To the editor:
In the opening scene of “The Only Good Indian,” Kevin Willmott’s new film, a Kickapoo couple conceals a young boy in their wagon. Has the Indian underground railroad reached the big screen? No, they were simply hiding their son so he wouldn’t be kidnapped to Haskell for “brain-draining” to eliminate the Indian in him.
The Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Iowa and Sac & Fox helped Haskell runaways make it out of Kansas. Former slave “exoduster” settlements like Harkin and occasional sympathetic Christians also helped runaways.
For those who have seen “Rabbit-Proof Fence” (2002), the story will sound familiar. That account of three Australian aboriginal girls, who escaped a boarding school much like Haskell, is based on true events. They trekked incredibly desolate outback to reach home, where the Aborigine families hid them from trackers.
One difference is that Haskell runaways, at times two and three a month, faced horrific human barriers more comparable to African slaves following the drinking gourd to freedom. They had to pass through a dangerous sea of anti-Indian beneficiaries of ethnic cleansing that had recently sent most northeast Kansas tribes south into Indian Territory. The remaining four Kansas reserves were tiny “islands” where safe haven could be found.
To many Haskell alumni, in every corner of Indian Country, there is a place that represents all those never accounted for. Whether a child was buried there, drowned crossing the Wakarusa, died of exposure elsewhere, or fell into the hands of scoundrels along the way, the wetlands honor their memory.