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During the Oregon centennial
celebration, my Boy Scout troop, dressed
as cowboy cavalry, was brought to the dog track
to rout a whole tribe of Cub Scouts
dressed as Indians
in a wild reenactment of a battle
that had never occurred
or had occurred a thousand times, depending

on your degree of historical specificity.

Firing our cap pistols and screaming for blood
we surged down
upon the menacing village of pup tents and “Indians,”
who ran, throwing down their toy spears and arrows,
in genuine terror.

The crowd in the grandstand cheered,
even when we began clubbing and trampling
those who were too small or slow
to escape through the gate to the parking lot,
even when one child, blinded by his tears,
ran headlong into a post and did not get up,

even when we pretended to take scalps.

Afterward, our scout master herded us quickly
onto the bus, looking over his shoulder
with a crazed and worried smile.
It had been a perfect reenactment
and, in the true spirit of scouting, a lesson: this is what you do
to enemies, no matter how small or hapless or outgunned,
no matter whose stupid idea, no matter who dies
or who remembers it for the rest of his life.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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