Texas, Tom Mix and Death

The comic books were slightly better than the movies. At least the Native Americans in the comic books knew how to speak a few words, despite their rag-tag appearance. They managed to become characters, even if they were only cardboard cutouts with cliched criminal features-all crooked mouths and knitted brows. But what about the movies? There they were just a bunch of stereotypes whooping their terrible war cries as ran full speed after the real heroes. As a child, even as I put goose feathers in my hair and made arrows out of poplar branches, I was never very fond of the celluloid Native Americans.

The beautifully drawn Navajo led by Night Eagle Tex and Kit Carson were much more appealing. The Apaches seemed very cruel and bloodthirsty, so I was a bit wary of them, but I had nothing against those who lived in the forests of Ontario.

History is part fiction, of course, but the misfortunes that befell the Native Americans are a perfect example of history being stranger than fiction. It would be hard to find a nation as ill fated as they in all history. Their land was wrenched from them, their lifestyle and beliefs were forcibly changed, and they were reduced to alcoholism and poverty. Yet, if any of them dares to rebel against this fate, they are rejected as "barbaric savages". This is a hard destiny to accept.

The word "destiny" is not used haphazardly here. In 1845, John 0'Sullivan, the editor of US Magazine and Democratic Review, formulated the "Manifest Destiny", hence the word "destiny". 0'Sullivan believed that God had decreed that Europeans should rule all of North America. Since the word of God was sacred and could not be resisted, the land, forests, animals and mines were now theirs, and no longer the Native Americans. It is often said that God works in mysterious ways. The Irish condemned to starve to death during the Potato Famine flocked to the legendary abundance of America, along with the enslaved workers of pitiless capitalism and those ıvho were even worse off. Yet it would be naive to think that such people would be willing to share and be opposed to suppression. The l9th Century American was ambitious, tough, bigoted and cruel. Forget the Native Americans, they even persecuted the immigrants who were not of European origin, forcing them to do the most menial labour. Even the Mormons were persecuted; only after bloody wars were fought did this small order find a desert in which to take shelter.

The unfortunate Native Americans could not understand these white men who first came to them with smiling faces, then had them sign pieces of paper and settled parts of their land, and finally drove them out completely. The sweet-tongued pale faces kept only one of their promises: they said they would take their land, and they did. No comparison to other countries intended, but some of the strongest supporters of the war against the Native Americans were warprofiteering merchants. Providing the United States army with munitions, food, clothing and women was a dream come true for many local merchants. Once they got fat on their takings from the army, the merchants went on to settle the lands from which the Native Americans had been driven out. The next step was to cut down the trees and then begin to mine gold, silver and petrol. Whether the great-great-grandchildren of these merchants named their vehicles Cherokee out of a sense of respect or not is questionable.

Genocide and exile began with the arrival of the whites. Until the United Sates of America was established, the only contact white people had with "natives" was during their efforts to colonise the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. A relationship based on being taken advantage of, as described by James Fenimore Cooper in his unforgettable novel "The Last of the Mohicans", was all there was. Sadly, they were very few "pale faces" like Hawkeye who adopted the customs of the natives.

As the colonials were struggling to escape the tyranny of the European patriarchs, it should be noted that they were fighting for human rights and for democracy. Now, they have turned to the West and their struggle is for wealth and growth. Until the 1850s, things were going relatively well: the Native Americans living in the forest could be dealt with easily. It was when the settlers came to the edge of the Great Plains that things turned for the worse. From North to South, the plains were inhabited by horse-riding, proud, "war-like" tribes.

Starting from the North, the Sioux were at the Canadian border in the North, the Cheyenne-Arapaho alliance directly below, the Kiowa-Comanche group in the Texan area below that and the Navajo and Apaches in Arizona. This formed an almost impenetrable wall across the plains. The Native Americans living in this area heard many, horrible tales about the white men from those who were being pushed westward, and they were getting ready for a fight.

White people were continually migrating to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, to Oregon in the north and California in the south. Border life was becoming legendary with the whites while the Native Americans depicted the settlers as savage enemies who had no place in such natural beauty. The discovery of gold in San Francisco led to the Gold Rush of 1848.

The Native Americans had a bit of a break during the Civil War; but, in the midst of this tumult thev were unaware of a new law that had passed through Congress called the "Homestead Act". According to this law, enough land to set up a farm would be sold at a very low price to anyone who wanted it. All this was fine and dandy, but there was a bit of confusion about who the land actually belonged to. The Native Americans were sure that this land had been theirs for millennia. The thousands of farms that appeared in the regions of buffalo in the Great Plains drove the Native Americans mad.

Thus began the last act of a 400-year-old bloody play. All the legends of the Wild West date from the period roughly between 1860-1890. Great warriors like Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Geronimo and Beak Nose, wise politicians such as Red Cloud, Spotted Tail and Lone Wolf, messiahs like Wovoka and Isatai and even poets like Ten Bear came out of this time gave all they had.

The history of the Native Americans is a lyrical and terribly painful story of the suffering of noble hearts. I wish good luck to all those who wish to enter this world.

* Taken from Atlas Magazine(06/01)
Ahmet KÖKSAL, author

Next Page - The Stolen Spirit ASSIMILATION