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Peaceful, Pastoral, Philosophical:
The American Indian as Naked Naturalist

Leigh_buffalo_hunt960 words

Quick Quiz: When the North American Indian killed a buffalo he used every part of the animal.

True or False? 

Well, of course, we all know the answer to this one. Yes, indeed, the Indian used all of the buffalo–hides for coats and tents, meat for food, bones for knives and tools, hooves for something, tails for something else. Have we not had this drummed into our skulls a hundred times since the first grade? Have we not read it over and over in adulthood? Indeed, as we all know, the Indian didn’t waste even an ounce of that buffalo. The answer to the above question is such a well-worn rut that it is not even worthy of a response.

Well, I must say, as a non-hunting thirty-year vegetarian in good stead, I wish that the Indians had not found the need to kill any buffalo, period, but since they did, at least it’s somewhat comforting to know that none of the great beast went to waste. Unlike the profligate white man, who slaughtered millions of buffalo for mere sadistic sport, the Indians were clearly superior to the newcomers, morally and ethically, if not vegetarianly.

Hmmmmm. . . . Alas, like many other lies our elders told us—the “Good War”, the “Greatest Generation,” “Gallant little Israel,” Jews as history’s scapegoats, etc.–the above was filled with some half-truths and some heap big fibs. Yes, indeed, in winter when food was scarce, the American Indian used every edible part of any bison he was lucky enough to kill. Funny, but hey, so did the white pioneer. In the spring, when buffalo were plentiful, the Indian could be just as wasteful as any white man ever thought of being.

One hunting tactic the Indians of the Great Plains perfected was to drive herds of bison over cliffs, or “drops,” then, like shoppers in a modern grocery store they moved among the still living mass choosing which part of the buffalo they wanted. Since the hump and the tongue were delicacies, often, after carving out these treats, the hunters would ride away, leaving the rest to rot without a second thought. Hunting buffalo for sport was also not uncommon.  With the advent of the repeating rifle, the Indian also eagerly killed the supposedly sacred beast to sell the robes to white traders.

When it came to other animals the red man was equally ruthless. Without a moment’s hesitation, without a particle of concern to the overall destruction to the delicate prairie eco-system, Indians started vast fires to frighten deer, antelope and elk into convenient killing zones.

And how about all those eagle feathers, elk’s teeth and bear claws the red men used to adorn their bodies? These things did not grow on trees. They were real, living, breathing animals and yet the Indian did not hesitate to kill them for vanity’s sake.

Like so much regarding the North American Indian, the “gentle caretaker of the land” myth is just that, a myth. Unlike the white man’s advanced culture, the red man lacked the technology needed to take command of his environment. But what Stone Age methods the Indian did possess he used with ruthless efficiency.

The creation of this American Indian-as-benign-protector-of-the-land fantasy—which seems to have gained steam back in the 1970’s with that hokey, but effective, anti-littering TV ad which featured the famous Italian-American cum Indian, “Iron Eyes Cody” (above) crying as unthinking whites tossed tons of garbage out their car windows—this fantasy of the red man as the deeply religious guardian and worshipper of all creation is, of course, yet another way of hammering home white guilt. After all, compared to this now mostly accepted lie of the Indian as 19th-century flower child totally in tune with nature and communing with all god’s creation–worshipping animals, trees, rocks, mountains, weeds, dirt, whatever—compared to these peaceful eco-friendly nature gods, the land-grubbing and destructive white race looks like a plague of locusts swarming over the earth and stripping it bare to the bone.

Did the white man savage the land. Yes, of course, he did. One of my greatest regrets was how thoroughly my ancestors plowed over the beautiful prairies and how eagerly they dammed our wild rivers and hacked down our forests. But our people who settled in the West were not wealthy aristocrats–they were hand-to-mouth pioneers and they did what they had to do to survive, nature be damned. Did the native savage also savage the land? Yes, of course he did, and he did it to the best of his Stone Age abilities. Indians simply lacked the technology necessary to ruthlessly rape nature as the white man did. And yet, what he possessed he used with merciless efficiency.

In the opening scene of the Last of the Mohicans remake, we have the two lead Indians running down an elk and killing it. Then, as the red men look wistfully upon the once beautiful beast, a prayer. “I am sorry my brother, for killing you, but we must eat. The Great Spirit will insure your long after-life with him”–or words to that effect. Nice. Very touching. And, taking the religious shtick to ridiculous, almost Christ-like, heights, how very Jewish.  And yet, I am confident that most popcorn-eating whites who saw such glug eagerly grubbed it up.

BTW–Sorry, Hollywood, but no one gets my respect who first kills his “brother” then eats him.

* * *

Thomas Goodrich is a professional writer living in Florida. Tom’s Scalp Dance:Indian Warfare on the High Plains, 1865–1879 was a main selection of the History Book Club as well as a featured choice of the Doubleday Book Club. Scalp Dance is available in paperback or Kindle from, or through Tom himself via PayPal at [email protected], $25–postage included.


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  1. JCNC
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Good stuff. Re the vegetarian angle, though, its worth recollecting that the ecosystems you refer to are based on food chains that include predators of which humans are naturally one. If you love nature you have to respect carnivory.

  2. Izak
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    “BTW–Sorry, Hollywood, but no one gets my respect who first kills his “brother” then eats him.”

    I completely agree. I’ve always felt that you should eat your brother first, THEN kill him.

  3. BourgeoisReactionary
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Reading this, I am reminded of children’s book my nephew had to read. It purported to inform young children of “Native American Science”, positing that native Americans were environmentally conscious caretakers of the environment, and by implication were much more advanced in their thinking than the white men who arrived in the New World.

    Here is the conclusion of the book. I have transcribed virtually every word of it:

    American Indian Science
    A new look at old cultures

    What does a new look at the science and technology of the early American Indian tell us? For one, we find that Indians were the first ecologists. Early native peoples had a deep respect for the earth and all it holds, as do Indians today. Because they revere nature, Indians believe that humans must live in harmony with all the natural elements. Although humans have their place in the universe, according to Indian science, or indigenous science as it is sometimes called, that place is no better or worse than that of the animals,, birds, trees, soil, sun, or moon….

    How did Indian people rank with those of the Old World? Non-Indians had a certain Eurocentric way of viewing Indian civilizations that they have passed on to their descendants. It was the view that Euro-American values, achievements, and religions were much more advanced than the Indians’ values. To them, Indians were inferior peoples who had barbaric customs and were dangerous even to “civilized” peoples.

    In truth, New World cultures had superior know-how in farming and technology, and they were ahead of the Old World in their knowledge of pharmacology. Indian calendars were far more sophisticated than that of the Europeans, and Indians of Mexico had a math system superior to the numerical system then used by the Spaniards.

    Poised at the beginning of a new century, we are becoming aware of the fragility of our ecosystem. Knowledge of the cultures of the early American Indians takes on greater importance than ever before. Today, our system of Western science is beginning to look like Indian science, with its holistic approach to life, for survival ideas. WE should make changes that will guarantee future generations a good life with pure air and water, fertile land, nutrtitious food, and spiritual health.

    Listen again to the words of Totanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull), “In the morning when I walk barefoot on its soil I can hear the very heart of the holy earth.”

    Children are being inundated with this claptrap. There was no such thing as rigorous examination and analysis of the natural word. Illiteracy abounded and there was no systematic way to record one’s hypotheses, observations, and theories other than by word of mouth. There were no universities and no science whatsoever. Native American “science” would be unrecognizable as science to anyone educated in the natural sciences or engineering.

    This stuff reeks of anti-White animus, and it is littered throughout the curriculm in elementary schools.

  4. Sandy
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump is a Unesco World Heritage Site in Alberta commemorating when the Indians would drive entire herds over the cliff.

  5. IBM
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    The American Indians had hunting contests. One example is described in A. Eckert’s “The Frontiersmen:”

    But when Tecumseh returned with the fresh hides of thirty deer, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was the greatest hunter among the Shawnees.

  6. Vangelis
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Very good article. Indeed, what stood between the indians destroying nature wholescale and not was indeed the lack of technology. The rest is holywood. I am a vegetarian too and have, from time to time, looked into different peoples’ attitudes towards nature. I have to say that the ancient japanese (up to the end of the Edo period) were the most earth friendly people. Based on a vegetable diet (highly encouraged by Buddhist teachings) typical of their culture, they only consumed the occasional game catch or the very rarely beached whale’s meat.
    They turned to meat producing farming-meat/milk consumption only after pressure from western envoys at the end of the 19th century. Read this wikipedia entry and find out about the japanese ethos. Many things have changed in Japan, and most after intense westernization efforts by the ruling elites especially after the second war.

  7. David
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed the article, although it was a little repetitive for me because I’ve long known the “noble savage” was a myth.

    The late, great Michael Crichton wrote several articles and gave several talks towards the end of his life on environmentalism run amok, and he frequently covered the fetishization of primitives. One such speech he gave is here:

    Regarding vegetarianism, I strongly encourage everybody here to read Jack Donovan’s Counter-Currents review of the book, ‘The Paleo Manifesto’ and to consider the paleo diet. Most all hormones come from dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, and zinc (heavy in red meats) makes semen. So without meats (esp. red meats) you might well have low testosterone and other hormone levels.

    The great site, TheArtOfManliness has a good article about how to boost testosterone – and healthy sperm counts run parallel with healthy (endogenous) T levels:

  8. AngloAmerikan
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Yet when Europeans start to revere “Blood and Soil” they are thought to be insane.

  9. Jim
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Fun article, and more should be done to cat-call the “Zen Indian” myths and associated b.s.

    However, I do wonder about the origins of the whole “noble savage” mythos- unlike the “Good War”, “poor little Israel” tropes the author compares it to, I think the White race itself created this Indian Myth.

    If you look back to the end of the 19th c., shortly after the real Indian stopped being a threat, you will see an explosion of sentimentality about the “Vanishing American”. Curtis’ photographs solemnized them. Many products employed Indian imagery in packaging and advertising; popular novels lionized Indian guides and Thanksgiving celebrations made honorable mention of Indian agricultural help to the Pilgrims. It actually seems to me that this is one myth that we seemed to need for ourselves; obviously, in more recent times, it has been taken up as a cudgel against us.

    It might be interesting and even worthwhile to search for the original spring that led to the river of b.s. we have to endure today about the eco-friendly, spiritual Indian.

  10. Marissa
    Posted January 25, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    While I’m a big fan of Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, they share a little blame for this myth.

  11. April Gaede
    Posted January 27, 2014 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    Yeah it’s kind of funny when you look at the way that the Indians are today. They are probably the most wasteful people on the planet. I know because I live near a rez and grew up around them in California as well. The amount of broken down late model vehicles is an example. They never take them to the shop, or change the oil or work on them, they just buy new ones and park the most recent one alongside the others in the yard. It is really no lie or exaggeration that they will have 20-30 broken down cars in their yard.

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