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June 1838, Ceded to the United States all Their Land East of the Mississippi

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    

 

In this year's report their agent gives a resume of the financial condition of the tribe: "By treaty proclaimed June 16th, 1838, the Winnebago ceded to the United States all their land east of the Mississippi, in consideration of which they were to receive $1,100,000. The balance of this, after making certain payments, was to be invested for their benefit, on which the United States guaranteed to pay them an annual interest of not less than five per cent.

"The Winnebago receive no support from the Government, other than from the interest appropriated annually on what remains of these funds. This in 1870 amounted to over $50,000. Since then the half-breeds, numbering one hundred and sixty persons, members of the tribe remaining in Minnesota at the time of the removal of the Indians from that State in 1863, have, in accordance with the provisions of the act making appropriations for the Indian service, approved March 3d, 1871, been paid their proportion of the principal of all Winnebago funds, as shown on the books of the Treasury at that time, including the proportion of $85,000, on which but five more installments of interest were to be paid, per fourth Article treaty October 13th, 1846. In computing this proportion, the whole number of the tribe considered as being entitled to participate in the benefits of the tribal funds was 1531; which number included only those located on the Winnebago reservation in Nebraska at that time, in addition to the one hundred and sixty already spoken of. By this Act of Congress the Nebraska Winnebago, who comprise only that portion of the tribe, which has complied with treaty stipulations, and quietly acquiesced in the demands of the Government, were deprived of nearly one-eighth part of their accustomed support.

"Other reductions were afterward made for the purchase of a reservation adjoining the old one in this State, and for removing to it the wandering bands of Winnebago in Wisconsin. These were supposed to have numbered in all nearly one thousand persons. They had not been in the habit of receiving any attention or acknowledgment from the Government since they, as a tribal organization, had declined to treat with it. Nearly all of them objected to removing from Wisconsin to their new reservation in Nebraska, and, as a natural consequence, soon returned after being compelled to do so. At the present time there are probably less than one hundred of the number remaining here. For the past three years the sum to which the Wisconsin Winnebago would have been entitled had they remained on their reservation, amounting in all to $48,521 07, has been set apart, awaiting such act of Congress as will give relief in the premises; thus reducing the total amount received per annum by that portion of the tribe living on the reservation to but little more than one-half of what it was seven years ago. It seems needless to say that they are very much dissatisfied at this, and that when they refer to the subject I have some difficulty in satisfying them as to the justice of the governmental policy in setting apart funds (to he expended at some future time) for the benefit of certain individuals who persist in absenting themselves from their reservation, while others, who are absent but a few months, are deprived of all advantages from issues of supplies or payments that may have been made during their absence."

This case is a good illustration of the working of the trustee relation between the United States Government and its wards.

In 1877 we find the Secretary of the Interior still recommending that the Indians be "gradually gathered together on smaller reservations," to the end that "greater facilities be afforded for civilization." He reiterates that "the enjoyment and pride of individual ownership of property is one of the most effective civilizing agencies," and recommends that "allotments of small tracts of land should be made to the heads of families on all reservations, to be held in severalty under proper restrictions, so that they may have fixed homes."

The commissioner also recommends "a steady concentration of the smaller bands of Indians on the larger reservations." He calls attention again to the fact that there are 58,000 square -miles in the Indian Territory "set apart for the use of Indians, and that there they can be fed and clothed at a greatly diminished expense; and, better than all, can be kept in obedience, and taught to become civilized and self-supporting."

In 1878 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs reports that a bill has been drawn " providing for the removal and consolidation of certain Indians in the States of Oregon, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and the Territories of Washington and Dakota. A reduction of twenty-five reservations and eleven agencies will thus be effected. There will be restored to the public domain 17,642,455 acres of land." He says "further consolidations of like character are not only possible, but expedient and advisable. There is a vast area of land in the Indian Territory not yet occupied."

With the same ludicrous, complacent logic as before, he proceeds to give as the reason for uprooting all these Indians from the homes where they are beginning to thrive and take root, and moving them again-for the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh time, as it may be-the fact that, "among the most radical defects of the policy formerly pursued with the Indians, has been the frequent changes in their location which have been made. Permanent homes, sufficient aid to enable them to build houses, cultivate the soil, and to subsist them until they have harvested their first crops, will wean them entirely from their old methods of life, and in the course of a few years enable them to become entirely self-supporting.

Among the more forcible arguments which can be presented in connection with this subject is the fact that the expenses attending the removal and consolidation of the Indians, as herein proposed, will be more than met from the sale of lands vacated. Much of the land now owned by these Indians is valuable only for its timber, and may be sold at an appraised value for an amount far in excess of the price fixed by law, and yet leave a large margin of profit to the purchaser into whose hands the lands will fall. I can see no reason why the Government should not avail itself of these facts, and in effecting the consolidation of the Indians, and the opening of the lands for settlement, sell the same for an amount sufficient to support the Indians in their new locations, without any actual drain on the Treasury in the future. The lands belong to the Indians, and they are clearly entitled to receive the full value of the same when sold."

In this sentence we reach the high-water mark of the sophistry and dishonesty of the Department's position. "The lands belong to the Indians," but we will compel them to "restore to the public domain" (i. e., to give up to white settlers) 17,642,455 acres of them. The Indians "are clearly entitled to receive the full value of the same when sold," but we will compel them to expend that "full value" in removing to a place where they do not want to go, opening new lands, building new houses, buying new utensils, implements, furniture and stock, and generally establishing themselves, "without any actual drain on the Treasury" of the United States: and the Department of the Interior " can see no reason why the Government should not avail itself of these facts."
All this is proposed with a view to the benefit of the Indians. The report goes on to reiterate the same old story that the Indians must have "a perfect title to their lands:" that they have come to feel that they are at any time liable to be moved, "whenever the pressure of white settlers upon them' may create a demand for their lands," and that they "decline to make any improvements on their lands, even after an allotment in severalty has been made, until they have received their patents for the same," and that even "after the issue of patents the difficulties surrounding them do not cease." Evidently not, since, as we have seen, it is now several years since every head of a family among these Winnebago, whose "removal" the commissioner now recommends, secured his " patent " for eighty acres of land.

Finally, the commissioner says: "Every means that human ingenuity can devise, legal or illegal, has been resorted to for the purpose of obtaining possession of Indian lands." Of this there would seem to be left no doubt in the mind of any intelligent person, after reading the above quotations.

It is not to be wondered that when the news of such schemes as these reaches the Indians on their reservations great alarm and discontent are the result. We find in the reports from the Nebraska agencies for this year unmistakable indications of disheartenment and anxiety. The Winnebago are reported to be very anxious to be made citizens. A majority are in favor of it, "provided the Government will adopt certain measures which they consider necessary for the care and protection of their property."

They have had a striking illustration of the disadvantage of not being citizens, in an instance of the unpunished murder of one of their number by a white man. The story is related by the agent tersely and well, and is one of the notable incidents in the history of the relation between the United States Government and its wards.

"Henry Harris, a Winnebago in good standing, an industrious man and a successful farmer, was employed by Joseph Smith, a white man, to cut wood on his land in Dakota County, a short distance north of the reservation. While alone and thus engaged, on the 29th of last January, Harris was shot through the heart with a rifle-ball. I had his dead body taken before the coroner of the county, and at the inquest held before that officer it was shown, to the satisfaction of the jury that rendered a verdict in accordance therewith, that the Indian came to his death at the hands of one D. Balinska, who had been for many years leading a hermit's life on a tract of land that lie owned adjoining the reservation, and who had threatened Harris's life a few months before, when they par-relied about damages for corn destroyed by Balinska's horse. There being snow on the ground at the time of the murder, Balinska was tracked from his home to the place where, under cover, lie did the shooting; and his shot-pouch, containing a moulded ball of the same weight as the one cut from the body of the Indian, was found near by and identified.

Notwithstanding this direct evidence, which was laid before the Grand-jury of Dakota County, that honorable body was unwilling to find a `true bill;' for the reason, as I understand, that it was only an Indian that was killed, and it would not be popular to incur the expense of bringing the case to trial. This is but another illustration of the difficulty of punishing a white man for a wrong committed against an Indian. I need hardly say that the Indians, when comparing this murder with that of a white man, committed eight years ago by five of their young men-who, upon less direct evidence, were sentenced to imprisonment in the State Penitentiary for life-are struck with the wonderful difference in the application of the same law to whites and Indians."

The report from the Winnebago Agency for 1879 tells the story of the sequel to this unpunished murder of Henry Harris. The agent says: "In my last report I referred to the murder of one of our best Indian farmers by a white man, who was afterward arrested and discharged without trial, though there was no question as to his guilt. As a sequel to this, one white man is known to have been killed last May by Holly Scott, a nephew of the murdered Indian; and another white man is supposed to have been killed by Eddy Priest and Thomas Walker, two young Indians who have left for Wisconsin. The murdered white men had temporarily stopped with the Indians. Their antecedents are unknown, and they are supposed to have belonged to the fraternity of tramps. Holly Scott was arrested by the Indian police, and turned over to the authorities of Dakota County for trial, the State Legislature having at its last session extended the jurisdiction of that county over this reservation, by what authority I am unable to say.

"The effect of these murders was to unsettle the Indians, nearly all industry being suspended for several weeks. They feared that the white people would do as they did in Minnesota in 1862, after the Sioux massacre, when the Winnebago were driven from their homes in Minnesota. A number of our most quiet and industrious men became alarmed, and moved their families to Wisconsin, encouraged in so doing by the hope of receiving from the Government a share of the funds which have been set apart from the annual appropriations during the past four years for the benefit of the Wisconsin Winnebago, and which they suppose aggregate a large amount which will soon be paid in cash."

This brings the story of the Winnebago down to the present time. What its next chapter may be is saddening to think. It is said by those familiar with the Nebraska Indians that, civilized though they be, they will all make war to the knife if the attempt is made by the Government to rob them of their present lands on the plea again of offering them a "permanent home." That specious pretence has done its last duty in the United States service. No Indian is left now so imbecile as to believe it once more.

Whether the Winnebago "patents" in Nebraska would, in such a case, prove any stronger than did their "certificates" in Minnesota, and whether the Winnebago themselves, peaceable and civilized though they be, would side with the United States Government, or with their wronged and desperate brethren, in such an uprising, it would be hard to predict.


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A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor

 

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