Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 1 - A Few Lines

A couple of things about Buckskin Brigades' chapters.  First, they have actual titles like "Arrival of the Brigades," "Reunion," or "The Chipmunk."  This suggests that someone at some point went back over the chapters and chose a few words to summarize them, a marked difference from the likes of Mission Earth, which I'm fairly certain Hubbard didn't bother to proofread.  Second, their lengths vary - the average seems to be about eight pages, while some are as short as four - but their divisions don't look as arbitrary as Mission Earth's.

Anyway, we start out with Chapter 1, "The Echoes of a Shot."  And I have to say, the opening lines are not inauspicious at all.

They never saw each other, they were utterly dissimilar and neither ever heard the other's right name.

And yet upon their lives and upon this almost-meeting hangs the bitter and bloody saga of the West.

I think the term is "story hook," a premise that grabs the reader's attention, makes him, her or other set on finishing the book.  In this case we got a mystery of sorts.  What bitter and bloody saga is the author discussing?  How did this not-meeting trigger it?  I must know more!

One of them was Captain Meriwether Lewis, the great explorer, former secretary to the late President Thomas Jefferson and Governor of the Louisiana Purchase.

And I make it a full three sentences before nitpicking.

First, the use of "late" to describe Jefferson - he died in 1809, three years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition returned.  The same year the Lewis died, as a matter of fact.  So Jefferson wasn't dead during the time span of the Expedition, and both are dead from the reference point of this novel, so it's weird to single out Jefferson.  Second, Lewis wasn't given his governorship until he returned, so again it's odd to describe him as such when recounting an incident that took place during his expedition.

The other was Michael Kirk, who is better known among his adopted people, the Blackfeet, as Yellow Hair, scout and warrior, whose exploits rolled on every tongue from the Shining Mountains to Quebec.

Had to do some searching for the Shining Mountains - Wikipedia thinks I'm looking for the Glass Mountains (more like hills and mesas) of Oklahoma, but Montana tourist information explains that it's another name for the Madison Range.  As for Michael Kirk, Wikipedia only lists a filmmaker born in 1949 when I search for the name.  For someone whose legend spanned the two thousand odd miles from Montana to Quebec, there seems to be little historical record of him, almost as if Hubbard made up this Kirk fella for his story.

Lewis and Kirk's almost-meeting took place on July 27th, when the former had an altercation with some natives he mistook for "Minnetaree" but were actually Piegan Blackfeet.  Our narrator says that while according to his friends Lewis acted in his best interests, "the shot he fired founds its echoes in the dying screams of white traders without number and the wails of Blackfoot women mourning their dead."  As for Yellow-Hair, he "was to suffer the brunt of that sad meeting, and the entire course of his life was to be changed by a man he was never destined to see.  He was to suffer the effects of a bullet he had not even heard or felt."  Such drama!  Such tragedy!

And after this strong start, the author, for the sake of fairness, decides to borrow "a few lines" from the Expedition's journals describing the event.  And by "a few lines" I mean the next five pages of the book are copied from another document.

Happily, the University of Nebraska has the journals of various members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition up online for our reading pleasure - the relevant entries can be found here and here.  The short version: by that point the Expedition had split up as it returned home, and on the 26th of July, Lewis was traveling with three other men when they came across a large group of Blackfoot warriors.  Lewis talked (sign language'd) about the United States' desire for peace and gave out trinkets as goodwill gestures, and the two bands camped together for the night.  Early on the 27th, the explorers caught some natives in the act of stealing some guns and horses while they slept.  One Blackfoot was knifed in the heart, another was shot in the gut by Lewis, the natives ran off, and the expedition resupplied themselves with what the Blackfoot band left behind before cheesing it themselves.

Of particular interest to our author is a note that, while conversing with the natives, Lewis learned that there were other Blackfoot hunting bands nearby, and "With the first of these there was a white man..."  The University of Nebraska transcription doesn't use that exact wording, but indicates there was indeed a "whiteman" nearby.

Now, white folks first made direct contact with the Blackfoot Confederation in 1754, and the two peoples must've had regular peaceful interactions because the Blackfoot's rise to regional supremacy was thanks to firearms acquired from fur traders.  It's possible that this blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to a white guy was describing another of these traders, who could've been making a deal or just making camp with the neighbors like Lewis was doing.  You don't have to be a Native American to hang out with Native Americans.  But for whatever reason, Hubbard uses this reference as the foundation for the story of Yellow Hair, the great white Indian.

Like some historians, Hubbard blames this fateful encounter for subsequent violence between the Blackfoot and white traders, though the University of Nebraska site points out that it's just as likely that the Blackfoot weren't happy about said traders giving firearms to their Shoshone or Crow rivals.  But I guess it's better to put a face on the cause of a conflict rather than blaming politics or social trends, like how World War I is all about Archduke Ferdinand.  At any rate, Chapter Two will concern what Yellow Hair was doing when Lewis was scrapping with the natives, and we'll get a proper introduction to our hero.

To end this post on an aside, Lewis' journal is an interesting read.  He shows little reaction to killing a man with a lingering, painful bullet to the gut, and I'm not sure why he took the shot either.

I called to them as I had done several times before that I would shoot them if they did not give me my horse and raised my gun, one of them jumped behind a rock and spoke to the other who turned around and stoped at the distance of 30 steps from me and I shot him through the belly

So the guy took Lewis' horse, Lewis yelled at him (in what language?) to give it back or he'd shoot, the native came back without the horse, so Lewis shot him.  Maybe you had to be there for it to make sense.

Also, some dark humor at the journal entry's end.

my indian horse carried me very well in short much better than my own would have done and leaves me with but little reason to complain of the robery. 

So I had to shoot and presumably kill a guy, and might have jeopardized future relations with the natives, but the horse I stole in retaliation is pretty good.

The scary thing is, this sounds like the sort of sentiment we'd see from a Mission Earth character.  Certainly changes my perception of one of my country's legendary figures.

Back to the Introduction 

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