(“The Ballad of Ira Hayes” by Johnny Cash)
44,000 Native Americans served our country during World War II although none is more famous than Ira Hayes. There was even a movie about him starring Tony Curtis
And another, more recently, where he was actually played by an Indian (Flags of Our Fathers). The code talkers who used their native languages to serve our country, have also been the subject of a big Hollywood production, although that story is focused on a white soldier and not an Indian.
Marlon Brando was right, Indians have been done a terrible disservice by Hollywood. There hasn’t been a lot of improvement since 1972 if the stupid code talker movie is all about stupid Nicholas Cage.
QUICK GUIDE TO INDIAN MOVIES
A Man Called Horse – White man should have been in charge in the first place
Billy Jack – The white half of hero Billy Jack is kick ass awesome enough to protect a bunch of sniveling Indians.
Dances with Wolves – Big deal, love. White man wins in the end.
Little Big Man – Taking up with a bunch of Indians will ruin your life.
The Searchers – “Why don’t you finish the job?”
Windtalkers – Nicholas Cage is troubled, but he’s also awfully handsome.
and how many Native Americans were in Star Wars? I’ll tell how many – God damn none, that’s how many!
But to be serious again, it’s an admirable thing just how much Native Americans contributed during the War. And like African Americans, they came home from their experiences abroad, where segregation did not exist, with a new perspective on America. It’s not a coincidence that civil rights movements take hold in this country as the men and women who were overseas return and reevaluate American life. Men entitled to the benefits of the GI Bill began to advance trough education, and still others put skills learned while in the service into action. For many Native Americans the Army offered a first experience off the reservation, and eventually a backwards look at the reservation.
The success of Native Americans in the army is not surprising for a people who have spent centuries fighting for survival. The Indian Wars, a stupid historians’ term for dozens of different conflicts spanning hundreds of years, have never really become irrelevant. One conflict, the 1862 Dakota War, even took place here in Minnesota.
My late brother was somewhat of an expert on Little Crow, the Dakota Chief, and on the war, so I am especially regretful he can’t read what I am writing today and contribute. During the conflict the Dakota Sioux killed many hundreds of white civilians, but were ultimately forced to surrender at Camp Release near Montevideo. There is a giant monument on the site if you ever happen to be in the area.
303 of the Sioux prisoners were convicted of murder and rape through a court proceeding they were not allowed to understand or participate in, and all were sentenced to death. Some of their trials lasted only minutes. President Lincoln (Who was really busy at the time) personally reviewed the cases and commuted the death sentances of 264 of the inmates. One more was given a reprieve and the remaining 38 were excecuted in mass in Mankato on December 26, 1862 in the largest such even in our history.
During the solar eclipse of January 1st, 1889, a Pauite medicine man named Wovoka had a vision of the resurrection of his people and the disappearance of white men from Indian land. The realization of his vision was to be precluded by the actions of Indians – living righteously and gathering for five day ceremonies called Ghost Dances.
James MacLaughlin was an Indian Agent in South Dakota. To be an Indian Agent was a real job in the 19th century – They were authorized by the Federal government to represent it’s interests to the Native people. MacLaughlin is quoted in Dee Brown’s history, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: “A more pernicious system of government could not have been offered to a people who stood on the threshold of civilization.”
(“Big Foot” by Johnny Cash)
MacLaughlin soon after ordered the arrest of Sitting Bull, during which he was shot and killed. Two weeks later, Spotted Elk, Chief of the Miniconjou Sioux and 350 men, women and children were surrounded by two Cavalry detachhments under the command of Col. James W. Forsythe. Spotted Elk was also known as Big Foot, which helps if you’re confused by the Johnny Cash song above. During the Indians’ surrender there was a conflict when one man did not want to surrender a rifle for which he had paid dearly. Some remember that he was deaf. Whatever historical dispute that remains over the moments that preceded the shooting is eclipsed by the terrible events that followed. The soldiers opened fire on the Indians killing men, women and children. Even those who were armed could not fight back long. Spotted Elk and his people had been surrounded by four Hodgekiss guns, which are rapid fire cannons.
Eye witness accounts of the carnage, even those by members of the white civilian party hired to return after a blizzard and bury the dead, are gruelling and horrible to imagine. Women were shot with the infants they carried and the bodies were spread over an enormous distance as many unarmed Indians were shot while fleeing.
(“1890″ by Charlie Parr)
The massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee did not end their resistance, but the following day’s brief conflict was inconsequential. It was not until AIM’s 71-day standoff with the Federal government at the same site in 1973 that organized Indians again took up arms.
In Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown describes a medicine man named Yellow Bird in the moments before the shooting began. He danced a few steps of the Ghost Dance, and chanted on of it’s holy songs. “The bullets will not go towards you,” he chanted in Sioux. “The prairie is large and the bullets will not go towards you.”
(“Custer Died for your Sins” by Floyd Westerman)