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Present Aspects of the Indian Problem


That the history of our Indian relations presents, in great part, a record of broken treaties, of unjust wars and of cruel spoliation, is a fact too well known to require proof or to suffer denial. But it is only just to the Government of the United States to say that its treaties with Indian tribes were, as a rule, made in good faith, and that most of our Indian wars were brought on by circumstances for which the Government itself could not fairly be held responsible. Of the treaties, those were the most important by which the Government guaranteed to Indian tribes certain tracts of land as reservations to be held and occupied by them forever under the protection of the United States, in the place of other lands ceded by the Indians. There is no reason to doubt that in most, if not all, of such cases, those who conducted Indian affairs on the part of the Government, not anticipating the rapid advance of settlement, sincerely believed in the possibility of maintaining those reservations intact for the Indians, and that, in this respect, while their intentions were honest, their foresight was at fault. There are men still living who spent their younger days near the borders of “Indian country” in Ohio and Indiana, and it is a well-known fact that, when the Indian Territory was established west of the Mississippi, it was generally thought that the settlements of white men would never crowd into that region, at least not for many generations. Thus were such reservations guaranteed by the Government with the honest belief that the Indians would be secure in their possession, which, as subsequent events proved, was a gross error of judgment.

It is also a fact that most of the Indian wars grew, not from any desire of the Government to disturb the Indians in the territorial possessions guaranteed to them, but from the restless and unscrupulous greed of frontiersmen who pushed their settlements and ventures into the Indian country, provoked conflicts with the Indians and then called for the protection of the Government against the resisting and retaliating Indians, thus involving it in the hostilities which they themselves had begun. It is true that in some instances Indian wars were precipitated by acts of rashness and violence on the part of military men without orders from the Government, while the popular impression that Indian outbreaks were generally caused by the villainy of Government agents, who defrauded and starved the Indians, is substantially unfounded. Such frauds and robberies have no doubt been frequently committed. It has also happened that Indian tribes were exposed to great suffering and actual starvation in consequence of the neglect of Congress to provide the funds necessary to fulfil treaty stipulations. But things of this kind resulted but seldom in actual hostilities. To such wrongs the Indians usually submitted with a more enduring patience than they receive credit for, although in some instances, it must be admitted, outrages were committed by Indians without provocation, which resulted in trouble on a large scale.

In mentioning these facts, it is not my purpose to hold the Government entirely guiltless of the wrongs inflicted upon the Indians. It has, undoubtedly, sometimes lacked in vigor when Indian tribes needed protection. It has, in many cases, yielded too readily to the pressure of those who wanted to possess themselves of Indian lands. Still less would I justify some high-handed proceedings on the part of the Government in moving peaceable Indian tribes from place to place without their consent, trying to rectify old blunders by new acts of injustice. But I desire to point out that by far the larger part of our Indian troubles have sprung from the greedy encroachments of white men upon Indian lands, and that, hostilities being brought about in this manner, in which the Indians uniformly succumbed, old treaties and arrangements were overthrown to be supplanted by new ones of a similar character which eventually led to the same results. In the light of events, the policy of assigning to the Indian tribes large tracts of land as permanent reservations, within the limits of which they might continue to roam at pleasure, with the expectation that they would never be disturbed thereon, appears as a grand mistake, a natural, perhaps even an unavoidable mistake in times gone by, but a mistake for all that, for that policy failed to take into account the inevitable pressure of rapidly and irresistibly advancing settlement and enterprise. While duly admitting and confessing the injustice done, we must understand the real nature of the difficulty if we mean to solve it.

No intelligent man will to-day for a moment entertain the belief that there is still a nook or corner of this country that has the least agricultural or mineral value in it, beyond the reach of progressive civilization. Districts which seemed to be remote wildernesses but a few years ago have been or are now being penetrated by railroads: Montana, Washington Territory, Idaho and New Mexico are now more easily accessible than Ohio and Indiana were at the beginning of this century, and the same process which resulted in crowding the Indians out of these States has begun and is rapidly going on in those Territories. The settler and miner are beginning, or at least threatening, to invade every Indian reservation that offers any attraction, and it is a well-known fact that the frontiersman almost always looks upon Indian lands as the most valuable in the neighborhood, simply because the Indian occupies them and the white man is excluded from them. From the articles in the newspapers of those remote Territories, it would sometimes appear as if, in the midst of millions of untouched acres, the white people were deprived of the necessary elbow-room as long as there is an Indian in the country. At any rate, the settlers and miners want to seize upon the most valuable tracts first, and they are always inclined to look for them among the lands of the Indians. The fact that wild Indians — and here it is proper to say that when in this discussion Indians are spoken of as “wild,” and their habits of life as “savage,” these terms are not used in their extreme sense, but as simply meaning “uncivilized,” there being of course among them, in that respect, a difference of degrees — hold immense tracts of country which, possessed by them, are of no advantage to anybody, while, as is said, thousands upon thousands of white people stand ready to cultivate them and to make them contribute to the national wealth, is always apt to make an impression upon minds not accustomed to nice discrimination. It is needless to say that the rights of the Indians are a matter of very small consideration in the eyes of those who covet their possessions. The average frontiersman looks upon the Indian simply as a nuisance that is in his way. There are certainly men among them of humane principles, but also many whom it would be difficult to convince that it is a crime to kill an Indian, or that to rob an Indian of his lands is not a meritorious act. This pressure grows in volume and intensity as the population increases, until finally, in some way or another one Indian reservation after another falls into the hands of white settlers. Formerly, when this was accomplished, the Indians so dispossessed were removed to other vacant places farther westward. Now this expedient is no longer open. The western country is rapidly filling up. A steady stream of immigration is following the railroad lines and then spreading to the right and left. The vacant places still existing are either worthless or will soon be exposed to the same invasion. The plains are being occupied by cattle-raisers, the fertile valleys and bottom-lands by agriculturists, the mountains by miners. What is to become of the Indians?

In trying to solve this question, we have to keep in view the facts here recited. However we may deplore the injustice which these facts have brought, and are still bringing, upon the red men, yet with these facts we have to deal. They are undeniable. Sound statesmanship cannot disregard them. It is true that the Indian reservations now existing cover a great many millions of acres, containing very valuable tracts of agricultural, grazing and mineral land; that the area now cultivated, or that can possibly be cultivated by the Indians, is comparatively very small; that by far the larger portion is lying waste. Is it not, in view of the history of more than two centuries, useless to speculate in our minds how these many millions of acres can be preserved in their present state for the Indians to roam upon? — how the greedy push of settlement and enterprise might be permanently checked for the protection of the red man's present possessions, as hunting-grounds upon which, moreover, there is now but very little left to hunt? We are sometimes told that ours is a powerful government, which might accomplish such things if it would only put forth its whole strength. Is this so? The Government is, indeed, strong in some respects, but weak in others. It may be truthfully said that the Government has never been intent upon robbing the Indians. It has frequently tried, in good faith, to protect them against encroachment, and almost as frequently it has failed. It has simply yielded to the pressure exercised upon it by the people who were in immediate contact with the Indians. Those in authority were, in most cases, drawn or driven into an active participation in conflicts not of their own making. When a collision between Indians and whites had once occurred, no matter who was responsible for it, and when bloody deeds had been committed and an outcry about Indian atrocities had been made, our military forces were always found on the side of the white people and against the savage, no matter whether those who gave the orders knew that the savages were originally the victims and not the assailants. Imagine, now, the Government were to proclaim that, from the many millions of acres at present covered by Indian reservations, white men should forever be excluded, and that the National power should be exerted to that end, what would be the consequence? For some time the Government might succeed in enforcing such a resolution. How long, would depend upon the rapidity with which the western country is occupied by settlers. As the settlements crowd upon the reservations, the population thickens, and the demand for larger fields of agricultural and mining enterprise becomes more pressing, the Government may still remain true to its purpose. But will those who are hungry for the Indian lands sit still? It will be easy for the rough and reckless frontiersmen to pick quarrels with the Indians. The speculators, who have their eyes upon every opportunity for gain, will urge them on. The watchfulness of the Government will, in the long run, be unavailing to prevent collisions. The Indians will retaliate. Settlers' cabins will be burned and blood will flow. The conflict once brought on, the white man and the red man will stand against one another, and, in spite of all its good intentions and its sense of justice, the forces of the Government will find themselves engaged on the side of the white man. The Indians will be hunted down at whatever cost. It will simply be a repetition of the old story, and that old story will be eventually repeated whenever there is a large and valuable Indian reservation surrounded by white settlements. Unjust, disgraceful, as this may be, it is not only probable, but almost inevitable. The extension of our railroad system will only accelerate the catastrophe.

We are frequently told that the management of Indian affairs in Canada has been more successful than ours in avoiding such conflicts. This appears to be true. But, while giving credit to the Canadian authorities for the superiority of their management in some respects, we must not forget that they are working under conditions far less difficult. The number of their Indians is much less, and their unoccupied territory much larger. They have still what may be called an Indian frontier — the white men on one side of the line and the Indians on the other, with vast hunting-grounds visited only by the trapper and fur-trader. Their agricultural settlements advance with far less rapidity than ours. There is far less opportunity for encroachment. When in the British possessions agricultural and mining enterprise spreads with the same energy and eagerness as in the United States, when railroads penetrate their Indian country, when all that is valuable in it becomes thus accessible and tempting to the greed of white men, when game becomes scarce and ceases to furnish sufficient sustenance to the Indians, the Canadian authorities in their management of Indian affairs will find themselves confronted with the same difficulties.

What does, under such circumstances, wise and humane statesmanship demand? Not that we should close our eyes to existing facts; but that, keeping those facts clearly in view, we should discover among the possibilities that which is most just and best for the Indians. I am profoundly convinced that a stubborn maintenance of the system of large Indian reservations must eventually result in the destruction of the red men, however faithfully the Government may endeavor to protect their rights. It is only a question of time. My reasons for this belief I have given above. What we can and should do is, in general terms, to fit the Indians, as much as possible, for the habits and occupations of civilized life, by work and education; to individualize them in the possession and appreciation of property, by allotting to them lands in severalty, giving them a fee-simple title individually to the parcels of land they cultivate, inalienable for a certain period, and to obtain their consent to a disposition of that part of their lands which they cannot use, for a fair compensation, in such a manner that they no longer stand in the way of the development of the country as an obstacle, but form part of it and are benefited by it.

The circumstances surrounding them place before the Indians this stern alternative: extermination or civilization. The thought of exterminating a race, once the only occupant of the soil upon which so many millions of our own people have grown prosperous and happy, must be revolting to every American who is not devoid of all sentiments of justice and humanity. To civilize them, which was once only a benevolent fancy, has now become an absolute necessity, if we mean to save them.

Can Indians be civilized? This question is answered in the negative only by those who do not want to civilize them. My experience in the management of Indian affairs, which enabled me to witness the progress made even among the wildest tribes, confirms me in the belief that it is not only possible but easy to introduce civilized habits and occupations among Indians, if only the proper means are employed. We are frequently told that Indians will not work. True, it is difficult to make them work as long as they can live upon hunting. But they will work when their living depends upon it, or when sufficient inducements are offered to them. Of this there is an abundance of proof. To be sure, as to Indian civilization, we must not expect too rapid progress or the attainment of too lofty a standard. We can certainly not transform them at once into great statesmen, or philosophers, or manufacturers, or merchants; but we can make them small farmers and herders. Some of them show even remarkable aptitude for mercantile pursuits on a small scale. I see no reason why the degree of civilization attained by the Indians in the States of New York, Indiana, Michigan and some tribes in the Indian Territory, should not be attained in the course of time by all. I have no doubt that they can be sufficiently civilized to support themselves, to maintain relations of good neighborship with the people surrounding them, and altogether to cease being a disturbing element in society. The accomplishment of this end, however, will require much considerate care and wise guidance. That care and guidance is necessarily the task of the Government which, as to the Indians at least, must exercise paternal functions until they are sufficiently advanced to take care of themselves.

In this respect, some sincere philanthropists seem inclined to run into a serious error in insisting that first of all things it is necessary to give to the Indian the rights and privileges of American citizenship, to treat him in all respects as a citizen, and to relieve him of all restraints to which other Americans citizens are not subject. I do not intend to go here into a disquisition on the legal status of the Indian, on which elaborate treatises have been written, and learned judicial decisions rendered, without raising it above dispute. The end to be reached is unquestionably the gradual absorption of the Indians in the great body of American citizenship. When that is accomplished, then, and only then, the legal status of the Indian will be clearly and finally fixed. But we should not indulge in the delusion that the problem can be solved by merely conferring upon them rights they do not yet appreciate, and duties they do not yet understand. Those who advocate this seem to think that the Indians are yearning for American citizenship, eager to take it if we will only give it to them. No mistake could be greater. An overwhelming majority of the Indians look at present upon American citizenship as a dangerous gift, and but few of the more civilized are willing to accept it when it is attainable. And those who are uncivilized would certainly not know what to do with it if they had it. The mere theoretical endowment of savages with rights which are beyond their understanding and appreciation will, therefore, help them little. They should certainly have that standing in the courts which is necessary for their protection. But full citizenship must be regarded as the terminal, not as the initial, point of their development. The first necessity, therefore, is not at once to give it to them, but to fit them for it. And to this end, nothing is more indispensable than the protecting and guiding care of the Government during the dangerous period of transition from savage to civilized life. When the wild Indian first turns his face from his old habits toward “the ways of the white man,” his self-reliance is severely shaken. The picturesque and proud hunter and warrior of the plain or the forest gradually ceases to exist. In his new occupations, with his new aims and objects, he feels himself like a child in need of leading-strings. Not clearly knowing where he is to go, he may be led in the right direction, and he may also be led astray. He is apt to accept the vices as well as the virtues and accomplishments of civilization, and the former, perhaps, more readily than the latter. He is as accessible to bad as to good advice or example, and the class of people usually living in the immediate vicinity of Indian camps and reservations is frequently not such as to exercise upon him an elevating influence. He is in danger of becoming a drunkard before he has learned to restrain his appetites, and of being tricked out of his property before he is able to appreciate its value. He is overcome by a feeling of helplessness, and he naturally looks to the “Great Father” to take him by the hand and guide him on. That guiding hand must necessarily be one of authority and power to command confidence and respect. It can be only that of the Government, which the Indian is accustomed to regard as a sort of omnipotence on earth. Everything depends upon the wisdom and justice of that guidance.

To fit the Indians for their ultimate absorption in the great body of American citizenship, three things are suggested by common-sense as well as philanthropy.

  1. That they be taught to work by making work profitable and attractive to them.

  2. That they be educated, especially the youth of both sexes.

  3. That they be individualized in the possession of property by settlement in severalty with a fee-simple title, after which the lands they do not use may be disposed of for general settlement and enterprise without danger and with profit to the Indians.

This may seem a large program, strangely in contrast with the old wild life of the Indians, but they are now more disposed than ever before to accept it. Even those of them who have so far been in a great measure living upon the chase, are becoming aware that the game is fast disappearing, and will no longer be sufficient to furnish them a sustenance. In a few years the buffalo will be exterminated, and smaller game is gradually growing scarce except in the more inaccessible mountain regions. The necessity of procuring food in some other way is thus before their eyes. The requests of Indians addressed to the Government for instruction in agriculture, for agricultural implements and for stock cattle are in consequence now more frequent and pressing than ever before. A more general desire for the education of their children springs from the same source, and many express a wish for the allotment of farm tracts among them, with “the white man's paper,” meaning a good, strong title like that held by white men. This progressive movement is, of course, different in degree with different tribes, but it is going on more or less everywhere. The failure of Sitting Bull's attempt to maintain himself and a large number of followers on our northern frontier in the old, wild ways of Indian life will undoubtedly strengthen the tendency among the wild Indians of the Northwest to recognize the situation and to act accordingly. The general state of feeling among the red men is therefore now exceedingly favorable to the civilizing process.

Much has already been done in the direction above indicated. The area of land cultivated by Indians is steadily extended, and the quantity and value of their crops show a hopeful increase from year to year. Many Indians are already showing commendable pride in the product of their labor. Much more, however, might be done by the Government to facilitate and encourage this progress, by making larger appropriations for the appointment of men competent to instruct the Indians in agricultural work, and for furnishing them with farming implements. Unfortunately, members of Congress are frequently more intent upon making a good record in cutting down expenses in the wrong place, than upon providing the necessary money for objects the accomplishment of which would finally result in real and great economy. It may be remarked, by the way, that the promotion of agricultural work among the Indians is frequently discouraged by well-meaning men who reason upon the theory that in the transition from savage to civilized life, the pastoral state comes before the agricultural, and that the Indians, therefore, must be made herders before they can be made farmers. This theory is supported by historical precedents. It is true that the transition from the savage state to the pastoral is less violent than that from the savage state directly to the agricultural, but this does not prove that the latter is impossible. Moreover, the former requires certain favorable conditions, one of which is not only the possession of large tracts of grazing land but also of large numbers of cattle; and another is, that the transition, which would necessarily require a considerable time, be not interfered with by extraneous circumstances. There are only a few isolated instances of Indian tribes having devoted themselves successfully to the raising of herds and flocks, such as the Navajoes, who have hundreds of thousands of sheep, and manufacture excellent blankets by hand. Some thrifty Indians on the Pacific coast have raised small herds of cattle, and something more has been done by the so-called civilized tribes in the Indian Territory. The rest of the Indians have only raised ponies. To make all our wild Indians herders, would require the maintenance of the system of large reservations which, as I have shown, will be a precarious thing under the pressure of advancing settlement and enterprise. It would further require the distribution among them of large numbers of stock animals. Such distributions have been gradually increased, but even among the tribes best provided for, only to the extent of giving to each family one or two cows, and I see no prospect, with the resources likely to be at the disposal of the Indian service, of carrying this practice much further than to make it more general among all the tribes. But the possession of a cow or two will not make a man a herder. And even if the number were increased, and the cattle belonging to the members of a tribe were herded together for the purpose of regular cattle-raising, that pursuit would require the constant labor of only a small number of individuals, while, under existing circumstances, it is most desirable, if not absolutely necessary, that all of them, or at least as many as possible, be actively and profitably employed, so as to accelerate the civilizing process. To this end it seems indispensable that agricultural work be their principal occupation. But we need not be troubled by any misgivings on this head. The reports of early explorers show that most of our Indian tribes, without having passed through the pastoral state, did cultivate the soil in a rough way and on a small scale when first seen by white men, and that subsequently they continued that pursuit to a greater or less extent, even while they were driven from place to place. The promotion of agricultural work among them will therefore only be a revival and development of an old practice. The progress they now make shows how naturally they take to it. And if the Government, as it should, continues to furnish them with domestic animals, cattle-raising in a small way may become, not their principal business, but a proper and valuable addition to their agricultural work. I have no doubt, however, that young Indians may be profitably employed by the cattle-raisers of the West, as mounted herdsmen or “cow-boys.” If paid reasonable wages, they would probably be found very faithful and efficient in that capacity.

Other useful occupations for which the Indians show great aptitude have been introduced with promising success. They are now doing a very large part of the freighting of government goods, such as their own supplies and annuities. “Indian freighting,” on a large scale, was introduced only a few years ago, at almost all the agencies, especially on this side of the Rocky Mountains, which are not immediately accessible by railroad or river. The Indians use their own ponies as draught animals, while the Government furnishes the wagons and harness. The Indians have, by this industry, already earned large sums of money, and proved the most honest and efficient freighters the Government ever had. There is no reason why, in the course of time, they should not be largely engaged by the Government, as well as private parties, in the transportation of other than Indian goods.

That Indians can be successfully employed at various kinds of mechanical work, has already been sufficiently tested. A respectable number of their young men serve as apprentices in the saddler, blacksmith, shoemaker, tinsmith and carpenter shops at the agencies in the West, as well as at the Indian schools, and their proficiency is much commended. The school at Carlisle has been able to furnish considerable quantities of tin-ware, harness and shoes, all made by Indian labor, and, in some of the saw-mills and grist-mills on the reservations, Indians are employed as machinists with perfect safety. Many Indians who, but a few years ago, did nothing but hunt and fight, are now engaged in building houses for their families, and, with some instruction and aid on the part of the Government, they are doing reasonably well. Here and there an Indian is found who shows striking ability as a trader. All these things are capable of large and rapid development, if pushed forward and guided with wisdom and energy. All that is said here refers to the so-called wild tribes, such as the Sioux, the Shoshones, Poncas, Cheyennes, Arrapahoes, Pawnees etc. The significant point is that, recognizing the change in their situation, Indian men now almost generally accept work as a necessity, while formerly all the drudgery was done by their women. The civilized tribes in the Indian Territory and elsewhere have already proved their capacity for advancement in a greater measure.

One of the most important agencies in the civilizing process is, of course, education in schools. The first step was the establishment on the reservations of day-schools for Indian children. The efforts made by the Government in that direction may not always have been efficiently conducted; but it is also certain that, in the nature of things, the result of that system could not be satisfactory. With the exception of a few hours spent in school, the children remained exposed to the influence of their more or less savage home surroundings, and the indulgence of their parents greatly interfered with the regularity of their attendance and with the necessary discipline. Boarding-schools at the agencies were then tried, as far as the appropriations made by Congress would permit, adding to the usual elementary education some practical instruction in housework and domestic industries. The results thus obtained were perceptibly better, but even the best boarding-schools located on Indian reservations, in contact with no phase of human life except that of the Indian camp or village, still remain without those conditions of which the work of civilizing the growing Indian generation stands most in need.

The Indian, in order to be civilized, must not only learn how to read and write but how to live. On most of the Indian reservations he lives only among his own kind, excepting the teachers and the few white agency people. He may feel the necessity of changing his mode of life ever so strongly; he may hear of civilization ever so much; but as long as he has not with his own eyes seen civilization at work, it will remain to him only a vague, shadowy idea — a new-fangled, outlandish contrivance, the objects of which cannot be clearly appreciated by him in detail. He hears that he must accept “the white man's way,” and, in an indistinct manner, he is impressed with the necessity of doing so. But what is the white man's way? What ends does it serve? What means does it employ? What is necessary to attain it? The teaching in a school on an Indian reservation, in the midst of Indian barbarism, answers these questions only from hearsay. The impressions it thus produces, whether in all things right or in some things wrong, will, in any event, be insufficient to give the mind of the Indian a clear conception of what “the white man's way” really is. The school on the reservation undoubtedly does some good, but it does not enough. If the Indian is to become civilized, the most efficient method will be to permit him to see and watch civilization at work in its own atmosphere. In order to learn to live like the white man, he should see and observe how the white man lives in his own surroundings, what he is doing, and what he is doing it for. He should have an opportunity to observe, not by an occasional bewildering glimpse, like the Indians who now and then come to Washington to see the “Great Father,” but observe with the eye of an interested party, while being taught to do likewise.

Such considerations led the Government, under the last Administration, largely to increase the number of Indian pupils at the Normal School at Hampton, Va., and to establish an institution for the education of Indian children at Carlisle, in Pennsylvania, where the young Indians would no longer be under the influence of the Indian camp or village, but in immediate contact with the towns, farms and factories of civilized people, living and working in the atmosphere of civilization. In these institutions, the Indian children, among whom a large number of tribes are represented, receive the ordinary English education, while there are various shops and a farm for the instruction of the boys, and the girls are kept busy in the kitchen, dining-room, sewing-room and with other domestic work. In the summer, as many as possible of the boys are placed in the care of intelligent and philanthropic farmers and their families, mostly in Pennsylvania and New England, where they find instructive employment in the field and barnyard. The pupils are, under proper regulations, permitted to see as much as possible of the country and its inhabitants in the vicinity of the schools.

The results gained at these institutions are very striking. The native squalor of the Indian boys and girls rapidly gives way to neat appearance. A new intelligence, lighting up their faces, transforms their expression. Many of them show an astonishing eagerness to learn, quickness of perception, pride of accomplishment and love for their teachers. Visiting the Carlisle school, I saw Indian boys, from ten to fifteen years old, who had arrived only five months before without the least knowledge of the English language, writing down long columns of figures at my dictation and adding them up without the least mistake in calculation. Almost all submit cheerfully to the discipline imposed upon them. The boys show remarkable proficiency in mechanical and agricultural occupations, and the girls in all kinds of housework. They soon begin to take a lively and intelligent interest in the things they see around them. Most of this success is undoubtedly due to the intelligence, skill and energy of the principals of those schools, General Armstrong and Captain Pratt, who in an eminent degree unite enthusiasm with practical ability. But it is evident that the efforts of the most devoted teachers would be of little avail, did not the pupils possess a corresponding capacity of receiving instruction. A third school of this kind was more recently established on the same plan at Forest Grove, in Oregon, for the education of children of the Indian tribes on the Pacific coast.

When the Indian pupils have received a sufficient course of schooling, they are sent back to their tribes, to make themselves practically useful there, and to serve, in their turn, as teachers and examples. We hear sometimes the opinion expressed that the young Indians so educated, when returned to their tribes, will, under the influence of their surroundings, speedily relapse into their old wild habits, and that thus the results of their training will, after all, be lost. Undoubtedly there was good reason for such apprehensions at the time when the Indians had no other conception of their future than an indefinite continuance of their old life as hunters and warriors, when civilized pursuits were not in demand among them, and all influences were adverse to every effort in that direction. Then, an educated Indian necessarily found himself isolated among his people, and his accomplishments were looked upon not only as useless, but as ridiculous. Under such circumstances, of course, he would be apt to relapse. But circumstances have changed since. It is generally known among the Indians that hunting will soon be at an end; that the old mode of life has become untenable and productive work necessary. Now, knowledge and skill are in immediate demand among them. As long as they expected to live all their lives in tents of buffalo-skin, or of canvas furnished by the Government, the skill of the carpenter appeared to them useless. But now that they build houses for themselves and stables for their animals, the carpenter supplies an actual want. As long as they had no use for wagons, the wagon-maker was superfluous among them. As long as they raised only a little squaw-corn, and to that end found it sufficient to scratch the soil with their rude hoes, no mending of plows was called for. But since they have engaged more largely in agriculture, and are earning much money by freighting, the man who can repair plows and wagons and harness has become in their eyes a distinguished being. As long as they expected to live forever separated from the whites, the knowledge of the white man's language, and of reading and writing, was regarded as an unprofitable, and sometimes even a suspicious acquirement. But since the whites are crowding on all sides round their reservations, and the Indians cannot much longer avoid contact with them, and want to become like them, the knowledge of the white man's language and of the “speaking paper” appears in an entirely new light. Even most of the old-fogy chiefs, who have clung most tenaciously to their traditional customs, very earnestly desire their children to receive that education for which they feel themselves too old. In one word, knowledge and skill are now in practical requisition among them, and the man who possesses these accomplishments is no longer ridiculed, but looked up to and envied. The young Indian, returning from school, will, under such circumstances, not be isolated in his tribe; for he will be surrounded by some who, having received the same education, are like him, and by a larger number who desire to be like him. It is, therefore, no longer to be apprehended that he will relapse into savage life. He will be a natural helper, teacher and example to his people.

Especial attention is given in the Indian schools to the education of Indian girls, and at Hampton a new building is being erected for that purpose. This is of peculiar importance. The Indian woman has, so far, been only a beast of burden. The girl, when arrived at maturity, was disposed of like an article of trade. The Indian wife was treated by her husband alternately with animal fondness, and with the cruel brutality of the slave-driver. Nothing will be more apt to raise the Indians in the scale of civilization than to stimulate their attachment to permanent homes, and it is woman that must make the atmosphere and form the attraction of the home. She must be recognized, with affection and respect, as the center of domestic life. If we want the Indians to respect their women, we must lift up the Indian women to respect themselves. This is the purpose and work of education. If we educate the girls of to-day, we educate the mothers of to-morrow, and in educating those mothers we prepare the ground for the education of generations to come. Every effort made in that direction is, therefore, entitled to especial sympathy and encouragement.

It is true that the number of Indian children educated at Hampton, Carlisle and Forest Grove is comparatively small, at present between four and five hundred. And it may be said that it will always remain small in proportion to the whole number of Indian children of school age. But, I have no doubt, even this comparatively small number, when returning to their tribes, will exercise a very perceptible influence in opening new views of life, in encouraging the desire for improvement and in facilitating the work of the schools at the agencies. This influence will naturally be strengthened in the same measure as the number of well-educated Indians grows larger. And I see no reason why the Government should not establish many more schools like those at Hampton and Carlisle. It is only a question of money. We are told that it costs little less than a million of dollars to kill an Indian in war. It costs about one hundred and fifty dollars a year to educate one at Hampton or Carlisle. If the education of Indian children saves the country only one small Indian war in the future, it will save money enough to sustain ten schools like Carlisle, with three hundred pupils each, for ten years. To make a liberal appropriation for such a purpose would, therefore, not only be a philanthropic act, but also the truest and wisest economy.

As the third thing necessary for the absorption of the Indians in the great body of American citizenship, I mentioned their individualization in the possession of property by their settlement in severalty upon small farm tracts with a fee-simple title. When the Indians are so settled, and have become individual property-owners, holding their farms by the same title under the law by which white men hold theirs, they will feel more readily inclined to part with such of their lands as they cannot themselves cultivate, and from which they can derive profit only if they sell them, either in lots or in bulk, for a fair equivalent in money or in annuities. This done, the Indians will occupy no more ground than so many white people; the large reservations will gradually be opened to general settlement and enterprise, and the Indians, with their possessions, will cease to stand in the way of the “development of the country.” The difficulty which has provoked so many encroachments and conflicts will then no longer exist. When the Indians are individual owners of real property, and as individuals enjoy the protection of the laws, their tribal cohesion will necessarily relax, and gradually disappear. They will have advanced an immense step in the direction of the “white man's way.”

Is this plan practicable? In this respect we are not entirely without experience. Allotments of farm tracts to Indians and their settlement in severalty have already been attempted under special laws or treaties with a few tribes; in some instances, with success; in others, the Indians, when they had acquired individual title to their land, and before they had learned to appreciate its value, were induced to dispose of it, or were tricked out of it by unscrupulous white men, who took advantage of their ignorance. They were thus impoverished again, and some of them fell back upon the Government for support. This should be guarded against, as much as it can be, by a legal provision making the title to their farm tracts inalienable for a certain period, say twenty-five years, during which the Indians will have sufficient opportunity to acquire more provident habits, to become somewhat acquainted with the ways of the world and to learn to take care of themselves. In some cases where the allotment of lands in severalty and the granting of patents conveying a fee-simple title to Indians was provided for in Indian treaties, the Interior Department under the last Administration saw fit to put off the full execution of this provision for the reason that the law did not permit the insertion in the patent of the inalienability clause, that without such a clause the Indians would be exposed to the kind of spoliation above mentioned, and that it was hoped Congress would speedily supply that deficiency by the passage of the general “Severalty bill,” then under discussion. Indeed, without such a clause in the land-patents, it cannot be denied that the conveyance of individual fee-simple title to Indians would be a hazardous experiment, except in the case of those most advanced in civilization.

The question whether and how far the Indians generally are prepared for so great a change in their habits as their settlement in severalty involves, is certainly a very important one. Among those belonging to the five so-called civilized nations in the Indian Territory, opinions on this point are divided. When I visited their Agricultural Fair at Muscogee, two years ago, I found that of the representative men meeting there a minority were in favor of, but a strong majority opposed to, the division of their lands in severalty. This opposition springs in great part from the timid apprehension of the Indians that the division of their lands would, in the course of time, bring upon them the competition of white men, in which they distrust their ability to hold their own; and this feeling is worked upon by the ambitious politicians among them, who aspire to the high offices in their tribes, and who know that the settlement in severalty will be apt eventually to break up the tribal organization and to deprive the politicians of their importance. The friends of the severalty policy, on the other hand, I found to be mostly bright, active and energetic men, some of them full-blood Indians, who trust their own ability to sustain themselves, and are clear-headed enough to foresee what the ultimate fate of the Indian race must be. Among the “wild” tribes now beginning to adopt “the white man's way,” the idea of settlement in severalty appears more popular in proportion. Appeals to the Government from Indians of that class for the allotment of farm tracts to heads of families and for “the white man's paper,” have been very frequent of late, and in many instances very urgent. It is not to be assumed, however, that most of those who make such demands have more than a vague conception of what they are asking for, and that all the consequences of their settlement in severalty are entirely clear to their minds. In treating with uncivilized Indians we must never forget that their thoughts move within the narrow compass of their traditional notions, and that their understanding of any relations of life beyond that limited horizon are mere abstractions to them, and must necessarily be very imperfect. I have become acquainted with several chiefs of so-called “wild” tribes, who had won a reputation as men of ability, such as Spotted Tail, Red Cloud, Chief Joseph and others, and while I found them to possess considerable shrewdness in the management of their own affairs according to their Indian notions, their grasp of things outside of that circle was extremely uncertain. I may except only Ouray, the late chief of the Ute nation, a man of a comprehensive mind, of large views, appreciating with great clearness not only the present situation of his race, but also its future destiny and the measures necessary to save the Indians from destruction and to assimilate them with the white people with whom they have to live. We must not expect them, therefore, to evolve out of their own consciousness what is best for their salvation. We must in a great measure do the necessary thinking for them, and then in the most humane way possible induce them to accept our conclusions. This is in most cases much more easily accomplished than might generally be supposed; for, especially in the transition from savage to civilized life, the Indian looks up with natural respect to the superior wisdom of the “Great Father,” and, notwithstanding the distrust engendered by frequent deceptions in his intercourse with white men, it is not difficult to win his confidence if he is only approached with frankness and evidence of good-will. As to the severalty policy, those of the Indians who have become convinced of the necessity of adopting the “white man's way” are easily made to comprehend the advantage of each man's having his own piece of land, and a good title to it. The ulterior consequences, as the gradual dissolution of the tribal relations, the disposition to be made of the unused lands for a fair compensation and the opening of the large reservations, — these things will become intelligible and naturally acceptable to them as they go on. More opposition to the severalty policy may be apprehended from the “civilized tribes” in the Indian Territory, for the reasons above stated, than from those just emerging from a savage condition. But, I have no doubt, that also will yield in the course of time, as the peculiarities of their situation become clearer to their minds. It is only to be hoped that the change of sentiment may come soon, before the pressure of advancing enterprise has forced a conflict, and while the necessary transformation can be effected in peace and good order.

It must be kept in mind that the settlement of the Indians in severalty is one of those things for which the Indians and the Government are not always permitted to choose their own time. The necessity of immediate action may now and then present itself suddenly. Take the case of the Utes. Living in a country where game was still comparatively abundant down to a recent time, they were less inclined than other “wild” tribes to recognize the necessity of a change in their mode of life. But the pressure of mining enterprise in the direction of the Ute reservation was great. The impatience of the people of Colorado at the occupation by Indians of the western part of the State gave reason for the apprehension of irritations and collisions, and this state of things was aggravated by the occurrence of some disturbances at the agency. Under these circumstances, the Interior Department thought it advisable, in the autumn of 1879, to dispatch a suitable man as special agent to the Ute country, with instructions to allay the troubles existing at the agency, and to inquire whether steps could be taken to effect the settlement of the Utes in severalty, with any chance of success. While this measure was in preparation, the whole aspect of affairs suddenly changed. Fights and massacres occurred on the Ute reservation, which are still fresh in our memory. The people of Colorado were in a blaze of excitement. The cry, “The Utes must go!” rang all over the State. We were on the brink of an Indian war at the beginning of winter. That war threatened to involve the whole Ute nation, and to cost us many lives and millions of money. It would finally have resulted in the destruction of the Ute tribe, or at least a large portion of it, — of the innocent with the guilty, at a great sacrifice, on our part, of blood and treasure. It was evident, to every one capable of judging the emergency, that such a calamity could be averted only by changing the situation of the Indians. Negotiations were opened, and the Utes agreed to be settled in severalty upon the lands designated for that purpose, and to cede to the United States the whole of their reservation, except some small tracts of agricultural and grazing lands, in consideration of certain ample equivalents in various forms. Nobody will pretend that the Utes were fully prepared for such a change in their condition. Their chief, Ouray, was probably the only man among them who had a clear conception of the whole extent of that change. But nothing short of it would have saved the Ute tribe from destruction, and averted a most bloody and expensive conflict. In fact, even after that measure of composition, it required the most watchful management to prevent complications and collisions, and that watchful management will have to be continued for some time, for the danger is by no means over.

I cite this as an example to show how, in the conduct of Indian affairs, the necessity of doing certain things with out sufficient preparation is sometimes precipitated upon the Government. Similar complications may arise at any time where the pressure of advancing enterprise upon Indian reservations is very great, and sustained by a numerous and rapidly increasing population, but especially where valuable mineral deposits have been discovered or their discovery is in prospect. There is nothing more dangerous to an Indian reservation than a rich mine. But the repeated invasions of the Indian Territory, as well as many other similar occurrences, have shown clearly enough that the attraction of good agricultural lands is apt to have the same effect, especially when great railroad enterprises are pushing in the same direction. It required, on the part of the Government, the greatest vigilance and energy to frustrate the attempted invasions of the Indian Territory, year after year. But as the endeavors of the Government have not always in similar cases had the same success in the past, they may not always be equally successful in the future, and there is now scarcely a single Indian reservation in the country that will not soon be exposed to the same chances. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to the Indians, as well as to the country generally, that a policy be adopted which will secure to them and their descendants the safe possession of such tracts of land as they can cultivate, and a fair compensation for the rest; and that such a policy be proceeded with before the protection of their present large possessions by the Government becomes too precarious — that is to say, before conflicts are precipitated upon them which the Government is not always able to prevent, and by which they may be in danger of losing their lands, their compensation and even their lives, at the same time. It would undoubtedly be better if they could be carefully prepared for such a change of condition, so that they might clearly appreciate all its requirements and the consequences which are to follow. But those intrusted with the management of Indian affairs must not forget that, with regard to some Indian tribes and reservations at least, the matter is pressing; that the Government cannot control circumstances but is rather apt to be controlled by them, and that it must not only devise the necessary preparations for the change in the condition of the Indians with forecast and wisdom, but must push them with the greatest possible expedition and energy if untoward accidents are to be avoided.

It is, therefore, very much to be regretted that the bill authorizing and enabling the Interior Department to settle the Indians in severalty wherever practicable, to give them patents, conveying a fee-simple title to their allotments, inalienable for a certain period, and to dispose of the reservation lands not so allotted with the consent of the Indians and for their benefit, so that they may be opened for general settlement and enterprise, did not become a law at the last session of Congress, or, rather, that such a law was not enacted years ago. The debate in the Senate on the severalty bill, last winter, turned on the imperfections of its details. No doubt, such imperfections existed. It would, indeed, be very difficult, if not impossible, to draw up a bill of this kind so perfect in all its details that further experience gathered from its practical application might not suggest some desirable amendment. But the essential thing is that opportunity be given to the branch of the Government managing Indian affairs to gather such further experience from the actual experiment, and that opportunity will be given only by the enactment of a law containing the principal features of the plan, and allowing the Executive sufficient latitude in applying it, according to circumstances, wherever the Indians may be prepared for it, or wherever, even without such preparation, the exigencies of the case may demand prompt action. The Executive will then be able understandingly to recommend amendments in the details of the law, as practical experience may point out their necessity. Certainly, not another session of Congress should be permitted to pass without comprehensive legislation on this important subject.

I am aware that I have not discussed here all points of importance connected with the Indian problem, such, for instance, as the necessity of extending the jurisdiction of the courts over Indian reservations, bringing the red men under the protection as well as the restraints of the law; and the question how the service should be organized to secure to the Indians intelligent, honest and humane management, etc. It has been my purpose merely to set forth those important points which, in the practical management of Indian affairs, should be steadily kept in view. I will recapitulate them:

  1. The greatest danger hanging over the Indian race arises from the fact that, with their large and valuable territorial possessions which are lying waste, they stand in the way of what is commonly called “the development of the country.”

  2. A rational Indian policy will make it its principal object to avert that danger from the red men, by doing what will be most beneficial to them, as well as to the whole people: namely, by harmonizing the habits, occupations and interests of the Indians with that “development of the country.”

  3. To accomplish this object, it is of pressing necessity to set the Indians to work, to educate their youth of both sexes, to make them small proprietors of land, with the right of individual ownership under the protection of the law, and to induce them to make that part of their lands which they do not need for cultivation, profitable to themselves in the only possible way, by selling it at a just rate of compensation, thus opening it to general settlement and enterprise.

The policy here outlined is apt to be looked upon with disfavor by two classes of people: on the one hand, those who think that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” and who denounce every recognition of the Indian's rights and every desire to promote his advancement in civilization as sickly sentimentality; and, on the other hand, that class of philanthropists who, in their treatment of the Indian question, pay no regard to surrounding circumstances and suspect every policy contemplating a reduction of the Indian reservations of being a scheme of spoliation and robbery, gotten up by speculators and “land-grabbers.” With the first class it seems useless to reason. As to the second, they do not themselves believe, if they are sensible, that twenty-five years hence millions of acres of valuable land will, in any part of the country, still be kept apart as Indian hunting-grounds. The question is, whether the Indians are to be exposed to the danger of hostile collisions, and of being robbed of their lands in consequence, or whether they are to be induced by proper and fair means to sell that which, as long as they keep it, is of no advantage to anybody, but which, as soon as they part with it for a just compensation, will be a great advantage to themselves and their white neighbors alike. No true friend of the Indian will hesitate to choose the latter line of policy as one in entire accord with substantial justice, humanity, the civilization and welfare of the red men and the general interests of the country.

Carl Schurz

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


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