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Indians & Emigrants:

Encounters on the Overland Trails

By Michael L. Tate

Book Review by Bob Reece, April 2006

Movie scene 1956 -- Pioneers in covered wagons observe Indians on horseback upon a ridge. The white women and children start to panic as the men quickly move the wagons into a defensive circle. Children are hidden under bedding inside the wagons; men scramble to hurry the horses within the circle while mounted warriors dressed in war paint move down the hillside. Horses secured, the white men now lay prone behind wagon wheels and stacked boxes as they nervously watch the warriors move towards them. 

The Indians ready arrows and begin their fearsome yells as they lead their Appaloosa ponies into a full gallop. The white men take careful aim with their polished Winchesters and open fire dropping warriors with each shot. The white men are eventually overcome, killed, and scalped. The movie fades to black as the Indians leave the scene of the bloody massacre with captured women and children in tow. We can only fear the worst from their situation.  

Fast forward to 2006 and the book: “Indians and Emigrants: Encounters on the Overland Trails” by Michael L. Tate. It ain’t nothing like the movies. Hollywood would never make a movie from this book only because they couldn’t imagine the world believing in it. Tate’s sweeping grand adventure should be read attentively for its profound evocation of myth vs. reality regarding the relationship between the two races, which met on the plains of America in the 19th century. The vast majority of those meetings were actually cordial and beneficial for both parties.  

Vastly researched with primary evidence, Tate presents winning arguments for such a reality. Factors which contributed to the white folklore regarding Indian atrocities were the emigrants complete misunderstanding of the Plains Indian culture, “…fanciful series of books and pamphlets written mostly by amateurs who knew little about Indians or frontier life”, and the grossly exaggerated “Goldilocks Syndrome.” 

Peering through countless diaries and petitions to Congress, Tate found very few accounts of Indian atrocities, which included murder, rape, and kidnappings of women and children. Backtracking the many stories of three-year-old blonde daughters (Goldilocks Syndrome) being raped and kidnapped, Tate confirms that this syndrome was and is nothing more than a falsehood or half-truths  – it definitely is not history. Proven to be exaggerated and/or fabricated by second hand print in newspapers and cheap-thrill books are supposedly first-hand accounts of atrocities. Additionally, Tate verifies accounts of captives refusing to return to their old way of life with their white relatives.  

Reading through these astonishing revelations one has to wonder if the Indians had more to fear from the whites. Tate documents accounts where Indian villages actually fled the approach of emigrants along the major trails. 

Revisionist historians writing today are on campaign to perpetuate the myth of old Hollywood. Their selective documentation leads one to conclude they prefer cheap thrills from yesterday just to sell a story in a magazine or a book. Yet, their campaign of falsely ascribing warriors to terrorists further embolden those who still embrace racist views toward Indians. Tate, on the other hand is honest in his reporting – he does not ignore those instances where Indians committed atrocities against whites. There is no attempt to create a false utopia on the plains or to remodel a warrior into a terrorist. Tate’s analysis reshapes the stereotypical mold of Indian depredations against emigrants along the trails into its proper shape: exactness.

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