Monday, April 6, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 2, part 2 - Rewriting History

At the sight of the smoke signals, Yellow Hair and White Fox quickly saddle their horses, stuff their equipment into "war sacks," and ride to meet their fellow warriors.  Yellow Hair is in the lead, of course.  You might wonder why, if he's only there to carry White Fox's equipment as some sort of Blackfoot squire, but I guess this is to show us how impetuous or heroic he is.

Oh, wait, there's like animals and stuff out west, isn't there?

Frightened antelope fled at their approach.  A herd of chunky brown buffalo stampeded.  Small prairie dogs popped out of their holes to inquire in impudent whistles what the matter was.

Undoubtedly they also startled a grizzly bear, made a bald eagle take flight, provoked a rattlesnake to shake his tail, and bothered some raccoons.

Yellow Hair flayed his gray war pony

Looks like Hubbard had a way with words even in his very first novel.  Yes, it's technically correct in that "flay" can mean to frighten something, but since the main meaning is to tear something's skin off, it's probably not the best way to phrase what's happening here.

into greater effort and very soon they drew near the high bluff of the Marias River.

Yellow Hair and White Fox arrive expecting a battle, but instead find a group of morose Pikuni waiting in front of a tall "lodge."  The Glossary never explains whether this is a permanent dwelling or temporary tipi, from what I can tell the Blackfoot made use of both.  Though if it is a permanent structure, why aren't Yellow Hair and White Fox waiting in it?

Most of the warriors are standing around, but two are on the ground (not in the lodge?).  Running Elk is stretched out on a folded robe in terrible pain, while the body of Wolf Plume is covered nearby.  The war party had left their village in high spirits, anticipating some good old-fashioned inter-tribal bloodshed, but now everyone's in shock.

Divested of their war bonnets, their shields and their horses, they were bewildered at the disaster that had overtaken them from such an unexpected quarter.  Their keen, intelligent faces were still stamped with disbelief that this thing had happened.

I mean, these noble, innocent people only wanted to kill some Tushepaws!  What kind of monster would do this to them?

Yellow Hair and White Fox dismount, and the latter indicates that the former should stay silent.  Instead, it's White Fox who doesn't speak for four pages.  Low Horns, who is in command of the party now that Running Elk is down, greets them by saying "It's useless to pursue them.  We have no weapons."  And Yellow Hair immediately responds with "I still have mine."  It's only after this exchange that anyone asks or explains what's going on, and Low Horns gives his account of the Blackfoot's fateful encounter with Captain Lewis.

"Today but one" the Pikuni war party saw a white fellow by the river, and stopped to watch.  They soon realized that it was a trap, because while the natives were staring, three other white men approached from behind!  The brave warriors resolved to fight to the last, but then the white men's leader indicated that they should talk instead.

This does fit with Lewis' account that, after sending one of his men to approach the natives with a flag, "their attention had been previously so fixed on Drewyer that they did not discover us untill we had began to advance upon them."  Low Horns doesn't mention the Blackfoot's subsequent confusion and retreat to the top of a hill before they finally calmed down, dismounted, and met Lewis and his three men.

Now, Low Horns and the Pikuni recognized this white guy as the same one who had spoken with the Mandan two years earlier.  The Mandan were a particularly hospitable tribe that the Lewis and Clark Expedition wintered with in 1804.  They also lived in the modern day Dakotas, so I have to wonder how Low Horns heard about this encounter.  Guess word must've come through traders and such.  Anyway, this white guy "talked of how we must not go to war with anyone, just like he told the Mandans."  And everyone knows the Mandan took him at his word, forgot to post sentries, and got whupped by the Sioux for it.

Or something like that.  According to the PBS website, the Lewis and Clark Expedition talked to the Mandan about trade with the US and sending a representative to meet President Jefferson, and the natives were receptive to both notions.  The explorers also tried to broker peace with the nearby Arikara tribe, but that didn't work out.  Also, the Native Americans were fascinated by York, the black gentleman Lewis brought along as a slave.  For all the stuff about natives' first encounters with white people, I think a work exploring one people of color meeting another would be a refreshing change.

Anyway, because the Mandan were sloppy and paid for it, Low Horns and the Pikuni knew that Lewis was a liar, and since he mentioned how other members of his expedition were nearby, and posted sentries the night after their talk, the natives knew that the white man was up to no good and meant to kill them.  And even though the Blackfoot war party outnumbered the white guys two to one, fighting them was impossible, and so was fleeing because the horses were too far away

"Then, the only thing for us to do, we did.  To keep from being shot, we must take their guns.  This we tried, never thinking that death would be the penalty."

They thought the tricksy, false white guys were planning to kill them, but would never have dreamed that their attempts to avoid that fate would end in death.

"Wolf Plume snatched a rifle and raced away with it, just at dawn.  But the sentinel quickly overtook him and although Wolf Plume made no effort to shoot him, which he could easily have done, the sentinel plunged a knife into Wolf Plume's heart.

While according to Lewis,

This morning at day light the indians got up and crouded around the fire, J. Fields who was on post had carelessly laid his gun down behid him near where his brother was sleeping, one of the indians the fellow to whom I had given the medal last evening sliped behind him and took his gun and that of his brothers unperceived by him, at the same instant two others advanced and seized the guns of Drewyer and myself, J. Fields seing this turned about to look for his gun and saw the fellow just runing off with her and his brothers he called to his brother who instantly jumped up and pursued the indian with him whom they overtook at the distance of 50 or 60 paces from the camp sized their guns and rested them from him and R Fields as he seized his gun stabed the indian to the heart with his knife the fellow ran about 15 steps and fell dead;

So Low Horns leaves out the two other Pikuni involved in this altercation. And that would make more sense, wouldn't it?  Trying to steal all the evil white men's guns rather than just one?  As for Wolf Plume being some moral hero who died because he was unwilling to shoot someone, I'd like to point out that these guns probably weren't primed and ready to fire when they were stored, and it would probably be difficult to do that while running away with one.  Also, according to a footnote on the University of Nebraska's Lewis and Clark journals page, the stabbed guy has been named He-That-Look-at-the-Calf or Sidehill Calf, depending on the source.  Obviously Hubbard was citing a different authority.

At this point the rest of the Pikuni warriors were trying to get to their horses to flee, but Low Horns thought he heard the white man leader, "he of the forked tongue," telling them to stop.  He bid Running Elk do so, only to realize the evil white man "only wanted to have us as standing targets."  So their leader was shot, and then the white guys stole four of their horses and the rest of their baggage before leaving.

And that's how it happened.  The Blackfoot immediately saw evidence of the white man's treachery when they were snuck up upon, heard their lies when they talked (no mention of having to communicate in sign language), and tried to escape an inevitable betrayal and ambush only to be cruelly and unjustly killed.  The encounter certainly wasn't a botched robbery attempt exasperated by mutual fears of aggression, compounded by confusion and miscommunication, nope.  The Pikuni were the victims here.

Yellow Hair knelt beside Running Elk and tried to take the old man's hand.  Instinctively, Running Elk drew away.

"Your brothers, the whites, have done this,"said Running Elk, voice jerky with pain.

"My brothers," gasped Yellow Hair.  "You are delirious.  White Fox, get some water."

But the older man doesn't move, and our hero becomes aware that everyone - Low Horns, Hundred-Horses, Double-Coup, Singing Bear, Lost-in-Mountains - are all staring at him with a hard expression, "taking in his tall straight body, his white, sensitive face, the alarm in his usually reckless blue eyes."  Yellow Hair looks down at his white buckskins as though there was something wrong with his clothes that was bothering the rest of his people, the poor dope.

The echoes of the shot from Captain Meriwether Lewis' rifle had not died between these high bluffs.  Soundless, but roaring, it was increasing and would continue to increase for years, decades, even centuries.

Well, a century and a quarter.  The Indian Wars were pretty much over by the 20th century, and the last paltry conflict mentioned on Wikipedia took place in 1924.  And stuff like the Posey "War" only saw two people killed.  So I guess technically this incident was the Blackfoot-Lewis and Clark War of 1806.

And the first one slapped by the echo stood gripping the handle of his skinning knife, facing the elders of the tribe.

Ugh, more on this later.

Yellow Hair, a touch sarcastically, asks why everyone is standing around like a bunch of women instead of going after the people who wronged them, and wonders why they didn't kill the interlopers if they were convinced of their treachery - which is actually a good question.  If the Blackfoot were the victims here, and not would-be robbers, surely they'd be brimming with righteous vengeance?  But of course because history says the Blackfoot never went after Lewis, they can't do it in this story.

"Peace," cautioned White Fox.

"Peace!  You'll have no peace now.  When you return to our lodges, do you think Wolf Plume's sisters will give you peace?  Ah, but you are too old.  Your bravery is beyond question.  They will not give you women's clothes to wear.  Not you.  Low Horns, head of the Kit-Foxes---Hyai, I would hate to be you!"

"Silence, whelp!" snapped Low Horns.

All Low Horns has done in this story so far is tell a tale and try and get Yellow Hair to shut up, but I already like him more than our hero.

"Ah, to be sure.  Silence!  But do not look to me to carry your blame.  The story you could tell would be simple.  You bring me out on my first war party and I bring you bad luck.  Oh yes, I could take the blame, but I won't.  I am going to follow up that party of Kitchi-Mokans and challenge the Fork-Tongue to personal combat.  You---all of you---stay here and wail like the old women you are."

"Stop!" ordered White Fox.  "Warriors, you forget that he is young.  Do not punish him.  He does not know what he is saying."

See, I think what's going on here is that Yellow Hair, being an immature young warrior, doesn't know how to handle the accusing stares of his people, and so is lashing out.  It probably isn't meant to be seen as his core personality.  Problem is, all we've seen of him is this whiny, insulting, hot-headed brat.  It'd be nice to have some positive traits to counteract the rest.  Maybe in the next chapter?

Oh, and "Kitchi-Mokan" - the Glossary assures us that this is the Pikuni term for a white man.  Doing a Yahoo search for the phrase brings up a whopping two results, one of them Buckskin Brigades and the other a Dukes of Hazard fanfic of all things.  Google isn't much better, but I did find an extract from a history of Jasper National Park, and in that extract is an appendix of locations' names in native tongues, and Fort Benton, MT is referred to by the Cree as Kichi Mokan Waska Hikan, or "American House."  So it's not outside the realm of possibility that some Native Americans used words similar to "Kitchi-Mokan" to refer to some people with white skin.

Yellow Hair continues to make an ass of himself, Low Horns gets mad, and White Fox has to step in and invoke the memory of Yellow Hair's father.  This Many-Guns died only a few years ago, but joined the Blackfoot well before that.  He was a great warrior with good aim who helped the Pikuni defeat the Snakes, and even led a war party far south to raid the "Almost-Whites."  White Fox advises Low Horns to look at the gun in Yellow Hair's hands and remember its former bearer, and look at the traces of Many Guns in his son's features, and try to ignore the bleating coming out of his spawn's mouth.  Though perhaps not quite in those words.

And even though Yellow Hair just insulted an entire war party and suggested they were a bunch of frightened old women, of course it is Low Horns who gets to apologize for pointing out that Yellow Hair's skin is the same color as their new enemy's.  The war leader forbids out hero from chasing vengeance, since the treacherous Forked-Tongue would no doubt have his men overwhelm him, and the rest of the war party can't go with him because... well, while we're all here, let's get a fire going and give Running Elk some broth and medicine, eh?  Wait, why didn't they do that when they were sending the smoke signals?

Yellow Hair uses his pistol to make a spark, but is still feeling down and goes to wash up in the river.  He has a "single black stripe of joy" on his head, what I'm guessing is some paint added in anticipation of some Tushepaw-killin'.  And then we get the inevitable scene where the story's hero looks at his reflection and finally realizes he's different from his adopted people.  See, Yellow Hair had "fitfully wondered" about his skin tone before, but had "never actually given it any intensive thought."

And now as he knelt beside the river, studying his blue eyes, it came to him as a shock that he was not really a Pikuni at all. True, he was a member of the All Friends Society and aspired to the Society of the Horns, but even that did not make him a Pikuni.

His lip curled a little and his reflection sneered back: "Kitchi-Mokan!"

He spat and the image was shattered by the ripples of the startled pool.

And here's a problem with this story, and others like it.

Hubbard's trying to tell a tale of the Old West from the Indians' perspective.  Problem is, his story's main character isn't White Fox or Low Horns, it's Yellow Hair, a white man raised as an Indian.  And that skews the plot so that it's more about what it's like to be a white man trying live among Indians.

We see this in the "echoes of the shot" passage - the first victim isn't so much Running Elk as it is Yellow Hair, who now has to deal with the hostility of his adopted people and question his identity.  And Yellow Hair doesn't seem very torn up about his girlfriend's dad getting shot, does he?  He's much more concerned about how his peers are looking at him.  It's enough to make us ask why the main character needed to be white in the first place.

One last thing to note is who isn't among the war party: Wolf Calf.  This Pikuni claimed to be a member of the group that met Lewis that night, and later gave an account of the event that I really need to track down.

Back to Chapter 1, part 1 

1 comment:

  1. Good work on these sporks! You're churning these out quickly (in a good way)