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Congress Bad Faith Action

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    


To comment on the bad faith of this action on the part of Congress would be a waste of words; but its impolicy is so glaring that one's astonishment cannot keep silent-its impolicy and also its incredible niggardliness. A dollar apiece a year, "in goods, animals," etc., those Indians had been promised that they should have for fifty years. It must have been patent to the meanest intellect that this was little to pay each year to any one man from whom we were taking away, as the commissioner said, "his means of support." But, unluckily for the Indians, there were fifty thousand of them. It entered into some thrifty Congressman's head to multiply fifty by fifty, and the aggregate terrified everybody. This was much more likely to have been the cause of the amendment than the cause assigned by the superintendent, viz., the probable change of localities of all the "wandering hordes" in the next fifteen years. No doubt it would be troublesome to the last degree to distribute fifty thousand dollars, " in goods, animals," etc., to fifty thousand Indians wandering over the entire Upper Missouri region; but no more troublesome, surely, in the sixteenth year than in the fifteenth. The sophistry is too transparent; it does not in the least gloss over the fact that, within the first year after the making of our first treaty of any moment with these tribes-while they to a man, the whole fifty thousand of them, kept their faith with us-we broke ours with them in the meanest of ways-robbing them of more than two-thirds of the money we had promised to pay.

All the tribes " promptly " assented to this amendment, how ever; so says the Annual Report of the Indian Commissioner for 1853; and adds that, with a single exception, they have maintained friendly relations among themselves, and "manifested an increasing confidence in and kindness toward the whites."

Some of them have begun to raise corn, beans, pumpkins, etc., but depend chiefly- on the hunt for their support. But the agent, who was sent to distribute to them their annuities, and to secure their assent to the amendment to the treaty, reports: "The Cheyenne and the Arapaho, and many of the Sioux, are actually in a starving state. They are in abject want of food half the year, and their reliance for that scanty supply, in the rapid decrease of the buffalo, is fast disappearing. The travel upon the roads drives them off, or else confines them to a narrow path during the period of emigration, and the different tribes are forced to contend with hostile nations in seeking support for their villages. Their women are pinched with want, and their children constantly crying with hunger. Their arms, moreover, are unfitted to the pursuit of smaller game, and thus the lapse of a few years presents only the prospect of a gradual famine." And in spite of such suffering, these Indians commit no depredations, and show increasing confidence in and kindness toward the whites.

This agent, who has passed many years among the Indians, speaks with great feeling of the sad prospect staring them in the face. He says: "But one course remains which promises any permanent relief to them, or any lasting benefit to the country in which they dwell.; that is, simply to make such modifications in the ' intercourse ' laws as will invite the residence of traders among them, and (open the whole Indian Territory for settlement. Trade is the only civilizer of the Indian. It has been the precursor of all civilization heretofore, and it will be of all hereafter. It teaches the Indian the value of other things besides the spoils of the chase, and offers to him other pursuits and excitements than those of war. All obstructions to its freedom, therefore, only operate injuriously. * * * The Indians would soon lose their nomadic character, and forget the relations of tribes. * * * And this, while it would avoid the cruel necessity of our present policy-to wit, extinction - would make them an element in the population, and sharer in the prosperity of the country." He says of the "system of removals, and congregating tribes in small parcels of territory," that it has " eventuated injuriously on those who have been subjected to it. It is the legalized murder of a whole nation. It is expensive, vicious, and inhuman, and producing these consequences, and these alone. The custom, being judged by its fruits, should not be persisted in."

It is in the face of such statements, such protests as these, that the United States Government has gone steadily on with its policy, so called, in regard to the treatment of the Indian.

In 1854 the report from the Upper Missouri region is still of peace and fidelity on the part of all the Indians who joined in the Fort Laramie treaty. "Not a single instance of murder, robbery, or other depredation has been committed by them, either on the neighboring tribes parties to the treaty or on whites. This is the more remarkable, as before the treaty they were foremost in the van of thieves and robbers-always at war, pillaging whoever they met, and annoying their own traders in their own forts."

In the summer of this year the Cheyenne began to be dissatisfied and impertinent. At a gathering of the northern band at Fort Laramie, one of the chiefs demanded that the travel over the Platte road should be stopped. He also, if the interpreter was to be relied on, said that next year the Government must send them out one thousand white women for wives. The Southern Cheyenne had given up to their agent some Mexican prisoners whom they had taken in the spring, and this act, it was supposed, had seemed to the northern band a needless interference on the part of the United States. Moreover, it was a matter constantly open to the observation of all friendly Indians that the hostiles, who were continually plundering and attacking emigrant trains, made, on the whole, more profit out of war than they made out of peace. On the North Platte road during this year the Pawnees alone had stolen several thousands of dollars' worth of goods; and, in addition to this, there was the pressure of public sentiment-a thing which is as powerful among Indians as among whites. It was popular to be on the -war-path: the whites were invaders; it was brave and creditable to slay them. Taking all these things into account, it was only to be wondered at that these Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux kept to the provisions of their treaty at all. Nevertheless, the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and some bands of the Sioux continued peaceable and friendly; and in 1855 they begged to be supplied with a farmer to teach them how to farm; also with a blacksmith. Their agent strongly recommends that this be done, saying that there is not "in the whole Indian country a more favorable location for a farm for grazing stock and game than the South Platte. In a very short period of time the Arapaho and Cheyenne would become fixed and settled, and a part of each tribe-the old women and men-would become agriculturists; rude, it is true, yet sufficiently skilful to raise corn, potatoes, and beans, and dwell in cabins or fixed habitations."

In the summer of 1856 the Cheyenne were, by a disastrous accident, forced into the position of hostiles. A small war-band went out to attack the Pawnees; they were in camp near the North Platte road: as the mail-wagon was passing, two of the Cheyenne ran toward it to beg tobacco. The mail carrier, terrified, fired on them, and the Indians fired back, wounding him; the chiefs rushed out, stopped the firing, explained the matter, and then severely flogged the Indians who had returned the mail carrier's fire. But the mischief had been done.

The mail carrier reported his having been fired at by a Cheyenne Indian, and the next day troops from Fort Kearny attacked the Indians and killed six of the war party. The rest refused to fight, and ran away, leaving their camp and all it contained. The war party, thoroughly exasperated, attacked an emigrant train, killed two men and a child, and took one woman captive. The next day they killed her, because she could not ride on horseback and keep up with them. Within a short time two more small war parties had left the band, attacked trains, and killed two men, two women, and a child. The chiefs at first could not restrain them, but in September they sent a delegation to the agency to ask their agent's assistance and advice. They said that the war-party was now completely under their control, and they wished to know what they could do. They implored the Great Father not to be angry with them, "for they could not control the war-party when they saw their friends killed by soldiers after they had thrown down their bows and arrows and begged for life."

In October the agent reported that the Cheyenne were "perfectly quiet and peaceable, and entirely within control, and obedient to authority." The chiefs had organized a sort of police, whose duty was to kill any war - parties that might attempt to leave the camp.

Through the winter the Cheyenne remained in the south and southeastern parts of the agency, and strictly observed the conditions, which their agent had imposed upon them. In the following August, however, a military force under General Sumner was sent out "to demand from the tribe the perpetrators of their late outrages on the whites, and ample security for their good conduct." The Cheyenne were reported by General Sumner as showing no disposition to yield to these demands; he therefore attacked them, burnt their village to the ground, and destroyed their winter supplies-some fifteen or twenty thousand pounds of buffalo meat.

Of how they lived, and where, during the winter following this fight, there is little record. In the next year's reports the Cheyenne are said to be very anxious for a new treaty, which will assign to them a country in which they can dwell safely. "They said they had learned a lesson last summer in their fight with General Sumner-that it was useless to contend with the white man, who would soon with his villages occupy the whole prairie. They wanted peace; and as the buffalo-their principal dependence for food and clothing (which even now they were compelled to seek many miles from home, where their natural enemies, the Pawnee and Osage, roamed), would soon disappear entirely, they hoped their Great Father, the white chief at Washington, would listen to them, and give them a home where they might be provided for and protected against the encroachments of their white brothers, until at least they had been taught to cultivate the soil and other arts of civilized life. They have often desired ploughs and hoes, and to be taught their use."

The next year's records show the Government itself aware that some measures must be taken to provide for these troublesome wild tribes of the prairie: almost more perplexing in time of peace than in time of war is the problem of the disposition to be made of them. Agents and superintendents alike are pressing on the Government's attention the facts and the bearing of the rapid settling of the Indian lands by the whites; the precariousness of peaceful relations; the dangers of Indian wars. The Indians themselves are deeply anxious and disturbed.

"They have heard that all of the Indian tribes to the eastward of them have ceded their lands to the United States, except small reservations; and hence, by an Indian's reasoning,, in a few years these tribes will emigrate farther west, and, as a matter of necessity, occupy the bunting-grounds of the wild tribes."

When the agent of the Upper Platte Agency tried to reason on this subject with one of the Sioux chiefs, the chief said: " When I was a young man, and I am not yet fifty, I travelled with my people through the country of the Sac and Fox tribe, to the great water Minne Toukah (Mississippi), where I saw corn growing, but no white people; continuing eastward, we came to the Rock River valley, and saw the Winnebago, but no white people. We then came to the Fox River valley, and thence to the Great Lake (Lake Michigan), where we found a few white people in the Pottawatomie country. Thence we returned to the Sioux country at the Great Falls of Irara (St. Anthony), and had a feast of green corn with our relations, who resided there. Afterward we visited the pipe-clay quarry in the country of the Yankton Sioux, and made a feast to the `Great Medicine,' and danced the `sun dance,' and then returned to our hunting grounds on the prairie. And now our Father tells us the white man will never settle on our lands, and kill our game; but see! the whites cover all of those lands I have just described, and also the lands of the Ponca, Omaha, and Pawnees. On the South Platte the white people are finding gold, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho have' no longer any hunting grounds. Our country has become very small, and before Our children are grown up we shall have no game."

In the autumn of this year (1859) an agent was sent to hold a council with the Cheyenne and Arapaho, and tell them of the wish of the Government that they should "assume a fixed residence, and occupy themselves in agriculture. This they at once received with favor, and declared with great unanimity to be acceptable to them. They expected and asked that the Department shall supply them with what is necessary to establish themselves permanently.* * * Both these tribes had scrupulously maintained peaceful relations with the whites, and with other Indian tribes, notwithstanding the many causes of irritation growing out of the occupation of the gold region, and the emigration to it through their hunting-grounds, which are nu longer reliable as a certain source of food to them."

It was estimated that during the summer of 1859 over sixty thousand emigrants crossed these plains in their central belt. The trains of vehicles and cattle were frequent and valuable in proportion; and post lines and private expresses were in constant motion.

In 1860 a commissioner was sent out to hold a council with the Cheyenne and Arapaho at Bent's Fort, on the Upper Arkansas, and make a treaty with them. The Arapaho were fully represented; but there were present only two prominent chiefs of the Cheyenne-Black Kettle and White Antelope. (White Antelope was one of the chiefs brutally murdered five years later in the Chivington massacre in Colorado.) As it was impossible for the rest of the Cheyenne to reach the Fort in less than twenty days, and the commissioner could not wait so long, Black Kettle and White Antelope wished it to be distinctly understood that they pledged only themselves and their own bands.

The commissioner says: " I informed them as to the object of my visit, and gave them to understand that their Great Father had heard with delight of their peaceful disposition, although they were almost in the midst of the hostile tribes. They expressed great pleasure on learning that their Great Father had heard of their good conduct, and requested me to say, in return, that they intended in every respect to conform to the wishes of the Government. I then presented to them a diagram of the country assigned them, by their treaty of 1851, as their hunting-grounds, which they seemed to understand perfectly, and were enabled without difficulty to give each initial point. In fact, they exhibited a degree of intelligence seldom to be found among tribes where no effort has been made to civilize them. I stated to them that it was the intention of their Great Father to reduce the area of their present reservation, and that they should settle down and betake themselves to agriculture, and eventually abandon the chase as a means of support. They informed me that such was their wish; and that they had been aware for some time that they would be compelled to do so: that game was growing more scarce every year, and that they had also noticed the approach of whites, and felt that they must soon, in a great measure, conform to their habits. * * * It has not fallen to my lot to visit any Indians who seem more disposed to yield to the wishes of the Government than the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Notwithstanding they are fully aware of the rich mines discovered in their country, they are disposed to yield up their claims without any reluctance. They certainly deserve the fostering hand of the Government, and should be liberally encouraged in their new sphere of life."

This treaty was concluded in February of the next year, at Fort Wise. The chiefs of the Cheyenne and Arapaho their "ceded and relinquished" all the lands to which they had any claim, " wherever situated," except a certain tract whose boundaries were defined. The land relinquished included lands in Kansas and Nebraska, and all of that part of Colorado, which is north of the Arkansas, and east of the Rocky Mountains.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho, in " consideration of their kind treatment by the citizens of Denver and the adjoining towns," "respectfully requested," in the eleventh Article of this treaty, that the United States would permit the proprietors of these towns to enter their lands at the minimum price of one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre. This Article was struck out, by the Senate, and the Indians consented to the amendment; but the proof of their good-will and gratitude remained on record, nevertheless.

The desire of the Government to make farmers of these Indians was reiterated in this treaty, and evidenced by pledges of purchase of stock, agricultural implements, etc.; mills, also and mechanic shops they were to have, and an annuity of $30,000 a year for fifteen years. There was this clause, however, in an article of the treaty, "Their annuities may, at the discretion of the President of the United States, be discontinued entirely should said Indians fail to make reasonable and satisfactory efforts to improve and advance their condition; in which case such other provision shall be made for them as the President and Congress may judge to be suitable or proper." Could there be a more complete signing away than this of all benefits provided for by the treaty Lands were to be assigned to them "in severalty," and certificates were to be issued by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, specifying the names of individuals; and that the "said tracts were set apart for the exclusive use and benefit of the assignees and their heirs." Each Indian was to have forty acres of land, "to include in every ease, as far as practicable, a reasonable portion of timber and water."

The tenth Article of the treaty provided that the annuities now paid to the Arapaho and Cheyenne should be continued to them until the stipulations of such treaties or articles of agreement should be fulfilled; and the seventh Article provided that the President, with the assent of Congress, should have power to modify or change any "of the provisions of former treaties" "in such manner and to whatever extent" he might judge it to be necessary and expedient for their best interests.

Could a community of people be delivered up more completely bound and at the mercy of a government? Some of the bands of the Cheyenne who were not represented at this council were much dissatisfied with the treaty, as evidently they had great reason to be. And as time went on, all the bands became dissatisfied. Two years later we find that, instead of their being settled on those farms " in severalty," the ' survey of their lands has been just completed, and that "a contract will soon be made for the construction of a ditch for the purpose of irrigating their arable land." "It is to be hoped," the Superintendent of the Colorado Agency writes, that " when suitable preparations for their subsistence by agriculture and grazing are made, these tribes will gradually cease their roaming, and become permanently settled." It would seem highly probable that under those conditions the half-starved creatures would be only too glad to cease to roam. It is now ten years since they were reported to be in a condition of miserable starvation every winter, trying to raise a little corn here and there, and begging to have a farmer and a blacksmith sent out to them. They are now divided and subdivided into small bands, hunting the buffalo wherever they can find him, and going in small parties because there are no longer large herds of buffaloes to be found anywhere. The Governor of Colorado says, in his report for 1863, that "these extensive subdivisions of the tribes caused great difficulty in ascertaining the really guilty parties in the commission of offences." Depredations and hostilities are being frequently committed, but it is manifestly unjust to hold the whole tribe responsible for the acts of a few.

Things grew rapidly worse in Colorado. Those "preparations for their subsistence by agriculture and grazing"-which it took so much room to tell in the treaty-not having been made; the farmer, and the blacksmith, and the grist-mill not having arrived; the contract not having been even let for the irrigating-ditch, without which no man can raise any crops ill Colorado, not even on arable lands-many of the Cheyenne and Arapaho took to a system of pilfering reprisals from emigrant trains, and in the fights resulting from this effort to steal they committed many terrible murders. All the tribes on the plains were more or less engaged in these outrages; and it was evident, before midsummer of 1864, that the Government must interfere with a strong hand to protect the emigrants and Western settlers-to protect them from the consequences of its own bad faith with the Indians. The Governor of Colorado called for military aid, and for authority to make a campaign against the Indians, which was given him. But as there was no doubt that many of the Indians were still peaceable and loyal, and he desired to avoid every possibility of their sharing in the punishment of the guilty, he issued a proclamation in June, requesting all who were friendly to come to places which he designated, where they were to be assured of safety and protection. This proclamation was sent to all the Indians of the plains. In consequence of it, several bands of friendly Arapaho and Cheyenne came to Fort Lyon, and were there received by the officer in charge, rationed, and assured of safety-. Here there occurred, on the 29th of November, one of the foulest massacres, which the world has seen. This camp of friendly Indians was surprised at daybreak, and men, women, and children were butchered in cold blood. Most of those who escaped fled to the north, and, joining other bands of the tribe, proceeded at once to take most fearful, and, it must be said, natural revenge. A terrible war followed. Some of them confederated with the Sioux, and waged relentless war on all the emigrant routes across the plains. These hostilities were bitter in proportion to the bitterness of resentment felt by the refugees from this massacre. "It will be long before faith in the honor and humanity of the whites can be re-established in the minds of these barbarians," says an official report, "and the last Indian who escaped from the brutal scene at Sand Creek will probably have died before its effects will have disappeared."

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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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