Writing history is too often the privilege of the winners. It is the luxury in which they indulge in order to cover their shortcomings and prevent further discussions of actual events and personalities. American history in particular has been a victim of this syndrome. American historians cling tenaciously to their myths, and when thorough research begins to chip away at the edifice which they have imaginatively constructed, they make every effort to discredit the new information for fear their most cherished fictions will be discarded.
Some years ago, while working on one of Marlon Brando's perennial Indian movies, I recommended Thomas Marquis' Keep the Last Bullet for Yourself, an analysis of the Custer battle written by a man who had spent most of his adult life living with the Northern Cheyennes. The thesis of the book was that Custer's calvary, rather than being a well-trained and experienced military unit, was simply a rag-tag group, inexperienced in Indian wars, and prone to panic when faced by a stubborn Indian foe. Consequently, according to Marquis, when the Sioux and Cheyenne bravely charged the soldiers at the Little Big Horn, the troops panicked, fired a few shots at the Indians, and then turned their guns upon themselves, fearing torture and disgrace should they fall into the hands of the Indians.
The historians and script writers to whom I had recommended the book exploded in fury when I described its contents. They adamantly refused to read any book which suggested that American troops did anything other than fight stalwartly in combat. Indeed, they refused to read the book after I had discussed its thesis and all semblance of good will between us vanished. Thereafter, they viewed me with great suspicion and made it plain that certain topics were out of bounds when we discussed the proposed plot of the movie. Much the same reaction can be achieved if one points out, as a recent historian has done, that Davy Crockett spent most of his time at the Alamo hiding, and when captured by the Mexicans insisted that he was an unfortunate tourist caught by accident in the Texas revolt. Frank Waters' book, The Earp Brothers of Tombstone, raises hackles all over the Southwest because it suggests that the Earps are something less than countless movies make them out to be.
History, it should be noted, is something less than an exact science. It may, in fact, simply be articles of secular faith which are not to be disturbed without peril. Indeed, peril is a familiar companion to our two authors of this study because they have made a certain topic of American history a more exact statement of facts, and they have greatly disturbed articles of faith which have lasted for nearly a century. Since I appear episodically in this story, I will sketch out its basic narrative so that readers may judge for themselves the importance of what Grinde and Johansen have achieved.
Some years ago, I was contacted by Bruce Johansen, who was at that time living and working in Seattle. He had a manuscript in which he argued, with some impressive documentation, that the Six Nations had had a profound influence on the thinking of the constitutional fathers. He was being systematically rejected by university presses which are, incidentally, notoriously slanted toward maintaining the doctrines and views of the older establishment. His book, later published as Forgotten Founders, was regarded as utmost heresy. If he had suggested that Saint Paul was a Roman secret agent he could not have received a colder reception. I suggested that Johansen contact Gambit, Inc., a small publisher in New England. Gambit fortunately was far-sighted enough to publish the book.
Forgotten Founders covered some of the same ground that Donald Grinde had in his The Iroquois and the Founding of the American Nation. Soon, the combination of Johansen and Grinde began to exert a powerful influence in the Indian community nationally, as well as among the younger generation of historians. It would not be too far-fetched to say that Grinde and Johansen are on their way to becoming the Rogers and Hammerstein of Indian history. The present volume will undoubtedly establish them as a formidable voice in correcting long-time misinterpretations of the Revolutionary period. Their most important contribution, in my opinion, and the area in which they are unquestionably ahead of everyone else, is their insistence on using the primary source documents when discussing this period and its various movements. Their critics seem completely incapable of responding to them with anything approaching historical and documentary accuracy. Indeed, poor Elisabeth Tooker seems incapable of distinguishing between Locke and Montesquieu, let alone understanding any of the major intellectual contributions of the Six Nations to constitutional thought.
This book, Exemplar for Liberty, has set a high standard of scholarship, and offered a model for future historical writing on the role and influence of American Indians in American history. The accomplishments of Indians and their actual place in the history of the United States has never been remotely touched by historians. The major reason for this omission is that a substantial number of practicing historians simply do not know the source documents with sufficient precision to make sense of them. Consequently, they spend a good deal of their time stealing footnotes and ideas from each other. I noticed this practice when I was researching unratified Indian treaties. Familiar footnotes began to appear in various texts which had no basis in documentary files or reality. One needed only to check the earliest publication dates and inquire, if the author was still alive, whether in fact he had found the document in question. More often than not, the footnote simply referred to a general file and not to the specific item it was supposed to support in the text. It is no wonder, then, that traditional American history is not a non-fiction enterprise.
We now desperately need other scholars and teams of scholars to to dig into the tremendous archival resources available to us so that they may bring out the real story of American Indians contained in those records. When the facts replace the current historical fictions, it will be a time of great awakening for many people. Today, we have an educated population that reads voraciously and is not as easily led into the mythical past as previous generations. Such people will like this book immensely, because it provides for the first time a well-documented glimpse into the minds and lives of the constitutional fathers, a view which has not previously been available to anyone.
I am honored to have been asked to write the foreword for this book. I wish I was a generation younger, so that I could take up the scholarly challenge presented by Johansen and Grinde and get into the archives to follow up on their magnificent achievement. I can throw out the challenge to the younger generation of Indians who will follow Grinde and Johansen, and get into the donnybrook now developing. It will be a wonderful and creative decade ahead, as we build on the foundation they have laid here.
--Vine Deloria, Jr.
University of Colorado,
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