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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Making New 'Memories'

October 17, 2001

"AN AWFUL responsibility has devolved on the American nation -- the liberties of mankind are entrusted to it, the honor of freedom and self-government," said the 19th century feminist Fanny Wright.

THERE WERE terrorists on American soil during the War of 1812, in case you care.

That war was against American Indians as well as the British. Tecumseh was considered a bloodthirsty Shawnee and, given guns by the British, he and his tribes created a guerrilla war of terror against encroaching settlers. In Tennessee, he became the most terrifying ally the British could have found. Hundreds of men, women and children died in a most bloodcurdling manner. New York and Boston looked on aghast but couldn't do much about it.

It took Andrew Jackson to wage his own war of terror right back to help free the fledgling nation from both the British and from its native inhabitants.

BUT ON to lighter fare in the darling, dear old world of celebrity....

Rob's comment
The comments above were quickly excised from Liz Smith's column, which is why they're no longer online at the link above. I'm not sure the comments ever made it into print. The online column may have been a first draft that someone edited because it was too controversial.

At the time Americans may have seen Tecumseh as a terrorist, but most people today would classify him as a freedom fighter. Maybe Smith is old enough to have a 19th-century view of him.

Possibly the most ironic comment in her commentary is the last one. How do you free a nation from its own native inhabitants? Is that like a hijacker "freeing" an airplane from its passengers?

Also ironic is her comment about the British giving guns to the Indians. The British were the ones at war with America...they burned down the White House...but the Indians were the evildoers? I'm sure Hitler armed troops in places like Poland, but he and his Nazis remained the major threat.

Another opinion
Correspondent Gina Boltz offers her take on Smith's column:

Hi Rob,

There was no controversy to Liz Smith's column. She was flat out wrong and did a great injustice to historical truths, Native Americans, and Tecumseh, who was truly an exceptional man. In fact, in a past issue of Life Magazine (1996?) listing America's top 50 heroes, Tecumseh was ranked 5th, following Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Honored founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson followed the Shawnee leader on that list. And Andrew Jackson was nowhere to be found.

From 19th century journals, official government reports, and books through today, volumes have been written about Tecumseh's virtues. One magazine listing alone does not make a man great, but at least Life's editors researched, studied, inquired, and pondered before naming their top 50 Heroes list. Liz Smith showed no journalistic responsibilities whatsoever. What she did do is give many of her readers the mental image of Tecumseh standing beside Osama bin Ladin. What a crime, and what a tragedy.

I think Ms. Smith owes her readers, Indian Nations, and Tecumseh a written apology in an upcoming column. It's the least she can do. After that, she should stick to more important topics, like New York's best restaurants and Julia Robert's shoe size.

Gina Boltz/KispokoT@aol.com
Coeditor, Native Village publications

Rob's reply


Good answer! I'll post it online.

I didn't know about the Life Magazine list of heroes. Historians must've compiled it, since I can't imagine voters would put Tecumseh higher than Washington or Jefferson.

I still think many Americans view Natives as the country's original "terrorists"—the whole marauding savage thing. Saying the US terrorized the Indians rather than the other way around is still not universally accepted. I'm not sure it's even widely accepted.

More widely accepted, I'd say, is the notion that Euro-Americans and Native Americans were destined to clash, with no real assignation of fault. And that Native Americans were destined to "lose" because they were culturally "backward." So I don't think any viewpoint along the spectrum of viewpoints is universally accepted as true. And that makes every viewpoint at least somewhat controversial.

I agree Tecumseh was a great man and deserves to be listed highly. But these days, saying the US was wrong or at fault about anything is likely to spur controversy. The only non-controversial, mainstream position is that America is great. In other words, "God bless America"!

Related links
Uncivilized Indians
Savage Indians

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