Catawba Indian Condition

Scarcely more than one hundred years ago the hoof prints of the buffalo became scarce in South Carolina, and it would, perhaps, have been well for the Catawba Indian had he followed him to the distant West; for the exterminating greed of the white man has almost driven him, too, from the boundless regions in which he used to roam, cruel legislation has allowed his lands to be sold and his money squandered, and, after all, he is in not much better condition morally, socially, or financially than when he was a savage in the woods, with God-given ability to live with less struggle than he has today. Many a red man fell at the crack of the pioneer’s rifle; the rest fled inward as though retreating before some angry waters, which slowly began to surround them and threatened to break over their heads. With no avenues of escape, the Catawbas have been driven in and corralled, not unlike the buffalo before them, and whose fate our boasted civilization may yet force them to share. The 225 square miles of land, which was confirmed to the tribe as a reservation in 1764, has been curtailed until now they are huddled together on the meager allowance of only 800 acres! It remains to be seen if they will be still further crowded and encroached upon until they give up in despair and pass out over the plowed fields, whose furrows the white man has nearly run to the Indian’s very door. Will he, who was formerly one of the largest freeholders on the continent, be compelled to forsake his now humble home and go out in search of the proverbial six feet of earth, wherein to lay his bones? Will he be forced to the extreme to which one of the most prominent chiefs in Indian Territory was recently driven? When some one asked this Indian (Chief of the Wichitas), who recently committed suicide, why he wanted to die, he replied: “Too much white man; Indian no chance; white take Indian’s land, then kill Indian I kill myself.”

After making a tour of the Indian reservations in the West a few years ago, the Hon. Theodore Roosevelt, recently Civil Service Commissioner, wrote:

“The one thing to be impressed upon the average Indian is that he is not being wronged now, and that he has done just as much wrong as he has received in the past, and that he ought not to look back on that at all, and that above all things he must work, just as a white man does. One of the most pernicious things that can be done is to pet too much the Indians that make good progress, and this is the thing that Eastern sentimentalists are very apt to do.”

Mr. Roosevelt probably knows as much about the true Indian character as any man in America, and this observation is, no doubt, well founded. But as far as the Catawba Indians are concerned it does not apply, and no unbiased person, after care-fully examining the case, will say that the Catawbas have “done just as much wrong as they have received in the past;” indeed, the Catawbas present an exception to Indian character, for, when oppressed by the whites, with whom they had made “eternal peace,” they have quietly submitted to injustice, and though they have been literally robbed of large tracts of land, they have never even grumbled when the Indians on the plains are troublesome, troops are sent to hunt them down and kill them are those Indians rewarded whose conduct, in the face of out-rage, has remained exemplary? The history of the Catawba Nation answers No!

The Catawba Indians have never been “petted;” they always have been and still are mistreated and neglected. As to their condition, the writer knows whereof he speaks, as he has often visited the tribe and has had ample opportunity to study their condition.


Scaife, H. Lewis. History and Condition of the Catawba Indians of South Carolina. Philadelphia Pennsylvania: Press of Wm. F. Fell & Co. 1896.

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