Sunday, September 10, 2017

Don Fardon – "Indian Reservation" (1968)

They took the whole Indian nation
Locked us on this reservation

We Americans have many reasons to be proud of our country.  But we have a some things to answer for as well.

I think that most people would agree that the darkest blot on American history was the enslavement of millions of Africans and their descendants.

But if our treatment of native Americans wasn’t equally shameful, it came very close.

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In his biography of Adolf Hitler, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Toland wrote that “Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history.”

According to Toland, Hitler “admired the camps . . . for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination – by starvation and even combat – of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”

Hitler was apparently “very interested in the way the Indian population had rapidly declined due to epidemics and starvation when the United States government forced them to live on the reservations.”

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The three men most responsible for bringing the Plains Indians to their knees were Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan, who historian Michael Fellman has referred to as the “great triumvirate of the Civil War.”  

The three men, Fellman wrote, “applied their shared ruthlessness, born of their Civil War experiences, against a people all three despised” – the Sioux, Cheyenne, Comanche, and other Indian tribes who lived on the Great Plains.

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In 1869, Phil Sheridan met the Comanche chief, Tosawi, at Fort Cobb, Oklahoma.  “Me good Indian,” the chief told Sheridan, who is said to have replied, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”  (Sheridan denied making that statement but many historians believe he did, in fact, say it – or something very similar.)

Sherman’s attitude toward native Americans was just as hardhearted, if not more so.  Sherman once wrote these words to his brother John, who was a U.S. Senator:

The more we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed [in] the next war.

This statue of Sherman
stands near the White House
Sherman advocated harsh treatment of all Indians – not just the warriors.  Here’s what he said in an 1866 letter to Grant:

We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women, and children. . . . During an assault, the soldiers cannot pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age. 

Sherman must have liked “vindictive earnestness” because he used it again in an 1868 communication to the commander of a Kansas fort:

I propose that General Sheridan shall prosecute the war with vindictive earnestness against all hostile Indians till they are obliterated or beg for mercy.

By “hostile Indians,” Sherman meant all Indians who refused to capitulate and move to a reservation.  

As far as Sherman was concerned, the Plains Indian tribes had two choices.  If they surrendered and agreed to settle on a reservation, they would be allowed to live.  If they didn’t, they would be hunted down and killed.

It seems clear which outcome Sherman was rooting for.  “Probably in the end it will be better to kill them all,” he once wrote his wife.  

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When Grant was elected President in 1868, Sherman – who had fought side-by-side with Grant in the Civil War – succeeded him as the commanding general of the U.S. Army. 

This statue of Grant stands near the U.S. Capitol
Sherman quickly began to apply the strategies that had been so effective in the Civil War to the Army’s operations against the Plains Indians.  

From a 1994 article by history professor David Smits:

The Civil War had taught Sherman that the enemy's power to resist depended not only upon its military strength, but also upon the will of its people.  He had learned that to shatter the enemy's will to resist, it was necessary to destroy his ability to supply his armies.  The man who desolated much of the South did so with the conviction that his Army of the Tennessee “must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war”; Sherman relied on the same strategy to subdue the Plains Indians.

Sherman concluded that the most effective way to force those Indians to cry uncle  was to annihilate the buffalo herds in the region.  In a letter to Grant, he referred to this strategy as “the final solution” to the Indian problem.  (Hitler used the same phrase some 70 years later.)

From an 1869 report in the Army Navy Journal:

General Sherman remarked, in conversation the other day, that the quickest way to compel the Indians to settle down to civilized life was to send ten regiments of soldiers to the plains, with orders to shoot buffaloes until they became too scarce to support the redskins.

A George Catlin painting of a
Plains Indian hunting a buffalo
Once there were no longer enough buffalo left to feed the Plains Indian tribes, they would have to move to reservations or starve to death. 

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Sherman assigned primary responsibility for the war on the buffalo herds to General Philip Sheridan, who had contributed to the Union’s eventual victory in the Civil War by laying waste to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a fertile region that had supplied large amounts of food and forage to Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army.

It quickly became apparent that there weren’t enough troops in all the cavalry and artillery regiments stationed in the American West to reduce the size of the buffalo herds sufficiently to force the Plains tribes to submit.

But when hordes of civilian hunters began to descend on the Great Plains in hopes of making their fortunes by killing buffalo, Sheridan had found the solution to his problem.  

He ordered his officers to assist the hunters, and opposed efforts by conservation-minded state legislators to protect the buffalo herds from indiscriminate slaughter.

Here is an excerpt from an eyewitness account of Sheridans testimony before the Texas legislature, which was considering a buffalo protection measure:

He told them that instead of stopping the hunters they ought to give them a hearty, unanimous vote of thanks, and appropriate a sufficient sum of money to strike and present to each one a medal of bronze, with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged Indian on the other.  He said, “These men have done in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years.  They are destroying the Indians’ commissary; and it is a well-known fact that any army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage.  Send them powder and lead, if you will; but, for the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated.”

These buffalo skulls will
be made into fertilizer
“Sheridan was the officer most responsible for promoting the annihilation” of the great buffalo herds, according to Professor Smits, whose article concludes as follows:

In the end, the frontier army’s well-calculated policy of destroying the buffalo in order to conquer the Plains Indians proved more effective than any other weapon in its arsenal.  Too small and too inept to vanquish the plains tribes expeditiously, the army aided and was in turn aided by the “sportsmen” and professional hunters who, along with the army itself, managed to destroy the Indians’ staff of life.  With the mainstay of their diet gone the Indians had no choice but to accept a servile fate on a reservation where they could subsist on government handouts.  From the Indian perspective the buffalo’s disappearance was a shattering blow. . . . Sitting Bull summed up the results of the annihilation: “A cold wind blew across the prairie when the last buffalo fell – a death-wind for my people.”

*     *     *     *     *

Statues and of Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson are becoming an endangered species.  Those who support the removal of such statues from public buildings and parks ask why in the world are we honoring men who fought to preserve slavery and white supremacy.

Perhaps it’s time to question why we’re honoring men who committed cultural genocide against the Plains Indian tribes, and who were prepared to commit literal genocide if those tribes had not surrendered.

My first home in Washington was a stone’s throw from Sheridan Circle, a traffic circle on Massachusetts Avenue that featured a large equestrian statue of Philip Sheridan.

The Sheridan Circle statue of Philip Sheridan
There’s a towering statue of Sherman on the grounds of the White House, and a statue of Grant just below the west front of the United States Capitol.  

Of course, Washington is not the only city with monuments to these three men.  There’s another equestrian statue of Sheridan in Chicago, and New Yorkers are familiar with the famous Sherman statue on Fifth Avenue, just south of Central Park, and the General Grant National Memorial, which is usually referred to as “Grant’s Tomb.”  (The website for the Grant memorial says that Grant “strove to . . . make rights for all citizens a reality.”  Native Americans would beg to differ with that statement.)

Those who are demonstrating for the removal of Confederate memorials seem to be turning a blind eye to statues of Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan.

This statue of Sherman stands in New York City
The author of this comment on the Washington Post’s website isn’t surprised by that rampant hypocrisy: 

I don’t see how the monuments to Gens. Philip Sheridan, William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant can remain in Washington, D.C., in our new climate of how to publicly remember history.  All three men were a part of the near-genocide of the Great Plains Indians in the post-Civil War era.

But then again, [Washington] is the same town that tolerates the Washington Redskins franchise name.

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“Indian Reservation” was written by the late John D. Loudermilk, Jr., who penned a number of country and pop hits – including one of my favorite obscure singles from the sixties, “Tobacco Road” by the Nashville Teens.

Marvin Rainwater’s original 1959 recording of the song was titled “The Pale Faced Indian.”  Rainwater, who was one-quarter Cherokee, was a regular on Ozark Jubilee, a live country music television show that was broadcast from Springfield, Missouri.  You can click here to listen to Rainwater’s recording of the song.

The best-known recording of the song was the Raiders’ 1971 cover, which reached #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  You can click here to listen to it.  

But I’ve decided to feature the English pop singer Don Fardon’s version of the song, which I don’t remember ever hearing although it made it to #20 on the “Hot 100” in the summer of 1968.

Here’s Don Fardon’s “Indian Reservation”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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