If Gutenberg had been born a Shawnee

Imagine Johannes Gutenberg born in the New World not in Germany. He could have been an Aztec or even a Mohawk. It could have been just a burp on someone’s long ago lifeline. His life’s ambition, the development of the printing press, would have seen fruition high in the Andes, the dark timber of the North or on one of the island cities of Montezuma’s Mexico.

He might have wandered the streets of Cusco, Peru instead of Mainz, Germany and began to experiment with a movable type printing press from populous Mississippi cities like Tanico or Coligoa in 1439. First it would be Johannes’ printing press then The Renaissance and The Age of Enlightenment in the New World?

Gutenberg could have easily picked up beer money by printing wedding invitations for the Lakota betrothed or produced those Mayan Calendars that everyone was talking about a few years ago. He could have even perfected the dirty Navajo postcard and introduced the classified ad phenomenon to the Nez Perce. It would be far more lucrative than printing Indulgences for the corrupt Catholic Church.

Then would surely come the newspaper to this vast, diverse mass of two mysterious continents. There would be the will and the way. People would read all about it from smoky newsrooms in Alaska to hectic copy desks in Tierra del Fuego. A distinct, if not proficient journalistic tradition could well have been in place by 1492 with tribal newspapers flourishing at least in the more populous regions.

Newspaper Rock in Utah

The news stories of the day might well have been digested in papers like the Passamaquoddy Post of the deeply forested Maritimes or the Arhuaco Herald of the snowcapped Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It would take some elbow grease along with a bizarre system of abode clay, chisels, medicinal plants, tree bark, animal horns, sacred water and finally a facsimile of paper, fashioned from the booty of two Chinese tuna boats that crashed on the coast near Salinas, Ecuador in 1440.

But the presentation of the news would be quite primitive at first like some “editorial scratched out on a wall in the plaza of Cajamarca” inland from where Pizarro and his third expedition first came ashore in 1530.

There had been runner headlines throughout the Caribbean when Colombo sighted landed in the Bahamas in 1492 but they had never in print until many years later when it was far too late. By the time someone had translated this tragic story from Carib to Quechua, the Potosi Mine was already in full operation, sending thousands of forced laborers to their deaths and shipping tons of silver back to Spain.


This terrifying editorial from The Machupe (Chile) Peeper warned: “There has been much hubbub about bearded gods riding monsters covered in steel. These are not gods. Not the gods from the East that we seek and that seek us, their people. They are the dark angels of the underworld, animal residue, the helmet and steel, the unclean that must be destroyed. Slaughter them on the beaches my brothers and sisters or suffer the fate of the damned. Let the sands of eternity take them back from whence they came.”

Pretty strong stuff, but mostly ignored even when picked up by the Inca Wire Service. A civil war was brewing again. Inca Number One near Cusco and Inca Number Two in Vilcabamba were far more concerned with fratricide than a bunch of hairy little devils in armor over on the coast.

Language difficulties prohibited clarity when messages arrived to the north and east urging people to stand and fight. Ego as well as distrust and ignorant beliefs in pagan gods didn’t help matters much but it did sell a lot of papers down the road.

Guttenberg could have even printed a bible revered by all of The Nations. Some historians believe he and his cohorts were responsible for the best-selling “101 Edible Roots and Berries of the Hudson River Valley” (1483), “Blueprint For the Solar Tipi” (1486) and the hard-nosed, though distressing self-help anthology “How I Stopped Hating White People” (1491) that was banned in German trenches during World War I and on US military installations in the 1960s.

If the popularity of the newspaper was any indication the peoples of the Americas wanted to know what was happening around them even if it was mashed, disguised and stepped on by countless editors from the cataclysmic corners of a society about to be overrun. We now ponderously enter the Golden Age of New World and Indigenous Reporting that stretched from about 1580 to 1880)

One particularly notable, and ominous ancient headline chronicles the arrival of Hernando DeSoto to the Arkansas Valley. It read:

Europeans Spotted West of Mississippi     June 30, 1545

If you see one of these call the authorities at once!

(Tanico Enquirer) A band of ragged Europeans were seen stealing chickens and corn early this morning near Grizzly Bend. Onlookers, shocked by the behavior, told The Tanico Tribune that heavy rain, prompted by sacrifices in the Temple of the Currents, drove them off by nightfall. An emergency village powwow has been called for later this afternoon. Chiefs say people should say in their wigwams until the intruders can be driven off. Rumors continue to fly regarding disease and steel although many of the North American tribes, dominated by more powerful neighbors, have joined the invaders hoping to gain back some autonomy and extract some measure of revenge on their longtime overlords. Taking advantage of fears and superstitions the Spanish were able to control vast swaths of Florida and the Mississippi Valley.

Some decades later a Sunday feature piece, this one from The Pawnee Daily Observer tells the tale of six white pioneer children who do not want to be repatriated after years in the forest with their new families.

Biting Tykes Attack Missionaries

(Apalachee Chieftan) “Wild Indians” from the ages of 5 to 13 lashed out at “rescuers coming to take them home and out of the clutches of evil savages” today as negotiations hit a wall in the ever-increasing violence pervading the valley since the pioneers began arriving to trap and hunt on our lands.

“We can only hope that these crude pilgrims get bored and move on,” said one War Chief. “There is no gold here that we know of, but if there was they could have it all if they’d just leave.”

The children were kidnapped during a skirmish between Cherokee commuters and a long line of wagon trains near Peachy Draw back when that was Cherokee land.

Saying the good women of the congregation hit them and called them names, the be-feathered and buckskinned brood then ran into the woods temporarily skirting the quandaries of Puritan circumstance.

Their fate will be decided by the US Cavalry slated to be in town over the weekend.

Getting back to the ancients and hot type, the emergence of the newspaper may have played havoc with sophisticated means of communication such as smoke signals, drums, runners as well as verbal histories and legends. It would however have presented a more comprehensive view of what was taking place all over the new World. Take the headline from the Cherokee Headdress which read: Andrew Jackson Steals Grandmother’s Cane or Great Father Buchanan Stokes Fears of Mexican Land Owners in California from The Achomawi Advertiser.

It was all there in black and white yet few people paid much attention unless they were directly affected. The Great White Father continued to encourage Scots-Irish settlement at the expense of present occupants. Business as usual. Pitting the landless poor against the native population has always been an integral part of genocide and worked like a charm in the 18th and 19th Centuries in North America.

Here’s a human-interest story from The Arapaho Arrowhead from that once must have had a printing press stashed somewhere near Sand Creek, Colorado.

Prospector Spared from the Tomahawk

(San Luis Valley, Colorado)   An elderly gold seeker was released unharmed by a war party of Comanche near here Friday. The prospector told our reporter he was saved because the painted warriors liked his rendition of “Has anybody here seen Molly? Molly from the Isle of Mann” which he then proceeded to belt out with bellowed enthusiasm much to the chagrin of all assembled.

As it turns out the braves did not like his singing and told him to leave before he woke the ancestors. Outward signs of singing, such as this, are seen as rude by most Comanche although more progressive sects see show music as akin to chanting and is cherished as a tuba accompaniment in desert nomad customs.

Then a ray of hope during the American Civil War from the Blackfoot Standard:

Death Toll Mounts Back east

(Powatoah Sun) At the end of the fighting at Fredericksburg the field hospitals are filled to the brim with wounded men now victims of the hacksaw and the butcher for a steel ball in the arm or leg. While the numbers of dead continue to mount Red men all over the West have began to wonder if they might get their land back.

Red man

Black man

“Some of us sit and watch,” smiled one Apache maiden. “Others plan for the day when the whites will bleed and breed themselves out of commission with these epic wars of malice and destruction. Peace and prosperity will come for my ravaged people in the wake of that departure, that banishment.”

Spotters near Chancellorsville report large troop buildups possibly indicating another slaughter in that demure wooded Virginia paradise. Unconfirmed sources have gone so far to predict that Confederate General Lee will strike north into Union territory if stoked by another lopsided victory.

For more on this crisis please turn to Lincoln Frees Black Man, Sends Troops to Attack Red Man

A few years after came coverage of an often-ignored episode near the Mexican Border

 Billy the Squid visits Geronimo stronghold near Bisbee

(Chiricahua Evening News) Infamous outlaw Billy the Squid paid a surprise visit to former adversaries in the Chiricahua Mountains today. The two fugitives met for three hours and discussed horses, whiskey and a temporary hideout for Squid who is being hunted by marshals from three territories.

Geronimo acknowledged that, although Squid was a punk and “as white as alabaster” he could be counted on as an ally in the struggle against the settlers who were taking all of the Apache land. Squid, who has been accused of over 35 murders in his short career, looked like the perfect hired gun despite his bilateral symmetry and the presence of eight arms under his coat.

“In these times we cannot afford to be picky,” said Geronimo. “Any enemy of my enemy is my friend.”


(Cheyenne Crier) The 7th Cavalry, under the choreographic direction of George Armstrong Custer, was destroyed near the Little Bighorn River by combined forces of Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Dakota earlier today. The one-sided battle pitted the arrogant white soldiers  against a superior force of angry warriors who enticed the armed soldiers into a fight they could not win.

“The fighting force is no more,” chirped the Crier, voicing concern over retribution and the unending flow of European pilgrims into the Black Hills.

The body and hair of General Custer, were among the dead. The commander reputedly enjoyed raiding villages while the men were away and murdering women and children. So much for underestimating the anger and ferocity of one’s foe. Despite Custer’s bloody past he was celebrated in Washington as a fallen hero.


(Ute Tribune) The body of Rev Joseph Meeker was recovered Sunday, three days after his alleged murder at the hands of Northern Ute who had grown tired of his dictatorial proselytizing. The racist missionary had remained intent on saving the souls of these miserable pagans even when close friends and relatives told him to chill out.

The Ute accused Meeker of plowing up their horse racing tracks and desecrating sacred hot springs. Although passive at first the Ute braves realized this frontier saint was bad medicine and planned to force them to farm and take on the clothing, traditions and behavior of whites.

Meeker’s entourage in Northwestern Colorado warned him that there would be trouble if he did not back off. Even his wife, later one of the kidnap victims, said he was alienating the very people he hoped to save from eternal damnation.

Read all about it indeed. In later years the Native News would probably cover such phenomenon as Jim Thorpe, the Navajo Code Talkers, Shaman rebirth, and the explosion of casinos on Indian Land. We will take up that discussion next time.

Kevin Haley

Filed Under: Featured Peeks


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