Torture, the truth & Native America

horseheader1.jpeIf there’s one thing that few of us like to consider, it’s torture. I know that when I watch THE LAST OF THE MOHIGANS, I fast forward through those scenes that are full of abuse and torture.  And if this is the case, you might wonder why in the world I am posting about it.  Well, in doing research for my next book, like it or not, I have had to take a deep breath and confront what others have written about Native Americans in those pages that I’m reading.

If you’ve watched 50’s movies about the West, you might have noticed that they stormdemonstate torture now and again.  Hero’s are tested by it — heroines are nauseated to the point of grief over it.  And the Indians themselves test their enemies by it.  It goes without saying that torture is a human rights violation (non-fair treatment of prisoners) and one could say — if they look closely at world history — that a culture which indulges in torture is a culture on its way out.  Look at Rome, the Druids, the Eastern Indians, the Mayans and Aztecs, Egypt, Spain and the Middle Ages when the robber barons owned castles that came complete with dungeons and the “very best” torture equipment.  In truth, history shows us — if you really care to study it — that times of enlightenment are noted not by outrage and war against one’s fellows, but rather by a people’s kindness and indulgence toward one another.

flintlockSo, if torture so marks a culture and a people who indulge in it, why is it done?  I gotta admit, I don’t really get it, but after considerable reading lately I think I at least have come to grips with what I feel is why some people within a culture feel they must indulge.  And here’s what I’m hoping you’ll help me with — your understandings of what this is all about.

From my research, I can’t find that the Northern Plains Indians indulged much in torture.  teepeesThey were more prone to end their enemy’s lives right there on the battlefield.  Certainly there was no (or perhaps little) torture within the Northern Plains Villages.  As a matter of fact, I can find no reference to it at all.  On the battlefield, yes.  But not in the vaillages, themselves.

moonThis was not the case for the southern Indians, however.  There is ample record of the torture of prisoners amongst the southern tribes, the Apache and Comanche and the Pawnee specifically.  But why torture?  Why torment another living soul?  In reading over the book, THE DEATH AND REBIRTH OF THE SENECA by Anthony F.C. Wallace, we learn that Mary Jennison — who was a captive of the Seneca, described her husband  at one time in these terms,  “During the term of nearly fifty years that I lived with him, I received, according to Indian customs,  all the kindness and attention that was my due as his wife. — Although war was his trade from his youth till old age and decrepitude stopt his career, he uniformly treated me with tenderness, and never offered an inslt… He was a man of tender feelings to his friends, ready and willing to assist them in distress, yet, as a warrior, his cruelties to his enemies perhaps were unparalleled…  In early life, Hiokatoo showed signs for thirst for blood, by attending only to the art of war, in the use of the tomahawk and scalping knife, and in practising cruelties upon every thing that chanced to fall into his hands, which was susceptible of pain.  In that way, he learned to use his implements of war effectually, and at the same time blunted all those fine feelings and tender sympathies that are naturally excited by hearing or seeing, a fellow being in distress.  He could inflict the most excruciating  tortures unative-americans.jpgpon his enemies, and prided himself upon his fortitude , in having performed the most barbarous ceremonies and tortures, with the least degree of pity or remorse.”

It goes without saying that one might be violently inclined towards those who inflict pain upon one’s own loved ones.  In fact, governments traditionally count upon this emotion in their people, and often use it to accomplish their own ends.  It’s possible that a similar thing was extolled in Native America.  After all in those days, one needed to present a unified and strong /terrible image to one’s neighbors — for one’s own mere survival.

wildflowersAnthony F. C. Wallace also writes in THE DEATH AND REBIRTH OF THE SENECA, that with this image of what makes a man a man — i.e., that he be kind to his own people,but devilish and cruel to his enemies — it’s no wonder that the youth grew up to immulate that very image.  Of course the E:uropeans who came to this continent were also cruel — and especially so to the Native Americans.  Perhaps it was an age of cruelty.  I don’t know about that, but I do know this:  perhaps one can in his/her own life, set an example of understanding and kindness.  In reading history, I am struck over and over by how much one person can influence for the positive so many people.  Kindness, understanding, taking no harsh measure without talking it over very well first, have influenced more people than all the evil, pain and torture in the world.  Maybe it was meant to be that way.  I like to think so anyway.

powwowend21In this day and age of terriorism, of torture, of fear of the other guy and  ill-manners in general excused because of fear, perhaps it might be important to remember the code of the West, where one trusted one’s neighbors to such a degree that a man stood by his handshake, alone.  One can set a good example, one can show kindness.  Pain does exist, torture exists in our world today – governments the world over defend themselves on their “right” to torture the enemy — in self defense of course — but that doesn’t mean one has to do the things governments do. The world literally lives and shines on the good works of people.

adam-beach.jpgIn my own mind, I’ve finally set it all to rest.  I think I understand why those in power feel they must inflict pain and suffering.  But that doesn’t mean I have to agree — and it certainly doesn’t mean I have to imitate those who would inflict pain — heaven forbid.

So what do you think?  Why do you thnk others engage in inflicting pain and suffering on others?  One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that perhaps people think of another as different from themselves, as though they don’t think, feel, love, etc.  But I digress.  What do you think?  Come on in — let’s talk.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
Please refer to https://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules for all contest rules.

33 thoughts on “Torture, the truth & Native America”

  1. You’ve address this topic in a thoughtful way, Karen. I’ve been watching the HBO series “The Tudors” on DVD. When it came to torture, the Indians had nothing on the English!
    I’ve heard that in some Native American tribes, captured enemies were given to the women who’d lost family members for the purpose of torture. So grief and revenge must have been the motive there. But I find the idea of women doing the torture even more disturbing than men.
    I would vote to see all torture gone from the world.

  2. HI Elizabeth!

    Yeah, I think you’re right. In one of my recent books, I mention (when torture is the topic of conversation) the drawing and quartering, burning in oil, etc. I, too, vote for no torture — I’d like to see it gone from the world completely. As far as women and torture goes, I do believe that the women in native America did do exactly as you say — not a good thing to consider, either.

    I wonder sometimes if one just doesn’t think that another is like himself — I guess it must be — to think that the other person isn’t quite human — that must play a part in this, otherwise a person would see the similarities between oneself and the other guy and perhaps have a little understanding.

    Thanks Elizabeth.

  3. Good Morning , saying that is funny because i got pulled over this morning taking my daughter to school what was good about it was he was very nice and chose not to issue me a ticket!! My straight A student ask me couldn’t i have waited untill after she dropped me off before i started breaking the law which coming from her was funny I didn’t think i was speeding but then again i didn’t realize he was behind me either…
    Okay , as far as cruelty and torture i can’t watch things like that movies nor books just simply killing and being done with it (in books and movies) is one thing but to watch torture is sicking to me, I think people that torture someone before a death should be put to death in the same way they took someones life and i think that should be a law in real life and i think alot of killings would cease. I think it takes a demented person to torture someone.
    Glad i got to speak with you today I always enjoy what you write and I Love Ya : )

  4. As Karen already knows my great gramd,ptjer was am indian from the tribes of Vermont my father ws proud of his heritage and in the summer when working in the yd he took on the skin color of a penny bronze and was the gentleest of men you talk of torture on the part of the native american indian what about the americans giving the indians clothing and blankets and food with the ulterior motive of killing them by poisoning them on thru illness I have been to the natiave american headquarters in Colorado several times and to other res’s as they are now called we inflict torture every day on them we took over their country in horrible ways and gave them the poorest of land they were wanderers and we boxed them into the worst of the land to survive on torture is not just physical but mental few of us can see and understand what the Indians went thru from the 1600 till the late 1800 yrs the indians in this country for over 100 yrs have been treated as worse than third world country natives they are the last ones thought of out of sight out of mind our politicians think little of them yet let what millions and millions of illegals from all over the world stay here in the midst of our population get free education free medical and fail to see if they are here legally or not and will wonder if their is another attack on us if they are legal or not and to secure our borders what we have done to the indian is more than torture I cannot find the words of how I feel and what I see when I go near the resevations beyond the Mississippi River most of the indians east of the river have assimilated into our country no so with the ones west of the river they are fewed as lesser people my preaching for today yours ca

  5. Hi Lori!

    Thanks so much for your welcome thoughts. I so echo you on this sort of thing. Like I said, I find it nearly impossible to confront — and yet here I am reading about it in my research. Anyway, I thought I’d bring it up.

  6. As Karen already knows my great gramdfather was am indian from the tribes of Vermont my father ws proud of his heritage and in the summer when working in the yd he took on the skin color of a penny bronze and was the gentleest of men you talk of torture on the part of the native american indian what about the americans giving the indians clothing and blankets and food with the ulterior motive of killing them by poisoning them on thru illness I have been to the natiave american headquarters in Colorado several times and to other res’s as they are now called we inflict torture every day on them we took over their country in horrible ways and gave them the poorest of land they were wanderers and we boxed them into the worst of the land to survive on torture is not just physical but mental few of us can see and understand what the Indians went thru from the 1600 till the late 1800 yrs the indians in this country for over 100 yrs have been treated as worse than third world country natives they are the last ones thought of out of sight out of mind our politicians think little of them yet let what millions and millions of illegals from all over the world stay here in the midst of our population get free education free medical and fail to see if they are here legally or not and will wonder if their is another attack on us if they are legal or not and to secure our borders what we have done to the indian is more than torture I cannot find the words of how I feel and what I see when I go near the resevations beyond the Mississippi River most of the indians east of the river have assimilated into our country no so with the ones west of the river they are vewed as lesser people my preaching for today yours ca

  7. Hi Catherine!

    Nice to see you here — you make so many good points. It seems to me that within all cultures there are those who harm and those who build up the culture. Sometimes that harm takes on various forms.

    I think you’re right however. Was it you or Lori that said that he who engages in torture should himself be tortured. Probably this comes about no matter what. The circle of life pretty much demands that you get back what you give out, thus, a torture’s good life is very short-lived, very much.

    Thanks for all your good points and historical references. I so love it!

  8. One more thing: I would never never want to marginalize the genocide that happened to the Native Americans — again, it is a human rights violation that just shouldn’t be a part of this world — just wanted to say that — unfortunately, when one reads about the Eastern and Southern tribes, one also reads about the tortures that were extant at that time.

    One thing I must say is that I don’t know of a tribe that deliberately committed genocide on another tribe. Often prisoners were adopted into the tribe — many, many examples of that.

  9. I don’t even like to kill bugs and hunting as a sport repels me. Hurting a person or animal just makes me nauseaus. Indeed the genocide against America’s native tribes seems to get short shrift amongst the other evils always bemoaned. I taught American Lit for a long time which taught me a great respect for native peoples, and I hope to have passed it on to my students.

    As always, a great post, Kay. And Adam always makes it better LOL.

    Hugs…off to donate blood right now. I am in the four-gallon plus club. And congrats, Mary. Being a gramma ROCKS.

  10. Congratulations, Mary!! You’re in the Grandma club now! Woo-Hoo!

    Hi Kay, sorry about that. I just had to send my congrats. You delved into a very timely subject today. I’ve wondered the same thing. Why do others want to inflict pain and suffering on other human beings? I still don’t get it. It’s just horrible and shows the worst of mankind. I hope Obama stops the abuse by our country. He’s promised to shut down Guantanamo. I guess we’ll have to see if he keeps his word. I pray that he does.

    The only time in my life when I had hate in my heart was on 9/11 when they bombed the World Trade Center. I wanted to kill those who did it. But, I didn’t want to torture. There’s a distinct difference between killing your ememies and torturing them.

    Great topic. Makes you stop and think.

  11. Hi Tanya!

    4 gallons of blood — my goodness! And it’s not as if this is an easy thing to do — I’ve given blood before and in truth, afterwards, I’m usually a puddle of “don’t feel good.”

    Good for you. And I echo you statements, by the way. : )

  12. Linda,

    You made a really good statement. There’s a big difference between killing and torture. One must kill to live unfortunately if one is to live in this universe. Even the greens that you have for a salad are alive, not to mention that deer that just gave his life so that you can eat.

    But torture goes much beyond that and I can’t for the life of me think of one reason why it should be done or condoned. Some say it’s for confessions. I don’t think so. Put anyone under such pain and duress and he’ll confess to most anything.

    All I know is those areas of the world that condoned and practiced torture are looked upon now at heathens — i.e. Spain, Rome, Egypt, the Mayans and Aztecs, the middle ages — anywhere that he has been done and practiced, it brings with it hatred and barbarism. On the other hand, kindness, understanding and letting the other fellow be who he is, ushers in enlightenment and freedom. Interesting things to consider.

  13. Congratulations, Mary, on the grandchild. Looking
    forward to hearing more!

    Karen, you scared me – I looked for Adam, but he
    was so far into the article that I thought you had
    done the unthinkable! An article without Adam’s
    picture!! I recently followed a link posted by
    Minna on the Romance Bandits blogsite. It led me
    to more photos of Adam than I could (or tried to)
    count!

    Pat Cochran

  14. Hey Kay, good post. It’s good to know that the societies that delved most into torture have fallen by the wayside. I find it sad however that even in our modern society when we send our sons to fight for justice in other countries, things change and some of them partake in torture. It’s happeneded with US and Cdn troops and I’m sure if someone checks, most other G7 countries. It’s as if something happens during war that turns normal, nice boys into monsters.

    Sort of like Mary Jennison’s husband. He was gentle at home, but once he got out in that environment when he was away from home, he felt the need to prove his superiority and need to be feared over everyone else.

    Again, good post, Kay.

  15. HI Pat!

    Yes, I know. I couldn’t find a better place early on as I didn’t want to post his picture next to something like torture. Adam Beach and torture just don’t go together.

    So…will you share those photos with me? Don’t feel that you have to, but I do think the man is incredibly handsome. : )

  16. Hi Anita!

    Yes, I know. It’s one of the reasons why I thought I would post on torture and get others’ take on it — because it has come to my attention that perfectly sweet boys go a little crazy lately in the fighting.

    One thing I have thought of — and that’s that the Iroqouois are originally from the south — their legends point to this — and I wonder — because the southern Indians really did engage in torture — the Mayans and Aztecs — and I’ve wondered if it was an aberration that the Iroquois brought with them from that environment. It’s funny how a bad influence can affect others — but on the reverse a good influence can affect others, also.
    I really think that America at one time set a good example for the world — freedom loving and generous people. These past eight years have changed much, I’m afraid — I only hope that this country isn’t now leading the world in setting a bad example.

    Things to ponder. Thanks for your thouughts, Anita. : )

  17. Pat this is incredible info — picture galore. Thank you. Thank you. Now, I have one other question: do you know any similar sites for Eric Schweig — that handsome man from THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS.

    This is fantastic!

  18. Dear folks:
    I understand that most of what you are contemplating here has to do with research for novel writing, but perhaps one of the most effective ways that you could research is to go to the cultural centers involved in maintaining the historical records for the American Indians. For instance… go to North Carolina. There are many facilities where you could spend days researching… and come up not just with the Americanized version of facts, but the history of the People. There probably would be elders who would be happy to speak with you if they thought that the actual truth would be told.

    The sad truth is, America is being invaded once again by people who have no respect for those who have come before them. The “white” people came and decimated the American Indian without just cause, reason or care. We raped their women, killed their men and children, stole their land and took their very heritage from them. Now, we are seeing this very thing happen again. There are parts of Arizona and Texas where you are not safe as an American. Our men are being killed, children kidnapped, women raped… lands and goods stolen. This is MODERN DAY America. Very, very sad. You would just have to talk to some of the people who are still trying to hold on to what is rightfully theirs TODAY to learn the emotional state of the people who have gone before…

    What goes around comes around, I guess. We as a nation are now going to experience what our ancestors did to the American Indians who were here before we were.

  19. Knowing what you now know, if you were traveling in the Old West, would you tend to travel to the north, where torture rareley occurred? Or would other items set your itinerary?

  20. I have read a lot of vague generalized statements here about which Native Americans committed torture according to the area-north, south,etc. Also some inaccurate statements about certain tribes. For example,the statement that the Iroquois were originally from the south is not accurate. They were part of the Six Nation League in the 15th century along with the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, and Mohawk.If anyone is sincerely interested in Native American practices involving torture, go directly to the tribal websites where there is accurate information posted by Native historicans for that tribe.

  21. Certainly torture was used in Europe but it was mostly to gain a confession. With the Indians it was used to inflict as much pain as possible for as long as the victim breathed. It began with minor tortures. Painful as they were they were not life-threatening. Yes, the Plains Indians tortured. I’ll skip the examples but they were as hideous as the rest of them. And the Indians were doing it for eons to each other before the white dudes arrived. The Aztecs used weapons that would wound and not kill. The idea was to incapaciate someone from another tribe in order to take them back alive for torture and sacrifice. It was nothing for the Aztecs to take thousands of prisoners at a time for their sick rituals. I’ve been studying this for decades and it seems that torture was pretty much practiced by Indians all across what is now the lower forty-eight states.

  22. Tuscarora’s WERE from the south. There is land in South Carolina that still has the old area the Tuscarora’s were from. There are still some descendents of the Tuscarora there. The Tuscarora are now part of the Iroquois.

  23. Tom wrote: “Certainly torture was used in Europe but it was mostly to gain a confession.”

    Torture has been used by every single culture in the world for various reasons, including the USA in recent times.

    Europe has a very horrific history of torture use, and that it was used to gain confessions (I don’t doubt this at all), does not mean that this is all it was used for, nor does this make the use of torture any better, IMO. In fact many methods of European torture were designed to kill the individual.

    http://www.medievality.com/torture.html

  24. Europe does indeed have a very horrific history of torture, but we now embrace that history and study it, we dont argue “my Welsh grandmother was the most gentle and kindly woman ever thus you should forget the bad sides of Welsh history”.

    I will add in Europes defence though, that they did come up with Human Rights, from the English Magna Carta to the todays Human Rights laws started by Churchill.
    Perhaps it was Europes ability to remember and approach its past that allowed these laws to be made.
    That said, the Asians did some horrific torturing too. I should be amazed if there is a culture that has never practised it. -We should not try to hide it under the rug.

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