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The Tragic History of the West
After driving the Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway, I spent a few days camped near the Grand Tetons and then drove back to Cody to spend one more night there. From there I was off to explore Eastern Montana and some of the Black Hills of South Dakota, I’ll tell you more about that in my next travel post. I left Cody and drove to Billings, Montana to do some serious shopping, then I went over to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument to honor the fallen dead. It was a moving experience for me, and this post tells my story.
You can’t go anywhere out West without running into its history and that’s especially true of Wyoming; it has a long and varied history including:
- Native Americans
- Lewis and Clark
- The Mountain Men
- Pioneers and Settlers
- Ranchers and Cowboys.
All these groups have fired the imagination of Americans for a long time and any trip to Wyoming has to include the museums, monuments and battlefields that formed our collective Western history. For most Americans the heroes and villains of the story are easy to figure out, but it isn’t easy for me at all and the conclusions I reach are probably the opposite of most of yours.
To me, the history of the west comes down to this:
A group of People who Reverence the Earth as Sacred …
Battling to the Death…
A group of People who Hate the Earth.
Unfortunately, the wrong group won.
I want to specifically discuss two of the most grievous places that celebrate our sins against the Earth and the people who revere her: the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum of the West in Cody, Wyoming and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Historic Place in Montana.
The best comparison I can make is that as I walked through them, I felt like I think I would feel if I ever go to Europe and toured the Nazi Extermination Camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald or Dachau. Those camps were developed because of a German national delusion of their racial superiority and inherent right to do whatever they needed to do to establish themselves as the “Master Race.” That’s exactly how Americans did and do look at Indians.
The Nazis also seemed to have a national pride that bordered on a doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” that said they were ordained to conquer their world–just like Americans had, and still have.
I believe that exactly describes Western Civilization generally and the American westward migration specifically. We were so far superior to the Native Americans that we would simply take their land and if they objected we would slaughter them until they were either exterminated or submitted to the Reservations–our form of concentration camps. The Reservations are our Warsaw Ghetto where we herded the lower races into holding areas like cattle. I don’t see any difference between our treatment of Native Americans in the Reservations and the way the Nazis herded the Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto. The difference is the Nazis lost their war and we won ours, so we still have our Warsaw Ghettos today, 140 years later.
The Native Americans, the beavers, the buffalo, the wolves and bears, the Earth itself were not sacred, they were garbage to be killed and destroyed and brought to extinction if we chose. We very nearly succeeded in our grand plan of “subduing the earth” as ordained by the god of the Bible and our horribly distorted doctrine of “Manifest Destiny.” Its pure luck that we didn’t.
Let’s look at these monuments to our hatred of the Earth and destruction of those who love the Earth:
Buffalo Bill Cody Museum
This large museum is actually five museums in one:
- Buffalo Bill Museum
- The Draper Museum of Natural History
- Whitney Western Art Museum
- Plains Indians Museum
- Cody Firearms Museum
I literally wept as I walked through it. It’s one big celebration of our hatred of the Earth. One wing is dedicated to the firearms that were used in our war on the creatures of the Earth like the beaver, buffalo, wolves and bears that once thrived here until we arrived. But it also displays the many military firearms uses to slaughter the people who loved the Earth and wanted to protect it and it’s animals.
The museum of the Plains Indians has no idea what to do with them so it’s a mealy-mouthed nothing. It can’t possibly discuss our treatment of the Indians so instead it’s filled with lots of examples of their bead-work, like that’s all they were. I was even disappointed by the fine arts museum, it all seemed mediocre at best.
Much of it is dedicated to Buffalo Bill Cody who made mass entertainment of the destruction of the buffalo and near extinction of the Indians. He brought his shows to people all over the world so they could enjoy and be thrilled by the extermination of anything that stood in the way of the advancement of “civilization”.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Historic Place
I was terribly torn by Custer’s Last Stand Battlefield. As an American, everything in my heart wants to honor the soldiers who defend our freedom and keep us safe. Right or wrong they were American soldiers defending the country. And yet when those men left their Forts, they did so with every intention to attack the Indian village at dawn and kill every warrior who opposed them, and then kill every old person, woman and child in camp. Their specific goal was to exterminate that village.
Of course some (but not all) of the Indians did the same thing, but under very different circumstances. For the most part, when the whites first arrived they were welcomed and allowed to pass through unharmed. Only when it became obvious they were there to steal their land and destroy their way of life did they declare full war on them and use terror on the whites. Terror was a cultural part of some tribe’s way of life and it was totally necessary because the invading armies were vastly larger and had tremendously greater weapons. For example, it’s estimated only 10% of the Indians at Custer’s Last Stand had firearms, the rest had traditional weapons like bows and spears. Plus, Custer had the option of bringing along artillery and Gattling guns, but he left them behind so he could travel faster. Had he brought them, and used a better battle plan, the result could have been the slaughter of up to 8000 Indians and he would have been a national hero in our war on the Earth. Instead he is a martyr, he died so you and I could do the maximum possible damage to the Earth.
Ultimately, I left with nothing but sorrow for both sides. For the troops that died I felt sorrow that they had been so horribly mislead and lied to by a civilization that was so vile it could send them off to kill and die for no other reason that they could expand their hatred and destruction of the Earth. For the Indians I only felt sorrow that while they had won this battle, in only a few years they would be largely slaughtered off and all would be forced into the American form of Warsaw Ghettos we call Reservations.
There they would be starved and their children taken from them until they submitted to be Christians, stopped speaking their language and following their culture. In other words, until they also were “civilized” and hated the Earth. If you’re interested in Native American culture, this is a book that had a tremendous impact on me and I highly recommend to you, get it from Amazon here: Neither Wolf nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder
The Indians were never to love the Earth again, instead they must dig into her skin and abuse her just like the whites did.
It’s a very sad tale filled with tragedy and horror. And yet nearly every American approves it and gives thanks for it because it was part of the march of “Progress” that ended up giving us Penicillin and iPads and lots more “stuff”. Those are the only things that really seem important to us.
But like the Indians at Custer’s last Stand, today we White Men are celebrating because we have won our every battle against the Earth as we subdued and attempted to destroy her. But just like those Indians were doomed to lose their war with the whites, we are doomed to lose our war with the Earth. Within a few years we will have confined ourselves to our own Ecological Warsaw Ghettos that we are so busily and happily creating right now. “Why should I change my life, it’s my great-great grandchildren who will pay the price?”
Then it will be our turn to starve and lose every part of the way of life we loved; and they will get the last laugh.
Why am I publishing such a controversial post? I rarely write like this because guilt and fear are very poor motivators, nearly all of us just push it out of our mind. Unfortunately, the days of being able to live like we hate the Earth, but pretending that we don’t are over. The lines are drawn in the sand and you are either destroying the earth by living a typical middle-class lifestyle, or you are radically changing your whole life to minimize your impact on the earth—to love Her with your actions and not words.
The good news I have for you is that if you will follow the simple advice laid out in this website, not only will you be living like you love the earth, you will minimize the harm you do to Her. But best of all, you’ll be happier than you have ever been! You will be better off in every way: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Humans were born to live in harmony with the Earth–it’s written into our DNA. Living otherwise only ends in a life of quiet desperation because of the ache in your heart for your lost love–the Earth.
I believe, somewhere, deep down in our heart we each love the Earth. Isn’t it time our actions line up with our heart?
In my next post, I’m going to offer you good news to offset the negative point of view found in this one.
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