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Prices Paid by White Men for Scalps

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    


"In the wars between France and England and their colonies, their Indian allies were entitled to a premium for every scalp of an enemy. In the war preceding 1703 the Government of Massachusetts gave twelve pounds for every Indian scalp. In 1722 it was augmented to one hundred pounds-a sum sufficient to purchase a considerable extent of American land. On the 25th of February, 1745, an act was passed by the American colonial legislature, entitled Au Act for giving a reward for scalps.'"
Sketches of the History, Manners, and Customs of the North American Indians, by JAMES BUCHANAN, 1824.

"There was a constant rivalry between the Governments of Great Britain, France, and the United States as to which of them should secure the services of the barbarians to scalp their white enemies, while each in turn was the loudest to denounce the shocking barbarities of such tribes as they failed to secure in their own service; and the civilized world, aghast at these horrid recitals, ignores the fact that nearly every important massacre in the history of North America was organized and directed by agents of some one of these Governments."
GALE, Upper Mississippi.

Extracts from Treaty with Cheyenne, In 1865.
ARTICLE 6th of the treaty of Oct. 14th, 1865, between the United States and the chiefs and headmen representing the confederated tribes of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne Indians:

"The United States being desirous to express its condemnation of, and as far as may be repudiate the gross and wanton outrages perpetrated against certain bands of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians by Colonel J. M. Chivington, in command of United States troops, on the 29th day of November, 1864, at Sand Creek, in Colorado Territory, while the said Indians were at peace with the United States and under its flag, whose protection they had by lawful authority been promised mid induced to seek, and the Government, being desirous to make some suitable reparation for the injuries thus done, will grant 320 acres of land by patent to each of the following named chiefs of said bands, and will in like manner grant to each other person of said bands made a widow, or who lost a parent on that occasion, 160 acres of land. The United States will also pay in United States securities, animals, goods, provisions, or such other useful articles as may in the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior be deemed best adapted to the respective wants and conditions of the persons named in the schedule hereto annexed, they being present and members of the bands who suffered at Sand Creek on the occasion aforesaid, the sums set opposite their names respectively, as a compensation for property belonging to them, and then and there destroyed or taken from them by the United States troops aforesaid."

One of the Senate amendments to this treaty struck out the words "by Colonel J. M. Chivington, in command of United States troops." If this were done with a view of relieving "Colonel J. M. Chivington" of obloquy, or of screening the fact that " United States troops" were the instruments by which the murders were committed, is not clear. But in either case the device was a futile one. The massacre will be known as " The Chivington Massacre " as long as history lasts, and the United States must bear its share of the infamy of it.

Wood-Cutting by Indians in Dakota
In his report for 1877 the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Dakota says: "Orders have been received to stop cutting of wood by Indians, to pay them for what they have already cut, to take possession of it and sell it. This I am advised is under a recent decision, which deprives Indians of any ownership in the wood until the land is taken by them in severalty. If agents do not enforce these orders, they lay themselves liable. If they do enforce them, the Indians are deprived of what little motive they have for labor. In the mean time, aliens of all nations cut wood on Indian lands, sell to steamboats; fill contracts for the army and for Indian agencies at high prices. Cutting wood is one of the very few things an Indian can do in Dakota at this time."

Sequel to the Walla Walla Massacre
[This narrative was written by a well-known army officer, correspondent of the Army and Nary Journal, and appeared in that paper Nov. 1st, 1879.]

The history of that affair (the Walla Walla Massacre) was never written, we believe; or, if it was, the absolute facts in the case were never given by any unprejudiced person; and it may be interesting to not a few to give them here. The story, as told by our Washington correspondent, "Ebbitt," who was a witness of the scenes narrated, is as follows:

"The first settlements in Oregon, some thirty years ago, were made by a colony of Methodists. One of the principal men among them was the late Mr. or Governor Abernethy, as he was called, as he was for a short time the prominent Governor of Oregon. He was the father-in-law of our genial Deputy Quartermaster-general Henry C. Hodges, an excellent man, and he must not be remembered as one of those who were responsible for the shocking proceedings which we are about to relate. A minister by the name of Whitman, we believe, had gone up to the Walla Walla region, where he was kindly received by the Cayuse and other friendly Indians, who, while they did not particularly desire to be converted to the Christian faith as expounded by one of Wesley's followers, saw no special objection to the presence of the missionary. So they lived quietly along for a year or two; then the measles broke out among the Indians, and a large number of them were carried off. They were told by their medicine men that the disease was owing to the presence of the whites, and Mr. Whitman was notified that he must leave their country. Filled with zeal for the cause, and not having sense enough to grasp the situation, he refused to go.

"At this time the people of the Hudson's Bay Company had great influence with all the Indians in that region, and the good old Governor Peter Skeen Ogden was the chief factor of the Company at Fort Vancouver. He was apprised of the state of feeling among the Indians near the mission by the Indians themselves, and he was entreated by them to urge Whitman to go away, for if he did not he would surely be killed. The governor wrote up to the mission advising them to leave, for a while at least, until the Indians should become quiet, which they would do as soon as the measles had run its course among them. His efforts were useless, and sure enough one day in 1847, we believe, the mission was cleaned out, the missionary and nearly all of those connected with it being killed.

"An Indian war follows. This was carried on for some months, and with little damage, but sufficient for a claim by the territory upon the General Government for untold amounts of money. Two or three years later, when the country had commenced to fill up with emigration, and after the regiment of Mounted Riflemen and two companies of the First Artillery had taken post in Oregon, the people began to think that it would be well to stir up the matter of the murder of the Whitman family. General Joseph Lane had been sent out as governor in 1849, and he doubtless thought it would be a good thing for him politically to humor the people of the territory. Lane was a vigorous, resolute, Western man, who had been a general officer during the Mexican war, and he then had Presidential aspirations. So the governor came to Fort Vancouver, where the head-quarters of the department were established, under Colonel Loring, of the Mounted Rifles, and procured a small escort, with which he proceeded to hunt up the Indians concerned in the massacre, and demand their surrender. By this time the Indians had begun to comprehend the power of the Government; and when the governor found them, and explained the nature of his mission, they went into council to decide what was to be done. After due deliberation, they were convinced that if they were to refuse to come to any terms they would be attacked by the soldiers, of whom they then had deadly fear, and obliged to abandon their country forever. So they met the governor, and the head chief said that they had heard what he had to say. It was true that his people had killed the whites at the mission, but that they did so for the reason that they really thought that a terrible disease had been brought among them by the whites; that they had begged them to go away from them, for they did not wish to kill them, and that they only killed them to save their own lives, as they thought. He said that for this the whites from down the Columbia had made war upon them, and killed many more of their people than had been killed at the mission, and they thought they ought to be satisfied. As they were not, three of their principal men had volunteered to go back with the governor to Oregon City to be tried for the murder. This satisfied the governor, and the men bid farewell to their wives and little ones and to all their tribe, for they very well knew that they would never see them again. They knew that they were going among those who thirsted for their blood, and that they were going to their death, and that death the most ignominious that can be accorded to the red man, as they were to be hung like dogs.

"The governor and his party left. The victims gave one long last look at the shore as they took the little boat on the Columbia, but no word of complaint ever came from their lips. When they arrived at Fort Vancouver we had charge of these Indians. They were not restrained in any way no guard was ever kept over them, for there was no power on earth that could have made 'them falter in their determination to go down to Oregon City, and die like men for the salvation of their tribe.

"At Oregon City these men walked with their heads erect, and with the bearing of senators, from the little boat, amidst the jibes and jeers of a brutal crowd, to the jail which was to be the last covering they would ever have over their heads.

"The trial came on, the jury was empanelled, and Captain Claiborne, of the Mounted Rifles, volunteered to defend the Indians, who were told that they were to have a fair trial, and that they would not be punished unless they were found guilty. To all this they paid no heed. They said it was all right, but they did not understand a word of what they were compelled to listen to for several days, and they cared nothing for the forms of the law. They had come to die, and when some witnesses swore that they recognized them as the very Indians who killed Whitman-all of which was explained to them-not a muscle of their faces changed, although it was more than suspected that the witnesses were never near the mission at the time of the massacre. The trial was over, and, of course, the Indians were condemned to be hanged. Without a murmur or sigh of regret, and with a dignity that would have impressed a Zulu with profound pity, these men walked to the gallows and were hung, while a crowd of civilized Americans-men, women, and children of the nineteenth century-looked on and laughed at their last convulsive twitches.

"We have read of heroes of all times, but never did we read of or believe that such heroism as these Indians exhibited could exist. They knew that to be accused was to be condemned, and they would be executed in the civilized town of Oregon City just as surely as would a poor woman accused of being a witch have been executed in the civilized and Christian town of Salem, in the good State of Massachusetts, two hundred years ago.

"A generation has passed away since the execution or murder of these Indians at Oregon City. Governor Lane still lives, not as ex-President, but as a poor but vigorous old man down in the Rogue River Valley. The little nasty town of Oregon City was the scene of a self-immolation as great as any of which we read in history, and there were not three persons there who appreciated it. The accursed town is, we hear, still nastier than ever, and the intelligent jury-no man of whom dared to have a word of pity or admiration for those poor Indians with the spectators of that horrid scene, are either dead and damned, or they are sunk in the oblivion that is the fate of those who are born without souls.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

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

A Century of Dishonor


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