"Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation."

Norman Mailer
"The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China--why then it will be spring."

"This new history of yours," said McPhee, "is a wee bit lacking in documents."

C.S. Lewis

Synchronicities this week

  • June 24 Midsummer/St. John’s Day
  • June 24, 1947 The first flying saucers are sighted over Mount Rainier by pilot Ken Arnold.
  • June 24, 1542 St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet, is born.
  • June 24, 1938 500 ton meteorite lands near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • June 24, 1717 First Free Masons' grand lodge founded in London.
  • June 24, 1374 A sudden outbreak of St. John's Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.
  • June 24, 1314 Battle of Bannockburn; Scotland regains independence from England.
  • June 24, 843 Vikings destroy Nantes.
  • June 23 Midsummer’s Eve
  • June 23, 1972 Nixon & Haldeman agree to use CIA to cover up Watergate.
  • June 23, 1942 Germany's latest fighter, a Focke-Wulf FW190 is captured intact when it mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey in Wales.
  • June 23, 1888 Frederick Douglass is 1st African-American nominated for president.
  • June 23, 1848 Workers’ insurrection in Paris.
  • June 23, 1713 The French residents of Acadia are given one year to declare allegiance to Britain or leave Nova Scotia, Canada. They choose the latter, migrate to Louisiana, and become Cajuns.
  • June 21 Summer Solstice (11:28 a.m.).
  • June 21, 1964 Three civil rights workers-Michael H. Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James E. Chaney-are kidnapped and murdered by the Klan in Mississippi .
  • June 21, 1948 The 33 1/3 RPM LP record is introduced by Columbia Records.
  • June 21, 1944 Ray Davies of the Kinks born in London.
  • June 21, 1916 Mexican troops beat US expeditionary force under Gen Pershing.
  • June 21, 1877 The Molly Maguires, ten Irish immigrant labor activists, are hanged in Pennsylvania prisons.
  • June 20, 1947 Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, gangster, the “man who invented Las Vegas,” shot dead in Beverly Hills, Cal.
  • June 20, 1909 Errol Flynn, greatest of the swashbucklers, born in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • June 20, 1944 Congress charters Central Intelligence Agency.
  • June 20, 1943 Detroit race riot kills 35.
  • June 20, 1893 - Lizzie Borden acquitted in murder of parents in New Bedford Mass.
  • June 20, 1871 Ku Klux Klan trials began in federal court in Oxford Miss.
  • June 20, 1837 Queen Victoria at 18 ascends British throne ; rules for 63 years ending in 1901.
  • June 20, 1756 146 British soldiers imprisoned in the "Black Hole of Calcutta." Most die.
  • June 20, 1631 The Irish village of Baltimore is attacked by Algerian pirates.
  • June 20, 1214 The University of Oxford receives its charter.
  • June 20, 451 Germans & Romans beat Attila the Hun at Catalarinische Fields.

Friday, June 26, 2009

This Week in the Secret History: Custer's Karma

What a flamboyant, outrageous figure. What a sense of himself he had. He must have considered himself immortal, at least when his hair was long, as invincible as Beowulf or Siegried or Harold Greatheart. He sprang from that race of blue-eyed, long-nosed devils, who once upon a time trotted arrogantly through cold black forests with the North Sea in their veins; and being who he was, he must have felt their eyes on him as he galloped across the American prairie, strawberry curls flowing in the wind. Even his weapons – Remington sporting rifle with octagonal barrel, two self-cocking ivory-handled Webley Bulldog pistols, a hunting knife in a beaded scabbard—everything about him contributed to the image. General George Armstrong Custer! His name reverberates like the clang of a sword.

Evan Connell

Son of the Morning Star

To understand the events that culminated at Little Big Horn, you have to factor in the way the Indians interpreted it. In their eyes, it was a religious or spiritual process. To 19th Century Plains Indians, as in most pre-industrial societies, there was no separate secular realm of life. All activities had spiritual implications.

There is something stange about the Black Hills of South Dakota. They rise, an enclosed island of incongruous mountains, from the middle of flat oceans of grassland around them, made even more distinct by their dark wooded slopes in a land where they are no trees for miles. Hence their designation as “Black” Hills, or Paha Sapa in the language of the Lakota Sioux. American Indians have inhabited the area since at least 7000 BCE.

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie confirmed the Lakota ownership of the mountain range. The Sioux and Cheyenne claimed rights to the land saying that in their culture it was considered the sacred center of the world.

Rumors of gold in the Black Hills had circulated in North America for decades. In 1874 Brevet Major General Custer led the 7th Cavalry on a military/
mineralogical expedition into the Black Hills. They discovered gold in French Creek in the Southern Black Hills. An official announcement of the presence of gold was made to the nation through newspaper reporters who accompanied the expedition.

Within a year the gold rush began. Thousands of miners went to the Black Hills; by 1880, the area was the most densely populated part of Dakota Territory. Cities, towns, villages, and scores of gold camps sprang up. Railroads were already reaching the previously remote area.

An early cartographer's map of the Black Hills

Less than a year after Custer’s expedition, prominent Lakota leaders were brought to Washington to meet with President Grant in an effort to persuade them to give up the Black Hills. The attempt failed. That fall, a commission was sent to each of the Indian agencies to hold huge councils with the Lakota, hoping to convince the population and thereby pressuring Lakota leaders into signing a new treaty. Again, the government's attempt to secure the Black Hills failed. Within a few months the Grant administration began to discuss military action against the non-treaty bands of Lakota and Northern Cheyenne who had refused to come in to the Indian agencies.

While the Black Hills was at the center of the growing crisis, resentment was also growing over expanding American interests in other portions of Lakota territory, including the proposed Northern Pacific Railroad that would cross through the last of the great buffalo hunting grounds, the straight line of American westward expansion crossing and breaking the immemorial circle of the Indian’s hunting patterns.

Concerned about the public perception of launching a war against the Lakota without provocation, it was decided to send out a demand to the non-treaty tribes to turn themselves in at the reservations by January 31 of that year, knowing that in the depths of winter Lakota bands did not attempt any long range movement. When the deadline passed, the military was ordered into action. Sitting Bull, chief of the Lakota Sioux, who was both war leader and tribal holy man, was the foremost chief of the non-treaty bands, and was the most influential and determined opponent of the reservation system. His responsibilities as a holy man included understanding the complex religious rituals and beliefs of the Sioux, and also learning about natural phenomena that were related to the Sioux beliefs. Sitting Bull had, according to his biographer Robert M. Utley in The Last Days of the Sioux Nation, an "intense spirituality that pervaded his entire being in his adult years and that fueled a constant quest for an understanding of the universe and of the ways in which he personally could bring its infinite powers to the benefit of his people."

The Lakota’s decision to disregard the command to come inhto the reservation was inextricably bound up with the fate of Paha Sapa. Sitting Bull’s example in staying off the reservation carried great weight with the other bands and even extended to the Cherokee. Little by little, during the first half of 1876, Siting Bull’s group attracted more and more of the independent tribes, until by summer he had gathered around him the largest assembly of Plains Indians in history. Together they decided to open their last struggle for their way if life and their religious system by holding the largest Sundance, their most sacred rite, ever This is what the U.S. Cavalry columns met that summer—one unimaginably huge Sioux and Cheyenne spiritual festival.

Custer’s Indian scouts told, him that afternnonn in June that the the largest Indian village they had ever seen was on the opposite shore of the Little Big Horn River. Custer could not or would not hear them. To the Sioux and the Cheyenne, it was no accident that the man and the soldiers they wiped ot that afternoon, in the greatest of Plains Indian victories,were the ones who had spearheaded the violation of their holy land. As Jack Crabb, the narrator of the novel Little Big Man says of the Cheyenne and the Lakota as he witnesses Custer’s situation deteriorate on the afternoon of June 25, 1876, “They was the Human Beings, and they was at the center of the world” – for one last time. For a moment, the balance was struck, the circle restored.

Consistent military pressure eventually broke up Sitting Bull’s coalition. Sitting Bull and his own band escaped to Canada, but accepted U.S. terms when they faced starvation. There were 186 of them when they returned to the United Sates and the the reservations. With Sitting Bull’s surrender, the last serious Indian resistance to white domination came to an end.

On July 23, 1980, in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, the Supreme Court ruled that the Black Hills were illegally taken and that remuneration of the initial offering price plus interest — nearly $106 million — be paid. The Lakota refused the settlement, as they wanted the return of the Black Hills instead. The money remains in an interest-bearing account which now amounts to over $757 million, but the Lakota still refuse to take the money on principle that doing so would validate the theft of their most sacred land.

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