Massacres of the Mountains

“Two hundred years ago it required millions to express in numbers the Indian population, while at the present time less than half the number of thousands will suffice for the purpose.” This quotation from General Custer is a concise expression of the most common and, perhaps, most remarkable delusion concerning the American Indians. There are at present in the United States, exclusive of Alaska, about 270,000 Indians. Doubling this number and increasing it to millions would give a population of 540,000,000 for two hundred years ago. It may possibly occur to the reader that an estimate for that period of from nine to ten times our present total population is somewhat exaggerated. It is exaggerated. There were never 500,000,000 Indians within the present bounds of the United States, nor 50,000,000, nor 5,000,000; at the time of the discovery of America by Columbus there were possibly 1,000,000, but more probably there were only about one half of that number. Some modern authorities of the highest rank maintain that there has been no decrease at all since the close of the fifteenth century. What the number may have been at that time is a matter of conjecture, but there are certain rules of population, and some more or less reliable statistical data, that give a solution of the problem within limits. The most important of these is the estimate by the amount of land necessary to support one man in the pure hunter state, i.e. when subsisting wholly by the chase. This is an indeterminate quantity, estimates having ranged all the way from 6000 to 50,000 acres, but the most plausible estimate is that of Mr. Schoolcraft, whose extensive acquaintance with Indian life and history, coupled with a discerning and logical mind, made him an authority of great weight on such a question. He says, “Estimates were made by me, while residing in the West, that it required 8000 acres of land, to be kept in a wilderness state, in order to support a single Indian by the chase. Consequently a family of five persons would need 40,000 acres.” Applying this estimate to our territory of 3,010,000 square miles, or 1,926,600,000 acres (still excluding Alaska), we should have a population of 240,000; but there are two reasons why an estimate of this kind cannot be considered accurate.

Primarily, the Indians can hardly be said to have been in the pure hunter state. Almost every tribe cultivated maize, and some cultivated other edible plants. Notably agricultural were the Pueblo and Pima Indians, of New Mexico and Arizona, and, in the opinion of the writer, the Navahos devoted far less attention to agriculture fifty years ago than they did three centuries before, for they had not, at the earlier date, the flocks which subsequently furnished their chief support. Inasmuch as the rudest agriculture will materially decrease the number of acres required for support, the number of inhabitants must reasonably be supposed to have been in excess of the result attained by the method mentioned. As a second consideration, by the number of acres required for support in the pure hunter state is meant the number of acres that will afford a continuing support; in other words, the hunter must be supported by the natural increase of the game, so that his preserves will not become less capable of supporting him. There is evidence tending to show that a state of evenly balanced supply and demand did not exist in America, but that the game was slowly decreasing under the slowly increasing demands of the aboriginal inhabitants.

J.P. Dunn wrote Massacres of the Mountains in an attempt to separate historical fact from sensational fiction and to verify the problems that plagued the Indian tribes in this country of years. He doesn’t assign blame, but lets it fall where it belongs by meticulous research and the accurate, unbiased depiction of the true causes and subsequent results of some of the most famous Indian conflicts.

Massacres of the Mountains

Introduction to Massacres of the Mountains

This is certainly true of the buffalo, the best food animal of the country, for it formerly existed as far east as the Atlantic; and it disappeared east of the Mississippi River before the whites had fairly come in contact with it. Purchas relates that the early Virginia colonists, prior to 1613, had discovered, “a slow kinde of cattell, as bigge as kine, which were good meate;” and Hakluyt published, in 1589, of some animals then existing in Newfoundland, ” I did see them farre off, not able to discerne them perfectly, but their steps showed that their feete were cloven, and bigger than the feete of camels. I suppose them to be a kind of buffes, which I read to be in the countreys adjacent and very many in the firme land.” The supposition has been advanced that these were muskoxen, which may possibly be correct. A more certain testimony is found in the “New English Canaan,” by Thomas Morton, one of the first settlers of New England, published in 1637. He says, “The Indians have also made description of great herds of well grown beasts that live about the parts of this lake (Erocoise,) now Lake Champlain, such as the Christian world (until this discovery) hath not been made acquainted with. These beasts are of the bigness of a cowe, their flesh being very good foode, their hides good leather; their fleeces very useful, being a kind of woole, as tine almost as the woole of the beaver; and the salvages do make garments thereof. It is tenne yeares since first the relation of these things came to the eares of the English.” Colonel Croghan in his journal (1765) mentions buffalo as being very numerous at different points in Ohio and Indiana, and says that at the Big Lick on the Great Miami they “came into a large road which the Buffaloes have beaten, spacious enough for two wagons to go abreast, and leading straight into the Lick.” Still these animals were so nearly extinct east of the Mississippi, when the white emigration began moving over the Alleghanies that even their former existence there is not a matter of universal cognizance. In the histories of forty and fifty years ago mention is sometimes made of old hunters who remember to have killed buffalo in Ohio, Indiana, or Kentucky, but seldom is anything recorded to indicate that there were ever large numbers of them in these sections. It is an historical truth that the white man had little to do with the extinction of the buffalo east of the Mississippi, though he may claim a large share in the more recent work of extermination on the plains and in the Rocky Mountains. 1 This excess of demand for food above the supply indicates an excess of population over that which has been estimated from the basis of the pure hunter state.

On the other hand, as one of the largest estimates by any person whose opinions are entitled to serious consideration, may be taken the statement of Mr. Jefferson of the number of the Virginia tribes. On the authority of Captain Smith and other early colonists he estimates the Powhatan confederacy, which occupied about 8000 square miles, to have consisted of 8000 souls, one to a square mile. If this were correct, and similar conditions existed elsewhere, it would indicate a population of 3,000,000 for the United States; but in addition to the consideration that the opinions of the early settlers were probably exaggerated, there are others which show this estimate to be neither correct nor a proper basis for a general estimate. In 1669 the census taken by order of the Assembly of Virginia showed the Powhatan confederacy to number only about one-third of the earlier estimate. If the natives of Virginia had decreased at the rate of sixty-six per cent, in sixty years, the Indians would have been extinct long ago; for the natives of the entire country elsewhere have suffered from more wars, more disease, and more whiskey, proportionately, since then, than they did in Virginia in those years. The more reasonable inference is that the original estimate was two or three times too large.

The country occupied by the Powhatan confederacy was one of the most fertile and salubrious regions within our boundaries. The Indians there subsisted largely on cultivated plants and vegetable food of natural growth, besides having the fish and oysters of their numerous streams and inlets, which, if we may credit the early chroniclers, existed in astonishing abundance, and were taken by the natives in many ingenious ways. Fully one-third of the United States afforded no such adventitious supplies to the hunter, and in many localities no game was found upon which man could rely for subsistence. The country of the “Root Diggers,” for example, is known to have been very sparsely inhabited for these reasons. Furthermore, there were extensive tracts of habitable country which are known to have been entirely uninhabited, the best authenticated instance being that of the present State of Kentucky. The Indian town of Lulgebrud, in Clarke County, the oldest Indian settlement in the State, was established by some Shawnee refugees about the year 1730.

A native population of 1,000,000, or one to every three square miles, may be reasonably assumed as a maximum limit, and 240,000 would appear to be a just minimum. Between these bounds conjecture becomes more vague, but there are still facts tending towards a convergence between these extremes. It is almost beyond doubt that the Indians have decreased somewhat. In the pure hunter state the relation of births to deaths is such that a slight increase of population is to be expected under ordinary circumstances, but when to the ordinary ills of that state are added those of an encroaching civilization, a decrease becomes almost a matter of certainty. The known ravages of war, disease, and whiskey, the white man’s most potent allies, justify the common belief that the American race has been fading away; but, on the other hand, those agencies have not been nearly so destructive as is ordinarily supposed. The methods of Indian warfare prevent any great loss to them in fighting – a fact which has often been expressed of late years in the statement that it costs the government a million dollars to kill an Indian. The bitter campaign of 1864, against the Arizona Apaches, when the regular, citizen, and friendly Indian forces of the United States and Mexico joined in a war of extermination against the hostiles, resulted only in the death of two hundred and sixteen Apaches. Even when surprised, and apparently helpless, the Indians have usually lost but small numbers. The four most damaging attacks on the Indians of modern times Sand Creek, Camp Grant, Custer’s fight on the Washita, and Baker’s surprise of the Piegans on the Marias averaged only about one hundred and seventy-five victims each. Smallpox, measles, syphilis, malaria, consumption, and whiskey have been far more destructive than our arms, but even these have not caused the loss of life that has generally been attributed to them. Counteracting these destroying agencies have been the superior sanitary measures of civilization. Tribes that have adopted wholly or in part protective clothing, residence in houses, and the use of medicines, have shown a great decrease in infant mortality, and often an increase in numbers. Even among what are still called the wild tribes, small pox has been robbed of its terrors by the introduction of vaccination. The tendency of late statistics is to show a slight increase at present in the Indian tribes. The returns for 1884 (not including the civilized or taxed Indians) show an excess of 300 births over deaths; in 1883 the excess was 250; in 1882 the excess was 520, but the report was incomplete. The natural presumption is that the relation of births to deaths among the civilized Indians would add to these numbers.

It is not probable that more than one half of the total decrease in the tribes occurred prior to 1829. At that time there had been no material contact between the whites and the Indians in at least one half of our present territory, and large numbers of the tribes with whom we had been in contact still existed. The white population of the country was then 12,866,000. Our great increase in numbers in the fifty-five years since that time, and the enormous extension of our settlements, have produced a contact that is fully equal to all that of the three hundred and thirty five years preceding. Our population during the greater part of that time was inconsiderable; in 1790 it had reached only 3,929,000, of which ninety-seven per cent, was east of the Alleghanies. In 1829 Generals Cass and Clarke made an elaborate estimate of the Indians within our borders, placing the number at 313,130. The additional territory acquired by the annexation of Texas and the cession from Mexico was estimated to contain 145,000, by subsequent statisticians of merit, making a total for our present territory of 458,000. If these figures were correct we should have a decrease of 188,000 in fifty-five years, which would, on our hypothesis, indicate an original population of 646,000; but the estimates of Cass and Clarke, as well as the later ones, are almost certainly above the reality. Their figures on the tribes in proximity to the settlements may be accepted as trustworthy, but they accounted 80,000 west of the Rockies, between parallels 44 and 49, which was more than twice their probable number; and having allowed 20,000 for those within the Rockies, between those parallels, they estimated 94,300 to be between the Rockies and the Mississippi, exclusive of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri, which was also too large a figure. There is scarcely a doubt that the Indians at that time did not number over 400,000, which, on the hypothesis mentioned, would denote an original population of 530,000. There are other considerations, which cannot be elaborated here, tending to show that this estimate is approximately correct.

Beginning with these bases of an existing increase, and a past decrease of only fifty per cent, through nearly four centuries of war, disease, and debauchery, we may eliminate the possibility of extermination from the discussion of the Indian question at the outset. The people who are lamenting “the vanishing spectre on the horizon,” and those who rejoice over the prospect of extermination, in the belief that “the only good Indians are dead ones,” have very little cause for their emotions. The probability is that there will be more of the race a century hence than there are now; there will be, certainly, if they receive such treatment as they are usually supposed to receive under “the humane policy.” The only problems that are worth considering are how these people are to be brought to a fit condition for citizenship, and how we are to live peaceably with them until that end is accomplished. In this connection the reader is asked to remember that it has not been the object of the following pages to solve or even to discuss these problems. The writer has had no theory to support. He has conscientiously endeavored to search out the true causes, the actual occurrences, and the exact results of the leading Indian troubles of modern years, leaving the credit or the blame to fall to whatever individual or whatever policy it may belong. From the facts collected certain principles are deducible, and in this introductory, which might with equal propriety be made a conclusion, these will be briefly summed up.

In all consideration of the Indian question it must be remembered that the Indian stands in a relation to our government different from that of any other human being and that whatever the results of this distinction may have been, its object was one of benefit and kindness to the red man. All the nations that colonized in America recognized in the Indian s the right of possession of the soil, but claimed for themselves the fee simple or actual ownership. The United States followed the same theory with all its consequences, the most important of which is that no valid transfer of land can be made by the Indian, except to our government, without the government’s consent. The settlers in each of the thirteen colonies paid the Indians something for their possessory right, though all of them claimed the fee simple under their charters. The tradition that William Penn alone bought land of the Indians is wholly erroneous; each colony has records of similar purchases. The United States has always done the same, except in the case of the cessions from Mexico (in which the Indian title was considered to have been extinguished by the Mexican Government), and under its system the Indian title never rises any higher than a possessory right, unless there is an express treaty confirmation of ownership in fee or an issue of patents. By the customary provisions of organic acts, the Indian reservations are excluded from State and territorial boundaries. They cannot be taxed: they are not subject to the jurisdiction of courts, except as specially provided; legal process of courts of the adjoining territory cannot be served within them. Still the provisions of treaties, that the lands are reserved to particular tribes and their descendants forever, mean merely that the possession of them is so guaranteed; the ownership still remains in the United States, in contemplation of law. From respect for their desire for self government, we have treated the tribes as independent powers, but we have never conceded the actual title to any portion of land to be in any tribe, for such land thus ceded to an independent power would then cease to be a part of the United States.

The theory of their relation to us, which has always been adhered to by our courts, was thus stated by Marshall, C. J., in the case of the Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia, 5 Peters, 1: “The condition of the Indians in relation to the United’ States is, perhaps, unlike that of any other two people in existence. In general, nations not owing a common allegiance are foreign to each other . . . yet it may well be doubted whether these tribes which reside within the acknowledged boundaries of the United States can, with strict accuracy, be denominated foreign nations. They may, more correctly, perhaps, be denominated domestic dependent nations. They occupy a territory to which we assert a title independent of their will, which must take effect in point of possession, when their right of possession ceases. Meanwhile they are in a state of pupilage; their relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian. They look to our government for protection, rely upon its kindness and its power, appeal to it for relief to their wants, and address the President as their great father.” The reader will observe that here is outlined by our highest court the only policy that our government can justly follow. By our own laws we, who have assumed control over these tribes, are bound to protect them, to be kind to them, to relieve their wants. The relation of guardian to ward under our laws is not consistent with the neglect, oppression, mistreatment, or robbery of the weaker party. Whenever our treatment of a tribe is such as our own courts would not allow in a guardian, we are self-condemned. We must be honest, we must not oppress the Indians, we must not take their property without just compensation, or we are lawbreakers.

In accordance with this theory, and in accordance with the wishes of the tribes, it has been customary to allow them to make and enforce their own laws for the punishment of Indians for injuries to the person or property of other Indians. We have had laws to punish white men for wronging Indians, and laws to punish Indians for wronging white men, but the natives have been left at liberty to prey upon one another as their customs might allow. Some of the tribes have reasonably good laws for their own government, but others have such inadequate ones that the feelings of humane men have often been shocked by crimes for which there was no earthly punishment. Says Bishop Hare, “Women are brutally beaten and outraged, men are murdered in cold blood, the Indians who are friendly to schools and churches are intimidated and preyed upon by the evil disposed, children are molested on their way to school, and schools are dispersed by bands of vagabonds, but there is no redress. This accursed condition of things is an outrage upon the One Lawgiver. It is a disgrace to our land. It should make every man who sits in the national halls of legislation blush.” One of the most aggravating of these offences of recent times was the murder of Spotted Tail, the Sioux chief, who had stood by us in many troubled times, by Crow Dog. The murderer was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged, but was released by the Supreme Court {Ex parte Crow Dog, 109 U. S., p. 556) for the reason that our courts had no jurisdiction of the offence. He returned to Rosebud Agency in 1884, and his release has been the cause of the death of several men since then, especially of White Thunder and Thunder Hawk, on May 29th of that year.

The evil of this system is evident. It has undoubtedly been the greatest stumbling block in the way of the Indian’s advancement to civilization and citizenship. The worst element necessarily controls so long as there is no power to restrain the work of intimidation. The system was adopted at a time when our government was physically unable to enforce laws in the Indian country, except for the protection of its own subjects, but there is no reason for a longer continuance of it. The only obstacle is the fact that a change will be an infraction of treaty rights; but the treaties have been broken for bad purposes so often, that breaking them for a good purpose would almost be an apology for our former bad faith. This is one of the few evils that may be remedied without creating a new evil. At present a large part of the law administered on agencies is simply the will of the agent in charge, if he has power to enforce it. Some agents prohibit polygamy and other Indian customs; others permit them. The “laws” are liable to be changed whenever there is a change of agents. A quite recent instance of the absurdities which this results in was an attempt of the agent of the Navahos to force that tribe to observe the Sabbath. He had almost got them into a state of war, when General Pope interfered and removed the overzealous law maker. The evil has been remedied partially by the establishment of “courts of Indian offences” on some of the reservations by the Indian Bureau, but they are probably beyond the authority of the department, and would hardly be sustained by our judiciary. The only remedy at all adequate is for Congress to adopt a code for the government of the tribes, but in so doing it ought not to interfere with the tribes that have adopted and enforced adequate laws of their own.

A treaty with an Indian tribe has the same rank and effect in law as a treaty with a foreign nation. “They are treaties within the meaning of the Constitution, and, as such, are the supreme laws of the land” (5 McLean, C. C, p. 344). The effect of all treaties has been necessarily to nationalize the tribe treated with, and put its members farther away from citizenship and allegiance to our government. From this consideration Congress, on March 3, 1871, passed a law prohibiting future treaties with Indian tribes, though recognizing those already made. There is among many intelligent men, whose friendship for the Indians cannot be questioned, a desire for still further movement towards the disintegration of the tribes, and a faster advance towards the citizenship which must sooner or later be reached. This is a step which to the white man appears advantageous, but it may at least be said that no action of that kind should be forced on the Indians. Aside from their reluctance to abandon the ties that make them a people and endear to them a related ancestry, there are matters of a more practical nature which may well cause us to consider the proposed change maturely. The case of the Pueblos will serve as an illustration of the fact that important benefits do not always result from citizenship. In the recent case of the United States vs. Joseph, 94 U. S., p. 614, an action for the statutory penalty for settling on the lands of the Pueblo of Taos, the Supreme Court held that the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico were not “Indian tribes” under our laws; that they have a perfect title in fee to their lands through Spanish grants and United States patents; and a broad intimation is given that whenever the question shall be presented they will be held to bo citizens of the United States. They have the right to vote, which is of no especial use to them, as they have always elected their village officers and have no great interest in others; they have the right to be taxed; they have the right to be sued in the local courts^ which will probably give them justice so long as their interests do not conflict too seriously with those of their white neighbors. A number of the Pueblo land grants have been intersected by railways within the past few years and on one of them the Denver and Rio Grande Company has established a station named Wallace. The Indians refused to sell land for a station or a town site at this point, but, in spite of their protests, white men went there and settled, and the only chance for relief is by tedious litigation. The government cannot interpose as it could if the intruders were upon the lands of “Indian tribes.” Its hands are tied by the citizen, ship of the Pueblos. They have gained a questionable benefit and lost a powerful protector.

The policy of the government heretofore has been to lead the tribes into the adoption of civilized pursuits as far as possible, and then make treaty arrangements by which the members may become citizens on showing a good character and a stated ability to support themselves. Under this system some forty thousand Indians have come into citizenship. The number of taxed Indians, who are in fact citizens, was found by the census of 1880 to be 66,407, but this includes the Pueblos and the Mission Indians of California, who have their right by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, with Mexico. A majority of the taxed Indians are not qualified for citizenship, in the sense that they are able to cope with the white man in the pursuits of civilized life. The Indian Bureau has had agents at work for over a year past investigating the property rights of these Indians, and it has been found in very many instances that they have been defrauded of their lands either by tax sales, when their land was not taxable, or by other devices. On the other hand, there is much plausibility in the theory that the ballot is the best weapon that can be given to a man for the defense of his rights, and the experience of the country with the Negro certainly shows that the consciousness of manhood and equality is a strong incentive to self improvement. An enactment of June 18, 1881, that will probably have a decided influence in bringing the Indian to citizenship, provides that any adult Indian who abandons tribal relations may take up land under the homestead law, and still be entitled to his distributive share in all tribal annuities, funds, lands, and other property. The loss of tribal property rights by one who left the tribe, formerly acted as a premium for remaining in tribal relations. On the whole, as to citizenship, it is safe to say that a general naturalization law should be passed by which any Indian who desires to abandon tribal relations may become a citizen on manifesting a certain degree of fitness. The requirement of fitness is no reflection on the Indian; it will operate for his benefit. The alien in this country is simply a visitor, and has only the rights of a visitor until he takes steps towards naturalization. The Indian, theoretically, receives as much protection as the citizen, and is supposed to have his temporal wants, at least, provided for. If the government be true to its guardianship, the Indian has nothing to gain by the transition but the simple freedom of citizenship.

As the law stands at present, an Indian who leaves his tribe, except under treaty provisions, becomes a man without a country. It was declared in the celebrated Ponca case – U. S. ex rel. Standing Bear vs. George Crook (5 Dillon, C. C, p. 454) – that an Indian had a clear right of expatriation, or abandonment of his tribe; but in Elk vs. Wilkins (112 U. S., p. 94) the Supreme Court held that, while a person might abandon one country, he could not force himself upon another as a citizen without its consent, and that the laws of the United States had not made it possible for an Indian to become a citizen by simply leaving his tribe. This being the law, and there being no general provision for the naturalization of Indians, an Indian who leaves his tribe remains in the condition of an alien who has taken no steps towards naturalization, unless he comes within some treaty provision. He may hold and transfer property, sue and be sued, and be indicted for crime. If illegally deprived of his liberty, he may be released on writ of habeas corpus. This right was granted on the application of Standing Bear; above referred to, but the intimation in that case that a similar rule had not obtained in England is incorrect. In 1810 a Negro woman, named Saartje Baartman, known as the Hottentot Venus, who was being exhibited in England on account of her beauty and physical perfection, was brought before the Court of King’s Bench on a rule for her custodians to show cause why the writ should not issue for her release. The affidavit on which the court granted the rule alleged that she had been clandestinely inveigled away from the Cape of Good Hope without the knowledge of the British governor, “who extends his peculiar protection in nature of a guardian over the Hottentot nation under his government, by reason of their general imbecile state.” In other words, she was in the same state of pupilage as the American Indians. The rule was discharged on it being shown that she was with the showmen of her freewill.

The right of Indians in tribal relations to appear in State, territorial, or United States courts for any purpose, except as provided by the national statutes, rests on a very uncertain foundation, for neither the common law nor any statutes for the enforcement of ordinary rights extend over the reservations. Still, Indians have been allowed in several cases to sue on contracts made on reservations, for assaults committed on reservations, and for trespasses on reservation lands. Various tribes or nations, as independent governments, have exercised the privilege of appearing as parties in the courts for the enforcement of treaty rights.

While theoretically our provisions for the control and advancement of the Indians show good intentions, they have not received the practical application that would have made them useful; and the laws themselves are fatally defective in that there is no adequate provision for their enforcement. It is much as though we had passed a law against murder or larceny and prescribed no penalty for the crime. We agree that white men shall not go on reservations, and pass a law giving a penalty of $1000 against each intruder. A white man enters the reservation; the military removes him; the government sues him, and has judgment for $1000; he owns no property, and goes scot-free. We agree to educate a tribe; money is appropriated for schools, and expended for no one knows what; at the end of ten or twenty years it is discovered that the Indians have learned nothing. How did it happen? Because the law did not provide for anyone to see that the money was applied to the purpose for which it was designed. We agree to give the Indians a certain amount of food, clothing, and other property, and appropriate money for the purpose, without taking the precautions for its proper application that any business man would use iii his ordinary affairs. That the Indians get but little of it, as a rule, is so notorious that it is a standing joke in this country. Do Indian agents steal? The reports of dozens of investigating committees say they do. Did you ever hear of one being punished? Some of them come out of office without materially increasing their wealth, but not many. The general result is as Medicine Cow said of Dr. Burleigh, “When he came here he had only a trunk, but now he is high up – rich.” Dr. Burleigh’s services were dispensed with, and the good people of Dakota, in recognition of his distinguished ability, sent him to Congress. There have been tried various checks for this malfeasance, but none adequate to the evil. Every investigation reveals the continuing wrong. If there is a single report of a Congressional or department committee on Indian frauds that does not find a shameful state of robbery and corruption in existence, I have never discovered it.

The most sensible remedy ever adopted was the appointment of the Board of Indian Commissioners, as quasi supervisors of the Indian Bureau, but it has barely checked the progress of wrong. Let us notice a few revelations made since the organization of that body. In 1873 a House committee made a report, in a volume of eight hundred pages, headed in large type, ”By this investigation and report the committee hope to do something to rid the Indians and the Indian service of those heartless scoundrels who infest it, and who do so much damage to the Indian, the settler, and the government.” It is hardly necessary to say that the hopes of the committee were not realized. In 1874 Prof. O. C. Marsh, of Yale College, happened at Red Cloud Agency on a geological expedition, and was detained there for several days by Indian hostilities. He took some observations of the management of the agency, and obtained samples of the provisions given to the Indians. On his return he printed charges in the newspapers and in pamphlet form, besides writing to and interviewing the authorities. There was an attempt to ignore the charges, the agent stating that he considered it “one of the usual effervescences of the moment,” but Professor Marsh pushed the matter, and a commission was sent to investigate. It reported eight hundred and forty pages of damaging testimony, recommended the removal of the agent and inspector, and urged the exclusion of all the contractors from future contracts. Reference will be made hereafter to other frauds, but it is worthy of note here that in the month of July, 1885, there was developed incontrovertible evidence of still existing rascality. In the count of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians, it was found that there were 1300 Arapahoes instead of 2366 reported last fall, and 2077 Cheyennes instead of 3905 reported last fall. A mistake of 3000 Indians out of a reported total of 6271 is impossible. It is simply another illustration of a game that has been played by the Indian rings for years: the more Indians reported, the greater allowance made for their support; and the fewer Indians to issue to, the more goods left for the agent. No casual visit of an inspector will disclose a fraud of that kind. The agent perpetrates it with impunity.

The money loss is the least objectionable part of this thieving. If we may believe either of the great political parties, a few millions stolen, more or less, will make but little difference in the aggregate. The greatest evil is that the Indians are poorly clothed and badly fed or starved, and unless they are so degraded as to have lost all spirit they make trouble. It is amusing to hear some people talk of “fed savages” and “Uncle Sam’s pets,” in connection with the reservation system. I doubt if there is a reservation in the country on which the average white laboring man would be content to live and subsist on Indian rations, though the food is generally better now than it used to be. Take this description of the fare at Crow Creek Agency in 186364: “Some time about the middle of the winter a large vat was constructed of cottonwood lumber, about six feet square and six feet deep, in connection with the steam sawmill, with a; pipe leading from the boiler into the vat. Into this vat was thrown beef, beef heads, entrails of beeves, some beans, flour, and pork. I think there was put into the vat two barrels of flour each time, which was not oftener than once in twenty-four hours. This mass was then cooked by the steam from the boiler passing through the vat. When that was done, all the Indians were ordered to come there with their pails and get it. It was dipped out to the Indians with a long handled dipper made for the purpose. I cannot say the quantity given to each. It was of about the consistency of very thin gruel. The Indians would pour off the thinner portion and eat that which settled to the bottom. . . . The Santees and Winnebagos were fed from this vat; some of the Indians refused to eat it, saying they could not eat it, it made them sick . . . they told the agent that it was only fit for hogs, and they were not hogs, they said. . . . The Indians reported several deaths from starvation; they were constantly begging for something to eat, and I visited the lodges frequently while they were sick, and found them destitute of food. . . . From what I saw and know, I am satisfied that the representations of Indians as to some of the Indians dying of starvation were true.” This was the testimony of S. C. Haynes, assistant surgeon of the Sixth Iowa Cavalry. It was fully sustained by the testimony of other white men, and even worse was proven, for it was shown that beeves were used that had died natural deaths, and that meat was issued which stank and was full of maggots. But, it may be said, that sort of thing is all over with now. Is it, indeed? Just last year the Piegans lived for two months on the bark of trees, and about two hundred of them starved to death. It is a glorious privilege to be a “fed savage!”

No one need be surprised at these things. Since the world has existed, men put in absolute power over other men have often been cruel and wicked, and the race has not outgrown the quality. You need not go to foreign countries nor back to the Dark Ages for instances. Tewkesbury almshouse, the Georgia penitentiary, the contract labor convicts of Louisiana, or the Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home of Indiana will do well enough. Guard as well as you can institutions where men rule men absolutely, and you cannot escape some wrong. But what safeguards have we given the Indians? An agent is put over them who is at once their master and representative, besides representing the government. Isolated from civilized mankind, he does much as he pleases, and his own reports are the chief information of his doings that reach the Indian Bureau and the world at large. Once a year or oftener an inspector visits the agency and is entertained by the agent; sometimes there are other visitors; sometimes there is a missionary. If the agent and inspector should accidentally happen to be in a “ring,” where do the government and the Indian appear? We put better safeguards than these around our county jails. There is a very simple way in which all this might be much improved. For years a strong party has advocated turning the Indians over to the War Department, on the plea, which all reasonable men will concede, that the officers who would have charge of the Indians are more honest than the class of men who are accustomed to receive appointments; they have been educated by the government as gentlemen, and taught that no gentleman can be dishonest; and they are under constant liability to court-martial for conduct unbecoming officers and gentlemen. This has been met by the plea that a transfer to the War Department would involve stationing soldiers on the reservations who would demoralize the Indians, and that while under charge of the War Department, which they were until 1849, the Indian affairs were no better managed than since then by the Interior Department. Admitting a large amount of truth in both propositions, why not combine the good features of both departments? To insure morality, let the Indian Bureau continue in control; but to insure honesty – to be certain that the morality of the agent is not hypocrisy – detail an officer once a month from the nearest post, to audit the agent’s accounts, inspect the management of the agency, and report. He need not interfere with the duties of the agent at all. It would add practically nothing to government expenses. There are only sixty-two agencies. The officers are close to most of them, and have plenty of leisure time. But the two departments would be hostile! So much the better. That would insure a knowledge of the truth, beyond question. It is a wrong both to the government and the Indians not to put some impartial supervising power back of the agents.

Admitting the full disturbing force of broken treaties, dishonest agents, inadequate supplies, lawless white men, and intractable Indians, the following pages will show that the large majority of our modern Indian wars have been occasioned by a wholly different cause. That cause has been made a part of the “peace policy,” and is commonly known as the concentration or consolidation policy. The peace policy, as defined by Secretary Delano in an open letter to L. L. Crounse, on April 15, 1873, has five leading features:

  1. To place the Indians upon reservations as rapidly as possible, where they can be provided for in such manner as the dictates of humanity and Christian civilization require;”
  2. When Indians refuse to go upon reservations, and continue their nomadic habits, “accompanied with depredations and outrages upon our frontier settlements,” to punish them until they are willing to go on reservations and remain in peace;
  3. To see that all goods and supplies shall be furnished at fair and reasonable prices to the Indians;
  4. By every means, to secure “competent, upright, moral, and religious agents;”
  5. To establish schools. Sabbath schools, etc., that the Indians may “be prepared ultimately to become citizens of this great nation.” 2

To the first and second features has since been added, practically, the policy of bringing the smaller bands upon the larger reservations, and sometimes of changing the location of the larger tribes. This concentration was not a leading feature of the original peace policy, as may be inferred from its omission by Mr. Delano. In 1874: Commissioner E. P. Smith said, “Experience, however, shows that no effort is more unsuccessful with an Indian than that which proposes to remove him from the place of his birth and the graves of his fathers. Though a barren plain, without wood or water, he will not voluntarily exchange it for any prairie or woodland, however inviting.”

The views of Commissioner J. Q. Smith, who next held the office, were totally different, and in 1876 he announced as the principal feature of his policy,” Concentration of all Indians on a few reservations.” His successor, E. A. Hayt, was of the same opinion, his doctrine being, “A steady concentration of the smaller bands of Indians upon the larger reservations.” This policy was followed by him through his long term of office, and has been adapted, though to a somewhat less extent, by his successors. By act of March 1, 1883, the President was empowered, in his discretion, to consolidate either agencies or tribes, “with the consent of the tribes to be affected thereby, expressed in the usual manner.” There is nothing objectionable in the appearance of this act; it reads like a rather benevolent design; but the words do not express what it really means in its practical application. To express it properly, the act should read, “The President is authorized and empowered to drive the Indians from their native homes, and place them on uncongenial and unhealthy reservations, whenever sufficient political influence has been brought to bear upon the Commissioner of Indian Affairs or the Secretary of the Interior, by men who desire the lands of any tribe, to induce a recommendation for their removal; Provided that before any tribe shall be removed, the members shall be bullied, cajoled, or defrauded into consenting to the removal.”

It may be said that this is an exaggeration. Let us sec. The Modoc war was caused by attempting to keep them on a reservation with the Klamaths, who maltreated them so much that they could not live peacefully or raise food for themselves; they asked a small reservation of their own, but the Indian Bureau would not give it to them. The great Sioux war of 1876 was simply the enforcement of an order for that nation to abandon the Powder River country, which we had guaranteed them as a hunting ground, and to keep within the bounds of their established reservation, where there was little or no game. The Nez Perce war of 1877 was caused by an attempt to force the Lower Nez Perce, whose nomadic habits were not “accompanied with depredations and outrages upon our frontier settlements,” to go upon the Lapwai reservation instead of giving them their old home in the Wallowa Valley, which had never been bought from them, and with which they would have been satisfied. All the troubles with the Chiricahua Apaches, since 1876, resulted from an attempt to remove them from their native mountains to San Carlos Agency, an unhealthy and intolerable place for mountain Indians, and occupied by bands that were unfriendly to the Chiricahuas. The wars with Victorio’s Mimbreños Apaches resulted from the discontinuance of his reservation at Ojo Caliente, in his native country, where he had expressed willingness to live in peace, and an order for the removal of his band to San Carlos. The war with the Northern Cheyennes resulted from an attempt to make them stay in Indian Territory, which had proved a very unhealthy place for them, instead of leaving them with their old allies the Sioux, where they wished to remain. The disgraceful affair of the Ponca removal – so repugnant to all sense of fairness and justice that Judge Dundy, who released the fugitive Ponca on writ of habeas corpus, condemned it from the bench, and expressed his pleasure that General Crook had ” no sort of sympathy in the business in which he is forced by his position to bear a part so conspicuous” – was only a concentration and removal to Indian Territory. The Hualapais were removed in 1874 from their old country to La Paz reservation, on the Colorado River, a place so terribly unhealthy that they were saved from extermination only by fleeing in a body. The White Mountain Coyoteros, always our friends, were removed from their farms to the hot, unhealthy valley of the Gila, to save the expense of an agency, and throw the tribal trade from New Mexico to Arizona, “where it properly belonged.” The tribe became demoralized; their advance in agriculture was stopped; a part of them became wanderers.

All these facts and others will appear more fully hereafter, and they show that the translation made above is not exaggerated. An examination of the arguments of those who favor concentration will show that the advantages claimed for it are purely theoretical. There is not a single instance of benefit resulting from an enforced removal – not one in which the fair presumption is not that the Indians would have done as well or better in their native homes. In a majority of cases the results have been very bad, and in many of them the discontent resulting from removal has been so lasting that the Indian Bureau has been obliged to give up its project, and return them to the place whence they were removed. If there were ever a pennywise and pound foolish idea, it is that concentration cheapens the Indian service. The wars alone that have resulted from it, leaving out of consideration life and property destroyed, have cost more money than all that the tribes affected by removals have cost the government otherwise. In addition to that, several tribes that were previously self-supporting were made utterly destitute and helpless by removal, and some became hopelessly demoralized. There is, in reason, no cause why Indians may not be taught and civilized in one state or territory as well as in another, and if the presence of Indians be considered objectionable, there is no justice in moving them from contiguity with one lot of white neighbors to put them near others. The concentration policy has not a single foundation, either in fact or in logical argument, to support it. It is almost beyond comprehension how it could have been adopted by reasoning men.

The objections to it from principle are quite as great as those derived from its expensiveness and inexpediency. Is it a light thing to drive a people from their native land? There was never an exile of any other race to whom the American heart did not warm. There was never even a foreign nation struggling for the peaceful possession of its fatherland with which we did not sympathize. The patriots of Ireland, Poland, Switzerland, and Greece have always had our veneration and love. Our schoolchildren are instructed in their histories, and taught to repeat their inspiring words. We have proclaimed to the world by our Monroe doctrine that no foreign government shall interfere with American liberty on American soil. We profess to place highest in the category of human virtues the love of native land. How comes it, then, that Americans can favor forcing our “wards” to leave the “rocks and rills,” the “woods and templed hills” that they love? Can we not respect Joseph when he says, “A man who would not love his father’s grave is worse than a wild animal”? Can we not even understand poor, worthless, old Homily when he says, “The gravel stones and sand of Wallula make me happy – my tilicums (adult companions) are there”? The American Indians do love their country. They have taught us that in a hundred bloody wars. If any American will but cast aside the prejudice of race, he must feel the truth of Wendell Phillips’s words, “From Massachusetts Bay back to their own hunting grounds, every few miles is written down in imperishable record as a spot where the scanty, scattered tribes made a stand for justice and their own rights. Neither Greece, nor Germany, nor the French, nor the Scotch, can show a prouder record. And instead of searing it over with infamy and illustrated epithets, the future will recognize it as a glorious record of a race that never melted out and never died away, but stood up manfully, man by man, foot by foot, and fought it out for the land God gave him against the world, which seemed to be poured out over him. I love the Indian because there is something in the soil and climate that made him that is fated, in the thousand years that are coming, to mould us.”

I would not carry the feeling of admiration for aboriginal virtues too far, lest the recollection of the vices of barbarism cause an undue recoil from the point we should reach. That many Indians are lazy, drunken, and vicious is undeniable; that some of their habits are revolting to us is true. But there is much to extenuate all this. Why should we be horrified at their eating snakes, lizards, grasshoppers, dogs, and the intestines of larger animals, when we swallow snails, oysters, frogs’ legs, sardines, and tripe? Your epicure has his woodcock cooked without cleaning, and smacks his lips over calves’ brains. This is but custom. An Apache or Navaho would not touch bear meat or taste of pork. The white man looks on the Indian of today and laughs at the idea of a “noble red man,” but the Indian of Cooper is not wholly mythical. One might as well seek a Roman Senator in an Italian peanut vender, or a Knight of the Round Table in an English swell. Take the proudest crusader that ever bore a lance, strip off his armor, clothe him in rags, and feed him on slop; where would be the glamour of his chivalry? There are plenty of well authenticated instances of Indian chivalry. The romance of war and the chase has always been theirs. If you want the romance of love, a thousand elopements in the face of deadly peril will supply you with Lochinvars. If you want the romance of friendship, you may find, in the “companion warriors” of the prairie tribes, rivals for Damon and Pythias. If you want the romance of grief take that magnificent Mandan, Mah-to-to-pa (Four Bears), who starved himself to death because of the ravages of smallpox in his tribe, or Ha-won-je-tah (One Horn), the Minneconjou chief, who was so maddened by the death of his son that he swore to kill the first living thing that crossed his path; armed only with a knife he attacked a buffalo bull, and perished on the horns of the furious animal. If you seek pure knight-errantry, I commend you to the young Pawnee Loup brave, Petalesharro, who at the risk of his life freed a Comanche girl from the stake and returned her unharmed to her people – who afterwards saved a Spanish boy from a similar fate by offering a ransom for him, and interposing his own life to force the release. If you desire the grander chivalry of strength of mind and nobility of soul, I will pit Chief Joseph against any barbarian that ever lived.

Just here let me caution the reader that if he wishes to understand Indian history, he must not be deluded by that false truth, so popular in America that “an Indian is an Indian.” There are tribes now existing that have never raised a hostile hand against ns, though they have been sorely tried. There are Indians that, so far as race characteristics and race prejudices are concerned, have no identity with the typical Indian, except in the fact that they have been maltreated by the whites. Mr. McCormick, of Arizona, well said in the House of Representatives, “We have Indians there (in Arizona) of every style and character. We have Indians that differ as much from each other as Americans do from Japanese or Chinese. We have a class of Indians whose tendency is to civilization. We have a large class whose tendency is to barbarism, who are as wild as the birds of the air or the beasts of the mountains. We have therefore to pursue a varying course towards the Indians in that territory and in all our frontier country.” This is simple truth. There is as much difference between a Pueblo and an Apache, or a Nez Perce and an Arapahoe, as there is between a Broadway merchant and a Bowery rough. When the Nez Perce captives were brought down the Missouri River, the people along the stream, who had been used to Indians all their lives, were constantly remarking, “What fine looking men!” “How clean they are!” “How dignified they appear!” These are extremes, and there are all gradations between them.

But we have wandered from the subject of concentration. The worst result of a forced removal is its hindrance to civilization. If the Indian is to be civilized, he must first be brought into a complacent state of mind. You may force a man to do right, but you cannot force him to think right. You cannot compel him to be contented. Apparently, then, it is absurd to begin the work of improving and making gentle a mind, by an act of harshness that will be felt longer and more keenly than anything else imaginable. The Indian problem is not solved. It will require years of patient effort to bring these people to a self-reliant, honorable, civilized manhood. It is extremely impolitic to do anything needlessly that will increase the difficulties in the way. If not impeded, humanity and charity will solve the problem, but the “peace policy” of the past eighteen years will not do it. It is no humanity to offer a man a theoretically better home, and kill him because he will not accept it. It is no charity to give a man a nickel with one hand, and rob him of five dollars worth of property with the other. It is no Christianity to starve a man, and offer him a Sunday school by way of extreme action. Let us be honest and fair with the Indian, and temper our justice with religion and education. The missionary and teacher are working nobly, though the fields are white with the harvest and the harvesters are but few. Religion is within the reach of most of the tribes. The schools at Carlisle, Hampton, Forest Grove, Chilocco, Genoa, and Albuquerque are doing much towards the education of the rising generation. If the government and the people will supplement these efforts by the observance of common honesty and good faith, if an intelligent effort is made to prevent wrong and remove disturbing causes, by the close of the century the Indian will be almost lost in the American.


Dakota Territory,

Dunn, Jacob Piatt. Massacres of the mountains: a history of the Indian wars of the far West. Harper & brothers, 1886.

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  1. The bison, formerly found in nearly all parts of the Rocky Mountains, is considered by some a distinct variety, as it has shorter legs, liner fur, and quicker motion than the bison of the plains. I have found their skulls at an elevation of 10,000 feet above the sea. There are probably a few still to be found, but, like those of the plains, they are practically extinct.[]
  2. The principal means by which these ends were hoped to be compassed was permitting the various churches to nominate the Indian agents for the tribes assigned to them. Nearly all the agents were thus nominated for about fifteen years, but this feature of the policy was discontinued by Secretary Teller during Mr. Arthur’s administration, and the churches have now no voice in the appointments.[]

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