Thursday, July 11, 2013

Remember The Raisin

A joint force of American and British military attacked treasonous subjects of the British Crown and fairly defeated them in battle. However, after accepting these traitors' surrender the British left their American allies in charge. With the British gone, the Americans proceeded to sack the town and murder the wounded prisoners.

This happened about 175 miles from my home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The massacre became a rallying cry among those forces whom the British regarded as traitors: Remember the Raisin!

The year was 1812. The war has been called the Second Revolutionary War, but is better known as the War of 1812. The victims of this massacre called themselves citizens of the United States, the Crown's opinion notwithstanding. The leader of the American forces perpetrating the massacre was a Shawnee chief named Tecumseh.

This and other violent conflicts between US citizens and indigenous Americans, shaped the popular notion that the people group we call Indians (and native Americans call Indians) were murderous savages.

Right or wrong, this is what US citizens and soldiers were thinking when they fought Indians in Ohio, Michigan, and parts further west. And before you feel too sympathetic about the Indians (or the Brits), you should remember the Raisin.

Nobody has clean hands.

As the US gained power and the power of Indian nations declined, the popular notion changed from murderous savages to worthy foes.

In 1820, an Ohio lawyer, Charles Robert Sherman, named his son William Tecumseh after the Indian chief. If you asked any South Carolina native after the Civil War, the murderous savages were those fellas in blue shirts following General William Tecumseh Sherman. (My ancestors served the Union elsewhere.)

The notion of Indians as worthy foes lasted much longer. If you read Louis L'Amour westerns (and you should), you'll see Indians depicted in this fashion. (I wish I could watch the original 3D version of Hondo.)

However, the death of Louis L'Amour accompanied the decline of the Western genre (as well as the decline of decent writing in that genre).

And in the late '60s the popular concept of Indians changed. Whereas the "heathen" part of heathen savages was once regarded as a Bad Thing, the post-Christian pop culture found the animist religion of Indians a Good Thing. (Or maybe just an excuse to use peyote.)

With a large dollop of New Age fuzzy thinking, the Indians were recast as mystic savants who could be counted on to kick the racist, evil White Man's butt in the 3rd reel when he gets back from his spirit quest.

In particular, I'm thinking of Billy Jack. However, I've recently enjoyed the character, Henry Standing Bear in the TV show Longmire who carries himself like a mystic savant (as contrasted with the character Jacob Nighthorse who is a casino owner).

And that brings us to today and my question: Is "mystic savant" going to be replaced by "casino owner" in the popular imagination?

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