Dragon Teeth: Part 8

Here we meet the final member of Edward Cope’s party. A Shoshone man named Little Wind. Now, full disclosure, I am not terribly familiar with the Shoshone culture. I’m not sure how stereotypical or offensive this portrayal may be, I’m just reporting what I see in the book.

Cope hired Little Wind to act as their guides in the badlands. He didn’t get his money’s worth. He nearly immediately gets the party lost. This foreshadows some issues that Johnson is going to encounter later. I won’t spoil their later adventures, but I will say one thing: if you get lost, you can end up dead.

As the company presses on, they get ambushed. At first they thing that they wandered into the crossfire of the ongoing war. That isn’t the case, but they still encounter some of the soldiers that had been fighting. Unfortunately, they were the people that had been firing at them. Copes tries to be diplomatic and calm them down, but the soldiers merely provoke his temper.

I don’t know if Cope was meant to be more…agreeable than Marsh? More scrupulous? I don’t know. They’re both just…bad in their own ways. It makes me wonder if Crichton had some kind of bad experience with a paleontology professor or some sort of dinosaur enthusiast at some point in his life. Between these professors and John Hammond, I sense a bit of a pattern. But I digress. Marsh is dishonest and paranoid. Cope is reckless and violent.

But anyway, while Cope argued with one of the soldiers, they begin firing once again. Only Toad was injured with a flesh wound in the hand. There’s some damage to their supplies, but considering the possible consequences of multiple people firing guns in your direction, they got away pretty cleanly.

Now, that night something happens that once again makes me question how much Cope thinks things through. The students decide to lay down for the night under the shelter of their wagon. Also in the path of a herd of bison. Cope doesn’t seem to take much notice until the stampede is starting. The students don’t immediately notice, thinking that it’s the thunder from the rainstorm that’s going on. I’m not sure why Cope didn’t decide to keep pressing on until they were somewhere safer, it just seems irresponsible.

While they’re heading out, Little Wind finds evidence of another expedition. The only possible explanation is that they’re getting close to Marsh’s party. They don’t encounter Marsh quite yet, but they do end up setting up camp close to a small native american camp. Marsh doesn’t see the problem with setting up camp as planned. He doesn’t see the possibility of exacerbating hostilities that exist from the ongoing war. This is completely in character, but nonetheless frustrating. Isaac tries to communicate with a small group of them who come to investigate Cope’s expedition. Surprisingly, Isaac speaks some “Indian language.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to get that not all of the Native Americans speak the same language. Isaac speaks Mandan, which is the language that the Sioux speak. Unfortunately, he was speaking to a group of Crow. So, Cope has to go clear things up before they’re attacked.

There’s an interesting note about the effects of the conflicts on the Native American way of life. The traditions that people think are ancient really aren’t. As white american settlers moved onto their land, many native american tribes were divided up, some settled people became nomadic and the sort. It’s tragic and fascinating, and something that’s worth some research if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Still, Cope’s interaction with the Crow is really interesting. He’s respectful and patient. Johnson says that the Crow that they meet are fascinated with parts of the expedition’s way of doing things that he finds odd. But really, when you’re among unfamiliar people, something that they take for granted would be completely novel to you. I know that in my experiences in other countries, that’s something that I’ve done. I spent a bit of time in Germany, and as an American there were some small things that were everyday to them, but were new to me. For example…I loved riding the U-Bahn. It was just something really fun and new, as someone that has never lived in a place with anything like that. Reading Johnson’s description of the Crow watching Cope clean his false teeth reminded me of those sort of experiences of mine. The western genre is not always kind to Native Americans, and while I don’t really have the firsthand knowledge to speak with much authority, I can at least say that this isn’t the worst portrayal I’ve ever seen.

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