The Real Americans

When I was a schoolboy, Native Americans were known as ‘Red Indians’. All I knew about them was that they wore feathered headdresses, attacked wagon trains, and rode around on horses making a strange whooping sound. They lived in tepees, and liked to fight the US cavalry, as well as killing white settlers in the ‘Wild West’. They were easily pleased with gifts of small items like mirrors, blankets, or beads, and the men got drunk very easily on whisky, which they apparently called ‘fire-water’. When they decided to make peace, they passed around a large ‘peace-pipe’, which had to be smoked by all concerned. Some of their leaders, like Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse were very well-known, even in Britain.

Of course, this was all very far from the truth. It failed to address the awful treatment of the indigenous peoples by white settlers, and the US government. The exploitation of the tribes, the theft of their ancestral lands and the destruction of the buffalo they depended on. False imprisonment, rape, abuse, kidnapping, forced relocation, and massacres.

In 1964, I went to see a film called ‘Cheyenne Autumn’. For the first time, the plight of Native Americans was treated with some sympathy. By the time I was 18 years old, in 1970, two films attempted to expose the atrocities carried out by the US governments of the time, with ‘Soldier Blue’, and ‘Little Big Man’. Finally, Hollywood was trying to give us some insight into the complex tribal society of Native American Tribes; their spirituality, culture, and long-standing traditions. But they still us gave us their version.

It is plain to see that things never recovered for most Native Americans. Despite some casino licences, and wider recognition of some of their rights, they remain very much an underclass in modern-day America.

These photos were taken between 1880, and 1912. Some have been ‘colourised’. They show beautiful women, proud handsome men, and well-loved children. The original Americans.

A handmade beautiful dress.

An unusual distinctive headdress.

A young warrior, displaying his cherished rifle.

A young woman in a lovely robe.

A young man wearing ‘western-style’ clothing.

A proud warrior with a tribal hairstyle.

Young women in traditional dresses.

And a well-dressed child.

So the next time you watch a US Cavalry film starring John Wayne, or one depicting Native Americans as heartless savages, think of the real people behind the myth.

55 thoughts on “The Real Americans

  1. It’s very interesting to hear the other side of history. As a Native American I grew up learning our truth and didn’t know that our history had been so jumbled up and that ‘White history’ changed so much of what really happened. Luckily times are beginning to change and the truth is revealing itself. If you are looking for an interesting read on my people specifically you should check out ‘The People Are Dancing Again’ by Charles F. Wilkinson.

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  2. Thank you for this post! It is even more wonderful because you are not an American, writing about American history. By the end of the school year in my class, I am chapter reading Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have an open book to introduce and address the everyday Native American prejudice back then. There is one sentence in the book, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” I put my book down and we talk. Oh, we talk. And that’s how I help children to understand and accept. Best to you, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jennie. My eyes were opened by films like ‘Soldier Blue’, and I began to read about the plight of the displaced tribes in my late teens. I think everyone needs to be reminded about how things have got little better since then.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post 🙂 Speaking of Westerns about Indians, Robert Aldrich’s 1972 revisionist entry entitled Ulzana’s Raid is a fantastic one. Even though that one still depicted a few of them as bad, at the same time, it was also critical of the imperialism of europeans being in a place that did not belong to them. This coincides with the then ongoing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, which that film served as an allegory for. I hope that makes sense how I put it. Beautiful pictures by the way that you posted. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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  4. I’m very fascinated with Native Americans and the way they dress, sing and dance. I also always found it beautiful how they seem to be so in touch with nature. I just recently bought a book about the Comanches which I look forward to reading. Great post!

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  5. Great photos…great post….the book “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” is an excellent history of the Native Americans…..the way movies have treated NAs is why I never watch Westerns…..chuq

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the images and have spent a lot of college time studying Native Americans. It’s been a treat living in a region of the states where their presence is real. I have students who are Navajo and Hopi and Apache. It’s a treat. They are “normal” students as any anglo.

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    1. I have no doubt that all your students are the same, Cindy. Young people with the same hopes and aspirations, the same worries and fears. Many thanks for adding your own valuable experience.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The pictures are beautiful. And yes, this is a shameful part of America’s history. I read ‘Bury my heart at Wounded Knee,’ in high school and my views were changed forever. In the Pacific NW there is also the tragic story of the Nez Perce tribe as they fled from the US army to avoid being forcibly removed to a reservation. Many died on the way and Chief Joseph surrendered close to the Canadian border. “Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” Still breaks my heart.

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  8. As you know, I’ve written the lyrics to a couple of songs that focus on Native Americans, and I live in the Desert Southwest, where there are a number of reservations (especially significant ones in Arizona). The Southern Paiutes actually have two small reservations just outside Las Vegas, and the Lost City Museum in Overton is only an hour’s drive away. I have visited many places that relate to Native Americans, including (but not limited to) Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana), Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona), Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado), and Geronimo Surrender Monument (Arizona). And, of course, there are plenty of opportunities to view petroglyphs and pictographs within a short drive from home. The point is that I have always been fascinated by the history of Native Americans, from the Anasazi to the Apaches, and live in a part of the country where I can rather conveniently dip into their history.

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  9. The white Europeans that made up early America did indeed imposed terrible hardship on the native Americans.. no question. But there’s a context in here we should remember. It has been the absolute evolutionary process of humans to expand across the various landscapes of the world. A kind of manifest destiny of our species. Where ever one “tribe” was dominant it took over other less dominant tribes.. ala the various conquests by various rulers in Europe.. from the Asians to the Roman, to the Greeks… back and forth “kick out the other guy” was commonplace. So.. the settling of North America, or even Australia, it was inevitable the indigenous humans would be forced out… OR… assimilated.
    Now… to exploit the guilt of the white man it’s usually presented that the Native “indians” had some culture to preserve that was of value not to be lost to the ages. Well, all through human history cultures have come and gone and cultures have vanished forever. Many were cultures far more seated in the history of man than the relatively short existence of Native Americans… so one might question, why should their culture be preserved any more or less than the one’s before them?
    It’s generally accepted that what became Native Americans had origins in Asia from the northern land bridge. Early man in North America was in no way similar to what we call “contemporary” 17th, 18th, 19th century native Americans anyway.
    This manifest destiny concept of man as it pertains to Europe, Asia, etc. was just as ruthless (if not more) than the treatment white Europeans inflicted upon North American indians. They were simply assimilated into whatever group did the conquering at the time.
    I worked in a funeral home on the edge of an indian reservation in Arizona and I am very familiar with a lot of the “ancient” cultures of at least those tribal areas. Honestly, much of what is said to be “traditional” are bastardizations of merging early native American with assimilated white influence. Most were practicing Catholics yet after the church funeral they would go to the reservation to have their death rituals at burial. Rather strange merging of God and the “spirits” associated with the earth and land and sky. But they dress like average folks, and because they have had generations of being left to their own reservations they have had a modern history of identity issues, personal health problems due to economic inequities, local tribal government mismanagement, and crime. In my opinion, they should have all been allowed to assimilate long ago. But that’s not a popular opinion at all.

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    1. Thanks for your own thoughts and personal experiences, Doug.
      I think it is worth considering that most other ‘invaders’, with perhaps the exception of The Mongols, always allowed the ‘conquered people’ to keep their own religions, and to adhere to their own customs. In many cases, they also allowed them to continue to own land, even though they took something from them in the form of taxes or goods in return.
      They also adopted some of the local Gods and many of those customs for themselves, with Alexander The Great being a fair example of that.
      Where the treatment of the Native American differs greatly is the overt (and continuing) racism, the deliberate murder of large numbers of them as the west expanded, and destroying their principal means of sustenance, in the form of buffalo, and farming areas. Some army commanders even gave blankets to the tribes that had been infected with smallpox, an early form of ‘biological warfare’.
      I know that many other countries, including the UK, have their own share of blame for exploiting less technologically advanced peoples. It is history now, to a great extent. But I do believe that the US should do more to acknowledge the harsh treatment given to tribes, which was continuing right up to WW2 in some areas. They are talking of offering some restitution to the descendants of slaves, whilst still ignoring much of what was done to the various tribes.
      As for them being Catholics, I suggest that conversion was forced upon them by priests, in return for shelter, food, clothing, and schooling.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. History is typically written by the victors in any conflict but since the early 60’s one movie after another has been made depicting Native Americans as victims and white Americans as mostly aholes. They seldom or never show how one warring, native tribe attacked, murdered or enslaved another before and after Europeans came here. The fact is that one, more technologically group of human beings overwhelmed another in America. The same thing is happening now. About 5 or 10 advantaged families and corporations own the entire country. I am no great historian but I wonder if it wasn’t about the same number of people who primarily benefited from slavery in our country. Our Civil War was certainly not fought to free Black people. It was fought for financial reasons, just as all wars before and since have been. Human beings will always be easily controlled because we are easily pitted against each other by a handful of the wealthy and powerful. Right now in China, whole communities are enslaved and even their internal organs are being harvested but we don’t bat an eye as we devour mountains of material crap being produced there and shipped all around the world. This was not 200 years ago. This is now.

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    1. Thanks very much for your thoughts and your comment, Charlie.
      Yes tribes did fight against each other for territory, trade routes, land, captives, and material possessions, much in the same way that European countries were fighting each other throughout history for those same reasons.
      But I think the difference in America was that a foreign invader took pretty much everything, and practiced what was genocide by another name on those it originally belonged to.
      Even the Romans and Vikings assimilated into the society and lifestyle of the lands they conquered to some extent, but the Native Americans were either moved into areas where they could be managed, or wiped out by superior armed force and disease.
      My intention was just to remind people that others lived complex lives in America, before the arrival of Europeans in the late 16th century, and the westward expansions after The Civil War ended in 1865.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  11. This is a fantastic post Pete and quite timely. The Cherokee Nation stated last Thursday that they’re appointing a delegate to the House of Representatives. This is a right that was promised to them over 200 years ago in the Treaty of New Echota. It’ll be interesting to see how Washington responds. Will they honor a promise made so long ago? I hope so. It was this same treaty that forced the Cherokee to embark upon the Trail of Tears, which ultimately killed 4,000 of them. What we did to the Native American tribes here was absolutely despicable. I’m sorry to go off on a rant but this subject makes my blood boil. Anyway, thank you for this post and the pictures are wonderful.

    Liked by 3 people

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