The only good Indian is a dead Indian

Thoughts lead to words. Words lead to action.

In 1868, James Cavanaugh represented the Territory of Montana as a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. He testified to the House, “I like an Indian better dead than living. I have never in my life seen a good Indian – and I have seen thousands – except when I have seen a dead Indian.”

Comanche Indian braves

In the meantime, General Phillip Sheridan was tasked with ‘pacifying’ the Indians between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, a job he performed with ruthless, genocidal efficiency. In an apocryphal conversation in which Comanche Chief Tosawa told Sheridan he was a “good Indian,” Sheridan supposedly replied “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” The people who study these things think Cavanaugh’s testimony was shortened and mis-attributed to General Sheridan.

After editor Richard Nye wrote the “only good cyclist is a dead cyclist in a humor piece for the September edition of his lifestyle magazine, he expresses surprise at the swift backlash from cyclists. He tweeted: “I am astonished at the reaction to my blog, which had nothing to do with cyclists being killed. I would never joke about such a thing. People have misunderstood my use of phrase.

He explained himself a little further to the Times:

It is just a phrase, like people who said during the Cold War that ‘the only good Russian is a dead one’. It’s a standard English phrase. It doesn’t actually mean you want to see that person dead. I absolutely don’t wish cyclists any ill.

When my late grandmother said “the only good Russian is a dead one” during the aftermath of World War 2, she absolutely meant it. I could see the murder and warfare in her heart the few times she talked about the Soviets. I imagine Montana delegate Cavanaugh had genocide in mind when he uttered his infamous quip before it became “a standard English phrase.”

One wonders if Richard Nye might laugh off a quip about “the only good journalist is a dead journalist,” given the problem of violence against journalists around the world.

Thoughts lead to words, and words lead to action. People speak out of what’s in their hearts. If you have good things in mind, you’ll speak good things. If you have murder in mind, you’ll speak murder.

I invite Mr Nye to visit Sturgis, South Dakota next August during the first full week of the month. Maybe he can stop in at an Indian reservation on the way and tell the crowd “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” and see how much they laugh about his joke. After that, he can drop in at any place in Sturgis and tell the assembled leather clad bearded men and women “The only good biker is a dead biker.” Ha ha ha.

Leave a Reply