Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Moral non-equivalency

Hank Sims said:
"Ernie -- I'm no great authority. But the Californios were morally preferable to the Bear Flaggers, beyond any doubt."

Sorry Hank, but I guess I like picking on you because you know where all the stories are buried, and you have the blood of a generational native.

My first thought when you said "the Californios were morally preferable to the Bear Flaggers" was; What the hell does morals have to do with the mid eighteen hundreds? I will give it to you, that the white folks that showed up in California were kicked out of most of the places that they came from. Especially the ones that came overland. But, are you really going to cross moral swords with someone that knows where all the bodies are buried?

Who is more moral? The Mountain men that gathered Indian girls to sell in the Valley? Or, the Californos that traded fine Spanish horses for them? The mountain men were glad to get rid of the “Indian problem”. The best way to do that was to ship out all of the “breeders”. The Californos wanted the young Indian girls for… what? The Wailaki women were well known as being warm and friendly, they fattened easily, and the weren’t as treacherous as the valley Indian women. I can guess why they wanted the young Indian women. So, why did they want the young Indian boys? My thought is they wanted them to work the Spanish ranches.

I will say that the Spanish horses have a well earned reputation of being one of the worlds finest horses. I'll give you that much.

Unfortunately you are caught in the same trap that I often find myself caught in. We want to think of our ancestors as great, glorious, and brave people that helped to form the world that we live in today. The damn newcomers won’t give us the luxury of burying the past. They don’t have one, so they like to drag ours around like a soiled blanket. My thought, that I formed long ago, is that we have no clear concept of what our ancestors were really like, or what really motivated them. We make a big, big mistake when we think that we can judge “who they were” by the “Who we are” standard. We are very different people. Really.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, boy! Current events!

Hank Sims said...

We are very different people.

Well, I don't know about that.

I mean, I don't disagree with your project, here. The study of human history shouldn't be limited to great and shining examples of humanity. We have to try to understand the creeps, too.

But that doesn't mean forgiving all, is all I'm saying. We should by all means try to figure out what made Hitler Hitler and Stalin Stalin. But we shouldn't forget that they were who they were, and we shouldn't forgive them.

There were any number of examples of political and personal conduct to follow in the mid-19th century. The fact that the hoodlum Bear Flaggers chose the worst is all on them. They were deprived in all kinds of ways, but they weren't children.

The Mountain men that gathered Indian girls to sell in the Valley? Or, the Californos that traded fine Spanish horses for them?

See, this is why I say I'm no great authority. I never heard that story. I certainly have no reason to doubt it.

Despite my ignorance, I'm positive that Native Americans got a better deal under the Californios than they did under the Kelseys and the like. Not only because it would be hard to be worse than the Kelseys, but because Native Americans got at least a tiny little bit of respect in post-de Casas Mexico. It was a patronizing and ignorant sort of respect, but it beat wholesale slaughter.

Here's a pet theory of mine: Leaving aside Pizarro and Cortez and other evil bastards of that era, Catholics generally get a better grade on relations with non-European people than Protestants do. Not because they didn't exploit the Hell out of them -- they sure did -- but because they didn't usually feel that God had commanded them to wipe out heathens.

You take the Eucharist and listen to the priest mumble Latin, then hey, you're a Catholic. They'll generally let you live. Not only that, but they'll ignore it when you take an unusual interest in the saints, pairing them with Yoruba or Congolese equivalents, and sing weird songs to them. That's why Africa is much more alive in Cuba and Brazil and Haiti than in the U.S. or Jamaica.

Like I said: A pet theory, and definitely no excuse for anything. But when you wonder if the Spanish wanted Indian boys to work their ranches, you're saying quite a lot. In the world of the Bear Flaggers, not only would you kill the Indian boy, you'd kill any Indian-lover who presumed to bring the Indian boy into your household.

We want to think of our ancestors as great, glorious, and brave people that helped to form the world that we live in today.

Well, I think of mine more in the comic vein, to tell you the truth -- full of all the same sorts of foibles and shortcomings as myself and my contemporaries. I'm glad they weren't hateful people, but they were far from great and glorious and brave, in my mind.

Jose Antonio won some military battles, but every contemporary agrees that his vanity and his constant scheming unfortunately overpowered his quick mind. His brother, Carlos Antonio -- my direct ancestor -- made a brave speech to the Mexican Congress and was eventually rewarded with the governorship, but timidly backed down when challenged by his nephew, Alvarado. (That is a very comic scene in Bancroft's history -- the armies all lined up and ready to go, Carlos decides to call the whole thing off and have a barbecue instead. His brother was furious.)

Rose said...

OMG - now I have seen everything, Hank brought up Hitler! Godwin's Law.

Ernie, this is for you South Coast - Kingston Trio

Hank Sims said...

Yeah, but I brought up Hitler qua Hitler. That doesn't count.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I really don't mind that Hank brings up Hitler and Stalin... And Larabee and Kelsey. But, for some of us it is genocide 101. We need to get back to the basics, then get past the "Horror", Then we can start to see what motivated some of our ancestors. I promise people, all the time, that if they look into their own history they will find a monster or two. If Hank is unwilling to look at his ancestors, I can look for him.

This was written about the Missions and their “peaceful treatment” of the Indians.

“They live well free, but as soon as we reduce them to a Christian and community life…they decline in health, they fatten, sicken and die.”
Padre Mariano Payeras

“Padre, take back your Christianity; I want none off it; I will return to my country.”
San Jose Mission Indian

The Indians…crushed the Padre’s other testicle. This last act put an end to the life of Padre Quintana.
Donato, (the Indian, with a Spanish name) the one who had been whipped, walked around the room with the plural results of his operation in his hand saying, “I shall bury these in the outdoor privy.”
Lorenzo Asisara

Every day they are running away… Three laborers fled and if the rest who remain see that no steps are taken to recapture and discipline them, I will be left with none… {My rancho will} go to ruins due to lack of hands.
Pio Pico (Californo)

Hank
I’m am truly sorry to bring you the news of your ancestors. I see no real reason for you to not be proud of what they did bring us, but stop telling me that anybodies ancestors are better than mine.

Hank Sims said...

Jesus Christ! I had no idea things were so politically charged, here.

Sorry!

Ernie Branscomb said...

Hank, if you are still reading...

I want you to know that I respect you far more than you will ever know. I admire people that honor their ancestors. Also, you are one of a few people than sign their name, which I also respect. You offer me who you are, and where you are from. You give me the opportunity to truly know you. You are not one to take anonymous swipes at people, like the anonymous people that have no history.

If you get anything out of this "small" exchange, I want you to know that ALL of our ancestors have Bad History. I want to assure you that my exchange with you was in no way personal, but only to let you know that there are many scoundrels in history. My family AND yours. And, any others that will take the time to research their families.

And, thanks for your comments, I truly appreciate them. Also, you can talk about Hitler any time you want. I think the Jews say: “Never forget”. I'm not sure what the Indians say. But, I will say that I am ashamed of myself for using you as an example. I'll do better.

Ernie Branscomb said...

As you might have already guessed, Hank is much more studied that most of us, and me in particular. So, I welcome the opportunity to think outside of “Ernie's Place” a little bit, where I promised myself I would keep it simple.

“Hitler Qua Hitler” simply means; Hitler “doing the things that” Hitler would do. The following quote puts what Hank was saying in context much better than I ever could.

"Cold-blooded murder is a bad work; but murdering Hitler in cold blood before his rise to power would be a good work; but who can possibly say ahead of time that Hitler will become Hitler? (Who, also, could say that while Hitler as we know him might not have arisen, the same basic conditions would not have obtained anyway, such as anti-Semitic pogroms, given the period in which Hitler flourished? A murder might have stopped Hitler qua Hitler as we knew him, but it likely would not have stopped a Hitler figure from emerging."
Scott McMahan

Word and thought for the day.

spyrock said...

The Spanish Requirement of 1513 ("El Requerimiento") was a declaration by the Spanish monarchy of its divinely ordained right to take possession of the territories of the New World and to subjugate, exploit and, when necessary, to kill the native inhabitants. The Requirement was read in Spanish to Native Americans to inform them of Spain’s rights to conquest. Those who subsequently resisted conquest were considered to harbor evil intentions. The Spaniards thus considered those who resisted as defying God’s plan, and so used Catholic theology to justify their killing.

i actually took mexican history back in the day before they changed it to please anyone. it was like reading a nightmare on elm street. they wiped out all the carribean indians and brought in the africans. if you want to compare hitler and the catholic church in number of people killed or just slaves and jews killed, the catholic church wins by a landslide. it's not even close and not even funny. and i'm terribly sorry you found out the truth, that even your ancestors need to be forgiven.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Spy, I am trying to go easy on Hank. I don't know how to say this, but I think that Kym Kemp would understand. She started studying her ancestory, expecting to find kings and princes and fairy tale stories. (my words, not hers.)Instead she found that her ?G grandfather was a man by the name of Cole. He was one of the Eel River Rangers, of Indian killing infamy. Her shock was so palpable that you could almost feel herself turning wrong-side-out with grief and shame.
We all want to see ourselves as "Good People" so it hurts when we find out that we have a monster in our ancestory. Pious person that I am, I explained to her that "although MY Ancestors were wonderful to the Indians, she had nothing to be ashamed of, and indeed, she could not change anything if she tried, and it wasn't her fault."

Then I found out through a misspelled name that TWO of my grandfathers were involved in the Bloody Run Massacre, I had to take my own advice. But, I can assure you that it went down hard.

So, knowing what I know, I prefere that hank search his own history and find his own soul, and come to terms with it at his own pace, without cramming it down his throat. But, to be honest, I'm itching to tell him where to look.

Hank Sims said...

Look -- for better or worse, you all take this WAY more seriously than I do. I'm really, truly sorry if I gave the impression that it was otherwise. I thought we were all just gabbing around the ol' pickle barrel, there, until things took a strange turn.

My collection of cornball stories is just that. I didn't come to them until later in life, and I have minus attatchment to them as anything other than material to bullshit about. In other words, I take no credit for any of my ancestors' deeds and no blame for their sins. Nor should anyone else.

History is a serious subject, but I am very far from a serious student of it. I have the utmost respect for people who are, and any corrections to my understanding of the past are heartily encouraged. I take absolutely zero umbrage.

I meant it when I said that I'm no authority, Ernie! I'll keep saying it until you hear it, you stubborn old ox!

Ernie Branscomb said...

While I'm picking on everybody, how about Jerry Rohde? He is the one that wrote the feel-good story about "The Genocidal Scum that built Arcata". (The Kelseys)
Mr. Rohde wouldn't have look very far to find that he was the descendant of Vikings. The glorious warriors of the north. Whose very existence depended on roaming, raping, and pillaging. Maybe his grandpa was one of the berserkers. He could be really proud of that.

We all have history...

Ernie Branscomb said...

I like your style Hank. I wish that more people could take History and the things that we can't change less seriously. I also wish that you could look at your own history a little bit. I'm sure you would enjoy it!

I like to get past the finger pointing and the Good Guy, Bad Guy thing. I kinda hurts when people that have no idea of their own history talk about "Oh the Horror!" like I was the one that did it. Certainly it makes me hurt to know what happened, but their is plenty of hurt to go around. As a child, most of the stories that I heard were. "The Wild Indian was a Bad Guy. But, now everybody is civilized, and we live together peacefully". Nowadays the stories that I hear are "Oh the Horror, the white man was genocidal scum, but today we live together peacefully."

I have stories that I will tell someday when people can listen with an open mind, until then they will be mine. I'll probably have to tell them to my grandkids now, and maybe they can tell them when they are old.

It has been a lot of fun Hank. Stop by anytime.

Hank Sims said...

I wrote that headline, for the record.

And I pointed Jerry over here this morning. Maybe he'll chime in. Although I very much doubt he'll be interested in a game of "whose forbearers were less genocidal?" Who cares?

spyrock said...

hey i am totally trying to go easy on hank. that was just a whiff of what i could write about that. i have four half latino grandchildren and five half latino cousins. my only issue with him is about forgiveness. those grudges only serve to create new conflict. like i said before. get over it. get over all of it.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Next time we'll stick with the pickle barrel.

Also, you might be surprised to find out that I don't really have anything against the newcomers. But, to quote a friend of mine:

“I love to pick on the newcomers, I really don’t have anything against them, It’s just that they squeal so delightfully when you rub their fur the wrong way”.

lynette707 said...

"... Kym Kemp would understand. She started studying her ancestory, expecting to find kings and princes and fairy tale stories. (my words, not hers.)Instead she found that her ?G grandfather was a man by the name of Cole. He was one of the Eel River Rangers, of Indian killing infamy. Her shock was so palpable that you could almost feel herself turning wrong-side-out with grief and shame. "

Ernie, I have to say I sure hope you're wrong about Kym. Grief I can understand, but shame? Come on.

I think when you grow up with great stories about your ancestors, they can become a part of your "story", just like being left-handed, or artistic like great-grandpa Howard. We are understandably proud and protective of these stories, and when you find out that GG Jane had an affair with the milk man, and you're descended from him... and not Howard, grief is understandable. You've lost a part of your story, and for some, it feels like they've lost a part of themselves.

But shame? We are no more responsible for our ancestors' action than we are our own green eyes (and yes, I've got all kinds of bad, and rather odd, guys in my little family tree. I find it fascinating, not shameful).

Robin Shelley said...

I have a friend in Laytonville who descends from one of, if not the first, white settlers in Long Valley... her family has probably been there longer than the Branscomb family, if you can imagine that! Anyway... she told me one time that she tries not to be too proud of her ancestry because she doesn't want people to think she comes from a family that is better off dead.
I'll have to ask her someday what she meant by that.

Hans said...

Well- since we're all jawin' around the pickle barrel let me add this. Throughout all of history we've all worked very hard to kill each other. Germanic tribes tried and often succeeded in exterminating each other- Gothic tribes like the Gepids were gone by the fifth century and just about all of my european ancestors since then have had to fight in some war or another up to my father's day. I feel pretty blessed to not ever having to be in a position of killing or being killed but I also don't agonize about how many people my father killed during WW II or his dad in WW I.

Jim Baker said...

I will resist entering the fray here, but would like to submit a bibliography for the purpose of furthering the knowledge of those of you who give a damn about getting the facts and historical context of these issues straight. Thanks for all the dialogue. Suffice it to say that I don't think it made much of a difference to the indigenous inhabitants of California whether they were killed or indentured into servitude by anglo bear flaggers or self-righteous Spanish padres or the Californios who inherited the social and economic structure they set up in California. Wish I had more time to contribute.

Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast.

Indian Survival on the California Frontier by Albert L Hurtado, Yale University Press, 1988

John Sutter, A Life on the North American Frontier by Albert L Hurtado, University of Oklahoma Press, 2006

The History of Alta California by Antonio Maria Osio, translated by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz, University of Wisconsin Press, 1996

General Vallejo and the Advent of the Americans by Alan Rosenus, Heyday Books, 1999

The Decline of the Californios, a Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890 by Leonard Pitt, University of California Press, 1996.

Bear Flag Rising, the Conquest of California, 1846, by Dale L. Walker, 1999

The Men of the California Bear Flag Revolt and Their Heritage by Barbara R. Warner, Arthur Clark Publishing Company for the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, 1996. This is an unabashed defense of the Bear Flaggers, which is an entirely different view of the Kelseys and the rest of the Bear Flag participants than the one which Hank and Jerry hold. You might want to read it to check her references and her interpretation of the historical record.

California Conquered, the Annexation of a Mexican Province 1846-1850 by Neal Harlow, University of California Press, 1982

Rooted in Barbarous Soil, edited by Kevin Starr and Richard J. Orsi, University of California Press, 2000

A Voyage to California, the Sandwich Islands, and Around the World 1826-1829 by Auguste Duhaut-Cilly, translated by August Fruge and Neal Harlow, University of California Press, 1999. This gives a unique view by the master of a French trading vessel of Spanish California during this period.

Mr. Nice said...

Don't sweat what your ancestors did. At least you know. The best the rest of us can do is take DNA tests and try to trace back some forged immigration papers. It's disheartening to know that the best you can hope for is to know you are distantly related to a bunch of other folks who also don't know what our common ancestor actually did in their life. I'd be stoked on tracing some genocidal thug ancestor, seriously. At least I'd be able to say gramps had a job killing folks.

Rose said...

Hank - I should have added - "Not that there's anything wrong with that."