I’ll admit it. I went looking for this one. The American Bison evolved with their massive heads and necks so they could plow their way through the prodigious snows of the American Great Plains. You probably know these animals colloquially as “buffalo,” but that is a misnomer. Buffalo are a very different animal.
In 1800, an estimated 50,000,000 bison roamed the Great Plains, but they were hunted for meat, for their skins, to undermine the Native American cultures that traditionally depended on the animals, and often for sport. Within a few decades the population was reduced to less than a thousand animals. Yep, that’s how we roll.
They are magnificent animals–more impressive, I think, than the great predators (Griz, Wolves) that hog the wild west spotlight–and certainly more charismatic.
While we’re all sitting about in our mid-Holiday malaise, drunk on sugar and fat, filled with drink and feasting and friendship and song, it should be mandatory to sober up for a moment or two and give some thought to one of the great, horrific, historical moments of our very checkered American past. On a blistering cold South Dakota day, elements of the American 7th Cavalry, still smarting from Custer’s incompetent, buffoonish debacle years before, and under the command of Col. James W. Forsyth, cornered a small band of Lakota and drove them to a forced encampment at Wounded Knee Creek under escort.
This occurred in the waning days of the “Indian Wars.” The native Bison, or Buffalo, upon which plains Indian culture had relied, had been hunted to the brink of extinction, effectively pushing the native communities to the same precipice. Treaties were made and shattered in the insatiable search for fertile land and gold, ever greater numbers of Indians were being forced onto reservations, which were continually made smaller. White settlers were spooked by the emergence of the “Ghost Dances,” a native spiritual movement which, in short, amounted to the Christian Messiah returning to Earth as a Native American, bringing peace and prosperity to all.
On the morning of Dec 29, while the Union forces undertook efforts to disarm the few natives who still possessed weapons, a medicine man began a Ghost Dance, which put the superstitious soldiers on edge. Then, a scuffle broke out when one of the Lakota, a deaf man named Black Coyote, either resisted surrendering his expensive property or didn’t understand the soldiers’ commands. In the struggle, the rifle discharged.
The soldiers killed everyone. The Lakota who were still armed. The women. The children. The aged. Over 150-and as many as 300 Indians died, with another 50 wounded–many of whom also died of their wounds in the ensuing weeks. They were shot, stabbed, bayoneted. In the midst of the horror, zealous artillerymen turned their cannons on the villages, where many of the women, children, and aged were sheltered in tipis–tents. The government reported 25 soldiers dead and 39 wounded–most of whom fell at the hands of friendly fire from both rifles and the enthusiastic cannon crews.
The military left the Indian dead on the field for three days, where they froze in a blizzard, before hiring civilians to bury them in mass graves on the hillside where the cavalry had placed their cannons.
Colonel Forsyth was temporarily removed from command by his superior officer, who always believed that Forsyth engineered the atrocities purposefully, but the War Department reversed the decision, refused to conduct a court martial proceeding, and Forsyth was promoted. The U. S. Government awarded no less than 2o medals of honor to various soldiers for their part in the massacre.
I’ve been enjoying the current prominence of hipsters–I say prominence in respect to the temptation to write “fad” or “trend” because, unlike a lot of trends, hipsters are not so broadly defined, and much like polygamists and Seattle Seahawks fans they’re always out there, we’re just not used to seeing them in full plumage. I like hipsters because the most fashionable of them wear great hats and the absolute best vintage suits–but mostly I like them for the beards. And, of course, I’m a HIPSTER GOD because I’ve been rocking the whole fuzzy beard thing since, oh, 1986. I’m enjoying the company
I’m not bragging. It’s been lonely. For nearly three decades I’ve lived beneath the tyranny of the baby-faced, listening to peach-faced corporate functionaries drone on about “looking professional” and hearing the sad, fetishisticly fastidious pontificate the virtues of being “clean cut” as if that sort of shorn cleanliness has anything to do with manliness–or if it’s any measure of cleanliness at all. It’s certainly not next to godliness. God had a beard. I’ve seen pictures.
And here’s the thing: simpering suburban worker bees fear the beard, clinging to the notion that “good grooming” is in some way actually “good,” quietly judging–and only the most tremblingly weak may judge, but we judge too. When I look into the eyes of a clean shaven man I assume, until proven differently, that man is not capable of summoning the testosterone necessary to build a better beard. It’s unfair, but I’ve been ask too many times “what are you hiding.” (Answer: my snide sneer.)
Blessedly and quite suddenly, beards are in. Bigtime. Famous actors like Brad Pitt are rocking beards, and professional athletes like Brett Kiesel as well.
Of course, bad-ass rugby guys have been pulling full-bore facial fur for a long time now and nothing says testosterone like a sweaty, mud-covered rugby player.
The list goes on and on. Bearded men are superior. Check out these guys, these bearded bad-ass Pakistani heroes saving the day:
When men shave, they do so in shameful obeisance of an inner force that sings, day and night, of their inadequacy. Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman didn’t bother with razors. Didn’t need to.
Hagrid had a beard. So did GI Joe, Barbarossa, Leonidas, Robin Hood, The Allman Brothers, and all those Old Testament Dudes. Even Jesus had a beard. Jesus and Santa and Mr. Edwards on Little House on the Prairie. Mr Edwards was the only redeeming quality of that steaming pile–him and Nellie Oleson, that bitch.
You want to know who had a beard, you really want me to say it? Paul Bunyan. Paul Bunyan had an awesome beard–not to mention a blue ox.
You know who didn’t have a beard?
Peter Pan. Think about that the next time you’re looking in the mirror. Peter Freaking Pan.
So, you know what, I’ll thrilled as apple pie that so many guys are sliding out from beneath the yoke of middle American homogeneity and daring to live like nature intended. I’m happy to fit in, even if it means sacrificing a little bit of my uniqueness. It’s not so bad, fitting in, when it’s society bending to match me, and I enjoy the company. The brotherhood of beards–we don’t even need a secret handshake. It’s like the turtleneck sweaters I love in the winter–when they come back around, style-wise, I’ll enjoy them while they last, store a few in the attic for the future, and look–for just a few, fleeting moments–like I actually give a shit what someone else (except my wife) thinks.
I love to tell stories with words and images, often with a darkly magical twist. While speculative fiction & dissecting pop culture are my primary passions, I also work with clients & brands by assisting with content creation, editing, marketing & design.