Showing posts with label Indians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indians. Show all posts

13 February 2019

The Unredeemed Captive


I picked up a used book at a second-hand store not long ago. Boys of the Border, written by Mary P. Wells Smith, a 1954 reprint of a story originally published in 1907. It caught my eye because of the dust jacket art (see illustration below, no explanation needed), and because the inside cover had a hand-drawn map of the Mohawk Trail, in western Massachusetts, during the French-and-Indian War, when these frontier settlements were no more than scattered farmsteads, with the occasional fortified log palisade.

Mary Prudence Wells Smith was well-respected in her lifetime, the author of several successful YA series, Boys of the Border, the third in her Old Deerfield story cycle. I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of her, despite having a common curiosity about the history of that neck of the woods.




Drums Along the Mohawk it ain't, but it's pretty rousing all the same, and in both the Deerfield series and the companion Young Puritans historicals, she gives a convincing picture of daily hardships, forbidding piety, and an abiding mistrust of the Other, dark-hearted and pagan, stealers of children and sleep, the marauding Indian who came out of the deepest wilderness to prey on the luckless and unwary. This hidden terror was in fact the great unmapped continent of North America itself, too enormous to be contained or even imagined. An undiscovered country, whence no traveler returns.

It was a Leap Year. February 29th, 1704. In the early morning, a raiding party of French, Abenaki, and Iroquois attacked the small town of Deerfield, on the Connecticut River. They burned and looted houses, killed forty-seven people, and took 109 captives. They marched them 300 miles north to Quebec.

89 of the captives survived, and over the next two years, 60 of them were ransomed back. Others chose to stay in Canada, most famously the Rev. John Williams' daughter Eunice, who married a Mohawk. Rev. Williams wrote a hugely successful book, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, framing the story as instructive of God's providence. In a larger context, it becomes the primal American fiction.



(John Demos published The Unredeemed Captive in 1994, the title a play on Rev. Williams' own. Demos explains the captivity narrative as a racial and cultural paradigm, and not least as gender politics. It could be the Red Man, it could be the Yellow Peril, it could be Mandingo. The story turns on rescue from defilement. It's also clearly, and unapologetically, about the triumph of an enlightened tribe or race over a primitive and degraded one.)

Leaving aside Mark Twain's hysterically irreverent essay about him, it has to be admitted that James Fenimore Cooper is the first American novelist, in that he tells American stories, liberated from a European sensibility. Twain himself is a legatee and beneficiary of Cooper's. Huck Finn is completely American, but his literary forebear is Natty Bumppo. Cooper's romances have all of the generic conventions of the period, nor does he have much fluency or stagecraft, and yet he's engaging. What he brings to the table is conviction. He's got authority. Cooper knows the architectural foundation of his books is Manifest Destiny.


The captive narrative many of us are most familiar with is John Ford's 1956 movie The Searchers - and the novel by Alan Le May. The story is said to be based on the actual kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker by the Comanche. Nine when she was taken, she grew up Comanche, married, and had a family. Her eldest son, Quanah, became one of the last great war chiefs of the Comanche nation. She was recaptured by U.S. cavalry and Texas Rangers in a raid 24 years later, but never reintegrated into white culture. In truth, she wasn't in need of rescue.

The Searchers, for all its savagery, is about reconciliation, something both Eunice Williams and Cynthia Ann Parker stubbornly resisted. America, too, seems unreconciled, our vast interior a dark unknown, our captive imagination unredeemed, an unreliable narrative.



13 September 2018

Politically Profitable Predators


“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we're stopping a lot of them, but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are.  These aren't people. These are animals." President Trump, May 16, 2018 (USA Today)
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." Candidate Trump, June 16, 2015
"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population." Candidate Trump, written statement, December 7, 2015. (Source)
And no, I'm not using this as a segue way into criticism of our current President.  What I want to talk about is how various peoples have been made into politically profitable predators in American history.  From Native Americans to Blacks to Mexicans to Irish to Italians to Asians to Blacks to Native Americans and back to Mexicans to...  fill in the blank.  And the question always is, Who's next?

Native Americans, of course, have always considered a problem.  Back in 1702, Cotton Mather wrote of the Native Americans:
Cotton Mather.jpg"The Natives of the Country now Possessed by the New-Englanders, had been forlorn and wretched Heathen ever since their first herding there; and tho' we know not When or How those Indians first became Inhabitants of this mighty Continent, yet we may guess that probably the Devil decoy'd those miserable Salvages [sic] hither, in hopes that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his Absolute Empire over them." (The New English History), Book III, p. 190 (1702)
Ignoring, of course, the fact that the Native Americans actually fed the original settlers from England and taught them how to plant maize, squash, and other New World foodstuffs... Without their help, the original settlers would not have survived.  Ingratitude, thy name is Mather.

Then there's this 1803 painting by American painter John Vanderlyn - Death of Jane McCrae - well, it's obvious what this tells us about the horrors of Native Americans in early America.  The story behind this is classic propaganda, classic use of the death of a beautiful white woman to justify whatever comes next.  There were two versions of the story:

(1) Jane (who was a Loyalist in the American Revolution) was on her way to meet with her fiance at the British camp at Ticonderoga, escorted by two Native American warriors.  (Remember that at this time the British were hiring Native Americans to fight on their side.)  The two got into a fight over how much they'd be paid for delivering her safely. So one of them killed and scalped her.

(2) Jane McCrea was killed by a bullet fired by pursuing Americans.  19th century historian James Phinney Baxter supported this version of events in his 1887 history of Burgoyne's campaign, saying that there was an exhumation of her body which showed she died of bullet wounds, and had no tomahawk wounds.

Guess which one got the most press?  The first version, of course.  It got spread around in newspapers, pamphlets, and letters.  British General Burgoyne wrote a letter to American general Horatio Gates, complaining about ill-treatment of British POWs. Gates' response was widely reprinted:
"That the savages of America should in their warfare mangle and scalp the unhappy prisoners who fall into their hands is neither new nor extraordinary; but that the famous Lieutenant General Burgoyne, in whom the fine gentleman is united with the soldier and the scholar, should hire the savages of America to scalp europeans and the descendants of europeans, nay more, that he should pay a price for each scalp so barbarously taken, is more than will be believed in England. [...] Miss McCrae, a young lady lovely to the sight, of virtuous character and amiable disposition, engaged to be married to an officer of your army, was [...] carried into the woods, and there scalped and mangled in the most shocking manner..."  (Wikipedia)
It also entered American legend thanks to James Fennimore Cooper, who used it in 1826's The Last of the Mohicans.  

And let's talk about Andrew Jackson, who launched the Indian Removals of the 1830s:  
"Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country and philanthropy has long been busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth.… But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another.… Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?"
In other words, we want the land, so they've got to go.  And then, to justify it, consider the American Westerns, both in penny dreadfuls, novels, and movies:  until 1970's Little Big Man, most of them are all about chasing down and killing all the "savages" John Wayne and his buddies could find.  

Meanwhile, there have been constant waves of immigration, and constant opposition to each and every wave:
WW1 propaganda
anti-Hun poster

In 1775, before the United States had gained its independence, Benjamin Franklin warned against the destructive forces of German immigration: 
“A Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them and will never adopt our Language or Customs any more than they can acquire our Complexion." (Source)  
Who knew that Germans were so alien?  Before WW1?  

There were the Irish, presented as drunk gorillas who should be banned
from immigrating to the US and once here, should certainly never be employed:  

             

Do you notice a theme here?  Comparing various groups / people to apes?  Or other animals?

Meanwhile, there were also the Italians, who were also seen as subhuman, either importers of anarchism or - of course - the Mafia.  Did you know that the largest lynching in the United States was in New Orleans, and the victims were Italians?  A popular police chief named Hennessey (Irish) was shot on his way home, and when he was asked, dying, who did it, he gasped, "Dagoes".  So they rounded up the usual suspects, 11 Italians, and tried them - and there was a mistrial!  So the mob went wild, and started killing people...  No one was ever tried.  And, in language that is tragically familiar, a NYT editorial called the victims “desperate ruffians and murderers. These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins…are to us a pest without mitigations.” Read the rest at the History Channel.  

But at least they weren't Chinese:

For a long time China was known as the Yellow Peril.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prohibiting all immigration of  Chinese laborers, was followed up by massacres (Rock Springs, 1885, Hells Canyon 1887), and a general stereotyping of Chinese (and other Orientals) as apes, lesser men, primitives, children, madmen, and beings who possessed special powers, and who commonly kidnapped white women into white slavery, opium addiction, and eventually murdered them.  (Wikipedia)

Besides propaganda posters like the one to the left, white slavery was presented as a hideously common peril for white women in stories by Frank Norris (author of McTeague), Sax Rohmer (whose Chinese villain Fu Manchu threatened the world and its white women from 1913-1959) and True Confessions.  All of this propaganda was the basis for a series of American Immigration Acts that barred almost any Asian immigration of any kind to America until the 1960s.  Women had to be protected from the evil Orientals, and the only way to do that was to ban them entirely.
NOTE:  This is why both the 1960s movie and musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, and an impossibly bad movie from the 1980s, Angel III:  The Final Chapter, could STILL use white slavery by opium-smoking Asians as a major menace to the heroine(s).  
Birth of a Nation theatrical poster.jpgOf course, even the Chinese didn't / don't make such fearsome villains as blacks, going back to D. W. Griffiths' 1915 Birth of a Nation, (first titled The Klansman, BTW).  In that movie, Elsie (played by Lillian Gish) is saved by the KKK from the lustful mulatto Lynch (who came up with that name?), while the virginal white young Flora is forced to leap to her death to avoid being raped by a "freedman".  (Sounds like a rip-off of Last of the Mohicans to me, but then again, if it works with one ethnic group it'll work with any, I suppose.  Apes and other animals, you know.)  "There is no doubt that Birth of a Nation played no small part in winning wide public acceptance" for the KKK, and that throughout the film "African Americans are portrayed as brutish, lazy, morally degenerate, and dangerous." (History.com)  It was the perfect movie to reinforce the need for Jim Crow laws everywhere across the South, not to mention the holocaust of lynching.  And, as late as the 1970s, David Duke used the film to recruit members to the KKK.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Willie Horton.  Horton was released on a weekend furlough in June, 1986, and didn't come back.  In April, 1987, he raped a white woman.  In October, 1987 he was arrested and sentenced to 2 life sentences.  In 1988, Republican Presidential candidate George H. W. Bush's campaign put out the "Willie Horton" ad against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis (who had been Governor of Massachusetts at the time, but was not the founder of the furlough program) to prove that Dukakis was weak on crime, i.e., would not protect [white] women.  It played into the stereotype that black men were big, ugly, dumb, violent, and dangerous, so let's stay super tough on crime.  It worked.  But I, for one, don't believe that anyone in the Bush campaign believed they were protecting women:  they were winning an election.

     HortonWillie.jpg

Sounds familiar to me.



P.S.  In case you're wondering about antisemitism, the long, long, long history of antisemitism in America begins with Peter Stuvaysant, the last Director-General of New Amsterdam.  During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order No. 11 expelling Jews from areas under his control in western Tennessee, "as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled …within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order."  Lincoln rescinded the order ASAP, but.  Discrimination against Jews was standard and the cartoons and jokes horrific.  Watch Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement some time, which was extremely controversial when it came out in 1947, because it exposed the standard discrimination against Jews in employment, education, housing, travel, restaurants, clubs, etc.

A short list of famous antisemites includes:  Charles Coughlin, Louis Farrakhan, Henry Ford, FDR (never forget he turned away the ship carrying 907 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany), Joe Kennedy, Sr. (read his correspondence with Viscountess Astor), General Patton ("lower than animals"), Richard Nixon, Billy Graham (he's on the Nixon tapes saying things like "This [Jewish] stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain", and when Nixon mentioned that Graham was a friend of the Jews, Graham replied "But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country."[72]), and, of course, almost every troll on Breitbart and every white supremacist site you can stomach.  Some of them showed up for the Charlottesville, VA, August 11, 2017, "Unite the Right" rally, where they carried tiki torches while chanting Nazi and white supremacist slogans, including "White lives matter" and "Jews will not replace us." 

The depressing thing about humanity is that you have to educate each and every generation to be moral, compassionate, tolerant, kind, decent...  And obviously, we have a lot of work to do. 

29 January 2016

Why I had to Be Careful on the Reservation for A While


Map of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.
Scottsdale bounds the north (upper map) and west (map left) side,
while Mesa bounds the south (map lower) side.
These days I don't worry too much about driving across the local Indian Reservation outside Scottsdale, but there was a time when I had to keep a sharp eye out for police vehicles while driving to and from school.

And, the real cause of the problem was that I was trying to be a nice guy.

And, because I was ignorant.  I hadn't yet learned that people didn't necessarily read something I'd written, in the manner I had envisioned while writing it.

I made my way toward fiction through the journalism field. My primary goal was to make a living writing fiction, so my first goal was to earn a B.A. that might help convince editors I was a serious writer.

To accomplish this first goal, I decided to attend the Cronkite School at Arizona State.  At that time, at least, an ASU student had to earn the majority of his common core credits during his first two years -- all spent outside the Cronkite School.

Yes. You're seeing it correctly.
SCC is the Fighting Artichokes!
After completing enough credits with an acceptable GPA, a student had to apply for the Cronkite School then had to pass the Cronkite entrance exam before being permitted to apply for the Journalism or Communication Program.

I used the GI Bill to pay for school, but had two kids at home during this time, and another one on the way toward the tail end of my sophomore year. So, I spent those first two years at nearby Scottsdale Community College (SCC) to: save money, run my small pool layout business, and spend more time around the house. Our youngest son was born about the time I entered the Cronkite Program at ASU.

By the time I was admitted to the Cronkite School, I'd worked as a reporter on a small Scottsdale paper for two years, had also spent two school years on the Scottsdale Community College paper, and finally closed my small business to permit me to concentrate on completing my degree.  Two years after entering the Cronkite School, I graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication.

But, the thing that caused me to run afoul of police on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) occurred while I was working on a small human interest story for the SCC paper.

Scottsdale Community College isn't really in Scottsdale at all.  It's actually about a half-mile outside Scottsdale, on land leased from the SRPMIC.  And, the SRRPMIC police patrol the area outside campus, while providing arrest authority on campus when needed.  A person who stole money from the SCC snack bar cash register, while I was on the paper, for instance, was apprehended by campus police, then arrested by SRPMIC police, who booked the suspect into the Maricopa County Jail.  (Yes, that's right.  That's Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail -- pink underwear, green bologna and all... though these days it serves a vegetarian-only diet with no bologna on the menu [assuming you don't count Sheriff Joe's antics as bologna].)

One day, in the school news room, the faculty adviser for the paper told me she had received permission to have a school reporter accompany an SRPMIC police officer on a ride-along during a night shift.  She thought I might be a good choice, due to my age and military experience.  I happily accepted the assignment.

When that night arrived, I showed up at the police station on the reservation and met the sergeant who would be driving us around in his SUV, while on night patrol.  He was a nice enough guy, if a bit too showy for my taste.  I wasn't worried about that; I'd dealt with showy guys in the army.

He took me out and drove his patrol route, showing me areas of interest -- such as the lawnmower repair business where he'd earned a decoration for his actions during a shootout.  We found a new car sitting empty in the middle of nowhere, which was registered to someone on the other side of The Valley.  After calling for a tow truck, he explained that young people on the reservation sometimes went to clubs in Scottsdale or Phoenix, then stole a car to drive home.  Sometimes they stripped the car after getting it home.  Other times, like this one, they simply abandoned it.  We hunted around for, and found, the keys by the time the time the tow truck arrived.

He took me through "Bunny Acres" a part of the reservation that's pretty empty except for a few houses crouching in darkness.  Elsewhere, he showed me the remains of a house that had been destroyed during a shootout between reservation gang members on one side, and the FBI supported by the SRPMIC police on the other.  He asked me not to write about that house, because standing wisdom held that gang activity on the reservation had been completely wiped-out that night, and the tribal government didn't want potential casino customers to worry about the possibility of gang violence.

Had I been a hard-nosed reporter working on an expose, I'd have countered by asking for his opinion concerning the clear gang problems two friends of mine had encountered while working as teachers on the reservation.  Those two guys, for instance, found it interesting that when they handed out M&M's to their high school students, the red M&M's disappeared from some desks, while the blue ones disappeared from others, depending on whether the kid was a member of the Crips or the Bloods.  Gang tensions influenced the daily lives of those kids in the classrooms.

As I told the sergeant driving me around, however: "No problem.  Both my editor and our faculty adviser told me to treat this as a human interest story.  I'm supposed to give SCC students a feel for what the cops paroling the streets around school are like -- what you guys go through on a daily basis. I'm not here to dig up any dirt, or get anybody into hot water.  Plus, I spent time in the military and I hold a Top Secret clearance.  So, if you find you just said something you shouldn't have, let me know and we'll talk about it.  My bosses probably won't want it in the story anyway."

We went to a drunk driver arrest, worked a small traffic accident, and drove around some more.  We drove past a house that had a big pack of dogs running around out front.  The sergeant slowed and swung the SUV over toward that side of the street, quietly calling out the window to them.  As the dogs began to stand and prick their ears, he turned to me and said, "These guys always let their dogs out; they never put them inside or put leashes on them.  The law says they can't be out here without leashes, and I could arrest their owner.  But, we try to help people remember to do the right thing, without arresting them if we can."

By then, the dogs were barking and jumping, frantically chasing the SUV as we drove down the road on the right side again.  As the front door opened, and the owner came out, yelling at the dogs, the sergeant called: "They need to be on leashes if they aren't penned up!  Get them inside!"  Then he turned to me as he rolled up his window, saying, "This way, it wakes him up, so he pays the price, but he doesn't have to get involved in the legal system."

A short while later, we got a call about a domestic violence dispute with shots fired.  That was the one and only time the sergeant turned on his flashing lights and siren.  The only time he drove at anything above the speed limit.  Just about the only bit of excitement all night!  (If you don't count a pack of barking dogs chasing your car.)

But, even the domestic violence dispute was over by the time we arrived.  The man with the shotgun had been arrested and everyone else was being assisted by advocates.

When I wrote the story, I aimed for the human interest piece I'd described to the sergeant.  I emphasized the idea that the department practiced what they called "Community Policing," using the sergeant's own parallel about how they tried to police the SRPMIC employing common-sense alternatives to arrest, the way Andy Taylor policed Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show.  I illustrated this idea by outlining the way the sergeant had dealt with those loose dogs.

I was so proud of the result that I even dropped several copies of the student newspaper at the police station, so the guys could read it.

When I was on the way out, however, a lieutenant stopped me.  "You're the guy who wrote that story in the college paper, right?"

"Yes, sir.  Did you like it?"

His face clouded.  "We got a problem.  That sergeant who took you around is in hot water."

I was horrified.  "Why?"

(Okay, so this isn't a word-for-word recreation of our conversation.  But it is pretty close, I think.  I mean, this happened 16 years ago or so.)

We went into his office.  "Did you really have to compare us to Andy Taylor and Mayberry?  Why did you do that?"

"Well.  He did it.  He explained that was what you were doing.  And I thought it was a great idea!  So I explained it.  What's wrong?"

"It didn't occur to you that folks might read that, and think we were all a bunch of Barney Fife idiots -- shooting ourselves in the foot all the time!?"

I felt like an idiot, myself.  I shook my head.  "I'm sorry.  That never occurred to me.  I just thought I was comparing you to a guy who did a good job of keeping the peace, and gently keeping folks from stepping out of line.  That's why I wrote about the dogs."

His head snapped up.  "That really happened?  Just the way you described?"

I nodded.  He was pretty angry, but it was the truth.  "Yeah.  Just the way I said."

"And he said that stuff, about intentionally making all those dogs bark to wake up the owner?"

"Yeah.  Why?  What did he do wrong?"

"Damn!"  He scanned the story and put his finger on a spot.  "This part here -- where he went to the shooting with red lights and siren -- how fast were you going?"

I shrugged.  "I don't know.  It was dark out, and I couldn't read the speedometer from where I sat." I was pretty sure we'd been doing about sixty, but I knew that was the wrong answer.

"Did you feel in danger when that happened?  Did you think he was driving too fast for the dark conditions out there?"

I shook my head.  "Absolutely not.  What did he do wrong?  What's the problem with the dogs?  He did it so he wouldn't have to arrest that guy."

He laid down the paper and looked at me.  "Well, the problem is: That's a little thing called "Disturbing the Peace."  And it's illegal!  You had a tape recorder with you.  I saw it.  Did you record all this?"

"Yeah.  I did.  But, I didn't mean to get him in any trouble."

"Do you have those tapes with you?"

They were in my car, but I'd had enough basic journalism training to know how to handle that question.  "I always have to give them to my editor.  They belong to the paper."  (Please note: I did not say I had ALREADY given them to my editor, just that I HAD to, and that they belonged to the paper.)

"So you don't have them."

"No."  They weren't on my person.  They were in my car about fifty feet away, in the parking lot.  On the front seat!

"Okay.  I'm going to let you go.  But, you need to bring me those tapes, because we need to use them. And we may need to call you to testify in court.  If you don't bring those tapes back, we can issue a warrant.  Understood?"

I nodded.

Back at my faculty adviser's office, I told her what had happened, and what I'd said to the lieutenant.

"You actually told him the tapes are newspaper property?" she asked.

"That was the advice I got, when that local editor came to speak to one of my classes."

"Give me the tapes."  I handed them over.  "Okay," she said.  "Now they ARE newspaper property.  And he'll need a court order to get them from us."  Then she looked at me.  "But, you'd better be careful when you drive across the reservation to come to class.  They might try to arrest you.  Here's my card; if they arrest you, call me."

Maybe that police officer just wanted to scare me, or something.

But that faculty adviser wasn't joking.  She was worried.

That was over a decade ago, so I don't worry too much anymore.  Heck, I don't even know where I put her card.

But, for a while there . . .

See you in two weeks,

— Dixon

14 January 2016

The Chinese Are Coming!


A while back I wrote a column called "A Little Light Corruption"  about how South Dakota looks like Mayberry and acts like Goodfellas.  The body count is still only at seven (thank God), but the money is getting weirder by the minute.
For one thing, 35 Chinese investors are suing the State of South Dakota for $18,550,000, claiming they got ripped off in the EB-5 (green cards for a $500,000 investment) program.

And Joop Bollen (a Dutch foreign national), who somehow was allowed by our own then-Governor Mike Rounds (currently our US Senator) and our current Attorney General Marty Jackley, to privatize EB-5 and turn it over to himself via his own corporation (SDRC, Inc.) is now suing the State for defamation of character.

And our AG, instead of issuing warrants, is asking the court to freeze Joop's assets which are, in one bank account, around a million dollars.
NOTE:  Remember, originally, AG Jackley determined that the only "misappropriated" funds from EB-5 was the $500,000 that Richard Benda supposedly stole before supposedly killing himself in a field.  Apparently things have changed.  Although Marty Jackley is keeping as quiet as a tomb.
Joop Bollen and then-Governor,
current SD Senator, Mike Rounds
SECOND NOTE:  Mr. Bollen has, throughout, been treated with kid gloves.  He's never even been subpoenaed.  But the State of South Dakota has finally sued his corporation, SDRC, Inc... for documents.  Like, before they're shredded. 
THIRD NOTE:  Despite the Chinese investor losses, and Mr. Bollen's interesting bank account, South Dakota is still officially missing $120 million dollars in EB-5 fees and investments.  Where did it go?  Well, the state deficit in the last year of Mike Rounds' governorship was $120 million, so it didn't go there...  
Repeat after me:  "Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn't." Author Neil Gaiman.

Okay, on to GEAR UP!  Because we can't have just one major scandal about disappearing federal grant dollars in our tiny state.



A whole lot of  money (almost $3.5 million in 2011) went to a whole lot of people, except that almost none of it went to what the purpose of the grant was:  to give scholarships and education to Native Americans.  In fact, while 50-75% of all GEAR UP funds were supposed to be spent on scholarships according to the federal grant requirements, South Dakota requested (and apparently got) a waiver to spend NO money on scholarships, but to spend 100 percent of the grant on college preparedness and college readiness. And of course the best way to prepare Native American students for college was to hire endless consultants and directors of various sub-corporations.  (Angela Kennecke investigation)  The result is, $14 million dollars spent (somewhere), and 20 people went to college.   As my blogger friend Cory says, wouldn't it have been cheaper just to give the kids scholarships?  (dakotafreepress.com/2015/12/31/)


Some of you may remember from my last post on this that the Westerhuis' cell phones were cancelled the day after the arson / murder / suicides, and all the records were wiped, including who made a call and left a voice mail about 20 minutes before the fire.  As it turns out, the Westerhuis cell phones were through the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative (MCEC, the hub corporation for GEAR UP money, and for which the deceased Westerhuises worked). And it was MCEC that cancelled the phones and had the records wiped.  No explanation why they would do this before the ashes had even cooled on the ground...

And you may also remember that there was a missing safe, which apparently had legs like a dog and got up and trotted off because it hasn't been found yet.

From the "It can't get any weirder than this" files:

Governor Dugaard and Secretary of Education Melody Schopp
at the Interview
The US Department of Education tells KELOLAND News that in 2014, the South Dakota GEAR UP State grant file was destroyed and none of the documents are available.  (More Angela Kennecke investigation)

When KELO-TV investigative reporter Angela Kennecke asked for an interview with Secretary of Education Melody Schopp about GEAR UP and MCEC, she was told by the governor's office that she could only talk to Schopp with Governor Dugaard present. (see photo to the right)  Still trying to figure out whose hand needed holding...

And the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative had a forensic audit of their books, and presented it to a public meeting of the MCEC board. Said the auditors:  “We did not have access to financial records or other information from any other business or individuals.”  (For example, any of the multiple organizations that the deceased Mr. Westerhuis set up.)  And neither MCEC board members, nor the public, nor the media were allowed to ask any questions or even speak at the public meeting.  (http://dakotafreepress.com/?s=audit)

Just another day in South Dakota, where federal grant money can disappear like magic.

Did I mention that 4 in every 10 dollars in South Dakota revenue come from the federal government? (10 States most dependent on Federal Government)

Repeat after me:  "Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn't." Author Neil Gaiman.

22 October 2015

A Little Light Corruption


By gum, we folks in South Dakota really know how to keep things quiet.  Until someone dies, and then the whole thing comes boiling out.  Mayberry it isn't.
2013-2014

October 20, 2013 - Richard Benda was found dead from a shotgun wound to the stomach in a field in October.  The SD Attorney General, Marty Jackley, instantly ruled it a suicide.  Came out shortly thereafter that Benda had, apparently, embezzled pots of money from the EB-5 program, an immigration program set up by George H.W. Bush in 1990 that grants Visas to foreign investors for a minimum $500,000.00 investment. Quick money for the state, quick green card, and everything's hunky-dory.

Now Richard Benda was the former commissioner of then Governor Mike Rounds' Office of Economic Development. (Rounds is currently one of our two State Senators, the other being John Thune.)  He was also the one-time financial monitor of the Northern Beef Packers of Aberdeen, a $100 million slaughterhouse, funded largely by Asian EB-5 investors, which later was auctioned off in December, 2013 for $4.8 million in cash and $39.5 million in the cancellation of what's been called a “somewhat murky debt." Benda was soon accused of stealing $500,000 and "amending" grant proposals to give Northern Beef Packers more money. AG Jackley has refused to release the autopsy of Mr. Benda ("out of respect for the family"); and in July of 2014, after 9 months of increasing stink, Jackley waved a document in front of news cameras that he claimed were the indictments for Aggravated Theft and Aggravated Grand Theft by Deception that were about to be served on Benda right before he killed himself/was murdered. (Take your pick; we all have.)

Like any good crime fiction writer, I looked at the documents and recognized the simple fact that, without a signature or notarization, these documents could have been typed up at any time, say the weekend before the Monday July news conference, when the crap was piling too deep to ignore any more.  And, as more and more people demanded answers, the SD legislative committee declared in December of 2014 that Richard Benda was solely responsible for the $500,000 embezzlement and probably the loss of millions of dollars (last report, $140 million, but who's counting), but no one knows where that money went, and they were not going to investigate further.  They were especially not going to investigate a man named Joop Bollen, a Dutch foreign national who ran the EB-5 program for Governor Rounds and later set up his own private corporation, SDRC, which took over administration of the EB-5 program.  Mr. Bollen was asked some questions by the SD legislative committee, but was allowed to answer them in writing, and never had to appear.  He has never been charged with anything.  Anything at all...

But wait, there's more!  I've been on vacation, and while I was gone, the Feds, yes, the Feds! have decided that South Dakota is too corrupt to use EB-5 funds, and we are barred, yes, BARRED, from every getting EB-5 money again.  Plus, they're suing South Dakota:
http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/10/18/feds-say-south-dakota-too-corrupt-to-use-eb-5/
http://www.mitchellrepublic.com/news/state/3863619-feds-aim-kick-sd-out-eb-5-program-state-sues-bollens-records
And, at last, the State of South Dakota is going to sue Mr. Bollen.  Like there's any money left...

Meanwhile, there's a whole new bit of nasty coming out from under the rocks:

2015

Late at night on September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  It wasn't until a few days later that it turned out that all six had been shot to death.  SD Attorney General Marty Jackley declared it a murder/suicide/arson, perpetrated by Scott Westerhuis.  The only question was why.  Now, I'm writing this in early October, and this is only going to get messier.

Scott Westerhuis was the business manager of MCEC, the Mid Central Educational Cooperative, which is, among other things, a hub for distributing federal grand monies to other non-profit organizations.  One of these was South Dakota Gear Up, whose website was taken down after all the employees were fired...  Well, here's the deal, Gear Up received a $4.3 million dollar contract to help get Native American kids into college. On September 16, 2015, Department of Education terminated the contract after an audit declared bad reporting, bad accounting, and general bad books. On September 17, the Westerhuis family tragedy occurred.  On September 25, State Education Secretary Melody Schopp fired every surviving employee of Gear Up, and shut down the Gear Up website.
36705 279th Street, Platte, SD. screen cap from Google Maps, 2015.09.22.
36705 279th Street, Platte, SD.
screen cap from Google Maps,
2015.09.22.

But wait, there's more! The Westerhuis family lived on a $1.3 million rural Platte property that included a 7,600 square foot house, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, weight-lifting area, and computers, and a loft with a meeting room, rooms for guests, and a kitchen.  This was on an official combined MCEC salary of $130,549.82.

But wait, there's more! Scott Westerhuis set up as many as 7 non-profit corporations related to Indian education:




Some are inactive, but Rock Ranch Consulting, which has no easily identifiable online presence, may refer to the Westerhuises’ rock-decorated rural home, torched on September 17. Rock Ranch Consulting was the source of incorporation funds for “American Indian Institute For Innovation and Excellance,” [sic], whose 2014 Form 990 shows $2.7 million in revenue and $3.0 million in expenses, including $1.58 million in salaries and wages, $311K in pension and benefits, and $270K in travel, conferences, and meetings. Apparently very little education of Native Americans actually happened. And there's Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium (OSEC), formed in 2011 and still in good standing, whose 2013 Form 990, completed by Nicole Westerhuis on November 6, 2014, shows $965K in revenue and $935K in expenses. Scott Westerhuis was incorporator of all of these, and his wife Nicole was business manager of at least some of them.
(Thanks to Corey Allen Heidelberger for his incomparable fact-finding on Dakota Free Press: http://dakotafreepress.com/tag/mid-central-educational-cooperative/ )

But wait, there's more! We are just now cracking (again, thanks, Corey!) the list of high-level education professionals who received significant monthly and annual payments ($150,000+ in some cases) for consulting and administration from Gear Up and/or MCEC, and are scrambling to cover their assets, er, what they did and when and why.  My two favorites:

  1. Dr. Joseph Graves, Mitchell, SD School Superintendent, received his money from the MCEC for the Teaching American History federal grant; what makes this especially sweet is that the South Dakota Board of Education has made teaching early American history optional in South Dakota.  
  2. Dr. Rick Melmer, the Dean of Education of the University of South Dakota, who simply couldn't remember nine $1,000 in payments live on South Dakota television:  http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/melmer-answers-questions-about-gear-up-work/?id=185508   You really can't make this stuff up.  (I don't know about you but I've never forgotten a single thousand dollar check I've ever gotten in my life, much less nine of them...)
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard
Governor Dugaard
Now I could go on into a tirade about South Dakota mismanagement of federal grant monies, i.e., the political cronies slurping on the federal gravy train.  (Meanwhile our distinguished Governor Dugaard refuses to expand Medicaid coverage because the feds might not have the money:  note to Gov - if so, it's because your pals have siphoned it all off to build large gyms.) Or I could discuss the shameful use of Native Americans to get grant monies.  I have, I will, and I will again.

I will go off, for a moment, again, on the fact that South Dakota has been ranked #2 for government corruption.  (New Jersey, eat your heart out!)  How can this be? Simple:  South Dakota is a one-party state:  the Governor is Republican, the GOP has a super-majority in the legislature, the districts are gerrymandered so that Republicans consistently keep their super-majority (this is especially farcical when you see the little corridor linking the entire Rosebud Reservation, votes 90% Democratic, to staunch Republican Pennington County, a/k/a Rapid City).  It helps that Pierre, our capital, is one of the few US state capitals which is not on a major interstate - it's literally out in the middle of nowhere - and there is no major news media located there.  This helps ensure that whatever happens in Pierre, stays in Pierre.

Until someone dies.  And the death toll is starting to rise.

Meanwhile, why does hell always break loose in autumn?  

I'll keep you posted.  

04 September 2012

Jersey Fresh


Not being a native of the place one lives in can sometimes offer a fresh perspective.  And even though I have dwelt in the Garden State for over twenty-five years, I do often find the place fascinating.  First of all, let's face it, Jersey takes an awful beating as a result of Snooki and the Gang, corrupt politicians, and the view from the infamous Turnpike of oil refineries, chemical factories, and rubber plants.  To some, these may look unappealing ( and I include Snooki and friends with this).  But there is a whole other New Jersey out there that is largely hidden away from the tourists on their way to NYC.  It is a place in which I often set my stories, and bears little resemblance to Soprano Land: a place of leafy suburbs and rolling farmland; salt marshes and barrier islands; pineland forests and windswept beaches.

The county I live in is called Cape May, and named after a Dutch explorer by the name of Mey who sailed by sometime in 1623.  He was too busy exploring, apparently, to bother landing on this new cape that he had discovered.  Of course, he had only discovered it for the Europeans who were to follow.

Native Americans had fished and hunted the area for thousands of years before Captain Mey bobbed by in his little ship.  The historical tribe was known in their own tongue as Lenape, an Algonquin peoples.  The Whites would call them the Delaware after the river, which was in turn named after Lord de la Warre, who saw to it that the English, and not the Dutch or Swedish, would dominate this part of New Jersey.  The poor Dutch got stuck with Soprano Land and NYC; the Swedes just went home.

The first European settlers to the area came mostly from New England, Virginia, and Long Island, and they came for the whaling.  In those early days, whales often traveled along the Atlantic coast side of what would become Cape May County, and even into the vast Delaware Bay that washes the western half of the peninsula.  The locals would simply row out to harpoon the great beasts and tow them back to shore.  Even back then, with only a sparse population of whalers, it didn't take long to deplete the animals and virtually kill the industry.  The English turned to farming and fishing, and for the next several centuries this was what they did.
Pirates frequented the region as Jonathan Dickinson wrote in 1717, "We have been perplexed by pirates on our coast and at our Capes, who plundered many of our vessels."  Captain Kidd, that most unfortunate of pirates, spent some time in the area, as did Edward Teach, of "Blackbeard" fame.  Naturally, tales of buried treasure abound.  Most of these are baseless, but try telling that to all the folks with metal detectors walking the beaches… fugedaboutit!  It never made much sense to me that pirates would risk hiding their treasure on land.  After all, sometimes they might be gone for months or even years.  But then it was explained to me that this was mostly done when the boys in pantaloons were planning a visit to a large town, such as New Amsterdam, to replenish their stocks and provisions.  There was always the chance that they might be recognized as pirates and arrested.  The treasure trove on board could be damning.  Hence the lightening of the load prior to docking.

The Jersey Devil legend sprang up in this period as well, and comes out of the haunted pine barrens.  It seems that the dirt-poor and miserable Mrs. Leeds of that neighborhood, upon learning that she was pregnant with her thirteenth child, cursed him; wishing the devil would take him.  Apparently, she had some pull in hell, for her son was born with wings and hooves and flew out the window to begin a reign of terror over that dark and lonely region.  He does so to this day.           

Cape May became a county in 1692, via a charter from the Crown. In those days there was a West and East Jersey--Cape May County being in the west.  There is a cemetery at the county seat, Cape May Court House, that dates to 1766; prior to that people were buried in their back yards, a custom still observed for former business partners in North Jersey.  By the way, nearly everything in the county is named Cape May Something: There is the aforementioned Court House, wherein sits a several hundred year old (you got it) court house, there is also Cape May City, West Cape May, Cape May Point and North Cape May.  There was even once a South Cape May, but the sea claimed it as its own some time ago.  God's judgement, perhaps, on one Cape May too many.  Enough already with the Cape May.

New Jersey became known as the "Cockpit of the Revolution" during the War of Independence because of all the important battles fought on her soil.  Washington slept everywhere, and New Jersey named not one, but several towns, after the father of our nation.  Having a maritime economy, the southern half of the state was affected by the War of 1812.  This region also produced one of our nation's earliest naval heroes in the person of Richard Somers.  This young man was to lead what amounted to a suicide mission against the Barbary pirates in Tripoli.  Sailing directly into their harbor under cover of darkness, he and his crew boarded a captured American vessel and blew it up in spectacular fashion.  Though the resulting explosion and fire damaged and destroyed many of the pirates' ships, it also took the lives of the brave American sailors before they could get away.  Their graves still lie in a small plot in Libya.  His home exists as a museum in Somers Point, the town named for his family.  I have had the privilege of visiting it.

As the northern half of the state embraced the industrial age, the south remained agrarian, not unlike the nation as a whole at that time.  The capitol even boasted the proud motto, "Trenton Makes, The World Takes," in huge letters across a bridge spanning the Delaware River.  It's there to this day.  South Jersey, meanwhile, continued to make the Garden State just that.  Most of the "industries" practiced in the south related to the exploitation of natural resources: cedar mining (the reclamation of prehistoric cedar trees from the fresh water swamps for shingles and ship building), bog iron collection from the streams of the Pine Barrens (this naturally occurring iron tints the water the color of tea), harvesting salt hay from the marshes for both animal feed and lining coffins, the production of glass from the fine sands of the region, etc... Then came the trains.

By the late 1800s, the great population centers of both Philadelphia and New York had discovered what would be forever more known as the Jersey Shore.  Trains made it possible.  The industrial era had given the working man both stable wages and a few days off a year.  He spent both at the shore.  The tourist boom was on and the great shore towns began to spring up--Atlantic City, Asbury Park, Wildwood, Avalon, and yes...Cape May.  Of course, many decided to stay, and the local population took a decidedly Irish and Italian turn.  Catholic parishes began to pop up amongst the Baptist and Methodists.  The small town of Woodbine was founded as a Jewish colony, while the town of Whitesboro became the the county's first predominantly African-American municipality--a by-product of the Underground Railroad, not the one from Philly.

By the mid-1970s tourism was king.  Though farms remained, they had grown smaller and began to adapt to specialized crops in order to survive.  Commercial fishing survived, as well, by both downsizing and growing more efficient.  The waters off New Jersey continue to be one of the greatest producers of scallops and clams along the eastern seaboard and oyster farming is making a comeback in the Delaware Bay.  But the tourist dollar, and vacation real estate, are the mainstays of the current economy--battered by the recession, but still king.  Unemployment here in Cape May County during the off-season (roughly from November to April) can reach 12% or worse.   But you take the good with the bad, and this is the place I happily call home.  My literary characters, Chief Julian Hall and Father Gregory Savartha, both live here, as does a ponderous and troubling little girl named Mariel, who is the subject of my next story in EQMM (Dec. 2012 issue).  The bewildered protagonist of "Tap-Tap", though he meets his fate in Belize, worked for a tourist agency here, while Kieran, the young kleptomaniac of "The Vengeance of Kali," lives just around the corner.  There are many, many more.

So, as you can see, after twenty-five years in a place, you make some friends; form some ties.  And luckily for me, having a fresh perspective, a "Jersey" fresh perspective on my adopted home, made it all possible.

20 May 2012

Heel-Walkers


Dixon's stealth article Silence is Golden reminded me of men I grew up around, the last of the naturally rugged. Many came through WW-II one way or another, and more than a handful didn't much like what they'd seen of man's treatment of man while others were determined to do something about it.

The Right Reverend

One of the latter was Reverend Sommers. This kindly man liked working with boys– a phrase that didn't have the taint it does in today's world of paedophilic hysteria. I think he liked getting out of the house– he raised three brilliant, beautiful daughters, Treva, Trilby, and Aloha, and in a house of four females, he may have felt the need to top off the testosterone tank.

Don't let the 'Reverend' fool you. He never committed the sin of evangelizing nor did he let religion get in the way of doing the right thing. Lloyd Sommers was a retired preacher and professional printer– his hands were permanently stained from printers ink– and collected arcane knowledge and odd acquaintances like other guys collect baseball cards. He co-led Boy Scout troop 222, got involved with myriad community projects, and could cook up a fund-raiser on the smell of an oil-rag.

He loved to talk. I don't remember many of his lectures because I was counting fingers. He had the speakers' habit of emphasizing numbers by holding up fingers… except the digits he held up never matched the numbers in his speech. He would say, "You must remember three things…" and he might hold up two fingers or four, but never three.

What does this have to do with Dixon's article on stealth? I'm getting there.

Those Who Know

One of the great assets of Rev. Sommers was the unusual array of people he knew. Most were men, but a few were women. After we boys finished our mile swim and lifeguard training with a beautiful, deeply tanned woman, Sommers asked us to guess how old she was. Fourteen-year-old boys didn't have a clue, but she seemed an ancient 35 or 40. Nope, the lady was in her mid-70s and could out-swim any of us.

But the men… these were men who lived off the grid long before there was a grid or a name for it. They weren't People Magazine people but Argosy with pages from Popular Mechanics. They weren't antisocial, but they preferred their own company.

Some were expert bow hunters. The State of Indiana had (and may still have) a two-week deer season for bow hunters followed by two more weeks for solid-slug shotgun hunters. Bow hunters were so good– remember this was before the compound bow– that bang hunters lobbied for the seasons to be reversed: they claimed bow hunters thinned the herds before they got their shot.

Borderline and sometimes actual hermits, some of these men would go to ground in winter and emerge in spring looking as if they'd hibernated those few months. Some carved birds indistinguishable from Audubon paintings. A few were self-taught machinists who could build engines from scratch. Others collected 'points' and 'birdstones' meaning arrowheads, spear tips, and a type of sling or throwing stone Indians used to bring down birds.

This might be hard for people to understand, but the interesting part wasn't what they did, but what they knew.

Parental Guidance Suggested

I need to add my father to the list of male influence. At 6'4 and 230 pounds of muscle– he once lifted out a tractor stuck in mud– he was gentle with children. Animals trusted him. Women loved him.

A note about my mother: As World War II ended, rationing was still in effect when my parents married. They were farmers, but they refused to cheat. While their fruits and vegetables came straight from the orchard, most farmers and ranchers felt they didn't deserve better than soldiers or city folk.

My newlywed mother struggled to put meals on the table until she remembered her carbine. From time to time, she supplemented rations with squirrel and rabbit, pheasant and quail. Don't mess with my mother.
He had no patience with cruelty or waste– if you hunted, you ate what you killed.

Although he owned a couple of shotguns, he disdained them. He insisted if you couldn't bring a duck down with a rifle instead of a scatter gun, you shouldn't be hunting. After one 'hunter' from the city proudly offered Dad a brace of rabbits he'd nailed with a 20 gauge, Dad drawled, "Thoughtful of you to strip the meat off." Later he muttered, "Gives a whole new meaning to choke."

You've seen movies and television where the hero sets a tin can or bottle on a fencepost for target practice. Not for Dad. He lined up spent .22 shells on a fence post. "That's your target, son. Don't miss."

He didn't 'collect' guns, but he accumulated a few: Spencer and Marlin and Remington and a couple of octagonal barrel antiques. Between Dad and the mentors provided by Rev. Sommers, we learned to disassemble and reassemble Colts, Springfields, and even an M-1… blindfolded. It's not as hard as it sounds, but they felt 'field-stripping' was important to learn.

I'm woefully ignorant when it comes to modern (semi)automatics and frankly the idea of a Glock without a safety scares me. But one day if I meet up with David, Dixon, or RT, perhaps they might teach me the basics.

Shades of Sherlock

I value a comment from a New Yorker who said "Leigh can talk with anyone, banker or biker, Wall Street, Main Street, or Park Avenue." It goes hand-in-hand with a philosophy I do my best to remember, that everyone in some way is my superior.

Back to these quiet men: One was a 'deer stalker'. Squirrels would descend from trees and climb on his shoulders, poking their noses into pockets of his flannel shirt. He was good with animals, but his true art was silent stalking. Through a fringe of trees, he could slip up on an unsuspecting doe and stroke her back or slap the rump of a surprised buck.
A note about animals: In the country and in the wild, people are often obligated to aid injured animals– a fox, a rabbit, a cow in breech-birth. It's surprising how often animals– even wild animals– will trust a human– perhaps a demi-god to them– especially when they're in great pain. It's possible the story of Androcles and the Lion has a factual basis.

Unlike humans, animals given over to trusting a human almost never scream but simply endure. It's amazing to me.

The Indian Brave

I have distant Algonquin blood, as my parents sometimes reminded me usually when it came to braving pain. Physical pain I can tough out– it's emotional pain that's my weakness. In a hospital or on a roller coaster, I can't stand males who scream.

But we kids tried to learn from the handful of old Indians. They called most of us, me included, 'heel walkers'. They meant we clomped through brush like a marching drill team, clapping heel down first. Dixon's article describes how to 'toe' the ground and then rock the rest of the foot into place. The rule is: quick isn't quiet.

Downwind

I'll add another point to Dixon's article. My sense of smell isn't terrific, but mentors hammered home the point that humans stink. It might be a good scent or a bad stench, but humans emanate body odors like few other animals.

The effect is worse in forest or field, but odor can be a give-away even in an urban setting. A seductive perfume, the manly aftershave, that new 'fresh scent' deodorant can make one's presence known. My ability to smell may be attenuated, but even I can detect cigarette smoke in parts-per-billion.

It's not merely colognes and unwashed bodies. In tense situations, breath turns sour and sweat floods the skin. If terrified, the very frightened may not be able to maintain control over the bladder and bowels. It just happens.

When sexually excited, pheromones change again. How that might be used in a mystery, I don't know, but there you have it.

In the meantime, shhh