How the West was really won

  • Savages & Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America's Road to Empire through Indian Territory


Savages & Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America’s Road to Empire through Indian Territory
Paul VanDevelder   
352 pages, hardcover: $26.
Yale University Press, 2009.

Paul VanDevelder, author of Coyote Warrior, digs deeper into the rotten core of the American experience in his new book, Savages & Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America's Road to Empire through Indian Territory.

Louise Holding Eagle, a young farm wife, returned home from shopping in May 1951 to discover that her farm in the rich bottomlands of the Upper Missouri River was gone, flooded by a new reservoir. The Holding Eagles were one of hundreds of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara families whose lives were turned upside down by the Garrison Dam project. Primarily built to control the Big Muddy's often-deadly spring runoff, the dam was also sold to North Dakota farmers as a way to irrigate their desiccated farmlands.

But the dam spelled the end of the world for the tribes who had called the bottomlands home. And it never did deliver water to the parched Northern Great Plains.

The skullduggery involved in the dam's construction is just the springboard for VanDevelder's tale of how unscrupulous men imposed their own visions of Paradise upon the land's legal owners, the Indian tribes.

VanDevelder becomes a forensic historian of sorts as he traces the deadly course of the twin diseases of imperialism and colonialism, which nearly wiped out thriving Native civilizations. Of the 371 ratified treaties -- and the uncounted treaties that Congress never ratified -- VanDevelder examines one in particular: the Treaty of Fort Laramie, enacted in 1851. The treaty guaranteed the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara 12 million acres of land and settled the claims of 10 other tribes. But it slowly dissolved under the pressure of political expediency, until the final taking for the ill-fated Garrison Dam project.

A complete overhaul of the national story is long overdue, says VanDevelder. "The original and ‘official' American narrative that we're all familiar with -- the version presented in textbooks approved by Baptist-controlled school boards in Texas -- isn't going to stand simply because that so-called history is a perversion of what happened on this continent in the last four hundred years," VanDevelder notes in an e-mail.

Savages & Scoundrels illustrates how easily "scoundrels" can seduce a nation founded on the rights of all peoples, leading it to return to old habits of colonialism, environmental exploitation and imperialism. We are all still paying the price.

promoting shame and guilt
Camille Cazedessus
Camille Cazedessus
Sep 17, 2010 11:45 AM
Consider the provocative wording here, meant to promote shame and guilt: "rotten core", "end of the world", "twin diseases of imperialism and colonialism", "Baptist controlled school boards in Texas" , "perversion of what happened on this continent" , "scoundrels can seduce", and "environmental exploitation and imperialism".
Even the name of the book being reviewed is meant to provoke shame and guilt. I pity those who get sucked into that type of thinking. It's classic elitism and obvious revisionist history, sprinkled with a few facts, but all meant to engender a fundamental hatred of early America. Save your $26 and ignore the book.
Awful distortion, elitism littering throughout.
Jan 03, 2011 04:28 PM
Camille, I couldn't have said it any better.
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Mike Maxwell
Mike Maxwell
Sep 18, 2010 03:13 PM
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if the shoe fits, wear it.
marty weiss
marty weiss
Jan 03, 2011 10:53 PM
This was a nice place before European feudalism and industrial civilization got here. The people were self-sufficient. There was neither need nor incentive to dominate the entire world. A kindly people instructed newcomers in life skills who would have starved otherwise. The water was drinkable and free. Nobody had to pay anyone to live on earth. These wise and tolerant folks were then taught about broken treaties, disease and theft and war on an industrial scale. Recently Congress settled with hundreds of thousands of Native Americans whose trust funds had been stolen-- for less than one cent on the dollar.
History is not therapy for destroyers. Shame and guilt are overdue. Shame and guilt might be the only sane response.