When woke leftists attack common phrases for being culturally offensive, they reveal their appalling ignorance.
I was recently writing about the First Battle of Echoee, a battle that occurred in 1760 in the Appalachian Mountains between British soldiers and Cherokee Indians. To describe soldiers moving along the narrow mountain paths en route to that battle, I chose a well-worn phrase: “Indian File.” It is a phrase that has lasted centuries. When I was a platoon leader of a light infantry company in Korea, and later a company commander in that same battalion, we spoke of traversing the narrow paths along the mountain ridges in “Indian File” — i.e., in a single file line with a distance of two to four meters between soldiers. I find it hard to believe that, even in today’s “woke” military, people are not using it.
To refresh my memory of the phrase’s etymology, I typed the phrase into the Bing search engine. After verifying that the phrase dates to the mid-18th century, when colonists were at times fighting with or against the various Eastern Woodland Indian tribes and were observing Indian hunting/battle tactics, I came upon this gem at “Idioms by The Free Dictionary“:
1. noun A line one person or one thing in width; single file. One of many expressions often considered offensive for making reference to Native American stereotypes or tropes. (emphasis added)
An Indian file of geese—such an unusual flight pattern for the bird—crossed overhead as we traversed the field.
2. adverb In such a line.
The students lined up and walked Indian file into the auditorium.
Considered offensive??? To whom??? And why???
Moving in single-file was one possible movement technique that Indians regularly used, making it difficult for a tracker to know how many warriors were in a group. At times, particularly on mountain paths, this movement technique was the only one that made sense. Colonists of the time came to describe such single-file movement of infantry as “Indian file.” Those same colonists acknowledged the Indians as masters of “skulking warfare” — i.e., ambushes and raids in the close, heavily-wooded terrain of North America, whether in rolling hills, swamps, or mountains. As George Washington wrote in 1756:
. . . [t]he cunning and vigilance of Indians in the woods are no more to be conceived than they are to be equalled [sic.] by our people. Indians are only match for Indians; and without these, we shall ever fight upon unequal Terms.
I am so tired of progressive culture warriors with their vast historic ignorance, their certainty of their own moral superiority, and their incredible arrogance apparent in the obvious belief they are safeguarding some ‘lesser minority’ in this country, passing uninformed judgment on me or anyone else, in this case, because we would dare use the morally neutral phrase “Indian file.”
This is purely Orwellian thought-control. On the one hand, it erases factual history; on the other hand, it establishes faux moral superiority over any who would objectively discuss history. These assholes need to be shamed and driven from the public square.
Here is the reality of American Indians in the 18th century. The Indians were uniformly very brave and skilled warriors. The Indian tribes had developed agriculture, and they had developed several laudable cultural customs. That said, the reality was that Indian governance was a grossly inefficient, diffuse tribalism and that their tribal cultures placed supreme importance on blood vengance. These Indians were a stone-age people. They had no metallurgy, no chemistry, and no alphabet or written language. They did not have the wheel. Those are facts, not value judgments, “stereotypes,” or “tropes.” And these stone-age people were not peaceful in any sense of the word. Every tribe was in near-constant, brutal warfare against other nearby tribes and had been since long before the first colonist set foot on this continent. Again, that is a fact, not a value judgment, a “stereotype,” or a “trope.”
But let’s add a value judgment. The 18th century Indians fully fit the definition of “savage.” In war, they would regularly target women and children. Further, they would take prisoners with the intention of horrifically executing them.
For example, James Adair spent four decades as an Indian trader living among the Southeast Woodland tribes in the mid-18th century, including, among others, the Chickasaw and the Cherokee. I will tell you, having visited the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma and spoken with their research historians, they consider Adair to be their primary and best source on Indian history in South-Eastern North America between 1730 and 1775.
In his 1775 book, The History of the American Indians, Adair stated that, when the Indians took captives, they would usually execute them. Their preferred method of execution was by ritually torturing the captive – whether man, woman, or child — to death by fire in an ordeal lasting a period of hours to days and ending in scalping and dismemberment. As Adair described the ordeal:
[The] condemned . . . [are] tied to the dreadful stake , one at a time . The victors first strip their miserable captives quite naked , and put on their feet a pair of bear-skin maccaseenes [sic], with the black hairy part outwards; others fasten with a grapevine a burning fire-brand to the pole a little above the reach of their heads. Then they know their doom – deep black, and burning fire, are fixed seals of their death-warrant. Their punishment is always left to the women . . . [who] perform it to the entire satisfaction of . . . the spectators . Each of them prepares for the dreadful rejoicing , a long bundle of dry canes , or the heart of fat pitch-pine, and as the victims are led to the stake , the women and their young ones beat them with these in a most barbarous manner . Happy would it be for the miserable creatures, if their sufferings ended here, or a merciful tomohawk [sic.] finished them at one stroke; but this shameful treatment is a prelude to future sufferings. . . .
The victims arms are . . . pinioned , and a strong grapevine is tied round his neck to the top of the war-pole, allowing him to track around about fifteen yards . They fix some tough clay on his head to secure the scalp from the blazing torches.
Unspeakable pleasure now fills the exulting crowd of spectators, and the circle fills with the . . . merciless executioners. . . . The women make a furious onset with their burning torches: his pain is soon so excruciating that he rushes out from the pole with the fury of the most savage beast of prey and with the vine sweeps down all before him, kicking, biting, and trampling them . . . . The circle immediately fills again, either with the same, or fresh persons: they attack him on every side – now he runs to the pole for shelter , but the flames pursue him. Then with champing teeth , and sparkling eye-balls, he breaks through their contracted circle afresh, and acts every part that the highest courage, most raging fury, and blackest despair can prompt him to. But he is sure to be over-powered by numbers , and after some time the fire affects his tender parts. — Then they pour over him a quantity of cold water, and allow him a proper time of respite, until his spirits recover, and he is capable of suffering new tortures.
Then the like cruelties are repeated till he falls down, and happily becomes insensible of pain. Now they scalp him . . . dismember [him], and carry off all the exterior branches of the body (pudendis non exceptis [including the genitalia]) in shameful and savage triumph.
This is the most favorable treatment their . . . captives receive: it would be too shocking to humanity either to give, or peruse, every particular of their conduct in such doleful tragedies — nothing can equal these scenes . . .. Not a soul, of whatever age or sex , manifests the least pity during the prisoner’s tortures: the women sing with religious joy, all the while they are torturing the . . . victim, and peals of laughter resound through the crowded theatre – especially if [the victim] fears to die . . . .
This “savage” treatment of prisoners was documented among the majority – if not all – of the Indian tribes from the Great Plains to the Southeastern Woodlands. For instance, in the popular 2003 book, Comanches: The History of a People, by T.R. Fehrenbach, one can read about how the Comanche tribe of the Great Plains brutally tortured and executed their prisoners in ways that equal the savagery that Adair described.
Folks, we dearly need to get back to a point where we can speak with honesty and candor about objective facts. That is the antithesis of the woke world of today. “Indian file,” indeed.
IMAGE: The death of Jane McCrea by John Vanderlyn (1804). Public domain.