No matter how you do the math, Native Americans are one of America’s poorest groups. (Indian Americans, by contrast, are one of our richest groups.) According to USA Today, America’s second poorest county is Alaska’s Kusilvak Census Area, which is 92.5% Native American (the poorest, in Alabama, is majority black.) The third poorest county is Apache County, Arizona, where 73% of the population is Native American, (though this list is a little weird because apparently they are only looking at the poorest counties per state).
Studies of inter-generational mobility tell a similar story–while the struggles of blacks and Appalachians are well known, Native American reservations stand out in their quiet poverty.
Meanwhile, SAT and ACT scores for Native Americans have been plummeting for the past eight years, which does not bode well for the next generation’s job prospects.
On average, Native Americans suffer from mental illness at the same rates as women, and significantly higher rates than African Americans (who are similarly poor and probably have better access to mental health diagnostic services, since they tend to live in cities.) Only mixed-race people are suffering more.
Of course, a high percent of this statistic might be alcohol abuse.
Relative to the US as a whole, AI/ANs:
• Are more likely to live in poverty: more than twice as many AI/ANs live in poverty than total US population (26% vs 12%)
• Have a lower life expectancies: life expectancy among AI/ANs is 6 years lower than the U.S. average; infant mortality is higher than the US population
• Have twice the rate of violent victimization twice that of African Americans and more than 2 ½ times that of whites.
• Die at significantly higher rates from tuberculosis, diabetes, and unintentional injuries and die from alcohol‐related causes 6 times the national average. …
• AI/ANs experience serious psychological distress 1.5 times more than the general population.
• The most significant mental health concerns today are the high prevalence of depression, substance use disorders, suicide, and anxiety (including PTSD).
• AI/ANs experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general population. Although overall suicide rates among AI/ANs are similar to whites, there are significant differences among certain age groups…
The suicide data supports the mental illness data, suggesting that the low rates of mental illness among Asians, blacks, and Hispanics is not due to cultural norms of not seeking mental healthcare (unless not seeking avoiding mental healthcare is protective against suicide.)
These are sad statistics.
The APA tries to blame high rates of mental health problems among the Indians on historical oppression–as though African Americans didn’t also suffer historical oppression. Historical oppression tends to be a terrible explanation for anything.
(Note: the rates of disorders currently suffered, rather than over one’s lifetime, are lower.)
This study seems like it is trying hard to get high numbers (or people who are already being seen by doctors may have more mental health problems than average,) but there are enough other studies showing high mental illness rates for Native Americans that it probably isn’t that far off.
Empire of the Summer Moon was a book about the Comanche Indians. They were not very advanced by “civilized” standards. … They just rode around on horses hunting buffalo and starting wars. But they were really, really good at it. …
These raids were probably the most disturbing part of the book. On the one hand, okay, the white people were trying to steal the Comanches’ land and they had every right to be angry. On the other hand, the way the Comanches expressed that anger was to occasionally ride in, find a white village or farm or homestead, surround it, and then spend hours or days torturing everyone they found there in the most horrific possible ways before killing the men and enslaving the women and children. …
And throughout the book’s description of these events, there was one constant:
All of the white people who joined Indian tribes loved it and refused to go back to white civilization. All the Indians who joined white civilization hated it and did everything they could to go back to their previous tribal lives.
There was much to like about tribal life. The men had no jobs except to occasionally hunt some buffalo and if they felt courageous to go to war. The women did have jobs like cooking and preparing buffalo, but they still seemed to be getting off easy compared to the white pioneer women or, for that matter, women today. The whole culture was nomadic, basically riding horses wherever they wanted through the vast open plains without any property or buildings or walls. And everyone was amazingly good at what they did …
Scott quotes a couple of other commentators who noted the same thing. includinga paper by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture:
“By the close of the colonial period, very few if any Indians had been transformed into civilized Englishmen. Most of the Indians who were educated by the English – some contemporaries thought all of them – returned to Indian society at the first opportunity to resume their Indian identities. Ont he other hand, large numbers of Englishmen had chosen to become Indians – by running away from colonial society to join Indian society, by not trying to escape after being captured, or by electing to remain with their Indian captors when treaties of peace periodically afforded them the opportunity to return home.”
And Benjamin Franklin:
“When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language, and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. But when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoner young by the Indians, and lived a while with them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.”
It’s a really interesting post and you should read the whole thing.
Now I know that idealizing the “noble savage” is a well-known and obvious failure mode. But I was struck by this and by the descriptions of white-Comanche interactions in the book. Whites who met Comanches would almost universally rave about how imposing and noble and healthy and self-collected and alive they seemed; there aren’t too many records of what the Comanches thought of white people, but the few there are suggest they basically viewed us as pathetic and stunted and defective.
What does it mean to live the good life? To be healthy and happy? Does it require riding around on horseback and torturing people? Do lower levels of civilizational complexity offer people more day-to-day freedom (you can’t get fired from a job of cattle-raiding just because you stayed out too late drinking and woke up late the next morning, after all)?
Or is there something else going on?
I doubt the Comanche were nomadic, horse-riding hunters before whites showed up in North America, if only because there were no horses back then. Many of the iconic, nomadic Plains Indian tribes began as farmers in the towns and proto-cities of the Mississippian mound builder cultures, eg, Cahokia. These communities raised corn, squash, and beans, built monumental architecture, and were largely wiped out by a combination of disease and newly nomadic guys on horseback between their discovery by the Spaniards and the arrival of the English/Americans. Many of the survivors also acquired horses and adopted a mobile lifestyle.
Many of the Indians around Albuquerque, New Mexico, were also farmers who built rather famous towns, the Pueblos, and never turned to nomadic horse-raiding. So regardless of what made people happy in 17 or 1800, I don’t think it’s anything so simple as “Native Americans aren’t adapted to cities but they are adapted to riding horses.”
Of course the Indians have lost their traditional ways of life, whether nomadic or settled, depriving them of traditional ways of achieving status, happiness, etc., but this is equally true of blacks and Hispanics (who tend to be part Indian, albeit from different tribes than the ones in the US,) yet they have much lower rates of mental illness.
I suspect the cause has more to do with lack of opportunities in rural areas and alcohol abuse really messing up not just the people who drink, but everyone who loves them and depends on them.
I have been preparing for today’s anthropology Friday by tromping around in a blizzard, seeking insight into our northerly neighbors’ lives.
Apparently circum-polar people live in a state of constant exhilaration, appreciation of the sublime beauty of nature, happiness, exhaustion, and cold toes. I am reminded of de Poncins’s descriptions of the Eskimo he lived with as counter-intuitively far happier than the people he knew from tropical, sun-kissed lands. Alas, I didn’t record that passage, but here is a similar one:
I thought of the months on the trail, of the hardships and even miseries I had endued, and of a sudden I began to miss them with an intensity which amazed me and which, since then, has never left me. … God knows we were poor enough. Our poverty was total. We possessed nothing: not even the snow was our own. … But there was a cheer and a contentment in our existence which I continue to muse upon and cannot altogether explain to myself….
Day after day a wind would raise, a sign of danger would appear in the air, and we would respond together, each forgetting himself and striving in the common cause. Outside, it wanted war and flood to give man this sense of brotherhood: here it was a commonplace of life.
Anyway, back to Ingold and the domestication of the reindeer:
“The second chapter deals directly with the nature and process of animal ‘domestication’. … My central contention is that the source of pastoral property relations lies in the particularistic, social bonds established through the incorporation of animals into a domestic division of labour; and hence that a precondition for the direct transition from hunting to pastoralism is the capacity of animals to function both as labour and as a source of food and raw materials.”
“It may reasonably be assumed that where a pastoral economy has arisen directly out of predatory herd exploitation, the animals’ ‘main importance lay in their meat-producing qualities, as wild animals did not form wool or produce large quantities of milk’… In other words, such an economy would be based on slaughter products rather than those which can be obtained from live animals. It is true that wild herbivores can be milked, if only with difficulty, but the yield barely exceeds the animals’ own calving requirements, and could not form the staple of a pastoral diet.
“Now, it may fairly be objected that most modern forms of pastoralism are based on the production of milk rather than meat, and therefore that a precondition for their emergence must have been the initial taming and breeding of animals as milk-producers in connection with developing agricultural systems. Milch pastoralism is thus a secondary phenomenon … which would have arisen through the migration of men and herds into arid and uncultivable regions where the animals could not survive without human assistance.”
EvX: Since we don’t know actually how pastoralism arose, I must object that this is speculation. To counter: it is simple to make the yield exceed the animal’s calving requirements by eating the calf and then milking the mother; second, mammals can easily increase milk production in response to increased nursing/milking–domestication not required. Indeed, it is easy to imagine a grieving hunter-gatherer man whose wife has just died, desperately in need of milk for his infant, looking at a nursing doe and having a flash of inspiration.
“Reindeer pastoralism has the double distinction firstly of having emerged in regions far beyond the climatic limits of agriculture, and secondly of having remained confined within the original zone of distribution of the species. It is possible, therefore, that the reindeer is unique in having constituted the object of a direct transition from hunting to pastoralism. This would account for some of its most obvious peculiarities as a pastoral resource: its apparent ‘wildness’, both morphological and behavioural, and its relatively poor milk-yielding potential. It is probably true to say that in historic times the reindeer has been the only animal to form the basis of an exclusively carnivorous pastoralism.”
EvX: Speaking of milk, I’d love to try reindeer milk. Imagine the cheese and butter it would make!
Wikipedia has a short page on reindeer cheese, with this quoted historical description:
Reindeer cheese, of which we present two illustrations taken from a paper by Barthel and Bergman may be called the richest of all whole milk cheeses, as nearly half its weight consists of butter fats. It is, in fact, a rich cream cheese. It is yellow on the outside and white on the interior, except in the neighborhood of the numerous cracks, where it is also yellow. When cut into, the white rapidly changes to a golden yellow. The taste is very mild, very creamy, and the cheese melts very easily in the mouth, with the fine aroma of the reindeer milk; it easily becomes rancid and then acquires a strong odor and a burning taste.
Unfortunately, Wikipedia also notes that reindeer only give 1.5 cups of milk a day. I’m not sure how reindeer calves survive on that.
In Finland, a cheese called Leipajuusto was traditionally made with reindeer milk:
The milk is curdled and set to form a round disk from two to three centimeters thick. After this, leipäjuusto is baked, grilled or flambéed to give it its distinctive brown or charred marks. …
Traditionally, leipäjuusto was dried and could then be stored for up to several years. For eating, the dry, almost rock hard cheese was heated on a fire which softened it and produced an especially appetizing aroma. Even today, the cheese may be dried by keeping it in a well ventilated place for a few days. It has a mild flavour.
“Whereas for the gatherer a crop unharvested is equivalent to a crop planted, the cultivator must reserve a portion of the harvest for replanting… Consequently, the inception of cultivation entails new social relations of production, which establish control by solitary groups over the fields they have laboured to prepare, and control within each group over the storage and distribution of the crop… It is these social relations, rather than new techniques, which provide the impetus towards population growth and surplus production under cultivation. …
“It is obvious that a discontinuity precisely analogous to that between gathering and cultivation cannot be posited in the case of animal husbandry. A ‘harvested’ animal is a dead one, and dead animals do not reproduce. They cannot therefore be ‘replanted’.”
EvX: This distinction makes no sense. A grain of wheat, once ground up and eaten cannot be planted. A cow, once eaten, cannot reproduce. But the cow’s mother, who birthed it, may continue producing more calves: she is not used up. By contrast, the stalk of wheat is used up at the end of the season; a new one must grow from seed the next year. In both cases, you eat some portion of your resource–seeds or cows–and hold some portion in reserve so it can reproduce. But I am complaining; let’s look for the good parts:
“Both cultivation and milch pastoralism increase the efficiency of the energy conversions yielding calories for human consumption: in the first case through the substitution of slow-growing woody plants by fast-growing weedy plants, in the second case through a shift from meat-production to milk-production. Moreover, the maintenance of tame milch animals requires a relatively intensive labour input, and increasing overall yields permit the support of higher populations. Thus, within limits set by the abundance of pasture, a positive correlation obtains between animal and human population numbers, and the spread of milch pastoralism represents an accommodation to the increase of both.
“The dynamics of carnivorous pastoralism are different in every respect. Its adoption in place of hunting harnesses no new material or energy inputs, nor does it improve the efficiency of ecological production. A wild animal is as good a converter of pasture to meat as a pastoral one.”
EvX: DATA PLEASE. Are raising cattle and hunting bison on America’s Great Plains more, less, or equally efficient? Do the few commercial sellers of buffalo burgers find pasturing and hunting buffalo equally efficient?
I don’t have any data on this (if you do, I’d be happy to see it.) Wikipedia estimates that 30,000 to 40,000 horse-mounted Comanches, living primarily off the Buffalo chase, lived in the southern Plains in the mid-1800s. But the Comanches are only one of many groups; SettlersInTheWest estimates a total of 75,000 Native Americans lived in the Plains in the mid-1800s.
But prior to the introduction of the domesticated horse by the Spaniards, hunting (on foot, assisted by dogs) was much more difficult, and total plains population must have beenlower. According to Wikipedia:
It was the Comanche, coming to the attention of the Spanish in New Mexico in 1706, who first realized the potential of the horse. As pure nomads, hunters, and pastoralists, well supplied with horses, they swept most of the mixed-economy Apaches from the plains and by the 1730s were dominant in the Great Plains south of the Arkansas River. The success of the Comanche encouraged other Indian tribes to adopt a similar lifestyle. …
The farming tribes also hunted buffalo, deer, elk, and other game. Typically, on the southern Plains, they planted crops in the spring, left their permanent villages to hunt buffalo in the summer, returned to harvest crops in the fall, and left again to hunt buffalo in the winter. The farming Indians also traded corn to the nomadic tribes for dried buffalo meat.
With the arrival of the horse, some tribes, such as the Lakota and Cheyenne, gave up agriculture to become full-time, buffalo-hunting nomads. …
So domestic horses + huge herds of animals definitely tip the initial economic balance away from farming and toward hunting. The problem here is that it is really easy for humans to drive all of the buffalo over a cliff and then run out of buffalo.
(Paleolithic hunters didn’t have horses, but they still might have wiped out most of the ice-age megafauna.)
According to Beef Industry Statistics, there are about 619,000 farms/ranches currently specializing in raising beef cattle, and a further 300,000 presumably in dairy. Assuming that each of these farms supports at least three people (farm couple plus child,) that’s about 2.7 million people directly engaged in pastoralism, though of course not all of these people live in the Great Plains. To this number we should add all of the people who consume beef and milk but aren’t engaged in raising cattle, just as Comanche tribes included women, children, and old people who were not personally involved in hunting but still enjoyed eating the meat hunters brought home–which I suspect is most of America’s other 300 million people plus many folks abroad:
Value of total U.S. beef exports (including variety meat) equaled $6.302 billion down from $7.135 (billion)
Top export markets for 2015 (in order): Japan, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, Middle East (U.S. Meat Export Federation)
Pre-1800s, Wikipedia estimates that there were 60 million American bison, who ranged from New York to Florida, into Mexico, up through Canada into Alaska, into the Rockies, northern California, and eastern Oregon. Beef Industry Stats counts 92.0 million US cattle in 2016.
These cases aren’t exactly analogous, especially since today’s people have very different technology than pastoralists in the 1800s or 500s had, but it’s the data I can find, and it suggests that pastoralism is more efficient, long-term, at producing both animals and humans.
But back to Ingold:
“The reindeer, although independent by nature, is amongst the easiest of animals to tame. It is of gentle disposition, of manageable size, and appreciative of the comforts that association with man can provide. Above all, it is ‘a highly social creature, impressing its friendship on man’ … Consider, for example, the domestic reindeer of the northern Tungus, which is kept in small herds for milk, riding and pack transport. It is said to be ‘of a very mild and kind nature . . . attached to man and especially to those who use it kindly, speak to it, caress it, and generally pay attention to it’ … Every deer has a name, which it recognizes, and its particular characteristics are intimately known (p. 35): ‘The intimacy of relations makes the Tungus love the reindeer nearly as human members of the family, and when a Tungus is alone he may talk to the reindeer which, according to the Tungus, can understand’…
“Moreover, the animals are not herded. ‘The Tungus’, Shirokogoroff tells us, ‘have no shepherds’ (1929:33). Rather like the domestic pigs of the Maring, the Tungus reindeer are allowed to forage freely in the environs of the human camp or settlement, for they generally return of their own accord, even after an absence of several days, and despite ample opportunities to defect to the wild population. Whereas the pig returns for its ‘daily ration of garbage and substandard tubers’ … the reindeer returns for a lick of salt and human urine, for both of which it has a peculiar craving. In summer, when the deer are plagued by swarms of mosquitoes, the Tungus make life more bearable for their animals by lighting smudge fires in camp, or even by admitting them inside their tents, whilst in autumn and winter the camp provides the only refuge against wolves.”
EvX: This is quite similar to the theory that dogs and cats became domesticated because they initially found it convenient to live in close proximity to man, this association selecting without conscious human decision or even desire for “tame” animals who desire to be near humans.
There are other species that have also become somewhat “tame” by virtue of their close association with human settlements, such as rats and pigeons, but these animals have no traits that people find useful and so are seen as pests.
“… the care of the herds is entrusted almost entirely to women and children, leaving the men free to hunt and trap, or to loaf. At dusk, when the deer return to the tents of their owners, it is the mistress of each household who deals out shares of salt to her particular charges. During the fawning season, she must keep a close watch over the pregnant does to prevent their leaving to give birth in the forest, for the constant attention bestowed on fawns from the moment of birth is crucial to the establishment of enduring bonds of tameness. After fawning, she milks the does regularly, making from the milk a kind of gruel used as children’s food. When the deer come into rut, does and fawns have to be kept alternately within enclosures, in order to bind the does to camp and to prevent their
abduction by lustful bucks, including undesirable intruders from the wild population. …
“Amongst those peoples of the taiga who do not milk or ride their domestic reindeer, the relationship between man and animal is rather less close. The Sel’kups of the Taz region, for example, use their deer only for draft purposes in winter, to transport household effects between successive hunting and trapping sites. … Those with very small herds can keep them in the vicinity of their fishing sites throughout the summer, building substantial stalls of logs and bark to provide the animals with a shelter from the mosquitoes and the heat of the sun.
“… it is usual to allow the animals to go their own ways after fawning, rounding them up again only after the first snows of autumn. Each owner, in effect, must ‘hunt his own herd’, tracking the domestic deer as he would wild animals … a large proportion of each year’s fawns may be sired by wild bucks…
“The hunting peoples of the tundra and tundra—taiga margins differ from their taiga neighbours both in the scale of their migrations, of hundreds rather than tens of miles, and in the extent of their dependence on the wild reindeer as a subsistence resource. Though the possession of draft animals enables a people such as the Nganasan of the Taimyr Peninsula to cover the entire range of migration of the tundra reindeer in their annual cycle, their predatory association with massed herds creates special problems which are not encountered in the taiga, where the wild reindeer is both more dispersed and of relatively minor economic significance compared with other forest game. During the autumn migration, the most critical period of the hunting year, the Nganasan have to drive their own herds away from the path of the travelling column of wild animals to prevent their being carried along in its wake…
“Indeed, the attitude of the Tungus towards their tame reindeer mirrors that of the Nuer towards their cattle. Like the Tungus, the Nuer keep small herds of tame beasts for the products and services they yield during their lifetimes, but whereas the Tungus obtain the bulk of their subsistence from wild game, the Nuer staples are milk and millet. In neither society does the number of domestic animals greatly exceed the size of the human population. Nuer slaughter their cattle only for sacrificial purposes or in times of severe famine, but ‘any animal which dies a natural death is eaten’, evidently with some enthusiasm.”
EvX: I am skeptical of this, simply because a cattle herd only needs 1 male for every 10 or 40 or however many females. The excess males are what we eat. Neither the Nuer nor the Tungus have any practical reason to spend energy raising excess males who will produce nothing but meat except to eat that meat.
“The closest approach to a pure milch pastoralism based on reindeer is found among the Todzha, a people of the Sayan mountains of southern Siberia. They keep small herds of extremely tame animals in much the same manner as the Tungus, but the milk obtained from lactating does provides the staple food for the entire summer, though it is supplemented by wild roots… The exceptional productivity of the Todzha deer is largely due to the luxuriant summer pasture in this region, which is situated so far south as to adjoin the great steppes of Middle Asia. During the remainder of the year, however, Todzha subsistence is based almost entirely on hunting and trapping.
“…according to Wiklund, ‘the Lapp milking system with its entire nomenclature was borrowed from the Scandinavians in pre-Nordic times’ … The remaining Uralic, Samoyedic and Palaeoasiatic peoples of Siberia have never systematically milked their reindeer…
“Besides the provision of food and raw materials, the uses of domestic reindeer are all concerned with transport, with the exception of their employment as decoys. Hunting with decoys is the most widespread of all techniques involving the use of tame deer, and has been recorded throughout northern Eurasia. …
“The mounted deer of the Tungus is equipped with a saddle derived from Mongol patterns, whilst the Sayan form of reindeer riding shows the clear influence of Turkic cultures native to the Altai steppe. On these grounds, Vasilevich and Levin posit two close but distinct centres of origin for the domestication of the reindeer, one amongst the ancestors of the Tungus around Lake Baykal, the other amongst the original Troto-Samoyed’ inhabitants of the Sayan mountains. Both populations underwent subsequent dispersion, retreating perhaps from military turbulence on the steppes. …
“In Lapland, where dog traction was lacking, domestic deer were harnessed singly to the small boat-shaped sledge, or pulkka, which had been designed originally to be pulled by hand (figure 15B). Thus the distinctive technique associated with the employment of domestic reindeer in Lapland, including milking and packing as well as the pulkka, may be attributed to local conditions and contacts with horse- and cattle-keeping Scandinavians, and does not discount the hypothesis that the deer themselves were initially obtained from the Samoyed.
“There is an alternative view regarding the origins of reindeer driving, which holds that it arose in imitation of the horse and ox traction of southern Siberian steppe pastoralists. …
“Unlike the Samoyed of northwestern Siberia, none of the Palaeoasiatic peoples east of the Yenisey uses dogs for herding. In northeastern Siberia, the mutual antagonism between dog and reindeer is such that the two can be kept together only with the greatest difficulty, for dogs can wreak as much havoc as wolves if let loose on a herd… Consequently, the substitution of reindeer for dogs is, in this region, a more or less irreversible process. However, the reindeer is wholly unsuited to the semi-sedentary maritime adaptation of the north Pacific peoples, for it has to wander in search of food, and pasture does not grow on the ice. On the other hand, the sea yields an abundant supply of storable food for both man and dog … The exclusive reliance on dog traction along the coasts on both sides of the Bering Strait must therefore have acted as a buffer, effectively blocking the diffusion of the domestic deer into North America, until their importation from Siberia at the end of the nineteenth century.
EvX: This is an interesting theory, but if a dog attacks your chickens or cattle, you remove it from the gene pool and breed dogs who don’t attack your food animals. There’s nothing magical about northeastern Siberia that makes dogs there attack reindeer–though I do note that Siberian Huskies and related Eskimo dog species have been recently back-crossed with wolves (probably to give them traits necessary for survival under extremely cold, harsh conditions,) and I wouldn’t be surprised if this wolf DNA made them more aggressive toward prey animals.
“My contention, then, is that a connection can be traced between the heart of Old World pastoralism in the steppe country of Middle Asia and the emergence of reindeer pastoralism in the Eurasian tundra. Thrusting a vast and impenetrable wedge between these two zones, the great taiga forest presents a formidable barrier rich in game but inimical to any form of extensive herding. In the course of its expansion into the forest, the predominantly milch pastoralism of the steppe becomes progressively attenuated, giving way to hunting as the dominant basis of the economy. Where meat had been a secondary by-product of keeping domestic herds for milk, in the taiga milk production becomes subsidiary to the maintenance of tame animals as means to mobility in the procurement of meat…
“During the Pleistocene era, steppe and tundra were merged to form a single, homogeneous zone carrying a rich diversity of big game species. The advance of the forest across this zone, following the glacial retreat at the onset of the Holocene, left only a strip of tundra in the far north whose peculiarly arctic conditions hastened the extinction of much of the indigenous fauna that could adapt neither to the forest nor to the hot, southern steppes.”
EvX: I think that’s enough for today; we’ll wrap this up next Friday!
Way back in 1870, 11 yr old Herman Lehmann and his little brother were trying to scare the crows away from their family’s wheat when they were kidnapped by a band of Apaches.
A patrol of African-American cavalry men managed to rescue the little brother four days later, but not Herman. The Apaches took him from Texas to New Mexico and told him that they had killed his entire family, so there was no point to trying to escape.
Then, instead of killing him, scalping him, or holding him for ransom, an Apache man named Carnoviste and his wife, Laughing Eyes, adopted him.
It was common practice throughout the Americas to capture and adopt people from enemy tribes (particularly children, teenagers, and women). In a few tribes this was a traumatic kidnapping, sometimes involving a violent hazing ritual prior to adoption. In other tribes it was a mere formality, with eligible young women going out to a rendezvous point at night to be “carried off” by a neighboring tribe so they could find husbands there. In most tribes, intertribal kidnapping fell somewhere in between those two extremes–a well-established convention of war that simultaneously encouraged exogamy (new blood in the tribe) and ensured the safety of women and children on both sides. Most Indians tried to avoid being captured, but few captives tried to escape and there were few rescue attempts by their kinsmen, who could reasonably expect them to be well-treated and well-cared for. Mistreating someone once he or she had been adopted into a tribe was considered evil (many Indian legends and folktales revolve around some villain who abuses an adoptee and is punished for this misdeed). Adoptees usually also had full social mobility, and often wound up in leadership positions or married to an important person in their new tribe.
Ah, bridenapping! That’ll have to be saved for another day.
The practice of captive-taking among North American Indians goes back to prehistoric times. Centuries before white men came to these shores, captives were taken from neighboring tribes to replenish losses suffered in warfare or to obtain victims to torture in the spirit of revenge. When warfare developed between Europeans and Indians, white captives were taken for the same reasons and, in addition, to hold for ransom or to use to gain bargaining power with an allied European government or colony. …
Children who arrived safely at the Indian village, however, usually were adopted as replacements for deceased relatives and thereafter treated as true sons or daughters. Many of these youngsters enjoyed the wild, free life of the Indians and became so completely assimilated that they resisted attempts to redeem them. Some youths became fierce warriors who raided the settlements. Among the most formidable “white Indians” were Clinton and Jeff Smith, Herman Lehmann, Adolph Korn, Rudolph Fischer, and Kiowa Dutch. … Millie Durgan lived happily to old age as the wife of a Kiowa warrior.
While I normally advocate more peaceful means of obtaining wives or children, I suppose this does, indeed, constitute a distinct genetic (and memetic) strategy that might even work. (Though technically, I doubt anyone could prove whether or not kidnapping happened in prehistoric times.)
The party that took us consisted of six Indians and four Frenchmen, who immediately commenced plundering … On our march that day, an Indian went behind us with a whip, with which he frequently lashed the children, to make them keep up. In this manner we traveled till dark, without a mouthful of food or a drop of water, although we had not eaten since the night before. Whenever the little children cried for water, the Indians would make them drink urine, or go thirsty. …
My suspicion as to the fate of my parents proved too true; for soon after I left them they were killed and scalped, together with Robert, Matthew, Betsey, and the woman and her two children, and mangled in the most shocking manner.
They first undressed me and threw my rags into the river; then washed me clean and dressed me in the new suit they had just brought, in complete Indian style; and then led me home and seated me in the center of their wigwam.
I had been in that situation hut a few minutes, before all the squaws in the town came in to see me. I was soon surrounded by them, and they immediately set up a most dismal howling, crying bitterly, and wringing their hands in all the agonies of grief for a deceased relative. … In the course of that ceremony, from mourning they became serene—joy sparkled in their countenances, and they seemed to rejoice over me as over a long-lost child. I was made welcome amongst them as a sister to the two squaws before mentioned, …
I afterwards learned that the ceremony I at that time passed through, was that of adoption. The two squaws had lost a brother in Washington’s war, sometime in the year before, and in consequence of his death went up to Fort Pitt, on the day on which I arrived there, in order to receive a prisoner or an enemy’s scalp, to supply their loss. It is a custom of the Indians, when one of their number is slain or taken prisoner in battle, to give to the nearest relative to the dead or absent, a prisoner, if they have chanced to take one, and if not, to give him the scalp of an enemy. … If they receive a prisoner, it is at their option either to satiate their vengeance by taking his life in the most cruel manner they can conceive of; or, to receive and adopt him into the family, in the place of him whom they have lost.
Herman spent 6 years with the Apache, becoming thoroughly assimilated and rising to the rank of petty chief, and began fighting on the Apaches’ side against the settlers:
As a young warrior, one of his most memorable battles was a running fight with the Texas Rangers on August 24, 1875, which took place near Fort Concho, about 65 miles west of the site of San Angelo, Texas. Ranger James Gillett nearly shot Lehmann before he realized he was a white “captive”. When the Rangers tried to find Lehmann later, he escaped by crawling through the grass.
After an Apache medicine man killed his adopted father, and Herman killed the medicine man, he left the Apaches and joined the Comanches. He proved himself a loyal warrior:
In the spring of 1877, Lehmann and the Comanches attacked buffalo hunters on the high plains of Texas. Lehmann was wounded by hunters in a surprise attack on the Indian camp at Yellow House Canyon (present-day Lubbock, Texas) on March 18, 1877, the last major fight between Indians and non-Indians in Texas.
In July 1877, Comanche chief Quanah Parker, who had successfully negotiated the surrender of the last fighting Comanches in 1875, was sent in search of the renegades. Herman Lehmann was among the group that Quanah found camped on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. Quanah persuaded them to quit fighting and come to the Indian reservation near Fort Sill, Indian Territory in (present-day Oklahoma).
Quanah Parker then adopted him, even though he was basically an adult. But once on the reservation, the army noticed that Herman didn’t exactly look like all of the other Indians, figured out who he was, and sent him back to his mother. Their reunion was awkward:
Upon his arrival, neither he nor his mother recognized one another. … At first, he was sullen and wanted nothing to do with his mother and siblings. As he put it, “I was an Indian, and I did not like them because they were palefaces.” Lehmann’s readjustment to his original culture was slow and painful.
This would not be remarkable had Herman been adopted as an infant or small child, instead of 11 years old. At this point, he had only lived with the Indians for 7 or 8 years–I would expect him to remember (and be somewhat fond of) his childhood family. On top of that, he transferred his allegiance entirely to the folks who told him they had just murdered his family.
Perhaps his parents were assholes. (Technically, his mom and step-father, because his father had died earlier and his mom had remarried. Step-parents are not always known for being pleasant.)
Or maybe the Apaches’ and Comanches’ lifestyle just really appealed to Herman.
For that matter, I suspect almost every little boy–and many girls–between about 1900 and 1970 fantasized about running off with and joining an Indian tribe. I know I did–small child me longed, almost painfully, to be an Indian. (Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that modern Indians don’t really do the whole traditional lifestyle thing anymore than modern whites live like the Amish.)
The Indians, yes, had been conquered, but there was still a sense in which they were regarded as noble enemies, a respect for the fierceness with which they defended their traditions. This respect was not extended to other enemies–say, the Nazis–who were cast as unmitigated evil. When we played Indians, we wanted to be the Indians; when we played WWII, the Nazis were invisible opponents “out there.” They were not us; we were not them. Even the adults thought it healthy for us to go to summer camps and canoe and fish and learn “Indian ways;” never were we taught to be pretend Imperial Japanese, Red Coats, or German POWs.
Granted, I would not be alive were it not for modern medicine, but I still understand the romanticized appeal of traditional Indian lifestyles: they sound fun.
Since the 80s, Indians have dropped precipitously from the public eye. (This trend has not necessarily in other countries, so you get weird things like the Japanese creators of the game Bravely Second replacing an Indian outfit with a cowboy one for the game’s American version.) Perhaps the Indians prefer it this way–there is a certain conflict that may naturally arise when my mythic past is also your mythic past, only it involves some of my ancestors conquering some of your ancestors, and you might not be all that keen on the idea of constantly celebrating that–but it seems sad to see all the pictures of them just disappear.
But I have noticed, concurrently, a drop in pretty much all forms of celebrating the American mythic past. Gone are the cowboys and pioneers, the Revolutionary heroes and brave Pilgrims.
Children’s media is dominated by European princesses and superheroes, not the mythic characters of our own past, like Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crockett, or Pecos Bill. And if you hear that story about George Washington and the cheery tree, (how quaint! We used to tell our children stories emphasizing the honesty of our national heroes!) it is recounted simply so the teller can denounce it as a myth.
Yes, biographies of Washington, Lincoln, and MLK still exist–lots of them. But let’s be honest: these biographies are boring and kids only read them because their teachers force them to.
Even the “American Girls” line of historic dolls and books has dropped their Revolutionary War, Pioneer, and WWII dolls–and the name “American Girls,” replacing it with “Be Forever,” which doesn’t even make sense.
Look at them! 5/8ths of the current lineup come from the 1900s, and the only notable historical period represented is the Civil War doll (Addy, second from the bottom left), and the other two pre-1900s dolls did not actually live in the US. (They lived in territories that later became part of the US.)
These days, our upper class prides itself on its knowledge of European history and languages (why eat Southern food when you can have French cuisine?) rather than American history and regional cultures. Internationalism, not nationalism, is the name of the game.
We have become allergic to our own past.
Anyway, getting back to our narrative… In 1900, Herman moved back to Oklahoma to be with the Apaches and Comanches. After a case that apparently required Congress’s approval, the government awarded 160 acres of land based on his adoption by Quanah Parker, effectively recognizing his status as a trans-racial Indian.
But wait–what kind of name is Quanah Parker?
It turns out that Quanah Parker, Comanche Indian chief, was himself the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, an English-American girl kidnapped and adopted by the Comanches.
Cynthia was somewhere between the ages of 8 and 11 when the Comanches massacred her family and carried her off. Wikipedia gives the following account:
“On May 19, 1836, a force of anywhere from 100 to 600 Indian warriorscomposed of Comanches accompanied by Kiowa and Kichai allies, attacked the community. John Parker and his men … were caught in the open and unprepared for the ferocity and speed of the Indian warriors in the attack which followed. … The Indians attacked the fort and quickly overpowered the outnumbered defenders. They took John, Cynthia, and some others alive. Cynthia watched as the other women were raped and the men tortured and killed. The last victim was John. He was castrated, and his genitals were stuffed into his mouth; he was scalped and at last killed.”
Let me rephrase my previous statement: the Indian lifestyles sound like fun when you are a small child and you aren’t reading about people getting their genitals stuffed into their mouths.
Despite this perhaps inauspicious start to her life among the Comanches, she was soon adopted by a new set of parents, raised in the tribe, and married a chieftain, Peta Nocona, with whom she had 3 children.
24 years later, Cynthia was re-captured by the Texas Rangers (not the baseball team) and returned to what remained of her family.
… the Texans never gave up on finding every last one of the children and women captured during the Great Comanche raid and subsequent ones in the following years. Although hundreds were either ransomed or eventually rescued in Texas Ranger and Scout expeditions, many others remained in the hands of the Comanche. In reprisal, the Texans launched a series of retaliatory attacks on Comanche settlements, finally forcing the war-chiefs to sue for peace. (Wikipedia, Peta Nocona)
Cynthia’s return to her birth family captured the country’s imagination. Tens of thousands of Texan families, and many more throughout the U.S., had suffered the loss of family members, especially children, in Indian raids. She was the granddaughter of a famous American patriot, a Marylander who had met a violent end in far-off Texas. This gained her special attention and gave hope to those who had lost relatives to the Comanche. In 1861, the Texas legislature granted her a league (about 4,400 acres) of land and an annual pension of $100 for the next five years, and made her cousins, Isaac Duke Parker and Benjamin F. Parker, her legal guardians. (Wikipedia, Cynthia Ann Parker)
Unfortunately, Cynthia never recovered from the loss of her husband, adopted family, and two eldest children. She tried several times to return to the Comanches, but was forcefully returned to her white relatives. After Topsanah died of the flu, she stopped eating and refused to go on living.
The Wikipedia claims that her son, Quanah Parker, was one of the last Comanche chiefs, but obviously the Comanche Nation still exists and still has leaders; the head guy is just called a “chairman” these days. (Which, I admit, is not as awesome a title as “chief.”)
Apparently Quanah didn’t realize his mother was white until after she was re-captured by the Texas Rangers. You’d think he’d have noticed her funny eye color or she would have mentioned her pre-Comanche childhood, but I guess Cynthia had just become very adept at the Comanche lifestyle.
Half-white, half-Indian Quanah did very well for himself, despite (or perhaps because of) the Comanches losing against the US government and being moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. He spent time with his mother’s family, learning English, farming, and about white culture, all of which probably helped him deal with the US gov’t, which appointed him chief of all the Comanches. He became one of (if not the) richest Indian of his day by leasing his land out to cattle ranchers, went hunting with President Teddy Roosevelt, had a 2-story, 7-room house, married 8 women (at the same time,) and had 25 children (some adopted, obviously.) He also became an important early leader in the Native American Church movement.
Perhaps Quanah adopted Herman because he felt some commonality in their cross-cultural experiences.
It would be unwise to over-generalize, however, from two examples. Most captives taken by the Indians did not get adopted, but were killed; many were enslaved or otherwise cruelly treated. Young women of teenage or childbearing age seem to have fared particularly badly, hence the major efforts undertaken to rescue them.
When the Comanches and Kiowas were driven onto reservations north of the Red River and compelled to release their prisoners, many captives had become so completely assimilated that they chose to remain with their captors. Most of these had married Indians, and it is estimated that 30 percent of Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas had captive blood in their veins.
I don’t know if the adoption strategy worked, but it was certainly a genetic (and memetic) strategy.