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The Pequots

 

            In the novel Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville (1819-1891), we find that Pequod, a variant of Pequot, is the name of the ill-fated whaling ship commanded by Captain Ahab.  "Pequod, you will no doubt remember," says Melville, "was the name of a celebrated Indian tribe of Massachusetts Indians, now extinct as the ancient Medes."  One of the crew of the Pequod is Tashtego, an Indian from Massachusetts.  In the end, Tashtego goes down with the ship, along with a sea-hawk caught between Tashtego's hammer and the mainmast of the ship.

            The subtitle of the book The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building (1980, 1990) by Richard Drinnon, harks back to Melville's novel The Confidence-Man.  The title of Chapter 26 of The Confidence-Man reads:  Containing the Metaphysics of Indian-Hating, According to the Views of One Evidently Not So Prepossessed as Rousseau in favor of Savages.  This is a reference to Colonel John Moredock, who is described by Melville in the novel, and who was a real person.  In this connection, Richard Slotkin in his book Gunfighter Nation (1992) says, in the process of analyzing the film The Searchers (1956) directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, that the film's hero, Ethan Edwards, is "a recrudescence of the classic 'Indian-hater' first depicted in popular literature in James Hall's historical sketch of the life of Colonel John Moredock (1835) and portrayed most notably in Robert M. Bird's Nick of the Woods (1837) and Melville's The Confidence-Man (1857).

            In Melville's version, Colonel John Moredock, frontiersman and Indian-hater, was "the son of a woman married thrice, and thrice widowed by a tomahawk."  As a widow with nine children, she joined a company moving to the new country of Illinois.  Her party was ambushed by a band of 20 Indians, "renegades from various tribes, outlaws even among Indians."  The widow and her children were killed, except for John who was 50 miles away, following with a second party.

            Moredock tracked the Indians for a couple of years, and one night he and his men killed 17 of them.  Three escaped, but Moredock tracked them down over the next 3 years, and killed them.  Melville says:  "But this did not suffice.  He made no avowal, but to kill Indians had become his passion.  As an athlete, he had few equals; as a shot, none; in single combat, not to be beaten. .....  The solitary Indian that met him, died.  .....  Many years he spent thus; and after a time he was, in a degree, restored to the ordinary life of the region and period, yet it is believed that John Moredock never let pass an opportunity of quenching an Indian."

            But, says Melville's narrator in the novel, speaking of Moredock's passion:  "It were to err to suppose that this gentleman was naturally ferocious, or peculiarly possessed of those qualities, which, unhelped by provocation of events, tend to withdraw man from social life.  On the contrary, Moredock was an example of something apparently self-contradicting, certainly curious, but, at the same time, undeniable:  namely, that nearly all Indian-haters have at bottom loving hearts; at any rate, hearts, if anything, more generous than average.  Certain it is, that, to the degree in which he mingled in the life of the settlements, Moredock shoed himself not without humane feelings.  No cold husband or colder father, he; and, though often and long away from his household, bore its needs in mind, and provided for them.  He could be vary concicial, told a good story (though never of his more private exploits), and sang a capital song. ..... "

            Melville tells us that the colonel performed bravely in the war of 1812, and that at one time the colonel was a member of the territorial council of Illinois.  When the state government was formed, he was asked to become a candidate for governor.  He begged to be excused, without giving reasons, but, says Melville, those who knew him best surmised that:  "In his official capacity he might be called upon to enter into friendly treaties with Indian tribes, a thing not to be thought of.  And even did not such contingency arise, yet he felt there would be an impropriety in the Governor of Illinois stealing out now and then, during a recess of the legislative bodies, for a few days' shooting at human beings, within the limits of is paternal chief-magistrate.  In the governorship offered large honors, from Moredock it demanded larger sacrifices.  These were incompatibles.  In short, he was not unaware that to be a consistent Indian-hater involves the renunciation of ambition, with its objects -- the pomps and glories of the world, and since religion, pronouncing such things vanities, accounts it merit to renounce them, therefore, so far as this goes, Indian-hating, whatever may be thought of it in other respects, may be regarded as not wholly without the efficacy of a devout sentiment."

            It is interesting to compare the person of Colonel Moredock with that of Reichsfuehrer Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS (Schutzstaffel, "Death's Head" troops, from among whom overseers of concentration camps were chosen) in Germany during the Nazi time, and with that of numerous other members of the SS.  We may take it that Himmler may be classified as a Jew-hater.  As far as I know, no Jews killed close relatives of Himmler, but I take it that he believed Jews were responsible for the deaths of many of the German Volk, or more generally, a group of racially defined Aryans, and that he spent a good part of his career directing the forced migration, ghettoization, and, as a final solution, extermination of Jews.  Yet he is described as a devoted family man, a lover of flowers, and so on.  I don't know if Himmler turned down some prestigious position because he wanted to devote his time to eliminating Jews from Germany, and countries occupied by Germany, but I take it that  parallel is not necessary to conclude that Moredock, as described by Melville, sounds like the same sort of person as Himmler, as described by numerous historians.

            Richard Drinnon, in the preface to another book of his, the 1990 edition of Facing West, says:  "In part one I accompany the punitive Puritan expeditions of 1637 that made some four hundred Pequots 'as a fiery Oven' in their village near the Mystic River and later finished off three hundred more in the mud of Fairfield Swamp.  For these proceedings, said Captain John Underhill [who was present at some of this action], 'we had sufficient light from the word of God.'  At the heads of parts two through five I place epigraphs that suggest how every generation of Anglo-Americans down to the present has followed the pattern set then and has repeated, with minor variations, such justifications for burning natives in their villages and rooting them out of their swamps [as, for example, in the action at My Lai during the USA-North Vietnam war].  Understandably the Puritans had not intended to have that pattern of oppression associated with the tribe they destroyed.  Rather they sought, as Captain John Mason [who was in command of these actions] reported, 'to cut off the Remembrance of them from the Earth.'  The name Pequot had become extinct, declared the Connecticut General Assembly, and no survivors should carry it.  Yet scattered individuals did, and both the name and the remembrance lived on in them, in a recent lawsuit they joined to reclaim lands taken illegally, and finally in a bill unanimously approved in both houses of the Congress, that would have given them $900,000 to buy eight hundred acres of their own reservation.  In April 1983 President Reagan vetoed this settlement of the Pequot claim on the grounds that $900,000 was 'too much to pay' these improbable survivors."

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