Ghost River: The Making of a Graphic Novel

What we call the Paxton
incident is really two massacres First at Conestoga Indian
Town, a reservation set aside by William Penn with the founding
of Pennsylvania. And then a second, the workhouse,
where the remaining, fleeing Conestoga were taken
in and then murdered in broad daylight. At libraries like the Library
Company of Philadelphia, which have a long colonial
history we need to be doing more
outreach. We need to be conveying the
stakes of our work to a wider
audience. And so one of the things that
I sought out when I was
looking for an author and an artist
was the folks that had done
work that felt like it reconceived
historical material with the urgencies of today. My tribe is the Tongva tribe
of California. It’s all Los Angeles basin
Pasadena area, Hollywood. Basically, the center of
Southern California. Weshoyot’s art, every page is
different from the one before
it. She is somebody who is
constantly looking to
challenge herself I honestly had never heard of
this event, it really kind of sparked my interest. Like wow,
why didn’t I learn about this in school? And wow, why don’t
I know about this? I said that if I’m chosen to
work on this project, I hope that you would maybe
consider Lee to write it. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and
girls. We’re so glad to have you here
at the Indigenous Comic Con. Please enjoy your afternoon
and have a wonderful time. Lee has effectively made
Native American comics what
they are today. He started the only Native
American comic shop in the
country, We brought together folks from
all sorts of genres that came together to celebrate
this forward thinking, indigenous identity. The thing with the Paxton
massacre and Redrawing
History, we’re being allowed the
freedom to write about that
incident from an indigenous voice and
to give voices to the people that were involved in that,
and shed light on a very dark
historical event. At the beginning of this
project, we did a number of
field trips, research trips, with Weshoyot and Lee, to
ensure that they had a sense
not only of the people, but the place that
they were going to be writing and exploring in this graphic
novel. What we’re talking about here
is long before any of these
buildings were here, long before these concrete
sidewalks or these roads. I think the highlight for all
of us was our trip to
Lancaster We had a chance to go to the
historical site of Conestoga
Indian Town. When we went to the ancient
site, the original site of
the, Susquehannock people It’s in a suburb, so, you
know, it’s surrounded by all
these little built up houses It’s a historical area, so
they can’t build on it. So they kind of have it
disguised as a park. If you actually know it’s
there, you’re like, wow, this is the village site. You start
thinking about the people that
had lived there before and the
ways that they lived off the
land, and it allows you to sort of
connect a little bit, I think,
with the environment. And I always like to try and
look around to get as much of a sense as I can of what
it would have been like
when there were no houses around there,
and it would have been all forested, with the river
running in the background. I went out and I kind of
offered some tobacco as like a
thank you for letting us be in this
space and then also as a remembrance of those
people. I saw how Weshoyot was just
captivated by this burial mound that had
been sort of capped off and there was this little tuft
of trees on top. And there was something so
lonely about those trees. And I know that she was
responding to it at a really
sort of visceral level. So I create kind of a theme
between them taking those trees off of
that hill in present time and those, you know, 20 people
that were butchered. How many places did we drive
past that are the sites of these kinds of
stories? I suspect that many of those
farmers have no idea what has
happened in that very land. It could be anywhere in this
country and that really forces us to
reevaluate our relationship
with this land. After these atrocities, the Pennsylvania proprietors –
the government – decided to
basically take in all of the indigenous
peoples that were anywhere
nearby, which included Lenni Lenape
and Moravian Indians, basically because they feared
this snowballing. The Paxton boys vowed to
inspect, which really meant to menace those
indigenous peoples where they were, which was in
Philadelphia. And they got as near to those
people as Germantown, six
miles north of Philadelphia, where they were met by militia
and a delegation led by
Benjamin Franklin, who persuaded them through
eloquence and through force that they ought to disband and
to publish their grievances. And so then the next year
became a print debate. I remember looking at one of
the political cartoons and it’s got a Quaker and, you
know, they’re handing weapons to the native folks. It’s a depiction of Quakers
being sort of seduced by these half naked Native
American women who are
iterally robbing them. A native woman is stealing a
man’s watch out of his
waistcoat. And she’s got this low cut
dress, and her bosoms are like
right over the top of that. And it’s supposed to be sort
of like how nativeness conned the Quakers into, you know,
being allies. Native women as the
seductress, native women as
the exoticized. And I was particularly thrown
by that. Nowadays, one in three native
women are assaulted in their
lifetimes. Missing, murdered, indigenous
women are numbering in the
5,000 plus. And there’s no popular media
for native women. And it goes all the way back
to 1763, 1764. And it sort of draws upon this
fear of native sexuality, and of course, this idea of
miscegenation, this fear that the races were
mixing in their backyard. Pennsylvania as a colony was
comprised of so many different ethnic groups that really
didn’t see eye to eye, and those included Germans,
English and Scots-Irish
Presbyterians. And it wasn’t really until the
debate about this incident that you started to see a
shared white identity emerge in opposition to this racial
other. And so much of this debate is
about borders, and about the sense that there
is an enemy in your midst, and you can’t tell the good
ones from the bad ones, so they all need to go. One thing that we are trying
to definitely bring across, not only with the script, but
referencing the pamphlets and
the political cartoons, is how
they were used as political
propaganda. The natives as as basically a
prop in this warfare between two opposing
sides, the frontierists and the colonialists, right,
the Quakers. Everybody had their own
agenda, and this quickly
became a story not about the conduct of the
Paxton men, but a story about governance
in Pennsylvania. When we went to the American
Philosophical Society they brought out this Wampum
belt. Many of the Iroquoian on an
Algonquin people used Wampum belts as symbols of establishing treaties, as currency; they were used as documents of
identification. Amazing. It’s beautiful. Mmhmm. Yeah, this is going to be that
repetitive motif, right? And I have an idea about how
it can play too. Nice. We had really put off talking
about this one scene, which is
really difficult to write
because it’s one of gratuitous violence. It’s the scene in Lancaster,
when the remaining
Susquehannock are murdered. The scene that I put together
with that was essentially a scene of native people that
didn’t scream; that didn’t cry; but that
faced that head on. I wanted to change that
dynamic so that it wasn’t
natives being victimized, but that
they knew what was coming. They knew what was going to
happen, and they accepted
that. And that everybody dies on
their feet. And that’s a huge thing for me. We didn’t want to wallow in
sensationalized violence. We chose to sort of use some
visual metaphors that tie back in to the tribe’s material
culture in a way to visualize it without it being just the
sheer violence that actually did occur, because
the ways that those people, you know, were killed… it’s horrendous. Individuals are transformed
into wampum beads. This attack is the rending,
the final tearing of this
Wampum belt, this symbol of
colonial-indigenous harmony. When people talk about the
1763 massacre, they often call it the Paxton
Boys “march,” “rebellion.” These weren’t boys. These were
grown men. They were murderers. And to disconnect this story
from the Paxton Boys and instead to foreground the Indigenous people at the
center of this story, I think is a real act of
defiance. Most native people in this
country, when they faced the types of displacement,
ethnocide and genocide, they didn’t have a newspaper where they could tell their
own particular story. I think a lot of the issues
people have with native people are we have already been
obliterated or we are extinct. There are all sorts of folks
that identify as descendants of the
Susquehannock, and we have an obligation to
the living. Indigenous identity continues
to be something that’s
mythologized. When we dive into the humanity
of individuals and people, we start to break out of the
mythology of that. One of the key things that me
and Lee have both worked on together in this project is
focusing on positive
representation that we are still here. And huge emphasis on the
resiliency that we have as a people to carry on
through generations. And despite so many bad things
happening to us, we are still here and we’re
still trying to present
ourselves in a positive way.

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