I have never been one that would conceive of going on a religious pilgrimage, but have just returned from an American pilgrimage. It would be a purely secular journey in any other country, but the very essence of America dwells in the spiritual realm of ideas. The very heart of the American ethos was forged from the bloody assimilation between ancient Indian culture & the European Enlightenment.

Indian chronacaller Cyrus Brady
Cyrus Townsend Brady
Book about the indian wars
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We give short shrift to the influence of stone-age Indian culture: its survival-toughness and war-like bravery was epitomized by the Sioux Nation. My wife and I were honored to be accompanied by the grand-daughter of Cyrus Brady and her husband. Brady, an ordained Episcopal priest in New York in the early 1900’s, was a prolific author on the subject of the Indian Wars. He wrote thoroughly documented spellbinding accounts at a time when many of the participants were still alive.

The following speech is by the great Sioux Chief, Red Cloud to fighters from the tribes he was assembling to oppose the white man. Listen to the raw power of his narrative logic—also note that his authority rests on the power of the Great Spirit whose primary function is to dispense justice. This was precisely Lincoln’s view of God’s role in his Second Inaugural Address found here.

Sioux Chief Red Cloud“The Great Spirit raised the white man and the Indian,” he told his fellow fighters.

“I think he raised the Indian first. He raised me in this land and it belongs to me. The white man was raised over the great waters, and his land is over there.

Since they crossed the sea, I have given them room. There are now white people all about me. I have but a small spot of land left.

The Great Spirit told me to keep it.”

Red Cloud's graveThis leader, who naturally rose up by virtue of his given gifts, defeated the US Army. He is buried on the top of a hill in a wind-swept, overgrown cemetery. But his tomb-and-grave-stone are fenced off as sacred, and it is the largest monument up there (by far) with a small white marble inlay of his head in full feather head-dress. There are many small graves in the cemetery most of which commemorate Jesuits priests who were out West saving souls from the early 1800’s. Following military defeat, upon being shown the hordes of people in the Eastern cities, Red Cloud realized his cause was hopeless; he eventually converted to Christianity.

Crazy Horse

It is Crazy Horse, the legendary Sioux horseman-warrior,who is honored by a work-in-process to rival Mt. Rushmore; Crazy Horse was killed trying to escape after being captured. Indeed, there could not be a more authentic monument to the skillful ferocity of the American passion to be free.


Mount Rushmore far exceeded all my expectations.

The long, football-field wide pedestrian causeway on the way to the final viewing platform—with hundreds of pilgrims (but not at all crowded) all experiencing the quiet prideful joy of heartfelt homage. The first shock is that the four presidential countenances gleaming in the sunlight appear as finely wrought-and-polished as marble busts. Then it is Washington’s expression that hits you: A massive column of rock has been transformed into a visage of such a riveting expression of strength and pride that it dwarfs the immense dimensions into which it is embedded. But then sprouting out of the right side the that same columnar rock structure is Jefferson, looking into the distance as the visionary philosopher. Gutzon BorglumArchitect Gutzon Borglum included him because of his role in the Louisiana purchase, and Theodore Roosevelt for completing the Panama Canal. Roosevelt is the weakest image tucked into the background, in between Washington’s and Jefferson’s granite column on the left and one to the right of similar dimensions into which an extraordinarily evocative Lincoln is carved. If Washington is Strength, and Jefferson and Roosevelt are Vision, Lincoln is Wisdom. Sad, weary, poetic eyes dominate and transform the immense lithic structure into an exquisite expression of humanity itself, one that is easily the equal of any European Cathedral in the  magnitude of the sublime pathos evoked  by it.

Pictures do not do Mount Rushmore justice; a pilgrimage just to see it is well worth the trip, while also beholding the magnificent granite spires that are the Black Hills and then to understand why the Indians considered the stark beauty of the badlands to be a sacred place.

Mount Rushmore

South Dakota's Bad lands
Bad Lands



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9 Comments on “An American Pilgrimage”

  1. Fabulous. Thanks for sharing your pilgrimage with me. Mount Rushmore is amazing how it was carved out of that massive rock is beyond me. It is beautiful.

  2. Wonderful! You have so eloquently compressed so much. I love: “the very essence of America dwells in the spiritual realm of ideas” and your insight that Enlightenment ideas and ideals were blended in America with those of its natives. America is special. And I wonder if some of what frustrates so many of us, the persistence of what might be called a frontier mentality, is also part and parcel of our greatness? The fierce independence and expansive, questing spirit that travel with our ethos of equality.

  3. Hello Dr, Wylie,

    I have yet to delve into your theses, yet I write to thank you as the first psychiatrist who effectively dealt with my diagnoses of bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. When I came to you, I was 19 years old and somewhat frightened by my new diagnoses which seem to have suddenly arisen during my sophomore year at Brown University in 1983.

    You helped me deal with my “contamination fears” by suggesting that I move into a somewhat rundown home with other college students – this was brilliant, and I believe set the stage for the amelioration of those symptoms. Your kindness was always apparent, and gave me hope. In a time during which few really seemed to understand OCD, you did. Now I am a 53 year old with a daughter who just turned 21 years of age. I am working part time after sputtering through a shortened career in the federal government.

    I have not forgotten those trips to the Barlow Building. You have made a difference. Thank you so much.

    1. Jeffrey, I can’t think of a nicer surprise upon awakening this morning. I am deeply touched and grateful for your comment. Of course I remember you, and so very fondly. As well as the work we did, we had some fun together, didn’t we. Once again, thanks much for taking the time to write your very much appreciated remarks.
      As to the blog, you might enjoy some of the more humorous ones, like this: https://whywebecamehuman.comtrumps-hair/ or this: https://whywebecamehuman.comtrumps-hair/
      This will give you an overview of my rather esoteric project here: https://whywebecamehuman.comold-mind-new-mind/

      Very very best,

      John Wylie

      1. Thanks Dr. Wylie,
        Yes, I was kind of out of control at that point in my life. I wouldn’t doubt if you recall my struggles with my parents at the time. I have actually learned how to deal with them, and actually realize that I am lucky to have both of them still.

        I wish I could watch myself way back then and see the kind of person I was; my guess is that I had little or no filter, and probably was doing impersonations that would be considered politically incorrect at this point! But you were a good audience! I think you were 42 or so at the time, and I considered you a much older authority figure at the time…with your oval wire-framed glasses!

        Anyhow, when I think of all of the doctors that I’ve had over the years, both you and Wagdi Attia come to mind as the most engaging. You have no idea how important finding the right psychiatrist is. In fact, I was under the care of the Clearview Communities (in Frederick) and am now searching for a new doctor. If you have any that you think might fit my temperament, I would appreciate it if you could let me know.

        I’m so glad to hear from you…I know you had thousands of patients over the years, but I don’t know how many let you know how you impacted their lives. I will try to read the blog…I think it is a bit over my head…it’s cool you have embraced 21st century technology and are keeping busy. Stay well and healthy.



  4. John –

    Nicely done – it is a pleasure being an armchair traveler through your eyes.
    The match between our native brothers and the European surge equates to how an advancing glacier treats the underlying rock. Fortunately pockets of gold can still be found in the outwash.

    1. Thanks Bob; Very nice geological metaphor for the interaction. To pick it up and swing it back to biology, I might add that that gold continues to course through all our veins.

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