The Big Thicket

A Last Link with the Living Frontier

 

The Big Thicket is an ecological wonder. This dense forest, sprawling between the Sabine and Trinity rivers in east Texas, constitutes a natural crossroads for plant and animal species from almost every part of the country. No less remarkable is the pioneer way of life that still flourishes where the dwindling generation of settlers’ descendants live in the Thicket’s leafy shadow, just fifty miles from downtown Houston. Read more »

Carving The American Colossus

The granite was tough—but so was Gutzon Borglum

In late August, 1970, a band of Sioux Indians entered the sacred precincts of a National Memorial in South Dakota and bivouacked on a mountaintop there for several weeks. The precincts were sacred to the Sioux because they are in the heart of the Black Hills, long regarded by their tribe as the dwelling place of Indian gods and spirits. And, as signaled by the apprehensive behavior of park rangers who monitored the Indians closely during their stay, the precincts are also precious to the United States Department of the Interior.Read more »

Who Invented Scalping?

Americans have always assumed that scalping and Indians were synonymous. Cutting the crown of hair from a fallen adversary has traditionally been viewed as an ancient Indian custom, performed to obtain tangible proof of the warrior’s valor. But in recent years many voices—Indian and white—have seriously questioned whether the Indians did in fact invent scalping. The latest suggestion is that the white colonists, in establishing bounties for enemy hair, introduced scalping to Indian allies innocent of the practice. Read more »

The Terror of the Wilderness

Why have Americans perceived nature as something to be conquered?

Most people who have reflected at all upon the known history of the Americas, particularly North America, have been impressed one way or another with its dominant quality of fierceness. After that early, first blush of paradisial imaginings, stained by the lush colors of the tropic islands and the defenseless peoples found thereon, a somber mood of misgiving settled over the questing Europeans, filtered their perceptions, filtered at last into the bleached bones of their accounts of exploration.Read more »

The Sweet Grass Lives On

A decade ago a serious recognition of American Indian painters was rare indeed, for the simple reason that few art critics considered that there was anything about Indian painting worth knowing. Read more »

The Reluctant Conquerors

How the Generals Viewed the Indians

The white man’s peace at Appomattox in 1865 meant war for the Plains Indians. In the next quarter century six and a half million settlers moved west of the Missouri River, upsetting a precarious balance that had existed between two million earlier pioneers and their hundred thousand “hostile” red neighbors. The industrial energy that had flowed into the Civil War now pushed rail lines across traditional hunting grounds.Read more »

America Illusion And Reality

No event in the history of Western man provided so profound a shock as the discovery of America

America was an experience man could only have once. Knowledge of China, knowledge of Africa, festooned as it was with the Spanish moss of myth and legend, had penetrated Europe from the days of Imperial Rome and beyond. When discovered, the animals of Australasia were stranger by far than America’s, and the aborigines and the bushmen of Tasmania were more primitive, even more uniformly naked than the Caribs whose appearance was so startling to Columbus. By then the strangeness of the Americas had destroyed the sense of novelty. There could only be one New World. Read more »

Columbus And Genocide

The discoverer of the New World was responsible for the annihilation of the peaceful Arawak Indians

On April 17, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic monarchs of Castile, signed the Capitulations of Santa Fe, the agreement by which Christopher Columbus, one-time wool-weaving apprentice in Savona, Italy, undertook a voyage of discovery to the western Atlantic. Read more »

The Chief Of State And The Chief

In the snarled disputes over the Yazoo land claims in 1790 George Washington and an educated Creek chieftain turned out to be the diplomatic kingpins

Shortly past noon on April 30, 1789, a tall, somber man, dressed in a simple brown suit, was inaugurated as the first President of the United States at Federal Hall in New York City. For the people who watched the ceremony it was a day of celebration and of enthusiastic confidence in the man who now led them. But the emotion that stirred the crowd, the cannon salutes, the cheers, could not soothe the anxiety of the new President.Read more »

Horsepower Comes To The Magpies

One of the most exciting stories in American history is that of how the Indian got the horse and what this astonishing innovation did to change the culture of the red men of the Plains [see “How the Indian Got the Horse,” AMERICAN HERITAGE , February, 1964]. Indian horses were, of course, of Spanish descent, the first of them almost certainly stolen by members of the Pueblo tribe whom the conquistadors had enslaved.Read more »