My Dad always said that the Indians got a raw deal. He was right. But it was difficult to really understand what he meant when as a kid, my image of the American Indian was seen through the lens of the many television westerns. Attack after attack of those ruthless savages on wagon trains, settlers’ cabins, stagecoaches and ranchers. Westerns portrayed Indians as merciless warriors who would take scalps, stake you out in the desert for the ants and vultures to finish you off, bury you neck deep in the ground, or tear off your skin a layer at a time. Somber faced scouts proclaimed it was worse for women. This is how I saw the American Indian as a youngster, but all that changed one day on the Indian reservation.
The last known Indian conflict was a gunfight between a posse in Utah and a small band of Utes led by Chief Posey in 1923. It didn’t end well for the Chief. In 1962, less than 40 years separated us cowboys and Indians from those romanticized battles seen on TV when Mom, Dad and I visited my grandparents, uncles and aunts in Phoenix, Arizona. I was seven years old. By that time, I was all-in as a cowboy. Had my boots, my Western shirts, my toy six shooter and my hat, although it wasn’t a Stetson like I wear today. I rode horses, herded cattle and played cowboys and Indians with my cousin Steve and my best buddy Sonny. We had many a battles in the great frontier—our woods on the farm.
Imagine my emotions when my Uncle Junior announced he was taking us to the Indian reservation. The Gila River Indian Reservation was right next to Phoenix and Uncle Junior, my Mom’s brother, had made arrangements for us to visit the Indian school there. When I heard that, I was like, “they have a school to teach how to be an Indian?” Everybody laughed, except me. As it turns out the first Indian school was established by the US government on the Gila River Indian Reservation for the Pimas and Maricopas in 1871 and Reverend Charles Cook was the teacher. It was an actual school like the one I went to in Paris, Ohio. But Uncle Junior and my parents still had a hard time convincing me to go with them. I truly thought that once they found out I was a cowboy that they would scalp me. I reluctantly went along.
At first, I kind of hid behind my parents. But as the tour went on, it was obvious that this school was pretty amazing. The teachers introduced me to their students and they treated me like one of them. We talked and asked questions about each other. They even taught me how to do the Eagle Dance, a dance for divine intervention because they believed Eagles carried messages to God. All in all, that day changed my entire view of the Native American. As is in Job 12:7 speaking of the Lord, “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” I learned that day to find out for myself before letting others prejudice my opinions or stoke my fears. Those kids were just like me, but in a different culture. And I was able to bring some of their culture to my school by doing the Eagle Dance and sharing my experiences about the Indians.
Have a Blessed and Powerful Day!