These days, it can be very difficult to determine what makes someone a “real American.” In years past, there were clear answers, most of which revolved around notions of individual rights, economic freedom, and Anglo-based societal values.
In the 21st century United States, however, serious debate rages over what constitutes an individual right, whether capitalism is freedom or tyranny, and just why America should retain Anglo cultural norms in the face of multiculturalism. Simply put, the American people cannot agree on what they stand for.
Amid our turbulent age, we should consider the story of a man whose definition of Americana was not only clear, but crystalline.
He was a native son of this land in a way which most of us could never be. Nonetheless, he despised the term “Native American”, instead preferring one ordained by the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution: “American Indian”.
Indeed, those two words described Dr. David A. Yeagley to a tee. The great-great-grandson of Comanche dignitary Bad Eagle, Yeagley lived his life with one foot firmly, and proudly, planted in the past, another in the present, and both eyes focused on the future.
Most well known for outspoken rightist political commentary, Yeagley’s career was far more varied than some know. The San Diego Jewish World dubbed him “an American Indian Leonardo da Vinci” in an article about his Holocaust-related classical music compositions.
Yeagley also found prominence as an author of fiction and nonfiction literature, totaling eight published books which touched on subjects ranging from Iran’s displaced Pahlavi dynasty to Christian theology. Not one to leave stones unturned, he became involved with the film industry and made history as our nation’s first American Indian motion picture composer.
None of this even begins to touch on his work as a humanities and literature professor or, of all things, portrait painter.
In spite of such staggering accomplishments, Yeagley never put on the slightest of airs. Until weeks before his death in early 2014, Yeagley maintained an active blog where his opinions on almost every subject imaginable were shared.
Quite often, I disagreed with Yeagley’s sociopolitical views and how he chose to express them. Nonetheless, Yeagley was a man of unimpeachable honesty. His sincerity was accompanied by bountiful kindness, exceedingly high intelligence, and unbridled enthusiasm for all things America.
Without fear of reprisal, Yeagley brought a perspective to the American table which is almost always overlooked; namely that of a society which flourished long before Plymouth Rock was anything other than a boulder by the sea.
His tribal philosophy on American politics and history was politically incorrect in every way conceivable. Still, it recalls a time when political parties were not even a figment of one’s imagination, and survival in accordance with respect for Mother Earth was all that mattered.
When the Founding Fathers spoke respectfully of Indian warriors with whom they fought, and in some cases befriended, they no doubt were discussing men such as Yeagley. Interestingly enough, his own family history was unique among American Indians, for Bad Eagle stressed assimilation to WASP-dominated American life.
This is not to say that Bad Eagle advocated the abandonment of Comanche traditions; far from it. He did acknowledge that his compatriots had lost their war with the Union, though. Rather than eek out an existence of perpetual victimhood, Bad Eagle chose the path of honor. This came about by integrating Comanches with American society, all the while maintaining their fabled history and social cohesiveness.
In short, Bad Eagle wished for his people to live as unhyphenated Americans. For him, being a loyal American gelled perfectly with being a fiercely proud Comanche. It is this standpoint which informed all facets of his great-grandson’s life.
Yeagley’s passing was all too soon. Should one look to an American flag on some windless afternoon and waits for the breeze to pick up, the stars and stripes will unfurl themselves and flutter majestically in the wind.
At this time, it should be clear that Dr. Yeagley, working with the Great Spirit, of course, is reminding us to be proud of who we are - Americans, with no ifs, ands, or hyphenations.
Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org