Incident on the Saline River

  • Posted: February 18, 2020
  • Category: Blog
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Our President, Donald Trump, inflamed the Adorables once more. While that isn’t news, this time it was his State of the Union address, thus a glove thrown down, a challenge to the enlightened. Throwing caution to the winds, Trump had the sheer bad taste to say:

“The American Nation was carved out of the vast frontier by the toughest, strongest, fiercest, and most determined men and women to ever walk the face of the Earth.”

Sheesh! The man must be a fool to defy the assembled geese on national television – to their face! The women in white, arrayed in serried ranks, must have summoned up nerves of steel to contain their nausea. Such contemptible nonsense must be answered! But a proper response takes time and on the Sunday past, The Denver Post responded with courage and integrity, in the true spirit of the Resistance.

Patty Limerick, Professor of History at CU Boulder, picked up the glove thrown down – giving a reasoned even judicious response to the Donald’s outrageous rhetoric. As an aside, one wonders if the Denver Post realizes that there is life in Colorado outside of Boulder? To be sure, Ms. Limerick checks all the Adorable boxes. Born in California, graduate of the University of California, PhD from Yale, Asst. Prof. of History at Harvard and only then migrating to the lotus fields of Boulder.

Ms. Limerick took the obligatory slap at the western frontier, the Sand Creek Massacre. Don’t leave an NPR interview without it! But as an experiment, do a Google Search for Sand Creek Massacre. One is inundated with hits detailing the tragic fate of peaceful Cheyenne & Arapaho Indian families at the hands of drunken “white vigilante cavalry”. Then – do a search for Ft. William Henry. One gets VRBO and hotel rental offers; so much for romanticizing white settlers at the expense of the native peoples. On the scale of man’s atrocities to his fellow man, Sand Creek is not even in the same league.

To be fair, Ms. Limerick tries to be fair – in her own Boulderite way. But do she and her fellow Boulderites have to be such a total pain? This was a feel-good talk to the nation. Is there anything wrong with cheering for the team at the pep rally? Is it so bad to compliment the hostess on her new hairdo?

Does Ms. Limerick really believe the world would be a better place if the Arapaho and Cheyenne people still roamed the plains hunting buffalo, perhaps living under the comforting umbrella of a Pax Azteca? But then – left alone by those “determined men and women”, what would have prevented the Sioux or the Comanche from exterminating the victims of Sand Creek at some later date anyway? One might ponder the fifty Arikara “scouts” riding with Custer at the Little Big Horn, or his fifty Pawnee “scouts” at the Washita, for insight into the state of American Indian fraternal relationships – pre-white oppression.

Ms. Limerick leaves no banal observation unmade, allowing that Trump’s comment “turns the people of the past into caricatures. . drains their lives of dignity and meaning”. Duh! I guess President Trump should have spent more time exploring the inner lives of settlers, as well as giving a shout out to all the protected classes and oppressed peoples.

The problem with Ms. Limerick’s column is that President Trump spoke a simple and obvious truth. The men and women who settled the United States were all of those things that President Trump said. This country and its history is really a wonder for the ages. An example of life on the frontier –

The Kansas Prairie – August, 1868. The Cheyenne and Arapaho were exercising their cultural prerogatives – raiding along the Saline River near present day Great Bend. At the same time, their peace-loving “Chiefs” were negotiating with Indian agents at Ft. Riley to be given more guns and ammunition for “hunting”.

Capt. Fred Benteen of the 7th Cavalry is leading his company of forty men on patrol. Coming over a rise in the prairie, they surprise a group of 50 warriors who immediately take flight from the column coming over the ridge.

Benteen and his command unfurl the guidon, blow the trumpets and ride in pursuit. To their surprise, another 150 warriors emerge from a hidden draw, joining the fleeing group. Now numbering some 200, the warriors continue to run. At the top of the next hill the troopers come upon two small girls, naked, soot covered and frightened. They had been kidnapped, then abandoned by the raiders running before the cavalry.

Over the previous days, the cavalry patrol had come upon many burned out cabins. It was the custom of the Plains Indians to steal what they could, burn the rest, kill the men and kidnap the children. “Adult”, a term used advisedly, women endured another more personal assault after which they were either killed or taken as slaves.

Capt. Benteen faced a hard decision on the ridge. He ordered the two little girls left behind. If the patrol allowed the warriors to stop running and get a good look at their pursuers, they might realize they outnumbered the cavalry 5-1. The two little girls, hungry, frightened and abandoned on the prairie, were rescued a few days later by ”white vigilante cavalry”.

Another look at the peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. Ms. Limerick asks “fellow lovers of history” to reject caricature and see our forefathers as “real complicated people”. I, and most others, agree. We also understand that the view from a Boulder campus window is a bit different from that of a cabin on the Kansas frontier. Perhaps Ms. Limerick’s standards will someday apply to others besides the benighted men and women of the American frontier? I wonder Ms. Limerick’s stance on the statues of Confederate generals?

On balance, caricatures and complications taken into consideration, I believe President Trump had it right:

“The American Nation was carved out of the vast frontier by the toughest, strongest, fiercest, and most determined men and women to ever walk the face of the Earth.”


2 Responses to “Incident on the Saline River”

  1. Jeffrey Esbenshade says:

    There are 573 Federally recongnized Indian Tribes and Native Alaskan villages.

    The Sioux nation is so large they own half of all land in South Dakota.

    Many tribes own coal, oil, gas, have legal gambling. They do not need a fishing

    or hunting license on their reservation. What ever income they earn on the

    reservation is free of Federal Income tax.Each tribe writes its own laws.

    Few facts they fail to talk about in the Peoples Republic of Boulder

  2. Greg Vaughan says:

    I would recommend a book by Jeff Broome, Cheyenne War Indian Raids on the Roads to Denver 1864-1869. Researched by the author from Indian depredation claims. You will have a new respect for citizens living in Kansas and the territories of Colorado, Nebraska, and what would become Wyoming, but in 1864 Dakota Territory. The Boulder Adorables might get a perspective beyond the “mean white people” during this time period. I can only compare life at that time to a FOB (forward operating base) in Afghanistan. Also, Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C Gwynne provides a similar theme with the settlers in Texas, from the Comanche side.

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