Quote of the Day: Selective Quotation

 

“The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie, 1935

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the sentence quoted above. Those exact words appear on page 284 of Wilder’s classic children’s book, Little House on the Prairie. Were those the words of little Laura herself, written in maturity as she remembered them from childhood? Or was such a slur spoken by Laura’s beloved Pa? If not Pa, did Ma utter that condemnable statement, out of fear of her neighbors on the prairie? Or worse, out of pure hatred?

For a book that was published nearly a century ago, it’s no spoiler alert to reveal that, in fact, it was the Ingalls’ neighbor Mr. Scott who made the remark. You may wonder why I just didn’t include any information about the speaker in the first place since the full quote is written, “‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian,’ Mr. Scott said.”

Assuming you weren’t born yesterday, you may have guessed that I am quoting someone else who quoted the line from Little House without providing any context. Since my 10-year old daughter recently read the entire series of Wilder’s books, the three-year-old controversy over her treatment of “Indians” came to mind. It’s probably been lost among the more recent cancellations and denunciations of American authors, historical figures, and brand-name grocery store icons, so I’ll remind you of what happened in 2018.

In June of that year, the American Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children changed the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, explaining that:

“Wilder’s books are a product of her life experiences and perspective as a settler in America’s 1800s. Her works reflect dated cultural attitudes toward Indigenous people and people of color that contradict modern acceptance, celebration, and understanding of diverse communities.”

In an article published by NBC about the decision, writer Tim Stelloh helpfully adds further context by saying:

“Those ‘dated’ references are reflected in lines contained in ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ which details the years Wilder’s family spent living in Kansas, an area heavily populated by Native Americans. The book includes a line: ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian.’

The NBC article is just one example of how the award’s name change was covered by the media, but it’s probably fair to take it as representative. Both the library associations and the article about their decision make sure to reassure readers that they are not aiming to censor Wilder’s works. Censorship would be far too obvious. According to Stelloh of NBC, “[t]he change signaled the latest example of a culture reckoning with its racist history.” It’s clear that Stelloh is agreeing with the decision to disassociate from Wilder because her books convey the racist sentiments of her time toward Indians, right? That seems to me to be the implication, and I know that I am not alone.

I often talk to other moms about the books their similarly aged daughters are reading and what they recommend. My daughters love to read, so we’re always looking for the next book or book series to keep them engaged. In the summer of 2018, we were visiting with wonderful friends who happen to be politically progressive. In the course of the conversation, the other mom commented that the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were no longer suitable. She said it in the way that any right-thinking parent would certainly steer her children away from that outdated and possibly damaging series of books. It continues to strike me as extremely disconcerting that so many people are ready to take their cues from thought leaders without much skepticism or debate. For myself, I was always a fan of Wilder’s books and the TV series based on them. It never occurred to me to discourage my daughters from reading the books. I confess to having purchased the last four books in the series recently at the request of my youngest (we’ve owned the first five books for many years).

The Little House series is still well-loved and easily available for purchase. So why did the library associations feel the need to suggest that Little House is full of anti-Indian racism, why did mainstream journalists appear to cheer such conclusions, and what did Wilder actually write about Indians in her most famous personal tale? I think Tucker Carlson provided an answer to the first two questions back in March when Dr. Seuss was under fire for racial insensitivity. Paraphrasing Carlson, I think the idea is to taint our shared culture with the accusation of racism not to protect us from its evident bigotry, but rather to hide from us the true, non-racist character of beloved American children’s literature.

This brings us to the third question: what did Wilder really have to say about Indians? She writes about Indians throughout Little House, beginning with curiosity: “That night by the fire Laura asked again when she would see a papoose, but Pa didn’t know.” When Indians finally arrive and Ma makes them cornbread, Pa returns home later and comments that “[t]he main thing is to be on good terms with the Indians.” After an evening meal with one Indian, Pa says, “[t]hat Indian was perfectly friendly…And their camps down among the bluffs are peaceable enough. If we treat them well and watch Jack [the protective family dog], we won’t have any trouble.”

Wilder even explains that the Indians are being forced to move west by the government and that the white settlers (including her family) are moving into Indian territory. Not all the Ingalls family encounters with the local Indians are pleasant, but Wilder describes them as particular events involving individual people. Of Mr. Scott’s comment about a good/dead Indian, Wilder provides the context that the neighbors and Pa were concerned about the source of a recent prairie fire and whether the Indians intended to start a war. On page 285, Mr. Scott says he hopes that Pa is right that the Indians are simply preparing for a buffalo hunt because Mrs. Scott “can’t get the Minnesota massacres out of her head.” After all the tribes except the Osages had decided to kill the white people, the friendly Indian named Soldat du Chene stood up for the settlers and threatened that the Osages would fight the other tribes. Upon Pa’s learning this from an English-speaking Osage Indian, Wilder sums up the events by writing, “No matter what Mr. Scott said, Pa did not believe that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.”

I trust that you are not completely shocked to learn that Wilder’s story communicates a meaning that is precisely the opposite of what is suggested by the single quote selected for maximum damage to her reputation.

Published in Group Writing
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  1. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Thank you for this. 

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    So, you’re saying these librarians can’t read? 😜

    • #2
  3. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Arahant (View Comment):

    So, you’re saying these librarians can’t read? 😜

    It certainly looks that way. 

    • #3
  4. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra
    @VinceGuerra

    Wilder’s books merely relate the uncomfortable truth about the history of the Great Plains: that there were both good people and evil people living there. Lewis and Clark had the same observation. 

    Also, that history is complex. 

    And finally, that when in doubt you should ask yourself, “WWPID*?”

    *What would Pa Ingals do?

    • #4
  5. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    The cultural left wants to burn down history so that kids don’t learn about the Indian massacres of whites and have to think about things. That’s why they are going after all the statues. All that was must removed for the one true Wokism to come around.

    • #5
  6. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    A timely post, thanks.

    ***

    This is the Quote of the Day. Our sign-up sheet for May is here.  If you’re new at this game, it’s a easy way to get your feet wet and start a conversation; if you’re an old-timer, you already know the ropes.  Either way, please sign up to speak up.

    Another ongoing project to encourage new voices is our Group Writing Project. April’s theme is ‘April’s Showers Bring….‘ If you’re looking to share your own thoughts rather than those of others, please sign up for Group Writing too!

    • #6
  7. Buckpasser Member
    Buckpasser
    @Buckpasser

    Wasn’t this a phrase based on Gen. Phil Sheridan who was said to have told an Indian Chief (may or not have been true) that “the only good Indians I know are dead Indians”?

    • #7
  8. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Buckpasser (View Comment):

    Wasn’t this a phrase based on Gen. Phil Sheridan who was said to have told an Indian Chief (may or not have been true) that “the only good Indians I know are dead Indians”?

    A quick internet search, which must be 100% accurate, reveals that the Sheridan quote is: The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.

    It’s quite possible that Wilder’s character was paraphrasing that famous sentiment or that Wilder wanted to put the quote in the mouth of one of her characters in order to write more broadly about her family’s experience with Indians. In any case, her testimony is to a more nuanced relationship with individual Indians and tribes than the Sheridan quote admits. But I suspect that Gen. Sheridan’s experience of Indians was very different than that of a pioneer family trying to survive. You might even say the Ingalls were trying to “coexist.”

    • #8
  9. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Arahant (View Comment):

    So, you’re saying these librarians can’t read? 😜

    I’m always amazed that groups who you’d expect to be militantly against censorship of any kind – like librarians, publishers, news outlets, broadcasters etc – are so quick to gag others.

    • #9
  10. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    So, you’re saying these librarians can’t read? 😜

    I’m always amazed that groups who you’d expect to be militantly against censorship of any kind – like librarians, publishers, news outlets, broadcasters etc – are so quick to gag others.

    The left ruins everything.

    • #10
  11. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    So, you’re saying these librarians can’t read? 😜

    I’m always amazed that groups who you’d expect to be militantly against censorship of any kind – like librarians, publishers, news outlets, broadcasters etc – are so quick to gag others.

    [EDIT: Source is Calvin and Muad’Dib. Gotta give credit. Sorry about forgetting to do that.]

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    So, you’re saying these librarians can’t read? 😜

    I’m always amazed that groups who you’d expect to be militantly against censorship of any kind – like librarians, publishers, news outlets, broadcasters etc – are so quick to gag others.

    This one needs to be pinned at the top of all news sites.

    • #12
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):

    Wilder’s books merely relate the uncomfortable truth about the history of the Great Plains: that there were both good people and evil people living there. Lewis and Clark had the same observation.

    Also, that history is complex.

    Also, that people are complex. 

    It may be that their problem is they don’t know how to deal with people who do both good and evil and it’s best if we don’t learn about them.  If there is racism, it must be because there are evil people who need to be cancelled and exterminated if they can’t be re-educated.  People who are fair, honest, tolerant, self-sacrificing, and genocidal bigots just don’t compute; therefore it is important not to learn about them.  

    • #13
  14. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    It may be that their problem is they don’t know how to deal with people who do both good and evil and it’s best if we don’t learn about them.

    No, they’re leftists. Their censorship is, therefore, highly selective.

    • #14
  15. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    It may be that their problem is they don’t know how to deal with people who do both good and evil and it’s best if we don’t learn about them.

    No, they’re leftists. Their censorship is, therefore, highly selective.

    Yes, but really their most effective and powerful tools seem to me to be slander and libel. They don’t need to censor content that the public has already “heard about” when what they’ve heard is untrue.

    • #15
  16. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):

    Wilder’s books merely relate the uncomfortable truth about the history of the Great Plains: that there were both good people and evil people living there. Lewis and Clark had the same observation.

    Also, that history is complex.

    Also, that people are complex.

    It may be that their problem is they don’t know how to deal with people who do both good and evil and it’s best if we don’t learn about them. If there is racism, it must be because there are evil people who need to be cancelled and exterminated if they can’t be re-educated. People who are fair, honest, tolerant, self-sacrificing, and genocidal bigots just don’t compute; therefore it is important not to learn about them.

    Reading books and watching movies from a few decades ago, I’ve found that many of them are surprisingly subtle, nuanced and sophisticated about these things.  In contrast, much of what we are told about how to think today is not nuanced or sophisticated, with no shades of gray, instead merely reducing everything to caricatures.

    • #16
  17. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):
    Reading books and watching movies from a few decades ago, I’ve found that many of them are surprisingly subtle, nuanced and sophisticated about these things.  In contrast, much of what we are told about how to think today is not nuanced or sophisticated, with no shades of gray, instead merely reducing everything to caricatures.

    I recently ran across a ten-page article on ancient Chinese art in a 1957 issue of Time Magazine. Far longer and more sophisticated than what you’d see today.

    • #17
  18. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Lilly B (View Comment):
    Yes, but really their most effective and powerful tools seem to me to be slander and libel. They don’t need to censor content that the public has already “heard about” when what they’ve heard is untrue.

    This.

    • #18
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):
    Reading books and watching movies from a few decades ago, I’ve found that many of them are surprisingly subtle, nuanced and sophisticated about these things. In contrast, much of what we are told about how to think today is not nuanced or sophisticated, with no shades of gray, instead merely reducing everything to caricatures.

    I recently ran across a ten-page article on ancient Chinese art in a 1957 issue of Time Magazine. Far longer and more sophisticated than what you’d see today.

    We’ve cleaned out a lot of old history magazines to which we’ve long had subscriptions. Even in the 80s and 90s there were a lot more words and more information on most pages than what you have nowadays. 

    • #19
  20. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):
    Reading books and watching movies from a few decades ago, I’ve found that many of them are surprisingly subtle, nuanced and sophisticated about these things. In contrast, much of what we are told about how to think today is not nuanced or sophisticated, with no shades of gray, instead merely reducing everything to caricatures.

    I recently ran across a ten-page article on ancient Chinese art in a 1957 issue of Time Magazine. Far longer and more sophisticated than what you’d see today.

    We’ve cleaned out a lot of old history magazines to which we’ve long had subscriptions. Even in the 80s and 90s there were a lot more words and more information on most pages than what you have nowadays.

    Possible proof that de-evolution is real.  Devo was prophetic!

    • #20
  21. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    We have to assist the destruction of Amerika and its sinful legacy but we are not allowed to actually read about that legacy because (a) it might trigger us and/or (b) be a mix of human virtues and frailties which is confusing when trying to follow a party line.  The personal growth of Huck Finn is far too subtle a concept.  The fact that it was the most powerful work of fiction of its time is irrelevant.

    When the Black Students Association asks why the pictures of distinguished dead alumni and past college presidents are all white, the correct answer is “Because you are not on that wall yet. We are saving you a spot.  Achieve now that you have that opportunity that was denied to so many before.”  That is much better than to take them down and put up a mural of Harriet Tubman or  George Floyd.  

     

     

     

    • #21
  22. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    We have to assist the destruction of Amerika and its sinful legacy but we are not allowed to actually read about that legacy because (a) it might trigger us and/or (b) be a mix of human virtues and frailties which is confusing when trying to follow a party line. The personal growth of Huck Finn is far too subtle a concept. The fact that it was the most powerful work of fiction of its time is irrelevant.

    When the Black Students Association asks why the pictures of distinguished dead alumni and past college presidents are all white, the correct answer is “Because you are not on that wall yet. We are saving you a spot. Achieve now that you have that opportunity that was denied to so many before.” That is much better than to take them down and put up a mural of Harriet Tubman or George Floyd.

    “a mix of human virtues and frailties which is confusing when trying to follow a party line. The personal growth of Huck Finn is far too subtle a concept”…In Koestler’s ‘Darkness at Noon’, the Old Bolshevik Rubashov, now a prisoner of the Soviet state, is reminded of something by his interrogator of something he himself wrote in his diary:

    “What is presented as right must shine like gold; what is presented as wrong must be black as pitch.”

    Rubashov confesses to crimes that he did not commit, and that his interrogators know he did not commit, in order to provide one last service to the Party.

     

     

     

    • #22
  23. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    So, you’re saying these librarians can’t read? 😜

    It certainly looks that way.

    I don’t believe the librarians nudging parents and kids away from books by Wilder are too stupid to get what these quotes mean in context. So what’s their real reason for wanting these books to disappear from cultural memory ?

    • #23
  24. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Ansonia (View Comment):
    So what’s their real reason for wanting these books to disappear from cultural memory ?

    There’s a strong father figure?

    • #24
  25. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Ansonia (View Comment):
    So what’s their real reason for wanting these books to disappear from cultural memory ?

    There’s a strong father figure?

    I don’t know how strong he was. There is, though, a sense of strong cooperation, respect and love between ma and pa in the books. It’s just there.

    Possibly leftists are also offended by this truth: A person can be both deeply racially prejudiced (for different reasons, some of them very understandable—-as understandable as a woman who was raped being hostile toward, and distrustful of, men) and a decent human being.

    Possibly leftists are also offended by the idea that the victims of racial prejudice are also, as much as the people persecuting them, morally flawed human beings who mistreat either the group mistreating them or another group.

    Then, too, the power of the leftists’ politically useful narrative of our past depends on them being able to erase from our memory evidence, or  clues that might, inadvertently, prompt us to look for evidence, that the true story of our  past isn’t quite what the left is making it out to be.

    • #25
  26. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):
    Reading books and watching movies from a few decades ago, I’ve found that many of them are surprisingly subtle, nuanced and sophisticated about these things. In contrast, much of what we are told about how to think today is not nuanced or sophisticated, with no shades of gray, instead merely reducing everything to caricatures.

    I recently ran across a ten-page article on ancient Chinese art in a 1957 issue of Time Magazine. Far longer and more sophisticated than what you’d see today.

    We’ve cleaned out a lot of old history magazines to which we’ve long had subscriptions. Even in the 80s and 90s there were a lot more words and more information on most pages than what you have nowadays.

    I think the hunger for knowledge has been exchanged for the comforts of knowingness. 

    • #26
  27. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    We have to assist the destruction of Amerika and its sinful legacy but we are not allowed to actually read about that legacy because (a) it might trigger us and/or (b) be a mix of human virtues and frailties which is confusing when trying to follow a party line. The personal growth of Huck Finn is far too subtle a concept. The fact that it was the most powerful work of fiction of its time is irrelevant.

    When the Black Students Association asks why the pictures of distinguished dead alumni and past college presidents are all white, the correct answer is “Because you are not on that wall yet. We are saving you a spot. Achieve now that you have that opportunity that was denied to so many before.” That is much better than to take them down and put up a mural of Harriet Tubman or George Floyd.

    Exactly right. 

    As with early baseball, black people weren’t allowed to play, so their lack of representation among the greats is without meaning. 

    • #27
  28. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Ansonia (View Comment):
    So what’s their real reason for wanting these books to disappear from cultural memory ?

    There’s a strong father figure?

    A leftist culture war. Everything must serve a revolutionary ideological purpose. Everything.

    And remember when the left was pushing “diversity” in literature classes, demanding less Shakespeare and Twain, and more by “writers of color”? They never proposed literary masterpieces by, say, Yasunari Kawabata or Jorge Luis Borges. Instead they pushed Marxist garbage like I, Rigobeta Menchu.

    • #28
  29. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):

    Wilder’s books merely relate the uncomfortable truth about the history of the Great Plains: that there were both good people and evil people living there. Lewis and Clark had the same observation.

    Also, that history is complex.

    Also, that people are complex.

    It may be that their problem is they don’t know how to deal with people who do both good and evil and it’s best if we don’t learn about them. If there is racism, it must be because there are evil people who need to be cancelled and exterminated if they can’t be re-educated. People who are fair, honest, tolerant, self-sacrificing, and genocidal bigots just don’t compute; therefore it is important not to learn about them.

    Reading books and watching movies from a few decades ago, I’ve found that many of them are surprisingly subtle, nuanced and sophisticated about these things. In contrast, much of what we are told about how to think today is not nuanced or sophisticated, with no shades of gray, instead merely reducing everything to caricatures.

    That is why Wokism makes stories so boring. 

    • #29
  30. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    That is why Wokism makes stories so boring. 

    In 2017, I wrote a post about the tendency of many modern academics to reduce *everything* to matters of power relationships: Professors and the Pornography of Power.

    This tendency has escaped from academia and is now poisoning the entire society.

    • #30