Before there was Texas

Dear Hannah,

They say that before there was Texas as we know it today there was a lush jungle.  The Ice Age had made most of the planet a wasteland but around the equator things were most livable; and some of our ancestors, before there were Indians, had apparently decided to move there.  These people who weren't quite people lived with and against the mammoth and the great American elephant and the ground sloth and made flint spears and huddled in tribes and lived to about 20.  They left little besides charred wood and primitive tools and old bones and stone statues.

Then came the Amerinds.  Theories change as to how they got here and what they did to these "first people," but T.R. Fehrenbach, in his Lone Star: the History of Texas and the Texans, says they came across a land bridge until the Ice Age ended and the ice started melting and the oceans started growing; and they filed down from around Alaska and began to settle across the Americas.  Some of these Amerinds, after establishing themselves in Mexico and Venezuela, went back north and landed throughout Texas; and the Pueblos of the Southwest, deeply Central American in heritage, carved fine houses out of stone; and the Caddoans built dirt mounds because they lacked the stone of the Aztecs (who had already conquered the Toltecs, who had already conquered the Mayans).

This civilization of Pueblos in Texas was relatively advanced for the area, and unlike most Amerinds in North America, they had experienced the agricultural revolution.  What this meant is that they no longer wandered around, almost entirely dependent upon hunting and foraging and kidnapping women and hunting for slaves; and as they no longer wandered around they were far less likely to fight around.  There were far fewer collisions because there were far fewer migrations.  They became peaceful while the other Indians remained at war; and the Pueblos grew, and they built cities and raised crops; and these cities grew until the arrival of the Apache.

The Apache were completely unlike the Pueblos, not only because they had a different language and refused to settle down and work the land seriously (Fehrenbach notes that culturally, two tribes of Indians could be as different as the French and the Chinese), but because they believed, partially as a result of not settling down, that war was the central feature of life.  The peaceful Pueblos were pushed out of the high plains by violence, and these Apache, which in the Pueblo tongue means enemy, grew rapidly by attaching themselves to the millions-strong bison herds.  They warred and took women, and were content warring and taking women.

The Pueblos weren't the only people suffering from raids, and others, if they hadn't been pushed to extinction, lived right on the verge of it.  Some Amerinds such as the Coahuiltecans were pushed so far out of the good land by the other Indians that they ended in the worst parts of the desert; and this unfruitful land forced them to eat grubs and roots and pick through their own shit for undigested seeds; and they eked out a living by feasting on maggots and killing their children.  The Karankawas along the Texan coast ate strangers for fun.  According to Fehrenbach all Texan Indians of modern times, excepting the Comanches, had practiced some form of ritualized cannibalism; and alongside the torture (to death) of their captives, this practice, in some tribes, seems to have been refined to the utmost of cruelty.

The Spanish were horrified at all this when they arrived, and their successful push northward halted abruptly when they realized that a) there were no cities of gold like they found with the Aztecs, and b) the Apaches had learned to fight them on horseback.  The other Amerinds such as the Pueblos were easily enslaved because they were fixed, usually in one spot, and didn't ride horses.  But Pueblo slaves who had been trained to ride horses escaped with the horses, the horsemen were taken in by the Apaches, and the Apaches learned to ride like the dagoes.  This revolutionized life on the plains, and the Apache became the scourge of the Spaniard -- almost a terrorist, striking at random and disappearing into the night, forcefully taking the women as wives, torturing the men to death, taking the children as slaves, and flying so far and so fast that the Spanish were incapable of catching them.

Which brings us to the arrival of the Comanche.  This people lived in the wastes of Wyoming until horses arrived; and while the horses revolutionized Amerind culture in general, the Comanche embraced it more totally than anyone else.  And they began to pour south, along with other random now-mounted tribes, making way into areas already inhabited by other Indians; and these incursions started wars, and lots of other Indians lost their their lands and their lives.  The Apaches were no match for the Comanches, and soon found themselves pushed to desperation: the best parts of the plains were robbed from these robbers, Apache men were tortured to death, and the women were taken, and children were enslaved.  The Comanches with their long spears and their war whoops and hatred of settling were compared by historians to the Hun; and the Spaniard was allowed to thrive on the borders of the bison-filled plains, not to live peacefully alongside the Comanche, but to raise cattle and horses the Comanche could steal.

We're all aware of how things ended for the Comanche and the Spaniard in Texas; and what we learn from reading T.R. Fehrenbach's fascinating and not-to-be-missed book is that aside from the original almost-men, there is no such thing as an America of the First Nations; and if there was, these nations had taken it from other nations, which had taken it from other nations.  There is also no such thing as a "Native American,"  especially since 1) no one people inhabited the whole of America, since 2) there were three-hundred almost completely different Indian languages by the arrival of the Spaniard, since 3) many of them committed genocide to stay where we found them, and since 4) most of these Indians, especially if they were hunters and foragers, hated the other Indians.  Many tribes, such as the Tonkawas and the Comanches, referred to themselves, in completely different languages, as The Real Human Beings or The Most Human of Men.  This leads us to wonder what they thought of the other human beings; at least until we consider how they treated their captives.

What this leads us to realize is that, just like there's no such thing as white culture unless you contrast it with black culture or brown culture, there's no such thing as Indian culture unless you contrast it with white culture; and the so-called tragedy of the white conquest of the Americas was merely another phase in the Indian history of conquests.  Land has never belonged to anyone other than those who can hold it; and the Reconquista is only happening today because white men are worse organized and less spirited than Mexicans, like the Pueblos were worse organized and spirited than the Apache, and the Apache were worse organized and spirited than the Comanche.  The Americans were merely Comanches with Jesus and Beethoven and John Locke and capitalism and literature and prettier women.  We believe we're worse than the Indians only because nobody reads serious books about the Indians*.

You don't have to be part Mestizo (like I am) to know what happens to men who were born here if they don't take too seriously the men who were born elsewhere.  Land is here before you arrive and it's here long after you're gone, and the most important thing is not who held it yesterday but who holds it today, and whether this place is safe for our grandchildren tomorrow.  A title, in the grand scheme of races and nations, means almost nothing.  The question of any civilization is not who we will lose out to, but when -- and what we are willing to do to delay it.

F.T. Fehrenbach proves in his history of Texas that the peaceful and constructive Pueblos can lose out to the ape-like Apache; and that if the civilization of John Locke and Beethoven is going to outlast the barbarity of Juarez or Damascus, it will not only be because we were more civilized.  It will be because we were jealous about the land we were born on, and were manlier and better armed than the people who were trying to take it.

Your father,

*Mark Twain had plenty of nice things to say about blacks and the Chinese; and if you read his essays and sketches you'll find him advocating left and right for the dignity and rights of the other races.  So far as I have read he's had no such words for the Indians.  His essay on The Noble Red Man, probably the coldest and cruellest description of any people, goes partially as follows:
...He is a good, fair, desirable subject for extermination if ever there was one. There is nothing figurative, or moonshiny, or sentimental about his language. It is very simple and unostentatious, and consists of plain, straightforward lies. His "wisdom" conferred upon an idiot would leave that idiot helpless indeed. He is ignoble--base and treacherous, and hateful in every way. Not even imminent death can startle him into a spasm of virtue. The ruling trait of all savages is a greedy and consuming selfishness, and in our Noble Red Man it is found in its amplest development. His heart is a cesspool of falsehood, of treachery, and of low and devilish instincts. With him, gratitude is an unknown emotion; and when one does him a kindness, it is safest to keep the face toward him, lest the reward be an arrow in the back. To accept of a favor from him is to assume a debt which you can never repay to his satisfaction, though you bankrupt yourself trying. To give him a dinner when he is starving, is to precipitate the whole hungry tribe upon your hospitality, for he will go straight and fetch them, men, women, children, and dogs, and these they will huddle patiently around your door, or flatten their noses against your window, day aft er day, gazing beseechingly upon every mouthful you take, and unconsciously swallowing when you swallow! The scum of the earth! And the Noble Son of the Plains becomes a mighty hunter in the due and proper season. That season is the summer, and the prey that a number of the tribes hunt is crickets and grasshoppers! The warriors, old men, women, and children, spread themselves abroad in the plain and drive the hopping creatures before them into a ring of fire. I could describe the feast that then follows, without missing a detail, if I thought the reader would stand it. All history and honest observation will show that the Red Man is a skulking coward and a windy braggart, who strikes without warning--usually from an ambush or under cover of night, and nearly always bringing a force of about five or six to one against his enemy; kills helpless women and little children, and massacres the men in their beds; and then brags about it as long as he lives, and his son and his grandson and great-grandson after him glorify it among the "heroic deeds of their ancestors." A regiment of Fenians will fill the whole world with the noise of it when they are getting ready invade Canada; but when the Red Man declares war, the first intimation his friend the white man whom he supped with at twilight has of it, is when the war-whoop rings in his ears and tomahawk sinks into his brain. . .. The Noble Red Man seldom goes prating loving foolishness to a splendidly caparisoned blushing maid at twilight. No; he trades a crippled horse, or a damaged musket, or a dog, or a gallon of grasshoppers, and an inefficient old mother for her, and makes her work like an abject slave all the rest of her life to compensate him for the outlay. He never works himself. She builds the habitation, when they use one (it consists in hanging half a dozen rags over the weather side of a sage-brush bush to roost under); gathers and brings home the fuel; takes care of the raw-boned pony when they possess such grandeur; she walks and carries her nursing cubs while he rides. She wears no clothing save the fragrant rabbit-skin robe which her great-grandmother before her wore, and all the "blushing" she does can be removed with soap and a towel, provided it is only four or five weeks old and not caked. Such is the genuine Noble Aborigine. I did not get him from books, but from personal observation.

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  1. The Mexicans can claim Texas, but they never owned Texas. They might want to run that by the Comanche.


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