Friday, May 22, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 19 - Temporal Distortions and North American Mongols

Meanwhile, eight hundred miles away... also there's a flashback in this chapter, and what turns out to be a flashforward.  So we're just going all over time and space.

McGlincy is departing Fort Chesterfield, and the author spends a good page sarcastically describing the splendor of a fat drunk ordering his men to sing so they'll row faster, waving a bottle at them from under a canopy while they're soaked by the rain and water spray.  It wouldn't do to suggest that such an august personage is fleeing from something, but the bulk of the chapter is spent on the "tangled skeins of diplomacy" that inspired his relocation.

See, while Yellow Hair spent the last several months in stasis, the rest of his people haven't been so idle.  After finding a bit of yellow hair on a skull on a riverbank kinda close to the fort that Yellow Hair was visiting, Bright Star went all the way back home to give everyone the bad news.  This was received with a "horrified silence," and certainly not the sort of silence that occurs when one is trying very hard not to seem too pleased at what someone else considers terrible news.

But there's other kinds of silence, too.  Yellow Hair's "lodge" of course has no women to properly mourn him, just White Fox.  And there is, for this book, a few well done paragraphs describing how old White Fox spent several days alone in that lodge, staring into the fire, remembering the lad he had raised to manhood.  He has no wives or daughters, you see - or rather, they're all waiting for him in the Sand Hills.  We're not explicitly told what happened to them, but in the next paragraph the author spends a lot of words describing how the "Scourge of the Red Death" appeared shortly after the first whites did, wiping out whole Indian villages and driving warriors to kill themselves rather than watch helplessly "as their strong young bodies become pitted and emaciated."  The white traders ghoulishly visited the ghost villages, stripping beaver pelts and other furs from the dead for sale east.

Again, we're not outright told what happened to White Fox's family, but we can make a guess.

Bright Star lucked out, in a way - that arranged marriage to the rich, handsome Long Bow has been put on hold for a whole year because she's just too sorrowful.  An excuse she couldn't use when her dear father died, but which has been justified by the supposed death of the main character.  Huh.

But let's get to the "diplomacy" promised at the chapter's start.  And a lot of sarcasm.

Being savages and barbarians, the Pikunis were slightly puzzled by the fate of Yellow Hair, and as they were not endowed with the reasoning powers of civilized peoples they naturally suspected that the white fort had some connection with this catastrophe.

This is why Bright Star, bless her heart, is all for raising a thousand warriors and razing it to the ground.  But the Blackfoot's response is more restrained.  They send riders to spread word that no white traders are allowed in their lands upon pain of death, thus cutting off a swathe of land roughly six hundred miles by four hundred miles from proper exploitation.  We're told that this "broadcast order" was ignored by the whites, but not that the whites were actually told this.

This leads to an incident Hubbard spends about a page on, and which really confuses the story he's crafted.  Two white traders in particular are cited as breaking the Blackfoot's decree, fellows named Potts and Colter.  As Hubbard tells it, the two were met by a party of Blackfoot warriors sent to apprehend them, and ordered to come ashore and drop their weapons, "to prevent bloodshed."  But Colter grabbed Potts' gun and Potts tried to flee in a canoe, prompting a Blackfoot to fire a "cautious arrow."  Potts then shot an Indian dead, while Colter was "sportingly given a chance to run for his life and he killed a young brave and then escaped by hiding under brush in a river."

The provocation was not nearly sufficient, of course.  The Pikunis had only lost half their tribe by smallpox brought by the whites and three warriors at the hands of trappers and Lewis.  In return they had killed one man---Potts.

Not for lack of trying to kill Colter, though.  And of course it's fully justified to kill people of the same skin tone as those who previously wronged you.

Now, this appears to be describing "Colter's Run," though Wikipedia's account is a little different.  It was several hundred Blackfoot that stopped Colter and Potts, Colter was not just disarmed but stripped naked, the "cautious arrow" actually hit and wounded Potts, and then after Potts fired back he was killed in a volley of gunfire and his body was hacked apart by vengeful natives.  Colter had to run for miles until his nose was bleeding, but still managed to overcome the one Blackfoot who caught up with him because the other guy was just as tired and fumbled a spear toss.  Then he spent the night under a beaver lodge and walked for eleven days to reach an outpost at Little Big Horn.  And no mention of this violating any Blackfoot decree or of the illustrious Yellow Hair, oddly enough.

But here's the kicker - the incident with Colter and Potts took place in 1809.  This story started in late July 1806, then Yellow Hair spent the winter at Fort Chesterfield, got shipped off to York Factory and spent six months there, and now it's the start of winter, 1807.  So if the months-long timeskips were for the sake of justifying Colter's Run, Hubbard botched things by bringing it up two years too early, and should've saved it for the end of the book and a description of the fallout of Yellow Hair's adventures.

All this was rather heightened by Yellow Hair's supposed death and even the elders began to get worried and restless in the belief that these traders meant them no good.

McGlincy and his ilk go out of their way to get Indians killed when they come in to trade, and now these wizened elders are starting to suspect the whites might be bad guys?  It took Yellow Hair's death in particular to get them to pay attention?

Anyway, then the Blackfoot decided to actually investigate Fort Chesterfield, which Bright Star didn't do when she was right next door.  Scouts can't find any trace of him, so that fall when the tribe goes to trade, White Fox and Bear Claws "somehow managed to get" an audience with McGlincy.  The "mighty white chief" is outraged that a bunch of stinkin' savages - his critical business partners - think they can just come into his office and ask him some questions about that blond half-breed, but Luberly shows up and directs his attention through a window to the bluffs overlooking the fort.  750 Indians on horseback are standing still and silent against the sky, so disciplined and well-trained that they might as well been a row of statues.

Wonder if mobilizing like this every time they came to trade would keep the whites from doing anything stupid...

Of the same stock as Timur the Limper's chagateurs (who conquered all Asia except Cathay),

Can't find "chagateur" on Wikipedia or Wiktionary, but it oddly enough appears in the book's glossary, which explains that "the chagateur (jagatai) warriors" helped Timur conquer an empire extended from China to Turkey, though not how those warriors fought.  But it must've been similar to the Blackfoot, right?

carrying the same weapons as Bayazid the Thunderer,

I'm pretty sure Sipahi had access to metal armor and superior equipment compared to nomads who hadn't discovered metalworking.

trained in the same tactics that as their ancestors who made up the spearhead of Genghis Khan's mighty war host,

Ahah, wut?

I can accept that Native American cavalry is of the same "stock" as Tamerlane's mounted hordes in a symbolic sense, but Hubbard seems to be suggesting here that the First Nations only migrated into North America after fighting with Temüjin in the early 13th century.  And forgot to bring their horses with them.

these seven hundred and fifty troopers presented a picture that would have made (and indeed did make) may a general turn slightly yellow with apprehension.

So McGlincy finds his manners, and stammers that Yellow Hair went east!  Yeah!  He's perfectly fine, and in fact just sent word back to them saying how he was having the time of his life!  Said to give his best wishes to these two, as a matter of fact!  And he'll be back "Presently!  Presently!"

White Fox and Bear Claws withdraw and give the signal for the Blackfoot orda to withdraw to their yurts for some buuz.  White Fox is sure that McGlincy is lying about something, "but I believe that Yellow Hair must still be alive and that at least a portion of the story we just heard is true."  Bright Star is of course overjoyed and goes off to build a Medicine Lodge to make some undefined vows that will ensure that Yellow Hair returns safely to them next spring.

A term derived from the Mongols makes it into this book's glossary, but not the "Medicine Lodge" used by the people it is purportedly about.

Even though White Fox thinks that Yellow Hair is alive doesn't mean that he's going to be optimistic or anything.  But oddly enough, he doesn't spend any time worrying for his friend's safety, instead half a page is devoted to explaining how he's worried about Bright Star - regardless of whether Yellow Hair is still alive, her uncle Big Wolf may very well force her into marriage with Long Bow once her mourning period is over next spring, since of course "Running Elk's goods, wives and children had become Big Wolf's property and Running Elk's authority was of now his brother's."  And it seems an odd oversight that, although practically drooling sarcasm when explaining the white belief that the Indians couldn't possibly own all the land they had lived on for generations, there's no similar satire about a woman being a man's "property."

Anyway, the Blackfoot laugh about McGlincy's subsequent and hurried departure, and some speculate that he's gone to fetch Yellow Hair in order to mend relations between the whites and Pikuni, or at least to keep his fort from getting burned down.  But again, White Fox is less sanguine - he saw "only evil" in McGlincy, and fears that he may be trying to capture Yellow Hair after the latter escaped the fort.

If Yellow Hair happened to be on the river he would meet McGlincy.

Though of course the very notion is absurd, because the Blackfoot have a taboo against river travel, so I wonder how White Fox knew that Yellow Hair had to break that custom in desperation?

White Fox shut his eyes and prayed fervently for the accuracy of Yellow Hair's rifle.

Wouldn't it be a smoothbore musket?  Rifled barrels did exist before the invention of the minie ball in the 1840s, but were mainly used by sharpshooters and skirmishers due to the difficulty in cleaning and reloading the weapon.  It seems unlikely that you'd give such specialized weapons away to trade partners you didn't entirely trust, but maybe I'm wrong.

From what I've read from that Wikipedia article, John Colter sounds like a pretty cool guy.  Eh explores Yellowstone and doesn't afraid of anything.

Back to Chapter 18, part 2

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