The Rhetoric of Extermination: Scapegoating the Plains Indian in the 19th Century
This amazing article by Ruth Schlein was used as a reading text over at A Few Queers On The Prowl. We offer it again.
A few quotes from the article.
By the late 1800s most buffalo had disappeared during the mass slaughters, and the American Indians living east of the Mississippi had been pushed out of the land they were in, or annihilated. The Cheyenne, one of the Native American tribes who had been pushed West, had become a strong force on the Plains, threatening the United States Government and European settlers with their presence. The existence of the Cheyenne people presented an obstacle to the desired establishment of European settlement on the plains.
At dawn on November 29, 1864 the stripes and stars of the American flag and the white flag of peace hung high above the tee pees at Sand Creek. Chivington and his 700 volunteers charged into the camp with no recognition of this peace offering symbol. Chivington and his army murdered, scalped, and mutilated the dead bodies of men, women and children. He told the regiment to “Kill and scalp all, big and small; nits make lice”  . The Cheyenne women and children huddled under the flags of peace and reconciliation hoping for safety while others fought trying to defend themselves. Black Kettle thinking he spoke the truth had told all the women and children that they would be safe if they congregated under the flags. Women were mutilated and left alive to witness the rest of the battle, and others were shot down while pleading for mercy. Children carrying the white flags of peace were killed, and pregnant women were cut open. When the battle was over, more than two hundred Cheyenne lay dead and more than one-half of these dead were women and children  . The soldiers scalped and sexually mutilated the dead bodies.
If they stand up against the progress of civilization and industry, they must be relentlessly crushed. The westward course of population is neither to be denied nor delayed for the sake of all Indians that ever called this country their home. They must yield or perish;  .
The extermination of the buffalo was another earlier used form of exterminating the Plains Indians
Assimilation became a justified and non-guilt ridden solution to the “Indian Problem” whereby the Whites accomplished cultural extermination of the Native Americans. Missionary groups tried to “civilize” the Plains Indians with religious and secular education. They also attempted to teach the Indians mechanical and agricultural pursuits  . The Indians were forced to wear European clothing and adapt to the European way of life for survival. The notion of the scapegoat as sacred, mentioned earlier in this paper, worked with assimilation because when the “savage” was transformed into a civilized person, the Indian had then been exterminated. The power to exterminate the different culture confirmed the European ideology. Assimilation, as a form of extermination, was justified because it made the other one of us. Many Europeans felt that “Americanizing” the Indian appeared to be the only solution to placing the Indian on an equal plane with other citizens  . In the 1920s a new reform movement began that was similar to the philosophy found in the 1880s and 1890s. This movement pushed for the Indians to return to their old ways if they desired to. Although this was nearly impossible, individualizing the Indian and letting them be “free”, became a solution that rid the European of guilt. But the Indian could not return to the way it had been before. Their land and culture were taken over. Taylor refers to Francis Prucha as he wrote clearly about Americanizing the individual and assimilation efforts.
The reformers put their faith principally in three proposals: first, to break up tribal relations and their reservation base and to individualize the Indian on a 160 acre homestead…; second, to make the Indians citizens and equal with the whites in regard to both the protection and restraints of law; and third, to provide a universal government school system that would make good Americans out of the rising generation of Indians  .
To read the entire essay, The Rhetoric of Extermination: Scapegoating the Plains Indian in the 19th century, by Ruth Schlei click HERE.