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Negotiations with Union Indians

 Native American Nations | Participant in the Civil War                     


As though the Indians had not afflictions enough to endure merely because of their proximity to the contending whites, life was made miserable for them, during the period of the Civil War, as much as before and after, by the insatiable land-hunger of politicians, speculators, and would-be captains of industry, who were more often than not, rogues in the disguise of public benefactors. Nearly all of them were citizens of Kansas. The cessions of 1854, negotiated by George W. Manypenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, were but a prelude to the many that followed. For years and years there was in reality never a time when some sort of negotiation, sub rosa or official, was not going on. The order of procedure was pretty much what it had always been: a promise that the remaining land should be the Indian's, undisturbed by white men and protected by government guarantee, forever; encroachment by enterprising, covetous, and lawless whites; conflict between the two races, the outraged and the aggressive; the advent of the schemer, the man with political capital and undeveloped or perverted sense of honor, whose vision was such that he saw the Indian owner as the only obstacle in the way of vast material and national progress; political pressure upon the administration in Washington, lobbying in Congress; authorization of negotiations with the bewildered Indians; delimitation of the meaning of the solemn and grandly-sounding word, forever.

When the war broke out, negotiations, begun in the border warfare days, were still going on. This was most true as regarded the Osages, whose immense holding in southern Kansas was something not to be tolerated, so the politicians reasoned, indefinitely. Petitions,622 praying that the lands be opened to white settlement were constantly being sent in and intruders,623 who intended to force action, becoming more and more numerous and more and more recalcitrant. One of the first official communications of Superintendent Coffin embodied a plea for getting a treaty of cession for which the signs had seemed favorable the previous year. Coffin, however, discredited624 a certain Dr. J.B. Chapman, who, notwithstanding he represented white capitalists,625 had yet found favor with the Osages. To their everlasting sorrow and despoliation, the Indians have been fated to place a child-like trust in those least worthy.

The defection of portions of the southern tribes offered an undreamed of opportunity for Kansas politicians to accomplish their purposes. They had earlier thought of removing the Kansas tribes, one by one, to Indian Territory; but the tribes already there had a lien upon the land, titles, and other rights, that could not be ignored. Their possession was to continue so long as the grass should grow and the water should run. It was not for the government to say that they should open their doors to anybody. An early intimation that the Kansans saw their opportunity was a resolution626 submitted by James H. Lane to the Senate, March 17, 1862, proposing an inquiry into "the propriety and expediency of extending the southern boundary of Kansas to the northern boundary of Texas, so as to include within the boundaries of Kansas the territory known as the Indian territory." Obviously, the proposition had a military object immediately in view; but Commissioner Dole, to whom it was referred, saw its ulterior meaning and reported627 adversely upon it as he had upon an earlier proposition to erect a regular territorial form of government in the Indian country south of Kansas.628 He was "unable to perceive any advantage to be derived from the adoption of such a measure, since the same military power that would be required to enforce the authority of territorial officers is all-sufficient to protect and enforce the authority of such officers as are required in the management of our present system of Indian relations."629 And he insisted that the whole of the present Indian country should be left to the Indians.630 The honor of the government was pledged to that end. Almost coincidently he negatived631 another suggestion, one advocated by Pomeroy for the confiscation of the Cherokee Neutral Lands.632 For the time being, Dole was strongly opposed to throwing either the Neutral Lands or the Osage Reserve open to white settlers.

Behind Pomeroy's suggestion was the spirit of retaliation, of meting out punishment to the Indians, who, because they had been so basely deserted by the United States government, had gone over to the Confederacy; but the Kansas politicians saw a chance to kill two birds with one stone, vindictively punish the southern Indians for their defection and rid Kansas of the northern Indians, both emigrant and indigenous. The intruders upon Indian lands, the speculators and the politicians, would get the spoils of victory. Against the idea of punishing the southern Indians for what after all was far from being entirely their fault, the friends of justice marshaled their forces. Dole was not exactly of their number; for he had other ends to serve in resisting measures advanced by the Kansans, yet, to his credit be it said that he did always hold firmly to the notion that tribes like the Cherokee were more sinned against than sinning. The government had been the first to shirk responsibility and to violate sacred obligations. It had failed to give the protection guaranteed by treaties and it was not giving it yet adequately.

The true friends of justice were men of the stamp of W.S. Robertson633 and the Reverend Evan Jones,634 who went out of their way to plead the Indian's cause and to detail the extenuating circumstances surrounding his lamentable failure to keep faith. Supporting the men of the opposite camp was even the Legislature of Kansas. In no other way can a memorial from the General Assembly, urging the extinguishment of the title of certain Indian lands in Kansas, be interpreted.635

It is not easy to determine always just what motives did actuate Commissioner Dole. They were not entirely above suspicion and his name is indissolubly connected with some very nefarious Indian transactions; but fortunately they have not to be recounted here. At the very time when he was offering unanswerable arguments against the propositions of Lane and Pomeroy, he was entertaining something similar to those propositions in his own mind. A special agent, Augustus Wattles, who had been sufficiently familiar and mixed-up with the free state and pro-slavery controversy to be called upon to give testimony before the Senate Harper's Ferry Investigating Committee636 and who had been on the editorial staff of the New York Tribune,637 had, in 1861, been sent by the Indian Office to inspect the houses that Robert S. Stevens had contracted to build for the Sacs and Foxes of Mississippi and for the Kaws.638 The whole project of the house-building was a fraud upon the Indians, a scheme for using up their funds or for transferring them to the pockets of promoters like Stevens639 and M.C. Dickey640 without the trouble of giving value received.

From a letter641 of protest, written by Stevens against Wattles's mission of inspection, it can be inferred that there was a movement on foot to induce the Indians to emigrate southward. Stevens, not wholly disinterested, thought it a poor time to attempt changes in tribal policy. His conclusions were right, his premises, necessarily unrevealed, were false. Wattles became involved in the emigration movement, if he did not initiate it, and, subsequent to making his report upon the house-building, received a private communication from Dole, asking his opinion "of a plan for confederating the various Indian tribes, in Kansas and Nebraska, into one, and giving them a Territory and a Territorial Government with political privileges."642 This was in 1861, long before any scheme that Lane or Pomeroy had devised would have matured. Wattles started upon a tour of observation and inquiry among the Kansas tribes and discovered that, with few exceptions, they were all willing and even anxious to exchange their present homes for homes in Indian Territory. Some had already discussed the matter tentatively and on their own account with the Creeks and Cherokees. On his way east, after completing his investigations, Wattles stopped in New York and "consulted with our political friends" there "concerning this movement, and they not only gave it their approbation, but were anxious that this administration should have the credit of originating and carrying out so wise and so noble a scheme for civilizing and perpetuating the Indian race." Would Wattles and his friends have said the same had they been fully cognizant of the conditions under which the emigrant tribes had been placed in the West?

In February of 1862, the House of Representatives called643 for the papers relating to the Wattles mission644 and, in March, Wattles expatiated upon the emigration and consolidation scheme in a report to Secretary Smith.645 Then, yet in advance of congressional authorization, began a systematic course of Indian negotiation, all having in view the relieving of Kansas from her aboriginal encumbrance. No means were too underhand, too far-fetched, too villainous to be resorted to. Every advantage was taken of the Indian's predicament, of his pitiful weakness, political and moral. The reputed treason of the southern tribes was made the most of. Reconstruction measures had begun for the Indians before the war was over and while its issue was very far from being determined in favor of the North.

As if urged thereto by some influence malign or fate sinister, the loyal portion of two of the southern tribes, the Creeks and the Seminoles, took in April, 1862, a certain action that, all unbeknown to them, expedited the northern schemes for Indian undoing. The action referred to was tribal reorganization. Each of the two groups of refugees elected chiefs and headmen and notified the United States government that it was prepared to do business as a nation.646 The business in mind had to do with annuity payments647 and other dues but the Indian Office soon extended it to include treaty-making.

Negotiations with the Osages had been going on intermittently all this time. No opportunity to press the point of a land cession had ever been neglected and much had been made, in connection with the project for territorial organization, of the fact that the Osages had memorialized Congress for a civil government, they thinking by means of it to prevent further frauds and impositions being practiced upon them.648 Coffin and Elder, suspicious of each other, jealously watched every avenue of approach to Osage confidence. On the ninth of March, Elder inquired if Coffin had been regularly commissioned to open up negotiations anew and asked to be associated with him if he had.649 A treaty was started but not finished for Elder received a private letter from Dole that seemed to confine the negotiations to a mere ascertaining of views.650 Then the Indians grown weary of uncertainty took matters into their own hands and appointed several prominent tribesmen for the express purpose of negotiating a treaty that would end the "suspense as to their future destiny."651 From the treaty of cession that Coffin drafted, he having taken a miserably unfair advantage of Osage isolation and destitution, the Osages turned away in disgust.652 In November, some of their leading men journeyed up to Leroy to invite the dissatisfied Opoeth-le-yo-ho-la to winter with them.653 Coffin seized the occasion to reopen the subject of a cession and the Indians manifested a willingness to sell a part of their Reserve; but again Coffin was too grasping and another season of waiting intervened.

622: For example, take the petitions forwarded by M.W. Delahay, surveyor-general of Kansas [Indian Office Consolidated Files, Neosho, D 455 of 1861]. One of the petitions contains this statement: "... The lands being largely settled upon and improved and those adjacent being all claimed and settled upon by residents—while a large emigration from Texas and other rebellious States are forced to seek homes in a more northern and uncongenial climate greatly against their interests and inclinations...."
623: Intruders upon the Osage lands, as upon the Cherokee Neutral, were numerous for years before the war. Agent Dorn was continually complaining of them, chiefly because they were free-state in politics. He again and again asked for military assistance in removing them. See his letter to Greenwood, February 26, 1860, Neosho, 1833-1865, D 107. Buchanan's administration had conceived the idea of locating other Kansas Indians upon the huge Osage Reserve. See Dorn to Greenwood, March 26, 1860, ibid., D 119. Apparently, the fragments of tribes in the northeastern corner of Indian Territory had been approached on the same subject, but they did not favor it and Agent Dorn was doubtful if the Osages would [Dorn to Greenwood, April 17, 1860, ibid., D 129].
624: He described him as a self-appointed guardian of the Osages, as a scamp and a nuisance [Coffin to Dole, June 17, 1861, ibid., C 1223 of 1861].
625: Chapman, August 26, 1860, inquired of Greenwood whether there was any prospect of a treaty being negotiated with the Osages and whether the capitalists he represented would be likely to secure railroad rights to the South by it. He asserted that the Delaware had been "humbugged" by their treaty, it having been negotiated "in the interests of the Democrats at Leavenworth" [ibid., C 702 of 1860].
626: United State Congressional Globe, 37th congress, second session, part ii, p. 1246.
627: Dole to Smith, April 2, 1862, Indian Office Report Book, no. 12, 353-354.
628: Dole to Smith, March 17, 1862, ibid., 335-337.
629: Dole to Smith, March 17, 1862, Indian Office Report Book, no. 12, 335.
630: Report of April 2, 1862.
631: Dole to Smith, March 20, 1862, Indian Office Report Book, no. 12, 343-344.
632: Daily Conservative, May 10, 1862. Note the arguments in favor of confiscation as quoted from the Western Volunteer.
633: Robertson wrote to the Secretary of the Interior, January 7, 1862, asking most earnestly "that decisive measures be not taken against the oppressed and betrayed people of the Creek and Cherokee tribes, until everything is heard about their struggle in the present crisis" [Department of the Interior, Register of Letters Received, "Indians," no. 4]. The letter was referred to the Indian Office and Mix replied to it, February 14, 1862 [Indian Office Letter Book, no. 67, p. 357]. The concluding paragraph of the letter is indicative of the government feeling, "... In reply I transmit herewith for your information the Annual Report of this Office, which will show ... what policy has governed the Office as to this matter, and that it is in consonance with your wish...."
634: Jones wrote frequently and at great length on the subject of justice to the Cherokees. One of his most heartfelt appeals was that of January 21, 1862 [Indian Office Consolidated Files, Cherokee, J 556 of 1862].
635: Cyrus Aldrich, representative from Minnesota and chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs referred the memorial to the Indian Office [Letters Registered, vol. 58, Southern Superintendency, A. 484 of 1862].
636: Robinson, Kansas Conflict, 358.
637: Ibid., 370. For other facts touching Wattles and his earlier career, see Villard, John Brown, index; Wilson, John Brown: Soldier of Fortune, index.
638: On the entire subject of negotiations with the Indians of Kansas, see Abel, Indian Reservations in Kansas and the Extinguishment of Their Titles. The house-building project is fully narrated there.
639: For additional information about Stevens, see Daily Conservative, February 11, 12, 13, 28, 1862. Senator Lane denounced him as a defaulter to the government in the house-building project. See Lane to Dole, April 22, 1862; Smith to Dole, May 13 1862; Dole to Lane, May 5, 1862, Daily Conservative, May 21, 1862. In July, Lane, hearing that certificates of indebtedness were about to be issued to Stevens on his building contract for the Sacs and Foxes, entered a "solemn protest against such action" and requested that the Department would let the matter lie over until the assembling of Congress [Interior Department, Register of Letters Received, January 2, 1862 to December 27, 1865, "Indians," no. 4]. Governor Robinson's enemies regarded him as the partner of Stevens [Daily Conservative, November 22, 1861] in the matter of some other affairs, and that fact may help to explain Senator Lane's bitter animosity. The names of Robinson and Stevens were connected in the bond difficulty, which lay at the bottom of Robinson's impeachment.
640: Dickey's interest in the house-building is seen in the following: Dickey to Greenwood, February 26, 1861, Indian Office General Files, Kansas, 1855-1862, D250; same to same, March 1, 1861, ibid., D 251.
641: Stevens to Mix, August 24, 1861, Indian Office Special Files, no. 201, Sac and Fox, S439 of 1861.
642: Wattles to Dole, January 10, 1862, Indian Office Special Files, no. 201, Central Superintendency, W 528 of 1862.
643: Department of the Interior, Register of Letters Received, "Indians," no. 4, p. 439.
644: The papers relating to the mission are collected in Indian Office Special Files, no. 201.
645: Indian Office Consolidated Files, Central Superintendency, W 528 of 1862; Department of the Interior, Register of Letters Received, "Indians," no. 4, p. 517.
646: Ok-ta-ha-ras Harjo and others to Dole, April 5, 1862, Indian Office General Files, Creek, 1860-1869, O 45; Coffin to Dole, April 15, 1862, transmitting communication of Billy Bowlegs and others, April 14, 1862 ibid., Seminole, 1858-1869, C1594; Letters Registered, vol. 58.
647: On the outside of the Seminole petition, the office instruction for its answer of May 7, 1862, reads as follows: "Say that by resolution of Congress the annuities were authorized to be used to prevent starvation and suffering amongst them and that being the only fund in our hands must not be diverted from that purpose at present."
648: Indian Office Consolidated Files, Neosho, A 476 of 1862. See also Indian Office report to the Secretary of the Interior, May 6, 1862. The Commissioner's letter and the memorial were sent to Aldrich, May 9, 1862.
649: Indian Office Consolidated Files, Neosho, E 94. of 1862.
650: Coffin to Dole, April 5, 1862, ibid., C 1583.
651: Communication of April 10, 1862, transmitted by Chapman to Dole, ibid., C 1640.
652: Elder to Coffin, July 9, 1862, ibid., E 114.
653: Coffin to Dole, November 16, 1862, ibid., C 1904.

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The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War, 1919

Participant in the Civil War


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