[ExI] Was the Chief Right?

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sun Apr 26 00:01:05 UTC 2009

"It is true," said the Chief with a sigh, "our young
men did go and steal horses from the whites, and
killed a settler who tried to stop them. But when
the white soldiers come, we elders too must join
the ambush, and kill as many as we can. For they
intend to destroy our whole village."

General nodding, and murmuring of agreement.

"But that is for tomorrow," he continued. "Let us
now talk in more general terms about what to do
concerning the Problem of the Whites, who move
on to our lands relentlessly.

"We should band together with the Cheyenne, the
Sioux, the Arapaho, the Pawnee, the Apache, the
Kiowa, the Comanche, and even far away tribes
such as the Navajo, and all the tribes between
here and the far, far Great Water where the sun
sets. Yes, the Crow too, who are such friends
with the whites. We must convince them."

A long pause.

"Why would you want that?" asked Silver Eagle. "The
Cheyenne and the Apache are our sworn enemies, and
always we enjoy making war against them. I understand
the Problem of the Whites, but we can gradually work
with them as we have often done: sometimes we have
war with them, and sometimes we have peace. They're
really just like everyone else."

It was a very long time before anyone spoke. Finally
the Chief said, "We have tried making war just among
ourselves, and remaining at peace with the Whites,
as they would have it. But always the pattern is the
same. Either they cannot control their settlers, or
we cannot control our young men. And I pass completely
over the times when they have simply lied.

"But that is not what is important. Always, always,
their numbers grow, they do not fight against each
other, and their ways are completely different
from ours.

"Now, I say, with the help of all the tribes between
the Great River to the east, and the far, far Great
Water to the West, our braves will number in the many
tens of thousands! We should drive *all* the whites
beyond the Great River, killing as few as necessary,
but ignoring not a single one."

This time, Silver Eagle was not long in responding.

"The words of our chief fill me with disgust and
loathing. Many of the whites are our friends,
and many we trade with. Many, many whites with
whom we have never even had contact would starve
in a trail of tears as they went back to the
River. Many would die, who have done nothing
against any Indian, and who also have no horses
we can take. Worse, it would disrupt our lives
more than anything has before.

"And it is not the Indian Way to join together with
our ancient enemies, such as the Crow, for any reason
whatsoever. Besides our impoverishment (as trade
ceased), we would become what the whites call a
nation. No longer could we war upon one another;
we would have to keep a large band of permanent
warriors from many tribes to patrol our "boundaries".
Permanent delegations would have to be sent to
Mexico and Canada, and probably to faraway places
we never heard of. In short, we would sacrifice
everything that it means to be Indian, and become
ourselves white."

The Chief inhaled deeply from his pipe and
said, "I have heard you. But you must see
that in this clash, in the long run, all the
tribes will be destroyed, or at very least
shunted off to the most miserable areas.
The rising numbers of the whites make it
only the more more difficult to do what
someday we must do and will be forced to do.
But someday will be too late, and our
grandsons will think badly of us for not
having acted when we could.

"Besides, your words are untrue in this
part: We would not be sacrificing everything
that it means to be Indian. No, not at all.
True, many of the changes you list would
be necessary---but in the vast interior of
our new land, our customs and our lives would
be mostly unaffected. It is true that we
would have to be at peace among ourselves,
to direct all our fighting strength against
the whites and the Mexicans when they invade,
but it is better to be at peace among ourselves
and at war with the true outsiders, than it is
to vainly try to be at peace with the whites
and at war with ourselves."

Finally, Sliver Eagle said, "I still cannot
understand what ails the thinking of our
leader, but I for one will never go along.
The things you warn of are far in the future,
and I will not betray the white traders who
are my friends. Nor will I make peace with
the Cheyenne.

"And please do not accuse me of being a squaw,
for I will be the first to rise tomorrow when
we must ambush the white soldiers. And how
can you know about things many, many years
in the future? As the white settlers come,
they may come to understand the better lives
we lead as Indians, make their own tribes,
and become like us.

"To unite with tribes we have never known, or
never even known about, is ridiculous and extreme.
We should continue as we have, and hope for the best.
I have spoken."

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