Cowboys and Indians

I think the age of cowboys and Indians is past. I grew up firstly as Roy Rogers with my faithful horse Trigger, and then I was sometimes the Lone Ranger, but more likely I was his trusty companion Tonto on my piebald horse, Scout. Of course this was all in my imagination, and I never had a real horse or pony at all, although I did go riding when I was a young teenager.

I suppose when I was young, films and comics were full of stories of the wild west; there were books to read set in those apparently exciting times, ‘Last of the Mohicans’, ‘Shane’, ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’ and  then there were the ‘heroes’, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowey, Daniel Boone… and Geronimo and Cochise and Crazy Horse.

I guess it wasn’t that far away in those days when I was young, the west was still pretty wild when my grandparents were growing up. Obviously I have a very different view of the reality of the European conquest of the tribal lands of Native Americans, but in those days the fantasy of adventure and exploration and excitement… danger even, was replayed in gardens and streets and playgrounds across the country.

I guess we judged others in western terms, goodies beating the  baddies, boastful rogues overcome by quiet heroes, of right and decency and modest bravery triumphing over arrogance and greed. I don’t think I noticed that the women were all bystanders or victims to the action – I wasn’t! In our games I was the guy who outwitted the baddies, even though I was a girl!

I was always attracted to the ‘Indians’ in the stories, even though more often they were shown as brutal aggressors rather than valiant warriors defending their land and their way of life. I was fascinated by the tipi dwellers of the prairies, probably Lakota,  who moved to follow the herds, who could find water and sustenance in an apparently hostile wilderness and had a rich and beautiful culture, stately and majestic as well as fierce and warrior-like. When we went for walks in the woods, I became an Iroquois, trying to walk silently beneath the trees, leaving no footprint or broken twig or as still as a deer, waiting for danger to pass; I tried to learn the names of plants, and whether they were useful or edible, and what the trees were and how their wood could be used. I tried to learn about birds and animals and even had a totem, a crow or a jackdaw.

I began to read about native Americans  the tribes as different from each other as European peoples, and the richness and variety of the languages and culture, and the horrific  brutality and injustices done to them… and the more I knew the more the imaginary ‘cowboys and Indians’ of my childhood faded.

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