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2 Visions and Assumptions *& Wendell Berry's classic The Unsettling of America describes the sequence of conquest and settlement . Natives, not "redskins," were living on this land to which European conquerors came. From the moment these natives became "redskins," they became surplus people, the "redskin " designation validated killing them off or moving them off, making their land available for our settlement. Without realizing it, we established a precedent. In due time the descendants of those settlers also became surplus people—the new redskins, so to speak. The old farm families were removed and their rural communities destroyed as the industrial revolution infiltrated agriculture. Just as the natives who became surplus could have shown us how to live harmoniously on the land, even with some of our European cultural modifications, so the surplus farmers now gone could have passed on their myriad cultural techniques , some developed here, others adapted from our agricultural origins in Europe. They never really had a chance. They were moved too abruptly off the farm, out of the small towns, into the cities. Visions and Assumptions 15 The conqueror is nearly always from someplace else, as Wendell Berry says. In the old days he came as a seeker of gold or markets and sometimes as a mere pawn in European power politics. In the last round of conquest here, the market seeker came bringing the machines and chemicals and the agricultural economists who said "get big or get out." Conquerors are seldom interested in a thoroughgoing discovery of where they really are. Three days after Columbus arrived in the New World, he wrote in his journal, "These islands are very green and fertile and the breezes are very soft, and it is possible that there are in them many things, of which I do not know, because I did not wish to delay in finding gold." Six days later he wrote, "The singing of little birds is such that it seems that a man could never wish to leave this place." But this man had a mission, and so he left. Missions of conquest seldom have much to do with natural "greenness," "fertility," "soft breezes," or "little singing birds."1 The man was looking for gold! Fewer than fifty years after Columbus, Coronado was looking for gold, too. Like Columbus, he could not help but notice the countryside and comment on how handsome and bountiful it was—though merely as a side attraction. When the futility of his quest for gold in Quivira became apparent, he and his small crew of young noblemen turned their backs on the productive landscape that had touched a deeper human sense in them. And therein lies the tragedy. We are still more the cultural descendants of Columbus and Coronado than we are of the natives we replaced. Now that we find ourselves in a cycle of 16 Becoming Native to This Place transition from conquerors of "redskins" to settlers to sons and daughters of settlers who have become the new "redskins," we realize we must break the cycle. But even that will not be enough. This time, to become native to this place we will have to take measures to reduce the chance of ever becoming "redskins " again. Professor Dan Luten, retired from the University of California Geography Department, has written that we came as poor people to what we perceived to be an empty land rich in resources, now we have become rich people in an increasingly poor land that is filling up.2 Our institutions were built on a former reality and don't do well in the modern context. A sobering question is: Does an experiment such as the one we Americans have wrought work only where there is the kind of slack that this yet unused-up continent once afforded? *f$£? On August 24, 1874, a party of six General Land Office surveyors led by a Captain Short were attacked eight miles southwest of Meade, Kansas, as they were laying out township section lines. All six were killed and three were scalped. This was called the Lone Tree Massacre because of a lone cottonwood that stood on the spot until blown down in 1938. We don't know the motivation for the massacre. But the surveyor's instrument was symbolic of the difference between the two races. Earlier I mentioned WaKeeney's courthouse square, how the bison must have freely roamed over that small piece of land, nibbling on the buffalo grass that helped support the lives...


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