Settlers would rather not talk: Marc Carpenter, ‘Rake Up No Old Stories of Evil’: Memory, Celebration, and Erasure of Settler Violence in the American Pacific Northwest, PhD dissertation, University of Oregon, 2021


Abstract: This dissertation is both a new historical synthesis of pioneer violence within and beyond the wars on Native people in the mid-nineteenth-century American Pacific Northwest, and a new history of how these wars—and broader tides of colonial violence—were remembered, commemorated, and forgotten. Violence against Native people was even more frequent and more accepted across pioneer spaces than has typically been argued—indeed, I contend that most of the wars and associated violence were part of a single broad-based war on Native people across the Northwest. Early generations of regional history writers deliberately distorted the historical record to paint pioneer volunteer soldiers as heroes. But disagreements about which acts were heroic accidentally preserved archives of atrocity, from the mouths and pens of pioneers themselves.I draw on numerous virtually unused archival sources from pioneer perpetrators to make a number of interventions into the history of the pioneer Northwest: reframing wars, uncovering acts of genocide, relating unrecognized instances of lynching and sexual violence, and unmasking murderers along with the people and politicians who supported and joined them, at the time and since. Proving the untruths deliberately propagated by pioneers and their historians weighs on the balance of historical narratives about key events. Stripped of the veneer of deceit added for posterity, pioneer memories often mirror Indigenous histories of the same events—with the differences crafted through the efforts of generations of history writers, who preferred gauzy tales to hard truths. By delving into the work and specific mechanics of erasure and nostalgia, I demonstrate both deliberate intent behind the cover-ups and the failures of those who attempted them. This should not only reshape the history of colonialism and genocide in the Pacific Northwest, but suggest useful methodological and theoretical interventions in the history of American colonialism specifically and settler colonialism broadly. This dissertation affirms the existence of the structures of oppression that support colonial projects, but recognizes the fissures and cracks in those structures that Indigenous activists and their allies were able to use—sometimes in acts of difficult compromise—in their ongoing struggles for life, rights, and sovereignty.

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