The Cowboys and the Ring

Apache warrior Geronimo (right) and his warriors from left to right: Yanozha (Geronimos´s brother-in-law), Chappo (Geronimo´s son of 2nd wife) and Fun (Yanozha´s half brother) in 1886. (Arizona Historical Society)

Apache warrior Geronimo (right) and his warriors from left to right: Yanozha (Geronimos´s brother-in-law), Chappo (Geronimo´s son of 2nd wife) and Fun (Yanozha´s half brother) in 1886. (Arizona Historical Society)

What was true during the Indian Wars throws some light on the dark clouds surrounding our contemporary War on Terror.

An asteroid field of rascals and blackguards orbited the Tucson Ring like a diabolical emanation from the central star of a planetary system. John G. Bourke continues to explain in his On the Border with Crook (New York: Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1891):

To disarm Indians is always an unsatisfactory piece of business, so long as the cowboys and other lawless characters in the vicinity of the agencies are allowed to roam over the country, each one a travelling arsenal. The very same men who will kill unarmed squaws and children … will turn around and sell to the bucks the arms and ammunition which they require for the next war-path.

The parallels with modern North American warfare history easily come to mind: you make money by selling arms to Saddam Hussein to fight a war against Iraq; when he invades Kuwait, you make money again by selling the weapons and supplies needed to invade Iraq during the First Iraq War. When that conflict is over, in the wake of the horror of 9/11, you make more money by invading Iraq during the Second War to defend the free world from the non-existent threat of weapons of mass destruction. Finally, you make even more money by occupying Iraq and selling to the federal government the provisions needed to rebuild the country. Then the cycle—through the Ring and its Cowboys—is completed and ready to begin once again.

What are the occupied populations—American Indians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Iraqis—to do in order to shake off the profiteering abuses of the Cowboys and the Ring?

To Americans generally, the aborigine is a nonentity except when he is upon the war-path. The moment he concludes to live at peace with the whites, that moment all his troubles begin.

Engraving of General George Crook on horse patrol in Indian country circa 1867; published in The Century Magazine in March 1891. Engraving by Frederic Remington.

Engraving of General George Crook on horse patrol in Indian country circa 1867; published in The Century Magazine in March 1891. Engraving by Frederic Remington.

Which according to Bourke, led General George Crook to comment: “The American Indian commands respect for his rights only so long as he inspires terror for his rifle.”

Crook, who spent a lifetime fighting the Indian wars, and who became the greatest of Indian fighting generals, wrote to his superiors in Washington during his last campaign against Geronimo:

I do not wish to be understood as in the least palliating their crimes, but I wish to say a word to stem the torrent of invective and abuse which has almost universally been indulged in against the whole Apache race. This is not strange on the frontier from a certain class of vampires who prey on the misfortunes of their fellow-men, and who live best and easiest in time of Indian troubles. With them peace kills the goose that lays the golden egg. Greed and avarice on the part of the whites—in other words, the almighty dollar—is at the bottom of nine tenths of all our Indian trouble.

OG

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