Understanding the past

May 6, 2009


What’s the context of these quotes from the epigraph page of a book I bought today? Not the unfolding torture scandal, though it could be. Instead they set the tone for Savages & Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America’s Road to Empire Through Indian Territory by Paul VanDevelder.

His repeated use of “savages” isn’t a pejorative. It’s a reminder of “how easily the cultural judgments of an entire civilization can be carried in a single two-syllable word that more often than not described its users.”

I hope the book will help me understand what happened in the 1800s to understand the lives of a few cowboys and Indians in the early 1900s — without influence of romantic myths I devoured as a kid overfed on black and white Western movies. How else can I write with authority about people and events I seek to recreate in places as foreign to me as another country?