American History, Biography & Autobiography, Book Reviews, Charles, Ethnography, Military History, Primitive Cultures, War
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Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation (Peter Cozzens)

I have always been aware of the great Shawnee Indian war chief Tecumseh. I grew up within walking distance of the site of his confederacy’s defeat, by William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe, and often visited the battlefield as a child. Tecumseh himself wasn’t at the battle; he was far away, trying to raise Indian allies. The battle was instead lost by his inconstant brother, Tenskwatawa, known as the Prophet, with whom Tecumseh had a fraught, but close, relationship. In this book, Peter Cozzens expertly and evocatively traces the lives of these once-famous brothers, the last of the eastern woodlands Indians of North America to mount an effective challenge to the expanding United States.

Cozzens, though the author of many books, is best known for an outstanding 2016 work on the Indian Wars in the West, The Earth is Weeping. That book, focused on the nineteenth century, did not cover the defeats of the eastern Indians. Here Cozzens turns to the earlier period, roughly 1750 to 1820, in which the Indians of the Ohio Valley lost their lands. Before 1750 the Europeans had already broken the power of the Six Nations (of whom the Iroquois are the best known), thereby consolidating control over the Eastern Seaboard. British, and soon enough American, settlers kept pushing west, despite promises made to the Indians, and the resulting conflicts are the topic of this book.

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Tecumseh was born in 1768 into a division of the larger Shawnee tribe. The Shawnee were an Algonquin tribe—Indian ethnography is complex, but the two major groupings of North American eastern woodlands Indians were the Algonquin and the Iroquois, who, broadly speaking, were ancient enemies. The Shawnee were then resident in southern Ohio (where my grandparents lived, and I often visited Shawnee State Park with them, giving me more childhood doses of Tecumseh). They had not been in Ohio for long; Shawnees were peripatetic, in their culture and as the result of decades of attacks from the Iroquoian tribes. The French and Indian War, that is, the Seven Years War, had ended in 1763, with the British defeating the French and taking Canada. The Shawnee did not participate in that conflict, in which the Six Nations did actively participate. This was the first major involvement of the Indians in the wars of the Europeans. The core Indian interest was to maintain their own lands, something that, in retrospect, was always doomed to fail. After that big war, small Indian wars continued off and on, notably Pontiac’s War, which ended in 1766.

All the Indian wars followed the same basic pattern. The government, whether the Crown or later the United States, would promise or agree to a boundary line, beyond which white settlement would not be allowed and the Indians could lead their traditional lives. White men would ignore this—some combination of, as Cozzens says, “hardscrabble farmers in search of better land, fugitives from justice, and the congenitally restless of slack moral fiber.” The Indians would become fed up and slaughter dozens or hundreds of white men, women, and children, often in the most gruesome ways. (Daniel Boone’s sixteen-year-old son was captured and tortured to death, for example.) The white man would react by organizing punitive military expeditions to kill Indians, in usually, but not always, somewhat less gruesome ways, and drive the Indians off the land.

If there is a crucial fact about the Indian Wars, and in general the relationship between Indians and Europeans, it is that the North American Indian population was shockingly low, and always had been. When Tecumseh was born, a mere fifteen hundred Shawnees claimed most of what is now the southern half of Ohio. True, disease had earlier decimated many of the tribes (although the idea that the Europeans deliberately gave them smallpox is probably a myth—no matter, they got that, and other diseases, anyway; Tecumseh himself survived smallpox), and we don’t know how many Indians there were before the Europeans arrived. But likely not that many more than later—the eastern Indians were primarily hunter-gatherers, and the land simply didn’t support huge numbers, as can be seen by frequent references to game totally disappearing, and starvation looming, when any sizeable group of Indians gathered for even a few weeks. This problem was exacerbated by white overhunting in the borderlands, and by the fur and skin trade—as Cozzens notes, Indians began to kill just to have something to trade for alcohol, of which more later. Even at the height of their power, in the mid-seventeenth century, the Iroquoian Confederacy, aggressively expansionist and ruling over a vast area of what is today northeast and upper-midwest America, totaled no more than 50,000 people. Cozzens estimates that the total Indian population of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley in 1768 was approximately 60,000—at the same time the thirteen British colonies had two million inhabitants. Moreover, the Indians, resource poor, deliberately kept their birth rate low (though they did not practice infanticide). Thus, they could never have hoped to compete with the white man in numbers.

Even with their small numbers, the Indians mostly competently played a losing hand. Their only real possible move was to involve themselves in the wars among the French, British, and Americans—the Long Knives, as the Algonquins called the last—and hope to side with the winning team, with the expectation they would then be left in peace. Thus, despite no real interest in the white man’s wars, they were inevitably forced by circumstance to join. That, man-for-man, Indians were far better warriors than the whites, and they were quick to adopt European technology, could not compensate for their small numbers and democratic method of fighting, “every man his own chief.” Indians often won battles when allied with regular European troops, or alone when fighting poorly trained troops, but usually lost against any sizeable European force that maintained order.

Tecumseh’s father died in 1774, when Tecumseh was five, at the Battle of Point Pleasant, in what is now West Virginia. This was one of numerous skirmishes in Dunmore’s War, a brief but brutal war caused, predictably, by Virginians pushing west. The British then formally set the Ohio River as the boundary of the Indian lands. This boundary was a key fact of Tecumseh’s childhood, and its inevitable breaching by the white man the ground of his life’s work. His early years were spent near today’s Chillicothe; Cozzens does an excellent job of sketching the culture of the Shawnee, which we will discuss later.

The years of Tecumseh’s youth and early adulthood involved the further splintering of the Shawnee, some of whom moved west, and the grinding advance of the white man, sometimes in arms, but more often with a toxic joint offering of alcohol to dull the Indians and money to bribe tribal chiefs to sell land for a tiny fraction of its true worth. In 1782 the uneasy peace ended. In the Gnadenhutten Massacre, Pennsylvania militia, responding to Indian raids, killed nearly a hundred Delawares, men, women, and children (who were completely uninvolved in the raids, and in fact were farming Christians). The Shawnees and other Algonquins went on the warpath, killing hundreds of white settlers, and fighting pitched battles. At the Battle of Blue Licks, in what is today Kentucky (and is considered one of the last battles of the Revolutionary War), they (along with their allies and some British rangers), killed sixty-seven Kentucky militia. (Among those were another son of Daniel Boone; no wonder Boone wasn’t a big fan of the Indians. But then, who even knows today who Daniel Boone was?) George Rogers Clark, a regular army officer in charge of the Kentucky militia, responded with organized expeditions that pushed the Shawnee out of southern Ohio, which was promptly overrun with American settlers.

Tecumseh moved north too, although as a young, unattached warrior he ranged widely, and he participated in various skirmishes and fights, as well as piracy against Ohio River settler flatboats. But fewer than a thousand Shawnee remained east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio. The rest moved to Missouri, or to Creek country in the south, or to join the Chickamaugas who lived on the Tennessee River, near today’s Chattanooga. For a while, Tecumseh, and his brothers, visited Louisiana, then Tennessee. He eventually returned to the Ohio Valley, however, and took part in the crushing 1791 defeat of Arthur St. Clair’s chaotic expedition against the Ohio Indians, which, in the usual pattern, was followed a few years later, in 1794, by “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s destruction of a large group of Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, where Tecumseh also fought. Tecumseh gradually raised his profile and attracted followers, mostly aggressive young men and those who wanted to maintain the traditional Indian life, as many of the tribes became less warlike and dependent on annuities and other handouts. He and his extended family moved to today’s eastern Indiana, maintaining reasonably good relations with the local whites (helped by that Tecumseh spoke some English).

Some years passed, and the Indians south of the Great Lakes continued their slow decline. Harsh winters, vanishing game, American pressure, and alcoholism told on them. Then Tenskwatawa, Tecumseh’s younger brother, regarded as a useless, drunk buffoon (he had shot his own eye out as a child), suddenly claimed to have received a series of visions giving him divine revelation. He informed their small Shawnee village that the Great Spirit had told him that to gain heaven Indians must give up alcohol, and all the white man’s ways, and from this base he developed a new syncretic religious doctrine, with bits and pieces of earlier Indian mysticisms, Christianity, and Shawnee culture.

Tenskwatawa’s religion was only the latest in a series of Indian religious revivals. A Delaware, Neolin, had preached a similar set of doctrines in the 1760s, which was adopted in part by the Ottawa war chief Pontiac to fuel his eponymous war. In the Prophet’s doctrine, there were two opponents: Americans and witches. As far as Americans, however, Tenskwatawa’s doctrine wasn’t militaristic, but particularistic. Despite American fears, he did not, at first, preach going on the warpath. As far as witches, Cozzens frequently mentions the woodland Indian obsession with witches. Very often supposed witches, usually elderly chiefs whom younger men wanted to move out or unmarried women with enemies, were tortured and killed; the Prophet eagerly participated in these killings as a judge. You won’t read that in the sanitized Indian hagiographies they teach schoolchildren as history nowadays.

Almost all the Shawnee immediately converted. Other surrounding Indians were a harder sell, though some took to the new religion, especially Wyandots and Miamis, and many expressed interest, travelling to hear the Prophet speak. Thus, Tenskwatawa quickly became regionally famous, but at this time, around 1806, Tecumseh continued to be obscure—if mentioned at all, mentioned as “the Prophet’s brother.” Nonetheless, those who noticed him observed his charisma, presence, and leadership ability, and his rise to prominence can be dated to this time—perhaps prefigured by the name his parents gave him, which meant “shooting star” or “blazing comet.”

Tensions between the young United States and Great Britain were rising again, primarily the result of the Napoleonic Wars and their impact on American trade. The Indians held frequent conferences with various representatives of the United States, in a complicated dance asking for money and goods, but also reassurances about their land. Meanwhile chiseling agents of the government, including William Henry Harrison, sometime military leader and now governor of the Indiana Territory, steadily ate away at Indian land title by bribing chiefs to sell land at pennies on the dollar. The United States was well aware, though, that if war came with Britain, the Indians might ally with Britain and attempt to retake their lands. And so it happened.

Tecumseh, in the years leading up to open war between Britain and the United States, acted as a Shawnee ambassador, both spreading the message of his brother and trying to create a new political alliance among different contiguous tribes. Indian alliances were notoriously short-term and opportunistic, making this an uphill climb, and in general both of Tecumseh’s messages were received coolly. Moreover, the Americans were aware of these efforts and opposed them, manipulating those Tecumseh sought to persuade with cash and alcohol. The ins and outs of the period 1806 to 1812 are complex, but covered in detail by Cozzens, including a famous and acrimonious council between Harrison and Tecumseh in 1810 at Harrison’s estate in Vincennes.

In 1811 Tecumseh finally achieved greater success recruiting Indian allies, helped by the belief among some Indians that war with the Americans was inevitable, and also by the Great Comet of 1811, visible for five months and sold by Tecumseh as an omen of their coming victory under his leadership. Tecumseh even made a long southern journey, trying and failing to convince the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokee, in today’s Mississippi and Alabama, to join his confederacy. Cozzens casts Tecumseh as a firm believer in his brother’s faith, a matter of historical dispute, but this was primarily a political recruiting effort—the Prophet’s message never resonated much beyond the Prophet himself. Yet we should remember that this effort was nearly unprecedented; Tecumseh was a visionary, the rare man who can see and act beyond the constraints of his upbringing and culture, seeing what has to be done and doing it.

Meanwhile, the Indians Tecumseh had already recruited, Shawnees and parts of allied tribes, were grouped around Tenskwatawa in Prophetstown, near today’s Lafayette, Indiana. The others were Wyandots, Kickapoos, Potawatomis, and Miamis, but no tribe joined the Prophet and Tecumseh wholesale; it was usually belligerent young men who flocked to them. Harrison, in a military role though he was still governor, marched up the Wabash from Vincennes in southern Indiana, fearing that Tecumseh would bring more warriors from the south and start a war, which Harrison figured to nip in the bud. The Prophet did not want to fight Harrison, but the warriors around him were young and impatient, and he had sold them on the belief that his magic would guarantee victory. Harrison, camped near Prophetstown, made impossible demands that the Indians disperse and leave Indiana. So the Prophet’s forces, while Tecumseh was hundreds of miles away, in the early morning of November 7, 1811, attacked Harrison—and were defeated, although not as badly as Harrison, eager to burnish his political image, would have it. This is the battlefield I wandered in my youth.

Tecumseh returned and rejoined his brother and what remained of the Indiana Shawnees; what they said to each other is not recorded. The winter of 1812 featured widespread, but sporadic, Indian violence across the Indiana Territory, also ranging up through today’s Chicago and into Wisconsin, as well as Michigan. The Shawnee brothers threw their lot completely in with the British, who held forts in and around Detroit, and who were now formally at war with the Americans. The latter sent strong forces northwards to subdue British Canada; the British promised the Indians they would never retreat. But after American naval forces succeeded in dominating the Great Lakes and thus cut British supply lines to western Canada, the British felt they had to abandon Detroit and retreat east, which the Indians saw as a betrayal, with many promptly abandoning the fight. Tecumseh traveled east with the British, bitterly demanding the British stand and fight—and when they did, Tecumseh died, shot through the heart at the Battle of the Thames, in today’s Ontario, October 5, 1813. Tecumseh’s alliance, the last attempt by the woodlands Indians to act collectively, died with him. The remaining Algonquins moved to Canada, where their descendants still reside. The Prophet lived on in obscurity and poverty for another twenty years; by the time he died, he was nothing but a curiosity. Tecumseh was posthumously admired for his virtues by the young United States; his death is shown in many artworks, not least in the Rotunda of the Capitol. They don’t say much about him in schools today, preferring to focus on helpless victims and supposed emancipations, rather than heroic deeds and lives.

A great many fascinating details about Indian culture are brought out by this book, making it more interesting than a mere work of dry history. (Cozzens never uses or even adverts to the stupid term “Native American,” though it appears on the dustjacket.) No surprise, the Shawnee were fiercely racist—they thought they were superior to the whites, because they were first born of creation, and for that matter, they were superior to other Indians, though both Indians and whites had a pecking order. The Long Knives, according to Tenskwatawa, were not human at all, merely demons who crossed the Stinking Lake as scum on the waves. This racism is not a knock against the Shawnee; some degree of racial empathy among similar people is inevitable—the challenge is managing it to make it not excessively pernicious (something at which the America of today is failing, as the deliberate whipping up of racial hatred in 2020 shows). Yet at the same time, the Shawnee, like all the woodlands Indians, adopted whites, and mixed-race individuals, métis, were often prominent in Indian leadership, helped by having a foot in each camp. In fact, several of the closest companions of Tecumseh’s youth were kidnapped white boys, most of whom ultimately returned to the whites, but some of whom died with him. As Sebastian Junger says in Tribe, this disinclination of forcibly adopted whites to return to civilization, and the not infrequent leaving of civilization by adult whites to join the Indians, says something about European civilization, not complimentary.

Cozzens also touches on harsher topics. He says rape was forbidden by traditional Shawnee beliefs, and the Shawnee were very disciplined in all sexual matters. But later he refers to Ojibwa allies raping Shawnee women (and the Shawnee then getting payback by shooting their “allies” in the back in a subsequent battle), so it must have occurred sometimes among the woodlands Indians. In his earlier book, Cozzens notes that rape was common among the Western Indians, so any differences among Indian tribes were cultural (and the occasionally heard claim that rape is a purely European phenomenon just propaganda). Torture and cannibalism of captives by Indians were routine, as well—a captive never knew whether he or she would be adopted or tortured to death, though adoption was more common unless the Indians were seeking revenge for some recent affront or defeat.

The most interesting topic, perhaps, is alcohol and the Indians. Alcohol, even more than disease, destroyed both Indian populations and their will to resist the Europeans. Governments constantly issued dictates forbidding trading alcohol to Indians, but to no effect, since it was far easier to get the Indians drunk and steal their goods, or trade for them at rock-bottom prices to Indians desperate to get alcohol, than to trade honestly, and the government, British or American, was always unwilling or unable to enforce this and other dictates with respect to the Indians.

The catastrophic effects of alcohol on the Indians tend to be deemphasized today because their extreme affinity for it is felt to reflect poorly on the Indians. Many or most Indians became raging alcoholics when given alcohol (not Tecumseh, though he did drink upon occasion), and those who did not were happy to get roaring drunk whenever they could. It was common for Indians to literally drink themselves to death, and they frequently did extremely harmful things under the influence of alcohol, such as slaughtering their own livestock, or murdering each other over trivial matters. Australian Aborigines have a similar reaction to alcohol, so I imagine it is related to some genetic quirk in populations never exposed before to alcohol. But of course we are not allowed to talk about genetic differences today. A quick glance around the internet shows a wild desperation to reject the historical truth about the Indian lust for alcohol, including Google curating its results to avoid any support for it—though they don’t deny other genetic traits tied to alcohol, such as the “Asian flush.” And Wikipedia, showing why it is a highly dubious historical aid to memory, unhelpfully lies to us in racist fashion, blaming the white man: “Native Americans typically experience higher rates of alcohol use compared to other ethnicities as a result of acculturative stress directly and indirectly associated with historical trauma.” Nope. Indians just loved (and love) to get drunk, never mind the damage they knew would result.

However, let’s not end on a sour note. Yes, Tecumseh lost. He was foredoomed to lose. But his actions, his blazing course across the sky of the Ohio Valley, speak to us still today. One should be careful not to believe the myth of the noble savage, but also careful not to fall into the opposite error, that peoples more primitive than us cannot provide exemplars to us. Tecumseh, man of grandeur mixed with tragedy, was a Man of Destiny. He tried to preserve his culture—and he did not back down, he did not count the cost, but did the very best he could with what he had. It was not enough, but that says nothing bad about his character, and tells us nothing about what success other men, yet to appear, who embody his virtues but apply them to new challenges in a new time, will have.

Tecumseh proves that such men arise across cultures. Whether they arise in desiccated cultures such as ours, I am not so sure. The Shawnee, as all the woodland Indians, chose their leaders, most of all their war leaders, by leadership ability and success, so the best men came to the fore. We’ve abandoned that, so how can a Man of Destiny gain traction in America today? The hyper-feminized reaction to the Wuhan Plague suggests that, perhaps, like good seed cast on hard ground, our own Man of Destiny may not find a receptive audience. Yet almost certainly, if the truth were allowed to be ferreted out, more people voted for Donald Trump than for Joe Biden, which suggests the ground only appears hard, because we are fed propaganda that it is hard, to demoralize those who are based in reality. Similarly, most likely the cowardly reaction to the Plague we see all around us appears as the norm because of the societal pressure put on everyone to outwardly comply, combined with massive censorship of those who are willing to state the truth. No, I think the Man of Destiny will be welcomed when he comes—not by all, but by enough.

Nonetheless, the Man of Destiny will not arise until the day is far gone, when the feet of clay that support our society crumble. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. I think, reading this book, that after all, we are just waiting for a new, and not that very different, Tecumseh.

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17 Comments

  1. Altitude Zero says

    Thanks once again for a fine review. There is so much really interesting history concerning the relations between Indians and Europeans that is obscured by the “Indian Victim, White Oppressor” paradigm, its good to see it being brought out by a modern author. And yes, Indians most certainly do have issues with alcohol, as do many people who have recent hunter-gatherers in their linage (this includes some European peoples as well – being part Irish, part Slav, I can attest to this!). What’s really funny is that almost any Indian will admit this; I remember an Indian guy that I worked with, saying vehemently “alcohol is poison to us!” – it’s liberal whites who are in denial.

    • Charles says

      Thanks, and yeah. You see as an argument that Indians aren’t affected by alcohol that they have high percentages of teetotalers. Of course they do–that’s recovering alcoholics, or those smart enough to make sure they don’t expose themselves to poisons. But white liberals (e.g., Google’s curated results) say that shows the opposite.

  2. Ethan says

    I’ve been thinking a lot about history lately. Your talent for finding good modern history books reassures me, as lately it seems that I have to choose between older and perhaps outdated books to newer yet ideologically tainted ones. As an undergrad who has recently finished his latest semester studying history, it’s occurred to me that I have no idea which sources to trust. Taking a page from your book, Charles, I tend to look for whatever authors the liberal types dislike.

    I’ve applied your principle not too long ago. Months ago I found two books by Daniel J. Boorstin at a local antique shop: “The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself” and “The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination.” The subtitles were the first pleasing sign. If the historian speaks in terms of “heroes” and “quests” of discovery, I can be assured that he at least isn’t likely to make his book a pity party for inconsequential groups of people. It also indicates, of course, that the author is going to wear his likes and dislikes on his sleeve. Boorstin appears to like talking about Western heroes, and quite rightly so. Though this opens him to accusations of lack of objectivity by modern critics, these same critics are not at all opposed to “biases” which disfavor Western culture. This supports my suspicion that many such criticisms about “objectivity” are often used by our modern tastemakers to gerrymander what is acceptable to feel about historical figures.

    Better yet, the Discoverers and Creators were written in the ’80s and ’90s respectively. A bit of distance from our modern liberal rule can’t hurt.

    A quick Wikipedia search provides further indication that I was right in my guesses about the author. The Wikipedia page for “Discoverers” contains this pleasing section:

    ‘[Boorstin] has been called conservative, biased toward Western culture to the exclusion of other cultures, [and] nationalistic….’ Further, he ‘railed against many postmodern impulses – multiculturalism, political correctness, reverse discrimination and ideological politics.’ Also, he ‘continually praises “true” heroes like Christopher Columbus, Isaac Newton and Madame Curie while questioning image-crafted politicians, entertainers, academics and sports “heroes.”‘

    And these criticisms were levelled in the ’80s and ’90s! This fact alone is a glowing recommendation. The one glaring flaw in his book is quickly correctible (apparently he thought that ‘medieval intellectuals took the world to be flat,’ a misunderstanding which Wikipedia swiftly corrects.) Nonetheless these books are neither so old as to raise serious doubts about their accuracy (for even in the study of history new discoveries may be made), nor so new that they are likely ideological boilerplate. I’m optimistic that other such books may be useful in supplementing and correcting what I’m learning in university.

  3. Prism says

    Hey Ethan,

    This is a golden age for historical study. Don’t let inane labels like Liberal and Conservative put you off. Most works of history aren’t as obsessed with it as internet talk would have you believe.

    • Charles says

      I read both Boorstin books mentioned twenty years ago and remember them as quite good, although I can’t remember anything else (which is, after all, why I started writing reviews). I tend to think that there are a fair amount of history works that, as Prism says, aren’t bad. Anything about a controversial topic is worthless, unless explicitly anti-Left, but that still leaves a lot–witness Cozzens, after all. Unfortunately, a narrow set of purely ideological works is what is taught in schools, to the limited degree schools teach history (Howard Zinn, notably). And no doubt there is often subtle infection necessary to please the censors–e.g., the recent “Children of Ash and Elm,” about the Vikings, which apparently has a minor part the claim that Vikings celebrated transgenderism. Nonetheless, I agree there is a great deal of excellent modern history in the popular vein, and modern archeology, in particular, makes new history often interesting.

  4. Lalawithika says

    Great review. I only learned about Tecumseh after wondering what the “T” stood for in William Tecumseh Sherman’s name. Of course Tecumseh was not taught in school . I thought Tecumseh’s loser-turned shaman brother was named Lalawithika ?? I tried to name my kid Tecumseh ( first or middle …) but unable to convince the moms……

    I’m an ER doc here in the southwest and I can confirm the devastating effects of booze on the Indians. It’s an epidemic on the Rez . A literal plague

    Off topic I wonder why these stories are not made into film?? How great is the Tecumseh story? You have Tecumseh the larger-than-life Shawnee war-chief with his one-eyed Shaman brother who has comet induced visions . This stuff writes itself . Should be given the HBO Game of Thrones or John Adams treatment ( multi season/ multi episodes ) …..

    • Charles says

      Thank you! Like some of the Indians, he went by several names, since they were assigned at birth, sometimes changed by popular assent, or by individual choice. Lalawithika was one of the names assigned; Cozzens translates it as “The Rattler,” not the snake but one who rattles, that is, makes pointless sound. It’s not quite clear if that was his birth name, I think, or when exactly he got it. He changed it himself to Tenskwatawa.

      Good question about making the story into film. Probably there is too much political freight–showing the true story would show a complex story, not one of victimization of Indians (in his earlier book, Cozzens excoriates the simplistic narrative of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, from which most modern Americans get their false history). It also shows heinous amounts of toxic masculinity, and no movie with a strong male hero and a straightforward hero narrative, even if tragic hero, could get made today.

  5. demosthenes1d says

    Thanks for the great review, Charles.

    Your comments about Indian population density is probably right regarding the Eastern Woodland Indians. But the Mississippi valley and the south (Mississippian Culture) likely had high population densities closer to what the Spaniards found in Mesoamerica, prior to being devastated by European disease. Records of Hernando de Soto’s mid 16th century trip across the American south indicates a very high population density and settled aristocratic system. This was all gone 100 years later. If you haven’t read it Charles Mann’s Atlantic Article 1491 is an excellent look at some new (then, it is almost 20 years old) research on the pre-Columbian world. The article was used as the kernel for a book, which I haven’t read. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/03/1491/302445/

    Also, this 2017 article titled “America’s First Addiction Epidemic” does a good job of showing the destructive force of alcohol in Indian communities. It discusses the Handsome Lake episode in some detail. https://longreads.com/2017/08/29/americas-first-addiction-epidemic/

    • Charles says

      Great piece on Longreads. Handsome Lake got a side mention in Cozzens, but that’s quite interesting. Yeah, I rad Mann’s book some years ago (and am always banging on about his The Wizard and the Prophet). That makes sense; obviously hunter-gatherers are subject to totally different population mechanics.

  6. demosthenes1d says

    “Yet almost certainly, if the truth were allowed to be ferreted out, more people voted for Donald Trump than for Joe Biden, which suggests the ground only appears hard, because we are fed propaganda that it is hard, to demoralize those who are based in reality.”

    Seriously, Charles?!

    I recently listened to your review of Hawley’s book on right wing critics of conservativism. And it struck me that part of the reason why conservatives have consistently purged certain groups is because they are nominally (and many truly) beholden to reality and to truth above ideology and ends. If your goal is to instantiate a certain social order then anyone pushing in your direction is your friend. But conservatives have historically believed that the truth is more important than the seizing and exercising of power. Indeed, one of your pillars of foundationalism is that it is based on reality. Therefore, kooks who refuse to acknowledge reality are thrown by the wayside. The election fraud stuff, as far as I can tell – and I have looked EXTENSIVELY – falls into the category of the end being more important than the truth. People will believe whatever they want if it flatters their ego and accords with their goals.

    • Charles says

      Seriously. The null hypothesis, given a wide range of suspicious facts and that no investigation at all is undertaken or permitted, is that widespread fraud existed. No effort whatsoever has been made to address that hypothesis, and in fact massive social penalties are threatened against anyone doing so. Moreover, we know that widespread quasi-fraud existed, as the result of massive efforts to modify voting laws to allow easy fraud through mail-in voting and the like.

      This is, of course, merely an expected manifestation of what Michael Anton calls the Narrative, the Megaphone, and the Muzzle.

      I think you missed my point about Hawley’s book, if I take your meaning correctly. Those purged, for the most part, were the reality-based (except maybe the more extreme Birchers). That is, the Right has purged anyone the Left perceives as potentially damaging to them, at the command of the Left, in order to maintain the social position of the leaders of the catamite Right, such as Buckley. The price for this is guaranteeing no real access to power for the Right, only for the Left. (My review of Dreher’s most recent book also discusses this.)

      Now, I agree that a lot of the election claims were in fact kooky. And Trump surrounded himself with people who turned out to be total kooks. There are two possible reasons for that, not necessarily exclusive. First, Trump is a grifter narcissist who can’t judge character, so he attracts and then rewards (then tries to discard) these types. Second, because they are afraid of personal destruction, nobody competent will help him (e.g., high-end law firms). I think both are true. But the net effect, that kookiness surrounded all of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, doesn’t change the two points I made above, both of which strongly suggest that the election was widely fraudulent.

      People make the mistake of thinking that because Trump could get no legal relief, his claims have been disproved. But that’s obviously false. First, no judge will risk personal destruction either. But more importantly, there is no legal relief for most fraud claims of this type, because courts in the United States are barred for deciding “political questions,” both by law and custom. The solution would have been for the Republicans to prevent fraud in advance. Which they didn’t, because the Republicans who actually have power almost universally despise Trump, and those who support him. Which we are seeing writ large over the past few days.

      • demosthenes1d says

        Thanks for the response, Charles.

        The Navarro report has a lot of solid complaints about election law and the way elections were implemented, but almost all of the reports of fraud are based on extremely thin evidence, are directly contradicted by other data, or have later been shown to be fabrication or ignorance.

        The real story of this election is easily understood, it showed up in pre-election polling, it shows up in exit polls, and it shows up in vote totals. Educated white voters all across the country turned on Trump, and in some areas blue collar white voters did as well. All of the attention has been on the big cities, but Trump actually out-performed 2016 in Philadelphia and his performance in other cities with large minority populations was within a percent or two of 2016. However, he saw major reversals in wealthier, whiter suburbs. Look at the biggest 2016-2020 shifts in Georgia for instance: https://www.politico.com/2020-election/results/georgia/ They are all suburban counties, not Fulton. Other states, including non-contested states, are the same. The biggest shift (among populous counties) in my home state of Missouri was in St. Charles county, a populous, wealthy, overwhelmingly white suburban county. It shifted from +26 Trump to +17.5% Trump. For pre-election polling showing the shift coming see here: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/trump-is-losing-ground-with-white-voters-but-gaining-among-black-and-hispanic-americans/ For exit polling showing the same shift see here: https://www.brookings.edu/research/2020-exit-polls-show-a-scrambling-of-democrats-and-republicans-traditional-bases/

        The fact is that Trump made big gains among Latinos (though due to heterogeneity in that population there is a lot of geographic variability), small gains among blacks, and lost lots of ground with “educated” whites. This is important to grasp in order to understand the shape of the political realignment that is currently happening, but instead we are spending our time litigating (in the public discourse sense) idiotic fraud claims. The liberal media doesn’t want to acknowledge this because they have been running story after story about how black people saved democracy by voting out Trump, and Trumpers don’t want to admit it because he lost!

        If the discussion turned to the design and security of our elections, the problems with mail in voting (I’m completely against any mail in or absentee voting for anyone except military), or other matters it could be more enlightening.

        • Charles says

          No, thank you!

          1) I can’t say if the fraud is in fact real or not. Mostly I haven’t, unlike you, looked into it for myself, which I suppose makes your position more likely the correct one! On the other hand, the Navarro report has very specific claims, such as relating to the coordinated stopping of voting and the appearance of votes, which do not appear to have been refuted, rather stonewalled.

          2) But the reason I haven’t done looked into it is because it doesn’t matter. That sounds like a strange statement, given that I’m always banging on about reality and its crucial importance. But it doesn’t matter for two core reasons.

          First, already mentioned, aside from “true fraud” the entire system has been corrupted in a way that overtly permits actions on a continuum from true fraud to “legal fraud,” with little or no way to determine which is happening. (You advert to this as well.) Thus, when there is ballot harvesting, where someone shows up at the door of an unregistered voter on the day of the election, and leaves with a ballot cast by that now-registered voter, is fraud occurring? Who knows? Certainly some percentage of the time, and some ballot harvesters have openly admitted this. But what’s the impact? This is true of all the election procedure modifications the Left spent tens or hundreds of millions of dollars (in cash or in-kind donations by lawyers) to achieve in the months running up to the election. Therefore, we know there is some degree of fraud; how great it is, and how it is properly characterized, are perhaps relevant questions—in a functioning system with the rule of law, which we don’t have. For example, you can see the behavior of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

          Second, the even larger problem is that the system has lost all legitimacy. When any mention of the possibility of fraud leads to severe consequences, people assume that there is something being hidden. This is an entirely logical and legitimate conclusion, and 100% of the burden of proof is on the censors to alleviate it. Otherwise, everyone should act on the presumption there is fraud, and that the people doing censoring are enemies who should be defeated by any means necessary.

          So yeah, maybe the election wasn’t technically fraudulent. It was still stolen. Not by satellites hacking voting machines, but by some other set of mechanisms. The specifics don’t matter, unless they prove the election wasn’t stolen. Which they can’t, and haven’t made any effort to do so. Nor will they, no matter how much evidence is provided. So again, a waste of my time.

          I’m fine with that, in fact. Trump losing will open up space for Better Trump in 2024. Admittedly, I did not expect the vicious Left campaign to demonize the rest of the country even further to begin so soon, but often you go to war with the battlefield you have, not the one you wanted.

          3) On a side, but related, note, I saw online, and confirmed by talking to some people, that many young people today don’t believe Helen Keller existed, or if she did, don’t believe she was anything more than a vegetable. This seemed bizarre, and I could not figure out the reason. Until someone pointed it out to me—all “heroes” held up to the young know are obviously not heroes, but people who accomplished nothing, but we are lied to they did, because of some characteristic of supposed oppression. Thus, the young are told the laughable falsehood that Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, and NASA names buildings after her. The logical, and correct, conclusion of the young is that they are continuously lied to. Keller is just collateral damage. But so is any trust in our institutions and our ruling class, and of course our system of voting.

      • demosthenes1d says

        On the question of purges on the right, I meant it as a reason why the right is susceptible to demands to purge. People on the right generally believe themselves to value truth, virtue and character and they are, therefore, easier to shame into cutting ties with groups that are opposed by mainstream opinion or common conceptions of truth, virtue, and character. The assessments aren’t always accurate…

        As a side note, I think there is more policing of boundaries on the left than you realize (or acknowledge), it is just so far from you that its harder to notice. For instance, there were many calls from left wing journos and publications to get rid of the Nation of Islam influence in Black Lives Matter and the Woman’s March (for instance: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/womens-march/555122/ “That the group refuses to be accountable for a high-level alliance with an open anti-Semite disqualifies it from ranking among today’s movements for social justice.”) And many left wingers have called out the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. Also, looking a little deeper in history, the intercollegiate Socialist and the student left/precursors to SDS (LID, SLID) worked hard to marginalize and discredit communists before they lost their antibodies in the 1960s and dropped their formal anti-communism in the Port Huron statement. This led to them being taken over by the Maoist Revolutionary Youth Movement and completely fragmenting and going underground as the Weathermen.

        • Charles says

          That is no doubt part of it, along with that the Right tends not to derive meaning from ideology, combined with the social acceptability aspect.

          Interesting. But have any ties been cut with the Nation of Islam or BDS? Has either lost funding or access to prominent people who push their line? I doubt it. That sounds a lot more like internecine fighting than finding enemies to the left.

          True, the earlier left fought a lot. (I talk in one of my reviews about the Spartacists.) Between everyone moving far to the Left, and intersectionality inoculating them, they appear to have temporarily solved that problem. It won’t be forever, because it can’t be, though.

          • demosthenes1d says

            Charles said: “But have any ties been cut with the Nation of Islam or BDS?”

            The State of New York and NYC will not invest in any company or fund that supports or participates in BDS activities. Apparently they recently strengthened that restriction. Here is an article discussing the original executive order from Cuomo in 2016: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/cuomo-and-b-d-s-can-new-york-state-boycott-a-boycott

            They have a lot of money to throw around so I would call it significant. Of course its internecine, but that is what we are talking about on the right too, right?

          • Charles says

            This strikes me as a special case. Certainly, in New York the Jews have a lot of power, and they are not shy of wielding it. Here, the relevant Jews are not necessarily either Left or Right. Any Jew can (quite rightly) see a threat from the Nation of Islam or BDS. Thus, it is not an internecine Left quarrel, or even an erosion of “no enemies on the Left,” but a defensive measure by Jews as a group.

            Also, the Nation of Islam isn’t classically Left. They are not believers in oppression generally, or intersectionality, I am sure. BDS is more classical supposed-oppression focused, and thus maybe more classically Left. But from what little I know about them, they’re basically anti-Israel and pro-enemies of Israel–again, not a straightforward Left-Right matter.

            Regardless, if, say, BLM cut ties with the Nation of Islam, I’d say there’s something broader here. That seems unlikely.

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