My book group chose to read Isabella Bird’s

A Lady's Life In The Rocky Mountains

A Lady’s life in the Rockies.

Born in 1831, Isabella, daughter of an English clergyman took a solo trip from San Francisco to the Rocky Mountains. It’s likely that the producers of The English used this book. Many characters in the TV series have a strong resemblance to people Isabella met on her travels.

Isabella was courageous, intrepid and her descriptions of the grandeur of the landscape are vivid. She exhibits empathy with the struggle for survival of the settlers- so what’s not to like? She shows compassion to Mountain Jim, a desperado with a history of violence much of which was inflicted on Native Americans. Bird doesn’t go into details but she writes ,

The Americans will never solve the Indian problem till the Indian is extinct.  It reminds me of Hannah Arendt’s The Banality of Evil.

Many decent Germans who lived ‘civilised’ lives didn’t challenge the idea of the superiority of the Arian race and the inferiority of the Jews which led to the Holocaust. Similarly, Bird’s descriptions of American Indians are all negative. The English shows what the likes of Mountain Jim did to the Indians. There is no escaping the desire for the brutality and the desire for extinction of the Indians (P143).  Why? Their culture was not ‘civilised’ ‘like ours so they are ‘savages’.

There’s a contradiction in her values because she had a passionate love of nature and was dismayed at some of the destruction caused by mining – yet she despised  the Indians who  lived with nature. Their way of life depended on the millions of buffalo who roamed the Plains . What did the NEW Americans do? They exterminated the buffalo and most of the Indians too. What is the difference between that and  Hitler’s Final Solution?

Bird talks of Thanksgiving. It is  hypercritical. The Indians were initially friendly and helpful to the early settlers and without their help most would not have survived, hence Thanksgiving. Their help was repaid with The Trail of Tears  – the forcible removal of Indians from their lands. But the Indians were uncivilised –scalping white people in revenge? White Americans initiated the practice. Hunters were paid a bounty for every dead Indian. They couldn’t bring back bodies so they brought back scalps as proof.

The discrimination did not go away for the few surviving tribes. The autumn will see the release of a much needed film.

Killers of the Flower Moon  – a film by Martin Scorsese with the blessing of the Osage Indian community.  (In the 1920s, members of the Osage Native American tribe of Osage County, Oklahoma, are murdered after oil is found on their land, and the FBI decides to investigate.)