribal warfare was exploited by the whites, but it had been endemic on the Great Plains for centuries.”(Dunlay)

As a warrior, John Weldon sees himself as his father’s son — his father having been an English-blooded dragoon with an illustrious past. He carries the wounds he received as a child from his Delaware mother close to his vest and with shame. Even more so after his son is born with his mother’s features.

Yet when Weldon fights with General Crook against the Apache Indians in Arizona he looks upon the Apache scouts with disdain for turning against their own.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Matthew 7:3

It makes me think of friends who despise their whiteness (or more accurately other people’s whiteness). It makes me think of other friends who still despise their Indian mothers. It makes me think of friends who despise all of humanity for the  wanton destruction of animal habitats — the ones who suggest that some people should commit suicide to save the environment but don’t offer their own body as first sacrifice.

“Historical emphasis on Indian-white conflict tends to obscure the fact that Indians interacted long before white contact became significant. Intertribal conflicts and alliances had an importance often more immediate  than any problems or pressures created by whites. For many Indians an alliance with the army (U.S.) offered hope of turning the tables on a powerful enemy who represented an immediate and obvious menace. In some cases the army represented survival itself.” (Dunlay)

But what about the Apache Indians who turned scout against their own tribe?

The word tribe should be held loosely here. While it is true that the Apache as a people were of the Athapaskan language family they were hardly a monolithic group. Within this loose “family” were many subgroups. For an example of the disdain some groups had for each other we only have to look to the  most northwesterly branch of the Western Apaches called by the others “the brainless people” or as the Spanish translated the term “Tontos.” (Dunlay)

 This was a language family who disagreed often and sometimes quite violently. For a young man to go out against a feuding subgroup is not that difficult to understand. An Apache who refused to join the army as scout, James Kaywaykla, still acknowledged a simple fact of young manhood that crosses ethnic boundaries and keeps the human tradition of warfare alive:

“Ours was a race of fighting men — war was our occupation. A rifle was our most cherished possession … there was not a man who did not envy the scout his rifle.” (Dunlay)

Excerpts taken from WOLVES FOR BLUE SOLDIERS by THOMAS W. DUNLAY

 

 

5 Comments Add yours

  1. I do tire of imposing our cultural values on all others. It just doesn’t work. Good for us isn’t good for them.

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  2. A very insightful assessment, Adrienne. 🙂

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  3. Well written on a tough subject. One of my ancestors was a scout and my ancestor’s tribe was wiped out by the Seminole’s

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    1. Historically all people were about conquest. Whether that’s right or wrong makes no difference because that’s just how it was (and sorta still is). All people are guilty and innocent.

      Hope you’re well. How’s the book?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And conquest is mostly money motivated. My cell phone is my primary internet access these days so the second and third books are delayed. Can’t follow you as easily as before, either.

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