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

 

 

Fiction: Family Shots

“Merciful heavens, Graham, look at Buck’s face. It’s worse than ever!” Margaret cried.

“Mother, you look well,” Buck said and kissed her cheek.

“You look terrible.”

“Well, I was shot.”

“What?” Fred cried in disbelief. “Who shot you?”

“An Apache.”

“Damn, you were in a shoot-out with Indians?” Fred asked in jealous awe. “You lucky son of a …”

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Buck said.

“Tell that to the girls back home,” Margaret said.

“Mother, there’s more to life than girls,” Buck replied, failing to hide his disappointment.

“And what’s more important, Buck, than girls?” Meg asked, fanning her round face.

Buck coughed. “Well … God, I think.”

The Crenshaws laughed. Graham stopped first. “Seriously, we’re tired and in no mood for jokes. Let’s go to the coach now.”

They moved off, but Buck stood still. Graham turned and stared.

“Father, I hoped you might be pleased,” Buck said.

“Pleased?” Graham mopped his face.

“Yes, when I got shot I met a missionary who told me all about—well, Jesus and such. It’s meant a lot to me.”

“That’s nice, Buckie,” Margaret said. “I suppose a little religion is a good thing. Though you act like we never sent you to Sunday school. Is it my fault you always skipped out?”

“Mother, I didn’t say …” Buck began, but no one listened. They hopped into the waiting coach, complaining of the heat and dirt.

Fred lingered taking Buck aside. “So you forgive me my sins? What’s all this religion rot? I don’t understand the angle you’re playing. I’ve already got you off the hook over Streeter. And that big show for Father was appalling.”

“It was no show, Fred.”

“Oh, I see, you don’t want me stealing your thunder. I’ll play along then. This should be entertaining.”

Buck took a deep breath. His new found faith was nothing on Thankful’s surprises. Maybe they’d overlook the changes in her as much as they had overlooked his.

The family jostled and complained over seating as the coach set out. Graham adjusted his weight and said, “Buck, tell us how you were shot.”

Margaret sighed and dabbed her eyes. “A son of mine shot over a no-good Indian. The savages should be sent from this earth—every last one of them.”

“That’s what the army aims to do, thank God,” Fred said. “Survival of the fittest. I like Darwin.”

“No, Fred, you’re wrong on that count. The army—the men I’ve met here—they just want to keep peace. That Geronimo just makes trouble for the rest of his people. They don’t even like him.”

“What? Who told you that? The savages’ll tell you anything—but you’re still so naive,” Fred said, shaking his head. “I don’t understand it, after all I’ve tried to teach you about people. Don’t bring your sympathetic attitudes back to the academy or it’ll be another hard year for us.”

“If the Indians are so great then why did they shoot you?” Meg asked, her eyes darting out the window at the hidden perils.

“It was my own fault. I was drunk and went after William,” Buck said.

“Weldon?” Fred leaned in, full of interest.

“We were drunk on Father’s spirits—with Lieutenant Fahy too—and things went sour and I was shot, but it was no one’s fault. And as I’ve said, it brought me to … the Lord—God—I mean,” Buck explained. “There was a court-martial proceeding, but everyone felt sorry for Fahy so … well, a note will be sent to school concerning my part in it all.”

“Why sorry for Fahy?” Graham asked.

“Well, I’m not supposed to tell, but I feel I should warn you that Fahy was shot too.”

“In the face?” Margaret asked.

“No! Not in the face, Mama! Gosh, you’re so shallow. Thankful will need your support,” Buck said.

“It’s not Christian to judge Mama,” Fred quipped.

“What’s happened to Lieutenant Fahy?” Graham asked. “A court-martial decision based on sympathy?”

“Thankful wants to tell you about it. I only wanted to prepare you. Thankful is a good girl. Everyone loves her at Fort Grant and they’ve all been very supportive over everything.”

“Everything? What else is there to tell us?” asked Graham.

Margaret waved her fan. “All I can say is I’ll be rightly annoyed to have come across the country if there’s no wedding.”

“Thankful’s convinced Fahy to go forward with it,” Buck said.

“Thankful had to convince him?” Graham asked. “Buck, I hope you weren’t trying to soften me up back there before telling me of a terrible disaster you and your sister have created.”

“No, Father. I’m genuinely happy to see you,” Buck said.

“I don’t like the sound of this Fahy one bit,” Margaret said. “Thankful has brought this all on herself.”

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FEATURED IMAGE: The Old Stagecoach of the Plains by Frederic Remington

 

Fiction: The Wedding Party

On the train west, Margaret Crenshaw insulted the coachmen and train conductors while fretting over the linens and china purchased and packed with great care for Thankful’s wedding.

Fred in his booming arrogance educated his family about Indian tribes and the sinister Chinese—betraying his ignorance of both. Meg stared out the window, chin in hand, glum over a missed trip to Europe with friends. Graham fighting a mix of dread and sadness, begged Margaret and Fred to be quiet.

Thankful had always pleased Graham. Even after she stole his money, Graham assumed she’d come home married to William—not the best match, but one he could accept. Now Thankful was lost to a poor Irish soldier. At one time Graham suggested he might keep Thankful to himself as a nurse or even a doctor in his practice, but Margaret blocked the idea of careers for her girls. Often now the old doctor took to daydreams and fabulous fantasies only to wake up more depressed than ever. And sometimes still, he wished he might love his wife and resolved to try harder.

The waving grasses of the plains and now the bright desert sky held no appeal. Graham loved the soft forests, the friendly mountains—just the right size for average people to climb—and the temperate weather of New Jersey and his little part in it. He dreaded seeing Buck, whom he hadn’t spoken with since Christmas. There had been no news of his son since the telegram he sent to his mother from Willcox upon his arrival over a month ago.

“Well, there’s no point in worrying, I suppose,” he said out loud to no one in particular.

“It’s too late now to fuss, Graham. We’re here to marry our daughter to a Catholic,” Margaret complained, fanning herself. “I knew it was trouble to raise her so unprejudiced. You’ve done Thankful a great disservice. My Meg would never do something so scandalous.”

Graham turned back to staring out the window. Plain Meg would be lucky to marry anyone. Fred smirked until Margaret slapped him.

“Well, damn, Father,” Fred said. “We must be nearly there by now. These trains are never run on time—lazy foreigners and trash.”

“Dear, what’s the hurry?” Margaret asked. “All we have to look forward to is a dusty old camp with bugs and heat.”

“How about seeing your children?” Graham pointed out, wiping his brow.

“Don’t lecture me about valuing the children, Graham. How much time did you ever spend with them?”

“When did you ever let me? You conspired to have them hate me!”

Meg stood and pushed past Fred. “If I hear one more word from either of you I’ll scream!”

“Next station Willcox, Arizona!” the conductor called.

The Crenshaws stretched their necks to get a first glimpse of the town.

“It’s godawful!” Fred remarked, but his eyes were eager.

Margaret and Meg peered with their mouths ajar, taking in the rough and forlorn buildings and the array of unusual people as the train pulled into the station. In their elegant eastern attire, Margaret and Meg stood paralyzed with revulsion.

“Girls, let’s go,” Graham ordered, nudging his wife.

Fred trotted down the aisle. Graham’s heart raced and sweat poured from him as he stepped on to the platform, craning his neck in search of Buck and Thankful. He saw two soldiers on leave leaning against a dilapidated adobe storehouse near the tracks. “Fellows, we’re looking for my son,” Graham began. “You may know him.”

The disinterested soldiers sneered, but Graham stood, mopping sweat from his brow and waiting. One with a cigar hanging from the corner of his mouth relented. “Has this son of yours got a name?”

“Yes, of course. Buck Crenshaw—he’s a cadet.”

“Oh, you mean The Apostle?”

“Pardon?” Graham laughed at the notion.

The one nodded. “Yep, your son is just over there yonder.” He pointed behind the station.

Graham for a moment didn’t recognize him. Buck’s hair hung longer as he talked in an uncharacteristically relaxed manner to a ragged stranger instead of greeting his family at the train. Graham waited in curiosity. Fred paid someone to load up their things on a coach before joining his family as they appraised the situation. Taking the lead, Fred strode forward with the rest of the family at his heels.

Buck quoted, “‘The Lord is just in all His ways and holy in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear Him, He hears their cry and saves them. The Lord keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked he will destroy.’”

“What on earth?” Graham whispered.

“It’s a psalm, Father—145.” Fred smiled. “What’s Buck up to now?”

“I know it’s a psalm,” Graham said, and Buck whirled around at the sound of his father.

“Father!” he cried, his voice still weak. The sick man moved away into a shadowy alley. Buck embraced his stiff father. “Father, I want to ask you for forgiveness. I’ve been a terrible son. I’ve had a lot of time to think and …” He wept. “I’ve been a fool. I want to do things right this time. I love you.”

What sort of game was Buck playing? Graham hesitated, searching his son’s eyes for guile or something other than what seemed earnestness. “Buck …”

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness,” Buck began.

“No, son, it’s me.” Graham burst into unexpected tears. “I’ve treated you badly all these years and never should have been away so much.”

Fred, Margaret, and Meg looked on in horror.

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