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Letter from Wm. N. Biers

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    

 

This letter drew from the former editor of the Rocky Mountain News, a Denver newspaper, the following reply:

Letter II.
To the Editor of the Tribune:
SIR, In your edition of yesterday appears an article, under the above caption, which arraigns the people of Colorado as a community of barbarous murderers, and finally elevates them above the present Secretary of the Interior, thereby placing the latter gentleman in a most unenviable light if the charges averred be true. "The Sand Creek Massacre" of 1864 is made the text and burden of the article; its application is to the present condition of the White River band of Ute in Colorado. Quotations are given from the testimony gathered, and the report made thereon by a committee of Congress charged with a so-called investigation of the Sand Creek affair. That investigation was made for a certain selfish purpose. It was to break down and ruin certain men. Evidence was taken upon one side only. It was largely false, and infamously partial. There was no answer for the defense.

The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians assembled at Sand Creek were not under the protection of a United States fort. A few of them had been encamped about Fort Lyon and drawing supplies there from, but they had gradually disappeared and joined the main camp on Dry Sandy, forty miles from the fort, separated from it by a waterless desert, and entirely beyond the limit of its control or observation. While some of the occupants were still, no doubt, occasional visitors at the fort, and applicants for supplies and ammunition, most of the warriors were engaged in raiding the great Platte River Road, seventy-five miles farther north, robbing and burning trains, stealing cattle and horses, robbing and destroying the United States mails, and killing white people. During the summer and fall they had murdered over fifty of the citizens of Colorado. They had stolen and destroyed provisions and merchandise, and driven away stock worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. They had interrupted the mails, and for thirty-two consecutive days none were allowed to pass their lines. When satiated with murder and arson, and loaded with plunder, they would retire to their sacred refuge on Sand Creek to rest and refresh themselves, recruit their wasted supplies of ammunition from Fort Lyon-begged under the garb of gentle, peaceful savages-and then return to the road to relieve their tired comrades, and riot again in carnage and robbery. These are facts; and when the "robbers' roost" was cleaned out, on that sad but glorious 27th day of November 1864, they were sufficiently proven. Scalps of white men not yet dried; letters and photographs stolen from the mails; bills of lading and invoices of goods; hales and bolts of the goods themselves, addressed to merchants in Denver; half-worn clothing of white women and children, and many other articles of like character, were found in that poetical Indian camp, and recovered by the Colorado soldiers. They were brought to Denver, and those were the scalps exhibited in the theatre of that city. There was also an Indian saddle blanket entirely fringed around the edges with white women's scalps, with the long, fair hair attached. There was an Indian saddle over the pommel of which was stretched skin stripped from the body of a white woman. Is it any wonder that soldiers flushed with victory, after one of the hardest campaigns ever endured by men, should indulge some of them in unwarranted atrocities after finding such evidence of barbarism, and while more than forty of their comrades were weltering in their own blood upon the field?

If "H. H." had. been in Denver in the early part of that summer, when the bloated, festering bodies of the Hungate father, mother, and two babes-were drawn through the streets naked in an ox-wagon, cut, mutilated, and scalped the work of those same red fiends who were so justly punished at Sand Creek; if, later, " H. H." had seen an upright and most estimable business man go crazy over the news of his son's being tortured to death a hundred miles down the Platte, as I did; if' 'H. H." had seen one-half the Colorado homes made desolate that fateful season, and a tithe of the tears that were caused to flow, I think there would have been one little word of excuse for the people of Colorado more than a doubtful comparison with an inefficient and culpable Indian policy. Bear in mind that Colorado had no railroads then. Her supplies reached her by only one road-along the Platte in wagons drawn by oxen, mules, or horses. That line was in full possession of the enemy. Starvation stared us in the face. Hardly a party went or came without some persons being killed. In some instances whole trains were cut off and destroyed. Sand Creek saved Colorado, and taught the Indians the most salutary lesson they had ever learned. And now, after fifteen years, and here in the shadow of the Nation's Capitol, with the specter of " H. H.'s " condemnation staring me in the face, I am neither afraid nor ashamed to repeat the language then used by The Denver News: " All acquitted themselves well. Colorado soldiers have again covered themselves with glory."

Thus much of history is gone over by " H. H." to present in true dramatic form the deplorable condition of the White River Ute, 1000 in number, who are now suffering the pangs of hunger and the discomfort of cold in the wilds of Western Colorado, without any kind agent to issue rations, provide blankets, or build fires for them. It is really too bad. A painful dispensation of Providence has deprived them of their best friend, and they are desolate and bereaved. He placed his life and its best efforts, his unbounded enthusiasm for their good, his great Christian heart all at their service. But an accident befell him, and he is no more. The coroner's jury that sat upon his remains found that his dead body had a barrel stave driven into his mouth, a log-chain around his neck, by which it had been dragged about like a dead hog, and sundry bullet-holes through his body. The presumption was that from the effect of some one of these accidents he died; and, alas! He is no longer to serve out weekly rations to his flock of gentle Utes. There is no sorrow over his death or the desolation it wrought, but there is pity, oceans of pity, for the Indians who are hungry and cold. True, at the time he died they took the flour, the pork, and salt, and coffee, and sugar, and tobacco, and blankets, and all the other supplies that he would have issued to them through all this long winter had he lived. With his care these would have lasted until spring, and been sufficient for their wants; but, without it,
H. H." is suspicious that they are all gone, and yet it is but just past the middle of winter. Can " H. H." tell why this is thus? It is also true that they drove away the large herd of cattle from the increase of which that same unfortunate agent and his predecessors had supplied them with beef for eleven years past, and yet the consumption did not keep pace with the natural increase. They took them all, and are presumed to have them now. True, again, they had at the beginning of winter, or at the period of the melancholy loss of their best friend, about 4000 horses that were rolling fat, and three acres of dogs-not bad food in an emergency, or for an Indian thanksgiving feast-some of which should still remain.

The Whole White River Band Guilty
But "H. H." intimates that there is an alleged excuse for withholding rations from these poor, persecuted red angels. "Twelve" of them have been bad, and the tyrant at the head of the Interior Department is systematically starving all of the 1000 who constitute the band, and their 4000 horses, and 1800 cattle, and three acres of dogs, and six months' supplies, because those twelve bad Indians cannot conscientiously pick themselves out and be offered up as a burnt-offering and a sacrifice to appease the wrath of an outraged and partly civilized nation. This is the present indictment, and the Secretary and the President are commanded to stand up and plead "Guilty or not guilty, but you know you are d-n yen." Now I challenge and defy "H. H.," or any other person living, to pick out or name twelve White River male Utes, over sixteen years of age, who were not guilty, directly or indirectly, as principals or accomplices before the fact, in the Thornburgh attack or in the Agency massacre. I know these Indians well enough to know that these attacks were perfectly understood and deliberately planned. I cannot be made to believe that a single one of them, of common-sense and intelligence, was ignorant of what was to take place, and that knowledge extended far beyond the White River band. There were plenty of recruits from both the Los Pinos and the Uintah bands. In withholding supplies from the White River Ute the Secretary of the Interior is simply obeying the law. He cannot, except upon his own personal responsibility, issue supplies to a hostile Indian tribe, and the country will hold him accountable for a departure from his line of duty. Inferentially the Indians are justified by " H. H." in their attack upon Thornburgh's command. Their object was to defend "their own lands-lands bought, owned, and paid for." Bought of whom, pray? Paid for by whom? To whom was payment made? The soldiers were making no attack; they contemplated none. The agent had no authority to order an attack. He could not proclaim war. He could have no control whatever over the troops. But his life was in danger. The honor of his family was at stake. e asked for protection. " H. H." says he had no right to it. His life and the honor of his aged wife and of his virgin daughter are gone, and " H. H." is the champion of fiends who wrought the ruin.

WM. N. BIERS.
Washington, D. C., Feb. 6th, 1880.

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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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