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  • Christine Stevens

Little Bigdeal: More Letters to This Day in History

Updated: Jan 19



HISTORY › u-s-army-retaliates-for-the-little-bighorn-massacre


November 25, 2022

to: history.com

This Day in History

re: Little Bigdeal: 3rd time’s the charm?


Dear This Day in History,

Hi. This is now the 3rd time I have written to you about this subject - any chance I could get even the tiniest acknowledgment that someone actually reads these missives flung into cyberspace? See below.


November 25, 2021

to: history.com

This Day in History

re: Little Bigdeal: Once more with feeling


Dear This Day in History,

Ok. So the letter below is something I sent last year on this day. I’ve included it for your reference in case you forgot/deleted it.


November 25, 2020

to: history.com

This Day in History

re: Little Bigdeal


Hi there! It’s me, the Lady-Who-Wants-You-To-Change-The-Name-of-the-Westward-Expansion Category-to-Something-More-Accurate-Like-Imperialism-on-Steroids-or-Something-Like-That.


I bet you hadn’t noticed, but I kinda gave up this battle. I thought my last stand was calling you out for the article about the Modoc who were hanged for killing a civil war hero after they had been displaced and swindled by the US government.*


However, today, your piece on the massacre of Chief Dull Knife’s people (as revenge for Little Bighorn) got me fired up again.


Oh. Wait. Did I say ‘massacre?“


Because that’s not the word you used to describe the murder of those people. Which included children and elders. You did, however, use it to describe the killing of Custer and his army at Little Bighorn as well as the slaughter of the bison as part of our plan to wipe out the First Nations to make way for the railroads.


So ‘massacre’ was used for white people and animals, but not for the Native Americans. Why?


Once again, language shapes perception. The words you choose (or perhaps more accurately, cut and paste from that 4th grade textbook published in the 1940’s) to describe these events have an impact on your readers in both subtle and painful ways.


That’s my main bullet point for today.


Sincerely,

Christine

It’s ok if you don’t remember that letter. Today’s issue has to do with your recycling of the above mentioned history nugget.


Putting aside any judgment about shoveling the same old sh*t every year (we all want to get out of work early on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I get it) I did want to re-point out your use, once again, of the word ‘massacre’ to describe what happened to Custer and his troops, but not for what the US troops did to Chief Dull Knife and the Cheyenne in retaliation for Little Bighorn months later. Even though it included the murders of native women, children and elders.


The Battle of Little Bighorn was, as far as I can discern from its title, a BATTLE. Between warriors. Death was a possible outcome that each of those fighters understood before they went into it. A massacre, used as a noun, is an ’indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people.’ In case I’m not being clear enough, The Cheyenne were MASSACRED 145 years ago today in retaliation for the deaths of US soldiers in the BATTLE of Little Bighorn.


I believe the historical use of language in framing our history in this way has hypnotized generations of Americans into believing these false or at least inaccurate narratives. Please stop perpetuating it. We are all currently suffering from the results of it.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go celebrate the annual commemoration of the first fictional meal shared between Native Americans and Invading Immigrants. Well, at least we’re starting to reframe that fantasy.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Christine

A+E Networks Support (HISTORY)

Dec 15, 2022, 12:54 PM EST

Hello Christine,

We appreciate your comments and have edited the November 25 TDIH entry.

HISTORY Support



*In case you’re interested, here’s the Modoc article I referenced: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-army-hangs-four-modoc-indians-for-the-murder-of-a-civil-war-hero

And here is the letter about the Modoc:


October 3, 2020

Hi, it’s me again. The lady who wrote a few emails in August about the Westward Expansion category name. Remember me? I made a few name change suggestions and when I also commented on a distinctly tone deaf (and really I mean racist) description of Billy the Kid in your article dated August 17, you wrote back telling me you are reconsidering all the category names and you acknowledged and then removed the offensive part of that post. I really appreciated that as I’m sure many others did, even if they didn’t know it happened. Well, actually, about 156 people know it happened because I put our correspondence on my blog. cmstevensmary.com Check it out!


Anyway, I’m writing again and I realize what follows may seem like a small matter, given all the chaos in our country right now. Yes, I should probably be helping to register reluctant voters. Or calling senators to ask them to delay the supreme court nominee’s confirmation hearing. Or sending thoughts and prayers to all the people President Trump has personally and through calculated disinformation infected with the coronavirus. But right now, today, I’m choosing this battle. So, CHAAARGE!


In today’s Westward Expansion entry, I learned about the Modoc’s murder of a civil war general, prompted by a land ‘dispute.’


But again, since history is always written by the conquerors, we once again got the conquerors version of events.


Let’s start with this sentence: “In 1872, bowing to public pressure, the U.S. dispatched military forces to remove the Modoc and force them back onto the reservation. When some of the more hot headed Modoc resisted, war broke out; “ What pre-civil rights era grade school text book did you pull this shit out of?


I bet you can guess what my problem with this one is. I’m going to tell you anyway.


‘Hot headed?’


Let’s try a little thought experiment: Imagine you are sitting in your house, minding your own business when a foreigner, speaking a language you don’t really understand, comes into your house, telling you they want your 3,000 sq. ft. house. They say you can move to a 300 sq. ft house in another neighborhood, hundreds of miles away, and they promise they’ll help stock your fridge when you get there. You sign a paper, not quite sure if you’re getting a good deal, but you’re pretty hungry and this guy has a gun and a heavily armed Neighborhood Association so…


You move but then you think ‘Hang on now, why should I have to move out of my house? And where’s that fridge full of food?” You think about it for a few years, all the while having trouble with the neighbors who really didn’t want you to move into their neighborhood. So you go back to your old house only to find complete strangers now living in it. And they won’t let you in the door, even just to see what they’ve done with the place.


I think at this point, you might be feeling the opposite of ‘hot headed.’ This was a slow burn. You’ve had time to think about this situation. You’ve had time to miss your corner store, your favorite bar, the park where your kids played. You are not a ‘hot head’ acting on impulse.


And there’s more. But I’m feeling worn out so I’ll just copy and paste the other offending text with some italics, bolding and quotation marks. See if you can figure it out.


“As a result of the Modoc War and the murder of Canby, the U.S. began to take a much more aggressive approach to dealing with Native American problems throughout the nation.”


Which brings us back to the whole Westward Expansion category issue. At this point, you know this ‘expansion’ was a systematic theft that took place over the course of the entire 19th century and resulted in the deaths and displacement of millions of Americans. The native ones, with all the ‘problems.’


I know I’ve made sarcastic suggestions for alternate names for this problematic category. But in all seriousness, language is powerful. Words matter. While we will never be able to right these wrongs, we can at least seek to more honestly teach the historical facts with, well, the actual facts.


Sincerely,

Christine Stevens


12/16/22 Update: To their credit, This Day in History has edited that entry and removed both the ‘hot headed’ and ‘Native American problems’ wording.

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