Monday, April 11, 2011

The Genesis of John Lightfoot’s Motivation

The bomb was ready and everyone was well rested; time for Indian class.

Lightfoot led the others down a narrow pathway to the banks of the Tuolumne River, as he had done almost every night since they’d arrived in La Grange. He was wearing stereotypical Native American garb: a headband with a few turkey feathers, vest and chaps made of faux cowhide, and makeup he applied under his eyes and on his cheeks.

He wore the Indian getup every day now, which made the others nervous even though, so far, he only wore it on their property and by the river. He didn’t want Mindy out and about in La Grange because she might attract attention, but he could wear a cheap Indian outfit?

At first, Lightfoot had simply wanted to show the others the river, thinking that when they saw how low the water was and how few salmon there were, they would understand why certain things needed to be done, why some people had to die for the sins they’d committed against the river, and more importantly, the salmon.

But one night became two, two became three and three a week, a week a month, two months, then six.
Night after night, he lectured on the Tuolumne band of Miwuk Indians, whom he said had lived peacefully along the Tuolumne River for thousands of years, on the Tuolumne River itself, and on the salmon that returned each year to spawn.

It was here at the river he first told the others he was part Miwuk. “Bullshit,” Griffith told Roberts and Donaldson later. “If he’s part Indian, I’m an Eskimo.”

* * * * * 

This is one of my favorite scenes in THE MIGHTY T. I call it “Indian Class.” John Lightfoot, the bad guy, leads his gang to the banks of the Tuolumne River and delivers a sermon they’d heard a hundred times.

They’d murdered eleven people in two days and planned to blow up some gigantic water pumps in the San Joaquin Delta early the next morning. Then, come the following Monday, they planned to… We learn all about why in this scene: the genesis of Lightfoot’s motivation.

We also get to peek inside the gang member’s minds, to see what they really think of Lightfoot. They’ve got him figured out, but he’s got them by the short-hairs; they’ll do anything he tells them. (Find out why in Chapter 6.)

Chinook salmon
Image credit:

Lightfoot is obsessed with the declining Chinook salmon population in the Tuolumne River. Sure, the rest of us are concerned about the salmon, too, especially the salmon fishing industry. But are we willing to kill thousands to fix the problem? Lightfoot is.

Who can know why he’s so obsessed with the salmon? Why do YOU become obsessed with odd things? Something in your brain clicks and there you are, washing your hands for the hundredth time today. His was the salmon. Strange, I know.

At the end of the excerpt you learn Lightfoot claims to be part Miwuk. He’s not, but he’s convinced himself he is. You’re naturally curious why: In his mind, it gives him legitimacy. The Miwuk lived along the Tuolumne for centuries, until they signed a treaty giving their land up in exchange for a reservation.

If he’s Miwuk, the river and the fish are his, and he has an obligation to protect them. Watch out.

Oh, and John Lightfoot’s not his real name. It’s not even a Miwuk name.

In the next post, you’ll learn who’s to blame for the poor salmon’s plight. Boy, do they pay.

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