We Really Need to Get Out More

My husband is presently attempting to wind down his software business and is suddenly discovering vast chunks of free time. Recently he heard that the Blanton Museum, at UT Austin, was looking for volunteer docents. So he volunteered, took the sample tour, blew through the training materials over the weekend, and went over there today expecting to pass the test and get assigned hours.

He didn’t get as far as the test.

First there was another tour, composed (I think) entirely of volunteer docents, who were encouraged to ask intelligent questions and add to the discussion.

Well, they’re having an exhibition of Western art right now. So they’re looking at a picture of a buffalo, and somebody says, “Didn’t we exterminate the buffalo in order to deprive the Indians of food?” and the official docent says yes, yes, that’s right. And Steve pipes up and says there are a few other factors to be considered, such as the fact that the Comanche horse herds seriously overgrazed Texas and deprived the buffalo herds of food.

Come the end of the tour, a snippy Museum Lady takes Steve aside and essentially tells him not to bother taking the test, they don’t need his kind around there.

Steve came home saying, “I don’t get it. What did I do?”

See, he’s spent the last 30 years buried in map label placement and gridding algorithms, and had not been exposed to the total smothering effect of extreme Political Correctness. He knows not to say anything bad about Obama at neighborhood get-togethers, but that’s about it.

I had to explain to him: “You said something negative. About American Indians. At an art museum. On a college campus!”

15 thoughts on “We Really Need to Get Out More”

  1. I did get a chuckle. I’ve complained here before about the history courses my daughter had to take at U of Arizona. She was taught that western farmers were taught how to farm by the Plains Indians who were hunter-gatherers.

    I feel for him.

  2. Short-story idea: One of these modern-day politically-correct types stumbles into a time warp, and finds himself as the guest of an Indian tribe circa 1840 or so.

    The story is told from the viewpoint of the tribe’s chief, who has to figure out what to do with this guy. He’s obviously not a warrior, in fact he’s a pacifist. He doesn’t want to hunt. The chief thinks for a while that the guy might be useful as a singer or a storyteller, but he can’t sing and (perhaps because he has a PhD in English Literature) his stories are very boring.

  3. Actually, David, if the PC type had been captured by the Comanche, Kiowa or other warrior tribe, the story would very short and end with a brief description of him being tortured, scalped and screaming … for the amusement of the tribe.

    Cheer up, Margaret — at least your husband didn’t elaborate on the profitible slave-trading gig that the Comanches had, selling Mexican and Anglo captives to the highest bidder.

  4. I wonder what they would have said if Steve would have mentioned all of the internal wars the indians had between tribes.

    It is odd how that culture is quite idealized, but then again, practically every culture that is not Anglo based is adored by academia.

    But we are working as hard as we can to scrub indian references from everything from baseball teams to park names. So on the one hand they are this wonderful, ideal society but on the other hand we are trying hard as hell to forget them.

    Full disclosure: I went to U of I in Champaign (fighting Illini).

  5. The Comanche had THAT many horses? So many horses they ate all the buffalo’s grass? How ridiculous. There were large wild horse herds at one time in TX though.

    That the US Army had an official policy of destroying the buffalo is an historical myth. A number of generals (Sherman and Sheridan) and other officials did privately and publicly express the view that it would be a good idea.

    In 1874, Secretary of the Interior Delano testified before Congress, “The buffalo are disappearing rapidly, but not faster than I desire. I regard the destruction of such game as Indians subsist upon as facilitating the policy of the Government, of destroying their hunting habits, coercing them on reservations, and compelling them to begin to adopt the habits of civilization.” (The Military and United States Indian Policy, p. 171)

  6. I would encourage your husband to go take the test. I would encourage him to press for, in writing, exactly why they are refusing him as a volunteer. These people are bigots and it is our cooperation with them by standing down that lets them get away with it.

  7. The remarkable thing about political correctness is that making victims it distorts cultures which about embodied non-p c, thereby also ignoring the more interesting & heroic truths. The conflicts were inevitable – and one side was going to win if it had tools and guns from a more sophisticated technology, let alone germs. (Which the Europeans did not intentionally spread; homogeneous groups unexposed to worldwide disease and groups that hadn’t domesticated animals were more vulnerable.) Goetzmann describes this inevitable movement well. My sense is that he is seen as non-p.c. Perhaps not. He was a great teacher – one of the best I had at U.T.

  8. I’m surprised nobody has commented yet on the docent’s evident belief that buffalo are extinct, which is of course ridiculous. There are some large herds in Texas not very far from Austin.

  9. Steven Zoraster, Isenberg doesn’t claim the Comanche’s horse herds were so massive they “deprived the buffalo of grass.” He says the Indians were participants in the buffalo robe trade and that that contributed to the destruction of the buffalo. You should have said that.

    Even the Indians buffalo robe trade wasn’t extensive enough to kill of most of the buffalo. There simply weren’t enough Indians and their women processed buffalo hides into robes to sell on the market by hand, a slow and laborious process. Perhaps if carried out for long enough, the Indian’s buffalo robe trade would have destroyed the buffalo herds, but hisotry didn’t give them enough time for that to happen. The railroads opening up the west to commercial hunters and shipments of hides by rail was a much bigger and more decisive factor in the very rapid destruction of the buffalo herds.

    I think this is consistent with what Isenberg wrote – from a review of Isenberg’s work:

    “Following the Civil War, the scope and scale of the slaughter increased dramatically. Given that many recognized this as unsustainable, Isenberg explains why it was allowed to proceed. He offers two explanations. First, a new tanning process, more powerful rifles, the expansion of railroads, and a large supply of hunters and skinners combined to integrate bison hides into the industrialization occurring in the East. Thus, the bison were part of the nineteenth-century pattern of an industrial society exploiting the abundant natural resources.

    Second, the destruction of the bison was also an integral part of Euroamerican expansion onto and domestication of the Great Plains. Some saw it as necessary for the advance of a superior resource utilization strategy — cattle ranching. Others saw it as a way to force the Indians to reservations where they could be civilized or tamed. This later view was supported by the Army, which encouraged hide hunters to violate treaties protecting the Indians’ hunting territories and deplete their food supplies. The result was the exhaustion of the bison from the southern plains during the 1870s and the northern plains between 1880 and 1883.”

    That the Plains Indian nomadic lifestyle and culture was a brief episode in history brought about due to the introduction of horses into the west is interesting and now well known. Before the introduction of the horse most of the future plains tribes either didn’t live on the plains or were farmers clustered along western river valleys.

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