In 1845 John Louis O’ Sullivan in his essay Annexation advocated it was Divine Providence for the United States to embrace its “manifest destiny” to spread the American system across the continent. Little did Mr. Sullivan realize that his “manifest destiny” would become the manifesto of an expanding nation and would place it in direct conflict with the Native Americans living in the vast majesty of the American continent.
What would follow in the decades to come would see the senseless slaughter of the mighty bison herds of the plains. It was the bison which had a symbiotic relationship with the Native Americans and the land. The two existed to nourish each other as the Great Spirit had decreed so long ago.
In addition to train cars of sport hunters and buffalo hunters, the cavalry would become the instrument of manifest destiny. Treaty after treaty were signed and broken by the white expansion.
The Native Americans suffered and died like their friends the buffalo, their brother of the land. It is estimated that a million buffalo were killed per year in the 1870s and 80s. Many were left on the blood soaked fields to rot since the whole purpose of the game hunters were to kill the magnificent animals without regard to the consequences. By 1900 there were fewer than 1000 bison left on the plains.
Many Native Americans, especially the children, must have asked the probing question, “why do our white brothers kill our brother the buffalo for sport? Why are our plains blood-soaked with the life of the innocents?” Tears must have streamed from their eyes at such a spectacle of carnage.
What is sad is that the Native Americans of the plains were decimated as well. Like their brothers they paid the ultimate price for manifest destiny.
Chief Yellow Lark, a Chief of the Lakota Sioux, is credited with the following prayer. Based on what is known of this man of peace he wished most of all for all—both Native Americans and the white man—to live in peace. He wanted his people to enjoy their heritage and to remember what it was to be a true Lakota Sioux.
Chief Yellow Lark saw much death and misery. He saw his way of life taken forcefully from his people.
Perhaps his hope was that in the life to come he and his people once again would be allowed to roam the celestial hunting grounds where their brother the buffalo would once again be their companion. Here’s the prayer:
Oh, Great Spirit,
Whose voice I hear in the winds
Whose breath gives life to the world, hear me
I come to you as one of your many children
I am small and weak
I need your strength and wisdom
May I walk in beauty
Make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made
And my ears sharp to your voice.
Make me wise so that I may know the things you have taught your children.
The lessons you have written in every leaf and rock
Make me strong!
Not to be superior to my brothers, but to fight my greatest enemy….myself
Make me ever ready to come to you with straight eyes,
So that when life fades as the fading sunset,
May my spirit come to you without shame.
Translated by Chief Yellow Lark – 1887
It is a good prayer for all people. As we close our eyes in the sleep of dreamless death or fade like the sunset, we all will rejoin the comic ocean where the color of one’s skin, one’s culture, one’s religion will all be part of a greater reality than the limited reality of life on this planet traversing the cosmos.
G. D. Williams © 2012
Chief Yellow Lark
John L. O’Sullivan
The Near Annihilation of America’s Buffalo in Pictures
The Bison Massacre