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.

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  1. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    TBA (View Comment):

    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.

    The baseball greats are honored because of their excellence. They didn’t need affirmative action. Colleges undermine blacks by asking less of them. One of the important reasons that blacks succeeded in sports was that their excellence could not be undermined.

    • #31
  2. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    David Foster (View Comment):

    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.

    So that’s why every other Netflix show is insufferably Woke.

    • #32
  3. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    David Foster (View Comment):

    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.

    That quote from Jonathan Haidt in your post really sums it up.  It is a cult.  And it’s escaped from academia just like the creature that burst from John Hurt’s chest in Alien and which will destroy everything if not stopped.

    • #33
  4. dukenaltum Inactive
    dukenaltum
    @dukenaltum

    The description of the more nuanced and humane inclination of the Ingalls and even Mr. Scott in the book is accurate. The lack of grace, compassion and actual tolerance to the plight of the settlers as well as the Indians by the ALS is more indicative of the shallow one-dimensional filter that the Left applies to every human interaction.

    The indigenous hunter/gatherer culture of the Plain Indians was moribund in the 1870’s producing nothing lasting and unworthy of preservation for the benefit of both the Indians and the Settlers but we are to pretend otherwise.

    • #34
  5. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    People need to learn – or be reminded – how people thought and spoke in the past.  If you remove Little House or Huck Finn, you remove any evidence that shows how far we’ve come . . .

    • #35
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    dukenaltum (View Comment):
    The indigenous hunter/gatherer culture of the Plain Indians was moribund in the 1870’s producing nothing lasting and unworthy of preservation for the benefit of both the Indians and the Settlers but we are to pretend otherwise.  

    I’m not sure what this bit of socialist ideology is doing in this comment thread.  

    Do we decide which fetuses are worthy of preservation on the basis of what they have produced?   Do we decide which persons with various deficiencies and disabilities have lives worthy of protection? 

    Do we decide whether a person really “needs” a 30-round magazine for his gun and take it away if we deem he doesn’t need it.  That sort of reasoning was the basis for pushing many of the woodland Indians out onto the plains, where they had trouble making a new life for themselves. 

    Do we decide whether a small business is moribund and outdated, producing nothing lasting or worthy of preservation, and then use eminent domain to take the property and give it to a developer who will make a lot of money with it?  

    • #36
  7. dukenaltum Inactive
    dukenaltum
    @dukenaltum

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dukenaltum (View Comment):
    The indigenous hunter/gatherer culture of the Plain Indians was moribund in the 1870’s producing nothing lasting and unworthy of preservation for the benefit of both the Indians and the Settlers but we are to pretend otherwise.

    I’m not sure what this bit of socialist ideology is doing in this comment thread.

    Do we decide which fetuses are worthy of preservation on the basis of what they have produced? Do we decide which persons with various deficiencies and disabilities have lives worthy of protection?

    Do we decide whether a person really “needs” a 30-round magazine for his gun and take it away if we deem he doesn’t need it. That sort of reasoning was the basis for pushing many of the woodland Indians out onto the plains, where they had trouble making a new life for themselves.

    Do we decide whether a small business is moribund and outdated, producing nothing lasting or worthy of preservation, and then use eminent domain to take the property and give it to a developer who will make a lot of money with it?

    So effectively, you believe that any advanced civilization encountering a primitive culture has no obligation to elevate and improve the lives of primitives by introducing them to modernity but should work to maintain their failed civilization as a museum exhibit.   Quixotic and very much in the spirit of Rousseau.    

    Neolithic culture isn’t the best for human flourishing.   

    • #37
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    dukenaltum (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dukenaltum (View Comment):
    The indigenous hunter/gatherer culture of the Plain Indians was moribund in the 1870’s producing nothing lasting and unworthy of preservation for the benefit of both the Indians and the Settlers but we are to pretend otherwise.

    I’m not sure what this bit of socialist ideology is doing in this comment thread.

    Do we decide which fetuses are worthy of preservation on the basis of what they have produced? Do we decide which persons with various deficiencies and disabilities have lives worthy of protection?

    Do we decide whether a person really “needs” a 30-round magazine for his gun and take it away if we deem he doesn’t need it. That sort of reasoning was the basis for pushing many of the woodland Indians out onto the plains, where they had trouble making a new life for themselves.

    Do we decide whether a small business is moribund and outdated, producing nothing lasting or worthy of preservation, and then use eminent domain to take the property and give it to a developer who will make a lot of money with it?

    So effectively, you believe that any advanced civilization encountering a primitive culture has no obligation to elevate and improve the lives of primitives by introducing them to modernity but should work to maintain their failed civilization as a museum exhibit. Quixotic and very much in the spirit of Rousseau.

    Neolithic culture isn’t the best for human flourishing.

    I believe that any “advanced” civilization should respect and treat people as humans who have been made in the image of God.  

    • #38
  9. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dukenaltum (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dukenaltum (View Comment):
    The indigenous hunter/gatherer culture of the Plain Indians was moribund in the 1870’s producing nothing lasting and unworthy of preservation for the benefit of both the Indians and the Settlers but we are to pretend otherwise.

    I’m not sure what this bit of socialist ideology is doing in this comment thread.

    Do we decide which fetuses are worthy of preservation on the basis of what they have produced? Do we decide which persons with various deficiencies and disabilities have lives worthy of protection?

    Do we decide whether a person really “needs” a 30-round magazine for his gun and take it away if we deem he doesn’t need it. That sort of reasoning was the basis for pushing many of the woodland Indians out onto the plains, where they had trouble making a new life for themselves.

    Do we decide whether a small business is moribund and outdated, producing nothing lasting or worthy of preservation, and then use eminent domain to take the property and give it to a developer who will make a lot of money with it?

    So effectively, you believe that any advanced civilization encountering a primitive culture has no obligation to elevate and improve the lives of primitives by introducing them to modernity but should work to maintain their failed civilization as a museum exhibit. Quixotic and very much in the spirit of Rousseau.

    Neolithic culture isn’t the best for human flourishing.

    I believe that any “advanced” civilization should respect and treat people as humans who have been made in the image of God.

    Tough choices when the tech gap is large.  Extinguish the primitive culture by mere exposure even without forceful imposition or build a kind of protective bubble, a zoo for the vulnerable culture. 

    It is noteworthy that pursuant to the Prime Directive of the United Federation of Planets, any and all missionary activities to primitive planet cultures would be major felonies (as opposed to sleeping with alien major babes a la Capt. Kirk).  It is probably easier to isolate a planet where no space travel tech has evolved than a pacific island in the middle of a trade route.

    • #39
  10. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Stad (View Comment):

    People need to learn – or be reminded – how people thought and spoke in the past. If you remove Little House or Huck Finn, you remove any evidence that shows how far we’ve come . . .

    A feature, not a bug, if your goal is perpetual aggrievement; there can be no ‘good enough’ if your standard is an unreachable and immeasurable perfection. 

    • #40
  11. dukenaltum Inactive
    dukenaltum
    @dukenaltum

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dukenaltum (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dukenaltum (View Comment):
    The indigenous hunter/gatherer culture of the Plain Indians was moribund in the 1870’s producing nothing lasting and unworthy of preservation for the benefit of both the Indians and the Settlers but we are to pretend otherwise.

    I’m not sure what this bit of socialist ideology is doing in this comment thread.

    Do we decide which fetuses are worthy of preservation on the basis of what they have produced? Do we decide which persons with various deficiencies and disabilities have lives worthy of protection?

    Do we decide whether a person really “needs” a 30-round magazine for his gun and take it away if we deem he doesn’t need it. That sort of reasoning was the basis for pushing many of the woodland Indians out onto the plains, where they had trouble making a new life for themselves.

    Do we decide whether a small business is moribund and outdated, producing nothing lasting or worthy of preservation, and then use eminent domain to take the property and give it to a developer who will make a lot of money with it?

    So effectively, you believe that any advanced civilization encountering a primitive culture has no obligation to elevate and improve the lives of primitives by introducing them to modernity but should work to maintain their failed civilization as a museum exhibit. Quixotic and very much in the spirit of Rousseau.

    Neolithic culture isn’t the best for human flourishing.

    I believe that any “advanced” civilization should respect and treat people as humans who have been made in the image of God.

    I am curious how an advanced civilization improving the health, culture, morality, wealth, and education of primitives doesn’t show their value as being made in the image of God.   Are only the elected granted the benefits of West Christian Culture?   Pre-Columbian America was failed civilization stalled in the Neolithic Age being incredibly brutal and oppressive for most natives.  It deserved to be replaced.     

    • #41
  12. dukenaltum Inactive
    dukenaltum
    @dukenaltum

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dukenaltum (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dukenaltum (View Comment):
    The indigenous hunter/gatherer culture of the Plain Indians was moribund in the 1870’s producing nothing lasting and unworthy of preservation for the benefit of both the Indians and the Settlers but we are to pretend otherwise.

    I’m not sure what this bit of socialist ideology is doing in this comment thread.

    Do we decide which fetuses are worthy of preservation on the basis of what they have produced? Do we decide which persons with various deficiencies and disabilities have lives worthy of protection?

    Do we decide whether a person really “needs” a 30-round magazine for his gun and take it away if we deem he doesn’t need it. That sort of reasoning was the basis for pushing many of the woodland Indians out onto the plains, where they had trouble making a new life for themselves.

    Do we decide whether a small business is moribund and outdated, producing nothing lasting or worthy of preservation, and then use eminent domain to take the property and give it to a developer who will make a lot of money with it?

    So effectively, you believe that any advanced civilization encountering a primitive culture has no obligation to elevate and improve the lives of primitives by introducing them to modernity but should work to maintain their failed civilization as a museum exhibit. Quixotic and very much in the spirit of Rousseau.

    Neolithic culture isn’t the best for human flourishing.

    I believe that any “advanced” civilization should respect and treat people as humans who have been made in the image of God.

    Tough choices when the tech gap is large. Extinguish the primitive culture by mere exposure even without forceful imposition or build a kind of protective bubble, a zoo for the vulnerable culture.

    It is noteworthy that pursuant to the Prime Directive of the United Federation of Planets, any and all missionary activities to primitive planet cultures would be major felonies (as opposed to sleeping with alien major babes a la Capt. Kirk). It is probably easier to isolate a planet where no space travel tech has evolved than a pacific island in the middle of a trade route.

    The prime directive was constantly violated by the characters in Star Trek.  The American Plains Indians embraced certain technological innovations: Firearms while avoiding others like towns and permanent homes.  At Little Big Horn, the Natives possessed repeater rifles that were superior to the 7th cavalry’s Springfield Trapdoor but they slaughtered the wounded without compunction despite being Catholics.    

    • #42
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    dukenaltum (View Comment):
    I am curious how an advanced civilization improving the health, culture, morality, wealth, and education of primitives doesn’t show their value as being made in the image of God.   Are only the elected granted the benefits of West Christian Culture?   Pre-Columbian America was failed civilization stalled in the Neolithic Age being incredibly brutal and oppressive for most natives.  It deserved to be replaced.     

    It’s usually done by forcing them to do things for their own good, like the wokists are doing to us.  Of course, the fact that the advanced civilization is motivated by a barbaric form of greed should not interfere with our evaluation of all the good it has done. 

    A couple of my favorite conversations from Russian movies:

    From Kin-Dza-Dza:

    Ruler of planet Alpha:  “They are consumed with desires. To continue living as a plant is a blessing to them.” 

    His assistant: “As it is for everyone else.”

    Visitor from planet earth: “Maybe we could ask them what is a blessing for them and what isn’t?” 

    Assistant: “If we gave them the right to decide anything…[big eye roll]”

    2nd visitor from planet earth: “Lady, are you the smartest one out here? Did someone tell you that, or did you decide it by yourself?”

     

    And from the Pokrovsky Gate:

    Kostya: “Yes, I’m young. But as a historian I can tell you that you can’t make a person happy against his will.” 

     

    • #43
  14. John Racette Inactive
    John Racette
    @JohnRacette

    Lilly, if every attempt at revisionist history were confronted and dispatched as precisely as you have done here, the country would be a smarter place. Bravo.

    • #44
  15. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    John Racette (View Comment):

    Lilly, if every attempt at revisionist history were confronted and dispatched as precisely as you have done here, the country would be a smarter place. Bravo.

    Thank you. I am so grateful for the discussion that this post has generated. I have learned so much from the comments. @arahant‘s comment that the librarians can’t read is one important take away for me.  I remembered the controversy, but I didn’t remember the specifics of what Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in her books. I had to re-read Little House on the Prairie. As many commenters have pointed out, the goal is to get us not to read, remember, or consider the past. 

    • #45
  16. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Member
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    From what I’ve read and reported on the ALA stripping Wilder’s name from the award, it wasn’t this line that Lilly talks about  that caused the uproar. Rather, it was when she wrote of the great plains “There were no people there, only Indians.” Which implied that Indians weren’t people.

    However, some years after its publication, it was pointed out to Wilder that this line was problematic, and she agreed, calling it a “stupid blunder” for its implications. She then changed the line to “There were no settlers there, only Indians.” And the book has been published with her own change for almost 70 years.

    So for the ALA members to complain about that line in 2018 is fundamentally dishonest. But everything I’ve read on having her name stripped from the award points to this line, and not the “dead Indian” line, which as mentioned above, is understood in context as an example of negative attitudes.

     

    • #46
  17. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra
    @VinceGuerra

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):

    From what I’ve read and reported on the ALA stripping Wilder’s name from the award, it wasn’t this line that Lilly talks about that caused the uproar. Rather, it was when she wrote of the great plains “There were no people there, only Indians.” Which implied that Indians weren’t people.

    However, some years after its publication, it was pointed out to Wilder that this line was problematic, and she agreed, calling it a “stupid blunder” for its implications. She then changed the line to “There were no settlers there, only Indians.” And the book has been published with her own change for almost 70 years.

    So for the ALA members to complain about that line now is fundamentally dishonest. But everything I’ve read on having her name stripped from the award points to this line, and not the “dead Indian” line, which as mentioned above, is understood in context as an example of negative attitudes.

     

     

    Dagnabbit Drew, get out of here with those facts. You know full well that modern libraries aren’t interested in those anymore. 

    • #47
  18. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):

    From what I’ve read and reported on the ALA stripping Wilder’s name from the award, it wasn’t this line that Lilly talks about that caused the uproar. Rather, it was when she wrote of the great plains “There were no people there, only Indians.” Which implied that Indians weren’t people.

    However, some years after its publication, it was pointed out to Wilder that this line was problematic, and she agreed, calling it a “stupid blunder” for its implications. She then changed the line to “There were no settlers there, only Indians.” And the book has been published with her own change for almost 70 years.

    So for the ALA members to complain about that line in 2018 is fundamentally dishonest. But everything I’ve read on having her name stripped from the award points to this line, and not the “dead Indian” line, which as mentioned above, is understood in context as an example of negative attitudes.

    Thanks! As I admitted, I did not read all the coverage on the decision, although I did read the statement from the ALA, which did not (unless I am mistaken) mention the line you reference. If that’s what was at issue, then it’s a strange omission. However, I appreciate the crowd-sourced research and additional background. If Ricochet wants thoroughly sourced and researched posts, then I need to be paid for my time ;)

    • #48
  19. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):
    However, some years after its publication, it was pointed out to Wilder that this line was problematic, and she agreed, calling it a “stupid blunder” for its implications. She then changed the line to “There were no settlers there, only Indians.” And the book has been published with her own change for almost 70 years.

    And Aunt Jemima was changed several times to get away from its origins:

    https://www.businessinsider.com/aunt-jemima-history-logo-changed-6-times-rooted-racial-stereotypes-2020-6?op=1#the-most-updated-version-of-the-brand-image-added-pearl-earrings-and-a-white-collar-to-the-aunt-jemima-character-according-to-chicago-tribune-the-aunt-jemima-logo-changed-six-times-before-it-was-retired-in-2020-8

    But that’s not good enough – it must be destroyed to make it right.  However, there are people who think Nancy Green – The Aunt Jemima – should be remembered, not erased:

    https://www.npr.org/local/309/2020/06/19/880918717/the-fight-to-commemorate-nancy-green-the-woman-who-played-the-original-aunt-jemima

    • #49
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