Colonists and Indians Fight for Mutual Interests on the American Frontier
Since the settling of the English colonies in the early 17th century, pioneers have been destined to expand into the North American frontier and to domesticate it with their Christian faith and progressive nature. In their exploration of the frontier, however, the Puritan colonists often encountered Indians whose savagery challenged their discipline and morals. Just as the colonists expanded, Indians also saw their native lands of many years vanish. The situation naturally compelled the Puritans and the Indians to fight each other for their mutual interests. Thus, while most accounts of Western history focus on the heathen threat, both Indians and colonists experienced the harshness of the captivity myth and its evolution into other mythology that defined American history.
Any discussion of the American culture and its development has to include mythology, because that is where most of the information about early America is found. Mythology is a unique source in that it gives a shared understanding that people have with regard to some aspect of their world. The most important experience for American frontiersmen is the challenge to the “myth of the frontier” that they believed in – “the conception of America as a wide-open land of unlimited opportunity for the strong, ambitious, self-reliant individual to thrust his way to the top.” (Slotkin, 5) In particular, the challenge came from Indians and from the wilderness that they inhabited.
The colonists who first arrived in America came to this land because they saw an opportunity to regenerate their religion and to live according to it without subjugation. The immense size of the land suggested the myth of the frontier, and the progressive nature of the colonists compelled them to conquer it. This ambition is evident in the pioneers in D.W. Griffith’s 1914 “The Battle at Elderbrush Gulch.” In the film, a group of pioneers encounters two Indians who have captured two of the pioneers’ dogs for food. The Indians are shown beforehand dancing and performing pagan, and perhaps Faustian rituals, as they prepare to eat dog meat. Griffith’s portrayal of the Indians suggests their savage, non-Puritan nature, and thus when the pioneer men see two Indians carrying their dogs away, both groups fight and the son of the Indian chief is killed. Confrontations of this type appear throughout the history of the frontier myth, and they ultimately lead to fighting between the pioneering Puritans and the red Indians.
In Griffith’s film, the pioneers have a difficult time fighting the Indians, who ride in on horses and are armed with hatchets and other crude weaponry. That is because the pioneers use slow firing guns to face the large number of Indians, who strike quickly and forcefully. In the midst of the fight, the notion of captivity arises when the baby of a white woman is capture. The woman prays to God that her...