Exposing the GOP's Shameful Historical Role in the Native American Genocide
Continued from previous page
Marshall calls Sheridan’s orders to Custer “the most brutal orders ever published to American troops.” This is a powerful statement coming from a man who wrote 30 books on American military history.
In addition to ordering Custer to shoot or hang all warriors, even those that surrendered, Sheridan commanded him to slaughter all ponies and to burn all tepees and their contents. “Sheridan held with but one solution to the Indian problem — extermination — and Custer was his quite pliable instrument,” writes Marshall.
One of the oddest facts about the Indian Wars is that Custer famously instructed a band to play an Irish jig called “Garry Owens” during the attacks on Indian villages. “This was Custer’s way of gentling war. It made killing more rhythmic,” writes Marshall.
During an attack on a Kiowa village on Sept. 26, 1874, soldiers killed more than one thousand horses and forced 252 Kiowas to surrender. They were thrown into prison cells, where “each day their captors threw chunks of raw meat to them as if they were animals in a cage,” Brown writes.
On numerous occasions, fleeing Indians sought refuge in Canada, where they knew they would be unmolested. Canadians built their own transcontinental railroad in the late nineteenth century, but they did not commence a campaign of extermination against the Indians living in that country as the government did in the United States.
No one denies that the U.S. government killed tens of thousands of Indians, including women and children, during the years from 1862 to 1890. There are various estimates of the number of Indians killed, the highest being that of historian Russell Thornton, who used mostly military records to estimate that about 45,000 Indians, including women and children, were killed during the wars on the Plains Indians.
It is reasonable to assume that thousands more were maimed and disabled for life and received little or no medical assistance. The thousands of soldiers who participated in the Indian Wars lived in a culture of violence and death that was cultivated by the U.S. government for a quarter of a century.
The culture of violence in the American West of the late nineteenth century was created almost entirely by the U.S. government’s military interventions, which were primarily a veiled subsidy to the government-subsidized transcontinental railroad corporations. As scandals go, the war on the Plains Indians makes the Credit Mobilier affair seem inconsequential.
There is such a thing as a culture of war, especially in connection with a war as gruesome and bloody as the war on the Plains Indians.
On this topic, World War II combat veteran Paul Fussell has written: “The culture of war . . . is not like the culture of ordinary peace-time life. It is a culture dominated by fear, blood, and sadism, by irrational actions and preposterous . . . results. It has more relation to science fiction or to absurdist theater than to actual life.”
Such was the “culture” the U.S. Army created throughout much of the American West for the quarter century after the War Between the States. It is the “culture” that all military interventions at all times have created, and it contrasts sharply with the predominantly peaceful culture of the stateless civil society on the American frontier during much of the 19th Century.
It is not true that all whites waged a war of extermination against the Plains Indians. As noted earlier and as noted throughout the literature of the Indian Wars, many whites preferred the continuation of the peaceful trade and relations with Indians that had been the norm during the first half of the 19th Century. (Conflicts sometimes occurred, of course, but “trade” dominated “raid” during that era.)