Torture, the Truth & the American Indian



First a comment about give-aways.  If you click on the words Giveaway Guidelines, it will tell you about the rules for Giveaways here at P & P.  But remember this, if you please, in order to claim your prize, you must come back to P & P within a few days.  Other sites might contact you if you are a winner, but not here at the Junction.  You must come back to see if you are the winner, okay?  Usually, I post the names of the winners on Wednesday evening.  So please check back.

That said, let’s move along.  Torture — it’s a gruesome subject, certainly not a usual post for February, right?  However, if you have ever read the works of James Fenimore Cooper (THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS) or watched any of Hollywood’s Western movies that includes the American Indian, often it’s there.  And as much as I dislike the subject in general, I figure it’s one of those things that if not looked at directly, might then continue to plague humanity.  So, let’s be brave and have a look at this.

Last-of-the-Mohicans_l[1]Interestingly, when I watch THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, I fast forward through those scenes that are full of abuse and torture.  And if this is truly so, you might wonder why in the world I am posting about it.  Well, in doing further research for SENECA SURRENDER — the new version coming out soon — like it or not, I have had to take a deep breath and confront what others have written about Native Americans in those historical pages that I’m reading.

If you’ve watched 50’s movies about the West, you might have questions, since the American Indian was noted for his freedom loving attitudes and his adherence to honesty.  Yet, we know that hero’s were/are scouttested 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 one looks 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.

serveimageSo, if torture so marks and destroys 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.  They were more prone to end their roadtr30[1]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 villages, themselves.

thCAEXD9U3This 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 inslut… 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 practicing 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.

thCAXMYX39Anthony 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 take that very image to heart.  Of course the Europeans 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. After all, we are really all of us of one family (regardless of the propaganda to the opposite), and that is the human family.  Many seem to feel they are superior to others, many feel themselves justified to cruelty — and perhaps many a demented soul tortures for the “pleasure/pain” it gives them.  But there is always a price to pay, regardless of ones beliefs in the hereafter.

thCAGKCGO1 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, confronting the “accused” by his accusers and the supposed “deed,” 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.

In this day and age of terrorism, 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.  After all, if a single person acted in the manner ofscoutingwolf most governments, he would at once be declared insane.  Truly, the world lives and shines on the good works of people.

So what do you think?  Why do you believe others engage in inflicting pain and suffering on others?  One other aspect I haven’t mentioned yet about this 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.

BLACK EAGLE — on sale now.  Pick up your copy today.



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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.
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32 thoughts on “Torture, the Truth & the American Indian”

  1. I think torture comes from a place inside that is telling the person that they are better than these others and by inflicting pain, they are showing their dominance and superiority. There is a perverse part of some people who enjoy seeing others suffer. During the Inquisition and suppression in England and Europe, the upper class would come to watch those being tortured. I have never understood the mindset of those who enjoy seeing someone in pain and suffering. The party atmosphere at public executions is sickening. I don’t know if it makes them feel better than the unfortunate victims or if they are just glad they aren’t the ones being tortured and killed.
    There will always be sick individual that enjoy causing pain. It is when it becomes institutionalized in a society that there is a much bigger problem.

    • Hear! Hear! Patricia, such wisdom in your post. I agree with you on this. I think there are those in a society who enjoy the pain of others. And I agree that it’s a sickening. Wish our country hadn’t gone in this direction.

  2. I think my wiev on humans is in some ways a bit more bleak than Patricia B’s. It’s not just “some people who enjoy seeing others suffer”, under the right circumstaces, anyone is capable of it, not just psychopaths. There have been some studies in this subject, like Milgram experiment and Stanford prison experiment. And really, all you need to do is look at any school yard: you have the kids who start to bully (torture) soemone, those who follow the lead and become bullies themselves and the silent majority.

    • Hi Minna!

      Actually I’m aware of the Stanford prison experiment. But I also think that that experiment was selective in the people that they had doing the experiment — those who on examination were inclined to a weakness in conscience. There was a time in this country when I remember being being of a moral strength — and I’m not sure I agree that it is a part of all of us. Again, that experiment was inaccurate because the people who were studied already had shown moral weakness. And the example of children in a play yard — I well remember in my childhood that there were those who were morally strong enough to never, ever go there. I think there’s more of this last than the previous. But since aberration is contagious, it might appear that the results and their conclusions were correct, but they weren’t. Not for a moment will I ever believe that this is innate.

      • I have know people that have jumped in more than once to keep others from being bullied and brutalized. I would like to think I would refuse to inflict pain as some of the experiments dealt with. We never know for sure until we have been tested. I do know I have spoken out against bullying and intervened when necessary.

  3. The Native-Americans lived a rough life especially after the Americans came over and took over the land, which was wrong in my book!
    Another book that I read Blood On The Feather by Melinda Elmore shows the polite that the Native-Americans went through!
    Looking forward to reading Black Eagle and enjoyed reading this post!
    Thanks Karen!

    • I guess they might’ve led a rough life, but I’m not certain of that. The truth is from the research that I’ve done, they had a wonderful life, full of adventure and love. Freedom — real freedom — ruled the land of the Iroquois — disease was practically unknown (until the European came here) — love of family and children and a government that was designed (in the Iroquois) to let a man and woman live a life that they chose. There is even historical record from John Smith that the “woods” and “forests” were so cleared and beautiful that it was like riding in a continuous park.

      So I’m not sure that they had a rough life — some tribes, yes — but not all.

  4. That was a very interesting read about the Native Americans. Here we watch a lot of westerns. I look forward to reading Black Eagle if I win!!!! Have a wonderful day!!!!

  5. I have a hard time reading about torture. I know it was used to gain information, to gain power and just because the person liked it. that person enjoys inflicting pain. It gives them a sense of power. I do not understand it.

    • I second that, Debra. Not sure it was always used to gain information — I know that’s the “excuse” for it nowadays, but not certain that was true in the past. May there yet come a day when this is truly of the past.

  6. I think torture had become a way of life and passed down from one generation to the next. Most of the people just didn’t know any different. Same as for these days. Maybe it has become a way of showing that they are in charge and to scare everyone else into seeing it as well. Of course it is never right, but when this is what they know,I guess we have to expect it even if it is wrong.

    • Hi Janine,

      I think you have some valid points here. It’s never right — never. But there are those who seek to be in “power” who will use it, I guess. There are those, however, who never will. There was a time when I think most people would never engage in it. Those days, however, seem to be in the past — or perhaps in the future.

  7. what a very interesting post,,i know that i could never torture someone,or at least i think that i couldnt,but if my families lives depended on it,,i just may be capable,,ppl who do this for just pleasure have to have a place in them that doesnt feel anything,compassion or regret ,in todays mental state,they usually start with animals and work their way up to humans,,i cant even imagine being mean to a animal ,,i think back then it was a survival mode,,today its just cruel and hateful way to prove a point no matter who gets in the way,,

    • Hi Vickie!

      Some interesting points. Am trying to envision a time when torture might justify defending one’s family. Seems to me that a quick shot might be the better was to go in order to defend one’s family. I think in the past it was used also as revenge against one who had done one “wrong.”

  8. I think they torture others because they feel superior and in control. They become “godlike” in their minds, executioners who can decide one’s fate. It makes them feel powerful and invincible.

  9. Regarding torture and Indians in particular, it all depends on the tribe and the times one is looking at. IMO few TV westerns or movies get it exactly right, but then I have several Indian tribes in my family (Southern), and I’ve worked with various other Indian tribes (Plains) who have many children at risk because of poverty and hopelessness. For those reasons, I very rarely read fiction about Indians. Even in my non-fiction reading, I tend toward Indian writers rather than white writers from the past who were writing from their own cultural perspective.

    About torture and violence in general, it seems to be part of humankind both in individuals and in various peoples, times and cultures. A fact of life IOW. I avoid watching or reading about violence when I can even though I know all too well it exists, including the times we live in now, as it tends to all throughout history and everywhere somewhere sadly.

    • Hi Eliza!

      This is a very interesting post, particularly so since you have family of various Indian tribes. I hope it’s not a part of humankind, but something that one does because it is part of a culture or some such. I agree that one has to be very select in their historical sources — and almost needs to know the person writing the “history” first, because often it is false.

      Thanks so much for your post.

      • I may be parsing words, but I don’t think an individual even in a cultural context can show violence unless it is somehow “allowable” by his/her own nature. The reverse could be Quakers/Friends who can’t “fight” no matter the situation. By that, I don’t mean just religion or patriotism but in the end the individual’s choice or reaction to external events. That’s what I was trying to say by “humankind.” I didn’t mean to imply every last human is violent, but instead that it is the choice (for lack of a better word) of every human– and human history is filled with a lot of violence in most cultures all throughout time.

      • Hi Eliza!

        Ah, now I see what you mean, and I would have to agree. It’s always a choice, regardless of all the “justifications” one can muster to try to make it less than what it is. I would agree with you on this one.

  10. Unfortunately,there seems to be a part of human nature that in some cases either enjoys inflicting pain for pain’s sake or feels that pain inflicted will either punish or provide needed information. You can see that attitude even today and even in our country’s politicians–at least some of them–and probably even more often in certain individuals. There are always the ones who feel that while it might be distasteful or even wrong,the end justifies the means–even though many studies and anecdotes have proven it to be ineffective and counterproductive. And it must be remembered that torture can be emotional as well as physical. The whole idea makes me sick, but it doesn’t pay to ignore the fact that it does happen, and probably will as long as humankind exists,at least on some level, nor can we ignore the fact that it is not always the ‘others’ who do it. All anyone or any group/country/culture can do is try to make it non-acceptable behavior, whether it occurs on a personal/group/country or cultural level.

    • Hi Clynsg!

      Interesting post Interesting that you said they think “the end justifies the means.” we never had that idea or viewpoint until Communism came on the scene — and isn’t it interesting that it’s now a viewpoint in our society. Interesting post.

  11. I like to think people are inherently good. That children have no prejudice. That intolerance is learned. Societies, politics, religion, greed, more or less can teach intolerance, hate anything different, and look out for number one. Sad really. The inequities today have made it even worse.

    • Like you, I think people are inherently good. I think propaganda and the idea of the other guy being different from oneself — or even evil — is partly to blame also. Enjoyed your post.

    • @catslady–I think your view is an uplifting one to have. I tend more towards thinking that humans are mortal imperfect beings who may try to do the best they can but are likely to make mistakes along the way, so that they are neither inherently good or evil but learn and act as they go. I think that’s true of children to a degree too. Some are seemingly born outgoing by nature while others are shy and more retiring than other children despite their parents’ efforts. It’s the ole nature vs nurture argument that philosophers have debated for a long time. And I guess each individual has the viewpoint that works best for him or herself.

      • Hi Eliza!

        I understand how that could be and in your last post, when you explained in a little more detail what you meant, I really do agree with you. Like Catslady, however, I do believe that people are good — that they do go astray and betray their fellow human beings — there is ample proof — and perhaps they are helped along the way by others of less than good intentions. But I think even those who are evil are convinced that they are the only “good” ones around — that everyone else (and I do mean everyone) is all bad — except for them, thus they are “justified” in committing evil. But a bad act is a bad act regardless of whether it is justified in the mind of a man or not — and all bad acts have consequences — we may never see them, but they are there just as surely as the sun rises. This universe seems to be built that way, I guess.

        My thoughts.

  12. The “civilized tribes” of the Indian nations were not as ruthless as the Apaches and some of the other tribes. It was not until the French taught them the art of scalping so they could keep track of the people killed that the Indians learned that horrific skill.
    As to why people will torture others I too am at a loss. My heart cries out at the evil that one person can inflict upon another.

  13. Hi Shirley!

    Yes, you’re right on the “civilized tribes.” The Iroquois — who had a government truly designed of the people, for the people and by the people — were not of those tribes that are usually considered “civilized.”

    I think in many ways, before the advent of the European into this country, that the American Indian had a good way of life — especially in the Iroquois Confederation after the Peacemaker came to teach them the ways of peace.

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