12 November 2012

A Taste of the Savage Life

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

Just as Native American societies changed when they encountered whites, so European societies changed when they encountered natives. Indians gave the new settlers directions, showed them water holes, sold them food and horses, bought cloth and guns, and served as guides and interpreters. These activities are rarely depicted in movies, novels, or our textbook. Inhaling the misinformation of the popular culture, students have no idea that Natives considered European warfare far more savage than their own. A number of settlers fled to Indian villages rather than endure the rigors of life among the autocratic English.

As Benjamin Franklin put it, “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies. All their government is by Counsel of the Sages. There is no Force; there are no Prisons, no officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment.” Probably foremost, the lack of hierarchy in the Native societies in the eastern United States attracted the admiration of European observers. Frontiersmen were taken with the extent to which Native Americans enjoyed freedom as individuals. Women were also accorded more status and power in most Native societies than in white societies of the time, which white women noted with envy in captivity narratives. Most Indian societies north of Mexico were much more democratic than Spain, France, or even England in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Hernando De Soto had to post guards to keep his men and women from defecting to Native societies. The Pilgrims so feared Indianization that they made it a crime for men to wear long hair. People who did run away to the Indians might expect very extreme punishments, including the death penalty, if caught by whites. Nonetheless, right up to the end of independent Indian nationhood in 1890, whites continued to defect, and whites who lived an Indian lifestyle, such as Daniel Boone, became cultural heroes in white society. African Americans frequently fled to Indian societies to escape bondage. 

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