“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Since the dawn of time, storytelling has been used to rally a following for a cause. Stories that may be true, or may be embellished, will become justifications for movements, reforms, and even wars. From Christopher Columbus (who’s biography by Washington Irving was more of a romance than a biography) to Jamestown and the legend of Pocahontas (a teenager taken hostage, passing away at the tender age of 21). Could stories even be used to rally a nation through a genocide, causing a nation to have a completely different view of a historical event? Could a story fool a nation into celebrating genocide?
In the year 1621, a group known as the pilgrims sailed from Europe to the “New World” in search of religious freedom. After landing on Plymouth Rock, the pilgrims began to set up a living space, but being new to the area, needed some guidance. In walks Squanto, a Native they met while searching for food, who taught the pilgrims how to survive and farm in the “New World”. After the pilgrims’ first successful harvest, they had a big feast to thank the Native Americans for, helping them to live through the season, and demonstrating the first action of mutual aid brought to the Natives.
This is the story we tell for Thanksgiving, a holiday in November known for the feasts eaten to get energy up for the violence and aggression needed to purchase the newest useless item at midnight. Maybe we should take another look, and instead of thanking for a harvest, possibly they should have been apologizing for smallpox from a prior visit, or the future they were bringing to a nation of people that made the land that became America home for thousands of years prior.
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
― George Orwell
A different perspective of this story accounts for events to have taken place in 1614 rather than 1621, when a group of English explorers sailed to the Americas with the intent of bringing back valuables from the “New World”, ultimately being a ship full of human cargo. They sailed home to England, filled to the brim with Patuxet Indians bound for a life of slavery. What Natives didn’t get taken into slavery, perished from the disease of small pox brought by the European’s visit. By the time the fabled Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay, they discovered one remaining living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto. Squanto had been taken into slavery, so he knew the valuable commodity of the white man’s language. With the lingering thought of the fate suffered from his people, he knew that negotiations of some sort would need to be done. He taught the Pilgrims to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between them and the Wampanoag Nation. With the ending of that year, the negotiating nations had a feast to mark the successes of the season.
Like the opening of Pandora’s Box, the fabled tales of the “New World” reached across the Atlantic, sparking the interest of religious diehards searching for a place to set up a new society, one based in their beliefs. In walks the Puritans claiming this land for God, as did the scores of other British settlers that followed. With righteous indignation on their side, they began to enslave the Natives, or “savages” as they referred to them. Governor William Bradford referred to the Natives as “savage people, who are cruel, barbarous, most treacherous”. What Natives wouldn’t allow capture, were murdered. The Pequot Nation was one of those that wouldn’t back down, and didn’t enter the negotiations that led to Squanto’s peace treaty. After the discovery of the body of a white trades man dead in a boat, the fingers of blame pointed directly at the Pequot Nation, no evidence needed. Thus started the Pequot War, one of the bloodiest wars to be fought by the tribes.
The Pequot Tribe had an annual Green Corn Festival, one to give thanks for the prior growing season. The tribe gathered in peace in 1637, near what is now known as Groton, Connecticut. The festival garnered 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe, all brought together to celebrate the bounty of a growing season, one worked on together in unity.
The tribe celebrated late into the evening, eventually retiring to slumber with their families. Children were cradled in their mothers arms, all huddled together, grateful for what the world had given them. As the sun was about to rise, the tribe was awakened to the screams of English and Dutch mercenaries, ordering them to come out. Those leaving the building were greeted with gunshots, or worse, clubbed to death. Once the remaining heard what was happening, they refused to come out. Mothers huddled with their children, attempting to guard them, to shield them from the evil that lie outside of those walls. The group cried, holding each other, as the air grew hot and thick, from the flames lit by the mercenaries. There, in the longhouse, the remaining terrified women and children were burned alive, never to see the faces of the cowards who sealed their fates.
Mason himself wrote:
"It may be demanded...Should not Christians have more mercy and compassion? But...sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents.... We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings."
Word of the conquering of the tribe that refused to negotiate quickly reached the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and he declared the following day “A Day of Thanksgiving”, citing the new found victory, a victory against 700 unarmed men, women and children. Fueled by this “victory”, the colonists and their Indian allies began to go from village to village of the Pequot, leaving a trail of blood and ash in their wake. These actions fueled a thriving slave trade, with women and children over the age of 14 being sold into slavery, and those to young to be used, were murdered. Regularly scheduled departures from New England, in boats filled with as many as 500 slaves at a time, became common place in the colonies. To encourage the demise of those who stood in their way, a bounty was paid for Indian scalps.
The area that is now known as Stamford, Connecticut, was the site of an especially “successful” raid against the Pequot’s. This “victory” inspired a local church to announce a second day of “thanksgiving”, celebrating the overcoming of the heathen savages. Some of the more gory accounts say that the heads of Natives were put on display throughout the town. Unfortunately, this thirst for blood spread, and the Wampanoag tribe, with whom they had peaceful treaties in our traditional story of Thanksgiving, became their next victims. The Wampanoag chief was beheaded, his head stuck on a pole, in a victorious display, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. His head remained there, for 24 years, as a reminder.
The victorious thanksgiving feasts continued, growing larger and larger with the passing of each frenzied massacre. After years passed, George Washington eventually suggested one day a year being set aside for the feast, uniting the new country in victory over the savages. Thanksgiving still didn’t actually become a holiday until, starting in 1846, Sara Josepha Hale began writing letters to the President, which became several Presidents over time, asking for the holiday to be recognized national. Hale is better known as the writer of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, and is eventually associated with most the foods associated with Thanksgiving.
Finally, during the Civil War in 1863, on the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in Minnesota, President Lincoln decided on an act to unify the Union. Lincoln took Thanksgiving from a random, regional phenomenon observed mostly in the north into a full-fledged national Holiday. Hale’s obsession with the story of the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving is what led to the popularization of the idea, and it was because of Hale that the holiday eventually became nationally recognized. That Thanksgiving may not actually be the first, but it is still pretty much the reason we celebrate the holiday today.
“Genocide is not just a murderous madness; it is, more deeply, a politics that promises a utopia beyond politics - one people, one land, one truth, the end of difference. Since genocide is a form of political utopia, it remains an enduring temptation in any multiethnic and multicultural society in crisis.”
“Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either.”
There is a traditional view taught about early colonization, and it’s impact on the Native culture. Edward Winslow, in Mourt's Relation wrote:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
Similar to the earlier story of the pilgrims at Thanksgiving, working with the Indians in harmony, Winslow paints a picture of unity of love amongst the nations. Growing up as a white male, this was the viewpoint I was most familiar with. As I continued researching, though, I found a very different viewpoint from the Native population.
The Yuchi Tribe, from the area that is now Alabama and Tennessee, has a very different stand point, starting with the creation of the whites. The legend goes that men and woman emerged from the sea-foam itself, first man, then woman, rising out of waves on the sea. At first the Natives thought they were sea gulls (having never seen a white person). When the Natives made boats to explore further, the whites disappeared. Later the whites returned, a great number of them. When the natives met them again on the water, they couldn’t understand them, and the whites left. More time passed, and the whites returned, this time asking if they could come ashore. They said, “Yes”. With a fear of water they left again. Returning again later, they had a box with them and asked the Natives to fill it with some earth. It was given to them, and they again left. Returning again they now had a larger box, which again was filled. This time they took the earth back to their ships, planted crops in them, and watched them grow. The whites told them their land was fertile and strong, and asked if they may live on it. The native agreed, and the from that day, the white man never left again. The Creeks, another tribe from what is now the Alabama area, always asserted that Native were formed from the red earth, and the white from the foam of the sea, that’s why Natives are firm and the white man is restless and fickle.
Another Creek myth states that the red men lived on an island under the rising sun. At one point, the water rose, covering the area with water foam, for which the white man arose. More and more coming ashore, asking for land, but only as much as one cowhide would cover. (This is known as a “fraud of cowhide”, a method used to take over land). The Natives were apprehensive, some evening wanting to kill the whites. Other’s spoke up, stating that the amount of land they want is not much, and they had so much to give. Once in agreement, the white man threw the cowhide in the water, and cut up the wet hide into many little pieces. They stretched the pieces, which then measured the four corners of the land. When the Natives protested, the whites declared that it was only as much as one cowhide.
With the Native land taken from them, with disease given back for exchange, the Natives were also given whiskey, which plagued Natives to this day. The Alabama spoke of how they and the Koasati came out of the earth, on opposite sides of a certain tree, and settled there in two body forms. Though they had different speech, they always kept near each other. They only came out at night, returning to the ground during the day. The white man came, saw the tracks, and began to track the two people. He returned, but could never find the two bodies. Finally the white man left a barrel of whiskey, curious to see who came to it. Finally, one night, one of the two bodies came out and tasted the whiskey. He felt good, and began to sing and dance. The others were soon to follow, singing and dancing, eventually being caught by the white man.
Later, the Shaman predicted the coming of the whites. The way the story goes, a Creek chief died and appeared before Gohantone and told him that the land they lived on belonged to him and his children, forever, but these whites that are coming will overwhelm you and take your land. They will only becoming greater in number, with your (the Native) population decreasing, until at last dying out. Terrible times will be had when only the White man remains.
“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream...”
― Black Elk
Daphne, Alabama was not the place that I pictured myself raising a family when I was finishing up high school here. I couldn’t even imagine raising a family, it was all so far from my mind, all I cared about at that time was getting out. Just as almost every 18 year old does, I left my hometown the day after high school graduation, and didn’t look back. As time passed, my visits became more and more focused on the area, on the things I had missed when I was young. When the time came, and I finally returned home, I found myself now enamored with the small town, and area that I had called home. With my undirected teen angst now directed adult angst, I found myself in an area that was far more sacred than even I could imagine.
Daphne’s history as a settlement dates as far back as the Paleo-Indian period and Native American tribes from around 9000 BC. Those early settlers were hunter-gather tribes that were found migrating throughout North Alabama. The Tensaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole all came through the area, which became known as a neutral ground where they would discuss the relationships between the nations. Daphne is one of two places in the world that experience what is known as “Jubilees”, a phenomenon where the oxygen rises to the surface of the bay, washing a variety of sea life on shore. The Natives viewed this act as a blessing from nature, and is still seen that way by many of the town’s inhabitants. In the beginning, the Natives primarily worked in small groups together, through hunting and scavenging, though over time the production of weapons and pottery advanced and became more of a priority. The late Woodland stage Native Americans brought about much more elaborate ritual services, with burial grounds being found throughout Baldwin County. At the zenith of Native American culture in area, around 1500, it’s estimated that a community of about 5,000 people lived within 50 miles of the coast. These were the people that greeted Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1540, and this first interaction became one that the Natives would never recover from.
Our area has always had it’s share of ghost stories, tall tales, and myth told about Natives. From Massacre Island and the 8 foot Native warriors, to the tale of the Wampus Cat, these stories always reflect a culture, searching for their sacred land, and taking vengeance on the souls that took it. This reflection of myths, most created and spread by the white man, demonstrates the knowledge of wrongdoing, and perhaps a prediction of recourse.
One of my favorite stories comes from Fort Gaines. Here is how the story is told by my lovely wife, Amanda Herman,
“It is said that the fort has a native protector, a motherly defender, an ancient guard, that came from the spirit haven that is Massacre Island. (Modern day “Dauphin Island” that you can read about here) An old native American woman has been seen roaming the outer halls of Fort Gaines, keeping a watchful eye and protecting her sacred ground from disrespectful intruders. She has disdain for the settlers that took her people’s land and is known to be incredibly angered by those who do not hold her home to the regard that she has. This woman is said to be clothed in the skins and furs of the indigenous animals and her face is heavily aged by weather and worry. Is she one of the reasons that Massacre Island is so cursed, because she believes, along with the spirits of her people still present on the ancient burial mounds, that people have not treated the land and each other with the respect that is deserved?”
“We'll be remembered more for what we destroy than what we create.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
What will the story be of our history?
On Friday November 17th 2015 Paris was the site of a series of brutal attacks justified by religious zeal. These attacks took place in six separate locations across the city. As I write this, at least 130 people are reported to be dead, eight of those being the suspected perpetrators of the attack, with another 200 people injured, 80 of those seriously. We can watch as the story is now being written, overtime becoming an altered, distorted history. Before manipulations can occur, we have an opportunity to read first hand accounts that show another story arising from these ashes. Here are a few of the stories that might be lost in the wake of responsive violence, stories that give an alternative view of our human interaction, and maybe some hope in desperate times.
Chloe Clement found herself celebrating the 35th birthday of a friend at La Belle Equipe cafe, when gunmen began to fire directly at the diners. Ludovic Boumbas, Clement’s best friend, immediately dove in front of Clement, taking the bullet that was intended for her, and killing Ludovic. Instinct took over, creating a hero.
A security guard at France’s national soccer stadium saved thousands of lives by catching the suicide bomber before he entered the building. A spokesman for the security team and French police told the Wall Street Journal that at least one of the bombers had a ticket to attend the match. He discovered the explosive vest while conducting a routine frisk. Caught, the bomber backed up and detonated his own vest, killing himself but no others. Soon, other suicide bombers outside the stadium did the same, setting off a ripple of firecracker-like blasts that were heard by those inside, unharmed from the intended blast.
Lastly, Antoine Leiris and his wife Helene Muyal-Leiris were at the historic Bataclan venue watching Eagles of Death Metal play that night, an event that I have witnessed a time or two myself. A few songs into the bands set, the venue was filled with the deafening sound of gunfire as the venue was stormed by assailants. Hostages were taken, and slowly killed one by one, in front of the fearful eyes of those surrounding them. Jesse Hughes, singer of Eagle of Death Metal described the scene to vice.com. With his voice breaking, he described how fans were killed while trying to save each other during the attacks. He says,
"People were playing dead and they were so scared," he said. "A great reason why so many were killed is because so many people wouldn't leave their friends. ... So many people put themselves in front of people."
One of those to perish was Antoine’s wife, the mother of his child, Helene. Only days later, Antoine wrote this piece, translated to English from the original post in French.
"You Will Not Have My Hatred”
“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.
I don’t know who you are, and I don’t want to know you’re dead souls.
If this God for which you kill indiscriminately made us in his own image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in his heart.
So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.
You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost. The player still plays.
I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.
Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived.
I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in the heaven for free souls to which you will never have access.
Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep.
He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free.
Because you will never have his hatred either.”
Finding ourselves on yet another precipice of human history, entrenched in the debate of Syrian refugees, the fear mongering pushed to a breaking point, we have to wonder how history will speak of this time. Do we have an opportunity to truly change the course that we have been speeding towards, since the ship was launched in 1614? Bill Hicks said that it comes down to two choices, every decision in life, down to two choices, living through the eyes of fear, or the eyes of love. “Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.” Hicks continues, urging the audience to see a world focused on interpersonal interaction, creating relationships built on commonality and mutual understanding. At these points in our short lives, we wonder “what can we do”? Perhaps we can break things down to the individual interaction we have everyday. Just as Antoine urges, instead of looking at our neighbors with a suspicious eye (or as cultural “savages” like our ancestors did hundreds of years ago) we should not sacrifice our true liberty for hate mongering fear. Can we not stand together, united and triumphant against our foes of malicious division, and as Hicks says, “we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.” It’s in the history of our fore fathers, like the folklore of Thanksgiving, in their transgressions, that we can truly learn how to move forward. We have to learn what happened to get us to these precipices, a cliff we are fearfully clinging to. Events of the past teach us what actions driven by fear can do, from the flames of the massacre of the Pequot to the gunfire of Paris. Now is the time to take control and write a history we can believe in, one devoid of fear, one that our children will be proud of. What will this story be? More importantly, what will your story be that your children will be thankful for?
“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
SEAN HERMAN IS A FATHER, TATTOOER, WRITER AND CREATOR. BORN MOVING, HE WAS INVOLVED IN ALL KIND OF MOVEMENTS FROM MISSIONARY WORK IN YOUTH, TO PUNK ROCK TO ANARCHISM, THESE ELEMENTS ARE WHAT SHAPED HIM TO BE WHO HE IS TODAY, ALL COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, AND ALL THE SAME. THE ONE THING THAT WAS ALWAYS A CONSTANT WAS POSITIVITY AND THE ART OF CREATION. LEARN MORE AT WWW.SEANHERMAN.COM
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