Saturday, April 12, 2014


Frontier Terrorism
Terrorism is nothing new to America.  From the first days of the Jamestown and Plymouth settlements the country has been rocked by repeated acts of terrorism.  This was usually on the frontier and was a part of the scene of westward expansion.  While Europeans fought endless bloody wars, the new world saw a different type of war, which is now called asymmetric or “guerilla” war.  This was characterized by ambush, surprise attacks, and the killing of not only the combatants, but women and children as well.  Outnumbered and outgunned the Native Americans fought back with small attacks and terror.  The timeless methods of Native-American warfare were adopted by the colonists and carried to great extremes.  Colonists had seen the futility of European style warfare early on.  All along the frontier the farm families feared the war whoop and near certain death.  The Native-Americans, pushed further west had not only to fear attack by the onrushing colonists, but also the brutal tribal warfare which the constant constriction of their territories exacerbated. 
   In May 26, 1637 the Pequot war was ended when colonists surrounded the Indian village of Misistuck at night.  Setting their homes afire, they slaughtered 600 – 700 men women and children as they fled the flames.  The Narragansett and Mohegan allies of the English colonists went home in disgust, saying that the “manner of the Englishmen's fight . . is too furious, and slays too many men.”  In 1689 the Mohawk attacked the small town of LaChine (375 inhabitants) on Montreal island.  They broke down doors and drug settlers outside to their deaths; they set fire to the buildings in which settlers barricaded themselves; they killed 24 initially and took 70 hostage.  Of those taken hostage nearly 50 were tortured and killed (burned to death and cannibalized). 

    In February of 1690, Finding the town gate unattended, Canadians and their Mohawk allies attacked Schenectady New York in the night, killing most of the inhabitants.  Of the 60 dead, 10 were women and 12 children.    During the French and Indian war, George Washington’s reputation was tarnished when his Iroquois allies massacred 20 French prisoners, tomahawking and scalping them before the colonial militia’s eyes.  This sort of brutality occurred in greater or lesser degree for over 200 years of our history.  The result is known to us all – the near extinction of the Native-American. 
     It became acceptable to many Americans to attack Indian villages and kill their inhabitants wholesale.  Perhaps the most infamous advocate of annihilation was John M. Chivington.  Chivington had been ordained a Methodist minister in 1844, serving in several states.  During the Civil war he became a Major in the First Colorado Volunteer regiment, and after the southern forces in Colorado were beaten, he began to advocate for the extermination of the local Indians: “the Cheyennes will have to be roundly whipped -- or completely wiped out -- before they will be quiet. I say that if any of them are caught in your vicinity, the only thing to do is kill them."  On November 24th 1864 he led his volunteers on a raid of the Sand Creek reservation where a peaceful chief, Black Kettle and his tribe were camped.  Black Kettle held a white flag and an American flag, and Chivington was told he had surrendered.  His response was to order an attack in which 400 – 700 were killed, mostly women and children.  Following the slaughter, his troops scalped and sexually mutilated many of the bodies, later showing their trophies to cheering crowds in Denver. When asked why his men had killed women and children he said “nits make lice.” 
     We don’t have to go elsewhere to find examples of the terrorism that characterized the frontier.  In 1830 a party of Sac and Fox were ambushed south of Prairie Du Chien.  Only one of the 18, a boy, escaped. The rest were murdered, and mutilated.  Elizabeth Therese Baird, who was born and lived in Prairie Du Chien, described the scene years later;
“After the massacre, all who yet breathed were dispatched, and horribly mutilated. Hands, feet, fingers, ears, and scalps were cut off, and more horrible still, the heart of the aged chief was cut from his breast, and all taken by the victors as trophies of the bloody conflict.
On the day succeeding the murder, the victorious party assembled, and accompanied by a few squaws, paraded the streets of Prairie du Chien, with the monotonous sounding drum and rattle, and displaying on poles the scalps and dismembered human fragments taken from the bodies of their victims. The whole party was painted with various colors, wore feathers, and carried their tomahawks, war-clubs and scalping-knives. Stopping in front of the principal houses in the village, they danced the war-dance and scalp-dance, ending with yells characteristic of incarnate devils.
The mangled limbs were still fresh and bleeding; one old squaw had carried on a pole the entire hand, with a long strip of skin from the arm of one of the murdered men, elevated above her head, the blood trickling down upon her hair and face, while she kept up the death-song, and joined in the scalp-dance. After this exhibition, which lasted two or three hours, the. warriors went to a small mound, about two hundred yards from Mr. Rolette's residence, and in plain sight made a fire, and roasted the heart of the old murdered chief, and then divided it into small pieces among the several warriors, who devoured it—to inspire them with courage, and "make their hearts glad."
The whole scene was shocking and disgusting in the extreme, and such a one, we hope, never again will be witnessed in a civilized community.  The incidents just related occurred in a town containing a civilized (?) population of six or eight hundred inhabitants, under the walls of the United States garrison, and within musket shot of the fort. Neither civil nor military authorities made any effort to prevent the exhibition of the revolting and savage trophies of the sanguinary battle.”   
 In 1832, during the Blackhawk war a number on both sides were killed and mutilated.  After defeating a party of Kickapoo in the Battle of Pecatonica Col. Henry Dodge, later Territorial governor, U.S. Representative, and, Senator reported thusly:  “Nine of them were killed on the spot and the remaining two killed in crossing the Lake so that they were left without one to carry the news to their Friends. The Volunteers under my command behaved with great gallantry… A part of
the scalps was given to the Sioux & Menomonies as well as the Winnabagoes. Col. Hamilton had arrivd with [those] Indians about one hour after our defeat of the hostile Sacks. The Friendly Indians appeared delighted with the scalps; they went to the ground where the Indians were killed and cut them literally to pieces...”   
 The so called “Battle of Bad Axe” was really a massacre.  The steamboat Warrior was in the river blocking the escape across the Mississippi Blackhawk had planned.  They fired indiscriminately on women with children on their backs.  When Dodge came upon the scene he ordered his men to attack.  They killed without quarter and did not accept prisoners.  The soldiers killed everyone who tried to run for cover or cross the river; men,
women and children alike.  Many of Dodge’s soldiers scalped and mutilated the dead.  He reported:  “The Winnebago’s scalped eleven Indians killed by the whites, and the whites took thirteen scalps last night--eight were found today and three were killed in the chase. The enemy were seen to carry a number from the field during the action, so that the numbers killed cannot fall short of forty (perhaps more) many were wounded but the number is not known”
John Allen Wakefield, who took part in the action and later wrote an account said:

    “They now found that they could not get away from us.  The only chance for them was to fight until they died…

    “We killed and wounded a great many of these wretched wanderers, who have no home in the world, but are like the wild beasts more than man – wandering from forest to forest, and not making any improvement on the natural mind.  Putting together what were killed in the two battles, we must have destroyed upwards of four hundred of these unhappy and miserable beings.

    “When we came upon the squaws and children, they raised a scream and cry loud enough to affect the stoutest man upon earth. If they had shown themselves, they would have come off much better, but fear prevented them; and in their retreat, trying to hide from us, many of them were killed; but contrary to the wish of every man, as neither officer nor private intended to have spilt the blood of those squaws and children. But such was their fate; some of them were killed, but not intentionally by any man; as all were men of too much sense of honor and feeling to have killed any but those who were able to harm us. We all well knew the squaws and children could do us no harm; and could not help what the old Black Hawk and the other chiefs did."

     Wakefield was probably lying about not wanting to kill the women and children.  Blackhawk put it this way: "Early in the morning a party of whites, being in advance of the army, came upon our people, who were attempting to cross the Mississippi. They tried to give themselves up--the whites paid no attention to their entreaties--but commenced slaughtering them! In a little while the whole army arrived. Our braves, but few in number, finding that the enemy paid no regard to age or sex, and seeing that they were murdering helpless women and little children, determined to fight until they were killed! As many women as could, commenced swimming the Mississippi, with their children on their backs.  A number of them were drowned, and some shot, before they could reach the opposite shore..."

    What have we learned with this history?  Our ancestors knew terrorism, and I believe that we have come by sad example to abhor it.  Our history is tarnished by terrorism.  It outrages most of us when justice is sought in the blood of the innocent.  We do not wish to stray into the bloody endeavor of hounding terrorists to the death, but we are a large and powerful nation, and we have a history that says “we’re not going to take this.”  That is both our strength and our weakness.  We cannot avoid the attacks that big powers suffer.  We can avoid the injuries we do too often; to our nation and its reputation, by doing all we can to spare the innocent.  I believe this is the policy and practice of our armed forces.  Sparing the innocent vindicates the lessons our history has taught us.
    Katie Couric said: “As much as we said at the time (9/11), America's never been attacked on home soil—or the continental U.S.—that wasn't true. For the first 200 years, early American life's main feature was being attacked, by the Indians. And it was on villages and communities, on home and hearth. The settlers had this feeling that they were being attacked by non-Christian, nonwhite "terrorists." And Puritan patriarchs would refer to the Indians as "terrorists."
     Our frontier mentality has directed our thinking in the recent past, but we have by sad experience, come to realize that terrorizing the innocent is not an acceptable aspect of war.  Those log cabin fears are still with us; fears of being powerless against sneak attack.  We may still harbor the urge to kill indiscriminately to end the threat.   It isn’t our nature to be patient, but that nature is tempered in our history by the desire of Americans to be merciful and as humane as possible.  This desire arises in part because we have learned from generations of terror on the frontier that there has to be a better way.
“[Black Hawk] has fought for his countrymen, the squaws and papooses, against white men, who came year after year, to cheat them and take away their lands. You know the cause of our making war. It is known to all white men. They ought to be ashamed of it. “-Blackhawk

1 comment:

  1. A thoughtful piece that describes some of the atrocities committed on both sides during the early years of our country. One would think such things are now safely in the distant past, but unfortunately they continue. We can only hope that when our troops leave Afghanistan the Afghan people who desire peace, surely the majority, will be able to stand their ground against those who don't.