History from Primary Documents

Insight & Foresight: The English Language

John DeWitt Clinton Atkins, Indian Affairs Commissioner, made the following observations about the English language in his September 1887 annual report to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and to U.S. President Grover Cleveland:

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“My third annual report, which is hereby submitted, gives substantial evidence of continued progress on the part of the Indians toward civilization. This is gratifying to every American patriot and to the humanitarian of any clime or country. The progress shows itself all along the line, in increased knowledge and experience as to the arts of agriculture, in enlarged facilities for stock-growing, in better buildings and better home appointments, and in the adoption of the dress and customs of the white man. Even higher evidence of progress is given in the largely increased attendance of pupils at school, which has been greater during the past year than during any preceding year, and in the still more gratifying fact, admitted by all intelligent and close observers of Indians, that the parents desire that their children shall avail themselves of the generous opportunities for education afforded by the government, and by kind-hearted Christian missionaries who unselfishly devote time, labor, and money to the education of Indian youth.”

“Longer and closer consideration of … [teaching only the English language to Indians] … has only deepened my conviction that it is a matter not only of importance, but of necessity that the Indians acquire the English language as rapidly as possible. The Government has entered upon the great work of educating and citizenizing the Indians and establishing them upon homesteads. The adults are expected to assume the role of citizens, and of course the rising generation will be expected and required more nearly to fill the measure of citizenship, and the main purpose of educating them is to enable them to read, write, and speak the English language and to transact business with English-speaking people. When they take upon themselves the responsibilities and privilege of citizenship, their [heritage] vernacular will be of no advantage. Only through the medium of the English tongue can they acquire a knowledge of the Constitution of the country and their rights and duties thereunder.

“Every nation is jealous of its own language, and no nation ought to be more so than ours, which approaches nearer than any other nationality to the perfect protection of its people. True Americans all feel that the Constitution, laws, and institutions of the United States, in their adaptation to the wants and requirements of man, are superior to those of any other country; and they should understand that by the spread of the English language will these laws and institutions be more firmly established and widely disseminated. Nothing so surely and perfectly stamps upon an individual a national characteristic as language. So manifest and important is this that nations the world over, in both ancient and modern times, have ever imposed the strictest requirements upon their public schools as to the teaching of the national tongue. Only English has been allowed to be taught in the public schools in the territory acquired by this country from Spain, Mexico, and Russia, although the native populations spoke another tongue. All are familiar with the recent prohibitory order of the German Empire forbidding the teaching of the French language in either public or private schools in Alsace and Lorraine. Although the population is almost universally opposed to German rule, they are firmly held to German political allegiance by the military hand of the Iron Chancellor. If the Indians were in Germany or France or any other civilized country, they should be instructed in the language there used. As they are in an English-speaking country, they must be taught the language which they must use in transacting business with the people of this country. No unity or community of feeling can be established among different peoples unless they are brought to speak the same language, and thus become imbued with like ideas of duty.

“Deeming it for the very best interest of the Indian, both as an individual and as an embryo citizen, to have this policy strictly enforced among the various schools on Indian reservations, orders have been issued accordingly to Indian agents, and the test of the orders of some explanations made thereof are given below:

‘December 14, 1886 – In all schools conducted by missionary organizations it is required that all instructions shall be given in the English language.

          ‘February 2, 1887 – … the rule applies to all schools on Indian reservations, whether they be Government or mission schools. The instruction of the Indians in their vernacular is not only of no use to them, but is detrimental to the cause of their education and civilization, and no school will be permitted on the reservation in which the English language not exclusively taught.

          ‘July 16, 1887 – Your attention is called to the regulations of this office which forbids instruction in schools in any Indian language. This rule applies to all schools on an Indian reservation, whether Government or mission schools. The education of Indians in their vernacular is not only of no use to them, but is detrimental to their education and civilization. You are instructed to see that this rule is rigidly enforced in all schools upon the reservation under your charge. No mission will be allowed upon the reservation which does not comply with the regulation.’

“I have given the text of these orders in detail because various misrepresentations and complaints in regard to them have been made, and various misunderstandings seem to have arisen. They do not, as has been urged, touch the question of the preaching of the Gospel in the churches nor in any wise hamper or hinder the efforts of missionaries to bring the various tribes to a knowledge of the Christian religion. Preaching of the Gospel to Indians in the [their] vernacular is, of course, not prohibited. In fact, the question of the effect of this policy upon any missionary body was not considered. All the office insists upon is that in the schools established for the rising generation of Indians shall be taught the language of the Republic of which they are to become citizens.

“It is believed that if any Indian vernacular is allowed to be taught by the missionaries in schools on Indian reservations, it will prejudice the youthful pupil as well as his untutored and uncivilized or semi-civilized parent against the English language, and, to some extent at least, against Government schools in which the English language exclusively has always been taught. To teach Indian school children their native tongue is practically to exclude English, and to prevent them from acquiring it. This language, which is good enough for a white man and a black man, ought to be good enough for the red man. It is also believed that teaching an Indian youth in his own barbarous dialect is a positive detriment to him. The first step to be taken toward civilization, toward teaching the Indians the mischief and folly of continuing in their barbarous practices, is to teach them the English language The impracticability, if not impossibility, of civilizing the Indians of this country in any other tongue than our own would seem to be obvious, especially in view of the fact that the number of Indian vernaculars is even greater than the number of tribes. Bands of the same tribes inhabiting different localities have different dialects, and sometimes cannot communicate with each other except by the sign language. If we expect to infuse into the rising generation the leaven of American citizenship, we must remove the stumbling blocks of hereditary customs and manners, and of these, language is one of the most important elements.

“I am pleased to note that the five civilized tribes have taken the same view of the matter and that in their own schools – managed by the respective tribes and supported by tribal funds – English alone is taught.

“But it has been suggested that this order, being mandatory, gives a cruel blow to the sacred rights of the Indians. Is it cruelty to the Indian to force him to give up his scalping-knife and tomahawk? Is it cruelty to force him to abandon the vicious and barbarous sun dance, where he lacerates his flesh, and dances and tortures himself even unto death? Is it cruelty to the Indian to force him to have his daughters educated and married under the laws of the land, instead of selling them at a tender age for a stipulated price into concubinage to gratify the brutal lusts of ignorance and barbarism?”

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About John DeWitt Clinton Atkins:  Born 1825 in Tennessee; studied law at East Tennessee University but did not practice, instead chose agricultural pursuits; 1849-1857 served as member of Tennessee State House, then Tennessee State Senate; member of U.S. House of Representatives (D-TN) 1857-1859; Lieutenant Colonel, 5th Tenn. Regiment, Confederate Army, 1861; Member of Confederate Provisional Congress, 1861and 1863; member of U.S. House of Representatives (D-TN) 1873-1883, including Chair of Appropriations Committee; Commissioner of Indian Affairs, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1885-1888; agricultural and political pursuits 1888-1898; died 1908 in Tennessee.

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SOURCE: Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John D. C. [DeWitt Clinton] Atkins, Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C., 21 September 1887, House of Representatives Executive Document No. 1 (50-1), Part 5, Report of the Secretary of the Interior, being part of The Message and Documents communicated to the Two Houses of Congress at the Beginning of the First Session of the Fiftieth Congress, Volume II, Serial Set 2542, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1887; John DeWitt Clinton Atkins, University of Virginia, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/pix/pix_hp.html; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=A000327; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series IV, Volume III, pp 1190-1191, 1188-1189, and 1185-1187, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1900; John DeWitt Clinton Atkins (picture), University of Virginia, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/pix/pix_hp.html; “History, Arts & Archives: John DeWitt Clinton Atkins,” U.S. House of Representatives, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/pix/pix_hp.html.

 

Presidential Perspectives

Genoa Indian Industrial Development School, Genoa, Nebraska

“In 1877, there were 3,598 pupils (out of a population at that time of about 189,000 under the control of the Indian department) regularly attending the institutions established for their benefit. There are now, twenty-three years later, 20,522 boys and girls in attendance out of an enrollment of 25,202. The Indian population from which these are taken is 181,000. If the past quarter century has been thus productive in educating these young Indians, it may not be an optimistic view that the future will produce the same results under the present system. While the population has remained stationary there has been such a steady increase in the number being educated that there is warrant for the opinion the next quarter century will witness not a diminution of the ‘Indian population,’ but an extinguishment of ‘Indian tribes.’ In their stead, it is reasonable to presume, there will be a large increase in the loyal, truly American-born, educated citizens of Indian parentage, ready and willing to accept to the uttermost the privileges and all the grave responsibilities of American citizenship.” (p. 23)

“Although sectarian teaching is forbidden in the schools, they are not godless institutions. The broad principles of the Bible, of religion, and morality are taught and, so far as it is possible, only strong, religious characters are placed in charge of the children. The petty distinctions of creeds are ignored, but all employees are required to lay such a foundation in the hearts and minds of their pupils that the great religious bodies of our country may hereafter build upon it a vigorous and enduring Christian character. The policy of the Indian Office on this subject is that outlined in reference to white schools by General Grant, which is, ‘to afford every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common-school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan, or atheistical tenets;’ to instill into the hearts and consciences of its Indian wards religious sentiments, which will tend to the school betterment of their race; to raise the status of their people; to elevate their moral and intellectual standards, and awaken them to a higher, a better, and a manlier life, to one of upward progress in the development of their self-respect and self-reliance, so that they may attain their proper place in this modern Christian nation.” (pp 29-30)

 

“The Five Civilized Tribes occupy all of Indian Territory except a very small portion. It approximates in size the New England States, with the exception of Maine, and comprises about 40,147 square miles of rich and arable land. The first settlement in the Territory was made by the Creek Indians in 1827. In 1829 this country was set aside for the use of certain Indians. The tide of immigration, rolling westward from the Atlantic Ocean through the Southern and Gulf States, soon came into conflict with the great Indian tribes occupying that country, and from 1803 to 1824 these conflicts were of grave and serious character. The Government was of necessity compelled either to exterminate these tribes or remove them from the rich districts now being overrun by white settlers. The latter course prevailed, and President Monroe in 1824 recommended to Congress that these Indians should be removed west of the Mississippi. Six years after, under President Jackson, their removal was ordered, and in 1832 Indian Territory was set apart for the Five Civilized Tribes.” (p. 89)

(SOURCE:   Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, William A. Jones, 30 September 1899, in House of Representatives Document No. 5 (56-1), Annual Reports of the Department of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1899, Indian Affairs Part I, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1899, Serial Set 3915.)

Voting Rights

From the Library of Congress:

      “The Snyder Act of 19624 admitted Native American Indians born in the U.S. to full U.S. citizenship. Though the fifteenth Amendment, passed in 1870, granted all U.S. citizens the right to vote regardless of race, it wasn’t until the Snyder Act, signed during the Coolidge Administration, that America’s native people could enjoy the rights granted by this amendment. The 1934 Reorganization Act ended land allotments and provided for return to tribal ownership of surplus lands. It also encouraged tribal self-government and tried to improve the economic conditions of Native Americans. 

      “Even with the passing of this citizenship bill, Native Americans were still prevented from participating in elections mainly due to the fact that the Constitution left it up to the States to decide who has the right to vote. The State of Maine offers a good example of this illegal disenfranchisement. Maine was one of the last States to comply with the Indian Citizenship Act, even though it had granted tax paying Native Americans the right to vote in its original 1819 State Constitution. As reported by Henry Mitchell, a resident of that State, Native Americans were prevented from voting in Maine in the late 1930s.” 

      “… [The Indians] aren’t allowed to have a voice in State affairs because they aren’t voters … Just why the Indians shouldn’t vote is something I can’t understand. One of the Indians went over to Old Town once to see some official in the City Hall about voting. I don’t know just what position that official had over there, but he said to the Indian, ‘We don’t want you people over here. You have your own elections over on the island, and if you want to vote, go over there.’  

      “After the passage of the 1924 citizenship bill, it still took over forty years for all fifty States to allow Native Americans to vote. In 1948, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down a provision of its State Constitution that kept Indians from voting. Other States eventually followed suit, concluding with New Mexico in 1962, the last State to enfranchise Native Americans. 

      “Even with the lawful right to vote in every State, Native Americans suffered from the same mechanisms and strategies, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation that kept African Americans from exercising that right. In 1965, with passage of the Voting Rights Act and subsequent legislation in 1970, 1975, and 1982, protections for non-English speakers and other citizen voters were reaffirmed and strengthened.”

 

 

 

      The Secretary of the Department of the Interior, from 1870 to 1875, was Columbus Delano. A native of Shoreham, Vermont, he practiced law before entering politics in 1844. 

      In 1869, President Ulysses Grant hired Delano as the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. In November 1870, Grant reassigned him to the position of Secretary, Department of the Interior. Scandal at DOI precipitated Delano’s departure five years later.

      During Delano’s second year at Interior, his annual departmental report to President Grant included observations on progress being made to civilize indigenous people. Among those observations were the following:

“We are assuming, and I think with propriety, that our civilization ought to take the place of their barbarous habits. We therefore claim the right to control the soil which they occupy, and we assume that it is our duty to coerce them, if necessary, into the adoption and practice of our habits and customs.”

(Source: Report of the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Columbus Delano, 31 October 1872, House Executive Document 1(42-3), Part 5, being Part of the Message and Documents at the Beginning of the third Session of the Forty-Second Congress, vol. 1, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1872, pp 1-9, Oklahoma Dept. of Libraries.)

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MY INSPIRERS

The Nations have always been of great interest to me (not the “Indians” of Hollywood design). The culture, spirituality, and heritage of North America’s indigenous people have had the center of my attention for as long as I can remember.

Deep inspiration for my studies and writing came from the work and pen of Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885). Helen’s writing ability touched the genres of prose, history-based fiction, nonfiction, and articles. But her specific nonfiction work which drew me in was Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the United States Government’s Dealings With Some of the Indian Tribes (1881). With that masterpiece, Helen detailed the government’s destructive impact on The Nations.

Mari Sandoz (1896-1966) wrote Cheyenne Autumn, history-based fiction, in 1953. Her book touched my heart unlike any other secular book I’ve read. It also inspired Hollywood Director John Ford’s 1953 film, “Cheyenne Autumn,” starring Richard Widmark.


 

 

BIA Commissioner Wm. Medill: The Choctaw Nation

Wm. Medill

The following observation about the Choctaw Nation was made by William Medill, Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in his 1847 Annual Report:

“They [the Choctaws] had severed their connection with the general government as wards, and voluntarily placed themselves under the legislative control of the States. Their situation was, however, an unhappy one. In the midst of, and far inferior to, an increasing white population, they could not prosper, but on the contrary, must decline and eventually become outcasts if they remained where they were. They also were an incubus upon the improvement and prosperity of the sections of country where they resided, and the State of Mississippi, especially within whose limits the great body of them were, was anxious to be relieved from their presence.”

NOTE: Definition of “incubus” — a demon; an evil spirit, supposed to lie upon persons in their sleep, and especially to have sexual intercourse with women by night.

(Source: Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1847, Commissioner William Medill, 30 November 1847, New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1976.)

The Miserableness of Truth

      William H. Harrison (1773-1841) was the youngest son of Benjamin Harrison. (You may recall that Benjamin was one of the signatories on our Constitution.)

       Following service in the Army, William Harrison relocated to the Northwest Territory to fight against The Nations. In 1799, he was elected the Territory’s first Delegate to Congress. After Congress split the Territory into two separate territories (in 1800), President John Adams appointed him Governor of Indiana Territory.

       During his eleven-plus years as Governor, Harrison displaced untold numbers of Indians, acquired over sixty million acres of their land, and worked (unsuccessfully) to get the legislature to approve slavery for the territory. He was, however, successful in 1803 convincing Congress to approve a ten-year suspension of Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance, allowing indentured servitude in Indiana Territory.

      The year 1803 was notable for yet another reason. In February that year, President Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Governor Harrison, the first two paragraphs of which were rather innocuous. As for the remaining text, that is entirely another matter. 

      Although somewhat lengthy, I have chosen to provide that remaining text below. And I do encourage you to read all of it, including Jefferson’s admonition to Harrison that the letter was not for consumption by the public nor by the Indians.

“Dear Sir,

“… from the Secretary of War you receive from time to time information and instructions as to our Indian affairs. These communications being for the public records, are restrained always to particular objects and occasions; but this letter being unofficial and private, I may with safety give you a more extensive view of our policy respecting the Indians, that you may the better comprehend the parts dealt out to you in detail through the official channel, and observing the system of which they make a part, conduct yourself in unison with it in cases where you are obliged to act without instruction…The decrease of game rendering their subsistence by hunting insufficient, we wish to draw them to agriculture, to spinning and weaving. The latter branches they take up with great readiness, because they fall to the women, who gain by quitting the labors of the field for those which are exercised within doors. When they withdraw themselves to the culture of a small piece of land, they will perceive how useless to them are their extensive forests, and will be willing to pare them off from time to time in exchange for necessaries for their farms and families. To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want, we shall push our trading uses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands. At our trading houses, too, we mean to sell so low as merely to repay us cost and charges, so as neither to lessen or enlarge our capital. This is what private traders cannot do, for they must gain; they will consequently retire from the competition, and we shall thus get clear of this pest without giving offence or umbrage to the Indians. In this way our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi. The former is certainly the termination of their history most happy for themselves; but, in the whole course of this, it is essential to cultivate their love. As to their fear, we presume that our strength and their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them, and that all our liberalities to them proceed from motives of pure humanity only…

“The Cahokias extinct, we are entitled to their country by our paramount sovereignty. The Piorias, we understand, have all been driven off from their country, and we might claim it in the same way; but as we understand there is one chief remaining, who would, as the survivor of the tribe, sell the right, it is better to give him such terms as will make him easy for life, and take a conveyance from him. The Kaskaskias being reduced to a few families, I presume we may purchase their whole country for what would place every individual of them at his ease, and be a small price to us, — say by laying off for each family, whenever they would choose it, as much rich land as they could cultivate, adjacent to each other, enclosing the whole in a single fence, and giving them such an annuity in money or goods forever as would place them in happiness; and we might take them also under the protection of the United States. Thus possessed of the rights of these tribes, we should proceed to the settling their boundaries with the Poutewatamies and Kickapoos; claiming all doubtful territory, but paying them a price for the relinquishment of their concurrent claim, and even prevailing on them, if possible to cede, for a price, such of their own unquestioned territory as would give us a convenient northern boundary. Before broaching this, and while we are bargaining with the Kaskaskias, the minds of the Poutewatamies and Kickapoos should be soothed and conciliated by liberalities and sincere assurances of friendship. Perhaps by sending a well-qualified character to stay some time in Decoigne’s village, as if on other business, and to sound him and introduce the subject by degrees to his mind and that of the other heads of families, inculcating in the way of conversation, all those considerations which prove the advantages they would receive by a cession on these terms, the object might be more easily and effectually obtained than by abruptly proposing it to them at a formal treaty…The crisis is pressing; whatever can now be obtained must be obtained quickly. The occupation of New Orleans, hourly expected, by the French, is already felt like a light breeze by the Indians. You know the sentiments they entertain of that nation; under the hope of their protection they will immediately stiffen against cessions of lands to us. We had better, therefore, do at once what can now be done.

“I must repeat that this letter is to be considered as private and friendly, and is not to control any particular instructions which you may receive through official channel. You will also perceive how sacredly it must be kept within your own breast, and especially how improper to be understood by the Indians. For their interests and their tranquility it is best they should see only the present age of their history.

“I pray you to accept assurances of my esteem and high consideration.

“[signed by Thomas Jefferson] “

Be This as it May …

      Caleb Blood Smith, a career politician, was appointed by Abraham Lincoln in March 1861 as Secretary of the Department of the Interior. 

      Later that same year, in his November Annual Report to President Lincoln, Secretary Smith wrote the following concerning the Apache and Pueblo nations:

“… as the Indians occupied that territory of both nations prior to the advent of the European race upon this continent, it seems clear that they held lands in the Territory of Mexico and the United States by precisely the same tenure. Be this as it may, the necessity that the Indians of this [southern] superintendency shall be concentrated upon suitable reservations is imperative. The rapid spread of our [white] population has reached this as well as our other Territories … the Indians in large and imposing numbers are in their midst … a constant source of irritation and vexation to the whites … To cure all these evils; to foster and protect our own settlements; to secure the ultimate perpetuity of the Territory, and a speedy development of its resources … [i.e. gold] … but one course is, in my judgement, left, and that is the concentration of the Indians upon ample reservations suitable for their permanent and happy homes, and to be sacredly held for that purpose.”

(Source: Caleb Blood Smith, Secretary of the Dept. of the Interior to President Abraham Lincoln, 27 November 1861, CIS U.S. Serial Set 1117, Microfiche #1117, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, Senate Ex. Doc. v.1, n.1., pp 633-637.)

Whose Land is it Really?

Above is the U.S. map reflecting simulated reserves and corridor systems to protect biodiversity. The map is based upon mandates issued by the United Nations, NAFTA, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Wildlands Project. Can you tell how much land is left over for human residence?

Note: On 7 September 1783, New York State Senator George Washington wrote a letter to James Duane, Jr., the New York delegate to the Continental Congress. Duane, who previously served as an Indian Commissioner, was told in that letter Washington’s plans for appropriating Indians’ lands. In conclusion, Washington cautioned Duane, “But as we prefer Peace to a state of Warfare, as we consider [Indians] a deluded People; as we persuade ourselves that they are convinced, from experience, of their error in taking up the Hatchet against us, and that their true Interest and safety must now depend upon our friendship … we will … draw a veil over what is past and establish a boundary line between them and us beyond which we will endeavor to restrain our People from Hunting or Settling … the Indians will ever retreat as our Settlements advance upon them and they will be as ready to sell, as we are to buy; That it is the cheapest as well as the least distressing way of dealing with them.”

 

 

 

From the Horses’ Mouths

George Custer and his troops carried out an unprovoked attack against the Southern Cheyenne who were enroute to Fort Cobb and camped alongside the Washita River in western Indian Territory in November 1868.Although his report and those of his superior officers referenced the attack as a “battle,” it was anything but. That it was an outright massacre where the majority of those murdered were children and women was confirmed later by federal authorities tasked with investigating the incident.

Custer’s 28 November 1868 report is contained in U.S. Senate Executive Documents-Serial Set 1360. But the truth of this incident (which was later validated by federal authorities) was discussed by two other individuals who attempted to protect peace-loving tribes.

Thomas Murphy served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Atchison, Kansas. This 4 December 1868 letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington reiterated Murphy’s previous communications to military and government officials.

Edward W. “Ned” Wynkoop served with the Army and as Agent for the Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne. He finally resigned when he could see that neither the military or federal government could be induced to exercise sensibility in interacting with indigenous people. Wynkoop’s letters before and after his resignation bespoke his sincerity toward this country’s indigenous people. In addition to service in the Army and as Indian Agent, Wynkoop was a founder of the city of Denver, Commander of Fort Lyon, and Warden of the New Mexico Penitentiary in Santa Fe County.

Below are excerpts from reports written by Thomas Murphy and Edward W. Wynkoop – two men whose consciences and principles set them apart from the likes of George Custer, Phil Sheridan and others.

Murphy wrote:

“Sir: I have the honor to report that on my return yesterday from Paola, whither I had been to pay the fall annuities to Indians of the Osage River agency, I found in the public journals General Sheridan’s report of what he calls ‘the opening of the campaign against the hostile Indians,’ the perusal of which made me sick at heart. Had these Indians been hostile, or had they been the warriors who committed the outrages upon the white settlers on the Solomon and Saline Rivers, in August last, or those who subsequently fought Colonel Forsyth and his fifty scouts, no one would rejoice over this victory more than myself. But who were the parties thus attacked and slaughtered by General Custer and his command? It was Black Kettle’s band of Cheyennes. Black kettle, one of the truest friends the whites have ever had among the Indians of the plains; he who, in 1864, purchased with his own ponies the white women and children captured on the Blue and Platte Rivers by the Dog Soldiers of the Cheyennes and by the Sioux, and freely delivered them up at Denver City to Colonel Chivington, who was at the time the military commandant at that place. After this he was induced, under promises of protection for his people, to bring them into the vicinity of Fort Lyon, where they were soon afterward pounced upon by the military, led by Chivington, and cruelly and indiscriminately murdered. Black Kettle escaped, but his people, in consequence of the step he had taken to induce them to come to the vicinity of the fort, refused to recognize him as their chief, and he thus remained in disfavor with them up to the time of the treaty of 1865, at which time, after explanations on the part of the commissioners, he was reinstated.

“In 1867, when General Hancock burned the villages of peaceful Cheyennes and Sioux, Black Kettle used all his influence to prevent the Cheyennes from going to war to avenge this wrong, and so persistent were his efforts in this behalf, that his life was threatened and he had to steal away from them in the night with his family and friends and flee for safety to the lodges of the Arapahoes.

“In August, 1867, when I was sent out by the Indian peace commission with instructions to assemble in the vicinity of Fort Larned all the friendly Indians belonging to the Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, with a view of using them to get into communication with the hostile Indians, Black Kettle was among the first to meet me at Fort Larned, cheerfully proffered me his assistance and protection, and from that day until the conclusion of the treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek no man worked more assiduously than did he to bring to a successful termination the business then in hand, and no man, red or white, felt more happy than did he when his people had finally signed the treaty by which they once more placed themselves upon friendly relations with the government. And when he ascertained that some of the young men of his tribe had committed the atrocities upon the Solomon and Saline in August last, I have been credibly informed that so great was his grief he tore his hair and his clothes, and naturally supposing that the whites would wreak their vengeance upon all Indians that might chance to fall in their way, and remembering the treachery that had once well nigh cost him his life (I refer to the massacre at Sand Creek), he went south to avoid the impending troubles.

“Knowing these chiefs as I do, I feel satisfied that when all the facts pertaining to the late attack shall become known, it will be found that they and the few lodges with them composed that portion of their tribes who desired to remain at peace, and who were endeavoring to make their way to Fort Cobb for the purpose of placing themselves under the care of their agents on their new reservations.

“Had Congress at its last session appropriated sufficient funds to continue the feeding of these Indians last June, I believe we could have kept them at peace, and that by this time they would have been quietly located on their new reservations where we could control and manage them and gradually wean them from their wild and wandering life, and in doing which it would not have cost the government as much per year as it is now costing per month to fight them, and this course would have been far more humane and becoming a magnanimous and Christian nation.

“Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

“Thomas Murphy, Superintendent Indian Affairs”

Five days prior to Thomas Murphy’s above letter, Wynkoop submitted his resignation to Nathaniel G. Taylor, Indian Affairs Commissioner in Washington, as follows:

“Sir: During the year 1864, while an officer in the Army of the United States, highest in authority in the Indian country in which I served, I, in the supposed fulfillment of my duty as such, congregated some five hundred friendly Cheyenne Indians together, assuring them the protection of the United States; the consequence of which was, they were attacked by a large body of volunteer troops from Colorado and nearly two hundred of their women and children and old men brutally murdered. The infamous massacre at Sand Creek will not soon be forgotten. The Indians were naturally under the impression that I was responsible for the outrage; but after they fully understood my position, I became, at their request, their agent and they have renewed the confidence they had in me previous to the Sand Creek murder, trusting me implicitly up to the time of General Hancock’s memorable expedition, they then having received assurance from me that General Hancock would not harm them, and seeing me with him whom I had been induced to accompany under assurances from himself that his mission was a peaceful one. Upon the destruction of their lodges and other property, again they naturally inferred the fault was mine and some time since, while in the performance of my duty among the Indians, I came near losing my life in consequence; but I again succeeded in regaining their confidence and am now under orders to proceed to Fort Cobb on the Washita River and congregate what Indians I can of my agency at that point or vicinity.

“Since I have started on my journey thither, I have learned of five different columns of troops in the field whose objective point is the Washita River. The regular troops are under control, commanded by officers who will not allow atrocities committed; but there are also in the field under the sanction of the government, volunteer troops and Ute and Osage Indians, the deadliest enemies of all the plains Indians and whom nothing will prevent from murdering all of whatever age or sex wherever found. The point to which that portion are marching who have expressed their determination to kill under all circumstances the Indians of my agency, is the point to which I am directed to congregate them at. They will readily respond to my call, but I most certainly refuse to again be the instrument of the murder of innocent women and children. While I remain an officer of the government I propose to do my duty – a portion of which is to obey my instructions. All left me under the circumstances, with the present state of feelings I have in this matter, is now to respectfully tender my resignation and return the commission which I have so far earnestly endeavored to fulfill the requirements of. To the President of the United States, who has entrusted me with the commission I have held; to yourself for the consideration always shown me; to the Superintendent, Colonel Murphy, for his invariable kindness, I shall always feel grateful.

“I have the honor to respectfully forward this communication through Colonel Thomas Murphy, Superintendent of Indian affairs, to whom I will turn over what property I am responsible for, and make my appearance at Washington as soon as possible to settle my accounts.

“I have the honor to be, with much respect, your obedient servant,

“E.W. Wynkoop”

(SOURCE: Edward W. Wynkoop enroute to Fort Cobb, 29 November 1868, to Nathaniel G. Taylor, Commissioner, Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, Difficulties With Indian Tribes in Executive Documents printed by order of the House of Representatives during the Second Session of the Forty-First Congress, 1869-1870, Volume 3, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870, Serial Set 1425, pp 4-5.)

Kill ’em, kill ’em all!

      Most of us from the baby boom generation and older recognize and connect the name William T. Sherman to four years of conflict between northern and southern states of this Republic (1861-1865).

Sherman entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when he was 16 years old and graduated four years later (in 1840). While at West Point, he never rose above the rank of Private; according to Sherman’s memoirs, he received an average of 150 demerits annually.

Thanks to the influence of his foster father, Thomas Ewing (an Ohio lawyer and politician), Sherman ranked as a second lieutenant in his initial years’ service with the Army. While Ewing served as Secretary of the Department of the Interior (1849-1850), Sherman married his daughter and was duly promoted to the rank of Captain. Three years later, he resigned his captaincy and went to work for a St. Louis-based bank. Sherman was hired in 1859 as superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy (later re-named Louisiana State University).

Although he was pro-slavery, Sherman was against fracturing of the Union. When Louisiana joined the Confederacy, he resigned from the Seminary and moved to St. Louis. In May 1861, his brother, John Sherman, a U.S. Senator (Ohio), helped him acquire a commission as Colonel in the Army’s 13th U.S. Infantry. After the Union’s defeat at Bull Run two months later, President Lincoln promoted Sherman to Brigadier General. After three months, Sherman took over command of the military’s Department of the Cumberland (Louisville, Kentucky). But promptly and at his own request, Sherman was relieved of that duty and transferred to the Department of the Missouri (St. Louis). Less than two months later, Major General Henry Halleck, Commander of the Department of the Missouri, determined Sherman to be unfit for duty and placed him on leave.

      By mid-December 1861, Sherman returned to his duties under Halleck for the Department of the Missouri. Sherman was reassigned to Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s command (District of West Tennessee) the following March and placed as commander of the 5th Division, Army of West Tennessee. The Shiloh battle took place in April 1862 after which Sherman was promoted to Major General of Volunteers, then military governor of Union-occupied Memphis, Tennessee. 

      By spring of 1864, Sherman was promoted to command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, and Grant took the overall command of Union armies. Emboldened, Sherman invaded the state of Georgia with close to one hundred thousand troops. Before arriving in Atlanta, he received a commission as major-general in the regular Army. Citizens of union-occupied Atlanta were ordered out of the city while Sherman burned all the military and government buildings and much of the city’s private residences. 

      Following Lincoln’s election as President, Sherman took sixty-two thousand troops and began another march through Georgia to the port at Savannah. As seen in his field reports, Sherman and his men took everything they saw and wanted causing estimated property damage in excess of $100 million. The 25 December 1864 New-York Times published Sherman’s jubilant message to President Lincoln:

“Savannah, Ga., Dec. 22. 

“To His Excellency, President Lincoln: I beg to present you as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton. 

“(Signed.) W. T. Sherman, Major-General”

      Sherman then proceeded north, decimating South Carolina and North Carolina along the way. On 9 April 1865, General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Army, surrendered to General Grant, Commander of the Union Army. Then on 26 April 1865, the commander of Confederate troops in the Carolinas, General Joseph E. Johnston, surrendered to General Sherman who had just trounced those two states. 

      On 9 May 1865, U.S. President Andrew Johnson declared an end to the war. 

      On 23 June 1865 near Doaksville, Choctaw Nation, Union representatives met with Brigadier General Stand Watie, commander of the Confederate Indian Cavalry, Army of the Trans-Mississippi. Watie signed a cease fire agreement at that time … the last Confederate capitulation. 

      Throughout his career with the Army, Sherman used the term “hard-war” to describe what he perceived as the appropriate reality and justification for his actions during conflicts in which he was involved. His ideology was in view not only during the conflict between the states, but also during efforts by the U.S. government and military to eliminate as many red-skinned people as possible, and subjugate and segregate the survivors. 

      Summer of 1865 found Lieutenant General Sherman in command of the Military Division of the Missouri which included territory between the Rocky Mountains and Mississippi River. His friend, Ulysses S. Grant, had been honored by Congress with the new position as General of the Army. 

      Shortly after the military’s November 1868 massacre of Black Kettle’s band of Cheyenne camped alongside the Washita River in western Indian Territory, President Grant honored Sherman with appointment as the new General of the Army. 

      Records of Sherman’s military actions from the civil war through his 1884 retirement are replete at Federal Depository Libraries, other venues of historical collections, digitized primary documents at universities and colleges, digitized newspaper editorials, and more. During research on the 27 November 1868 Washita River massacre, I discovered the following portions of a report written by Lt. General Sherman three weeks later:

      “… I am well satisfied with Custer’s attack, and would not have wept if he could have served Satanta’s and Bull Bear’s bands in the same style. I want you all to go ahead, kill and punish the hostile, rescue the captive white women and children, capture and destroy the ponies, lances, carbines, &c., of the Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Kiowas. Mark out the spots where they must stay, and then systematize the whole (friendly and hostile) into camps, with a view to economical support, until we can try and get them to be self-supporting, like the Cherokees and Choctaws. They must clearly understand that they must never again hunt outside the limits of the territory … If the game of the Indian Territory do[es] not suffice for their support, the United States must feed them till they can raise tame cattle, sheep, and hogs …” 

      “The House of Representatives promptly passed the bill transferring the Indian Bureau from the Interior to the War Department; but the bill is held in committee of the Senate. I believe still it will pass; but even if it do[es] not, the course I have indicated must be followed before Indian agents can pretend to manage the four bands now construed to be at war, viz: Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas and Comanches. I believe that Generals Sheridan and Hazen will, when they meet at Fort Cobb, fully accomplish this, but I would like that Bull Bear and Satanta should be killed before the tribes are allowed any favors at our hands …”

      Note: The U.S. Senate did not concur on transferring the Indian Bureau back to the War Department; it wisely remained part of the Department of the Interior. The truth of what happened before, during, and after the unprovoked massacre of Black Kettle and his band on the Washita River was later confirmed by Congressional and federal authorities, upholding the claims by men such as Thomas Murphy and Edward Wynkoop.

(SOURCE: W. T. Sherman, Lieutenant General, Headquarters Military Division of the Missouri, St. Louis, Missouri, 23 December 1868, to Major General P. H. Sheridan, Commanding Officer, Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation, in Executive Documents printed by order of the House of Representatives during the Second Session of the Forty-First Congress 1869-1870, Volume #3, Serial Set 1425, pp. 177-178, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870.)

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2 comments on “History from Primary Documents

  1. Vivian Zabel says:

    Impressive, vehoae.

    Liked by 1 person

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