A century of destruction

Download 107.25 Kb.
Size107.25 Kb.



Britain’s Proclamation of 1763, which had granted tribes per­petual rights to lands west of the British colonies was never upheld. Instead the American Revolution (1775—83) inter­vened. Once again, the Indian nations found themselves caught in a dispute of European making. And once again, both sides—the British as well as the colonial revolution­aries—courted the Indian nations, especially the powerful Iroquois League, as allies.

In 1775 the Continental Congress created three depart­ments of Indian affairs: a northern, a middle, and a south­ern department. Staffed by eleven commissioners, including Patrick Henry and Benjamin Franklin, the departments were assigned the task of treating “with the Indians... to preserve peace and friendship with the said Indians and to prevent their taking part in the present commotion.”

The “commotion” presented most tribes with a choice be­tween two evils. Although England’s record in dealing with the tribes was not unblemished, most tribes realized that En­glish policy, however imperfect, gave them some protection from land-hungry colonists. Most tribes of the Iroquois and Muscogee confederacies, and the Cherokees, Shawnees, and others, sided with the British.

The colonists did, however, win the neutrality of the Oneidas and the Tuscaroras, both members of the Iroquois League. By splitting the force of the Iroquois League, the colonists may have guaranteed their eventual victory in their war of independence.

Another fortunate alliance for the colonists was with the Delaware Nation. In 1778, three years after the war’s onset, the United States signed its first Indian treaty with the Dela­wares, who agreed to allow colonial troops to pass through their territory. The Delawares also agreed to sell corn, meat, horses, and other supplies to the colonies and to allow their braves to enlist in the colonial army. The treaty also stated that if the Delawares so decided, they could “invite any other tribes who have been friends to join the present confedera­tion and form a state whereof the Delaware Nation shall be the head and have a representative in Congress.” But neither the Delawares nor any other Indian nation was ever admitted as a state, although Congress continued to consider the idea for the next hundred years.

More than sixteen hundred warriors fought with British forces, attacking colonial settlements and causing consid­erable fear and loss in the frontier regions. Tribes allied with both sides suffered heavy casualties. Gen. George Wash-
This is a family quarrel be­tween us and old England. . . we desire you to remain at home, and not join on either side, but keep the hatchet buried deep.

Message from George Washington to the Iroquois League, 1775

That a perpetual peace and friendship shall from henceforth take place, and subsist between the contracting parties aforesaid, through all succeeding genera­tions: and if either of the parties are engaged in a just and neces­sary war with any other nation or nations, that then each shall as­sist the other in due proportion to their abilities, till their enemies are brought to reasonable terms of accommodation; and that if ei­ther of them shall discover any hostile designs forming against the other, they shall give the ear­liest notice thereof, that timeous measures may be taken to prevent their ill effect.

Article II,

Treaty with the Delawares, 1778



European claims to tribal lands changed continuously throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. As the map above indicates, during the early years of the American Republic, the United States possessed claims to only the eastern portion of the present-day United States.

-ington ordered Gen. James Clinton and Gen. John Sullivan to engage in a scorched-earth policy against the Iroquois to retaliate for destruction of colonial food supplies. Sulli­van’s troops burned more than forty Iroquois towns, de­stroyed sixteen hundred bushels of corn and vegetables, and chopped down orchards of apple, pear, and peach trees. From then on the Iroquois referred to Washington as Ha-no­da-ga-nears, “Town Destroyer.” By the time the Revolution­ary War ended, in 1783, its ravages had broken the strength of the Iroquois League. Mohawk leader Thayendanegea Jo­seph Brant led most of his people to Canada, where the Brit­ish provided them with land.

After the Revolutionary War ended, Indian-white relations remained in chaos. Under its Articles of Confederation (1781—89), the United States comprised a loose political union with a weak central government and powerful states. In fact, Benjamin Franklin had modeled the new country’s structure on that of the Iroquois League. The system that had proved so effective for the league, however, was inef­fective for the United States. The powerful states and weak central structure presented problems in relations with Indian nations. The Articles of Confederation granted each state the right to handle its own Indian relations. Unfortunately, treaty violations, unfair trading practices, fraudulent land cessions, and illegal settlements became common. Ongoing


hostility intensified between states and tribes, and all too of­ten it erupted into warfare.

In 1791, after a two-year ratification process, the U.S. Con­stitution replaced the Articles of Confederation. The Consti­tution provided for a stronger central government. Indian relations, like foreign affairs, became the exclusive authority of the federal government. Articles I and II granted the presi­dent and Congress the authority to declare war and make treaties. Article III gave Congress sole authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations, Indian tribes, and between the states. Indians were not otherwise mentioned in the Con­stitution, except in a passage about census taking (article I, section 2). Neither the federal government nor the states had jurisdiction over Indian tribes. Indians were citizens of their own nations, not of the United States.

It was hoped that the new Constitution would assist the new American Republic with its most pressing national and international problem—its relationship with the Indian nations. The 1783 Peace of Paris, which had ended the Revo­lutionary War, established the western boundary of the new republic at the Mississippi River. The continued growth and progress of the young country depended on the govern­ment’s ability to obtain these westernmost lands from the Indians for settlers. The young country also needed td keep the Indians from allying with the English and Spanish com­petitors surrounding it on three sides. Obtaining land from the Indians and maintaining peaceful relations with them, however, were contradictory objectives.

President George Washington sought early to define a na­tional Indian policy. In 1789 one of his first actions was to ask Secretary of War Henry Knox to prepare a detailed re­port on the status of Indian affairs. The secretary responded with a lengthy document in which he analyzed the tribes’ legal rights and discussed what he thought were the best pro­cedures for dealing with the tribes.

In his report Knox emphasized that Indians had a right to their land and that their land could not be taken without their consent except in a war with a just cause. Knox warned that obtaining land through war would be costly in terms of men and materials. He proposed instead that the federal gov­ernment help the tribes make a transition from a hunting to an agricultural life-style. Tribes could then support them­selves on less land and cede their surplus portions to the federal government. Knox insisted above all that if there was to be peace on the frontier, the government must stop citi­zens from settling illegally on Indian lands.

In response to Knox’s report, Congress passed a number of regulatory acts, known as trade and intercourse acts, be­tween 1790 and 1834. These acts protected against fraudu­lent land deals by prohibiting states and individuals from purchasing land directly from tribes. Only the federal gov-­
Brother: We are of the same opinion with the people of the United States; you consider your­selves as independent people; we, as the original inhabitants of this country, and sovereigns of the soil, look upon ourselves as equally independent, and free as any other nation or nations. This country was given to us by the Great Spirit above; we wish to enjoy it, . . . The great exertions we have made, for this number of years, to accomplish a peace, and have not been able to obtain it; our patience, as we have already ob­served, is exhausted, and we are discouraged from persevering any longer. We, therefore, throw our­selves under the protection of the Great Spirit above, who, we hope, will order all things for the best. We have told you our patience is worn out; but not so far, but that we wish for peace, and, whenever we hear that pleasing sound, we shall pay attention to it.

Joseph Brant, Mohawk, 1794

No purchase, grant, lease, or other conveyance of lands, or of any title or claim thereto, from any Indian nation or tribe of In­dians, shall be of any validity in law or equity, unless the same be made by treaty or convention entered into pursuant to the Constitution.

1802 Trade and Intercourse Act


-ernment could buy Indian lands. To control unfair trading practices and ensure the quality of trade goods, the govern­ment required all traders to obtain government licenses, and, until 1822, Congress owned and operated a governmental system of trading houses. Another act required citizens trav­eling in Indian country to obtain passports.

Congress also passed laws authorizing funds for the dis­tribution of goods and services owed to tribes as a result of various treaties and land cessions. Trading goods to tribes in exchange for land and other concessions was a common government practice. The government also gave goods out­right to tribes to gain their friendship and maintain their alliance against the British, the French, and the Spanish. Small services were also provided in the same spirit. Gradu­ally Indians began regularly to negotiate for services as well as for goods. For example, the Muscogee Nation, in one of its treaties, arranged for blacksmiths to live in tribal vil­lages. By 1802, education for Indian children and some adults had become one of the services Congress offered in exchange for land.

Knox’s report and the trade and intercourse acts contained two contradictory policies, however. On the one hand, In­dian tribes were recognized as nations with treaty-making powers and rights to their land. On the other hand, Knox was urging the federal government to “civilize” and ulti­mately assimilate the tribes. The government’s policy has continued to waver between the conflicting policies of re­spect for tribal sovereignty and attempts to assimilate Indians into the American mainstream.

To cope with the government’s increasingly complex in­volvement in Indian affairs, Congress created the Indian Of­fice in 1824. The office operated through agents who, in re­ality, were ambassadors with broad powers of negotiation. They concluded treaties with the Indian nations, delivered trade goods, and tried to maintain peace with the tribes. (The history of the Indian Office, which later became the Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIAI, is discussed in more detail in chapter 12.)
In 1787, just a few years before it passed the first trade and intercourse acts, Congress had passed the Northwest Ordi­nance. This ordinance outlined a plan and a schedule for turning the Northwest Territory (the present-day states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin) into states. Since much of this land was occupied by Indian tribes, the ordinance contained assurances to the tribes that they would not be treated unfairly:

The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken-

And it be further enacted, that in order to promote civilization among the friendly Indian tribes, and to secure the continuance of their friendship, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to cause them to be fur­nished with useful domestic ani­mals and implements of hus­bandry, and with goods or money, as he shall judge proper. . .

1802 Trade and Intercourse Act

The United States, immediately upon the ratification of this con­vention, or as soon thereafter as may be, shall cause to be fur­nished to the Kansas Nation, three hundred hogs, five hundred domestic fowls, three yoke of oxen, and two carts, with such implements of agriculture as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs may think necessary; and shall employ such persons to aid and instruct them in their agriculture, as the President of the United States may deem expedient; and shall provide and support a blacksmith for them.

Article 4, Treaty with the Kansa Indians, 1825


-from them without their consent; and in their property, rights and liberty they never shall be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress..

But as was often the case in Indian affairs, a wide gap ex­isted between promise and practice. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, the first governor of the territory, ignored both the promise of the ordinance and the warnings of Secretary Knox. St. Clair told his negotiators to do everything necessary—no matter how unscrupulous—to gain possession of Indian lands. The tribes met St. Clair’s tactics with force. In 1791 an alliance of the Miami, Delaware, Shawnee, Chippewa, Pota­watomi, and Ottawa nations, led by Chief Little Turtle, handed General St. Clair one of the worst defeats in U.S. history. Almost nine hundred of St. Clair’s fourteen hundred men were either killed or wounded.

St. Clair’s tactics were employed by others as well. William Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana from 1801 to 1811 (and later president) negotiated fifteen treaties with various tribes and thereby gained title to almost all of Illinois and Indiana and parts of Michigan and Wisconsin. Harrison obtained In­dian signatures to treaties through bribery, treachery, and fraud. The total payments made to tribes for this vast, fertile area amounted to only about one cent per acre.

Harrison’s unscrupulous tactics and illegal dealings en­raged Tecumseh, a great Shawnee warrior from central Ohio, and his brother Tenskwatawa, also known as “the Prophet.” An engaging orator and statesman, Tecumseh campaigned throughout the country, meeting with different tribal councils and preaching that the land belonged to all Indians and that no tribe could sell any portion of the common, sacred resource.

Taking advantage of one of Tecumseh’s absences, Harrison bribed a few unauthorized chiefs with alcohol and negoti­ated a treaty that ceded three million acres of land, in­cluding land from tribes not even represented at the coun­cil. In retaliation, Tecumseh stationed one thousand warriors at Prophet’s Town, one of the areas ceded, to prevent settle­ment of the land. When Tecumseh left the area again to counsel with some southern tribes, Harrison once again took advantage of his absence and sent troops against the war­riors. This attack was the opening battle of what became a general frontier war. The frontier war itself merged the next year with the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States.

The causes of the War of 1812 evolved from American anger over British impressment of American seamen and sei­zure of American goods on the high seas, British commerce and economic restrictions, and opposition to British incite­ments of Indian attacks. As in the Revolutionary War, most of the tribes in the upper Mississippi Valley and half of the tribes in the South sided with England. Indian auxiliaries-
The way, the only way to stop this evil is for the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be now—for it was never divided, but belongs to all. No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers. . . . Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?

Tecumseh (Shawnee), protesting land sales to Gov. William Henry Harrison, 1810

Where today are the Pequot?

Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished be­fore the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before the summer sun. . . . Will we let ourselves be destroyed in our turn, without making an effort worthy of our race? Shall we, without a struggle, give up our homes, our lands, bequeathed to us by the Great Spirit? The graves of our dead and everything that is dear and sacred to us? I know you will say with me, Never! Never!

Tecumseh’s speech urging southern Indians to unite into a confederation, 1811

-played a large role in the war, fighting in all major northern battles. Tecumseh, said to have been a brigadier general in the British Army, successfully defended the important De­troit region until the American offensive of August, 1813. The U.S. victory on September 10, 1813, in the decisive Battle of Lake Erie cut off British supply lines to the East. The British then retreated from the area, despite Tecumseh’s protests, thereby breaking their promise to the tribes that the “King their Great Father always true to his promises is re­solved not to lay down the [tomahawk] until the Indians are restored to their rights and their future secured.” Tecumseh’s death on October 5, 1813, during the Battle of Thames sealed American control of the old Northwest Territory.

During negotiations to end the War of 1812, Britain ar­gued for an independent Indian buffer state between Canada and the United States. The United States steadfastly refused,-
Tecumtha (Tecumseh), or One Who Passes Across Intervening Space From One Point to Another (1768— 1813). Pencil sketch by Pierre Le Dru, a French trader at Vincennes, Indiana. (Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, Bureau of American Ethnology Collection.)

-agreeing only to restore tribal rights to their 1811 status. The War of 1812 and its aftermath ended forever the Indian tribal alliances with Great Britain, and soon afterward the Indian nations lost their Spanish ally as well.

Gen. Andrew Jackson had commanded the American forces in the South during the War of 1812. His two most difficult and important victories occurred at New Orleans, where he defeated the British, and at Horseshoe Bend, Ala­bama, where he defeated the Red Sticks, a militant faction of the Muscogee Confederacy (see chapter 7). Spurred by his successes against the British and the Muscogees, Jackson in­vaded Florida in 1818 with the objective of clearing both the Seminoles and the Spanish from the area. Jackson was suc­cessful in routing the Spanish, and three years later Spain sold Florida to the United States. This agreement set off a new rush of settlers to the area, and the Seminoles, forced to retreat into the interior swamplands, began a series of three long and costly wars in defense of their homeland.

With the removal of England and Spain as potential tribal allies, and with the idea of an independent Indian state dead, tribal-federal relations entered a new phase. The opportunity to align themselves with the European powers had given In­dian nations more strength against the United States than their own military could supply. Now tribes had to deal on their own with a rapidly expanding nation interested in ob­taining Indian lands as quickly as possible.


After the War of 1812 immigration to the United States in­creased steadily, causing further pressure on Indian lands. The tribes of the Southeast, especially the Cherokees, Choc­taws, Chickasaws, Muscogees, and Seminoles (called the Five Civilized Tribes by the whites), sought to counteract this pressure by adopting some white practices while still maintaining their own cultures. By the late 1820s the five tribes had become remarkably successful in agriculture and political and educational development. In 1821 the brilliant Cherokee linguist, Sequoyah, who neither spoke nor read English, produced a written syllabary for the Cherokee lan­guage. This syllabary, which was later adopted by the other four tribes, was taught in Cherokee schools established by the Moravian Brethren Church. Within a short time most of the tribe was literate.

The tribes also began to alter their political systems, hop­ing that doing so would enable them to better confront the demands of the dominant society. In 1828, for example, the Cherokees elected delegates to a constitutional convention. The resulting government, patterned after that of the United States, consisted of an elected chief (analogous to the U.S. president), a bicameral council (like the U.S. Congress), and a judicial system. The Cherokee Constitution guaranteed in-

In the present state of our country one of two things seems to be necessary. Either that those sons of the forests should be moralized or exterminated. . Put into the hands of their chil­dren the primer and the hoe, and they will naturally, in time, take hold of the plow.

House Committee on Appropriations, 1818

Sir, to these remarks we beg leave to observe and remind you that the Cherokee are not for­eigners but original inhabitants of America, and that they now in­habit and stand on the soil of their own territory and that the limits of this territory are defined by the treaties which they have made with the government of the U.S., and the states by which they are now surrounded have been created out of land which was once theirs, and they cannot rec­ognize the sovereignty of any state within the limits of their territory.

Cherokee Memorial to President James Monroe, 1823


Cherokee Alphabet

Sequoyah’s syllabary, 1835. Sequoyah, a silversmith by profession, perfected his eighty-six—character syllabary (a set of symbols, each representing a syllable) in 1821, because of his conviction that a written language would greatly benefit his people in a rapidly changing world. By 1828 old and young alike were reading in Cherokee, neighbor having taught neighbor by writing the “talking leaves,” as the characters were called, on backyard fences and on the walls of their houses. By 1843, the year of Sequoyah’s death, more than four million pages of books, articles, and newspapers had been published using his alphabet. (Courtesy Library of Congress.)

-dividuals many of the same rights American citizens had un­der the Bill of Rights. The major exception was that Chero­kee land was to be held communally.

The tribes’ progress did not pacify the southeastern states. When gold was discovered on Cherokee lands in 1828, the states’ determination to rid themselves of their Indian popu­lations intensified. Shortly thereafter, Georgia, followed by Alabama and Mississippi, passed a series of laws intended to remove the five tribes from their own lands. These laws re­distributed tribal lands to various counties, declared all In­dian laws and customs void after 1830, and forbade the tes­timony of Indians against whites in court. These measures permitted the wholesale confiscation of Indian property. The stage was set for a major legal confrontation between the

tribes and the states. Two resulting Supreme Court deci­sions, written by Chief Justice John Marshall, established for the first time a legal statement on the status and rights of the Indian nations. These decisions provided the foundation for all future federal-tribal relations.

The states’ unfair behavior alarmed not only the Chero­kees but also many U.S. congressmen, including Daniel Web­ster. With the encouragement of these friends, the Chero­kees sought an injunction against the state of Georgia. The Cherokees wanted the injunction to stop the state from applying laws intended to “annihilate the Cherokees as a political society and to seize for the use of Georgia the lands of the nation which have been assured to them by the United States in solemn treaties.” A former U.S. attorney, Gen. William Wirt, served as the tribe’s lawyer. He argued before the Supreme Court that the Cherokees were in fact a foreign nation and that, therefore, Georgia’s laws were inap­plicable to them. The Cherokees, Wirt stated, had been a sovereign nation from time immemorial, “acknowledging no earthly superior.”

The Cherokees’ case was strong and logical. But Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in 1831 that the Cherokees were not a foreign state within the meaning of the U.S. Consti­tution. He denied their motion for an injunction. The Chero­kees, Marshall ruled, were neither citizens of a foreign na­tion nor state citizens nor conquered subjects. Instead, the Cherokee Nation was a domestic dependent nation, one whose relationship to the United States was like that of “a ward to guardian.” Marshall’s decision, while disappointing to the Cherokees, was actually a clever (if temporary) solution to a complex problem.

Legally, the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia case was about Cherokee sovereignty and rights. But politically, it involved the future of the Supreme Court. President Andrew Jackson had campaigned for office on a pledge to move the tribes westward. But a Supreme Court ruling that the Cherokees were a foreign state would have prevented the government from moving the tribes. President Jackson made it clear that he intended to ignore the Court if it ruled in favor of the Cherokees. Marshall realized that a president’s refusal to en­force a Supreme Court decree would seriously harm the fu­ture of the Court. He was, however, unwilling to sacrifice the Cherokees by leaving them at the mercy of the states. So he chose a third and politically ingenious alternative. By ruling that the Cherokees could not sue as a foreign nation, Mar­shall avoided a direct confrontation between the Supreme Court and President Jackson. And by defining the Cherokees as a domestic dependent nation, Marshall left open the pos­sibility of the Cherokees receiving federal protection against individual states.

The Cherokees and their non-Indian supporters under­stood the political realities behind Marshall’s decision. They tried again, this time through a test case aimed at probing-

The title of the Cherokee people to their lands is the most ancient, pure and absolute known to man; its date is beyond the reach of human record; its va­lidity confirmed by possession and enjoyment antecedent to all pretense of claim by any portion of the human race.

The free consent of the Chero­kee people is indispensable to a valid transfer of the Cherokee title. The Cherokee people have neither by themselves nor their representatives given such con­sent. It follows that the original title and ownership of lands still rests in the Cherokee Nation, un­impaired and absolute. The Cherokee people have existed as a distinct national community for a period extending into antiquity beyond the dates and records and memory of man. These attributes have never been relinquished by the Cherokee people, and cannot be dissolved by the expulsion of the Nation from its territory by the power of the United States Government.

Cherokee Memorial to Congress prior to their removal west

-the legality of Georgia’s actions. Two missionaries sympa­thetic to the Cherokee cause, Samuel Worcester and Elizur Butler, deliberately broke a Georgia law requiring a state license to live on Indian lands. When they refused to obey Georgia laws, they were tried by a Georgia court and sen­tenced to four years of hard labor. The two appealed their conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that Georgia’s laws did not apply on Cherokee lands. William Wirt, representing the Cherokees once again, pointed out that the U.S. Constitution granted “the regulation of in­tercourse with the Indians” exclusively to the federal gov­ernment. States were therefore barred from passing any laws infringing on the special and exclusive federal-tribal relationship.

Marshall agreed with Wirt and the Cherokees. He declared the Georgia laws an unconstitutional interference with exist­ing treaties between the United States and the Cherokees. In writing his decision, the chief justice also elaborated on his previous description of the Cherokees as a domestic depen­dent nation. Marshall explained that the United States, like Great Britain, traditionally recognized Indian nations as “dis­tinct political communities, having territorial boundaries within which their authority is exclusive and having right to all the lands within their boundaries.” He pointed to all the treaties made between the United States and the Cherokees as proof that the United States “considered the Cherokees as a nation.”

In the Cherokee Nation case, Marshall had written that the relationship between the Indian nations and the United States was like “that of a ward to his guardian.” In the Worcester v. Georgia decision Marshall explained this rela­tionship more fully. Although Indian nations, according to the chief justice, were somewhat like wards of the federal government, the United States’ protection of the tribes did not reduce Indian sovereignty. The relationship between the Cherokees and the United States, Marshall stated, was that “of a nation claiming and receiving the protection of one more powerful, not that of individuals abandoning their na­tional character, and submitting as subjects to the laws of the master.” This description is of a protectorate relationship. Marshall referred to international law to prove that a weaker power does not surrender its independence or right to self-government by associating with a stronger state. And he em­phasized that protection meant the “supply of their essential wants and protection from lawless and injurious intrusions into their country.” Most important, protection did not imply the destruction of the protected.


The Worcester decision was a legal victory for the Cherokees.

But unfortunately it did little to prevent the tribe’s removal.

Government officials had proposed for some years to solve-

The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community, occupying its own territory, with boundaries accurately described, in which the laws of Georgia can have no force, and which the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter, but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves, or in conformity with treaties, and with the acts of Congress. The whole intercourse between the United States and this nation, is, by our Constitu­tion and laws, vested in the gov­ernment of the United States.

Worcester v. Georgia, 1832

The Commissioners Plenipo­tentiary of the Chickasaws, do hereby acknowledge the tribes and the towns of the Chickasaw nation, to be under the protection of the United States of America, and of no other sovereign whosoever.

Article II, Treaty with the Chickasaws, 1786



The Unami majority of the Delaware Nation was one of many tribes relocated to Indian Territory. This map depicts the tortuous route by which they arrived there. Forced to resettle over and over again in response to white demands for land, the Delawares, and other tribes whose experiences were similar, splintered into a number of distinct groups. Descendants of Delawares who stayed in the various areas of occupation still there today, and Delaware communities exist in New Jersey, southern Ontario (Canada), Wisconsin, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

-the “Indian problem” by establishing a “permanent Indian frontier” in the Louisiana Territory, which had been pur­chased from France in 1803, and moving all eastern tribes into that region. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson asked Congress to pass the Indian Removal Bill, a bill to set aside lands west of the Mississippi River for the tribes. Despite pro­tests that the bill violated previous treaties and laws recog­nizing Indian sovereignty, it was passed by five votes. The bill gave some individual tribal members a choice: they could stay in the South and submit to state laws, or they could move west.

The Mississippi Choctaws were the first to leave. They were promised that they would never again be asked to cede any of their new land, and that no state or territory would ever have the right to pass laws over the Choctaw Nation. In the early 1830s, tribal members left their ancestral home for the West. More than one-third of the Choctaws remained in Mississippi, believing that they would be given individual land allotments as stipulated by treaty. These Choctaws waited more than one hundred years for the government to fulfill its promise (see chapter 1).


The Muscogees, Cherokees, and Seminoles were among the next to be removed. After several years of resistance, in­cluding a civil war, the Muscogee Nation moved west during the late 1830s. Along the way almost one-half died of star­vation, exposure, disease, and despair. The Cherokees, who had fought with Andrew Jackson to defeat the Red Sticks, also resisted removal, so in the summer of 1838, Jackson sent Gen. Winfield Scott with seven thousand soldiers to round them up, place them in stockades, and forcibly remove them.

Of the estimated eighteen thousand Cherokees who traveled west on what became known as the Trail of Tears, more than four thousand died. The Seminoles presented a vigorously organized resistance to removal throughout the end of the Third Seminole War, in 1858. The Seminole wars extracted a great toll on the United States in money and lives, and finally, in the face of such determined opposition, the gov­ernment relented. The Seminoles never signed a peace treaty, and in 1858 the United States decided that those Seminoles still in Florida could remain there.

Tribes such as the Potawatomi and the Miami in the Mid­west also fell victim to removal. The region’s non-Indian population had grown from less than five thousand at the-

I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven by bayonet into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an Oc­tober morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into wagons and started toward the west. . Chief Ross led in prayer and when the bugle sounded and wagons started rolling many of the children . . . waved their little hands goodbye to their mountain homes.

U.S. Army private who served during Cherokee removal

More than thirty tribes were moved from throughout the United States to Indian Territory. The tribes were originally promised that they would never be asked to cede any of this new land and that they would have the opportunity to organize an Indian state. Congress broke these promises in 1907 when it admitted Oklahoma to statehood.

-end of the Revolutionary War to more than three million by 1830. Land was at a premium. Despite spirited resistance by some tribes, such as the Sac and Fox in Black Hawk’s War (1832), the tribes were eventually moved. All in all, between 1832 and 1842, the federal government relocated nineteen tribes, more than fifty thousand people, to the area shown on the map on page 62 as Unorganized Indian Territory.



Although the Indian Removal Bill guaranteed that tribes would never be asked to surrender their new lands, it soon became clear that no tribe would be secure on lands west of the Mississippi River. The government knew that selling the western lands to white settlers would help immensely toward paying off the national debt and underwriting the future ex­penses of the national government. “Manifest Destiny,” the notion that the land from the east coast to the west coast was meant to be one country, had become the catchword of the day. Expansion and progress were the primary American val­ues, and the tribes and their lands presented a barrier to both. Within twenty-five years after passing the Indian Re­moval Bill, the government had apparently forgotten all its promises.

In the 1840s and 1850s, America grew faster than ever before. Congress annexed Texas in 1845, and a year later it-
Say, to them, their father, the President, will lay off a country of equal extent. . . . He will estab­lish landmarks for them never to be moved, and give them a fee simple title to their lands. You must be prepared to give assur­ances of permanency of title and and dwell upon the idea that they will never be asked to surrender an acre more. .

President Andrew Jackson to agents negotiating Indian removal treaties, 1830s

The Cherokee’s removal from their homeland to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears. Painting by Robert Lindneux. (Courtesy Woolaroc Museum, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.)



Congress guaranteed to the eastern Indian nations that originally agreed to move westward possession of the large section outlined above as Unorganized Indian Territory. Responding to pressure for land, Congress later reduced this area, forcing tribes into the much smaller Indian Territory and onto various reservations.
-added the Oregon Territory. In 1848 the entire Southwest became American territory as a result of the Mexican War. Five years later the Gadsden Purchase completed the present boundaries of the continental United States. In ten years the country’s non-Indian population increased by almost one-third and its land area by 70 percent.

To open this vast new area to white settlement, however, the federal government needed to solve the Indian problem. The government decided to accomplish this by settling tribes on reservations. This procedure had first been used in Con­necticut in 1638 (see chapter 3). Now, two hundred and some years later, the government negotiated fifty-three “res­ervation” treaties with various tribes. Between 1853 and 1857 the United States thereby acquired more than 174 mil­lion acres for settlement. Although they had been promised the entire region between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, tribes in Arkansas, Iowa, and Missouri were moved farther west to Kansas, Nebraska, and Okla­homa. In 1854, Congress admitted Kansas and Nebraska as territories to the Union, thereby diminishing further the area reserved to tribes. This ended the government’s promise that the Indians would be provided a permanent and unorganized territory west of the Mississippi.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century the Indians, acutely aware that their lands and resources were being se­riously threatened by the increasing influx of white settlers, reacted fiercely to protect their own existence.
Between 1866 and 1891, western tribes fought more than one thousand battles with the U.S. Army. The Indian tribes-
And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the si­lence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them de­serted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.

Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are now powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.

Chief Seattle, Suquamish, 1853


As the photos above show, councils between government representatives and the Indian nations became a frequent occurrence in the late nineteenth century as the government sought to convince tribes to cede more and more of their lands. Shown here are a treaty signing by William T. Sherman and the Lakotas at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, 1868 (top, left; Courtesy Newberry Library); a Paiute tribal council, with non-Indians in attendance, held in the 1870s near the Grand Canyon of the Colorado (top, right; Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, Bureau of American Ethnology Collection); a Grand Council between friendly and hostile chiefs at Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota, January 17, 1891 (bottom, left; Courtesy Smithsonian Institution); and a large tribal delegation with several Indian agents and other officials on the White House grounds, circa 1870 (bottom, right; Courtesy National Archives).

-were fighting desperately for physical and cultural survi­val against a growing nation motivated in part by land hun­ger and racial arrogance and in part by a sincere belief in Manifest Destiny and the perceived superiority of their civilization.

One of the earliest spurs to westward migration had been the discovery of gold in California in 1848. The two follow­ing years saw the non-Indian population of California ex­plode from 15,000 to 93,000. In 1850, California became a state, and it entered the Union with a virulent anti-Indian policy. Early California laws permitted indenturing Indian women and children, a practice tantamount to slavery. The state also unofficially permitted the outright extermination of the tribes. Originally one of the most densely populated

The more [Indians] we can kill this year the less will have to be killed the next war, for the more I see of these Indians, the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers.

Gen. William T. Sherman, 1867


Indian areas, with a tribal population in excess of 150,000, by 1890 the state had an Indian population of only 17,000, a decrease of almost 90 percent. Hoping to reduce hostilities, the federal government negotiated a number of treaties with Indians in California in the 1850s. The tribes ceded half the state, reserving for themselves eight million acres in perpe­tuity. Under pressure from Californians, however, the Senate did not ratify the treaties, and the tribes lost all their lands. Not until the early 1900s were California tribes granted rights to some of their former lands, when Congress pur­chased 117 small rancherias for Indian use.

White populations in the Northwest did not grow as quickly as in central California, and Northwest tribes met with more success in their resistance. The Cayuses (Cay-use War, 1847—48), the tribes of the Rogue River (Rogue-
Schonchin John and Captain Jack, leaders of the Modoc War, being held in chains. Both were hanged at Fort Klamath, Oregon, on Oc­tober 3, 1873. (Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Anthro­pological Archives.)
You said that you wanted to put us upon a reservation, to build us houses and to make us Medicine lodges. I do not want them.

I was born upon the prairie where the wind blew free, and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures, and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there, and not within walls. I know every stream and every woods between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas. I have hunted and lived over that country. I lived like my fathers before me, and like them, I lived happily.

Ten Bears, Comanche, 1867

-River War, 1853—55), and the Yakimas (Yakima War, 1855) battled federal troops before finally accepting reservations. And in the lava beds of northern California, fifty Modoc war­riors, under the leadership of twenty-four-year-old Kenti­poos (called Captain Jack by the whites), held off one thou­sand U.S. Calvary soldiers for seven months. They were fighting to gain a reservation in their homeland instead of being placed on the reservation of their traditional enemies, the Klamaths. A Modoc reservation might have cost the gov­ernment ten thousand dollars. The war with the Modocs cost over one-half million dollars.

In 1877, five years after the Modoc War, Thunder Rolling in the Mountain, chief of the Nez Percés (known as Chief Joseph to the whites), led his people from Oregon across Idaho and Montana in a flight from removal. For two and a half weeks, the Nez Percés defeated and eluded two thousand troops over thirteen hundred miles of the most difficult ter­rain in the country. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman de­scribed the campaign as “one of the most extraordinary wars of which there is any record.” When Chief Joseph and his band were finally captured in Montana, near the Canadian border and freedom, the government exiled them to Indian Territory, where most died of malaria. A year after Chief Jo­seph’s capture, the Bannocks in Utah and Nevada similarly resisted removal, in their case an illegal removal resulting from a clerk’s error in transcribing a treaty. The Bannock War, which was brief and costly, signaled the end of the northwestern tribes’ fight against forced removal to reserva­tion life.

In the Texas region, home to some 25,000 Indians, the Southern Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lipan, and Kicka­poo tribes had been fighting white settlement with vengeance since the 1840s. A Comanche could shoot twenty arrows in the minute required to reload the muzzle-loading rifles car­ried by federal troops, and the Kiowas, in proportion to their numbers, killed more whites in war than any other tribe west of the Mississippi River. Texas had refused to recognize any form of Indian land title and pursued a policy of extermina­tion. To subdue the Kiowas and Comanches, the War De­partment, in 1874, turned to Gen. William Tecumseh Sher­man. Uncertain whether his troops could defeat the tribes in an all-out confrontation, Sherman invited Kiowa chiefs Sa­tanta and Satank to a council at Fort Sill, in Indian Territory. Violating the flag of truce, Sherman imprisoned the unarmed chiefs and their men and sentenced them to hang. Realizing that Sherman’s flagrant disregard for honor and fair play could provoke a general Indian uprising, the government freed Satanta and Satank. The army’s war against the tribes, however, continued until the Indians were finally subdued in Texas in the early 1880s.

Attempts to settle the Rocky Mountains and the South­west met with similar resistance from the Utes, Comanches,
Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Too-hul­hulsote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

Surrender speech of Chief Joseph, Nez Percé, 1877


Arapahos, Paiutes, Shoshonis, Apaches, and Navajos. Bitter experience had taught them not to trust whites. On Novem­ber 29, 1864, Col. John Chivington, a Methodist minister and a ruthless Indian hater, with a troop of seven hundred men, surprised an encampment of peaceful Cheyennes and Arapahos at Sand Creek, Colorado. Having previously made peace, Chief Black Kettle and his band met the troop with an American flag and a white flag of truce. Chivington’s men began firing to kill; they chased the fleeing Indians for more than five miles. At the end of the massacre the ground lay covered with the bodies of more than five hundred horribly mutilated corpses, over four hundred of them women and children.

Three years later, in 1867, the government negotiated the Treaty of Medicine Lodge with representatives of the 86,000 members of the Southern Plains tribes, the Kiowas, the Co­manches, the Southern Cheyennes, and the Southern Arapa­hos. After inducements ranging from feasting to bribery to threats, the tribes agreed to accept reservations in western Indian Territory on land taken from the Five Civilized Tribes after the Civil War.

The Navajos fared little better. Initial reports incorrectly indicated that the Navajos’ and Apaches’ homeland con­tained large deposits of gold and silver. The Navajos refused to cede their land. In 1863, the army, in desperation, turned to Indian fighter Kit Carson. Carson was ordered to round up the Navajos and resettle them on the Bosque Redondo Reservation in what is now eastern New Mexico, far from their home. Using Mexican scouts to find the Navajo settle­ments, Carson and his troops moved into their communities one by one, burning crops, destroying orchards, and scatter­ing livestock. Finally, after more than one hundred engage­ments, Carson succeeded in trapping 7,000 Navajos at the bottom of Canyon de Chelly, in present-day northwest Ari­zona. Soon afterward, more than 8,000 men, women, and children were forcibly marched more than 350 miles, on what has become known as the Long Walk. Approximately 10,000 Navajos were interned at Bosque Redondo. In four years of captivity, some 2,500 died from starvation, malaria, and dysentery. In 1868 the United States concluded another treaty with the Navajos and allowed them to return to their homeland, west of the Rio Grande.

The Apaches, whose reputation for fierceness and stealth was justly earned, were nearly the last tribe to be subdued. The Apache wars cost the government one thousand lives and forty million dollars and lasted almost twenty years. Throughout the 1860s and 1870s Apache bands were hunted down one by one and confined to reservations as prisoners of war. Among the last to succumb were the Chiricahua Apaches, led by Geronimo. Some years before his capture, Geronimo’s first wife and three young children had been murdered by Mexican authorities who had lured the Apaches-
They were scalped, their brains knocked out; the men used their knives, ripped open women, clubbed little children, knocked them in the head with their guns, beat their brains out, mutilated their bodies in every sense of the word.

Eyewitness to Sand Creek Massacre, 1864

-to a feast under a flag of truce. Deeply distrustful and hateful of whites, Geronimo refused to bow to the demands of the American government. Time and again, Geronimo and his band left the parched bottomlands of the San Carlos Reser­vation, in present-day Arizona, to resume their life of raiding. Finally, in 1886, after sixteen months of pursuit, some five thousand U.S. troops captured Geronimo and his band of twenty warriors and eighteen women and children.

As discussed more fully in chapter 8, the Lakotas, or Sioux, and their allies, the Northern Cheyennes and North­ern Arapahos, fought the army more successfully, and for a longer time, than any other tribes. In 1851 the Plains In­dian wars came to an end when the government convened the largest treaty council ever held. Perhaps ten thousand Plains Indians from the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Ankara, Mandan, and other nations attended. After more than two weeks of negotiations, the tribes signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The tribes established tribal boundaries (some accepted reservations), promised peace with one an­other and with whites, and agreed to allow the construction of forts and roads in their country in return for a fifty-year annuity.

This peace, however, was short-lived. In 1862 the Santee Sioux of Minnesota, angered over a series of fraudulent trea­ties, revolted and killed some five hundred white settlers-

Geronimo’s “other life” as husband and father. Taken around 1895— 96, this photo shows Geronimo with his wife and children in his melon patch at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Courtesy Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation.)


-before being driven out of Minnesota. In 1862, the govern­ment hanged 38 Sioux leaders of the revolt. President Abra­ham Lincoln pardoned another 268 Sioux, stating that they should be held as prisoners of war, instead of being executed for fighting for their cause. Many Santee Sioux fled to Can­ada, where their descendants live today.

By the mid-1860s tensions on the Plains had increased to the breaking point, primarily because of the movement of settlers across the Bozeman Trail—a road constructed across land promised to the Sioux in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. In 1866, Lakota leaders Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Sit­ting Bull, and Gall retaliated in what became known as the Powder River War.

In 1868 the United States agreed to negotiate another treaty with the Lakotas. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 has been described as the only peace treaty the United States has negotiated in which it has agreed to all of the other party’s demands and received nothing in return. The 1868 treaty promised the Powder River country, including the Black Hills, to the Lakota Nation forever, and ordered that the Bozeman Trail be closed.

In 1873, however, gold was discovered in the Black Hills.

The Lakotas and the Cheyennes, led by Crazy Horse and Sit­ting Bull, battled the miners, settlers, and troops swarming into the area. In 1876 the government sent Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and Gen. Alfred Terry to the Powder and Bighorn rivers in Wyoming to round up the Lakotas and re­turn them to their reservation. As the country at large was celebrating its centennial and marveling over inventions such as the telephone, Crazy Horse and his warriors were annihilating Custer and 267 of his men at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Sioux wars continued unabated until Crazy Horse was taken prisoner and murdered in 1877 and Sitting Bull surrendered in 1881.

Although sporadic Indian revolts continued until 1915, tribes could offer little active resistance to the federal gov­ernment after about 1885. They had been defeated not so much by armies as by the unstoppable westward migration
Greed and avarice on the part of the Whites—in other words, the almighty dollar, is at the bot­tom of nine-tenths of our Indian troubles. I have never yet seen [an Indian] so demoralized that he was not an example in honor and nobility compared to the wretches who plunder him of the little our government appropri­ates for him.

Gen. George Crook, 1860s

We took away their [the Sioux’s] country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them and it was for this and against this that they made war. Could anyone expect less?

Western commander Brig. Gen. Philip Sheridan, 1878

Indian Peace Commission distributing presents to Crow Indians at the Treaty Council of 1868, Fort Laramie, Wyoming. (Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Collection.)


-of settlers, the extermination of the buffalo, and the intrusion of new technology. The construction of the transcontinental railroad encouraged the growth of settlements, and the buf­falo, a major food source, was driven to the brink of extinc­tion by whites. The invention of the Gatling gun (a machine gun) and the telegraph tipped the balance further against the Indians. These developments, along with diseases brought by-


Custer’s wagon train on the prairies, traveling in four columns near the North and South Dakota line. (Courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society.)

Shown here are some of the few buffalo remaining in 1894. The buffalo occupied the center of Plains Indian culture, religion, and existence. In 1871, the great buffalo herds numbered fifteen million, but over the next few years, white hunters killed three to four million a year. It made no difference that many of these herds belonged to tribes in protected treaty areas. The plains became a sea of stinking, unused carcasses. Even before 1871, large numbers had been killed annually for sport. In 1871, when buffalo hides became profit­able, the massacre escalated unbelievably. Within six years the beast was virtually extinct, and in 1903 only 34 animals remained. The extermination of this great animal was the single most important factor in the subjugation of the Plains Indian tribes. (Courtesy Newberry Library.)

-settlers, did more to defeat the tribes than did the military. In fact, recent studies estimate that more whites than Indians lost their lives during the Indian wars, and for each Indian killed, the government spent close to $2 million. The wars with the Navajos, Lakotas, and Cheyennes between 1862 and 1867 cost the government $100 million. The United States was most successful militarily when it used Indians of hostile tribes as scouts and auxiliary troops.

The result of the Indian wars and white settlement was devastation of the Indian way of life. In the midst of the tribes’ widespread misery, an Indian prophet appeared. Wo­voka, a Nevada Paiute, preached the Ghost Dance religion. He predicted that whites would disappear and that an Indian messiah would resurrect the Indian dead and restore the buf­falo. The Ghost Dance religion spread like wildfire across the Plains. Its popularity frightened the whites, who were afraid it might lead to a united Indian revolt. Three days after Christmas in 1890 the Seventh Cavalry (Custer’s former unit), fearing an uprising, herded together about 350 refu­gee Sioux. The following morning the troops opened fire on the Sioux camp. Within a short time more than three hundred Sioux were dead, some of them women who were chased for over three miles before being caught and killed. More than four hundred years after the Europeans had ar­rived, American Indians finally had been subdued through battle, disease, and loss of land. The Indian people did not abandon their struggle, however. They continued it in a new setting. In the twentieth century the battle for Indian au­tonomy has taken place with the Congress and in the courts.
The best way to get rid of the Indian is to destroy the buffalo by which he lives. The more buffalo killed, the better and what good is a buffalo anyway except for slaughter?

Brig. Gen. Philip Sheridan, 1870s

Our land is more valuable than your money. It will last forever. It will not even perish by the flames of fire. As long as the sun shines and the waters flow, this land will be here to give life to men and animals. We cannot sell this land. It was put here for us by the Great Spirit and we cannot sell it because it does not belong to us. You can count your money and burn it within the nod of a buf­falo’s head, but only the Great Spirit can count the grains of sand and the blades of grass of these plains. As a present to you, we will give you anything we have that you can take with you; but the land, never.

Chief of the Blackfeet Tribe on being asked to sign a treaty ceding land

Arapaho Ghost Dance worshipers praying. (Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives.)

Download 107.25 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2022
send message

    Main page