Letter, Department of the Interior

Department of the Interior,
Washington D. C., April 30, 1872.

SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the following resolution, adopted by the House of Representatives, December 11, 1871:

Resolved, That the Secretary of the Interior be, and he is hereby, directed to transmit to this House copies of all letters, telegrams, and reports of special agents and other official papers or records of the Department pertaining to the payment of bounties, back pay, and pensions to the First, Second, and Third Regiments of Indian Home Guards, together with copies of all letters in the ease taken from the pension agency at Fort Gibson, Arkansas, (Indian Territory.)

The voluminous papers herewith transmitted, will, I trust, be a sufficient apology for the delay in forwarding reply.

I have the honor to submit herewith copies of the documents called for, which for convenience of reference have been numbered. I also present, as briefly as the nature of the case will admit, a statement of the causes which led to the condition of things set forth in those documents, and the action of the Department from time to time relative thereto.

Indian Troops

During the war of the rebellion a number of the residents of the Indian Territory, members of the various tribes therein located, were organized into regiments for military service in the armies of the United States, and were designated as the First, Second, and Third Regiments of Indian Home Guards. They were regularly mustered into the United States service, borne upon the rolls of the Army, and paid upon the monthly muster and pay rolls by paymasters of the Army. Numbers 1 and 2 of accompanying documents show that those troops were regularly recognized as in service.

Being thus regularly in the military service, and subject to the military laws and regulations, it was assumed that they were entitled to the pay and allowances of other troops, including bounties and Pensions.

There seems to have been some doubt, however, as to their being entitled to bounty, as I find that by joint resolution passed June 18, 1866, (United States Stat., vol. 14, p. 3600 Congress directed that the bounty of $100 should be paid to those Indian troops under the same regulations as governed the payment of bounties to other volunteers in the service of the United States. This joint resolution is believed to be the only special legislation relating to those Indian regiments.

Bounty and Back Pay

On the 1st of August 1865, a letter, (No. 1 A,) was received at this Department from John W. Wright, introducing the subject of the claims of members of the Indian regiments to back pay and bounty. That letter was referred to the office of Indian Affairs, and after some inquiry and correspondence a letter of appointment and instruction, (No. 2 A,) was sent to Mr. Wright by the Secretary of the Interior, dated July 11, 1866, authorizing him to collect claims for Indians when duly authorized by them, and to pay said claims upon the conditions and within the limitation as to time named in said letter. Mr. Wright also executed a bond (No. 3 A) to the United States, in the penalsum of $100,000, conditioned upon the faithful compliance with the instructions contained in his letter of appointment.

The conditions of Mr. Wright’s appointment and the general manner in which he performed his duties are fully set forth in the letter of Mr. Secretary Cox to the Attorney General, dated September 6, 1870, (No. 4 A.) That letter submitted the case to the Attorney General for his opinion as to Mr. Wright’s liability to the Government. No reply was received from the Attorney General until his attention was called to the subject by Secretary Delano in a letter dated December 9, 1871, (No. 5 A.) The reply of the Attorney General transmitting the opinion of the Solicitor General is numbered 6 A.

It will be observed by reference to documents (Nos. from 7 to 48 B,) that much complaint was made by the Indian claimants relative to the manner in which payments were made; at the great delay in making them, while, in many cases, it is alleged that no payment has ever been made.

It will also be seen from the reports of Messrs. Foster and Webster, {Nos. from 49 to 186,) special agents to investigate the pension claims, that great irregularity prevailed in the conduct of the business, and that many of the claims were improperly made up. Those reports present these irregularities in detail, and, as they exhibit a very thorough examination of the business by gentlemen who were experts in the manner of examining such claims, I invite special attention to them.


Among the Indians there were, of course, many invalid soldiers, and the widows and orphans of those who had died of wounds or sickness incurred in the line of duty, who were entitled to pensions under existing laws. Owing to the peculiar habits of the Indians, the character of their marriage laws, and the difficulty of settling questions involving the legitimacy of their children, it was very difficult, and, in a majority of cases, perhaps impossible for pension claimants to establish their claims under the laws and regulations governing the Pension-Office. For this reason, and to do justice to those claimants, many of whom were suffering for the amounts due them, Mr. Secretary Harlan appointed Mr. George C. Whiting, an ex-Commissioner of Pensions, as special agent to visit the Indian Territory for the purpose of examining those claims for pensions. Mr. Whiting’s letter of appointment, dated 15th March, 1866, will be found numbered 187 A.

Under the same date (No. 188 A) the Secretary directed the Commissioner of Pensions to inscribe upon the pension-rolls the names of all persons who had filed claims in the Pension-Office. Again, August 21, 1866, (No. 189 A,) the Secretary directed an additional number to be placed upon the rolls for the purpose indicated in his letter of March 15, 1866.

The action of the Department placing these names upon the pension rolls was brought to the attention of the Acting Secretary of the Interior in July, 1871, who, after an examination of the questions involved, under date of July 11, 1871, directed the Commissioner of Pensions to suspend payment in all such cases until the whole matter could be investigated, (No. 190 A.) . Those claims are still suspended, and but few of them can ever be admitted under existing laws and regulations. I shall make this matter the subject of a special report to Congress in a few days.

By reference to the report of Mr. Secretary Cox to the Attorney General, heretofore referred to, (No. 4 A,) it will be seen that Mr. Wright had received previous to that time, from the Pay Department, the sum of $420,754.42, which amount may be increased as the investigation progresses.

Judging from the documents herewith transmitted, and the manner in which claims were prepared and payments made, it is fair to presume that a very large portion of that amount of money has never reached the persons for whom it was intended. How much of it has been misappropriated can only be ascertained, if at all, by examining each claimant, which is practically impossible.

In the month of October, 1871, I appointed Hon. Lewis B. Gunckel, of Dayton, Ohio, a gentleman of high character, and a lawyer of eminence, to conduct the investigation into the nature and amount of Mr. Wright’s liability in the matter of these payments and the system adopted by him in making the same.

After an exceedingly laborious examination, in which Mr. Wright was invited to participate in person or by counsel, Mr. Gunckel filed his report, and I beg that the accompanying copy may receive your close perusal and consideration. (See copy marked A A.)

There is a mass of correspondence transmitted herewith, which has but an unimportant bearing upon the questions involved, but I do not feel justified tinder the terms of your resolution in withholding any portion thereof.

The letters taken at the seizure of the pension agency, referred to in your resolution, are also sent, and will be found following the Department documents. That correspondence is submitted without comment. Among the papers seized was a private memorandum-book belonging to A. Clapperton, former United States pension agent, a copy of which, when completed, will be immediately transmitted to your committee.

On the 20th March last the whole case was referred to the Department of Justice, in accordance with the act of Congress creating said Department, June 22, 1870, for such action as the Attorney General may deem requisite. (See copy of letter of the Secretary of the Interior herewith, marked B B.)

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
B. R. COWEN, Acting Secretary.
Hon. J. G. BLAINE,
Speaker of the House of Representatives.


42nd Congress. Alleged Frauds Against Certain Indian Soldiers. House of Representatives Report, 2nd Session, No. 96.

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