The Lampwick Letters : Number One
Dear Mr Amplegirth,
Thank you for sending me a copy of your essay about the Native Americans and their interactions with newcomers over the years. I accept your name for the people in question. They have at times been given various other titles but as far as I know, the one you use is now considered politically correct and I have no wish to risk getting my head in my hands by contesting this point.
In your covering letter you ask me let you have my opinion of the work and to confine my observations to its substance and to refrain from commenting on your style. That is just as well, as if you had given me a fuller remit, I would have had the odd bone to pick with you regarding certain aspects of your presentation, particularly the fact that you seem to have declared war on pronouns.
I am flattered that you have requested me to offer a critique, as I am by no means an expert in your subject matter. It is true that I have some modest reputation as an observer of the literary world, but my knowledge of your theme is no greater than that of the average passably well-formed lay person. However, I will try to do justice to the confidence you evidently have in me. You say that you intend to submit your dissertation to the writing forum of which you are a member and that you hope to receive an award for the best historical article offered this year.
Let me start by saying that I am somewhat at sea with your description of the contacts between the early voyagers from England and the folk they met. You refer to what were once called The Five Civilised Tribes. I do not like this term, as civilisation is in my view sometimes a subjective matter. Be that as it may, the point that causes me most concern is the names you give to those groups and others you refer to later in your paper.
Your note states that you employed a reputable man to do virtually all the research involved in the project, that you paid him a substantial fee for this, and that you are indebted to him for the portrayal of the various indigenous peoples identified in the text and for details of most of the incidents described. When you get to the end of this reply, you may wonder how well your money was spent.
You speak of the abovementioned five tribes as Cherripikkas, Chickpees, Sagoes, Tapiocas and Semolinas. Perhaps my education in this area has been neglected, but I have never heard of any such folks. Later in the manuscript you refer to other tribes, the names of which are new to me. It is a pity that you do not always state where they lived. I would love to know the locations of the Comandas, who you say were superb equestrians, and of the Peccadilloes and Companeros. Then you mention the Bluefeet. This is the first time I have seen any reference to them. You say they inhabited the far north and went barefoot, so possibly those two factors account for their name.
The section devoted to the Lewis and Clark expedition is replete with details about people the explorers allegedly met during their journey. I will not deal with all of the occurrences you relate, but I am bound to wonder exactly where Messrs L & C came across the Mandolins, another group of which I had not previously heard. A further surprise to me is your allusion the voyagers having met many Iraqis. I suspect you mean Iroquois. They inhabited a region far to the northeast of that covered during the famous journey, so I doubt that the encounters you report really occurred.
In a later passage you recount the supposed meeting between the two renowned men and a hunting party of Sombrero Apaches. I am very dubious about this. It is well known that there were several sub-groups of Apaches – from memory I think at least six of them – but I feel sure that Sombreros were not included. In any case, as far as I know, the Apaches did not normally roam around the area covered by Lewis and Clark. By the way, I recall that the young woman who was so helpful to them was known as Sacagawea, whereas you give her name as Titicaca, which is a lake in South America. I also point out in passing that the lady was a Shoshone, not a Shoeshiner.
I find your account of matters in the Southwest most intriguing, in particular the part in which you narrate the long pursuit of the Apache leader Gerontius by the men under the command of General Nathan Millpond. Here I did a little digging to satisfy myself. Nowhere could I find any allusion to the officer you describe as a brilliant strategist and master tactician. As for his quarry, please note that the only Gerontius I know of was a Roman fellow who died sixteen centuries ago. He was for a time Commander-in-Chief of a large army, so I imagine he would have given your military man a run for his money, had the two ever been adversaries.
If I may paraphrase a snippet from the old Native American lexicon, you seem to have chosen an unhappy hunting ground for your treatise. (Perhaps that remark is neither witty nor apposite, but the temptation to put it in is irresistible.) I could go on but hope I have said enough to persuade you that a further discussion with your informant might be helpful, especially if you feel you can wring a refund from him for what seems to me a highly questionable effort. I would further suggest that as your piece, though refreshingly original, appears to have no factual basis, you may wish to consider submitting it to the fiction category of your forum.
Norman Lampwick, D.Litt.
* * *