Monday, August 2, 2010


Crawford "Cherokee Bill" Goldsby

Crawford Goldsby, known as Cherokee Bill, was more deeply associated with the conflict of identity, rage, communal outrage against white Americans, and the American way than a lesser outlaw like Billy the Kid. And in possession of sexual powers that escaped Billy the Kid Cherokee Bill was more deadly, more of a threat to Americans and white outlaws because he could lure white women into a dark Indian-Negro’s bed easily. There was something pitiful, and weak within the face, and carriage of Billy the Kid, and without the rawness of being Indian, and African, and an outlaw Billy the Kid's toughness came from a desperate poverty traced by a sense of being better than any nigger or injun. Billy the Kid lacked the good looks, and sex appeal of Cherokee Bill, and his personal power came more from without than within. Billy the Kid's support came from one world, one group of people who felt themselves better than and greater than anyone else in the world. They believed in their right to take from anyone not like them. That stance pitted them against every group of people they brought into their world to do their bidding. It could only be a fearful place to be constantly expecting a just retribution from other races.

In contrast Cherokee Bill came from two peoples feared the most by Americans. There is no need to say white America in the 1800's because they were the only Americans in the world. No one else could be one. Belonging to the two groups that enriched the Americans Cherokee Bill held the American's deepest fears in his eyes, his actions, and his body moved against the politeness of diplomacy and the crude etiquette around treaty signing. Cherokee Bill found ease in the power of his killings and his way of life. He was comforted by his ability to win the hearts of women, the respect and fear of men, and the ability to move in and out of Indian country, and into the white and Negro worlds when it served him best. If he was moving as an Indian at war with Americans he was a warrior, and not an outlaw. He became an outlaw because of the American's fear of him and the uprising within the hearts of young Indians, and Black Indians who embodied their parents, and grandparent’s deep emotions about losing their land, way of life, personal power, and medicine to the Americans.

How many elders sweated in purification lodges with Cherokee Bill? How many quests did he participate in that gave him his vision? Who were his medicine animals? What were his mother's words to him throughout his life? Did his father hold deep anger that feed his son? Was his life the words of his people? What did he see the Americans do to his people? Did the stories of times before the whites lay within his bones as voice? Was he avenging? Counting coup? Giving his people courage in the dreams they held? I am a Keeper of Stories. Was Cherokee Bill a Keeper of Stories that held them different than I was instructed to hold stories? I was taught to hold stories for sacred places. Cherokee Bill held them for war to fight for a defeated people? I don't know because the Americans told his story.

Cherokee Bill was one of the roughest, toughest, meanest outlaws of the Old West. Authors Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones wrote, what I thought, was an honest book called "The Adventures of the Negro Cowboys". I have read it many times. Its authenticity rings true connecting the reader to the dynamics, and 'truths' of the time that give insight into the feelings, and life of the late 1800's for dark people moving within the West and against the wounded Southern traditions, and positioning themselves for or against the conquest of Indian nations. When Cherokee Bill stood before the hangman, and spoke as if he had sung his death song I strain trying to hear that song in the wind. I can see his long beautiful hair blowing free in the breezes. I try to capture the sound of his voice when hanging Judge Parker asked Cherokee Bill if he had anything to say to the crowd, and Cherokee Bill said, "No. I came here to die — not make a speech."

©Gregory E. Woods, 2010
Keeper of Stories

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