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This article ran in The Textbook Letter for September-October 1997.
It accompanied reviews of McDougal Littell's middle-school textbook
America's Past and Promise.

Crucify Her!

William J. Bennetta

In 1851, while trying to cross the Arizona desert, a family named Oatman was attacked by Apaches. The Apaches killed the adult Oatmans but took two young girls alive, for use as slaves. Eventually they sold the girls, Mary Ann and Olive, to some Mojaves. Mary Ann died soon thereafter, but Olive survived her ordeal and later wrote a memoir of her time in slavery. Thanks to her, we have a first-hand account of how the Mojaves crucified a slavewoman who had tried to run away.

The slavewoman, a Cocopah called Nowereha, succeeded in escaping from her Mojave owners, but after a few days she was captured and was returned to them. On the next morning, the Mojaves built a wooden cross and fixed Nowereha to it by driving wooden spikes through her hands and ankles. Then they summoned their other slaves, Olive Oatman among them, to watch as they tortured Nowereha with arrows until she died.

An excerpt from Olive Oatman's account of that crucifixion appears in Daughters of the Earth: The Lives and Legends of American Indian Women, an engaging little book, written by Carolyn Niethammer, that was issued in 1977 by the Collier Books division of Macmillan Publishing Company. Daughters of the Earth is a first-rate resource for history teachers, because it provides a wealth of material to contravene the fake descriptions of Indians that appear in today's American-history texts.

While meretricious schoolbooks portray Indian societies as hotbeds of enlightenment, wisdom, goodness, democracy, egalitarianism, feminism, and reverential attitudes toward women, Daughters of the Earth gives the lie to all of that. Please read, for example, Niethammer's passages about slavery among the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. Read about what happened to women who were captured by, say, the Iroquois or the Caddos or the Yavapais. Read about Indian concepts of witchcraft and about the techniques that Tlingits or Zunis or Navajos used for extracting confessions from women who were thought to be witches. Read about the ignorance, the superstitions and the absurd magic that, in various Indian societies, surrounded mating and childbirth. And please tell your students about what you have learned. Students need to know some truth about the primitive indigenes of North America, and they need to know that the representations of Amerindians in current schoolbooks are phony through and through.


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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