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  • John Keegan's view of the Plains Indians

    This is from the last 2 pages of the chapter Forts on the Plains from John Keegan's book Fields of Battle-The Wars For North America:

    Yet, in the longer run, the Little Bighorn stands apart from Isandlwana, Adowa, and Anual. Zululand, Ethiopa, and Morocco are today self-ruling, or parts of self-ruling, sovereign states which have escaped from European domination and thrown off white empire. Montana, the "unceded" Indian territory of the 1870s, is a state of the Union. I cannot say that I feel things should have been otherwise. There is much that is tragic in the story of native America's conflict with the European interlopers, particularly in the treatment of the Indians of the temperate forest lands east of the Mississippi by the young republic; the displacement of the Five Civilized Tribes to an utterly alien enviroment reeks of racialism. Yet the pretensions of the Plains Indians to exclusive rights over the heartland of the continent cannot, it seems to me, stand. Their claim, the claim of less than a million people, to possess territories capable of supporting not only millions more directly settled, but of still more millions outside America waiting to be fed by those territories' product, is the claim not of oppressed primitives but of the selfish rich. The Plains Indians were indeed primitives; but their primitivism was of the "hard", not "soft", variety. Here were not the shy, self-effacing marginalists, like the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, the Semai of the Philippine jungles, or the pygmies of the African rainforests, but proud warrior nomads, who had taken from the Europeans what they coveted as a means to support their way of life, the horse and the gun, and then refused Europeans any share of the lands which horse and gun equipped them the better to exploit.
    Little wonder that the European immigrants who made their way onto the Great Plains in the nineteenth century, Slavs of Eastern Europe, Russians from the Steppe, peoples whose history was suffesed with memories of oppression by galloping, sword-wielding, slave-taking Hun, Magyar, Mongol, and Turkins nomads, should have felt so little pity in their hearts for those othe Mongoloid nomads whose interest in life seemed to subsist in hunting, pillage, and war. If the Indians' fate was to meet head-on in battle as tough as themselves, veterans of a civil war in which brother had fought brother, Virginians had slain New Yorkers, Ohioans had burnt out Georgians, so be it. There may be a poignant hurrah about the Little Bighorn. I do not echo it.
    End quote.

    Does Keegan hold a valid view? Does anyone else share his view that the Plains Indians lived the life of the selfish rich?

    Very interested to see how this goes.
    Last edited by R. Evans; 15 Nov 07, 06:14.
    Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

  • #2
    Does Keegan hold a valid view? Does anyone else share his view that the Plains Indians lived the life of the selfish rich?

    Certainly they were a proud and fiercly independent peoples and certainly they exercised their rights to domination of/off the land and it's goods till their subjagation.... as was certainly appropriate..but RICH?

    In what context is rich to be defined...you can not use a European and or expanding early American version of material wealth with the native cultures (which it appears ole John might be doing here)...total absurd to do so and Keegan should know better.

    OTOH his parlance and literary style remain outstanding...his noted premises? like that of any historian...subject to debate and a differing perception. He remains the ultimate fatalist not romantist which is what historians should be.

    best
    CV

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Centrix Vigilis View Post
      Does Keegan hold a valid view? Does anyone else share his view that the Plains Indians lived the life of the selfish rich?

      Certainly they were a proud and fiercly independent peoples and certainly they exercised their rights to domination of/off the land and it's goods till their subjagation.... as was certainly appropriate..but RICH?

      In what context is rich to be defined...you can not use a European and or expanding early American version of material wealth with the native cultures (which it appears ole John might be doing here)...total absurd to do so and Keegan should know better.

      OTOH his parlance and literary style remain outstanding...his noted premises? like that of any historian...subject to debate and a differing perception. He remains the ultimate fatalist not romantist which is what historians should be.

      best
      CV
      In this context, and I may be wrong, but I think Keegan is defining "rich" as be able to do whatever strikes your fancy. The Indians got the horse from the Europeans and later on the gun. Did they owe something back? Warriors did little else but hunt and make war, which really, is all they wanted to do. So if you only had to do what you wanted, isn't that a "rich" life?
      Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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      • #4
        If then this is the case... then i submit Keegan is displaying an inordinate amount of prejudice towards the northern plains tribes; as in that context ,all the nations enjoyed the same pereogative of unique cultures and lifestyles until subjagation. For in the end the the great Shawnee, Deleware and Cherokee, were just as fierce as warriors, utilized the prescence of the Aglo/French traders and goods to their advantage and non the less (as he ponts out) were still removed.

        best
        CV

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Centrix Vigilis View Post
          If then this is the case... then i submit Keegan is displaying an inordinate amount of prejudice towards the northern plains tribes; as in that context ,all the nations enjoyed the same pereogative of unique cultures and lifestyles until subjagation. For in the end the the great Shawnee, Deleware and Cherokee, were just as fierce as warriors, utilized the prescence of the Aglo/French traders and goods to their advantage and non the less (as he ponts out) were still removed.

          best
          CV
          Ah, now you've hit the nail on the head. That's exactly what I thought on first reading that. There's other things I've read from him that give me the same impression.

          More tomorrow.
          Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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          • #6
            always a pleasure Bob.

            till then

            best
            CV

            Comment


            • #7
              Great discussion guys, this is a fascinating topic.
              One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions - Admiral Grace Hopper

              "The eunuch should not take pride in his chastity."
              Wu Cheng'en Monkey

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              • #8
                Normally I find Keegan's stuff quite good. I just finished Mask of Command and found it thought-provoking. But I am not sure what he was thinking when he wrote those paragraphs. I guess he feels he is at the stage of his career when he can just shoot off opinions without knowing what he's talking about.
                Every 10 years a great man.
                Who paid the bill?

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Zemlekop View Post
                  Normally I find Keegan's stuff quite good. I just finished Mask of Command and found it thought-provoking. But I am not sure what he was thinking when he wrote those paragraphs. I guess he feels he is at the stage of his career when he can just shoot off opinions without knowing what he's talking about.
                  As I said before, that's what I thought when I first read that book. However, when you think about it, he's right on a certain level. The Indians had profited greatly by using the horse and later on the gun. What did they offer in return for these things? Granted their accquisition of the horse was largely accidental but the gun certainly was not. These two things though, transformed their life beyond what it had been. And they were in control of large parts of land that they really had no use for other than letting herds of buffalo pass through. And this land has turned out to be some of the most productive farmland in history, so why couldn't they part with some of it?

                  That being said, the white man for the most part did swindle and cheat the red man far more than the reverse.
                  Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Forgive me Bob if i use a point by point technique this morning as the eyes are a little fuzzy. First tho another excellent and thought provoking post.



                    However, when you think about it, he's right on a certain level.

                    but again no more of a level then any other disclaimer any of the nations can be hung with. I am always slightly annoyed by the continuing and yet abating traditon, of white scholar/historians patronizing the reader, with their version of who they should be sympathetic towards when it comes to the near quasi-genocide of the natives by the euro explorers of the new world.

                    And while i'll always give John Keegan the benfit of a doubt this on further reciew this morning merely reinforces my point fromn yesterday.


                    The Indians had profited greatly by using the horse and later on the gun.


                    And who's to say that they shouldnt have? It was their possession of the land, without actualy possessing it, because the vast majority of them did not equate that in the same vein as the euro's, that was a natural right of dominon thru prescence.

                    Th euro's were the invaders or explorers if you will; who as most of us still believe owed their initial and onging survival for many years to the natives. Not to mention the fact that it was natives who provided strategic information and assistence in the ongoing exploration and settlement by those same euro's


                    What did they offer in return for these things?


                    They didnt have to offer anything and yet they more assurdly did as noted above.



                    Granted their accquisition of the horse was largely accidental but the gun certainly was not.


                    The horses they gained, in large measures certainly on the plains, were as a reult of the early explorations of the Spainards and ongoing raids not to mention the prolific ability of a horse to breed naturaly and in the wild. The gun was indeed a different matter and the early French were quite willing to give out obsolete firearms in exchange for hides, pelts and sanctuary in trade.
                    The real truth is the damn things, for over a 100 years, were not that signficant because without powder and ball they were useless; and the native had no concept about repairs as necessary, let alone the tools necessary to conduct them.

                    Nah firearms in the hands of the natives was not a concern imo until the The French and Indian war when the euros equipped the varying tribes in alliance, and kept on equipping them to the detriment of the latter colonies. By the time of the era in which i assume Keegan is citing....most of the tribes did indeed have firearms but their quality and quanity was a mixed lot...AND so what if all they did was hunt and conduct war, as was their tradition, Keegan again here, is sour appled in that regard.


                    These two things though, transformed their life beyond what it had been.


                    Not at all, it merely enhanced it, because in his generalization of the plains tribes, Keegan is ignoring or disregarding the interaction of the tribes in general and certainly those geo-physically located near the same. And in that respect that transformation that you believe was significant had been ongoing for 200 plus years, tribe by tribe. From the line of the Rio Grande to Puget sound and back to the east of the divide. Enhanced as it's noted by exposure to the euro culture; incidently most of which they didn't want, other then trading for goods.


                    And they were in control of large parts of land that they really had no use for other than letting herds of buffalo pass through. And this land has turned out to be some of the most productive farmland in history, so why couldn't they part with some of it?


                    All true and yet here is the crux..... WHY should they have had to give up anything? let alone possession of the land even in the transitory fashion they used it and the culture on which it was based. eg. Tell a Brit after 500 years in Essex. to get off the land. because Germans want it and feel superior in motivation and purpose to use it.

                    No, i think Keegan here is doing nothing more then what i've said twice and that simply is picking in his own mind 'who was a better injun' based on how willing he cooperated with the euro's and later Americans...in losing his possession of not just the land but his culture and his very idenity as he understood it.

                    And that friends is called...... culturalcide

                    best
                    CV

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by R. Evans View Post
                      This is from the last 2 pages of the chapter Forts on the Plains from John Keegan's book Fields of Battle-The Wars For North America:

                      Yet, in the longer run, the Little Bighorn stands apart from Isandlwana, Adowa, and Anual. Zululand, Ethiopa, and Morocco are today self-ruling, or parts of self-ruling, sovereign states which have escaped from European domination and thrown off white empire. Montana, the "unceded" Indian territory of the 1870s, is a state of the Union. I cannot say that I feel things should have been otherwise. There is much that is tragic in the story of native America's conflict with the European interlopers, particularly in the treatment of the Indians of the temperate forest lands east of the Mississippi by the young republic; the displacement of the Five Civilized Tribes to an utterly alien enviroment reeks of racialism. Yet the pretensions of the Plains Indians to exclusive rights over the heartland of the continent cannot, it seems to me, stand. Their claim, the claim of less than a million people, to possess territories capable of supporting not only millions more directly settled, but of still more millions outside America waiting to be fed by those territories' product, is the claim not of oppressed primitives but of the selfish rich. The Plains Indians were indeed primitives; but their primitivism was of the "hard", not "soft", variety. Here were not the shy, self-effacing marginalists, like the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, the Semai of the Philippine jungles, or the pygmies of the African rainforests, but proud warrior nomads, who had taken from the Europeans what they coveted as a means to support their way of life, the horse and the gun, and then refused Europeans any share of the lands which horse and gun equipped them the better to exploit.
                      Little wonder that the European immigrants who made their way onto the Great Plains in the nineteenth century, Slavs of Eastern Europe, Russians from the Steppe, peoples whose history was suffesed with memories of oppression by galloping, sword-wielding, slave-taking Hun, Magyar, Mongol, and Turkins nomads, should have felt so little pity in their hearts for those othe Mongoloid nomads whose interest in life seemed to subsist in hunting, pillage, and war. If the Indians' fate was to meet head-on in battle as tough as themselves, veterans of a civil war in which brother had fought brother, Virginians had slain New Yorkers, Ohioans had burnt out Georgians, so be it. There may be a poignant hurrah about the Little Bighorn. I do not echo it.
                      End quote.

                      Does Keegan hold a valid view? Does anyone else share his view that the Plains Indians lived the life of the selfish rich?

                      Very interested to see how this goes.
                      I think a more pertinent point Keegan should be asking is what right or claim did those outside of the indigenous communities and other millions outside of America for example have to the "heartland" of the continent. It seems somewhat strange to be talking of the pretensions of the Plains Indians with regards to the land but a few lines later talking of how and why Slavs and Russian immigrants had little sympathy for them - yet an assumption is made that these immigrants had some sort of basic right to come in and "develop" the land to be used in a way that Keegan himself deems more productive.

                      I also cannot understand his point about the horse and the gun - no one asked the various colonists who invaded the continent over the years to come in and take the land, and yet he is saying that certain groups of Indians were essentially greedy and ungrateful because they thought they should retain use of the land?

                      His use of words like primitive should also be highlighted as well as his use of peoples like the Bushmen, the Semai and the pygmies. Is he implying that their fate was more tragic or less deserved because they were shy and self effacing as he puts it,or because he thinks they took and adapted less technology from outsiders? Does imperialism and wiping out a way of life become more acceptable if the people are considered appropriately warlike? To echo the point that Centrix Vigilis made Keegan seems to be picking and choosing which "noble savage" is more deserving of empathy. Having not read his book I may well be off the mark on that, but am basing that on the paragraphs cited.

                      A separate point here and off the topic but the "Bushmen" put up a hell of a resistance over the years in the face of a cultural genocide, slavery, mass murder, racism, their forced removal from land and a destruction of their way of life. They were attacked from all sides - white, black, European, African
                      "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it"
                      G.B Shaw

                      "They promised us homes fit for heroes, they give us heroes fit for homes."
                      Grandad, Only Fools and Horses

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by R. Evans View Post
                        As I said before, that's what I thought when I first read that book. However, when you think about it, he's right on a certain level. The Indians had profited greatly by using the horse and later on the gun. What did they offer in return for these things? Granted their accquisition of the horse was largely accidental but the gun certainly was not. These two things though, transformed their life beyond what it had been. And they were in control of large parts of land that they really had no use for other than letting herds of buffalo pass through. And this land has turned out to be some of the most productive farmland in history, so why couldn't they part with some of it?
                        Keegan kind of portrays the Plains Indians as if they were loitering. I suppose, compared to some to the eastern Nations or the Puebloan people...they kind of were just taking up a lot of space and not being productive.

                        Originally posted by R. Evans
                        That being said, the white man for the most part did swindle and cheat the red man far more than the reverse.
                        The Cro-Magnon weren't exactly kind to the Neanderthals either. Evolution - particularly cultural evolution - is a rough sport. The losers rarely fare as well as the American Indian Nations did.

                        Native Americans (or Original Americans as I prefer to call them) in the USA generally have access to every scholarship and every bit of financial aid available for education and training. Some take advantage of it; many don’t…Choosing the welfare state on the Indian Reservations.
                        Watts Up With That? | The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate change.

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                        • #13
                          they kind of were just taking up a lot of space and not being productive.

                          Knowing that you didnt mean to be offensive, nor did you necessarily state you believe that, i can only offer that those who think that way are incorrect...and it smacks of Euro/American non-native racial supremacy....

                          For the Plains Indians did not think that at all. Nor did many early explorers and traders...soldiers etc..Keegans generalisation (for imo i percieve it as such) in that regard is offensive.

                          Some take advantage of it; many don’t…Choosing the welfare state on the Indian Reservations.

                          Moot issue Doc as many minorities can be id'd as doing exactly the same.

                          best
                          CV
                          Last edited by Centrix Vigilis; 16 Nov 07, 08:40.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Centrix Vigilis View Post
                            they kind of were just taking up a lot of space and not being productive.

                            Knowing that you didnt mean to be offensive, nor did you necessarily state you believe that, i can only offer that those who think that way are incorrect...and it smacks of Euro/American racial supremacy....
                            You're right. I wasn't trying to be offensive...But my viewpoint is without a doubt ethnocentric.

                            Originally posted by Centrix Vigilis
                            For the Plains Indians did not think that at all. Nor did many early explorers and traders...soldiers etc..Keegans generalisation in that regard is offensive.
                            I think the Plains Indians' viewpoint was also ethnocentric. I don't know if Keegan was being offensive...He was being ethnocentric...Which strikes me as un-historian-like.

                            Originally posted by Centrix Vigilis
                            Some take advantage of it; many don’t…Choosing the welfare state on the Indian Reservations.

                            Moot issue Doc as many minorities can be id'd as doing exactly the same.

                            best
                            CV
                            Yep. They certainly can be.

                            But cultures, just like life, have to evolve and adapt to new conditions or they will perish. The Plains Indians did not adapt to the realities of the 19th Century...Maybe kind of a parallel to Islam's difficulty in adapting to the post-11th Century.
                            Watts Up With That? | The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate change.

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                            • #15
                              Fair enough Doc and like O'reilly ya get the last word.

                              best
                              CV

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