The Red Stick War & Magic Realism

Why am do I write about Native Americans?

Why am do I write about Native Americans?

“Why do you write so much about Native Americans?” is a question I get all the time. In practically every story the hero and / or the villain as well as multiple supporting characters will be tribal members.

“I think Indians are about the most interesting people in the whole world,” doesn’t sound nearly intellectual enough—even though it is exactly right—so I usually say something like this: “The unbroken thread of mysticism that runs through Native American culture fits perfectly with my concept of magic realism.” If that doesn’t clear things up, I try a little harder.

Drawing of the Great Comet of 1811

Drawing of the Great Comet of 1811

Great events we don’t remember have mainstream Euro-Americans throwing salt over our shoulders, avoiding black cats, stepping over cracks, and leaving the thirteenth floor out of our buildings for reasons we don’t understand but must believe on some level. The same thing applies to Native Americans. They have a history that reaches back fifteen thousand years. Most of it isn’t written down but it’s been carried into the present by legends and ceremonies and lessons learned around the evening meal. It’s part of who they are.

Hale Bop Comet

Hale Bop Comet

Native American history is unique, so the way they approach the world is unique too. Whether they are lawyers, doctors, ministers, teachers, artists, writers, politicians, unskilled workers, soldiers, or criminals they put an American Indian spin on everything they do. That spin is what makes them the most interesting people in the world.

To get an idea how different background leads to different world-view, consider the Red Stick War.

Tecumseh

Tecumseh

In March of 1811 the brightest comet in recorded history made an appearance in the night skies over the United States. The Great Comet of 1811 didn’t lose the title of the biggest and the brightest until the appearance of the Hale Bop Comet in 1997. Remember what happened in southern California then? If you don’t, Google Heaven’s Gate.

When a Shawnee mystic named Tecumseh saw the comet he took it as a sign. He traveled around the country telling everyone who would listen that the fuzzy light in the sky was a supernatural message. The very nature of the Indians’ relationship with their tribal lands was about to change.

He encouraged tribes to unite against further white incursion on their lands before it was too late. He found a willing audience when he visited the Muskogee Creek, whose tribal territory (most of what is now Alabama and part of Georgia) was starting to look very good to white farmers.

Tecumseh promised a sign would follow his visit, which would prove his prophecy was true. When the New Madrid earthquake struck in December, a large number of Creek were convinced.

The Muskogee who joined the Tecumseh Confederation were known as the Red Sticks. The name may have come from red war clubs they carried, or from bundles of red sticks they used to count the days between strategic events. Half the Creek Nation joined in the movement and the other half were firmly against doing anything that would provoke the U.S. government. The division started a civil war inside Muskogee territory.

Ordinarily, the Red Stick war would have played itself out on tribal land but the War of 1812 had just started. The British armed the Creek Red Sticks and their Seminole allies and encouraged them to attack U.S. Army positions. When that happened, General Andrew Jackson moved his troops into Creek lands and by August 9 of 1814 he forced the tribe to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson.

In memory of Tecumseh

In memory of Tecumseh

Despite protest of the Creek chiefs who fought the Red Sticks alongside Jackson, the Creek Nation ceded 23 million acres (93,000 km²)—half of Alabama and part of southern Georgia—to the United States government.

Eight years later, President Andrew Jackson forced the Creek to sign the Treaty of Cusseta, relinquishing their remaining lands east of the Mississippi and accepting “voluntary” removal to Indian Territory. The Army force-marched nearly 20,000 Creek across Tennessee and Arkansas starting in 1834. Three thousand five hundred Indians died in the process.

The Great Comet of 1811 really did portend a significant change in the Creek’s relationship with their land, even if it didn’t go exactly as Tecumseh planned.

That’s the unbroken thread of mysticism that fits perfectly with my concept of magic realism.

“Things Like This”

“Things Like This” was published in Open Road Review, issue 12, Feb1, 2015.

“Things Like This” opening paragraphs:

Things like this can happen. A man waits for a woman as she takes a shortcut through an alley on the way to her car that’s in a free lot—because her safety isn’t worth eight dollars.

His timing is perfect.

He knows her name. “Angela.”

What else does he know?

She goes to him like a dog whose master calls, because names have power and Angela has none.

“What color are your eyes?” he steps out from behind a dumpster that smells like soured grease.

Angela doesn’t run because the man is an impenetrable object. Too tall, too dense, too strong to resist. His face hidden in the shadows. His voice a mellow base counterpoint to the Louis Armstrong music filtering through the exhaust fans of a Cajun restaurant that serves blackened everything.

You can find “Things Like This” here.

“A Different Kind of Indian”

“A Different Kind of Indian” was published in Eleventh Transmission, issue 1, Feb. 2015.

“A Different Kind of Indian” opening paragraphs:

Some kids sell tacos after school. I make arrows. Four of them a day, because that’s a sacred number. I haft them to shafts of white aspen harvested from the spirit-mountains somewhere in Montana. I fletch the shafts with wing feathers of the red-backed hawk—that’s Crazy Horse’s spirit bird. Mom sells them for a hundred bucks apiece on the Internet.

The flint is real, but everything else is as phony as my website name. In cyber-space I’m Joseph Little Wolf, a cool old dude whose great-great grandpa was the Cheyenne Chief who kicked Custer’s butt.

 You can find issue 1 of Eleventh Transmission here.

Evita Peron

Evita's picture displayed on a popcorn stand.

Evita’s picture displayed on a popcorn stand.

Evita (little Eva) Peron’s beginnings were about as humble as a person could get in Argentina. Her father, Juan Duarte, was a rancher who already had a wife and children. He took Evita’s mother, Juana Ibarguaren, as his mistress and started a second illegitimate family that he kept on the edge of poverty in the little town of Junin. Continue reading

“Unk”

“Unk” was first published in Disturbed Digest, issue 1, Alban Lake Press, June, 2013. It was subsequently published as a reprint by A Murder of Storytellers in Beyond the Nightlight in December, 2014.

 “Unk” opening paragraphs:

The Oklahoma City Family Medicine Center might not be a good place to meet guys, but I see a really hot one the moment I walk out the door. Good looking. Tall and dark. Native American. He’s just my type, so I check my watch and pretend I haven’t been inside for anything important.

He likes my hair. Who can blame him? I spent a lot of time mixing in the eight long, thin, highlighted braids with tiny glass beads whipped at the ends. I toss my head so he won’t notice if my smile is a little crooked. It probably is because my lower lip is partly numb. Doctor Martha Singleton says the feeling might come back in time. Continue reading

“I 35”

“I 35” was published in Phoenix Photo & Fiction vol. 1, December, 2014.  http://waxpoetryart.com/phoenix/issues/001/johnbiggs.html

“I 35” Opening paragraphs:

“Them red ants are the worst. There’s millions of them, like the Red Army that gobbled up half of Europe back in the war.” Dad pointed his pipe stem at the line of ants marching through my my green plastic soldiers, looking for bits of Lorna Doone cookie I dropped on the World War II battlefield in our living room.

Baby Doll growled at them from a distance. She barked when I pinched a commie ant between my thumb and finger and dropped her on her comrades. They tore the body into thirds and carried them away. Continue reading