The Indian Question

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The Indian Question5
Indian Citizenship101
An Account of the Tribes148


On the 3d of March, 1871, Congress declared that “hereafter no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power, with whom the United States may contract by treaty.”

Brave words these would have seemed to good William Penn, treating with the Lenni Lenape, under the elm at Kensington; or even to doughty Miles Standish, ready as that worthy ever was to march against the heathen who troubled his Israel. Heathen they were in the eyes of the good people of Plymouth Colony, but nations of heathen, without question, as truly as were the Amalekites, the Jebusites, or the Hittites to the infant colony at Shiloh. It would have been deemed the tallest kind of “tall talk,” in the councils of Jamestown, Providence, and Annapolis, to express disdain for the proffered hand of Indian friendship, or even to object to payment of some small tribute, in beads or powder, to these native lords of the continent. In 1637, when Capt. John Mason marched against Sassacus, at the head of ninety men, he had with him half the fighting force of the Connecticut Colony. In 1653 a wall was built across Manhattan Island to keep out the savages; though, when we say that the line of defence just covered the present course of Wall Street (which derives its name from that circumstance), our readers may not fail to wonder whether the savages were not the rather kept in by it. In 1675, when the New-England Colonies had grown comparatively strong, they mustered for their war against Philip one thousand men, of whom Massachusetts furnished five hundred and twenty-seven, Plymouth one hundred and fifty-eight, and Connecticut three hundred and fifteen.

To men peering out from block-houses, or crouching behind walls, awaiting the terrific yell of an Indian attack, it was not likely to occur that they might compromise their dignity by treating on equal terms with an enemy tenfold as numerous as themselves; nor were the statesmen of that early heroic age likely to give themselves trouble about the character and standing among the nations of the earth, of confederacies that could bring five thousand warriors into the field. And so the feeble colonies struggled on through those days of gloom and fear, deprecating the anger of the savages as they might, and circumventing their wiles when they could; played off one chieftain against another; made contribution of malice and powder to every intestine feud among the natives; bought off tribes, without much scruple as to the ultimate fulfilment of their bargains; postponed the evil day by every expedient, knowing that time was on their side: and when they had, in spite of all, to fight, fought as men who know that they will not themselves be spared,—planned ambuscades and massacres; fired Indian camps, and shot the inmates as they leaped from their blazing wigwams; studied and mastered all the arts of forest warfare; and beat the savages with their own weapons, as men of the higher race will always do when forced by circumstances to such a contest.

Nor during the early part of the eighteenth century, when all danger of a war of extermination had passed from the apprehension of the most timid, when the Colonies had become in a degree compacted, and the line of white occupation had been made continuous from Massachusetts to Georgia; nor later still, when the Colonies had become States, and the representatives of the new nation of the Western world were received in all the courts of Europe—was the policy abandoned of treating with the Indian tribes as parties having equal powers of initiative, and equal rights in negotiation. In nearly four hundred treaties, confirmed by the Senate as are treaties with foreign powers, our government recognized Indian tribes as nations with whom the United States might contract without derogating from its sovereignty.

The treaties made with Indian tribes have, of course, been mainly treaties of cession. Most of our readers will be surprised to learn the extent of lands east of the Mississippi which are embraced in sales to the United States; being no less than the entire States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi, with considerable portions of Tennessee, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And these treaties were not a mere form to amuse and quiet savages, a half-compassionate, half-contemptuous humoring of unruly children. The United States were not then grown so great that they could afford to value lightly the free relinquishment of the soil by the native owners of it. At the time most of the treaties with tribes east of the Mississippi were concluded, not only did the right remain in the Indians, but enough of power, to make it as much a diplomatic triumph to obtain a cession on favorable terms, as it would be to negotiate a successful treaty with one of the States of Central America to-day. The United States were clearly the stronger party in every such case; but the Indians were, in the great body of instances, still so formidable, that to wrest their lands from them by pure, brutal violence would have required an exertion of strength which the government was ill prepared to make. So that, while it is true that the Indians were generally made ready to negotiate by the use of military force and by the pressure of white settlements, it is not true that the considerations and privileges accorded them in these treaties were a gift out of good-nature.

So much for the power of the Indians when they made these treaties. Their right to their lands is quite as well established historically. In the early history of the Western world, the principle was fully recognized, that, while sovereignty rested, not with the Indians, but with the civilized power claiming by virtue of discovery, the Indians were the rightful occupants, with a just and perfect claim to retain possession and enjoy the use until they should be disposed voluntarily to part with it. Great Britain, Holland, France, and Spain, the four powers claiming sovereignty by virtue of discovery within the present territory of the United States, conceded no less than this to the natives; while France, in the cession of the province of Louisiana, expressly reserved the rights allowed the Indians by its own treaties and articles, “until, by mutual consent of the United States and the said tribes or nations, other suitable articles shall have been agreed upon.”

“Such being the right of the Indians to the soil, the United States for more than eighty-five years pursued a uniform course of extinguishing the Indian title only with the consent of those Indian tribes which were recognized as having claim by reason of occupancy: such consent being expressed in treaties, to the formation of which both parties approached, as having equal rights of initiative, and equal rights in negotiation. These treaties were made from time to time (not less than 372 being embraced in the general statutes of the United States) as the pressure of white settlements, or the fear or the experience of Indian hostilities, made the demand for the removal of one tribe after another urgent or imperative. Except only in the case of the Indians in Minnesota, after the outbreak of 1862, the United-States Government has never extinguished an Indian title as by right of conquest; and in this latter case the government provided the Indians another reservation, besides giving them the proceeds of the sales of the lands vacated by them in Minnesota; so scrupulously, up to that time, had the right of the Indians to the soil been respected, at least in form. It is not to be denied that wrong was often done in fact to tribes in the negotiation of treaties of cession. The Indians were not infrequently overborne or deceived by the agents of the government in these transactions; sometimes unquestionably, powerful tribes were permitted to cede lands to which weaker tribes had a better claim: but, formally at least, the United States accepted the cession successively of all lands, to which Indian tribes could show color of title, which are embraced in the limits of any of the present States of the Union except California and Nevada.”—Report on Indian Affairs, 1872, pp. 83, 84.

In 1871, however, the insolence of conscious strength, and the growing jealousy of the House of Representatives towards the prerogative—arrogated by the Senate—of determining, in connection with the executive, all questions of Indian right and title, and of committing the United States incidentally to pecuniary obligations limited only by its own discretion, for which the House should be bound to make provision without inquiry, led to the adoption, after several severe parliamentary struggles, of the declaration which stands at the head of this paper.

In abruptly terminating thus the long series of Indian treaties, and forever closing the only course of procedure known for the adjustment of difficulties, and even for the administration of ordinary business, with Indian tribes, Congress provided no substitute, and up to the present time has neglected to prescribe the methods by which, after the abrogation of the national character of the Indians, either their internal matters or their relations with the general government are to be regulated. The Indian-Intercourse Act of 1834, though still nominally in force, is so largely predicated upon the tribal constitution, and assumes so uniformly the national sufficiency of the tribe, that all the life and virtue are taken out of it by the Act of 1871 just cited; and the country is, in effect, left without rule or prescription for the government of Indian affairs. It is sufferance, not law, which enables the Indian Office to-day to administer its charge. While the Act of 1871 strikes down at a blow the hereditary authority of the chiefs, no legislation has invested Indian agents with magisterial powers, or provided for the assembling of the Indian demos. There is at this time no semblance of authority for the punishment of any crime which one Indian may commit against another, nor any mode of procedure, recognized by treaty or statute, for the regulation of matters between the government and the several tribes. So far as the law is concerned, complete anarchy exists in Indian affairs; and nothing but the singular homogeneity of Indian communities, and the almost unaccountable spontaneity and unanimity of public sentiment within them, has thus far prevented the attention of Congress and the country being called most painfully to the unpardonable negligence of the national legislature in failing to provide a substitute for the time-honored policy which was destroyed by the Act of 1871.

In treating the Indian question of the present day, the temptation is strongly felt, to dwell upon the history of Indian tribes, and upon the physical and moral characteristics of this singular race. Yet, if way be once given to this inclination, not only will the time and space necessary for a discussion of the present and the future of the Indian tribes be sacrificed, but the attention of the reader will be so overwhelmed with the multitude of names and incidents, that he will be embarrassed rather than assisted in his understanding of the subject to be treated. The value, for our purpose, of facts and incidents in Indian history is not at all according to their value historically or romantically. Indeed, such has been the fatality to the aborigines of contact with the whites, that it may almost be said, the importance to-day of tribes is inversely as their importance in the annals of the country. Among the greatest figures of the past are those of bands and confederacies that have utterly disappeared from the continent, happy that their long, savage independence, and their brief, fierce resistance to the encroachments of the pale-face, were not to be succeeded by a dreary period of submission, humiliation, and dependence. Other tribes, that but a few generations ago shook the infant colonies with terror, or even dared to stand across the path of the Republic, and for a time flung a shadow as of eclipse over its destiny, are now represented upon the annuity or feeding-lists of the United States by a few score of diseased wretches, who hang about the settlements, begging and stealing where they can, and quarrelling like dogs over the entrails of the beeves that are slaughtered for them. Still other tribes, once warlike and powerful, have, by a fortunate turn of character and circumstance, become so rich and respectable as not only to deprive them of all romantic interest, but practically to take them out of the scope of the Indian question. Other tribes, still having among them men whose grandfathers besieged Detroit under Pontiac, are now resolved into citizens of the United States, eligible for the chief-justiceship or the presidency.

Such considerations as we have here briefly sketched suffice to show the inexpediency of entering upon Indian history, qua history, as an introduction to the discussion of the Indian problems of to-day. Equally obdurate must one be to the seductions of Indian ethnology, except so far only as it may simplify the classification of the present Indian population to refer tribes and bands to recognized groups or families, for the better or briefer characterization of their qualities and affinities.

Even stronger yet is the temptation to enter upon the analysis and portraiture of the original and native character of the North-American Indian. Voluptuary and stoic; swept by gusts of fury too terrible to be witnessed, yet imperturbable beyond all men, under the ordinary excitements and accidents of life; garrulous, yet impenetrable; curious, yet himself reserved, proud and mean alike beyond compare; superior to torture and the presence of certain death, yet, by the standards of all other peoples, a coward in battle; capable of magnanimous actions which, when uncovered of all romance, are worthy of the best days of Roman virtue, yet more cunning, false, and cruel than the Bengalee,—this copper-colored sphinx, this riddle unread of men, equally fascinates and foils the inquirer.

This, however, is the Indian of history. The Indian for whom the government is called to provide subsistence and instruction presents no such psychological difficulties. Curious compound and strange self-contradiction as the red man is in his native character, in his traditional pursuits, and amid the surroundings of his own wild life; yet when broken down by the military power of the whites, thrown out of his familiar relations, his stupendous conceit with its glamour of savage pomp and glory rudely dispelled, his occupation gone, himself a beggar, the red man becomes the most commonplace person imaginable, of very simple nature, limited aspirations, and enormous appetites.

The Indian question naturally divides itself into two: What shall be done with the Indian as an obstacle to the national progress? What shall be done with him when, and so far as, he ceases to oppose or obstruct the extension of railways and settlements? It is because these two parts of the question have not been separately regarded that so much confusion has been introduced into the discussion of Indian affairs. Widely diverse, for example, as are the criticisms popularly expressed on what is known as the “Indian policy” of Pres. Grant’s administration, the writer can confidently affirm, as the result of hundreds of interviews, formal and informal, stated and casual, friendly and the reverse, with men from every section of the country, of both parties, and of all professions, that he believes there is no political subject mooted to-day on which there are so slight differences of real opinion, or, indeed, such general consent when men will once come to terms with each other, and begin to talk about the same thing. He has never known a man, even from the Territories or the border States, make objection, on a candid statement, to the intentions and purposes of that administration towards the Indians, unless it were some man peculiarly vulgar and brutal,—such a one, for instance, as, if a Southerner, would give his time and breath to indiscriminate abuse of the negroes. Instead of there being two parties on this subject, there is, therefore, if the observations of the writer have been well made, no reason to suppose that any considerable division of opinion or feeling exists respecting the duty of the government, at the present moment, by the aborigines of the country.

Take the public sentiment of Arizona, for example. It is the almost universal belief throughout the country, that the people of this Territory have a deadly hostility to the Indians, and meditate nothing but mischief towards them; and it certainly must be admitted that press and people alike indulge in expressions which fairly bear that construction, and are quite enough to create an impression that the citizens of the Territory hate an Indian as an Indian, and have no humane sentiments whatever towards the race. And yet the writer would as soon leave the question, whether the government should render some kindly service to the Papagoes or to the Pimas and Maricopas, in the way of assisting them to self-maintenance, or of providing instruction in letters or in the mechanic arts, to the general voice of the people of Arizona, as to any missionary association in New York or Boston the coming May. When the press of Arizona cry out against the Indian policy of the government, and denounce Eastern philanthropy, they have in mind the warlike and depredating bands; and they are exasperated by what they deem, perhaps unreasonably but not unnaturally, the weakness and indecision of the executive in failing to properly protect the frontier. Indians to them mean Apaches; and their violence on the Indian question arises from the belief that the administration of Indian affairs has been committed to sentimentalists, who have no appreciation of the terrible stress which these Indian outrages bring upon the remote settlements. But were the question one of helping, in a practical fashion suited to the habits and views of life of a border community, a tribe of Indians who are peaceful, and in a poor way helpful, there is no reason to suppose that the inhabitants of Tucson or Prescott would be behind an Eastern congregation in readiness for the work. And this impression the writer derives, not alone from the amiable and cultivated gentleman who represents that Territory in Congress, but from contact and correspondence with many influential and representative citizens of Arizona, and from a study of the very journals that so teem with denunciations of the Indian policy of the government.[B]

On the other hand, in our prosperous and well-ordered communities at the East, a gentleman of leisure and of native benevolence, whose ears have never rung with the war-whoop, whose eyes have never witnessed the horrid atrocities of Indian warfare, and who is only disturbed in his pleasing reveries by the occasional tramp of the policeman about his house, is apt to dwell exclusively upon the other side of the Indian question. To such a man, as he recalls the undoubted wrongs done the Indian in the past, as he contemplates the fate of a race whose heroic and romantic qualities have been greatly exaggerated, or as he listens to the flattering tale of a missionary returned from some peaceful and half-civilized tribe, it is very pleasant to think that the original owners of the soil are to be protected by the government, saved to humanity, educated in the useful arts, and elevated to a Christian civilization. On such a man accounts of Indian outrages make little impression. He regards them as the invention of pioneer malice, or easily disposes of them by a mental reference to the crimes perpetrated in his own town or city. He is, perhaps, so ignorant of Indian matters as to think that all the Indians of the country form one homogeneous community, and cannot understand how it should be, that, while Cherokees are supporting churches and colleges and orphan asylums at home, and sending their sons to receive classical and professional education in the best schools of the East, Kiowas should roast their prisoners alive, and brain the babe before the eyes of its mother. Is it a matter of wonder, that men who are contemplating things so different as are the Eastern philanthropist and the Western settler, when Indians are spoken of, should imagine that they disagree as to the policy of the government, and come to entertain contempt or repugnance for each other, while, in fact, on an honest statement of a given case, neither would dissent in the slightest degree from the views of the other? If there is, then, such a liability to confusion and misapprehension in the discussion of the Indian question, we may be allowed to insist strongly upon the necessity of the distinction indicated.

The actually or potentially hostile tribes of the United States number, on a rough computation suited to the rudeness of the definition, sixty-four thousand. It is these only which we have to treat under the first division of our question,—What shall be done with the Indian as an obstacle to the national progress? This number of sixty-four thousand is made up as follows: The actually depredating bands, North-west and South-west, probably have not exceeded, during the past year, seven thousand, mainly Kiowas, Comanches, and Apaches. The tribes with which these bands are directly and intimately connected contain about twenty thousand, including the marauders. There are further included in this calculation tribes and bands, numbering in the aggregate about forty-four thousand, which are now generally at peace.

It will be seen that the number which we have taken for the potentially hostile Indians is many times greater than the number of the actually hostile. Yet, on the other hand, we have not intended to embrace all those tribes which might be exasperated to the point of resistance by a reckless disregard of treaties on the part of the government, or by a series of wanton acts of abuse on the part of white settlers. There is a line beyond which no man or people may safely be pressed; and there are few bands of Indians, East or West, however contemptible in numbers or character, which, if wronged and trampled on, might not in their indignant despair teach their oppressors a lesson at which the world would shudder. We are contemplating no such possibilities. We are assuming that the government will, as it has generally done in the past, respect treaty obligations, and that the intercourse of the Indians with their white neighbors will be marked by only such sporadic acts of individual wrong as are in the nature of the case.

The tribes to which we refer as potentially hostile are, first, those now in immediate contact with the whites, whose claims to territory are so far disregarded, either by the action of the government or by the unauthorized intrusion of pioneers and prospectors; or whose means of subsistence are so far impaired or threatened by the extension of railways and settlements,—that hostilities are only prevented by the bounty of the government in feeding the members of such tribes in whole or in part, by liberal presents of trinkets and useful goods, by the exercise of especial watchfulness in avoiding occasions of dispute and points of collision, and finally by a willingness on the part of the government to overlook offences and even to tolerate a degree of insolence, rather than allow a breach of the peace: second, those tribes not now to any great extent in contact with the whites, and exhibiting no desire to go out of their way to make trouble, but of which the same must, in the inevitable course of the national progress, in a few years become true as of the tribes embraced under the first class.

But these classes, as we have thus described them, are yet far too numerous for the facts of the case. We must still further reduce them by excluding all such tribes as, from location, from traditional friendship for the whites, or from weakness of character, are unlikely, in any event reasonably to be contemplated, to become involved in hostilities.

Among the Indians, who, by the force of their location and surroundings, are rendered powerless for armed resistance, are not a few of the Indians of Minnesota, and even some in Wisconsin, who have no love for the whites, and would make exceedingly bad neighbors to frontier settlements, but who, encircled as they are by powerful communities, submit sullenly to their condition. The same may be said of many bands in Kansas, Nebraska, and on the Pacific coast. These are Indians who have been overtaken, surrounded, and disarmed by the progress of population, but, either through the neglect of the government or by the failure of the usual agencies of instruction and industrial assistance, have remained barbarous, and, as their natural means of subsistence grow scantier, are becoming every year more miserable.

There is another and much larger class of Indians from whom no organized violence is to be expected in the course of the complete settlement of the country, not because they are rendered helpless by the force of their location, nor because they have any traditional friendship for the whites, nor because they do not experience suffering enough to impel a warlike people to a struggle for life, but because they are not fighting Indians. Actual outrage might drive some of these tribes to resistance; but, under the slow wasting-away of their means of subsistence, and the gradual pressure of the settlements, they are, and are likely to remain, wholly passive, accepting their fate, and sinking to the lowest point of human misery without a single heroic effort. Some of these tribes have been “put upon” by their more warlike neighbors through many generations, driven from their original hunting-grounds, and harassed even in the mountains where they have taken refuge, until their spirit has been utterly crushed, and they have become as submissive as the Southern negroes. This is true of large numbers of the Indians of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Southern California. They have neither the individual courage nor the instinct of confederation entitling them to be reckoned among the potentially hostile tribes.

Still, again, we count out several powerful tribes, able to bring five hundred or a thousand warriors each into the field, which, by reason of traditional friendship and their frequent alliance with our troops in campaigns against hostile Indians, are sure to remain the friends of the government under any tolerable treatment. Indeed, neglect and abuse seem insufficient to alienate these allies. Their faith once pledged, and friendship cemented by sacrifices and sufferings, they cling to the fortunes of the whites with romantic fidelity. Such are the Arickarees,[C] Mandans, and Gros Ventres of the Upper Missouri; such the Pawnees of Kansas; such the Flatheads, Kootenays, and Pend d’Oreilles, whose boast is that their tribes never killed a white man; such, in a degree, the Crows of Montana. These tribes, and others of less consequence, are not only sure, in the event of kindly treatment by the government, to remain its fast friends, but they may be relied upon in the future, as in the past, to do much to check the audacity of their hostile neighbors, and, in the last resort, to furnish re-enforcements of the most effective and economical sort to the troops operating against predatory bands.

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