Battle of the Neches Speech

Good evening, my name is Steve Melendez.  I am of the Paiute tribe and I am the President of the American Indian Genocide Museum in Houston.  It is certainly a pleasure to be here today to pay my respects to those who died here one hundred and sixty five years ago.  I have come here to honor the dead.  And  the best way I know to honor the dead is to tell the truth about the way they died ,  tell the truth about the way they lived and to tell the truth about the ideas that were prevalent at the time when they lived. I wanted to read something from President  Mirabeau Lamar’s  first message to congress , Dec. 21, 1838.  And this was seven months  before this battle took place here.  He spoke of,  “an exterminating war upon their warriors, which will admit of no compromise and have no termination
except in their total extinction or total expulsion.” To give another example of some of the ideas that were prevalent at that time, I would like to read
the thoughts of one of our former Presidents: “The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with  savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman.  The rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him.  American and Indian,  Boer and Zulu,  Cossack and Tartar,  New Zealander and Maori, –in each case the victor, horrible though many of his deeds are, has laid deep the foundations for the future greatness of a mighty people.  The consequences of struggles for territory between civilized nations seem small by comparison.  Looked at from the standpoint of the ages, it is of little moment whether Lorraine is part of Germany or of France,  whether the northern Adriatic cities pay homage to Austrian Kaiser or Italian King;  but it is of incalculable importance that America,  Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red,  black,  and yellow aboriginal owners,  and become the heritage of the dominant world races.That was from the book The Winning of the West Vol. 4 The Indian Wars Page 56 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Many people are amazed to find that all thirteen of the original 13 colonies had scalp bounty laws. For instance,  The Acts and Resolves of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay  Vol. 1  1692-1714 which we have on display  offers a reward of 50 pounds sterling for the scalp of a male or female Indian and 10 pounds sterling for every child under the age of  ten.  Anyone who would like to see this book, it is on display at our booth.

This was the atmosphere and the ideas which were prevalent at that time.

What was it like one hundred and sixty five years ago?  According to this  book, the West Texas Historical Association Year Book  Vol. 37  October, 1961, bounty hunters grew rich selling scalps of Indians to the Mexican Government. Chihuahua’s Fifth Law of may 25, was an example of Mexico’s centuries-old bounty system. Two of these bounty hunters were ex- Texas Rangers. The article entitled “Long” Webster and “The Vile Industry  of  Selling Scalps”  explained that once the bounty hunters had reduced the Indian population  such that the business saw reduced profits, they dressed as Indians and turned on Mexican villages.  Leaving arrows sticking in the sides of animals, they cashed in Mexican scalps while putting the blame on, and causing more hatred toward the Indians.  When the Mexican government caught them doing this, the government put a bounty on the bounty hunter,  Lt. John Joel Glanton,  who once rode in  P.H. Bell’s  Regiment of Mounted
Volunteers.In 1848 they were doing this and that was nine years after the battle here. This was the  atmosphere  and what it was like to be an Indian  in Texas at that time. It wasn’t a happy time.  It was a time of great fear throughout the land that found thirteen tribes huddled together in this area.

The reason that we chose the name genocide for our museum is because the name means, the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.  The most obvious examples of genocide in modern times is when a government orders the extermination of a group of people within its borders.  In 1915 the Turkish government issued an  “Official proclamation” which read:

Our Armenian fellow countrymen,…because …they have…attempted to destroy the peace and security of the Ottoman state,…have to be sent away to places which have been prepared in the interior… and a literal obedience to the following orders, in categorical manner, is accordingly enjoined upon all Ottomans:
1. With the exception of the sick, all Armenians are obliged to leave within five days from the date
of this proclamation…
2. Although they  are free to carry with them on their journey the articles of their movable property
which they desire, they are forbidden to sell their land and their extra effects,  or to leave them here
or there with other people…

This sounds very much like the order the President of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Lamar, gave to chief Bowles here one hundred and sixty five years ago.  In the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association  Vol. 1   July, 1897 to April, 1889 , John H. Reagan , who was present  when the president’s message was delivered to Chief Bowles, gives this eye witness account:

“President Lamar in that communication said to Chief Bowles that he had appointed six among the most respectable citizens of the Republic,  and authorized them to value the unmovable property of the Cherokees,  Which was understood to be their improvements on the land but not the land, and to pay them for these in money… The President also said to them that they could take all their movable property with them and go in peace.  But go they must; peaceably if they would, but forcibly if the must.”

The Chief  asked Mr. Lacy,  the agent delivering the Presidents message,  “if action on the President’s demand could not be postponed until his people could make and gather their crops.  Mr. Lacy informed him that he had no authority or discretion beyond what was said in the communication from the President.”

It is only   fitting that we should honor those who were slain here one hundred and sixty five years ago with the truth that the  only request the Chief made was, “Can the President’s demand be postponed until we gather our crops?”

I think it is ironic that we stand here today at  the site of a destroyed Delaware village.  For it was the Delaware Indians in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania who were given the smallpox blankets back  in 1763.  Many people don’t believe that the Indians were given smallpox blankets but we have found the invoice from Ft. Pitt if you would like to see it , we have a copy  on display over in our booth. It reads, “ …Replace…2 blankets…1 silk handkerchief, 1 linen…taken from people in the hospital to convey the smallpox to the Indians”

Was there genocide in America?  The killing here continued in the surrounding area until July 24th.  A militia force was stationed to the north to cut the Indians off if they fled north but  they never saw battle.  They were not needed.

At some point in history, America has to acknowledge the wrongs that  were done and call them what they were–Genocide.

At  some point in history , America has to acknowledge that the way they confiscated native lands was not right.

At some point in history,  America has to call things like what happened here–they have to call it extermination, which it was.

Now, when Mirabeau Lamar told Chief Bowles that he was going to appoint six reputable men from the Republic to value their land –that happened again recently as history repeats itself.  And that  is what really bothers me, that history keeps on repeating  itself over and over and over again. And  it will keep repeating itself  until the American people say this was wrong and we have to change it.  What we did was wrong and we have to change. Because ten days ago on July the 7th, our President George W. Bush signed into law bill H.R. 884 which arbitrarily confiscated 24 million acres of Western Shoshone Land.
In it’s Final Report to Congress the Indian Claims Commission , which was the vehicle they used to value the land,  describes itself as a commission and not a judicial court.
This commission of arbiters , arbitrarily set the price of Western Shoshone land at 15 cents an acre.
Fifteen cents an acre!  We had the All Star Game in Houston last Tuesday and hot dogs were
selling for five dollars apiece.  At this kind of an exchange rate, the Western Shoshone would have
to sell 33 acres of land just to buy a hot dog.  But history seems to keep repeating itself over and over again.
Only when America acknowledges the wrongs of the past will they admit to the wrongs that are being perpetrated in the present.
Any memorial that is erected here should not be called the Battle of the Neches. We should honor
the dead with the truth, and call it what it was–genocide in the Americas.

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