The 16-year-old girl’s once-beautiful face was grotesque.
She had been disfigured beyond all recognition in the 18 months she had been held captive by the Comanche Indians.
Now, she was being offered back to the Texan authorities by Indian chiefs as part of a peace negotiation.
To gasps of horror from the watching crowds, the Indians presented her at the Council House in the ranching town of San Antonio in 1840, the year Queen Victoria married Prince Albert.
‘Her head, arms and face were full of bruises and sores,’ wrote one witness, Mary Maverick. ‘And her nose was actually burnt off to the bone. Both nostrils were wide open and denuded of flesh.’
Once handed over, Matilda Lockhart broke down as she described the horrors she had endured — the rape, the relentless sexual humiliation and the way Comanche squaws had tortured her with fire. It wasn’t just her nose, her thin body was hideously scarred all over with burns.
When she mentioned she thought there were 15 other white captives at the Indians’ camp, all of them being subjected to a similar fate, the Texan lawmakers and officials said they were detaining the Comanche chiefs while they rescued the others.
It was a decision that prompted one of the most brutal slaughters in the history of the Wild West — and showed just how bloodthirsty the Comanche could be in revenge.
S C Gwynne, author of Empire Of The Summer Moon about the rise and fall of the Comanche, says simply: ‘No tribe in the history of the Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan, and American occupations of this land had ever caused so much havoc and death. None was even a close second.’
He refers to the ‘demonic immorality’ of Comanche attacks on white settlers, the way in which torture, killings and gang-rapes were routine. ‘The logic of Comanche raids was straightforward,’ he explains.
‘All the men were killed, and any men who were captured alive were tortured; the captive women were gang raped. Babies were invariably killed.’
Not that you would know this from the new Lone Ranger movie, starring Johnny Depp as the Indian Tonto.
For reasons best know to themselves, the film-makers have changed Tonto’s tribe to Comanche — in the original TV version, he was a member of the comparatively peace-loving Potowatomi tribe.
And yet he and his fellow native Americans are presented in the film as saintly victims of a Old West where it is the white settlers — the men who built America — who represent nothing but exploitation, brutality, environmental destruction and genocide.
Depp has said he wanted to play Tonto in order to portray Native Americans in a more sympathetic light. But the Comanche never showed sympathy themselves.
When that Indian delegation to San Antonio realised they were to be detained, they tried to fight their way out with bows and arrows and knives — killing any Texan they could get at. In turn, Texan soldiers opened fire, slaughtering 35 Comanche, injuring many more and taking 29 prisoner.
But the Comanche tribe’s furious response knew no bounds. When the Texans suggested they swap the Comanche prisoners for their captives, the Indians tortured every one of those captives to death instead.
‘One by one, the children and young women were pegged out naked beside the camp fire,’ according to a contemporary account. ‘They were skinned, sliced, and horribly mutilated, and finally burned alive by vengeful women determined to wring the last shriek and convulsion from their agonised bodies. Matilda Lockhart’s six-year-old sister was among these unfortunates who died screaming under the high plains moon.’
Not only were the Comanche specialists in torture, they were also the most ferocious and successful warriors — indeed, they become known as ‘Lords of the Plains’.
They were as imperialist and genocidal as the white settlers who eventually vanquished them.
A couple of years ago I wrote a post about Romantic Primitivism or the Myth of the Noble Savage:
In my earlier post I made a point that it appears that economic development is actually saving the Amazonian rainforest. There are some who have taken a bit of an issue with this position.
Let’s think about this for a minute.
Why would that be true? Actually if you think about it, it is pretty easy to conceptualize how that premise could be true – and provably so.
The basics of human survival are:
- A safe and secure food source
- Clothing appropriate to the climate
- A habitable and sanitary living space
Increases/improvements in human development/technology bring:
- With respect to food sources –
- More productive land allowing greater production in a smaller space
- Development of aquaculture (fish farming)
- Better and cheaper transportation to allow the food to get to the people (doesn’t have to be produced in the Amazon rainforest)
- Improved food security and storage to allow longer shelf-life, disease and less spoilage
- With respect to clothing;
- Higher clothing tech to fit climate extremes
- Cheaper and less harmful materials (think Under Armor)
- Industrialization brings mass production and lower cost per unit
- Better transportation makes for more choices and greater availability
- Sewage systems, refuse disposal and indoor plumbing
- Ability to heat and cool to offset the environmental extremes
- Man-made materials can substitute for natural materials
- Electricity extends the day
So it is pretty easy to make the case that human technological evolution has lessened the need for inefficient tech, like stripping the rainforest for subsistence farming, isn’t it. So would not these sensitive areas benefit from development in other, less sensitive geographies of the world/countries? Would not this development not take the heat off the rainforests?
I think that they do.
Yet there still seem to be those who would deny the benefits of modernity with the world due to a myth, that being the myth of the “noble savage”. Whether or not they know it, people who believe that native civilizations are better off left to their idyllic hunter/gatherer, live in Mother Gaia’s bosom, back to nature existence are making this argument. That’s really the subtext behind the “back to nature”, anti-development, blow up the dams, anti-energy development movements.
The theory of the “noble savage” or romantic primitivism is, in literature and philosophy, an idealized concept of uncivilized man, a savage who symbolizes the innate goodness of one not exposed to the corrupting influences of civilization. It presupposes that before technology and development, men and women were living in an innocent and harmonious state with nature, that they were basically living as Adam and Eve.
That’s sounds great, what with all unicorn riding and my personal favorite, the romping around semi-naked and whatnot – but unfortunately this is less of a real theory and more of a myth.