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Clyde’s Time Was: Of cowboys and Indians

Time was, we played cowboys and Indians. For hours on end, on Saturday mornings with black-and-white TV and Ovaltine, six-shooters in hand, Red Ryder rifle for backup, the bully in the gang got to wear the sheriff’s badge and the Indians didn’t have a chance.

Ah, what life lessons could we have possibly learned?

Years before that, shows at the Victory theater, for 9 cents or 10 bottle caps, promised live on stage, the likes of Roy Rogers, Lash LaRue or Tex Ritter, along with their trusty steeds. They grazed their horses on East Council Street yards and the piano man stayed at the Bell Block.

Bunkhouse life, an occasional shootout at high noon, the chuck wagon campfire and a guitar were signs of the lone prairie.

What was that about those sidekicks, Jingles, Gabby and Tonto, Kemosabi? All Wild West shows touted savage Indians that have been here forever until the Indian Removal Act of 1830. “They will vanish like a vapor, their very history lost in forgetfulness, the places that now know them will know them no more, forever. A little longer and the white men will cease to persuade us, for we shall cease to exist,” wrote Washington Irving in “Traits of Indian Character” around 1820.

Not until 1924 did Congress make all Indians citizens. A little late, don’t you think? Nobody is more native. They welcomed all of us.

Hope they don’t decide to deport all aliens. After a tribal war in 1729, Sapona Town was located in the ancient territory of Rowan. Crane Creek was named for great armies of cranes, some are left. “The soil was exceedingly fertile on both sides, abounding in rank grass and prodigiously large tree, and for plenty of fish, fowl, and venison is inferior to no part of the Northern Continent.” What have we done with that land?  No forty acres and a mule. Who are we calling an “Indian giver?”

Later the Saponi joined the Kadapaus (Catawba). The Indian population of 5,000 in 1700 had dwindled to a remnant who carried the bones of their ancestors with them in deerskins.

Indians were told they could only hunt on reservations, farm and cook like women; missionaries taught them the one true God.

The Creek nation lost 23 million acres which opened the southeast. No 40 acres and a mule. But we still say “Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise,” meaning Indian raids.

And where do you think they learned to scalp? The white man sold them whiskey and firearms. “Blood revenge” was not a gang tag. More recently and locally, the indefatigable and redoubable Carl Spencer walked in a Red man’s moccasins all along the red mud banks of the Trading Ford which had been John Lowsons Path in 1701.

Five-gallon buckets of points and sherds were scavenged before Goat Island was flooded for “the dam,” the backwaters and Anchor Downs playground. Doug claims you can clearly see aboriginal mounds that dot the slopes along the sleepy Yadkin River, if you fly over in winter.

Our Horizons Unlimited hosts a collection, the likes of which many will not take the time to see. Ovoid pots and Peter Cooper’s relics from the Hardaway site are there. Thanks, Kyle.

Time was, you could find a perfect point, perched atop a pedestal of Piedmont terra firma in your own backyard. Most relics have been pilfered covered with 35,000 cubic yards of Chandler concrete per year, or like the hidden chambers in the pyramid, lie undisturbed, unexcavated and silent.

“Proud of heart and with an untamable love of natural liberty, he preferred to enjoy it among the beasts of the forests or in the dismal and famished recesses of swamps and morasses, rather than bow his haughty spirit to submission and live dependent and despised in the ease and luxury of the settlement. He lived a wanderer and a fugitive in his native land, and went down, like a lonely bark (boat) foundering amid darkness and tempest without a pitying eye to weep his fall or a friendly hand to record his struggle.” From “The Complete Short Stories of Washington Irving.”

So which are genuine tributes? Redskins and Chief Wahoo, Da Braves with Chief Knockahoma, Cadillac and Pontiac muscle cars, our beloved Catawba College or the Land of Lakes butter carton, if you fold it just right?

Where is our diversity? Or like the bumper sticker, Can we just co-exist? The melting pot has become a quagmire.

Whoa, hold on there cowpoke. Don’t jump the gun. Keep your pistols in your holsters.

Clyde is a Salisbury artist.

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