Gingrich Plays the “Scalp” Card, the Metaphor that Wouldn’t Die

Have you ever seen a picture of an Indian getting scalped by a settler or soldier? We know it happened a lot. Why don’t we ever see that image or read about it?

That question came to mind reading a story from The Hill, headlined: Gingrich: Somebody probably going to jail over Russia investigation. In the story, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich compared those investigating the Russian ties in the Trump administration to an “Indian hunting party.”

“This is like watching an old-fashioned Western movie. This is an Indian hunting party,” Gingrich said. “They’re out looking for a couple scalps, and they’re not going to go home until they get some.”

It’s a 19th Century metaphor that won’t go away. His career grinding to a halt, I guess former House Speaker Gingrich is trying to stay in the spotlight by being controversial. But what a bizarre image to conjure up. It denigrates Native Americans as savage. It makes the investigators asking tough questions seem savage. It makes high-powered politicians under investigation seem like helpless, brutalized victims.

The use of the “Scalps” metaphor requires a quick Public Service Announcement on the matter. This was not a uniquely Native American practice. In fact, it was the settlers’ free enterprise idea of paying for scalps that accelerated the practice.

According to the History.com website, on Feb. 20, 1725:

… a posse of New Hampshire volunteers comes across a band of encamped Native Americans and takes 10 “scalps” in the first significant appropriation of this Native American practice by European colonists. The posse received a bounty of 100 pounds per scalp from the colonial authorities in Boston. …

In their early wars with Native Americans, European colonists of North America retaliated against hostile native groups by adopting their practice of scalp taking. Bounties were offered for them by colonial authorities, which in turn led to an escalation of intertribal warfare and scalping in North America.

In 1885, Arizona had $250 reward for Native scalps, according to another Indian Country Today story. Minnesota offered rewards for Dakota scalps, following the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862. According to a Minnesota Historical Society website on the war.

On July 4, 1863, in response to raids by Dakota in southern Minnesota, the state’s Adjutant-General, Oscar Malmros, issued a general order for the establishment of a mounted corps of “volunteer scouts” to patrol from Sauk Centre to the northern edge of Sibley County. The scouts provided their own arms, equipment, and provisions, were each paid two dollars a day, and were offered an additional $25 for Dakota scalps. A reward of $75 a scalp was offered to people not in military service; that amount was raised to $200 on September 22. Period newspapers described the taking of many scalps.

And one has to believe there was probably little by bounty payers to confirm whether any given scalp was Dakota, Ojibwe, or any other tribe. Basically it was open season on all Native Americans. Where are those photos?

Returning to Gingrich, if he was trying for a metaphor about how some people were pushing the FBI investigation for personal gain, his quote in The Hill should have read like this:

“This is a settler hunting party,” Gingrich said. “They’re out looking for a couple scalps, and they’re not going to go home until they get some.”

(See also the Indian Country Today story: Newt Gingrich Says FBI Investigation Into Possible Russian Meddling is Like ‘Indian Hunting Party … Out Looking For Scalps’.)

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