The Only Good Indian
Pêche kicked a rock through the Rushmore workers‘ parking area. She spotted Bad Glove Hand adjusting the saddle on his horse, Henry Ford. Above them, on Mount Rushmore, the faces of Presidents Washington and Jefferson loomed. “How you doin‘, Bad Glove?” Pêche called out.
Johnny “Bad Glove” Hand turned and smiled. “Greetings,” he said, tipping the bill of his baseball cap, which kept in place his long, black hair. “Say, I looked up Pêche in a French-English dictionary. Figured you were sick of people asking you about it.”
“My father, who I never met, was French and called my mother his petite pêche and she just passed it on to me.”
“All it said was: fruit,” Bad Glove Hand went on. “I figured it meant peach, what with the spelling and folks calling you Peaches.”
“Everybody thinks that, so I let ’em,” Pêche said, playing with the horse‘s mane. “I like that you named him Henry Ford. It seems to fit.”
Bad Glove Hand shrugged. “I figure, when horses are obsolete, or go by way of the buffalo, Henry Ford might return the favor and start naming automobiles after horses.”
Pêche chuckled and waved to her husband Ernie, as he made his way down from the area on Mount Rushmore that would be Abraham Lincoln. “You know, Bad Glove, I‘ve always wondered how you feel about working on this shrine to white men carved into an Indian mountain,” she said, concentrating her attention on Henry Ford.
“An Indian mountain stolen by the wašicu of South Dakota and named after some New York lawyer who happened to be passing by at the time.” Bad Glove Hand laughed without smiling.
“I haven‘t found anyone who can explain that one to me,” Pêche admitted, then guessed: “ Wašicu? White man?”
“Nothing gets by you,” Bad Glove Hand chuckled. “Truth is, I‘m just in it for the baseball.” A Lakota Sioux and grandson to the treaty signing Bad Left Hand, Bad Glove Hand hit third in the Rushmore line-up and anyone who had seen him play first base understood the nickname. “And it‘s not like this Great Depression of yours doesn‘t affect the Indian, so I don‘t mind taking the wašicu money.”
“I don‘t blame ya...” Pêche watched Ernie trudge over from the steps built into the side of Rushmore. He‘d worn his dust mask all the way down the mountain, as if to prove to her he‘d been using it all day. He had quit school at sixteen — often it showed — to work the monument and play shortstop for the Rushmore Memorial ballclub. He lifted up the mask and gave her a dopey, lovable grin.
“Anyway,” Bad Glove Hand continued, “I‘m sure there are reasons why I shouldn‘t have worked on Washington and Jefferson, but I‘m afraid I‘m gonna have to draw the line at working on Lincoln. The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862, you know.”
“No... I don‘t,” Pêche confessed.
“The Santee Sioux got fed up with reservation life over there in Minnesota.” Bad Glove Hand tugged on a saddle strap. “So they went on a rampage, killing four or five hundred whites over some time — which, I‘ll admit, never solves anything. Anyway, your great man Lincoln takes some time off from your Civil War and hand-picks thirty-eight Santee warriors and hangs them the day after your Christmas. Largest public lynching ever, even for you guys.” Bad Glove Hand seemed to pause for rebuttal and, hearing none, went on: “A week later comes that Emancipation Proclamation deal, frees your slaves to fight in your war, and — just like that — he‘s a big hero. He and that bastard Sherman, why that —”
“William Tecumseh Sherman?” Ernie asked to the bemusement of both Pêche and Bad Glove Hand.
“Where‘d you come up with that name?” Pêche asked.
“School, I guess,” Ernie answered with a shrug. “I liked that Tecumseh name.”
“Yes, your man, Sherman, named for a Shawnee warrior, and later he vows to exterminate all Indians. How do you like that?” Bad Glove Hand spat on the ground. “If he‘d had the gumption for politics, he could‘ve been President and would‘ve been a cinch for the fifth spot on this mount, too. After the Civil War, they put him in charge of cleaning up the West — cleaning out the Indians — so the railroads could come through. He started by killing off the buffalo, like he did when he scorched the earth and the crops in the South on his way to Atlanta, taking away their source of food and starving them out. He didn‘t care about women or children or the elders: his goal — and the government‘s policy — was to rid the West of all Indians, herding them off and killing as many as possible in the process. ’Only good Indian is a dead Indian‘ — that was one of his. Clever bastard, huh? These days, everyone‘s up in arms over this Hitler guy in Europe, gathering up and killing Jews for being Jews. And up in arms they should be! But where were they seventy years ago when Sherman was playing Hitler with the Indians?”
“Snakes alive! You‘re always coming up with this stuff,” Ernie grumbled. “How do you know all this?”
Bad Glove Hand climbed atop Henry Ford and replied, “They might make us go to their wašicu schools but they can‘t keep us from learning.” He gave the horse a little kick and Henry Ford slowly made his way down the trail.
“You‘re coming over for dinner, right?” Pêche called out and Bad Glove Hand gave a little wave in response.
“ Wašicu? White man?” Ernie guessed.
“Nothing gets by you,” Pêche giggled, slipping an arm around Ernie‘s waist.
Pêche saw Bad Glove Hand coming through the yard. Entering the back door with a bottle in hand, he started pouring drinks before saying hello.
“Ernie, did you see that Borglum was already out looking for the right rock for your Roosevelt‘s big head?” Bad Glove Hand called out, referring to the sculptor and Rushmore creator, Gutzon Borglum. He poured a drink and raised a toast to nothing at all.
“Is that what he was doing today?” Ernie asked, entering the kitchen. “I always get scared when I see the old man swinging from a harness.”
“Borglum can handle it, especially when it comes to your Rough Rider,” Bad Glove Hand said, sitting at the table. “Bad Left Hand used to say: ’I was surprised by how much land they gave us back, but not surprised at all when they took it away again.‘ To the Lakota, Teddy was just a thief, stealing back land that had been returned to us after being stolen before. When returned they called ’em ’reservations,‘ and when he stole ’em back he called ’em ’National Parks.‘” Bad Glove Hand paused and shrugged. “Of course, we called it sacred even though we stole it from the Cheyenne just a hundred years before that. Don‘t remember what they called it or who they stole it from.”
“You know,” Pêche said, “they talk about this being a memorial to Presidents — ignoring Susan B. Anthony, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse — but when you look at Teddy: he served twice, went for a third and lost, then went for a fourth and couldn‘t even get nominated. How bad must he have been that second term?”
“Rough Rider, war hero, and the Panama Canal will get you on the rock anytime,” Bad Glove Hand said, slugging from his glass. “Don‘t hurt to be buddies with Borglum either.”
“Don‘t hurt to be the only one of the four that anybody alive can remember,” Ernie laughed and raised a toast, presumably to the mountain.
Bad Glove Hand stood and pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “I stopped in at the library and found a Teddy quote I just had to write down. Now, before I read this, picture him up there with your great white leaders — he‘ll be the one with the glasses. And I quote: ’I don‘t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn‘t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.‘”
“He said that?” Pêche gasped. “Sounds like he gave it a lot of thought, too.”
“That was my thinking,” Bad Glove Hand agreed, still looking at the quote. “Nobody says ’I shouldn‘t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth‘ like it‘s a thought off the top of his head.”
“When did he say this?” Pêche asked. “Was he drunk in some bar?”
“Nope, he said it in a speech in New York in 1886. Fifteen years before he became President.”
“Snakes alive...” Ernie murmured.
Bad Glove Hand slammed down the remainder of his drink and poured another. “How do the French say it? Sacre bleu? ”