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Ten Little Indians

April 26, 2019

Ten Little Indians is an American nursery rhyme. It has also become synonymous with the disappearing, one by one, of those around us. When you arrive at my age (let’s just say semi-geezer), the Ten Little Indians syndrome starts to kick in. One by one you notice that your friends, past business associates and even film and music stars start going off the radar one by one. It is unsettling to say the least.

I remember years ago when my father was experiencing the same thing. It brought him down some to see the world he knew shrinking around him. One after another, people whom he’d known for years left the scene. Conversations would increasingly start with, “Remember Joe? He died last week.” That would spark the inevitable discussion of “how long will I be around?” My father lived to almost 89 so he saw a lot of Indians go down before him.

The whole Ten Little Indians thing starts when we are in our fifties. It often commences with, “Beep, beep, beep – We’re sorry but the number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” The message so often means that the person you’ve called is another Indian who has headed off the reservation for good. You then dutifully scratch that person’s name and number off of your phone book and move on. The trouble is that you get to a point where you have whole pages of names that have been scratched off. My phone book looks more and more like a highly redacted government document.

When you get to the point where you recognize that you yourself are one of the last ten, things get even more dicier. Every phone call becomes a litmus test of living and every unanswered Christmas card becomes a bad omen. The bright side in all of this is that someday your friends won’t be getting a card from you and you won’t have to worry about the whole affair any longer.

How did we get to Ten Little Indians? Read on.

Postscript (A long one):

Ten Little Indians is an American children’s rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 13512. The word Indian usually refers to Native Americans. The song is traditionally performed in the tune of the Irish folk song “Michael Finnegan.” The likely original piece, then called “Ten Little Injuns”, was written by songwriter Septimus Winner in 1868 for a minstrel show and was much more elaborate:

Ten little Injuns standin’ in a line,
One toddled home and then there were nine;

Nine little Injuns swingin’ on a gate,
One tumbled off and then there were eight.

Eight little Injuns gayest under heav’n.
One went to sleep and then there were seven;

Seven little Injuns cuttin’ up their tricks,
One broke his neck and then there were six.

Six little Injuns all alive,
One kicked the bucket and then there were five;

Five little Injuns on a cellar door,
One tumbled in and then there were four.

Four little Injuns up on a spree,
One got fuddled and then there were three;

Three little Injuns out on a canoe,
One tumbled overboard and then there were two

Two little Injuns foolin’ with a gun,
One shot t’other and then there was one;

One little Injun livin’ all alone,
He got married and then there were none.

Disclaimer: I fully support Native-American culture and language so please don’t beat me up for quoting the word “Injuns.” It’s simply a part of our history that was written over 150 years ago. Thankfully, times have changed. I am a proud speaker of both Lakota and Siksika and I am involved with the Native American Music Awards in the United States.

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  1. ellem63 permalink

    I know what you mean, Allen – my dad was 94 when he died and, for a while, all he was doing was going to funerals!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I recall my father-in-law in that situation. He was sharp to the end, so he could appreciate what it was to be left behind up to the age of 92. It seems this is just something all long-lived people must go through. I’ll still take it over the alternative!

    As an amateur historian, I understand that people will give one grief for repeating insensitive idioms from the past. People need to get over that knee-jerk reaction. It’s how it was, plain and simple. We aren’t supposed to erase the past, but learn from it and do better in the future. Thanks for not “whitewashing” your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aŋpétu wašté yuhá ye Eilene – You are right. History cannot be rewritten for the sake of political convenience. We have to learn from the past, not make it go away.


  3. KiM permalink

    How many languages do you speak? I know I have Indian heritage but don’t know the tribe. My dad and his mom both looked more Indian than I do. 23andme wasn’t much help nor was my free trial of Ancestry.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Non sono nel giusto mood per rispondere ma ho letto e apprezzato il tuo articolo.

    shera 🌹

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on allenrizzi and commented:

    Something to think about…


  6. jackielagata permalink

    WOW Allen, this was a really good one. I love History and what it has to offer, not sure of the intentions of people trying to erase it, but maybe I am!! I worked with the same group of people in California for 32 years, five of them have passed away, very sad, three of my siblings have passed away, also others. When I think of this, it. makes me feel kind of old, otherwise, I feel great for my age. Since I moved to Arizona, I have done work on the reservations, both volunteer and for pay. There is a lot to learn and appreciate.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I knew I had grown old when I started reading the obituaries before the sports page.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s tough seeing friends and family pass over, but it happens. I console myself with the reminder that death is part of life, and the fact that I didn’t have to call in a chopper to take the body away.

    Liked by 1 person

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