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Ingallses and Indians

From Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder:

They had almost forgotten the noise from the Indian camp. The window shutters were closed now, and the wind was moaning in the chimney and whining around the house. They were so used to the wind that they did not hear it. But when the wind was silent an instant, Laura heard again that wild, shrill, fast-beating sound from the Indian camps.

Then Pa said something to Ma that made Laura sit very still and listen carefully. He said that folks in Independence said that the government was going to put the white settlesrs out of the Indian territory. He said the Indians had been complaining and they had got that answer from Washington.

“Oh, Charles, no!” Ma said. “Not when we have done so much.”

Pa said he didn’t believe it. He said, “They always have let settlers keep the land. They’ll make the Indians move on again. Didn’t I get word straight from Washington that this country’s going to be opened for settlement any time now?”

“I wish they’d settle it and stop talking about it,” Ma said.

After Laura was in bed she lay awake a long time, and so did Mary. Pa and Ma sat in the firelight and candlelight, reading. Pa had brought a newspaper from Kansas, and he read it to Ma. It proved that he was right, the government would not do anything to the white settlers.

Whenever the sound of the wind died away, Laura could faintly hear the noise of that wild jamboree in the Indian camp. Sometimes even above the howling of the wind she thought she still heard those fierce yells of jubilation. Faster, faster, faster they made her heart beat. “Hi! Hi! Hi-yi! Hah! Hi! Hah!”

I don’t really remember this stuff from reading the Little House books as a boy. But now it makes me think of my ancestors, many of whom were part of the Western expansion. Covered wagons and such. I inherited from these settler forebears an Edenic reverence for idealized native Americans. Did I get the corresponding sense of sin in native America’s ruin from them too? Or come up with it on my own, or with subtle help from Ingalls Wilder?

Altogether, I think this is a better Eden myth for me than the regular one – it makes original sin real. Adam didn’t hurt anybody, and in the end it’s hard not to think G-d was just being kind of a dick in that whole interaction.

Incidentally, Ingalls Wilder apparently was born in 1867, one year before the first citation of jamboree in OED or RHHDAS, and four years before its first citation meaning “hoedown” or anything like that. As best I can figure, at the time of this episode the word would probably would still have meant “drinking spree” to most people. Could a child somewhere, not really hip to booze, have heard the word and extended it from the spree proper to the accompanying row?

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