Monday, August 07, 2006

Little Chief – part 3

Little Chief - part 1
Little Chief - part 2

by Tom Gaylord

One day while we were alone in the shop, I asked my grandmother about the Indians of Ohio. She always seemed to know a lot of history, and could tell you things that weren't to be found in any book. Well, this day, she told me something that I haven't told another soul in all my life! She told me I was part Indian!

That's right. I am one-sixteenth Indian. Here's how it happened. My grandmother was half French-Canadian by birth. Her grandmother had been pure Indian and her grandfather had been a French fur trapper, before Canada was even a country. That made my grandmother one-fourth Indian, which made my mother one-eighth and me one-sixteenth American Indian. I was thrilled at the thought.

My grandmother told me about the Algonquin tribe, which was a strange tribe of people, some of whom had blond hair and blue eyes. They mostly died off in the later 1700s from smallpox brought in by the European immigrants—especially the French, who intermarried with them. By 1920, there were no more pure-blooded Algonquins left, and it was rare to even find someone who had their blood. I wanted to know more, so she arranged a trip for us to Ohio State University. I got to see the museum where a large number of artifacts were stored.

A man in the museum told me a lot about the Algonquin tribe, and we found out later that he wrote books on the subject, but of course he didn't mention that to us. He wanted to know why a six-year-old boy was so interested in a lost tribe, but I had been sworn to secrecy by my grandmother, so I couldn't tell him the real reason. She had explained to me that other people viewed Indians differently than I did and that it wasn't a good idea to tell people that I was part Indian for fear of what people might think.

As a result, I carried the secret all my life, never telling anyone who and what I really was. When I entered the Marine Corps in World War II, I discovered that grandma had been right—people really did care about such things and they could make life very difficult for those who carried Indian blood in their veins. I met and even became friends with a full-blooded Pima Indian in the Corps. He had very few friends in the unit and was razzed constantly about being an Indian. He even looked like one. In contrast to my blond hair and fair skin, his was dark brown and stretched tight over his high cheekbones.


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