In I Used to Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz, I was reading a chapter called “Santa Fe: Angels We Have Heard on High,” wherein Babitz recommended Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn, as “the greatest book of American history ever attempted.” Because she is always right, I read that, too. To my surprise, Evan S. Connell, the author, quoted DeCost Smith six times, prompting me to re-read Smith’s Red Indian Experiences. Smith grew up on West Lake Street, and like his father, Reuel Smith, who spent time living with natives in Chile, he was drawn to the wilderness, in his case, the American West. With his brother, Leslie, he traveled widely and, being an artist as well as a writer, he drew and painted many of the native Americans he met and came to know.
Things can strike one differently at different times, and on this reading a quote jumped out at me as being especially timely. In a chapter called “Lone-Hand Warfare,” Smith wrote:
“As far back as a hundred years ago our government was vainly trying to guard a line a thousand miles long to prevent unauthorized whites from entering Indian lands. Naturally the effort was futile. Trappers, hunters, traders, adventurers, and fugitives from justice evaded the regulations, and once beyond the frontier were a law unto themselves, for there was no one to restrain or protect, and some needed restraint far more than protection. In this great land of freedom every man’s right to do as he pleased was limited only by the equally valid right of others to do the same.”