Sunday, September 18, 2016

Random Cool Indian Facts

My September 8th post focused a lot on some of the bleak aspects of American Indian past and present. It also mentioned that I chose to be an Indian when I played cowboys and Indians as a kid, and that "today, at age 45, I retain a healthy appreciation for many things Indian."

In the interest of brightening that post up, here are some cool things about Indians and their history:

The rest of us go by John, Bob, Mary, and Jane, which is to say blah, blah, and whatever. Indians, on the other hand, have a time-honored tradition of infusing the stuff of Heaven and Earth into their names.

Even iconic names like Squanto, Sequoiah, and Geronimo sound dull next to the likes of Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Rain In The Face, Two Moons, Mangas Coloradas, and Iron Jacket.

Crazy Horse's family was chock full of classics all on its own, seeing as how his mother was Rattling Blanket Woman, his aunt was They Are Afraid Of Her, and his cousin was Touch The Clouds. Plus, one of his wives was Black Shawl and the love of his life was Black Buffalo Woman (whose husband, No Water, might have the most appropriate name of all since he was known for drinking alcohol).

And the tradition of great names is still going on: Just think of Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the half-Cheyenne U.S. Senator from Colorado, who retired in 2005.

Will Rogers
Of course, not all Indians have those kinds of names. Will Rogers was not only a proud Cherokee, he was also America's first mega-celebrity of the electronic/media era, parlaying early stints as a trick lassoist and vaudeville performer into a career that spanned radio, movies, newspapers, and magazines.

Rogers appeared in 69 movies (both silent films and "talkies," in which he often ad libbed) and his Sunday evening radio show was one of the highest rated in the country.

His wit and homespun wisdom transferred seamlessly to print, as he published both a weekly column and daily stories for the New York Times; an abundance of articles and columns for the Saturday Evening Post and McNaught Syndicate; and a number of humorous books with titles like The Illiterate Digest and Ether and Me, or "Just Relax."

Oh, and Rogers also popped up in government, albeit in largely ceremonial roles, serving one stint as goodwill ambassador to Mexico and another as mayor of Beverly Hills.

Despite all that, he remained a down home Oklahoma Cherokee to the core, tossing out such quips as "The only way you can beat the lawyers is to die with nothing" and "I don't tell jokes, I just watch the government and report the facts." Perhaps the coolest thing about him is that he made the Guinness Book of World Records for one of his roping feats, in which he tossed three lassos at one time with one of them going around the horse's neck, another around the rider, and the third underneath the horse where it snared all four legs.

The greatest testament to Will Rogers is that while he was open about and proud of his Indian heritage, he was respected equally by both the red man and white man, so much so that he was known as "the cowboy philosopher." When you see what his burial site in the foothills of Oklahoma's Ozarks looks like, there is no way you can doubt how important a figure he was then, and remains today.

The Seminoles
Most tribes are tied to ancestral geography, with the Comanche being synonymous with the southern Plains, the Miwok with the foggy forests of Northern California, the Chippewa with the Great Lakes, etc.

The same cannot be said for the Seminoles, however. Although everyone correctly associates them with Florida, that is not really where they are from.

In the late 1700's and early 1800's, when the white man started scoring seemingly unstoppable victories against Indians in the Southeast, members of multiple tribes (most notably the Creek) fled to the Florida peninsula where they banded together and resolved to fight back. To describe themselves, they adopted the name Seminole -- a mispronunciation of the Spanish cimarron, which means "runaway" or "wild one" depending on who's doing the translating.

Since they were founded and arranged to combat a specific enemy, they were not exclusionary about who they welcomed into their ranks. The most famous Seminole of all time, Osceola, was actually half-British and named Billy Powell at birth. They worked so closely with freed and runaway slaves that there is, even to this day, a band of people known as the Black Seminoles.

This melting pot tribe fought three wars against the United States between 1818 and 1858. Some of its members were eventually caught and marched off to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) but a sizable contingent was not, and its descendants remain in Florida all the way to the present. Today those descendants exist in two federally recognized entities, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida (the difference being that the latter includes those who still speak Indian languages), and they proudly point to the fact that they belong to a people who were never defeated by the U.S. military.

...there are many other neat things to write about where Indians are concerned, but I'm gonna sign off for now. Have a good one.

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