There are a number of issues here to which our interpretive analysis must be drawn:
- First of all, we need to note the immense attention to even the smallest details in the letter. The detailed description is inordinate for someone who was not even present at the site of the murders—the writer in Westmoreland. Suspicion should already be heightened that too many details were added in Philadelphia, rather than in Westmoreland or even at an oral traditions stage coming out of Rivesville. This already says something about the mindset of the publisher of the letter and the mindset of his public.
- That there were two Indian men on the scene seems apparent. We have Stephen Morgan’s word to that. That much seems unquestionable.
- Morgan would have been 57 years old. While that would not have disqualified him from battle or military service, it seems quite old for a single warrior to be choosing to attack an enemy alone in the open field, let alone two of them. That would mean that he chose a fight in which he was outnumbered. It is hard to imagine even euro-christian arrogance resulting in such brazen bravery.
- The identification of David Morgan as a kinsman of quite famous virginian military hero, Daniel Morgan, has been made persistently. It is patently false. To my knowledge this “letter” is the first instance of that claim having been made. This is undoubtedly Brackenridge’s editorial work, enhancing the importance of the event and his magazine story. No one close to David Morgan would have made that mistake or had any reason to manufacture the relationship. In later tellings, Daniel becomes the “estranged” younger brother of David. Brackenridge, on the other hand, was deeply involved in that war, having served as chaplain to the Continental Army and having functioned as an incendiary patriotic voice both as chaplain and as writer after that service. His seemingly intentional mistake here, and editorial insertion, would serve to enhance the romance of the narrative of the original letter.
- If there was a general fear of Indian raids that brought the surrounding enclave in to the safety of the fort’s confines, why in the world would a “doting father” (Stephen Morgan’s description) send his “younger” children out a mile from the fort on farming chores without himself? This simply fails to ring true; it would have been irresponsible parenting, to say the least. Later versions attempt to explain this discrepancy away by insisting that Morgan was ill at the time, but Brackenridge’s “letter” fails to indicate anything of this nature. Then we have Stephen Morgan’s abbreviated version in which there is no mention of children (namely, himself!) being out at the farm at this dangerous moment and no mention of any illness on David’s part. The two children most often mentioned as having been sent to the farm are Stephen and Sarah. Stephen would have been not yet eighteen; Sarah thirteen or fourteen. Now these teenagers are certainly not 21stcentury teenagers. We know that Lewis Wetzel was eighteen when he publicly killed a Lenape man who was trying to negotiate peace with his commanding officer, Col. Brodhead. Wetzel, still young, was an accomplished frontiersman and professed Indian killer, as was Jesse Hughes and Stephen’s cousin Levi Morgan. Wetzel, Hughes, and Levi Morgan would have been roughly the same age group as Stephen. Surely Stephen would have been armed; perhaps even Sarah. After all, these euro-christian invaders certainly felt the need for constructing forts like Pricketts. Why would an older man decide to square off with two much younger and stronger adversaries while he instructs his perfectly capable son to run? Why wouldn’t they have fought side by side—as so many other stories depict father and son in battle during this time? And this is especially significant given that the old man was outnumbered by two armed young Indian men. It seems apparent to this reader that Brackenridge must have invented the children-present part of the narrative. Again this would have functioned to enhance David Morgan’s heroism, to heighten the sense of heroism of the amer-christian over against the hated enemy. Stephen omitting any mention of his or his sister’s presence is critical here. He surely would not have omitted that fact if it were indeed the case. Stephen was strong enough to farm; surely he was trained in military arts living that deep in frontier territory. Lewis Wetzel, we know, was carrying a rifle by age thirteen. Surely, Stephen would have been armed that day. And certainly he took on military responsibilities as sheriff of Monongalia County early in the next century. Could this have been an invention that crept into the oral tradition before it got to Brackenridge—to explain away David’s rashness in taking on two Indian adversaries? I suppose that is possible, but it seems to me improbable that early in the oral tradition process. More likely, in my opinion, the urbanite Brackenridge was the inventor of this detail. Having lived his life much further east, he would not have the intimate knowledge of the technical difficulties of frontier living in squatter enclaves—at least not at this stage of his life. The incongruity would have been far less noticeable to him.
- Then we must deal with the fact already alluded to that there was only a single surviving eyewitness to the events that unfolded—either sans children or after they run for the fort. But remember, Stephen does not place himself on the scene at all. It certainly would have helped his description if he could have provided eyewitness testimony at least to the presence of two Indian men. So ultimately, we—meaning we modern readers, and those who were secondarily at the scene after Morgan’s action in the field, and even Brackenridge—have only David Morgan’s word for what happened that day! And in reality we do not even have Morgan’s word, since he did not write about the incident, nor is he recorded as speaking about it directly. As the first written account, Brackenridge’s “letter” would then have become a principle source for a still congealing oral tradition.
- There are at least two instances in the letter that show editorial enhancement for the sake of making the narrative more pointed in its anti-Indian-ness: “The Indian by this time had got his tomahawk in order for a throw, at which they are very dexterous.” The appearance of a tomahawk reads naturally as part of a report. The addition of the racial stinger at the end of the sentence, however, is undoubtedly an addition: “…at which they are very dexterous.” Not yet living on the frontier, Brackenridge simply does not know that Lew Wetzel is just as dexterous, for instance, but to this day the symbol of a tomahawk is used as a racially identifying device.The addition is intended to heighten the racialization of the enemy in the minds of his Philadelphia authence. The same seems the case for the following sentence which includes this addition: “yelling most hideously, as their manner is when they look upon victory to be certain.” It certainly seems unlikely that Morgan, recovering from relatively serious injury and loss of blood, would be interested in this detail as it is written. Morgan may have remembered a yell. The Westmoreland traditior might have included a yell. But here again, the narrative is significantly enhanced to widen further the gap between christian (clarified explicitly as White) and a savage Native. A further emendation seems to accompany the letter’s report of the skinning of both victims. That they were disfigured this way is not the question. That much is undoubtedly the case. But the act of skinning seems to have shocked even this diehard Indian hater: “…to gratify some peculiar feelings of their own, skinning them both….” After all, Brackenridge is a city boy, a college graduate, a minister, etc. Skinning a victim would not be a usual mode of thinking in his urbane world, in spite of his need to deprecate Indian enemies.
- It seems clear that Brackenridge edited this letter with a similar heavy hand, as he did demonstrably with the Knight report.
- So what actually happened? Here we can only suggest possibilities based on what we do know about the historical context. I am offering my reading of the incident, trimmed of all the ornamentation that has attached itself.
- Two Lenape men were out one day wandering through their land, through their former home perhaps, or maybe they were neighbors. Maybe they were hunting. We don’t know. But David Morgan sees them. Or more likely, he sees one man not realizing there are two of them.
- Maybe these men live in an Indian community nearby. Friendly Indians. Like the Conestoga Indians who continued to live peacefully with their new neighbors in Pennsylvania and whom the presbyterian Paxton Boys dispatched in their rage at all Indians two decades before. The widely reported speech of the mortally wounded man (“How do do broder, how do do, broder?”) might be an indication that we are indeed dealing with a christian convert. That a Lenape might know some english language is not surprising, but the use of the english word “brother” as an address is. While the usage is more common street language today (Howdy, Bro! or He’s my bro.), in 1779 it would still have been a more religious usage. The “how do” part of the questions sounds odd in today’s english usage, but it accords with usage of the time, dating to 1680, particularly in scottish usage.
- If these two men were actually out to engage in active Indian resistance, surely they would have been much more attentive and careful. The euro-christian romance, however, makes every effort to cast Indian peoples as inept, lacking in proficiency. For better or worse, we can only guess at the intentions of these two men; likewise we can only guess at what might have gone through Morgan’s mind as he saw the first of the two men.
- My own guess is that Morgan, seeing only one man at first, simply decided that this was an easy kill, another note in his bible. Having a reputation as skillful with a rifle, he drew a bead and shot the man forthwith. Indeed, this would have been a pro forma action in Morgan’s frontier world of euro-christian domination. He certainly knew the young Jesse Hughes, his own nephew’s serial murder of Indians was already a legend in that part of the country. But to Morgan’s surprise there were two men in the field, not just one. Having fired his (single-shot, muzzle-loading) rifle, he was suddenly in big trouble. Lew Wetzel was famous for being able to reload while at a full run, but that was a scarce talent. Morgan was 57 and less physically inclined than young Wetzel. Now it became hand to hand combat. That Morgan won that struggle is as much luck as anything. How much of the story to believe is difficult to ascertain, of course, but there does seem a weight of evidence that there were two men killed that day. My argument, however, is that Morgan did not expect to have to deal with a second person after killing the first. The first killing was cold blood. The second has some element of self-defense, but I would argue that it was murder all the same. Both men should have survived to be with their own children that night or soon thereafter.
The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.
In David Morgan we do not quite see the dedicated, single-minded Indian-killer that we see in his upstream colleague Jesse Hughes or in his nephew Levi Morgan (Zackquill’s son). Nonetheless, David brags in his family bible that was able to kill seven Indians in his lifetime. His son Stephen assures us that this was before the two he killed on that infamous day that insured David’s frontier hero status. Levi Morgan’s killings are numbered, we are told, in the hundreds, and like Hughes or Lewis Wetzel further north near Pittsburgh, Levi’s killings mostly happened outside of the context of military battles. These men were dedicated serial murderers, to use Barbara Mann’s designation.
David Morgan does reflect the general attitude of the invaders towards the aboriginal Natives whom they were displacing. Hughes, Wetzel, and Levi Morgan were held in the highest regard for their records of slaughter; they were already romanticized in their own day by their frontier neighbors. When Col. Daniel Broadhead, leading an army of half Continental regulars and half locally recruited militia volunteers, promised safety to a Lenape delegation to cross the river and negotiate peace with the americans, Wetzel interrupted the peace process single-handedly. As the two Lenape disembarked from their canoe, “Lew Wetzel… walked up behind one of them and sank a tomahawk into his skull.”
While Wetzel’s killing ensured the continuation of warfare between the two sides, an enraged Broadhead was powerless to discipline Wetzel because of the high regard the volunteers had for the man. Broadhead would have lost half of his army forthwith. Wetzel, like Jesse Hughes, killed Indians out of pure hatred but also simply as sport.
Describing a later incident in Wetzel’s life, George Carroll avers, “No action could illustrate any better what a skillful and remorseless terrorist Lewis Wetzel had become by his mid-twenties.” Carroll goes on to argue, “The task of an adequate scale of judgment for assessing the homicidal actions of Lewis Wetzel is difficult to establish apart from the frontier society he inhabited.” Indeed, the enclaves of christian settler-invaders may not have widely emulated these killers, but they depended on them to help build their own security living on stolen land. Thus, they were widely admired and glorified in the euro-christian frontier romance narrative.
Likewise, after the Rivesville killings David Morgan’s fame was ensured. What actually happened that day on the farm we will never really know for sure, but it looks like a simple case of murder times two. He could aim his rifle at what he thought was a lone Indian roaming his farm and kill him in cold blood simply because, as son Stephen reports, that is what euro-christian squatters on the frontier did: “I certainly would not class him an Indian-fighter, no more than I would class Jacob Prickett, Frederick Ice, or Nathaniel Cochran as such. He was a Christian….”
So killing the first of these men was merely a habitual response, and alone it probably would not have earned him the fame that resulted in his hand to hand fight with the second man.
The plea of humanity notwithstanding, Crevecoeur’s testimony is clearly suggestive of how effectively unnerved much of the American rural population was, and how much food producing western territory was depopulated by guerrilla warfare which in reality employed few armed forces. Would that the large armies of the Revolution had been as effective.
He goes on to warmly cite novelist Zane Grey, who used the Wetzel personage to create several novels: “The border needed Wetzel. The settlers would have needed many more years in which to make permanent homes had it not been for him. He was never a pioneer; but always a hunter of Indians.”
That, too, was Morgan’s nephew Levi and Jesse Hughes, but David Morgan was a farmer: “…the profession of which he is most proud,” reported Stephen. Yet the Indian-killing romance around Wetzel, Hughes, Levi Morgan and others developed precisely among these farmers and their families. Their occupation of Native lands depended on the terrorism and easy serial murder of Indian people perpetrated by these Indian killers.
Meanwhile, journalist/politicians like Hugh Henry Brackenridge advanced the narrative all the more widely though their publications—insuring that future euro-christian writers like Zane Grey would perpetuate a variety of variant narrative romances of conquest well into the 21stcentury. It is clear from Brackenridge’s later publications that his virulent anti-Indian sentiment and rhetoric continued until late in his life.
By 1792 he published a front page article in the National Gazette pressing the government of the new republic to continue its military attacks on Native Peoples in the Ohio Valley. That article argued the national government had an obligation to defend its frontier citizens as they penetrated ever deeper into Native territories. “The government,” Brackenridge argues is “bound to give peaceable possession of the soil,” that is, Indian soil, to its citizens.
As Patrick Spero argues, Brackenridge held an attitude towards Native Peoples that was shared across the frontier—but one he in no small way helped to entrench through his writing. He found Indian Peoples to be inherent and perpetual enemies who are a constant threat to invade—a curious reversal of actualities, a kind of psychological projection that Freud would have found interesting.
The best defense, Brackenridge finally concludes, would be a military offensive, “penetrating the forests, where they haunt, and extirpating the race.” Spero concludes, “Such an offensive posture, framed by the idea of a permanent Indian enemy constantly threatening invasion, meant that the frontier was to be an expanding and active zone of military operation.” David Morgan, and his history of murdering Indians, is deeply embedded in this frontier christian narrative.
American history is overflowing with fictional, historical, legal and religious narratives invented by the euro-christian colonialists, invariably casting Native Peoples in a negative light and functioning to justify euro-christian conquest and occupation. Moreover, the colonialist academic histories that ensue from these narratives are inherently steeped in the romance of this history even as academics make their usual claim to objectivity. It is the ground level stuff of contemporary american exceptionalism.
So jamaican scholar David Scott should not surprise us when he argues that the vast majority of academic histories (and he would include all european histories in his critique) produced during the era of modernity are written in what he identifies as the romance genre. Indeed, much of christian colonialist history, past and present, paints an idyllic Bierstadt portrait of a bucolic fantasy community bathed in a warm sepia light—until the Indians appear.
This means that we must regularly invoke a hermeneutic of suspicion whenever we engage historical interpretation of any narrative rooted in this colonial past. As the saying goes, history is written by the victors, and in this case the victors are the christian colonialists who continue to steep their histories in the veil of romanticism.
Scott’s corrective is to insist that histories should be written as tragedies. An english interpreter does some of this work for modern american folk. D.H. Lawrence, writing in Taos New Mexico in 1923, put it this way: “But you have there the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”
As we watch an America today wrestle with the continuing specter of confederate civil war statues and persistent calls for their removal and some memorializing of that hurtful past, we cannot help but ask about amer-christian people’s history of violence with regard to American Indians. How can we memorialize that past in all of its quagmire depths and complexities without recourse to the genre of tragedy?
I began this research project with a book of christian history that was bound in leather tanned from the flayed hide of a murdered Indian man (i.e., a Lenape man), a book that was held as a treasure and displayed with honor for 80 years in the library of a methodist school of theology as a special trophy in their rare book collection. Iliff school of Theology did the right thing in 1974 when they separated the cover from the book and surrendered it to the Colorado American Indian Movement for burial—even if they did so by invoking secrecy, intentionally swearing Colorado AIM to secrecy as part of the deal, in order not to offend their funding base.
One of the unanswered questions had to do with how the book ended up in a methodist institution. The book had been a gift from a local methodist minister with connections to west Virginia. But how did a methodist minister come to possess the book? Part of the answer lies in the unfolding history of quaker born David Morgan, reputed to have helped build the first episcopal church in Fairmont.
By 1786, however, Morgan had become a methodist—along with several neighbors and family members. In this, he is much like quaker born John Evans, the Colorado territorial governor associated with the Massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek in 1864. So we come full circle from methodist to methodist. But lest we be too hard on methodists, we remember that quaker born Daniel Boone became baptist by the end of his life.
Brackenridge and then Andrew Jackson were presbyterian; other prominent anglo-christian conquistadores were puritan or episcopalian. The tragedy here is that religious affiliation (i.e., christian affiliation), even with pacifist leanings, could not protect the original peoples of the land from displacement, land theft, murder, terrorism and genocide.
It was just too deeply ingrained in the behavioral habits and conceptual imaginary of the christian invaders. The next step, initiated from the beginning, as it were, was to ingrain these behavioral habits in legal codices and in intellectual discourses that provided some clear excuse for christian behavior. That would lead us logically into a critique of (episcopalian) John Marshall’s unanimous decision in the Johnson v. M’Intosh case on the Doctrine of (christian) Discovery in 1823, 44 years after the Morgan killings.
What actually happened has no real currency at all. It is a matter of how one tells the story that counts. Descendent Raymond Morgan, president of the 2007 Morgan family reunion event, boiled the Morgan story down to these fantasized and romanticized basics in a newspaper interview that June:
Some books say it was two Indiansand some say three, but more say two than three. The story is that he woke up dreaming that the Indianswere sneaking up on his family to kill them. He went back to bed and had the same dream again. So, he went up the hill and there were the Indians in between him and his kids. 
To begin with, Raymond has not read the report of his ancestor Stephen Morgan, who clearly insisted that it was only two men that his father David killed and not three, but he gets this part of the story right. This is the only point he makes in his short narrative, however, that is unassailably “correct” — the rest is mere romantic historical fantasy: “He woke up dreaming….” Here, Raymond Morgan adopts what is clearly is part of the late addition to the heroic narrative.
The earliest tellings of the story do not have Morgan in bed, let alone feeling ill or having the flu. These are all late additions to the legend, functioning as enhancements. In the “earliest printed version” of the narrative, Morgan has no dream, but merely goes out to check on the children, but, then, there is the matter of having children present in the narrative at all. I have already discredited that “earliest printed version” of the narrative where David Morgan “sent some of his younger children to his plantation, which was about a mile distant, there to do some business in the field.”
The narrative continues immediately, without any notation that Morgan was either ill or in bed taking a nap, as might befit an elderly man of 57: “He afterwards thought fit to follow, and see how they fared.”
Indeed! Remember there are “Indians” afoot (as in “there was mischief afoot”). Yes, these are dangerous times, and dangerous times make for great romance, great heroic narrative.
But wait, we should take a minute to unpack the parenting issues involved here. What in the world was this parent thinking, sending children off into the frontier of a war zone “to do some business in the field” at a moment of such impending danger?
Remember that in 1809 his son Stephen called David “a loving, and most times, a too indulgent parent.” Again, this rescuing the children motif must be an addition to the narrative to enhance its romantic heroic value as anti-Indian war propaganda—with no attention to the incongruities. I have already made that point, but it bears reiteration with further argumentation.
By the time the narrative takes shape, already in Brackenridge’s contemporaneous “letter,” David Morgan is no longer a real person but has become a romantic symbol of the righteousness of christian conquest and domination on the continent. And that important point perdures right into the present. In order to ensure that we all understand the genre, Raymond Morgan, clarifies in 2007 that the threat to christian occupation and David’s immediate enemy was “the Indians.” Not men, not even Indian men, let alone Lenape or Lenape men, but “the Indians:” “the Indians” who were “sneaking up on his family,” or standing “between him and his kids.”
Yet he does clarify who these “the Indians” are. We know immediately who they because they are “sneaking.” That simple word immediately identifies Indian Peoples as the wrongdoers of christian colonialist history. It speaks volumes in terms of how these peace-loving christian farmers, who only came to eke out a living of the land (someone else’s land, albeit; Native land!) were constantly being threatened by “the Indians” sneaking about their “property”—property having become a whole new cognitional category that only begins to emerge with euro-christian modernity.
The literature is filled with code words, like naming Indians as sneaking or marauding, that seem invariably to require no argumentation or proof. They are presumed as axiomatic. It is easy enough to point to the propagandistic narrative of a Brackenridge, for whom Indians are the permanent enemy. But the coded use of language continues even in more contemporary scholarship.
West Virginia historian Jack Moore was writing about Morgan in 1962 when he described “the dramatic and heroic nature of Morgan’s struggle alone against two marauding savages.” Of course, Indians are marauding, and savages to boot. Indians are always marauding; and always savage. Otherwise it would be more difficult for christian folk to rationalize killing them and stealing their land. So marauding savages are code words accepted at face value by almost all euro-christian readers into the present, persistently repeated in what pass for scholarly discourses in critical and analytical histories  — and of course, in children’s literature.
And eventually the signifiers are accepted even by the victims of genocidal abuse as appropriate designations of themselves, or at least of their ancestors. After all, they have become christian nowadays, so they are no longer savage, and they are no longer marauders because they live in (substandard) HUD housing developments. Yet even today according to the Center for Disease Control, young Indian men (age 20-44) are more likely to be killed by police than are young African American men.
In a second 2007 local newspaper interview, in August, Raymond reports a very different scenario than he had reported less than two months earlier in the June interview. Now, all of a sudden, ancestor David did not kill anyone. Rather his is distinctly identified as an “Indian Negotiator” rather than an Indian killer. In this interview Mary Burnside reports a whole new, radically different, version of the David Morgan story, with details not readily available from other sources.
David, who settled in Rivesville, was known as an Indian negotiator after rescuing his two children from members of the Delaware tribe. David also was friends with Daniel Boone, whose mother was a Morgan, said Raymond Morgan of Fairmont, president of the reunion committee: “He’s gone down in history with the false idea that he was an Indian fighter, but he was a negotiator,” said Raymond Morgan: “He was a peaceful man, but one you wouldn’t want to cross.” That’s because, in order to negotiate with Indians in the wake of the kidnapping of white settlers, Raymond Morgan said, David actually then would take some Indian braves and use them as bargaining chips.
In this version, the reputation of David Morgan is sanitized to fit today’s contemporary notions of morality. Any notion, then, of David as an Indian fighter or Indian killer seems put to rest by Raymond Morgan in favor of a gentler, kinder colonialist who is an expert at negotiating. He no longer kills these Indian men; rather, he rescues his children—ostensibly by trading Indian captives, negotiating. So the legend continues to grow. Nevertheless, it grows, as always, to the detriment of Indian Peoples.
David may have been sanitized, but we are back to Indian men being identified as “braves,” and one supposes Indian women would be identified in terms of their genitalia… (i.e., squaws). Here the code word “braves” designates Indian men as primitive, warlike savages. The imagery casts them as less competent than the more civilized (and civil—even when they are murderers) euro-christian men. These braves may be brave, but they are entirely inadequate in comparison to the euro-christian guy, who is able to round up captives at will to use “as bargaining chips.” This David is “peaceful,” says gx-grandson Raymond—never mind that he was “able to kill seven Indians” according to his family bible, and that before the two killed that day at Rivesville. And what a brave and skillful man David turns out to be, able as he is to come up with multiple hostages (i.e., “some Indian braves”) to trade for White euro-christian captives.
In 2007 Morgan reunion activities included a song celebrating David Morgan’s murder of these two Lenape men, sung by a sixth grade descendent accompanied by his teacher, also a descendent. The explicit christian identification here (catholic affiliation) of both student and teacher should be noted here. Sometimes “euro-christian” is a sociological designation, at other times it is much more transparent and explicit.
A song about David Morgan, titled “My River,” will be sung by [a sixth-grader] from Fairmont Catholic Grade School. Committee member Robert Ellis, [the student’s] music teacher at Fairmont Catholic, will provide accompaniment. The song originally was created by West Virginia composer William Prunty, also a Morgan descendant. Prunty began writing a musical about David Morgan’s life but died in 1999, before it could be finished. Ellis hopes one day to complete the folk musical and perform it at Pricketts Fort.
Killing Indians was still being memorialized as heroic accomplishment in christian schools in 2007. So why can’t Indians let go of our painful past? Perhaps we can talk about that when White euro-christian folk finally let go of their past and stop celebrating the genocide of Indian Peoples. Of course, the problem is that this would mean letting go of George Washington, Indian killer and slave owner; and letting go of Andrew Jackson, Indian killer and slave owner; and letting go of lots of other White euro-christian heroes. That would go way beyond removing confederate statues.
The Indian-Savage Meme
The Indian or Indians/injuns were not just an obvious threat to euro-christian domination on the trans-Allegheny frontier—and ultimately across the continent. Rather, they become a veritable meme that functions to signal the self-identity of the christian domination Self, both back then and yet today.
The meme becomes so deeply embedded in the euro-christian consciousness that it persists across time and space, perduring into our present era. It continues to have its own life in our midst and even claims each of us as its progenitors.
To wit, a news item on politico.com caught my eye the morning of September 5, 2017. It was the picture and the subtitle that first drew my attention. Titled: “Is America Still a ‘Nation of Ideas’?”, the accompanying graphic displayed more than a dozen arrows, some resting in a “quiver” made from a rolled copy of the Declaration of Independence, and some stuck around it in the red backdrop, having missed their mark. While they looked like “feathered” arrows, I gave it little thought until I read the subtitle: “Warring Tribes or United by Principle?”  Ah-ha: The “damn it he’s an Indian” meme!
And then I came across a local, largely euro-christian (i.e., White), public school that is using an old school racist novel to teach reading at the fifth grade—precisely that moment when a child’s race sentiment is shaped. The book is another romantic tale of White boy who bests savage Indians at their own game. Indians are animal-like, Indian women are referred to by their genitalia, and the moral superiority of Whiteness is roundly affirmed at the end. The White boy makes his escape from the Indians, completely repulsed by their habit of collecting human scalps. He is better than that.
Never mind that his people, euro-christian people, paid enormous sums for collecting Indian scalps and probably initiated scalping as a practice on this continent having brought it with them from Europe. The image of Indian folk that these children will have deeply implanted in their consciousness will be very difficult to remove once they are adults.
Yet, thanks to the protest of White euro-christian graduate students in 1974, children can no longer be traipsed over to Iliff School of Theology to see the gory Indian skin trophy in the form of the leather cover on a book of christian history— “…a priceless vestment for the teachings of brotherly love,” said a local 1934 newspaper report.
But some ten miles to the south a public school continues to teach the same old bovine scatology about Indian people, reading a children’s version of Karl May or Zane Gray. Iliff School of Theology gave up its ill-gotten trophy in 1974, but they / we have yet to really change the deeply euro-christian colonized (and racialized and gendered) world in which we live.
Tink Tinker is the Clifford Baldridge Emeritus Professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions and a citizen of the wazhazhe udsethe (Osage Nation). His career spanned 34 years at Iliff School of Theology where he also taught in the Iliff/DU Joint Doctoral Program. During his tenure at Iliff, Tinker also provided (pro bono) leadership for the Four Winds American Indian Council, a local urban Indian community project.
To wit, the “tomahawk chop” of Atlanta baseball fans. Another example
Jim Cornelius, “Natural Born Killers — Part I — Lewis Wetzel,” in Frontier Partisans: The Adventurers, Rangers, and Scouts Who Fought the Battles of Empire, Aug. 29, 2016: https://frontierpartisans.com/7987/natural-born-killers/. For Wetzel, see: George Carroll, “Lewis Wetzel: Warfare Tactics on the Frontier,” West Virginia History 50 (1991): 79-50. On-line at: http://www.wvculture.org/HISTORY/journal_wvh/wvh50-5.html; Joe Roxby, Lewis Wetzel: Separating the Man from the Myth (Precision Shooting, 1998); Clarence B. Allman, Lewis Wetzel, Indian Fighter(New York: Devin-Adair Co., 1971; and Barbara Mann, George Washington’s War aganst Native America, 137-141.
General Josiah Harmer reported a similar incident ten years later (1791). Killing of Queshawsay, yet another peace emissary of the Lenape. Harmer to Harmer wrote Secretary of War Henry Knox, July 9, 1791: Note Gayle Thornbrough, ed., Outpost on the Wabash(Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1957), 208; Also Willis de Haas,History of the Early Settlement and Indian Wars of Western Virginia, Embracing an Account of the Various Expeditions in the West, Previous to 1795 (King and Baird, 1851), 354-359.
Clarence B. Allman, Lewis Wetzel, 109: After the death of his father at the hand of an Indian, Allman says, “he and his brothers now hunted for sport and vengeance.”
Richard Slotkin, Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1973), 5.
Carroll, quoting Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer (New York: New American Library, 1963), 195, 200-01.
Zane Grey, The Spirit of the Border (New York: A. L. Burt Co., 1906), 4.
National Gazetteon February 2, 1792. Brackenridge’s article appeared on the front page of the newspaper, published in Philadelphia by his longtime friend and associate Philip Freneau. He included his newspaper comments in his later book: Incidents of the Insurrection,  41–43.
Patrick Spero, Frontier Country: The Politics of War in Early Pennsylvania (Univ. of Pennsylvania, 2016), p.255.
Brackenridge, National Gazette.
In Colorado, where I live, one can see this phenomenon at work in the body of “historical” work produced by Tom Noel, even in his
David Scott, Conscripts of Modernity:The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment(Duke Univ. Press, 2004). The book is an extended historiography that focuses centrally on C.R.L. James’ Black Jacobin:Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolutionand James’ shift from the wholesale romance of his 1938 first edition to the much more tragedic 1962 revised edition.
Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature(1923; reprinted Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003), chapter 5—the chapter on James Fennimore Cooper. Here we must remember that Natty Bumppo, Cooper’s protagonist in the Leather Stocking Tales, is a romanticized stereotypical frontiersman—modeled after Boone, in particular.
Glenn Lough, Now and Long Ago, p. 682: First converts of these men in the upper Monanghela Valley were organized into Methodist societies, in 1786, in the homes of Col. Charles Martin, near Morgan town, Calder Haymond, near Pricketts Fort, and Jonathan Shinn, in present Shinnston, and in homes in Clarksburg, Buckhannon, etc. Among the charter members of the Pricketts creek society were Jacob Prickett, St., and family, David Morgan and family, the Boners (Bunners), Merrifields, etc. Calder Haymond was lay preacher of this society. It is known that Bishop Asbury visited this society at least twice, and was a guest in the Calder Haymond home.
David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World(Oxford, 1993); Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide:Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present(City Lights Press, 1995).
Steve Newcomb, Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery(Fulcrum Publishers, 2008).
Lindsey Fleming, “Morgan family plans 100th reunion,” Tribune Business News, Jun 4, 2007, p.1.
To wit, Barbara Mann’s point in George Washington’s War against Native America, or in Iroquoian Women, where she protests the persistent scholarly erasure of important aspects of our cultures in what have become the standard secondary sources (even now taking on status as primary sources) for understanding Indian cultures.
Mary Burnside, “Celebrating Heritage,” Times West Virginian(August 5, 2007): http://colmorganmorganreunion.org/PDF/timeswv1.pdf.
The song has its own web-site, where it can be heard and downloaded: http://www.colmorganmorganreunion.org/miscpage/myriver.htm.
Lindsey Fleming, “Morgan family plans 100th reunion,” The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va., Jun 4, 2007; McClatchy – Tribune Business News ; Washington [Washington]04 June 2007: 1. Retrieved from http://du.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/462273435?accountid=14608. Robert Ellis claims a ninth-generation direct descendency from Col. Morgan Morgan, David’s father. He is a church musician (catholic) and a sometime academic teaching at local colleges. He has published a “scholarly” article in an “academic” journal, yet his writing is a mere re-warming of the old but ever growing fantasy legend of Morgan and David Morgan: Robert Ellis, “Col. Morgan Morgan and His Descendants” in Traditions: A Journal of West Virginia Folk Culture and Educational Awareness.
Gary Paulsen, Mr. Tucket, illustrated by Noel Sickles (Funk & Wagnalls, 1968).At this late date, the book is actually still placarded on an education resource site: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/books/mr-tucket-by-gary-paulsen/. Paulsen, it should be noted, has won many distinguished awards for children’s literature and is often cited as one of America’s most popular writers for young Americans. Enough said. Mr. Tucket is thoroughly racist, to the core. The school district where the book is being taught today has just sent out a news release (February 9, 2018) to parents touting the District as “Celebrating Diversity.” Wow! The principal of the school where the book is being taught, responded to a protest of the book by saying, “I can’t micromanage my faculty.” Yet, the book is a school-wide selection, over many past years, and not the choice of an individual teacher. Yet the particular teacher in question merely got angry when her judgment was questioned. “How would I know that ‘squaw’ is an obscene and derogatory word for Indian women?” Wow! Again. We let her teach children?! These poor kids will grow up thinking, I suppose, that I am out to sever the hair and skin from the top of their heads at first opportunity.
Elizabeth Kuskulis, “Iliff Library Has Old Book Bound in Slain Indian’s Skin,” Rocky Mountain News, 1934, describing Johann Lorenz von Mosheim’s Institutionum Historiae Christianae Compendium[“History of Christianity”] (apud C. F. Weygand, 1752),treasured and proudly kept on display just inside the main entrance and outside the library at Iliff.