West of the Revolution by Claudio Saunt
An Uncommon History of 1776
In 1776 the Continental Congress claimed independence for our colonies. Philadelphia and Boston were the stages of those historical events. Now comes Claudio Saunt, from the University of Georgia, to declare that in 1776 the Russians chased sea otters into the Aleut villages of Alaska; the British stepped up their fur trade from Hudson Bay, busily “conquering” the continent with that enterprise; the Spanish put down roots in San Franciso. All these events disturbed the native inhabitants of North America.
To me the most interesting 1776 event (apart from the one mentioned at the outset of this post) was the establishment of the Lakota nation in the Badlands. According to Saunt, the Lakotas moved away from the rolling prairie where I was born and discovered the buffalo and a holy land to the west, in what is now South Dakota. A Sioux leader and historian reported the “discovery” of the Badlands in 1776 to “put the Lakota Nation and the United States on an equal footing.” Here are some quotations from that chapter of Saunt’s readable history.
“If accounts are accurate, the Lakotas were establishing their supremacy on the Great Plains around the time British colonists disguised themselves as Indians and dumped tea into Boston Harbor.” “West of the Missouri River the Lakotas encountered enormous herds of bison, a resource that appeared to be limitless. One herd, drawn to the high-protein short grasses in that region, reportedly stretched…150 miles…The awe-inspiring bounty inspired Lakotas to reorient their economy.” “…by mid century Plains Indian men were taller than any documented population in the entire world, standing about a half inch above European Americans and towering a full two to five inches over their sickly European counterparts…Their impressive stature is attributable to the profits of the bison economy.” “In the years since the Lakota migration, the Black Hills had become the mythic birthplace of their nation, the geographic equivalent of the Declaration of Independence. The Hills “hold their ‘Mother’s heart and pulse’…the heart of the earth, the center of our origin stories, spiritual history and sacred places”.