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‘Big Jim’
Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West by Kent Masterson Brown: 2 part Documentary, 2014-15
I viewed this film a few days ago with Bob and did not want to get sucked into writing reviews of such works, using them for relaxation instead as I try to retool the failing brain for fiction work this autumn.
But the inconsistent subtext nags at my mind.
The documentary was solemn, upbeat, worshipful of American patriotism in its earliest haphazard forms and also respectful of the Amerindian enemy, which Boone called “savages.” For he knew first hand that his enemies were not a race, but a tribe.
The Congregationalists of the Reading Pennsylvania area had ostracized a son and daughter of Boone’s grandfather for marrying outside the congregation so the family sought the west by the traditional zigzag pattern: southwest to western North Carolina and then northwest into the Cumberland Watershed. This would avoid the Shawnee who now claimed the Ohio Watershed, after working as mercenaries [meaning slave catchers also] in the 1600s and 1700s for various savage nations and Christian Plantations. Unable to defeat the hated Iroquois they settled just out of range of them under Wyandot sanction, allied with the Miami. These nomads of the southern ranges now staked out a land to defend. They never needed interpreters to communicate with English or Americans and their two latter day pan-Tribal patriots, the brothers Chicksiska and Tecumseh, wrote letters to each other in English, the latter even predicting an eclipse based on his Quaker education. [1]
The Cherokee and Shawnee people figure most prominently in the life of Boone. The Cherokee entered into written contracts with the Kentuckians when they sold the Dark and Bloody Ground that was claimed by the Shawnee to these Christians. Daniel would refer to the Indians as “savages,” not red skins, but sometimes, as Indians. Many of the individual names were English, not Amerindian, though most often maintaining the spirit of the native warrior. Dragging Canoe, who would marry a prominent Christian woman who introduced dairy farming to the Cherokee, figured prominently in the story.
The graphics were unsettling.
The original, old, period illustrations showed mixed race or Caucasian Indians without coppery skin. One of the chiefs was consistently shown bearded in the earlier illustrations and then shown looking like a smooth faced Plains Indian in more recent illustrations. The overwhelming impression was of the filmmakers trying to depict Native speech and appearance in Kentucky as that of Plains Indians of a century later.
The “White Indian” Simon Girty was depicted dressed as a white man, not dressed as he had in native fashion. This was necessary so that he could be told apart from all of the reenactors, who were all Caucasian men in scalp locks and war paint who looked a lot more like the illustrations of the 1600s, 1700s and early 1800s than the current illustrations. Most telling is the skull shape and physical build of early period depictions as fully or in part European and also hyper-masculine, with Eastern Woodland Indians illustrated in their own time built stronger than their European counterparts and their Plains Indians cousins. These were infantry men of the woods, not sailors, merchants, royal officials or horsemen of the plains, which bespeaks authentic depictions during the period, and fanciful depictions today, which only ring true when Caucasian re-enactors dress up like Indians, paint themselves red [war] and black [death], and sometimes blue [life] and shave their heads or make topknots or scalp-locs.
The “Hair Buyer,” governor Hamilton of Detroit, is depicted as a tribal manipulator. Just like the American military men of later times and plantation owners of earlier times, he paid for the scalps of runaway and traitor Christians. Atrocities against women and children are depicted in the minority of Indian victories, with two things occurring that were unheard of in later tribal versus American conflicts on the American Plains:
-1. Christian men were sparred in great numbers and marched to Detroit to be sold to the British. This never occurred in the far west, were men captured were always executed. Likewise, most native tribes of the East in the period under discussion did not adopt adult men but tortured them. The Shawnee were a great exception, adopting Boone, Simon Kenton and many other adult Christian enemies into their tribe. Again, no language interpretation was necessary, the Shawnee being English speakers as were the Delaware, Westos, Iroquois, Creek, Susquehannock and Cherokee.
-2. During a siege of a Kentucky fort, which could not hope to hold out without water, the Allied Indians let the defending women take buckets to the river and fill them! This chivalrous action assured that they would not take the fort, an act that any western Indians and indeed many Eastern Woodland Indians would have scoffed at as weak. Most Indians would have at least abducted and adopted the women.
This points to a higher level of affinity between Shawnee and Christian than normal, despite the fact that the Shawnee fought the hardest of all eastern tribes against the invader. This argues in the abstract for some deeper form of empathy than the status of racial enemy—perhaps they were racial cousins and political-cultural enemies?
This brings us to the final note on affinity, a note of deep cruelty. While Boone was leading an invasion force into Kentucky, his eldest son was in charge of the supply train in a separate rear camp. A Shawnee war party, led by Big Jim, [2] an Indian who had regularly visited the Boones, ambushed the camp and tortured and slaughtered the men, reserving great cruelty for Daniel Boone’s eldest son. This was a warning not to invade, the strongest warning possible short of a wholesale massacre of the expedition. Adopted members of a tribe tend to be more militant and combative towards outsiders than the native tribesmen who adopted them.
The documentary glosses over the obvious. With the entire camp wiped out in the night, how would Boone and his fellows know that Big Jim did the cruel killing of the teenage men?
Obviously because both parties spoke English and, like Boone and Kenton and Blue Jacket and many others, Shawnee warriors switched sides from “white” to “red” [wearing war paint] often enough that information about the activities of each unilingual faction were commonly known to the other. In fact, Messach Browning stayed with a Wheeling family 15 years later, who had a member who was once attacked by a “white Indian” wielding a lance during one of the numerous sieges, which focused around Stations which were structurally based on earlier plantations, garrisons and blockhouses, which were a combination of Iroquois fort-building and Swedish house-building techniques, resulting in the iconic Eastern Woodlands frontier fort.
The most chilling aspect of the documentary was the artistic drift from mixed-race and Caucasian Eastern Woodland Indians depicted in real time, to our backward-looking depiction 250 years later, in which Eastern Woodland Indians are depicted as Plains Indians with altered hair styles.
The American mind is truly immune to Reality—98% herd immunity to reality, including our academics and diligent historians. I can trace this to an 1891 book in which the writer of the forward claimed that 17th and 18th century authors and artists romanticized the Indians they knew first hand into sympathetic characters and that they had lied, as his way of explaining the difference between the often honorable interactions between 18th century Indians and American victims and the terrible cruelty of Plains Indians to most American captives, having already bought the false meta-zoological racial narrative of “white” and “red” when in the beginning, in the Amerindian mind “white” was a reference to Christianity [bible paper, white clouds of ascension, ships’ sails, white wigs of the English elite, and white Irish catholic banners and robes, although the Jesuits wore black] and Red was a reference to the warrior, painted red to do his sanguine duty as hunter or defender or raider.
Yet we can never know what our ancestors knew, because the holy reverence for our vast and binding Lie intervenes to distort our every perception.

-1. A Sorrow in Our Heart by Allen Bert Eckert
-2. Really, what born Shawnee would be named Big Jim? This man was most likely adopted by the Shawnee and had two names, just like I am called Jimmy buy those who I was born to and James to those I have met since becoming a writer and coach. Another possibility is that he was Christianized, named Big Jim, and then defected back to his heathen tribe.
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