Eternal Vigilance (Part 1)
[Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a series of posts to keep the posts from getting too long. I am not going into too much detail for brevity.]
A friend of mine once asked “Has there ever been a case where the government actually tried to take the guns away?”
So, if the government has never done it before, they obviously won’t ever try.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. That quote is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but may actually have been uttered by an Irish politician named John Philpot Curran in 1790:
“It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”
By asking if the government has ever actually tried to take guns away from people, it shows that we are growing too complacent. We have become fat and happy. We have never had to sacrifice like our ancestors have sacrificed.
January 23, 1870
Tensions between white settlers and the Blackfoot Confederacy had been increasing for years. In 1869, a young Blackfoot by the name of Owl Child stole some horses from a white trader named Malcolm Clarke, as payment for some horses that Owl Child had lost. Owl Child blamed Clarke for that loss. Clarke tracked Owl Child down, beat him in front of several Blackfeet, and raped Owl Child’s wife.
In response, Owl Child and several other Blackfoot warriors shot and killed Clarke while seriously wounding his son.
Calls for revenge became widespread. The United States Army demanded that Owl Child be killed and his body turned over to the Army, a call that went unheeded among the Blackfoot Confederacy.
When the deadline came and passed, General Phillip Sheridan (of American Civil War fame) sent a detachment of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment to find and punish Owl Child.
In January of 1870, the detachment’s scout had come upon the tribe hiding Owl Child, but they had left the area. That only left the camp of Chief Heavy Runner, who had always had friendly relations with the settlers. Major Eugene Baker, in charge of the detachment ordered an attack on the camp, despite being told by scouts that it was the wrong camp. The attack proceeded over the protests of the scouts, and most of the men of the camp were out hunting, resulting in a massacre of women and children. The Army put the casualties at 173 killed and 140 women and children captured, including Chief Heavy Runner. The Indians counted 217 dead. It became known as the Marias Massacre.
Baker never submitted a report, and General Sheridan covered it up enough to prevent an official investigation.
December 29, 1890
At the end of the American Indian Wars, the US 7th Cavalry Regiment marshaled the Lakota Sioux near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. The 7th Cavalry was there to disarm the Indians. The tribal Medicine Man was dancing the Ghost Dance and telling followers that their ancestors and ghost shirts (shirts with buffaloes and eagles emblazoned upon them) would protect them from the cavalry’s bullets.
The Indians were allowing themselves to be disarmed, despite the urging of the Medicine Man to fight on.
One version of the events has a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote reluctant to give up his gun, saying he had paid a lot for it. In the ensuing scuffle, the weapon accidentally discharged and fighting broke out. The Cavalry, with the help of their Hotchkiss guns (a cannon with a revolving barrel) killed, by some estimates, 300 Indians, including 200 women and children.
In another account, the soldiers were told that Black Coyote was deaf, possibly meaning that he didn’t speak English. When the soldier did not heed the warning, he yelled “Stop! He cannot hear your orders!” Two soldiers moved behind Black Coyote and grabbed him, and in the ensuing struggle, the weapon was discharged. Five young Lakota had rifles concealed under blankets, and they threw the blankets off, firing at the cavalry.
Phillip Wells, the interpreter for Colonel Forsythe (the commanding officer of the 7th Cavalry) relates that Forsythe told him to tell Chief Big Foot “Tell him he need have no fear in giving up his arms, as I wish to treat him kindly.’
Wells continues: “A cavalry sergeant exclaimed, ‘There goes an Indian with a gun under his blanket!’ Forsyth ordered him to take the gun from the Indian, which he did. Whitside then said to me, ‘Tell the Indians it is necessary that they be searched one at a time.’ The young warriors paid no attention to what I told them. I heard someone on my left exclaim, ‘Look out! Look out!’ I saw five or six young warriors cast off their blankets and pull guns out from under them and brandish them in the air. One of the warriors shot into the soldiers, who were ordered to fire into the Indians. I looked in the direction of the medicine man. He or some other medicine man approached to within three or four feet of me with a long cheese knife, ground to a sharp point and raised to stab me. He stabbed me during the melee and nearly cut off my nose. I held him off until I could swing my rifle to hit him, which I did. I shot and killed him in self-defense.”
Regardless of who fired first, the end results was that out of about 350 Indians present, more than 300 were killed or mortally wounded.
As the army was trying to take guns away.
One could look at it as it was the end of a war and the loser was being disarmed by the victors. That’s true, but to murder over 200 women and children?
It could be overlooked if this were the only instance of the government murdering innocent people. Congress had been screwing the Indians and taking their lands for years. The Indians fought, unsuccessfully) to retain what was left of their lands and way of life. The Federal government took their lands and crushed the people, nearly exterminating them. Now that the Indians no longer have any land for the government to take, whose lands do you think they will confiscate? That’s right, it’s already started with Eminent Domain, and the Supreme Court backed it up with the now infamous Kelo decision: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/23/AR2005062300783.html
May 5, 1886
A gathering protest by over 14,000 people gathered at the Milwaukee Iron Works, demanding an 8 hour work day. This was before the rise of unions. Republican governor sent out 250 militia, what we would call the National Guard today, with orders to “shoot to kill anyone trying to enter the building.”
As the crowd approached the building, the militia opened fire, killing 7 and wounding a thirteen year old boy. No reports of anyone actually trying to enter the building.
May 4, 1970
Kent State University, Kent, Ohio
Four students were killed and nine injured when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a group of unarmed protesters. Not all those injured were taking part in the protest, merely watching from a distance or walking by. The protesters had gathered to protest the US invasion of Cambodia. The National Guard had made a few arrests of protesters prior to the shooting, but what we see here is the willingness of government officials to use soldiers to violate First Amendment rights. This was not about taking guns, but it is about the unlawful use of force. There had been a few instances of violence and vandalism in the days before the shootings. As the Guard attempted to disperse the crowd, some began throwing rocks at the Guardsmen. Regardless, there was no reason for the soldiers to fire into the crowd. They could have fired over their heads, up into the air, or not fired at all.
A similar incident occurred at Jackson State College (Now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi, just a few days later on May 15, 1970, where a group of black students gathered to protest the invasion of Cambodia. Students were throwing rocks at white motorists, starting fires and overturning cars, the same typical violence seen in most protests.
The police showed up in force and after the fires were put out, they moved to disperse a crowd in front of a woman’s dormitory. Shortly after midnight on the 15th, the police opened fire on the dormitory. Some police claimed they saw a sniper on the roof, while others said they had been sniped at in all directions. The FBI found no evidence of a sniper.
The end result was 2 students were killed and another 12 injured. One of the students was not a student of the college, but a high school senior.
I’m not trying to defend the actions of those who commit vandalism or arson in the course of a protest. However, in both the Kent State and Jackson State shootings, the authorities were unjustified in their actions. That didn’t stop them, however.