Monday, April 13, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 4, part 2 - Lots of Talking

Alright, I'm trying to work out Yellow Hair's motivation and failing.

We're told that over the four days between the war party's return and the Grand Council meeting, our hero brought game he hunted to Running Elk's lodge - excuse me, now it's a tent - and scratched on the flap to let them know it was there, while taking care to be out of sight by the time they came out.  He's giving Bright Star time to cool down, and also time to realize "that she had no provider in her lodge as her two brothers were even younger than her."

So Bright Star is able to ride a horse like a warrior, but can't hunt.  Are you sure she's a suitable mate for this story's hero, Hubbard?

On the night of the Grand Council he finally bumps into her outside by the door to the Kit-Foxes lodge, which Low Horns leads.  Bright Star accuses our hero of hiding from her, calls him a Kitchi-Mokan, and demands to know why he didn't go after her father's killer. 

"I was forbidden to follow."

She disregarded the edge in his voice and gave way to her feelings.  "Yellow Hair doing as he is told?  Hyai, do not expect me to believe that.  Ah, these fine stories you tell me.  Yellow Hair bows to no man.  Yellow Hair, as mighty as a big white bear, obeys no orders.  His destiny is war and defeat to our enemies.  Ah, yes, you have said these things.  Time after time I listened to your empty boasting and now, when Running Elk lies dead, when he is mute within the Sand Hills, you come mewling to me about what your orders were.

So here's the thing - you know how in a lot of stories, you start with an idyllic village full of happy, smiling people, and you're annoyed because you know that the bad guys are gonna roll in about ten minutes into it, wreck the place, and kick off the plot?  And you might wish that we could just skip to the wrecking and the plot starting?  Well here's why you may want to think twice.

In this story, we start in extremis, first at war with the Tushepaw, then there's Running Elk's death and the possibility of conflict with the white man.  We're just four chapters in and everyone's emotions are running high, Yellow Hair's being all aggressive and vengeful, and now Bright Star gets to be cranky.  Right when we're getting introduced to them we're seeing these people at their worst, irrational and driven by negative emotions.  And it makes it difficult to like these characters.

Anyway, Yellow Hair says nuh-uh, he is not a Kitchi-Mokan, making Bright Star comment that "you are brave when it comes to shouting down a weak woman!"  She challenges him to join the Grand Council and refuse his orders not to seek vengeance against Running Elk's killer, because as it stands, she'd rather marry a mountain goat than become his "sits-beside-him woman."  And if he doesn't like what she's saying, he can hit her - because surely he's not afraid to beat up a woman?

"You cannot bait me!" cried Yellow Hair, his voice rising with fury, shaking until his fringe quivered.  "I do not have to stand here and stomach your lies!"

"No!  But you would rather stand here than go inside and face the Council.  Ah, but you shake with terror at the thought of it."

He stabbed out and hurled her away from the lodge flap.  He ducked and went in.  His mouth was compressed with rage as he skirted the inner-lining and sank into the seat left for him.

Yay, shoving women around.  But yeah, this is what's got me confused.  It looks like Bright Star is more or less daring Yellow Hair to join the council.  Except he only met her on his way to the council, and they had a seat waiting for him like they knew he was coming.  And yet he doesn't try to tell her how he already plans on going to the Council to argue for vengeance either.  So I just don't know.

Now, normally "one so young and so lacking in trophies of prowess would not have been admitted to the lordly and select group," but since Yellow Hair had been part of the war party... well, he'd been waiting to meet the war party... they've made an exception for our book's hero.  White Fox is already there in a horned bison cap, and my immersion is broken when the author tells us how it makes him look "Satanic."  And is that really the sort of imagery you want to associate with our hero's old, wise mentor figure?  Give Obi-Wan Kenobi red skin and a black goatee while you're at it.

The ceremonial pipe goes around, and Bear Claws only hesitates for a moment before passing it to Yellow Hair - they still accept him as Pikuni, hooray.  Low Horns gets up and gives his account of Running Elk's death, "exactly as he had told it at the scene."  But then Lost-in-Mountains rises and tells us more about what that treacherous white man, this Forked-Tongue, told them.

Apparently Captain Lewis talked about how he served a Great White Father, who now owns the Blackfoot's lands after buying it from a second Great White Father, and who wants the natives to bring their furs to trading camps "towards the rising sun" rather than "north" (yes, these people know what north, south etc. are, but sometimes they wax poetic).  Fork-Tongue's words confused the Pikuni, who couldn't wrap their heads around lands changing hands without war being involved, and they were concerned when the stranger admitted to traveling out west and back, undoubtedly "spying out the numbers of warriors of each nation preparatory to a general attack."  Because "Men, as we know, who cry the loudest for peace are those who are only trying to cover of their own wishes for war."  

So by that logic, Yellow Hair must be some sort of hippie, right?

Parts of this go along with Captain Lewis' account - though as always we have to question how much was successfully communicated.  He did reportedly tell the Pikuni how he'd gone all the way west and back, and also that he brought peace to the people he visited and invited them to trade.  He also wrote in his journal that the Blackfoot claimed to want peace with the "Tushepahs" despite losing a number of friends and family members to them.  But Lewis doesn't mention claiming to own the land, or ordering the Blackfoot to only trade with the American fur traders.

At any rate, Lost-in-Mountains proposes that the Blackfoot continue to trade furs for weapons with the Great White Father in the north (Canada, I presume) so that they may resist this new Great White Father in the east ('Merica), who has already proven himself to be untrustworthy because... well, Lewis talked about bringing peace but some native tribes still went to war, and then he shot the Pikuni for trying to steal his guns.  So obviously the entire eastern nation seeks to take over the Blackfoot's lands.

More talking.  Bear Claws asks some questions that aren't important enough to be transcribed, then White Fox gets up and gives us a lot of backstory about Yellow Hair's father.  Many-Guns apparently was high in the Kitchi-Mokan's government before a rival challenged him to a duel, and even though Many-Guns' ceremonial murder was all done legally, his enemy's friends used trickery to take away his home, horses and "a thing they call 'money.'"  His "sits-beside-him" woman died, and Many-Guns went west to hang out with the Blackfoot.  White Fox reminds everyone how brave Yellow Hair's dad was, how his sense of honor was nearly equal to the Pikuni's, and excuses the entire story as an example of Kitchi-Mokan "justice." 

So we get a scene with Bear Claws commenting "If this is the way those Kitchi-Mokans govern their country, we want nothing of it."  And of course it's not the ritualized bloodshed that they object to, it's that some cowards were angry about it and used non-violent means to avenge their friend.  What a terrible society.

With all this decided, Bear Claws spends a lengthy paragraph describing Forked-Tongue - they don't remember what he calls himself because it's "some queer, meaningless name which makes no sense."  Then the Grand Council convicts him in absentia and sentences him to be killed on sight.  Again, this is superior to the so-called "justice" of the Kitchi-Mokans.

And after this is done, Yellow Hair finally speaks.  He praises the Council for their wise decision and just response to Forked-Tongue's crimes, but doesn't want to wait for the white men to come take their lands away.  His first proposal is to learn more about the "queer customs of this undisciplined tribe" so they'll be easier to repel - at the very least, maybe someone needs to learn their language.  He also thinks a few Pikuni should travel east and "tell this Great White Father of all Great White Fathers that we do not intend to sit like little children and old women and let him snatch up this country."  And on the same trip they could demand custody of Forked-Tongue.

"I suggest that I leave immediately for this country.  Through a queer trick of the Old Man I have a white face and light hair.  I can get through to this Great White Father and tell him that if he does not behave the Pikunis will assemble their three strong arms and wipe him from the Earth.

"I have finished."

White Fox, being sane, thinks that sending Yellow Hair east as an ambassador is a terrible idea.  He explains to the others that no matter how "brave and handsome and strong" Yellow Hair is, "his dreams are bigger than his head."  Plus he just got in an argument with a woman, who is probably listening from the door.  At any rate, they shouldn't "hurl his strong young body into the claws of the white wolves."  And I have to wonder if the rest of the tribe routinely compliment each others' good looks while making speeches, or whether this courtesy only extends to the book's hero.

I also have to wonder whether Bright Star is trying to get Yellow Hair to run off on a suicide mission.  I think I'd like her a lot more if she was.

Anyway, White Fox makes his case, but the problem is, many other members of the Grand Council agree with Yellow Hair's idea: Low Horns, Bear Claws, Singing Bear, Hundred-Horses, Lost-in-Mountains, Double-Coup, the leader of the White Breast Clan, and the oxymoronic head of the Lone-Fighters.  And though we're never told this, I'm guessing that the reason it took four days to hold the Council was because all these new guys had to make the trip to Please Select a Village Name.

If a lot of these new guys had to come in from other villages, they probably wouldn't have such an instant dislike of Yellow Hair to send him on a suicide mission, right?  But I'm not sure about Low Horns and Bear Claws.

In the end, Bear Claws announces that this "youth of great promise" will go north to a trading fort on the river, and learn the tongue and ways of the white man, "pretending friendship" with them so the Blackfoot can get more guns in preparation of the inevitable fight with the Kitchi-Mokan.  Remember, this deception is totally different from the treacherous ways of the white man.

The vote was taken and it was so agreed and it was in this manner that Yellow Hair was thrown, as White Fox said, to the wolves.

But any warrior there would have dared more and so it was not asking too much of the youth.

But none of the others volunteered to go with him, did they?  Also, that sentence could use a comma.

Yellow Hair gave the despairing White Fox a jubilant grin and stalked out of the tent.

Bright Star was waiting in the shadow of a lodge.  She did not speak.  She stood with wide, dark eyes, very afraid for him.

But you wanted him to - bah.

Yellow Hair passed him grandly with a smile.

Smarmy git.

Well that was a long-ass chapter.  Just a few last things to note:

First, Yellow Hair's plan to send emissaries to the Great White Father was actually one of the proposals made by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and if I read things correctly some of the tribes they visited did send representatives to meet with President Jefferson.  If the Pikuni had gone along with Lewis' intention to have him talk with their leaders instead of trying to steal some guns, they might have gotten the same opportunity.

Second, for all the book's introduction made about the accuracy of Hubbard's representation of the Blackfoot, the whole "the peace pipe never passes the lodge's door" thing doesn't come up in this chapter.  To the contrary, actually; a sentence mentions that "The pipe passed in a complete circle while the group deliberated."  Nothing about avoiding doors.

Third, why does Yellow Hair's dad have to be an honorable but disgraced high-ranking government official?  Why couldn't he have been some mountain man or wanderer?  Are we supposed to think better of Yellow Hair now, as if prestige were inheritable?  Or is this setting up a future plot point where someone recognizes him as Senator Kirk's kid or something?  If so, why?

Guess we'll find out in due time.  Tune in next chapter, when Yellow Hair and White Fox ride some horses.

Back to Chapter 4, part 1


  1. AAaaaaaand there we have it: this book is Tarzan; and wouldn't you know it, Tarzan just happens to be Moses! The "one race raised by another" trope was just dipping into the archetype, but being a lost descendent of an important exiled figure just clinches it as Hubbard using a worn out cliche. This is also Yet Another Blatant Hubbard Self-Insert, so of course he's afraid of making his gary stu anything but aryan. Your transcription of the plan didn't even look like "Let's trick those white guys into thinking yellow hair is one of them and use him as a mole," it was just "send someone to learn their language and assimilate with them until they can tell the president the blackfoots mean retribution if we don't get what we want." White hair being white is unnecessary, and a cowboy raised by blackfoots could have been an interesting subversion of native americans being forced to adapt to the foreign culture that was forced on them. It's a shame putting it in Hubbard's hands gave it no chance of being done right.

    1. I agree. From what I've read about the period of coexistence between European and Native people on the frontier, there were numerous cases of individuals who left white society on their own to be adopted into one of the neighboring Indian tribes because they preferred the lifestyle. It wasn't a common occurrence, but it was at odds with the lurid stories of Indian tribes abducting white people that were mostly fictional, but more popular.

      I don't think there are very many stories of people from Native American tribes voluntarily leaving their communities to join the English-speaking frontier settlers because they preferred the lifestyle.

      Hubbard's premise is actually kind of plausible, as far as how Yellow Hair's dad arrived. It's the characterization of the son as the Hubbard heroic white savior Marty Stu archetype that's irritating.