That was the Wild West part 1

(Published in Grail World 27/2003)

Today, at the dawn of the 21st century, North America is considered the leading world power and American ideals serve as models for many people. The history of the "United States of America" seems to have largely been dealt with historically: We know how bloody the struggle for the "New World" was once fought, and we regret the fate of the originally around 25 million Native Americans, whose remarkable culture went on has been almost completely destroyed in a few centuries.

After its cruel destruction, the Indian world enjoyed increasing popularity from the 20th century onwards. Countless novels and films idealized the daring, the closeness to nature, the bravery or the concept of honor of individual tribes, and (alleged) reports about important Indian prophecies went around the world.

Many of the descriptions of what had happened in the “Wild West” remained on the surface and were devoted to the fate of the “Indians” (this term goes back to the erroneous opinion of Columbus, who recognized them as “residents of India” believed) nowhere near fair.

For the seven-part Grail World series “That was the Wild West”, Siegfried Hagl dealt intensively with Indian culture and the history of North America and was able to experience the most important scenes of this story over the course of several long trips through the USA.

Let yourself be guided into the interior of this country and learn more about the momentous clash of “red” and “white” attitudes.

Conquering the New World

When we speak of the "Wild West", we may think particularly of Sioux (Dakota) Indians who galloped across the prairie on fast Mustangs in the 19th century and, when they were not hunting buffalo, shot at cowboys, wagon trains or even railroads attacked.

This prairie Indian culture was, however, a short-lived consequence of the invasion of the whites, for horses only came to America with the Spaniards. After a revolt by the Pueblo Indians (1680-1682) who captured and burned Santa Fee, many horses escaped; the basis for the mustang herds, which later grazed on the Great Plains so that Indians could get mounted.

The many Indian tribes were very different, had different languages and cultures. There is talk of "five hundred Indian nations" in North America alone. A very rough classification should at least differentiate between the "forest Indians" in the east, the "prairie Indians" on the great plains and the "Pueblo Indians" in the southwest. We will use this rough summary here so as not to overload this work with too many details.

Long before prospectors and settlers streamed west across the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and railways were built connecting the east and west coasts (the subject of most Indian films), European civilization and Indian Stone Age culture had clashed many times.
These conflicts, long before the American Civil War, were more important for the history of the Indians as well as for the history of North America than the last desperate battles on the Great Plains, in the Rocky Mountains, or in New Mexico.

With this Grail World series we want to give an overview of the history of the “Wild West”, in which the more highly developed civilization won, while the vanished culture, dismissed as inferior at the time, only found glorification posthumously. In the foreground are the Indians, who were not allowed to adapt to or adopt the white culture until the 20th century. But by then the “Reds” had long since been decimated, repressed, desperate, and their culture had been destroyed.

The whites are coming

Spaniards and Portuguese were the first to claim the "New World". Her interest focused on Central and South America, much of which was conquered before the first settlers in North America.

Immediately after its discovery by Ponce de Leon in 1513, the Spaniards, driven by an incredible urge to conquer, settled in Florida, large parts of the "West"[1] roamed (Coronado 1540-42), discovered the Grand Canyon and Mississippi, and conquered Santa Fee in 1605.

For Central Europeans, the way to the still largely unknown North America was only cleared when the Spanish Armada was destroyed in 1588, and it was no longer just pirates and adventurers who dared to venture into the North Atlantic. Now, on the North American east coast, different, isolated branches of the French, English, Dutcheach claiming huge areas for themselves.

Almost from the beginning, all Indian tribes had problems with the whites, whose various groups and nationalities fought one another; The only thing that all whites had in common was their desire for land. The tribes on the east coast had welcomed and helped the newcomers first.
However, they soon discovered that when they supported one group of whites they were in opposition to the others. Whichever side they chose, it was always Indian land that they lost and became the property of the whites.

For various reasons there were wars between Indians and whites. The primitive armament of the tribes could not withstand the attacks with more modern weapons. Indians who did not die in these battles were plagued by diseases to which they had not built immunity: measles, whooping cough, smallpox, chickenpox, typhoid and cholera.

Despite this suffering, some members of the tribe continued to fight for their territory. They were overcome, captured, and taken on ships to the West Indies, where they were sold as slaves. That was at the same time as the first black slaves came to North America (1619 on a Dutch ship that docked in Jamestown. In the Caribbean, Spaniards had begun importing negro slaves as early as 1510, almost as a replacement for those on some islands exterminated natives).

Trade brings change

When exploring North America, the first were French people in advance. Just twelve years after Columbus' first voyage, Breton fishermen began catching cod off Nova Scotia. They also penetrated inland and found that the Indians could exchange valuable fur for ironmongery.

This lucrative trade found the support of the French crown, and from 1603 a French colonial empire was established. The adventurous French were the first fur hunters, trappers, rangers, and fur traders in North America. These "voyageurs" penetrated as far as the great lakes, founded branches and proselytized.
From 1632 the "Black Robes" (Jesuits in their black habit) were already baptizing converts [2] among the tribes west of Lake Superior, more than a century before the British colonists had certain knowledge of the land beyond the Appalachians.

In an adventurous journey, René Robert de La Salle drove down the Mississippi from 1681 to 1682. The French claimed a huge area from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence over the Great Lakes and the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico with the city of New Orleans as a colony of "Louisiana" (on the Mississippi) or "New France" (Canada).

The calumet
The "Kalumet" was of particular importance in Indian ceremonies. It consisted of the pipe bowl and the - more ceremonially more significant - mostly wooden pipe pipe.
The pipe bowl could be made of different materials: wood, stone, bone, metal. Most sought after for this purpose was a soft sedimentary rock (catlinite, hardness 2.5 according to Mohs) broken in the “holy fractures”, made from clay that had been caked over millions of years. The reddish layer, only a few centimeters thick, is embedded in much thicker layers of hard quartzite (hardness 7.5), so that it is difficult to break down with simple tools.
The most important quarry was in Minnesota at what is now Pipestone (about 25 miles, about 40 km, north of I-90 near Sioux Falls). For centuries, Indians won this whistle stone, which came to Central America as an important commodity. In the 18th century, the Sioux gained control of this "holy place" where peace was an obligation for all.
Various legends report that the use of the whistle stone originally goes back to the instruction of a celestial apparition.
The calumet had ritual significance for almost all the Indians of North America, from Canada to Central America, even if the forms of the rituals differed from tribe to tribe. “Kinnikinnik” (the one that is mixed), a mixture of tobacco (which many Indian tribes cultivated), bark of red alder, red dogwood, red willow and other plant components was smoked. Kinnikinnik has a slightly intoxicating effect, and the use of Kalumet should, among other things, create connections to higher powers or beings.
The Pipestone quarries are now a "National Monument" that can be visited. Indians have the right to mine the soft stone using methods similar to centuries ago and to make pipes that are sold to tourists.
Literature: Murray, Robert A. "Pipes on the Plains," National Park Service, Washington, 1993.

Because of their willingness to maintain close contact with the natives and frequent marriages with Indian women, the French usually got along well with the Indians. Occasional irritations didn't last long. The Indians had recognized that they had been torn from the Stone Age and suddenly supplied with modern equipment (steel knives, hatchets and kettles, firearms and ammunition, fabrics, paints, blankets, alcohol, etc.) from these goods brought by the French , became dependent.

There were difficulties with the self-confident Iroquois, the famous "Five Nations". Remarkably, their democratic tribal order later became a model for the American Union. Unaware of the circumstances, French traders made their first contacts with the Algonquin (Algonquin) and the Hurons and thus equipped enemies of the Iroquois with firearms. Since then, the Iroquois were hostile to the French and tried to drive them out with the help of the Dutch. In 1665 troops from France had to rush to the colony's aid. The Iroquois were smashed and their villages and fields burned down. (Read about this in “Short, sweet, curious” page 265 “A prophet in North America”).

English in the New World

The settlements in New England, on the east coast, did not get along with the Indians as well as the French. Exceptions were the Quakers, whose peacefulness was honored by the Indians. An Indian writes the following about the first contact with the English:
“The first experiences the Algonquians had with the English showed exactly what kind of white-skinned predators were: When the Indians welcomed the first pirate (Sir Humphrey Gilbert, 1584) with his colonists, gave them corn, tobacco and beans and showed them how to plant them, when they missed a tin cup they thanked them for killing some Indians. They welcomed the second pirate (Sir Walter Raleigh) and his white colonists again, provided them with food and meat, and helped them build their Roanoke Island colony. Then an Indian chief found a piece of tin plate that was nailed to a tree and had strange signs (English royal coat of arms). He took it off to make a pipe bowl out of it. They struck down the old chief and sentenced him to death for dishonor and disregard for the English king. They hung it on the branch of a living oak and thanked God that he had made this possible for them, just as they were grateful to this God when they wanted to kill and had killed. The Indians took their lives and burned their houses. "
(Flying Hawk, Oglalla-Sioux; 4, p. 70).

The colonists who landed in Chesapeake Bay in 1607 and founded Virginia with Jamestown (near present-day Williamsburg) soon had to fight the Indians because of their arrogant demeanor.

Then it was thanks to the legendary chief daughter "Pocahontas" (1596-1617) of the Powhatan tribe that there were some more peaceful years. The governor of Jamestown had her robbed, but she fell in love with an Englishman who married her. She came to London with her husband, was recognized as an "Indian Princess" and received by Queen Elizabeth. Pocahontas died of smallpox in London at the age of 21.

After the death of her father, his successor, Opechancanough, decided to end the ongoing friction with the whites.

The first great Indian war

In March 1622 the first great Indian War began. Of 80 English settlements, 72 were destroyed, and of more than 4,000 colonists, 347 remained alive. Then the Indians made a crucial "mistake": Instead of killing the surviving colonists, they contented themselves with victory and ended the fighting. When Chief Opechancanough accepted an invitation to peace talks - because an Indian owes respect also to the inferior - the whites attacked the Indians, killing most of them, and barely escaping himself.

Only after 22 years, at the age of 90, could he attack the whites again. He inflicted heavy losses on them in the War of 1644 but was eventually captured and shot.

Indian war tactics
Going to war was a tradition in many Indian tribes, almost a "sporting adventure". An Indian gained reputation and influence primarily as a successful warrior (exceptionally also as a shaman or speaker). Because the fields - a possession that means prestige - usually belonged to the women who also tilled them. In many tribes, such as the Iroquois, women also chose the chief. The main occupations of the men were hunting and war.
Indian warfare was the surprise attack, "hit and run", which should not necessarily inflict great losses on the enemy. If horses were captured or prisoners made (most of which were taken into their own tribe), the raid was a success that brought martial fame.
A show of courage of a special kind was touching an enemy, called a “coup”, without harming them; with an armed enemy that was anything but harmless.
Military achievements were visibly documented; For example, with eagle feathers, the cutting and painting of which the knowledgeable could read the deeds of the wearer. Chiefs wore a buffalo coat with images of their successes.
Lengthy sieges, enduring under fire, or withstanding a closed assault was not their thing. Only Tecumseh got his Indians so far that they responded to a bayonet attack with a coordinated hail of arrows that collapsed the army soldiers' attack. (2, p. 424).
After a lost battle, Indians found it difficult to continue the fight. Even when they were on the verge of victory in a battle, they withdrew when there were too many dead and wounded. After a greater success, they proudly brought their booty home to celebrate the victory without worrying about the outcome of the war. They were difficult to assess for white troops. Unless the commanders listened to the advice of Indian experts, the Indians, who were well versed in scouting and fighting in the jungle, were only unreliable allies.
This behavior is partly explained by the fact that the small Indian peoples could not afford great human losses; every single warrior, every member of the tribe was important to the survival of the group. White generals were less afraid of costly campaigns and sometimes rigorously exposed their troops to enemy fire. In quite a few cases this enabled them to turn difficult situations.
In the fight against regular soldiers, Indians were usually only successful if they could attack the enemy by surprise or lure them into a trap. There was a typical Indian trap in the "Vettermann massacre" on December 21, 1866 (if Indians were beaten and there were many deaths, it was a "victory" in the eyes of the whites; if Indians were successful, it was called a "Massacre"):
Captain William J. Vettermann was to rush to help from Fort Phil Kearny *) from an attacked group of loggers. The cavalry drove the Indians back and, contrary to express orders, allowed them to persuade them to pursue the fleeing Indians. They were promptly caught in an ambush in which two thousand Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho, led by the famous "Crazy Horse" (approx. 1840 - 1877), waited. None of the 81 soldiers survived. This defeat helped the government evacuate Fort Kearny and two other forts.
*) Today a "National Historic Landmark" on I-90 (Exit 44), between Sheridan and Buffalo (Wyoming).
(1) Dillon, Richard H .: "Indian Wars", Lechner, Limassol (Cyprus), 1994.
(2) Steuben, Fritz: "Großer Häuptling Tecumseh", Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1966.

The first "Indian Wars" showed a fateful weakness in Indian behavior, which later became a disaster for the Indians: They could not or did not want to get through a dispute to the end under all circumstances and were thus at a disadvantage compared to the more ruthless whites. An Indian explains this behavior as follows:
“Indians don't believe in life after death, but that physical death is the transition into another dimension of life. Therefore no Indian could go into battle without first familiarizing himself with the possibility of this transition. This happened in long, ritual dances in which he reconciled himself with the opponents he might kill, with the horses he would have to kill. Often these preparations lasted to the point of total physical exhaustion. Then they put on the most splendid regalia one possessed, for the spirit of the leather, the hides, the eagle and turkey feathers, the mussels and the wood, the spirits of those whose trophies one carried with them, the wood of the saddle, the Tendons of the animals with which the arches were strung - all of this was preserved as a useful part of life by and for the wearer, had accompanied him and belonged to the wearer with all previous forgiveness rituals, such as his eyes, his hands, or his thoughts.
As a result, Indians were almost incapable of responding to a sudden attack with immediate, focused action. As a result, they did not succeed in preparing for a spontaneous attack with body and soul. When it was somehow possible, they withdrew to prepare. And as with the animals of the wild, an Indian let go of the opponent who gave up. He only knew the victory of the moment, not the whites' will to annihilate. The whites, however, rested before a fight and when it broke out they were in the best of physical shape. They could spontaneously, from one second to the next, make the decision to kill a person and then do it immediately with all the strength of their body and mind. The death of a person, killing itself, was something indifferent to her, almost something like a game. It was much harder for them not to kill a person than anything else. And when they fought, one defeat was not enough for them, and they hounded the weak until they had killed the last person. So most of their victories were annihilated, so even after losing battles they still won all wars against Indians. " 
(The Cherokee Jess Moshulotubbe, 4, p. 73).

So the Indians gave in from the beginning to the pressure of the technologically and psychologically superior whites. First the tribes of the coast, for example the Delawaren, Pekhot, Powhatan, were wholly or partially exterminated and driven into the hinterland. They had to peacefully come to an agreement with the tribes living there or to conquer new settlement areas.

Soon all the Indians of the East began to feel this pressure and to worry about their future.

Continued "That Was the Wild West" Part 2.

Also read under "History of religion" the article "The Religion of the North American Indians„.

[1] In the 18th century, the term “west” was understood to mean the land west of the Appalachians, and in the 19th century the land west of the Mississippi.
[2] Convert = someone who has converted to a different faith.
(1) Cooke, Alistair “History of America”, Pawlak, Herrsching, 1975.
(2) Eckert, Allan W. "That Dark and Bloody River", Bantam, New York, 1995.
(3) Josephy, Alvin "500 Nations", Frededing & Thaler, Munich, 1996
(4) Stammel, HJ “Indianer”, Bertelsmann, Gütersloh, 1977.