Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Liars, damned liars and Fox News

Fox News has outdone themselves, decrying Barack Obama's children's book because it included Sitting Bull as one of the great Americans profiled. "Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Killed U.S. General," the headline read.

Now, first of all, Custer, though named a brevet general during the Civil War, had resumed his rank of colonel at the time of his death, with "Gen. Custer" being only a honorary title. More to the point, while Sitting Bull was in the Indian camp at the time of Custer's attack, he had no military role whatsoever, even as a footsoldier. The defense of the combined force was lead by Crazy Horse and Gall. 

So there was no general present, and Sitting Bull didn't participate in the battle.

Not only is Fox News completely inaccurate, but they aren't even terribly original in their bigotry and lies. Luther Standing Bear was a young Lakota at the Carlisle School in the late 19th century, and worked at Wanamaker's Department Store in Philadelphia. He tells this story in his autobiography, "My People the Sioux." 

Hucksters, liars and cheats haven't changed much.

One evening while going home from work, I bought a paper, and read that Sitting Bull, the great Sioux medicine man, was to appear at one of the Philadelphia theaters.

The paper stated that he was the Indian who killed General Custer! The chief and his people had been held prisoners of war, and now here they were to appear in a Philadelphia theater. So I determined to go and see what he had to say, and what he was really in the East for.

I had to pay fifty cents for a ticket. The theater was decorated with many Indian trappings such as were used by the Sioux tribe of which I was a member.

On the stage sat four Indian men, one of whom was Sitting Bull. There were two women and two children with them. 

A white man came on the stage and introduced Sitting Bull as the man who had killed General Custer (which, of course, was absolutely false).

Sitting Bull arose and addressed the audience in the Sioux tongue, as he did not speak nor understand English. He said, 'My friends, white people, we Indians are on our way to Washington to see the Grandfather, or President of the United States. I see so many white people and what they are doing, that it makes me glad to know that some day my children will be educated also. There is no use fighting any longer. The buffalo are all gone, as well as the rest of the game. Now I am going to shake the hand of the Great Father at Washington, and I am going to tell him all these things.

Then Sitting Bull sat down. He never even mentioned General Custer's name.

Then the white man who had introduced Sitting Bull arose again and said he would interpret what the chief had said. He then started in telling the audience all about the battle of the Little Big Horn, generally spoken of as the 'Custer massacre.' He mentioned how the Sioux were all prepared for battle, and how they had swooped down on Custer and wiped his soldiers all out. He told so many lies that I had to smile.

One of the women on the stage observed me and said something to the other woman, then both of them kept looking at me.

Then the white man said that all those who wished to shake hands with Sitting Bull would please line up if they cared to meet the man who had killed Custer. The whole audience got in line, as they really believed what the white man had told them. 

It made me wonder what sort of people the whites were, anyway. Perhaps they were glad to have Custer killed, and were really pleased to shake hands with the man who had killed him!

I lined up with the others and started for the stage, not intending to say a word. But the woman who had first noticed me smiling from my seat, watched me all the closer as I came toward them. She grabbed me by the hand, not knowing exactly what to say and not knowing if I were really an Indian boy.

Finally she spoke in Sioux as follows: 'Niye osni tona leci,' which meant, 'How many colds (or winters) are you here?' I replied in Sioux, 'In winter we have so many cold days here that I do not know really how many colds I have been here.'

That sort of broke the ice, and she laughed, then the other Indians laughed. Then she asked me who my father was. I replied, 'Standing Bear of Rosebud is my father.'

‘Why,' she exclaimed, 'then you are my nephew.' Then she called her brother, who was Sitting Bull. 'See who is here.' He was pleased to see me again.

Of course this caused some excitement among the crowd of white people. I had been working in the store so long that I had become lighter in complexion. All the Indians then crowded about me, forgetting all about shaking hands with the crowd of white people, who could not understand it.

The white man who had spoken on the stage now came up to see what was the matter and why the Indians had suddenly left off shaking hands with the others. Sitting Bull beckoned him to come up, then he turned to me and said, 'Tell this white man we want you to go to our hotel with us to eat.'

So I interpreted what Sitting Bull requested, and the man said, 'Why, yes, you can come with them.' Then the Indians packed up their things which decorated the hall and were very anxious to get back to the hotel where they could have a talk with someone who understood them.

When we reached the hotel, Sitting Bull said to me that he was on his way to Washington to shake hands with the President, and that he wanted his children educated in the white man's way, because there was nothing left for the Indian.

He then asked me how far it was to Washington, and in what direction it was. I told him that it was toward the sunset, and that he was now in Philadelphia, a long way east of Washington. Sitting Bull expressed much surprise, saying, 'Why, we must have passed the place.' Then I told him he certainly had.

Then the white man entered the room, and Sitting Bull said to me again, 'Ask this white man when we are going to see the President, and when we are going home.' The man said to tell him, 'You are soon going home, and on the way you may see the President.' As the man remained in the room, I did not get a chance to tell Sitting Bull how the white man had lied about him on the stage.

And that was the last time I ever saw Sitting Bull alive.

As I sit and think about that incident, I wonder who that crooked white man was, and what sort of Indian agent it could have been who would let these Indians leave the reservation without even an interpreter, giving them the idea they were going to Washington, and then cart them around to different Eastern cities to make money off them by advertising that Sitting Bull was the Indian who slew General Custer!

Of course at that time I was too young to realize the seriousness of it all.

(About 10 years ago, I was working on a project that included material about the Lakota, and came across "My People the Sioux."  I called the tribal historian at Standing Rock to verify that Luther Standing Bear was considered a reliable source and was assured that he and his books are.)


ronnie said...

Incredible. In the original sense of the word. One can hardly believe it happened this way. Yet one can believe only too well that it did.

It's heartbreaking to read of Sitting Bull's resignation that the native lifestyle was all gone, and their only hope was to cast their lot with the invaders, who disrespected and mistreated them.

Thank you for introducing me to yet another literary gem. This man writes so well I am dying to read the whole book. I hope it's still in print.

As for the current "controversy", I've had a belly full of this nonsense.

(See how nicely I'm choosing my words and not using the profanities in my head?)

Mike said...

I'd love to have it all explained in easy to understand black-and-white, but real history is a lot more nuanced.

That's why I called Standing Rock before quoting a "Carlisle Indian," but Luther Standing Bear wasn't destroyed by what happened to him at Carlisle, and went on to a successful acting and writing career, but also a life of helping his people and standing for their rights. Despite what we're supposed to think about "Carlisle Indians."

Meanwhile, Sitting Bull wanted to live a traditional life and was involved in the ghost dance revival movement, but he knew the Lakota couldn't chase game across the prairies anymore. It would have been interesting to see how he would have addressed these conflicts, if he hadn't been murdered, largely as a result of those conflicts.

Sherwood Harrington said...

To paraphrase an ancestor, "Genocide never prospers. Why does that betide? Because if it prosper, none dare call it genocide." And then scoundrels can get away with painting Custer as a good guy and slandering the memory of a man like Sitting Bull, painting him as a perp rather than a victim.

Just when I think Fox News can't possibly lie more profoundly -- and I was thinking that just this weekend with their trumpeting of the fabricated story about "200 million tax dollars" spent on security on Obama's Asia trip -- they pull something like this out of their posterior.

Dann said...

Ima gonna exercise a little self restraint....