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Can't Churchill get anything right?
Does he even try?

by Jim Paine

Ward Churchill's whirlwind tour of Berkeley and San Francisco has yielded yet another example of his fine scholarship: using some old teeth in a local bar as an example of why Americans deserve to die. There may exist a valid argument that Americans do deserve to die, but Churchill seems unable to supply one.

During his various speeches to anarchists and "Ethnic Studies" students, Churchill related how some of his students had told him of a grisly display in a local bar in San Francisco's financial district:

"There's a handful of human teeth laying there with a placard that explains the significance of the fact that they're in the case. And it says these are the teeth of Custer's squaw--okay? after he knocked them out of her head. Now I don't know whether these are Mo-nah-se-tah's teeth or not, but the reality of the story, of that great American hero, that symbol of the taming of the West, took a young woman, who was the daughter of Black Kettle, a peace leader of the Cheyenne, after they were massacred--that camp was massacred on the Washita river in November 1868--and he kept her as a concubine for several years, until he tired of her and cast her aside. He had children with her, so you've got Custer descendents who were Cheyenne. I didn't know he had knocked her teeth out, I don't know--as I said--whether these are in fact, are. But assuming that he did, that was part of the discipline to keep her in sexual servitude--that noble figure of a man. And they are now a trophy for the edification for the yuppie elite in downtown San Francisco--and I gotta ask you--think about it for a second--What kind of a twisted fucking mentality would turn this into a trophy that you could be proud of and hand down as heirloom from generation to generation in your family? That's the owner of the bar. [applause]. But more to the point, what kind of mentality imbues the people who habituate the bar that turned it into a place where they socialize and have recreation finally find this to be an acceptable kind of adornment to their environment? And I've got an answer for you, and that answer is: Eichmann! Eichmann! that is the mentality of Eichmann!" (audio clip here; the quote begins at 19:43)

Creepy, yes. Gruesome, yes. And it effectively demonstrates why these "yuppie elite" deserve punishment. There's really little else to be said. Except that this story, which Churchill finds so useful in stirring up so much disgust and anger at his usual targets, has one little flaw. It never happened.

Briefly, the facts: Mo-nah-se-tah, the teenaged daughter--not of Black Kettle, as Churchill claims (he's always had difficulty with Indian lineage)--but of Chief Little Rock (who was also killed in the Battle of the Washita, during which Mo-nah-se-tah was among those taken captive), was--in Custer's own words--"an exceedingly comely squaw, possessing a bright, cheery face, a countenance beaming with intelligence, and a disposition more inclined to be merry than one usually finds among the Indians." That Custer found the woman attractive is not in doubt. But did Mo-nah-se-tah perform duties for Custer beyond those of interpreter? Custer's accusers are immediately suspect. They include only "the notorious Custer critic Capt. Frederick W. Benteen; Ben Clark, who blamed Custer for his dismissal as an Army scout; and Cheyenne oral tradition [The Custer Companion by Thom Hatch, Stackpole Books]." This oral tradition holds that Mo-nah-se-tah bore Custer a child in the fall of 1869, although it seems unlikely, since she was seven months pregnant at the Battle of the Washita and bore an Indian child in January of 1869. Additionally, the Cheyenne oral tradition is itself contradicted by other Cheyenne oral tradition. In agreement with the nonsensical nature of the allegations are most historians and Western scholars, including Frost, Monaghan, Connell, Ambrose, and Wert (as noted in The Custer Companion, which also points out that Custer was believed to have been sterile---which Wert's The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer attributes to a case of gonorrhea Custer contracted while at West Point---his marriage to Libby Custer was childless.)

So it seems unlikely that Mo-nah-se-tah was Custer's "sex-slave" or bore him children, and it follows that it's also unlikely that he knocked out that handful of teeth as "discipline to keep her in sexual servitude." Additionally, the placard accompanying the teeth says that the teeth are "[w]isdom teeth of Custer's live-in squaw extracted by Maj. Henry Blodgett, Field Surgeon 7th Cavalry (without anesthesia)." [emphasis mine] There does appear to be an eye-tooth (actually two, see next paragraph) among the wisdom teeth, which the placard says "was knocked out of her mouth in a jealous pique by the 'General' for slipping into the tent of the handsome Lt. James Sturgis on a frosty 'Kansas morn.'"

On top of that, Mo-nah-se-tah seems remarkably well-endowed dentally, since there are seven teeth in the display: the one eye-tooth ostensibly "knocked out of her head"; another five of which appear to be wisdom teeth; and a seventh that appears to be a second eye-tooth, its purpose or method of extraction undisclosed. This is certainly "a handful of teeth" but the probability they all came from the same mouth is extremely unlikely. It may well be a scam; as my sometimes-collaborator zombie, who photographed the display, notes: "And as for the teeth themselves -- why in the world would they have been saved? And what evidence is there that the story is true at all? I tend to believe that the entire exhibit is a hoax, perhaps concocted long ago -- a handful of random old teeth and a caption describing them that would have seemed racy when displayed in a frontier tavern or a traveling show."

What does all this prove? It certainly does not prove one way or the other whether Custer was sexually involved with Mo-nah-se-tah (the subject of at least four books), or even whether her over-ample supply of wisdom teeth were "knocked from her head" by Custer.

What it does prove, however, is that--in the service of his great battle against the Evil Empire that is the U.S. and to perfect his demonification of the "yuppie elite"--Churchill uses a factually incorrect argument based on suspect history supporting an improbable display. It's not important to Churchill to apprise himself of the authenticity of the display; he doesn't bother to count the teeth or even to note for his gullible audience that the foundation for his argument may be untrue. His scholarship is so flawed he can't even get  Mo-nah-se-tah's parentage correct--perhaps forgivable in a general public speaker but not in a "recognized Native American scholar".

Is this the reasoned discourse of a respected college professor? Or is it the rhetoric of a shameless fraud and huckster?

 

 

[my thanks to zombie, who has proven to be a steadfast and reliable researcher into the many quirks of academia's most useful idiot.]