The Genocide

| March 11, 2010

Editor:

In my book, genocide is as bad as it gets. Your author's tortured determination to establish that the Indian Massacres of 1860 were undertaken for profit -- hence the "extortion" of the title -- seems to have required some dubious accounting ("Genocide and Extortion," Feb. 25). He states that a then-recent collection of renegade Palefaces had been disbanded after five months of rampaging and had been rewarded by the state with a grant of mjust under $53,000 -- which after deducting expense reimbursements and vets' benefits left each "Ranger" with about $50 for each month's service, and "[c]onverted to a wage in today's dollars, this would amount to roughly $8,400 per month." The raids were thus largely motivated by the princely sums anticipated from the state.

That inflation ratio of 168:1 sounds quite improbably to me. I believe the smallest coin the US Mint has ever circulated was a half-cent, which at that ratio would have had a purchasing power then equivalent to about 80 of our cents. Can we imagine doing our shopping with no pennies, nickels, dimes or quarters available, but rather in minimum increments of 80 cents? Or, at the other extreme, the mint produced $20 "double-eagle" gold coins from 1849 onward for several decades. Is it plausible that people needed to have coins individually worth $3,360 available in order to conduct commerce 150 years ago? The article quotes a contemporary statement that Indians "frequently offered $150 for a rifle worth only $10." Translated to now, that seems to say that a fair price for a serviceable rifle would currently be $1,680, but that ignorant or desperate redskins would offer their equivalent of $25,200 for one. Sound about right to you?

There may be a way to reconcile these improbabilities, but what bothers me is that the author -- and apparently Hank Sims, from his introduction -- seems to feel that genocide, pure and simple and irrevocably demonstrated, isn't sufficiently offensive. The real breakthrough, the frosting on the cake, is to establish that the guys who did it were greedheads.

Mark Drake, Leggett

 

Editor's reply: In researching the relationship between the value of the dollar today to its value 150 years ago, author Jerry Rohde used the Web site Measuring Worth (measuringworth.com) -- an academically rigorous site run by a board of highly credentialed economists and historians.

Measuring Worth acknowledges that there are several ways to calculate such historical comparisons, none of them entirely precise. As stated in the footnotes to the story (available at northcoastjournal.com), Rohde used Measuring Worth's "unskilled wage index" to find what the Rangers' payout would be worth to a similar worker of today. For more information, see the discussion entitled "Choosing the Best Indicator to Measure Relative Worth" at measuringworth.com.

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