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Prior to the Civil War, relations between Americans and the native population had been marked by encroachment on Indian land, some cooperation, occasional alliances against common enemies, misunderstanding, violence, expulsions from traditional lands, treaties, promises, missionary work, and more violence. After the war ended, the United States had to address again the question of what to do about Native Americans. President Grant hoped for something better than what history had so far recorded. He inaugurated what came to be called Grant’s peace policy (Documents A, B, and C). Documents D and E, written by Native Americans (as was Document B), explain some of the changes that occurred in Native life, both individually and collectively, because of or despite Grant’s efforts. For more information on Ely Parker, see illustration on page 135.
Documents in this chapter are available separately by following the hyperlinks below:
A. What does Grant hope to accomplish in his first annual address? How does he seek to harness his military record for his political benefit? Do you think the tone of his message would have been different had he only had a northern audience?
B. What was the significance of the Ely Parker report to US policy toward Natives? Why do you think his letter to Harriet Converse is featured in this set of documents?
C. How would the “Home Life of the Indian” have read to the American public in 1892? Did that kind of document change the way white Americans thoughts about Natives? Did it shape federal policy regarding westward expansion at all?
A. President Ulysses S. Grant, First Annual Message, December 6, 1869
. . . The building of railroads, and the access thereby given to all the agricultural and mineral regions of the country, is rapidly bringing civilized settlements into contact with all the tribes of Indians. No matter what ought to be the relations between such settlements and the aborigines, the fact is they do not harmonize well, and one or the other has to give way in the end. A system which looks to the extinction of a race is too horrible for a nation to adopt without entailing upon itself the wrath of all Christendom and engendering in the citizen a disregard for human life and the rights of others, dangerous to society. I see no substitute for such a system, except in placing all the Indians on large reservations, as rapidly as it can be done, and giving them absolute protection there. As soon as they are fitted for it they should be induced to take their lands in severalty and to set up Territorial governments for their own protection. For full details on this subject I call your special attention to the reports of the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. . . .
B. Ely S. Parker, Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, December 23, 1869
Sir: As required by law, I have the honor to submit this, my first annual report of our Indian Affairs and relations during the past year, with accompanying documents.
Among the reports of the superintendents and agents herewith, there will be found information, with views and suggestions of much practical value, which should command the earnest attention of our legislators, and all others who are concerned for the future welfare and destiny of the remaining original inhabitants of our country. The question is still one of the deepest interest, “What shall be done for the amelioration and civilization of the race?” For a long period in the past, great and commendable efforts were made by the government to accomplish these desirable ends, but the success was never commensurate with the means employed. Of late years a change of policy was seen to be required, as the cause of failure, the difficulties to be encountered, and the best means of overcoming them, became better understood. The measures to which we are indebted for an improved condition of affairs are the concentration of the Indians upon suitable reservations, and the supplying them with means for engaging in agricultural and mechanical pursuits for their education and moral training. As a result, the clouds of ignorance and superstition in which many of these people were so long enveloped, have disappeared, and the light of Christian civilization seems to have dawned upon their moral darkness, and opened upon a brighter future. Much, however, remains to be done for the multitude yet in their savage state, and I can but earnestly invite the serious consideration of those whose duty it is to legislate in their behalf, to the justice and importance of promptly fulfilling all treaty obligations and the wisdom of placing at the disposal of the department adequate funds for the purpose, and investing it with powers to adopt the requisite measures for the settlement of all tribes, when practicable, upon tracts of land to be set apart for their use and economy. I recommend that in addition to the reservations already established, there be others provided for the wild and roving tribes of New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada; also for the more peaceable bands in the southern part of California. These tribes, excepting the Navahos in the Territory of New Mexico, who under the Treaty of 1868, have a home in the western part of the Territory to which they have been removed, have no treaty relations with the government, and if placed upon reservations, it will be necessary that Congress, by appropriating legislation, provide for their wants, until they become capable of taking care of themselves. In the other Territories, as also in Oregon and the northern part of California, the existing reservations are sufficient to accommodate all the Indians within their bounds; indeed, the number might with advantage be reduced; but in Montana there is urgent need for the setting apart permanently suitable tracts for the Blackfeet and other tribes, who claim large portions of that Territory and are parties to treaties entered into with them last year by Commissioner W. J. Cullen, which were submitted to the United States Senate, but have not been finally acted upon by that body. Should the treaties be ratified, the required reservations will be secured, greatly to the benefit of both Indians and citizens.
Before entering upon a resume of affairs of the respective superintendencies of agencies for the past year, I will here briefly notice several matters of interest which in their bearing upon the management of our Indian relations, are likely to work out judging from what has been the effect so far, the most beneficial results.
Under an act of Congress approved April 10, 1868, two million dollars were appointed to enable the President to maintain peace among and with various tribes, bands and parties of Indians; to promote their civilization; bring them, when practicable, upon reservations, and to relieve their necessities, and encourage their efforts at self-support. The Executive is also authorized to organize a Board of Commissioners, to consist of not more than ten persons, selected from among men eminent for their intelligence and philanthropy, to serve without pecuniary compensation, and who, under his direction, shall exercise joint control with the Secretary of the Interior over the disbursement of this large fund. . . .
In regard to the fund of two million dollars referred to, it may be remarked that it has enabled the department to a great extent to carry out the purpose for which it was appropriated. There can be no question but that mischief has been prevented and suffering either relieved or warded off from numbers who otherwise by force or circumstances would have been led into difficulties and extreme want. By the timely supplies of subsistence and clothing furnished, and the adoption of measures for their benefit, the tribes from whom the greatest trouble was apprehended have been kept comparatively quiet, and some advance it is to be hoped, made in the direction of their permanent settlement in the localities assigned to them, and their entering upon a new course of life. The subsistence they receive is furnished through the agency of the commissary department of the Army, with, it is believed, greater economy and more satisfaction than could have resulted had the mode heretofore been followed. In this connection I desire to call attention to the fact that the number of wild Indians and others, also not provided for by treaty stipulations, whose precarious condition requires that something should be done for relief and who are thrown under the immediate charge of the department, is increasing. It is therefore, a matter of serious consideration and urgent necessity that means be offered to properly care for them. For this purpose, in my judgment there should be annually appropriated by Congress, a large contingent fund similar to that in question, and subject to the same control. I accordingly recommend that the subject be brought to the attention of Congress.
With a view of more efficiency in the management of affairs of the respective superintendencies and agencies, the Executive has inaugurated a change of policy whereby a different class of men from those heretofore selected, have been appointed to duty as superintendents and agents. There are doubtless just grounds for it, as great and frequent complaints have been made for years past, of either the dishonesty or inefficiency of many of these officers. Members of the Society of Friends, recommended by the society, now hold these positions in the Northern superintendency, embracing all Indians in Nebraska; and in the Central, embracing tribes residing in Kansas, together with the Kiowas, Comanches, and other tribes in the Indian country. Other superintendencies and agencies, excepting that of Oregon and two agencies there, are filled by Army officers detailed for such duty. The experiment has not been sufficiently tested to enable me to say definitively that it is a success, for but a short time has elapsed since these Friends and officers entered upon duty; but so far as I can learn, the plan works advantageously, and will probably prove a positive benefit to the service, and the indications are that the interests of the government and the Indians will be subserved by an honest and faithful discharge of duty, fully answering the expectations entertained by those who regard the measure as wise and proper.
I am pleased to have it to remark that there is now a perfect understanding between the officers of this department and those of the military, with respect to their relative duties and responsibilities in reference to the Indian affairs. In this matter with the approbation of the President and yourself a circular letter was addressed to this office in June last to all superintendents and agents, defining the policy of the government in its treatments of the Indians, as comprehended in their general terms, viz: that they should be secured their legal rights; located, when practicable, upon reservations; assisted in agricultural pursuits and the arts of civilized life and that Indians who should fail or refuse to come in and locate in permanent abodes provided for them, must be subject wholly to the control and supervision of military authorities, to be treated as friendly or hostile as circumstances might justify. The War Department concurring, issued orders upon the subject for the information and guidance of the proper military officers, and the result has been harmony of action between [the] two departments, no conflict of opinion having arisen as to the duty, power and responsibility of either.
Arrangements now, as heretofore, will doubtless be required with tribes desiring to be settled upon reservations for the relinquishment of their rights to the lands claimed by them, and for assistance in sustaining themselves in a new position, but I am of the opinion that they should not be of a treaty nature. It has become a matter of serious import whether the treaty system in use ought longer to be continued. In my judgment it should not. A treaty involves the idea of a compact between two or more sovereign powers, each possessing of sufficient authority and force to compel a compliance with the obligations incurred. The Indian tribes of the United States are not sovereign nations, capable of making treaties, as none of them have an organized government of such inherent strength as would secure a faithful obedience of its people in the observance of compacts of this character. They are held to be the wards of the government, and the only title the law concedes to them to the lands they occupy or claim is a mere possessory one. But because treaties have been made with them generally for the extinguishment of their supposed absolute title to land inhabited by them, or over which they roam, they have become falsely impressed with the notion of national independence. It is time that this idea should be dispelled, and that the government cease the cruel farce of thus dealing with its helpless and ignorant wards. Many good men, looking at this matter only from a Christian point of view, will perhaps say that the poor Indian has been greatly wronged and ill-treated; that this whole county was once his of which he has been despoiled, and that he has been driven from place to place until he has hardly left to him a spot where to lay his head. This indeed may be philanthropic and humane, but the stern letter of the law admits of no such conclusion, and great injury has been done by the government deluding these people into the belief of their being independent sovereignties, while they were at the same time recognized only as its dependents and wards. As civilization advances and their possessions of land are required for settlement, such legislation should be granted to them as a wise, liberal and just government ought to extend to its subjects holding their dependent relation. In regard to the treaties now in force, justice and humanity require that they be promptly and faithfully executed, so that the Indians may not have the cause of complaint, or reason to violate their obligation by acts of violence and robbery. . . .
C. President Ulysses S. Grant, Speech to Red Cloud and Red Dog, May 28, 1872
I am very glad to see you here again, and to hear that you have tried so hard to carry out the promises made by you when you were here before – to keep the peace between your people and the whites. . . .
We want to do for you and your people all we can to advance and help them, and to enable them to become self-supporting. The time must come when, with the great growth of population here, the game will be gone, and your people will then have to resort to other means of support; and while there is time we would like to teach you new modes of living that will secure you in the future and be a safe means of livelihood.
I want to see the Indians get upon land where they can look forward to permanent homes for themselves and their children. The matter of the location of your agency we want to make agreeable to you, and also to the white people, and to regulate this you must speak to the Secretary of the Interior. I want you to have your talk with him. He tells me all that is said to him, and he speaks for me.
I do not want you and your people to go beyond the territory which has been guaranteed to you by treaty stipulations, except with your full consent; but I am going to suggest to you for your thought and reflection a movement – not for you to decide upon today, nor this year necessarily, but for you to think about taking into consideration the advantages that will be gained by it – and if you all consent I will state what we propose to do for you.
If, at any time, you feel like moving to what is known as the Cherokee country – which is a large territory, with an admirable climate, where you would never suffer from the cold and where you could have lands set apart to remain exclusively your own – we would set apart a large tract of land that would belong to you and your children. We would at first build houses for your chiefs and principal men, and send men among your people to instruct them so they could have houses for shelter. We would send you large herds of cattle and sheep to live upon, and to enable you to raise stock. To this end we would send, if you so desire, Indians who have been accustomed to live with white men, who would instruct you in growing and raising stock until you know how to do so yourselves. We would establish schools, so that your children would learn to read and to write, and to speak the English language, the same as white people, and in this way you and your people would be prepared, before the game is gone, to live comfortably and securely.
I say this only for you to think about and talk about to your people. Whenever you are ready to avail yourself of this offer, then you can talk to us, and we will do what I say. All the treaty obligations we have entered into we shall keep with you unless it is with your own consent that the change is made, or so long as you keep those obligations yourself.
Any reply that you wish to make you can make to the Secretary of the Interior. This you can put off until you have thought over the subject.
D. Ely S. Parker to Harriet Converse, 1885
The outpouring of your terrific wrath against certain Christian practices, beliefs and propositions for the amelioration and improvement of certain unchristian people who live on reservations where the English language is not spoken, and where “vice and barbarism” are rampant, was duly received yesterday. The Bishop is right in his reference to the remnants of the Six Nations being yet “deplorably subject to individual disability, disadvantages and wrong arising from their tribal condition,” in all except the last proposition. The disabilities, disadvantages and wrongs do not result, however, either primarily, consequently or ultimately from their tribal condition and native inheritances, but solely, wholly and absolutely from the unchristian treatment they have always received from Christian white people who speak the English language, who read the English Bible and who are Pharisaically divested of all the elements of vice and barbarism. The tenacity with which the remnants of this people have adhered to their tribal organizations and religious traditions is all that has saved them thus far from inevitable extinguishment. When they abandon their birthright for a mess of Christian pottage they will then cease to be a distinctive people. It is useless though to discuss this question, already prejudiced and predetermined by a granitic Christian hierarchy from whose judgments and decisions there seems to be no appeal. . . .
On reading your last note I was greatly amused, – and why? Because what I have written heretofore has been taken literatim et verbatim and a character given me to which I am no more entitled than the man in the moon! I am credited or charged with being “great,” “powerful” and finally crowned as “good”! Oh, my guardian genius, why should I be so burdened with what I am not now and never expect to be! Oh, indeed, would that I could feel a “kindling touch from that pure flame” which a fair and ministering angel would endow me with in the exuberance of prejudiced enthusiasm, and which compels me to sit in sackcloth and ashes. . . .
And why all this commotion of the spirit? Because I am an ideal or a myth and not my real self. I have lost my identity and I look about me in vain for my original being. I never was “great” and never expect to be. I never was “powerful” and would not know how to exercise power were it placed in my hands for use. And that I am “good” or ever dreamed of attaining that blissful condition of being is simply absurd. . . .
All my life I have occupied a false position. As a youth my people voted me a genius and loudly proclaimed that Hawenneyo had destined me to be their savior and gave public thanksgiving for the great blessing they believed had been given them, for unfortunately just at this period they were engaged in an almost endless and nearly hopeless litigated contest for their New York homes and consequently for their very existence.
For many years I was a constant visitor at the State and Federal capitals either seeking legislative relief or in attendance at State and Federal courts. Being only a mere lad, the pale-faced officials with whom I came in contact flattered me and declared that one so young must be extraordinarily endowed to be charged with the conduct of such weighty affairs. I pleased my people in eventually bringing their troubles to a successful and satisfactory termination. I prepared and had approved by the proper authorities a code of laws and rules for the conduct of affairs among themselves and settled them for all time or, for so long as Hawenneyo should let them live.
They saw all this and that it was good. They no longer wanted me nor gave me credit for what had been done. A generation had passed and another grown up since I began to work for them. The young men were confident of their own strength and abilities and needed not the brawny arm of experience to fight their battles for them, nor the wisdom brought about by years of training to guide them any longer. The War of the Rebellion had broken out among the pale-faces, a terrible contest between the slaveholding and non-slaveholding sections of the United States. I had, through the Hon. Wm. H. Seward, personally tendered my services for the non-slaveholding interest. Mr. Seward in short said to me that the struggle in which I wished to assist, was an affair between white men and one in which the Indian was not called on to act. “The fight must be made and settled by the white men alone,” he said. “Go home, cultivate your farm, and we will settle our own troubles without any Indian aid.”
I did go home and planted crops and myself on the farm, sometimes not leaving it for four and six weeks at a time. But the quarrel of the whites was not so easily or quickly settled. It was not a wrangle of boys, but a struggle of giants and the country was being racked to its very foundations.
Then came to me in my forest home a paper bearing the great red seal of the War Department at Washington. It was an officer’s commission in the Army of the United States. The young Indian community had settled in their untutored minds that because I had settled quietly, willingly and unconcernedly in the earning of my living by the sweat of my brow, I was not, therefore, a genius or a man of mind. That they were in truth correct, they did not know, jealousy and envy having prompted the idea and utterance. But now this paper coming from the great Government at Washington offering to confer honors for which I had not served an apprenticeship, nor even asked for, revived among the poor Indians the idea that I was after all a genius and great and powerful, though to them not perceptible. They pleaded with me not to leave them, but to remain as their counsellor, adviser and chief, and that they would be powerless and lost without my presence. They tacitly acknowledged my genius, greatness, and power, and which I did not. When I explained that I was going into the war with a splendid protest of sacrificing my life, as much for their food as for the maintenance of the principles of the Constitution and laws of the United States, and upholding the Union flag in its purity, honor and supremacy over this whole country, they silently and wisely bowed their heads and wept in assent as to the inevitable. I bade them farewell, commended them to the care and protection of Hawenneyo and left them, never expecting to return.
I went from the East to the West and from the West to the East again. They heard of me in great battles and they knew of my association with the great commander of all the Union armies and how I upheld the right arm of his strength, and they said, “How great and powerful is our chief!”
The quarrel between the white men ended and the great commander with his military family settled in Washington, where the great council fire of his nation was annually lighted and blazed in all its glory and fury. As an humble member of this military family I was the envy of many pale-faced subordinate embryo generals who said in whispers, “Parker must be a genius, he is so great and powerful.”
In a few years my military chieftain was made head and front of the whole American people, and in his partiality he placed me at the head of the management of the Indian Affairs of the United States. I was myself an Indian and presumably understood them, their wants and the manipulation of their affairs generally. Then, again went out among the whites and Indians the words, “Parker must be a genius, he is so great and powerful.” The Indians were universally pleased, and they all were willing to be quiet and remain at peace, and were even asking to be taught civilization and Christianity. I stopped and put an end to all wars either among themselves or with their white brothers, and I sent professed Christian teachers among them. But these things did not suit that class of whites who waxed rich and fat from the plundering of the poor Indians, nor were there teacherships enough to give places to all the hungry and impecunious Christians. Then was the cry raised by all who believed themselves injured or unprovided for: “Nay! this Parker is an Indian genius; he is grown too great and powerful; he doth injure our business and taketh the bread from the mouths of our families and the money from out of our pockets, now, therefore, let us write and put him out of power, so that we may feast as heretofore.”
They made their onslaught on my poor innocent head and made the air foul with their malicious and poisonous accusations. They were defeated, but it was no longer a pleasure to discharge patriotic duties in the face of foul slander and abuse. I gave up a thankless position to enjoy my declining days in peace and quiet. But my days are not all peace and quiet. I am pursued by a still small voice constantly echoing, “Thou art a genius, great and powerful,” and even my little cousin, the restless Snipe, has with her strong, piping voice echoed the refrain, “Thou art great, powerful and good.”. . .
Donehogawa, The Wolf
E. Susan La Flesche, M.D., The Home Life of the Indian, June 1892
The home life of the Indian of to-day is essentially the same as the home life of the Indian of thirty years ago. Any progress he may have made is due to change of environment, produced by the coming of white people, and the consequent passing away of old customs.
The daily routine of home life is the same, the aforesaid change produced by environment being shown by the fact that in place of the tepee the Indian once occupied, he now lives in a frame house and can boast of a well, a stable, a few fruit trees and a vegetable garden. The fact that in place of hunting wild game over the prairies, he now farms and raises good crops of corn, wheat, and oats makes but little difference in the internal workings of the home.
Long ago the Indian had a removable house suited to his requirements, a tepee or tent which was made of buckskin or canvas stretched over a pyramid formed by means of poles tied together at the top with buckskin, a house easy to carry around with him in his nomadic journeyings.
When the tribe found a place where they could settle down and live eight months in the year they built mud lodges as their permanent residences. These are dome-shaped, the frame work consisting of poles, willow branches and rushes, and from base to apex it is covered with sod several inches thick. They have wide entranceways, several feet long and high enough to permit a tall person to stand upright. They are like tunnels leading into the lodge, which is circular in form. Light and air enter by means of a large circular opening in the top of the dome, this also serving as a means of exit for the smoke. The lodge is well ventilated – warm in winter and cool in summer. Several families live in them at a time, and the only two or three now left on this reservation are used for holding councils, public gatherings and dances, as they can accommodate over a hundred people.
How often as children we used to climb upon these lodges and pick the sunflowers and grasses growing on them. Near sunset the old men would sit up on these lodges where they could pursue their meditations undisturbed and alone, and I remember looking at them reverently as I played around with the other children, for I regarded them with a great deal of awe, for to me they seemed so wise.
Trodden by hundreds of feet the earthen floor is almost as hard as stone, and coming in from the hot dusty road how gratefully cool it felt to our little bare feet as we played in and out, riding our make-believe horse made of sunflower stalks. In the center is a little hollow where the fire is built and all the cooking is done. Around this place we used to gather to listen to thrilling stories of battles with the dreaded Sioux, buffalo hunts and ghost stories. When it came to the last I used to look up fearfully at the opening above, for fear I should see a dog looking down, for it is a superstition among the Indians that if a dog looks down through this opening into the lodge some one of the company is sure to die soon. If such a thing happened the dog was killed immediately. It was always a relief to see the blue sky and stars looking down.
After a while the Indians built log houses of only one room, the roof covered with turf.
Now, on this reservation we have almost every family living in a neat frame house, one story or one story and a half high, wainscoted, plastered or papered inside; very clean and neatly painted outside. The premises are clear of rubbish.
These houses are built by the Indians with their own money, but the desire to own such houses was started several years ago when the “Connecticut Home-Building Fund” started the Home-Building Department of the Women’s National Indian Association. The seed then sown has borne fruit here and elsewhere. Whether you enter with me into a tent, a mud-lodge or log house, or one of these neat frame houses you would see the same home-life going on in every one of them.
There is little variation, one day of the week being almost the same as another.
The family usually arise early – in the summer about sunrise, but in winter the breakfast is usually considerably delayed, for they follow suntime. In most cases the hostess arises and builds the fire, gets the water and cooks the simple meal. Very few have had bread, but it is now getting to be the general rule in many families to make light bread. They have biscuit made with soda or baking powder, and sometimes “fried cakes,” light brown in color and very appetizing. Coffee, sometimes fresh beef, for, in this country where there are thousands of head of cattle it is hard to get beef; sometimes fruit, dried, and in the summer potatoes and beans. You can see that their diet is very simple. The food is divided and put on plates, the coffee is poured out into cups and then the food is handed around to each individual. Usually after the meal is over the dishes are put away in a little cupboard. If it is summer the husband and men in the family go out to their work and the wife cleans up the house and begins to get the noon-meal. It is the same as breakfast. They do not do very much sewing for their clothes are simply and quickly made. The houses on the reservation are far apart and the women cannot very well pass away the time by gossip with the neighbors, as some of our white friends have the privilege of doing. What a deprivation is this! Let us all be thankful for our privileges.
The evening meal is simple, and the time between that and the retiring hour is spent in talking over the events of the day or in telling news. We have no telegraph lines or telephones, but news has a wonderfully quick way of travelling from one house to another. Rumors on a reservation are the same as rumors anywhere else. When they reach the end (?) of their journey they have received quite an addition, and a wise person will credit only one third of the story as truth.
There are no books, pictures or recreations save the dances, and no games except cards which are used for gambling. A narrow life in some respects. The Indians are passionately fond of their children; having no books, pictures or recreations in their home life, they lavish all attention on their children. There are some cases where the step-father or step-mother, as the case may be, makes no difference whatever between their children and the step-children. They show their affection for their children also.
Some ask the absurd question, “Do the Indians really love their wives?” The Indians are human beings just as the white people are, and there are Indian men who are just as careful, watchful and affectionate to their wives as anyone would wish to see anywhere. They do not make an outward show of their affection, but I know from personal observation that they are truly devoted to each other. One day I had to pull a young woman’s tooth, and as the husband was a strong muscular man I was in hopes he would support her head for me. He sent for his brother to do it and when he saw me take the forceps up he beat a hasty retreat. I heard him walking up and down in the other room, and when they told him I was through he appeared with such a happy relieved look on his face and thanked me so earnestly. I could not help but be glad for him that she was through with her suffering. There are many instances like this that I know of. Of course, there are some cases entirely different, and where there is no happiness. But so we find it wherever we go in this world.
Indian women no longer stand in the background. Few work in the fields or do heavy work. Where it used to be the lot of the women to provide the wood, now the men get it in almost all cases. Even in so small a thing as walking or riding where the woman had to walk behind or ride in the back of the wagon, now she walks beside her husband, and in vehicles you see the woman riding beside her husband on the seat.
The old customs are fast disappearing and in place of the Indian of twenty years ago, who lived in a tent and supported himself by hunting wild game, we have an independent man who is earning his bread by his own toil, living in a frame house and learning very fast how to transact business like white people. The wife standing beside her husband shows only his true advancement, and the home is happier for this progress.