The Indian Dispossessed/The Removal of the Poncas
White Eagle, Head Chief of the Poncas
Red Cloud, Ogalalla Sioux Chief
Chief Standing Bear
White Swan, Ponca Chief
THE REMOVAL OF THE PONCAS
"I see you all here to-day. What have I done? I am brought here, but what have I done? I don't know. It seems as though I have n't a place in the world, no place to go, and no home to go to." Chief Standing Bear.
SPREAD out the map of the state of South Dakota; begin at the southeastern corner, and follow up the Missouri River to the mouth of the Niobrara; then up the river again, only a finger's breadth, to Ponca Creek. If the map is one of the present day, the name of Ponca will attach only to the creek, for that flows on forever; if it is a map of fifteen years ago, a small strip of land between Ponca Creek and the Niobrara River may bear the name "Ponca Indian Reservation." If so, it is only because the name clings to the country that had belonged to the Ponca Indians a dozen years before.
But twenty-eight years ago, and one hundred years ago, and how much longer ago nobody knows, for the white man's history of that region dates no farther back, the Ponca Indians dwelt in this fertile country of wooded valleys and upland prairies, a little band distinct from all the Indians around. During all those years they maintained their country against the repeated incursions of the powerful Sioux on the north with a vigor and tenacity born of the Indian love of the land of his fathers.
The tide of white occupation that flowed to the Northwest during the early fifties was temporarily checked by the Sioux on the upper Mississippi, who at that time ruled supreme in the greater part of Minnesota and all of Dakota, and it then took the course of least resistance,—through Iowa, and into eastern Nebraska. This placed the Poncas between the hostile Sioux on the north and the white settlements on the south,—a situation well calculated, in the ordinary course of events, to hasten the day when Ponca Creek should become the monument of the tribe. But this circumstance really gave the Poncas a new lease of life. They met the advancing whites with the hand of friendship, while the high-strung Sioux (with the exception of the Yancton and one or two other small tribes of the Sioux nation) resisted the invasion with a ferocity that dismayed even the reckless frontiersmen. The keen settlers were quick to perceive the strategic value of a friendly tribe between themselves and the powerful hostiles:
"I cannot speak in too high terms of the uniform good conduct of this tribe. While many other Indians have been fighting the Government, and murdering the frontier settlers, this tribe and the Yancton Sioux have remained faithful to their treaty stipulations, and stood as a barrier between the hostile Indian and the white settler upon the frontier."
So, under shelter of this gentle band, the white man rested for a time while he gathered strength for the next advance; and just so long as the Poncas were of service "as a barrier between the hostile Indian and the white settler," they were treated with a consideration rarely accorded to an Indian people so insignificant in numbers, so unassertive, and possessed of so good a country.
But in course of time the inevitable demand for more of the Indian country made itself felt in Washington. In 1858 a treaty was entered into with the Poncas, by the terms of which they ceded much of their territory for certain considerations. Article I. recites the cession of territory and defines the tract that is guaranteed to them. Then follows:
"Article II. In consideration of the foregoing cession and relinquishment, the United States agree and stipulate as follows, viz.:
"First. To protect the Poncas in the possession of the tract of land reserved for their future homes, and their persons and property thereon, during good behavior on their part."
The second stipulation secured to the Poncas the payment of annuities extending over a period of twenty-five years. Other benefits, such as schools, agency, etc., were provided for. The Poncas appear to have been fairly satisfied with the treaty, except that their ancient burial-ground was not included in the portion left to them. This situation was remedied by a supplementary treaty in 1865, in which the bounds of their reservation were moved eastward a few miles, but still between, and at the confluence of, the Missouri and Niobrara Rivers, where the tribe had been discovered sixty odd years before. The provisions of the treaty of 1858 were in nowise altered or disturbed. The record shows what generous treatment will do for an Indian tribe:
"The ratification of the supplementary treaty with the tribe has greatly encouraged them. It not only gives to them their old burying-grounds, but gives them a tract of land in every respect much better for agricultural purposes than their former location. . . .
"In agricultural pursuits the members of this tribe are becoming quite proficient. They have between 500 and 600 acres of corn and other vegetables, which have all been well cultivated, and now bid fair to yield a very heavy harvest."
The superintendent reports in 1866:
"Poncas. Since my acquaintance with this tribe, for a period of upwards of five years, they have remained faithful to their treaty obligations in every particular, under circumstances at times that would have palliated, if not excused, a hostile attitude on their part. The unprovoked and fiendish attack made by a party of drunken United States soldiers in the fall of 1863 upon a small number of this tribe, while making their way to their reservation and home from a friendly visit to a neighboring tribe, the Omahas, by which seven of them lost their lives and considerable property, would have been considered, in a civilized community, as a sufficient cause for retaliating upon their murderers or their relatives, especially if no effort was made to indemnify the sufferers, by the Government who had permitted its soldiers to perpetrate such wrongs."
Among the murdered were three women, a little girl, and an infant. Their supplementary treaty provided for the payment of damages to the relatives of the deceased.
Not many Indian tribes have had praise so heaped upon them. In 1869 their number is given as 768. The agent reports:
"The Ponca Indians are in no way addicted to drinking or gambling, neither will they spend their money for whisky. They fully understand the use of money, and will use it to the very best possible advantage. I am fully of the opinion that if their annuity were paid to them in money, they would use it more judiciously for their comfort than it could possibly be used for them in the purchase of goods. The Poncas are the most peaceable and law-abiding of any of the tribes of Indians. They are warm friends of the whites, and truly loyal to the Government, and they fully deserve its consideration and protection."
"I respectfully submit the following report of the Ponca school. The school was opened May 1, 1871, and has continued to the present date, with an average attendance of 17 girls and 33 boys. The children have been taught in the common English branches, and have made a good degree of progress, learning quite as readily as white children. The parents and relations of the scholars exhibit great interest in the advancement of their children, and to their influence is to be attributed the regular attendance."
The next year three schools are reported, with an average attendance of seventy-seven.
In their earnest striving after the white man's way, the Poncas were constantly beset by the horde of hostile Indians on their unprotected border. The records mention these raids at different times, and in 1873 the untamed Sioux seem to have been more than usually active:
"But far worse is the record of disasters from frequent engagements with hostile Indians, who come in force to fight in disproportionate numbers these poor, ill-armed, but really brave Indians, peaceably imbibing and receiving the practical lessons of civilization, and proving to their friends their evident desire to better their condition. . . .
"The Poncas, having thus almost unaided kept the enemy at bay with little better than clubs and bows and arrows, and fought their way through a season of greater peril from hostile Indians than has ever before been encountered by them, as I am informed, ask only that guns of long range and capacity for speedy execution be put into their hands; and this application I would earnestly indorse and urge upon the attention of the Department as an act of justice to these brave men, who are struggling upward to the light, and if protected in their persons and property, and given such efficient aid as their rate of progress requires, will, as the evidences bear me out in saying, make a record that cannot but justify the benevolent intentions of the Government, and prove beyond cavil that the Indian can be and will be made to contribute to the general welfare, and can appreciate while he shares the benefits and blessings he has with others earned. . . .
"We have a few plain signals with the bell and the voice, which all well understand, and which evoke always a ready response. There are no cowards in camp, except it be the young women and small children; the old women, when they are not permitted to fight, urge on the lagging and make most excellent camp followers."
Notwithstanding the solemn treaty pledge "To protect the Poncas in the possession of the tract of land reserved for their future homes, and their persons and property thereon," this band of hapless Indian farmers still served well as a buffer between the hostile Indian and the white settler. At this time the "peace policy"—or, rather, its "inverted" substitute—was in full force; and under the acknowledged interpretation of it, "that the expenditures of the Government should be proportioned not to the good but to the ill desert of the several tribes," the Government was purchasing an uncertain immunity from attack from these same hostiles by the liberal distribution of rations, while they followed their murderous pastimes in the Ponca country. But the attacks of the Sioux became much less frequent during the next two years, and with eighty children in school, a church of two hundred members, and one hundred and fifty comfortable houses, the Poncas were much like any white community of peaceful farmers. Then in 1876 came this cheering news from the agency of the Lower Brule Sioux,—the half-wild Indians who had so long harassed the Poncas:
"During the year the chiefs and head-men of the tribe asked for and obtained permission to visit the Ponca agency, for the purpose of making a treaty with the Poncas, with whom they have been on unfriendly terms for years. This treaty was effected and entered into in the best of faith."
With this only serious difficulty so satisfactorily adjusted, there was no apparent reason why these Indian farmers should not make rapid advance along the "white man's road."
No apparent reason. But events of far-reaching importance had meanwhile been transpiring in the great Sioux Country north of them,—events of such importance that a tribe so insignificant as the Ponca, had it only known, might well have trembled for its future at the hands of a Government whose avowed policy was to bestow its favors on the powerful and hostile Indians in the interest of peace.
Away to the Northwest stretched the great Sioux reservation, from the Missouri River on the east to the western line of Dakota. The territory embraced was as large as the State of New York, and fifty thousand Sioux drew rations from the various Government agencies upon it. The appropriations for these Indians were about two million dollars annually,—an amount ridiculously in excess of treaty stipulations, but no more than sufficient to prevent serious hostilities. In the extreme western part of this great reservation lay the Black Hills, with their millions of treasure still uncovered. Explorations made in the early seventies disclosed the presence of gold; in 1874 a military expedition was sent into the Hills to explore the country, and in the following year a commission endeavored to obtain from the Indians a cession of that portion of their country—but the attempt ended in failure.
But the cry of gold had gone up, and the white man's progress was not to be stayed by an Indian refusal. The horde of gold-seekers came up from the Union Pacific railroad and the overland wagon routes on the south, as far as the southern line of the Sioux reservation. And there they stopped. Directly in this natural gateway to the Black Hills were some fourteen thousand Sioux, under Spotted Tail, the most diplomatic Indian politician of his time, and Red Cloud, an acknowledged leader in the great Sioux nation.
"No passing through," said they; "until another bargain is made with the Great Father, this is Indian country." Then the cry of the Vociferous Few went up to Washington,—the old, old cry for Indian removal,—and again the Government heard "the voice of the people."
The Black Hills must be cleared of Indians; so must the gateway on the south. But how propitiate the untamed Sioux?
The Indian ring sought eagerly for some especially favored spot for the powerful chiefs, Spotted Tail and Red Cloud; something to serve up to them as a token of kindly regard.
There, at the southeast corner of the great reserve, was the land of the Poncas,—a prize for any Indian chief. And why not? One hundred and fifty houses, five hundred acres of growing crops,—just the place to teach the astute Spotted Tail, or Red Cloud, the warrior, the gentle arts of the white man.
The Poncas? Some eight hundred of them—what were they compared to the recovery of the Black Hills? The treaty? Hang the treaty!
And the public? What cared the Vociferous Few, so long as the great American people slept on under the delusion that they were really "the people"?
The records show a most careful development of the scheme. During the years 1875 and 1876 there appeared four executive orders, adding to the Sioux reservation on the north a considerable area, and on the east—along the east bank of the Missouri River—a country as large as the state of Massachusetts. These immense additions on the east foreshadowed the removal of the Black Hills section of the Sioux tribes eastward to the Missouri River.
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in his report for 1875 to the Secretary of the Interior, suggests the removal of the Poncas to the Omaha reserve, in eastern Nebraska, ending with the naïve remark that "The country where they now are would make a suitable location to which the Red Cloud Sioux could be removed. It is hoped that provision may be made by the next Congress for such removal."
All details having been perfected, the necessary legislation for the whole scheme was secured at one stroke. On August 15, 1876, an appropriation for the Sioux Indians was made by act of Congress, with certain provisions; among them:
"Hereafter there shall be no appropriation made for the subsistence of said Indians, unless they shall first agree to relinquish all right and claim to any country outside the boundaries of the permanent reservation established by the treaty of eighteen hundred and sixty-eight for said Indians; and also so much of their said permanent reservation as lies west of the one hundred and third meridian of longitude."
The first clause is aimed at their hunting privilege outside their permanent reservation, as provided for in their treaty of 1868; the second cuts off from the west side of their reservation a country as large as the State of Connecticut, including the Black Hills.
"And unless they will receive all such supplies herein provided for, and provided for by said treaty of eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, at such points and places on their said reservation, and in the vicinity of the Missouri River, as the President may designate."
This relates to the eastward movement of the Black Hills Sioux.
"Provided further, That the Secretary of the Interior may use of the foregoing amounts the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars for the removal of the Poncas to the Indian Territory, and providing them a home therein, with the consent of said band."
This is the first mention of the Indian Territory in connection with the Poncas. The only hope of these farmer Indians now lies in the provision for their consent. The worst that the Commissioner had hinted at as being in store for the Poncas was removal to the Omaha reservation,—in eastern Nebraska, not a great distance from their own. The Omahas were intermarried extensively with the Poncas, and a removal to that reservation would have entailed no extraordinary hardship.
But the Indian Territory! The graveyard of the northern Indian condemned to spend his days in exile there!
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, commenting in 1874 on removals to that country, says:
"It has heretofore been considered feasible eventually to domicile a large majority of the Indians in this Territory. Experience, however, shows that no effort is more unsuccessful with an Indian than that which proposes to remove him from the place of his birth and the graves of his fathers. Though a barren plain without wood or water, he will not voluntarily exchange it for any prairie or woodland, however inviting."
But in this year, 1876, what does the Commissioner say?
"Steps are being taken for the removal of the Poncas from their present location in the southeastern corner of Dakota to the Indian Territory. Their exposure to raids from the Sioux, whose hostility arises from the fact that the Poncas are on lands claimed originally by the Sioux and included in their permanent reservation, has hitherto been a serious obstacle in the way of the progress in civilized life which they seem disposed to make. It is believed that when the necessity of giving a large share of attention to self-defence is removed they will readily come into a condition of self-support by agriculture."
The Commissioner expressed this tender solicitude for the welfare of the Poncas under date of October 30; he had the report of his agent, dated August 11, setting forth their treaty of peace with the Sioux. With that report before him, why was he attempting to accomplish their removal to avoid a condition which had already ceased to exist? His next sentence reveals the cause of his sudden interest in their welfare:
"The proposed removal will not only benefit the Poncas, but the reserve thus vacated will offer a suitable home for some of the wild bands of Sioux, where, with a set of agency-buildings, one hundred Indian houses, and five hundred acres of improved land to start with, the experiment of their civilization may be tried to advantage.
"For this removal, conditioned on the consent of the Poncas, Congress at its last session appropriated $25,000. If the efforts now being made to gain such consent are successful, the move will be commenced in early spring."
This provision for the consent of the Poncas proved to have been a most indiscreet concession on the part of Congress. The efforts to gain the Indian consent were continued well into the winter, and in January an inspector took ten of the chiefs to the Indian Territory to show them the country.
There are two entirely different tales of this trip to the South. Here is the story as discreetly told by the Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs:
"Unfortunately, the delegation of ten chiefs, on account of the failure of the Osages to show hospitality, inclement weather, and other causes, became disheartened at the outset, declined the friendly advances of the Kaws, refused to look farther, scarcely noticed the rich lands along the Arkansas River, and on reaching Arkansas City, eight left in the night on foot for the Ponca agency, which they reached in forty days."
The Indians relate a dark tale of attempted coercion, with the alternative of being cast adrift, without money, interpreter, or guide, in a strange land four hundred and fifty miles from home, if they refused to select a location for their tribe and agree to removal. According to the story of one of the eight chiefs, they replied that "it would be better for ten of us to die than that the whole tribe, all the women and little children, should be brought there to die, and die we all would, right there, rather than do what they asked."
The remaining two chiefs were induced to make a selection of land, and chose a location on the Quapaw reservation in the Indian Territory. Then the inspector returned, and continued his efforts to gain the consent of the Poncas. What he gained is told in the report of their newly appointed agent for 1877:
"In obedience to instructions received from the Indian Office, I left Hillsdale, Michigan, on the 24th day of April last, arriving at Columbus, Nebraska, on the 28th, at which place I had expected to find Agent Lawrence with the Ponca tribe of Indians en route for their new home in the Indian Territory. In this I was disappointed, as Lawrence arrived on the same day with only 170 of the tribe; more than three-fourths of the tribe having refused to leave their old reservation in Dakota, stating, as reported to me, that they preferred to remain and die on their native heath, in defence of their homes, and what they claimed to be their rights in the land composing the reservation upon which they were living, than to leave there and die by disease in the unhealthy miasmatic country which they claimed had been selected for them in the Indian Territory."
This was the result of the winter's work,—one hundred and seventy out of a total of seven hundred and thirty Indians. How had Washington taken their refusal to move?
On March third, attached to an appropriation bill providing for the removal of the Black Hills Sioux to the Missouri River, Congress passed a second act for the removal of the Poncas:
"And provided further, That the sum of fifteen thousand dollars of this appropriation, in addition to that heretofore appropriated, may be used for the removal and permanent location of the Poncas in the Indian Territory."
It will be perceived that this act bears a striking resemblance to the one of August 15 preceding, which has already been quoted, except that the words "with the consent of said band" are omitted. The inference is that the resourceful Uncle Sam, finding himself handicapped by this provision in the first act, decided to simply legislate the matter of Indian consent out of existence. This inference may be considered as far-fetched; indeed, it may be asserted that it is monstrous to impute a motive so atrocious to the mere omission of one phrase.
Let the public records express the Government's intent. In a later report, containing executive orders and other papers relating to Indian affairs, is this statement:
"Ponca Reserve. By the Indian appropriation act of August 15, 1876 (19 Stats., p. 192), an appropriation was made for the removal of the Poncas to the Indian Territory when they should consent to go. By the Indian appropriation act of March 3, 1877 (19 Stats., p. 287), an additional appropriation was made for the same purpose, but there was nothing contained therein respecting their consent. Under these acts the Poncas were removed to the Quapaw reserve."
And again, more clearly, in the official "Schedule of Indian Land Cessions" are found these two entries:
"1876. Aug. 15, Act of Congress. Stat. L., XIX, 192—Ponka—Provides for removal of Poncas to Indian Territory whenever they consent. See Acts of Congress for March 3, 1877, . . ."
"1877. March 3, Act of Congress. Ponka—Provides for their removal to Indian Territory without regard to their consent. They were removed under this act and temporarily located in the Country of the Quapaw, . . ."
There is a grim, though possibly unintentional, humor in recording under the title of "Indian Land Cessions" the removal of a tribe of Indians from their native heath "without regard to their consent." A further perusal of this remarkable book suggests a change of title in the interests of candor.
But the Indian consent was no longer to be reckoned with in carrying out the grand scheme for the recovery of the Black Hills. By this clever device the attitude of the Poncas in withholding their consent to give up their land became at once one of opposition to the Government. To gain their consent, when their consent was a legal requirement, was one thing; to overcome the unwillingness of these Indian farmers to obey an act of Congress was quite another.
The Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs continues his recital to the Honorable Secretary of the Interior:
"It having been determined that the removal of the remainder of the tribe must now be insisted upon, troops were ordered to the Ponca agency. But it was decided to forestall the need of their presence by sending back the Ponca agent, Mr. Lawrence, with his successor, Agent Howard, to again urge upon the Indians a quiet compliance with the wishes of the Government. They so far succeeded as to be able to request that the four companies who had started for the agency be recalled, and on the 16th of May the last Ponca crossed the Niobrara and turned his face southward."
This is the manner of the agent's success:
"On the 15th, I held another council, which was largely attended by the chiefs, head-men, and soldiers of the tribe, and which was of more than four hours' duration. At this council the Indians maintained that the Government had no right to move them from the reservation, and demanded as an inducement or equivalent for them to give up the reservation and move to the Indian Territory, first, the payment to them by the Government of the sum of $3,000,000; and, second, that before starting, I should show to them the sum of $40,000, which they had been told had been appropriated by the Government for their removal. To all of which I replied positively in the negative, telling them that I would not accede to nor consider any demands that they might make, but that I would take under my consideration reasonable requests that they might submit touching their removal, and, as their agent, do what I could for them in promoting their welfare; that I demanded that they should at all times listen to my words; that they should go with me to their new home, and that they should, without delay, give me their final answer whether they would go peaceably or by force. The Indians refused to give answer at this time, and the council closed without definite results, and the Indians dispersed with a sullen look and determined expression.
"On the following morning, however, May 16, they sent word to me at an early hour that they had considered my words and had concluded to go with me, and that they wanted assistance in getting the old and infirm, together with their property, over the Niobrara River, which was much swollen by the rains and at a low temperature. I at once employed from the young men of the tribe a suitable number for the purpose, and at five o'clock p. m. had the entire tribe with their effects across the river, off the reservation, and in camp in Nebraska."
Twenty-five soldiers had been in service at the Ponca agency while the "consent" of the one hundred and seventy was being secured; they seem to have furnished the necessary showing of force. Confronted with the choice of going either "peaceably or by force," these unarmed people naturally concluded to go peaceably. The soldiers escorted them for the first twelve of their fifty-two days' journey south, to insure their going.
This total disregard of the protests of the Indians, and their removal with a display of force, has been dwelt upon at great length by all writers of Ponca history, under the impression that the action was in direct violation of the provision in the removal act, to first gain their consent. The legislation designed to remedy this annoying feature of the first act seems to have wholly escaped notice. It should be conceded that while the national pledge, humanity, justice, and Christian dealing were put aside, the provision for the Indian consent was not violated; it was legislated out of existence. The Indians were removed under the second act of Congress.
But in the blaze of indignation which swept over the country when the main facts of the Ponca removal became known, every official in Washington connected with the affair rested meekly under the charge of violation of the consent clause. Not once do we find this second act of Congress set up to stem the tide of popular reproach. It may be considered that, in this, good judgment assisted their discretion.
Then comes the story of the journey southward,—and these are extracts from the "Journal of the March," as it is designated in the records:
"May 21. Broke camp at seven o'clock, and marched to Crayton, a distance of thirteen miles. Roads very heavy. The child that died yesterday was here buried by the Indians, they preferring to bury it than to having it buried by the white people.
"May 23. The morning opened with light rain, but at eight o'clock a terrific thunder-storm occurred of two hours' duration, which was followed by steady rain throughout the day, in consequence of which we remained in camp. During the day a child died, and several women and children were reported sick, and medical attendance and medicine were obtained for them.
"May 24. Buried the child that died yesterday in the cemetery at Neligh, giving it a Christian burial.
"May 27. The morning opened cold, with a misty rain. Rain ceased at half-past seven o'clock, and we broke camp at eight, and marched eight miles farther down Shell Creek, when, a heavy thunderstorm coming on, we again went into camp. Several of the Indians were here found to be quite sick, and, having no physician and none being attainable, they gave us much anxiety and no little trouble. The daughter of Standing Bear, one of the chiefs, was very low of consumption, and moving her with any degree of comfort was almost impossible, and the same trouble existed in transporting all the sick.
"May 29. Major Walker, who had accompanied us from the Niobrara to this place with twenty-five soldiers under orders from the War Department, took leave of us and returned to Dakota.
"June 3. Had some trouble in getting started. Broke camp at eleven o'clock, and marched eight miles. Went into camp on Blue River. Many people sick, one of whom was reported in a dying condition. Had bad roads, and rained during the afternoon.
"June 5. Broke camp at seven o'clock. Marched fourteen miles, and went into camp near Milford. Daughter of Standing Bear, Ponca chief, died at two o'clock, of consumption.
"June 6. Remained in camp all day for the purpose of obtaining supplies. Prairie Flower, wife of Shines White, and daughter of Standing Bear, who died yesterday, was here given Christian burial, her remains being deposited in the cemetery at Milford, Neb., a small village on Blue River.
"In this connection I wish to take official knowledge and recognition of the noble action performed by the ladies of Milford in preparing and decorating the body of the deceased Indian woman for burial in a style becoming the highest civilization. In this act of Christian kindness they did more to ameliorate the grief of the husband and father than they could have done by adopting the usual course of this untutored people, and presenting to each a dozen ponies.
"June 8. Broke camp at Milford, and marched seven miles. Roads very bad. Child died during the day.
"June 9. Put the child that died yesterday in the coffin, and sent it back to Milford to be buried in the same grave with its aunt, Prairie Flower.
"June 14. Water-bound, and had to remain in camp all day waiting for creek to run down. The Otoe Indians came out to see the Poncas, and gave them ten ponies.
"June 16. Broke camp at seven o'clock, and reached Marysville, Kans., where we went into camp. During the march a wagon tipped over, injuring a woman quite severely. Indians out of rations and feeling hostile.
"June 18. Broke camp at seven o'clock. Marched nine miles, and went into camp at Elm Creek. Little Cottonwood died. Four families determined to return to Dakota. I was obliged to ride nine miles on horseback to overtake them, to restore harmony, and settle difficulty in camp. Had coffin made for dead Indian, which was brought to camp at twelve o'clock at night from Blue Rapids. A fearful thunder-storm during the night, flooding the camp equipage.
"June 19. The storm of last night left the roads in an impassable condition, and in consequence was obliged to remain in camp all day. Buried Little Cottonwood in a cemetery about five miles from camp.
"June 25. Broke camp at six o'clock. Marched to a point about fifteen miles farther up Deep Creek. Two old women died during the day.
"June 26. The two old women who died yesterday were given Christian burial this morning.
"June 30. Broke camp at six o'clock. Passed through Hartford, and camped about six miles above Burlington. A child of Buffalo Chief died during the day.
"July 1. Broke camp at six o'clock. Marched twelve miles, and went into camp. Purchased a coffin at Burlington, and gave the dead child of Buffalo Chief a Christian burial at that place."
Christian burial seems to have been the only good thing the agent had to offer these exiles. He continued the good work, for six weeks later he says,
"Since the arrival here there have been eight deaths, all of which have been given Christian burial with but small expense to the service."
Far out upon the bleak steppes of northern Asia, where the Russian exiles slowly drag themselves to their Siberia, are the old and infirm, the little children and consumptive girls, who give up the weary struggle and sink by the wayside, accorded the inestimable boon of Christian burial? The heart sickens at the thought that they are not. A copy of this "Journal of the March" should be presented to the Czar, that he may learn with what exquisite tenderness a more enlightened Government attends the last rites of its victims.
Further perusal of this agent's very complete report gives us a picture of the situation and outlook:
"I am of the opinion that the removal of the Poncas from the northern climate of Dakota to the southern climate of the Indian Territory, at the season of the year it was done, will prove a mistake, and that a great mortality will surely follow among the people when they shall have been here for a time and become poisoned with the malaria of the climate. Already the effects of the climate may be seen upon them in the ennui that seems to have settled upon each, and in the large number now sick.
"It is a matter of astonishment to me that the Government should have ordered the removal of the Ponca Indians from Dakota to the Indian Territory without having first made some provision for their settlement and comfort. Before their removal was carried into effect an appropriation should have been made by Congress sufficient to have located them in their new home, by building a comfortable house for the occupancy of every family of the tribe. As the case now is, no appropriation has been made by Congress, except a sum of but little more than sufficient to remove them; no houses have been built for their use, and the result is that these people have been placed on an uncultivated reservation to live in their tents as best they may, and await further legislative action.
"The rainy season, which I am informed usually commences in this country from the 1st to the 15th of September, will soon be upon them, and before any appropriation can be made by Congress for the construction of houses, winter will have set in, and they will be obliged to remain in their tents until spring, which will be but a poor protection for their families against the elements."
The agent's gloomy predictions, based on the climatic conditions and the lack of shelter, were duly verified. The official record of deaths for the ensuing year was eighty-five; the Indians mourned the loss of one hundred and fifty-seven; but if there is any virtue to be extracted from the fact that one-seventh, instead of one-fifth, of the entire tribe was sacrificed within the first year, the Indian service is welcome to it.
The agent next proceeds to lecture his Government on the question of title:
"As the matter now stands, the title to this reservation remains in the Quapaws, no effort having been made as yet to even remove them from it; and the title to the old Ponca reservation in Dakota still remains in the Poncas, they having signed no papers relinquishing their title nor having violated any of the provisions of the treaty by which it was ceded to them by the Government.
"These Indians claim that the Government has no right to move them from their reservation without first obtaining from them by purchase or treaty the title which they had acquired from the Government, and for which they rendered a valuable consideration. They claim that the date of the settlement of their tribe upon the land composing their old reservation is prehistoric; that they were all born there, and that their ancestors from generations back beyond their knowledge were born and lived upon its soil, and that they finally acquired a complete and perfect title from the Government by treaty made with the 'Great Father' at Washington, which, they claimed, made it as legitimately theirs as is the home of the white man acquired by gift or purchase. They now ask that a delegation of their chiefs and head-men be allowed to visit Washington for the purpose of settling all matters of difference between them and the Government; and that they may talk to the 'Great Father' face to face about the great wrongs which they claim have been done them.
"I earnestly recommend that their request be granted."
It may be interesting to learn which of the Black Hills Chiefs succeeded to the ancient home of the Poncas,—Red Cloud or Spotted Tail? Two months later the Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs, with this full Ponca record before him, reported to the Honorable Secretary of the Interior the selection of a location for Red Cloud farther up the Missouri. Then he says:
"For the latter [Spotted Tail], the old Ponca reserve was decided upon, where the agency dwellings, store-houses, one hundred and fifty Indian houses, and five hundred acres of cultivated fields, left vacant by the Poncas, offer special advantages for present quarters."
And with the Sioux it is the same old story of the Indian attachment to the soil. In his next sentence the Commissioner complains that "the Spotted Tail and Red Cloud Indians persisted in making strenuous objection to such removal,"—but they were removed, and Spotted Tail soon dwelt, an exile, in the home of the Poncas.
What is home? Four walls? A palace? It may be high mountains and a green valley; rocks and a stream; or a sea of brown grass waving in the wind. It is the one spot in nature that entwines our earliest thoughts, which ripen with maturing years into tender memories. And those who dwell nearest nature know best the ties of home.
In considering the Indians' appeal to Washington, the Commissioner says, in the same report:
"A delegation of the tribe recently visited Washington and presented to the President their earnest request to be allowed to return to their old reservation in Dakota or to join the Omahas, a kindred tribe, in Nebraska. The obvious unwisdom and even impossibility of removing Indians from the Indian Territory necessitated a refusal of their request; but they were given permission to select a permanent home upon any unoccupied lands in the territory which the Government still owns. They were urged to take immediate steps to effect a settlement of the matter, and were promised, as soon as the locality should be decided upon and Congress should provide the necessary funds, such assistance in the way of schools, houses, stock, seeds, tools, agricultural implements, etc., as would enable them to more than replace the property and improvements unwillingly relinquished in Dakota; but they were made distinctly to understand that all assistance by the Government would be in the line of teaching them self-helpfulness, and would be conditioned on exertions put forth by themselves in that direction."
The italics are those of the Commissioner. It is difficult to discover any process of reasoning in the words "obvious unwisdom and even impossibility," but that italicised word "from" furnishes the key to the settled policy of removals to the country which the Indians have always regarded as "the graveyard of the Indian race." Indians may go to, but never from that country. Originally intended as an exclusive refuge for the American Indian, where he might learn the ways of civilization and eventually become a part of the national life as an Indian State, the Indian Territory had degenerated into a general dumping-ground for every tribe that in its own home was an obstruction to the grand scheme of national upbuilding. The only removals from the Indian Territory were those of the grim reaper, and his harvest among the outcasts seems to have been viewed with settled complacency.
These are some of the expressions of the Commissioner before the storm of popular disfavor broke upon Washington. Now observe the change. One year later, stung by the most severe criticism, beset on all sides by lovers of justice, this same Commissioner extends his tender sympathy:
"In this removal, I am sorry to be compelled to say, the Poncas were wronged, and restitution should be made as far as it is in the power of the Government to do so. For the violation of their treaty no adequate return has yet been made. They gave up lands, houses, and agricultural implements. The houses and implements will be returned to them; their lands should be immediately paid for, and the title to their present location should be made secure. But the removal inflicted a far greater injury upon the Poncas, for which no reparation can be made,—the loss by death of many of their number, caused by change of climate."
Again this curious recognition of the Indian title after, and not before, the Indian has been dispossessed—but without a suggestion of restoring the land.
How changed is the tone of official Washington when above the clamor of the Vociferous Few rises the real, the unmistakable "voice of the people"; of a high-minded people, outraged, burning with shame that the Government of "all the people" should lend itself to the intrigues of a handful of mountebanks!
A year after their removal to the Indian Territory, the Poncas, again removed one hundred and eighty-five miles farther west, were still living in tents; their agent says:
"Their sufferings have greatly discouraged and made them dissatisfied with this location, and they express a strong desire to go back to their old reservation in Dakota. However, I am of the opinion that if the Government will fully and promptly fulfil all the promises made to them to induce them to leave Dakota and take up their home on this reservation they will cheerfully accept the situation and settle down with a determination to labor and better their condition. At present there is a restless, discontented feeling pervading the whole tribe. They seem to have lost faith in the promises of the Government, and often say the 'Great Father' has forgotten them; by the time he again remembers them none will be left to receive what he has promised them. The chiefs are very anxious to visit Washington and have a talk with the President for the purpose of having the size and boundaries of their reservation determined and definitely settled by treaty stipulations. I would earnestly recommend that they be allowed to do so some time during the coming winter. I think it would contribute greatly toward a restoration of good feeling, and to remove the spirit of discontent and dissatisfaction which now pervades their minds.
"The Poncas are good Indians. In mental endowment, moral character, physical strength, and cleanliness of person they are superior to any tribe I have ever met. I beg for them the prompt and generous consideration of the Government, whose fast and warm friends they have ever been."
This appeal of the Indians for a second talk with with their "Great Father" in Washington was not granted. Denied the recognition of their treaty right to their old home, and discouraged in the hope of ultimate justice, the Poncas, homesick, heartsick, sick in body, began to escape from their reservation in small parties, in the hope that they might make their way back to die in the land of their fathers. The story of the wanderings of these little bands five hundred miles through a strange country to their beloved Dakota home is most pathetic; that any of them reached the North alive is wholly due to the quick sympathy and assistance of benevolent people through whose country they passed, and of many others who had learned of their affliction. A few of these Poncas reached their old neighbors, the Santees, whose reservation was a few miles east of the old Ponca home. The Santee agent reports:
"During the last year about thirty Poncas came among us asking that they could be allowed to stay, stating they had been taken to a very hot place and many of their friends had died, and they were heartsick and wished the Santees to have pity on them and allow them to stay up here in this good land among them. The councillors consented, and they are among us sending their children to school and making a good start."
Another little band, in the early spring of 1879, set their faces northward under the guidance of Chief Standing Bear. It will be remembered that the daughter of Standing Bear, Prairie Flower, died on the march to the South; many of his relatives and all but one of his children died in the Indian Territory. The last to die was his oldest son, a young man who could speak and read English, the hope and dependence of his aged father. The dying boy, according to the later testimony of Standing Bear, begged his father to take his body back to the old home for burial, and the broken-hearted chief, hoping at the same time to save the lives of his wife and only remaining child, placed the bones of his boy in an old trunk, and with fifty of his followers escaped from the reservation. After enduring incredible hardships, thirty of them reached their kindred tribe, the Omahas, who dissuaded them from at once attempting to continue on their journey to the old Ponca reserve, for they were sick and without provisions and the necessary implements to establish homes for themselves. The Omahas induced Standing Bear to remain with them, gave his party land, tools and seed to plant it, and those of the Indians who were not too ill to do so went to work.
But the Interior Department did not propose to have any Ponca bands within a possible marching distance of their old home. Under orders of the War Department troops were sent to the Omaha reservation to take the party South. They came upon these Indians, half of them still sick, the others ploughing and planting, acquainted them with the orders of the Department, and once again the Poncas took up the weary march, back to their Siberia, still bearing the trunk containing the bones of Standing Bear's son.
They were first taken to Fort Omaha, situated on the outskirts of the city of Omaha. In an incredibly short time their story was being told about the city; a day or two later, one Sunday, several churches passed resolutions after their regular services, and the pastors joined in a telegram of protest to the Secretary of the Interior. Friends of the Indian race in Washington were at once informed, and appealed in person to both the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
All this availed nothing; the final word from Washington ordered their return to the Indian Territory. But this set-back served only to stimulate the good people of Omaha in their efforts. Attorneys were then interested in the case, and on a writ of habeas corpus the whole question of the detention and removal of Standing Bear's band was brought into the United States District Court for Nebraska for a hearing, on the ground that the Indians had committed no crime and were deprived of their liberty without due process of law.
The Interior Department strenuously opposed this measure of relief. The counsel for the Government, in an argument of several hours' duration, maintained that Standing Bear was not entitled to the protection of a writ of habeas corpus, on the ground that an Indian was not a person under the law, and had no standing in the courts; while the equally able attorneys for the Indians contended that such protection was intended to apply to every human being, and that any other interpretation of the law was in violation of the fundamental principles of the Constitution.
This is a bit of Standing Bear's testimony:
"A. He says, when I got down there, I saw the land, and the land was not good to my eye; some places it looked good, but you kick up the soil a little, and you found lots of stones. It was not fit to farm. When we got down there we heard we were going to get clothing, and get money, and everything that we wanted, but I have not seen it yet. When I was told to go down there, I thought, perhaps, the land was good, and I could make a living, but when I got down there it was entirely different from the land in my own home. I could n't plough, I could n't sow any wheat, and we all got sick, and could n't do anything. It seemed as though I had no strength in my body at all. The hot climate did n't agree with me. But when I came back here I seemed to get strength every day. Instead of our tribe becoming prosperous, they died off every day during the time. From the time I went down there until I left, one hundred and fifty-eight of us died. I thought to myself, God wants me to live, and I think if I come back to my old reservation He will let me live. I got back as far as the Omahas, and they brought me down here. I see you all here to-day. What have I done? I am brought here, but what have I done? I don't know. It seems as though I have n't a place in the world, no place to go, and no home to go to, but when I see your faces here, I think some of you are trying to help me, so that I can get a place sometime to live in, and when it comes my time to die, to die peacefully and happy. (This was spoken in a loud voice, and with much emphasis.)
"The Court. Tell the witness to keep cool."
The opinion of Judge Dundy begins with these words:
"During the fifteen years in which I have been engaged in administering the laws of my country, I have never been called upon to hear or decide a case that appealed so strongly to my sympathy as the one now under consideration. On the one side we have a few of the remnants of a once numerous and powerful, but now weak, insignificant, unlettered, and generally despised race. On the other, we have the representative of one of the most powerful, most enlightened, and most Christianized nations of modern times. On the one side we have the representatives of this wasted race coming into this national tribunal of ours asking for justice and liberty to enable them to adopt our boasted civilization and to pursue the arts of peace, which have made us great and happy as a nation. On the other side we have this magnificent, if not magnanimous, Government, resisting this application with the determination of sending these people back to the country which is to them less desirable than perpetual imprisonment in their own native land."
It may seem beyond belief that in the one hundred and third year of the declaration, "all men are created equal," it was necessary for a federal judge to determine at great length that every human being is a person, and as such entitled to a hearing in the courts, but pages of the decision are given to this phase of the case; even the dictionary is appealed to. The Judge says:
"Webster describes a 'person' as 'a living soul; a self-conscious being; a moral agent; especially a living human being; a man, woman, or child; an individual of the human race.' This is comprehensive enough, it would seem, to include even an Indian."
The Judge reviews the circumstances at the time of the arrest, and at considerable length leads up to his decision:
"To accomplish what would seem to be a desirable and laudable purpose, all who were able so to do went to work to earn a living. The Omaha Indians, who speak the same language, and with whom many of the Poncas have long since continued to intermarry, gave them employment and ground to cultivate so as to make them self-sustaining. And it was when at the Omaha reservation, and when thus employed, that they were arrested by order of the Government for the purpose of being taken back to the Indian Territory. They claim to be unable to see the justice, or reason, or wisdom, or necessity of removing them by force from their own native plains and blood relations to a far-off country in which they can see little but new-made graves opening for their reception. The land from which they fled in fear has no attractions for them. The love of home and native land was strong enough in the minds of these people to induce them to brave every peril to return and live and die where they had been reared. The bones of the dead son of Standing Bear were not to repose in the land they hoped to be leaving forever, but were carefully preserved and protected, and formed a part of what was to them a melancholy procession homeward. Such instances of parental affection, and such love of home and native land may be heathen in origin, but it seems to me that they are not unlike Christian in principle. . . .
"I have searched in vain for the semblance of any authority justifying the commissioner in attempting to remove by force any Indians, whether belonging to a tribe or not, to any place, or for any other purpose than what has been stated. Certainly, without some specific authority found in an act of Congress, or in a treaty with the Ponca tribe of Indians, he could not lawfully force the relators back to the Indian Territory, to remain and die in that country, against their will. . . . If they could be removed to the Indian Territory by force, and kept there in the same way, I can see no good reason why they might not be taken and kept by force in the penitentiary at Lincoln, or Leavenworth, or Jefferson City, or any other place which the commander of the forces might, in his judgment, see proper to designate. I cannot think that any such arbitrary authority exists in this country.
"The reasoning advanced in support of my views leads me to conclude:
"First. That an Indian is a person within the meaning of the laws of the United States, and has therefore the right to sue out a writ of habeas corpus in a federal court, or before a federal judge, in all cases where he may be confined, or in custody under color of authority of the United States, or where he is restrained of liberty in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States.
"Second. That General George Crook, the respondent, being the commander of the military department of the Platte, has the custody of the relators under color of authority of the United States, and in violation of the laws thereof.
"Third. That no rightful authority exists for removing by force any of the relators to the Indian Territory, as the respondent has been directed to do.
"Fourth. That the Indians possess the inherent right of expatriation as well as the more fortunate white race, and have the inalienable right to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' so long as they obey the laws and do not trespass on forbidden ground. And—
"Fifth. Being restrained of liberty under color of authority of the United States, and in violation of the laws thereof, the relators must be discharged from custody, and it is so ordered."
Liberty! Bereft of homes and goods, mourning their many dead, yet Liberty came to these benighted Indians as a ray of light in the darkness. Standing Bear, taking from his few treasures a war-bonnet, a tomahawk, and a pair of buckskin leggings, sought out his three greatest benefactors—the gentleman who had first discovered his distress, and the two attorneys who conducted his case without expectation of reward—and presented to them the simple tokens of his gratitude:
"A little while ago I had a house and land and stock. Now I have nothing. It may be that some time you may have trouble. You might lose your house. If you ever want a home come to me or my tribe. You shall never want as long as we have anything. All the tribe in the Indian Territory will soon know what you have done. While there is one Ponca alive you will never be without a friend."
But freedom did not bring with it the restoration of a single right to their goods and lands. They were destitute, and without a home. The members of the Omaha Committee, with substantial aid from many other friends of the Indian, succeeded in gathering about one hundred of the refugee Poncas near their old reservation. The number was soon increased to one hundred and seventy-five. The Santee agent's report for the ensuing year takes notice of them:
"In my report last year I spoke of a number of Ponca Indians who had come among the Santees. Since then they have nearly all left, and they are now living on an island, about three miles above Niobrara, adjoining their old reservation. I visited them a short time ago and found they numbered 103 souls. They have considerable corn; are making hay and building houses for the winter. They have been and are now receiving some assistance from an organization at Omaha which has been created for their relief."
Consternation was upon the autocrats of the Indian Ring. An Indian a person? Impossible. Entitled to the protection of the courts? A dangerous proposition. The Indian would be lost to the Inner Circle as a political asset if freedom were extended to him. The case was promptly appealed, but, in the language of the records:
"At the May term, 1879, Mr. Justice Miller refused to hear an appeal prosecuted by the United States, because the Indians who had petitioned for the writ of habeas corpus were not present, having been released by the order of Dundy, J., and no security for their appearance having been taken."
It would have required something more than a cordial invitation to bring Standing Bear again into the clutches of his Great Father.
Much more that is interesting in the Ponca case does not appear in the official reports. The case of Standing Bear brought the public to its highest pitch of indignation over the Ponca outrage. Public meetings were held in condemnation of the whole affair, and attention was called to many other instances of the Government's perfidy in its dealings with its helpless wards. In Boston a committee was appointed, with Gov. John D. Long of Massachusetts as chairman, to investigate the wrongs of the Poncas; money was raised to determine in the courts the legality of holding the remaining members of the tribe in the Indian Territory, and to restore their old home to them. The Secretary of the Interior was appealed to by persons of prominence in both official and civil life to sanction such a test of the matter in the courts. Again, all this availed nothing. The official argument is of much the same satisfying and convincing order as "The obvious unwisdom and even impossibility of removing Indians from the Indian Territory."
The most miserable of all the official excuses put forward was based upon an incomprehensible blunder of the Government. It will be remembered that in 1858 the Poncas had their home guaranteed to them by solemn treaty. In 1868 a treaty was entered into with the Sioux, and, in loosely defining the bounds of their reservation as the Missouri River on the east and Nebraska on the south, the entire Ponca reservation, lying just north of the Nebraska line, was unwittingly included in that allotted to the Sioux. Now nothing is clearer than that this mistake should have been at once rectified by obtaining from the Sioux a relinquishment of the Ponca tract; a Government that could peremptorily demand of the Sioux the cession of the entire Black Hills on pain of starvation could have obtained this small concession by even less strenuous methods. It is equally clear that the vested rights of the Poncas could not equitably be disturbed in this settlement, which was a matter only between the Government and the Sioux.
That such a blunder could have been made, and allowed to stand for eight years, shows with considerable clearness the Government's disregard for the integrity of its Indian treaties; it is still more significant that, after eight years, this "unfortunate blunder" made its official appearance coincident with the plan to remove the Spotted Tail and Red Cloud Sioux to the Missouri; but the saddest service of this miserable excuse was to block the way to the restoration of the Ponca homes. Time and again the chroniclers in the public records admit the wretched business, and as many times deny restitution. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs says:
"By a blunder in making the Sioux Treaty of 1868, the 96,000 acres belonging to the Poncas were ceded to the Sioux. The negotiators had no right whatever to make the cession. . . ."
Here is one of the most ludicrous defences in the records:
"By a treaty made by the Government with the Sioux in 1868, the Ponca lands were ceded to them by mistake, so that both tribes claimed the land; the Poncas had the oldest and best title, but the Sioux being so much stronger, and regarding and treating the Poncas as trespassers, were fast sending them to the 'happy hunting-grounds,' and thus the question presented itself to the Government, the duty of protecting the weak against the strong, of saving human lives; this was paramount to the question of title, because, conceding as it did the Ponca title to be good, the Government was unable to protect them in the peaceable enjoyment of it, and the only just and humane thing it could do was to move them out of the reach of their oppressors. The Government could pay for the spoliation, but it could not restore the dead to life."
This is really too silly to deserve comment. In all the pilfering Sioux raids, not a dozen Poncas were actually killed; yet one hundred and fifty-seven were sent to the "happy hunting-grounds" by the removal within one year.
The Honorable Carl Schurz, as Secretary of the Interior, and nominally at the head of Indian affairs, had visited upon his undeserving head the odium of the whole Ponca business. His open letters to Governor Long, Senator Dawes, and Mrs. Helen Jackson (the author of "Ramona" and "A Century of Dishonor") are laden with his tale of personal woe. They reveal an able advocate with a pitifully weak case, but he valiantly makes the best of it. Here are a few fragments from a letter to Governor Long:
"The old Ponca reserve in southeastern Dakota, a tract of 96,000 acres, was confirmed to that tribe by various treaties. In 1868 a treaty was concluded with the Sioux by which a reservation was granted to them, including the tract which formerly had by treaty been confirmed to the Poncas. The Sioux treaty of 1868 was ratified in the usual way and became the law of the land. The Poncas, however, continued to occupy the ceded tract."
So the Sioux treaty became the law of the land. What became of the Ponca treaty? This raises a question: If the Government confirms a tract of land to one tribe, then unwittingly deeds it to another tribe, which gets the land? Justice might point to the first tribe. The Government, with the power to deliver to either, seems to have taken its choice.
The Secretary's personal defence is the only convincing feature in the correspondence. He shows clearly that the whole scheme involving the Ponca removal was laid by the preceding administration, although consummated immediately after he took office. Of this he says:
"The removal itself, in pursuance of the law quoted, was effected a very short time after I took charge of my present position, when, I will frankly admit, I was still compelled to give my whole attention to the formidable task of acquainting myself with the vast and complicated machinery of the Interior Department. If at some future day you, Governor, should be made Secretary of the Interior, you will find what that means; and although you may accomplish it in a shorter time than I did, yet you will have to pass through some strange experiences during the first six months."
In view of the subsequent career of the distinguished Governor, this friendly warning is rather interesting. But there is a depth of meaning in the secretary's admission. When revolting tales come from the realm of the Czar of remorseless cruelties, of stifled justice, and hopeless exile, the world is now enough enlightened to say, "'T is not the Czar—look to the bureaucracy." So, in the land of the Noble Free; secretaries may come to grope their uncertain way, and secretaries may go with the passing of the presidents, but the bureaucracy sits tight at the public crib, guiding unseen the affairs of state. "'T is not the Czar—look to the bureaucracy."
But as an apologist Secretary Schurz lapses into the mediocre. Of that terrible winter for the Poncas, when an inquisition of months wrung "consent" from one hundred and seventy of them, he says:
"As to the measures taken by Mr. Kemble to obtain what he represented as the consent of the Poncas to the relinquishment of their lands and their removal to the Indian Territory, it may be said that he followed a course which unfortunately had been frequently taken before him on many occasions. Having been a man of military training, he may have been rather inclined to summary methods; moreover, it is probable that as the Ponca reserve had been ceded to the Sioux by the treaty of 1868, and as Congress had provided also that the Sioux should be removed to the Missouri River, and the Sioux were the same year to occupy that part of the country, the removal of the Poncas may have appeared to Mr. Kemble a necessity, in order to prevent a collision between them and the Sioux which would have been highly detrimental to both."
As it was the pre-arranged intention to remove the Black Hills Sioux directly into the Ponca houses, an inspector even less astute than Mr. Kemble might have perceived the "necessity" of getting the Poncas out of the way. It was his business to gain, not ask for, the Indian consent.
The question of the Poncas' fundamental right to their old homes is buried under a mass of argument against their restoration on the ground of inexpediency, none of which is convincing. The terrible Sioux bogey appears again; but Spotted Tail dwelt as unwillingly in the homes of the Poncas as the Poncas remained in the South. He remained there a few months; then, long before the Poncas had ceased to beg for their return, Spotted Tail peremptorily ordered his Great Father to take his people back to their old home, on pain of another Sioux war. Within ten days the wily old chief's camp was on wheels, merrily rolling toward the Rosebud country. Spotted Tail, gentle reader, was a Big Chief in the Sioux nation.
Here is a miserable excuse of the Secretary for a great nation to lean upon:
"But another difficulty arose of a grave nature: the invasion of the Indian Territory by white intruders striving to obtain possession of certain lands in the Indian Territory held for Indian settlement in that region, of which the present Ponca reservation forms a part. . . . The lands coveted by the invaders are held against the intrusion on the ground that they are reserved for Indian settlement. It is important, therefore, that the Indian settlements actually on such lands should remain there at least while the Indian Territory is in danger. To take away the existing Indian settlements from those lands under such circumstances would very much weaken the position of the Government defending them, and encourage the invasion."
To preserve the public domain from invasion by a few lawless frontiersmen,—a melancholy service for a handful of half-dead Indians who had once "stood as a barrier between the hostile Indian and the white settler upon the frontier"!
And here is another:
"If the Poncas were now taken from those lands and returned to Dakota, this very fact would undoubtedly make other northern Indians, who have been taken to the Indian Territory, restless to follow their example, such as the Northern Cheyennes [fully fifty per cent dead—one hundred and fifty killed by soldiers while escaping to the North], the Nez Perces [thirty per cent dead], and possibly even the Pawnees [over eight hundred dead out of 2376]. Unscrupulous white men, agents of the invaders, would be quickly on hand to foment this tendency."
The Secretary judged the temper of these three tribes with "deadly" accuracy. They really might have been fired with a desire to get out of the Indian Territory.
Did ever a desperately weak case seek strength from equally desperate argument?
This extraordinary letter called forth a prompt reply from the Boston Committee, signed by John D. Long, chairman. Without a trace of personal feeling, and granting the sincerity of the Secretary in his views, it is a scathing arraignment of the whole miserable business. One characteristic passage will suffice:
"First. Did you commit a cruel and unlawful outrage upon the Ponca Indians in robbing them of their homes? To which you have already answered, Yes. Second. Have you lifted a finger for all these three years, during which you say you have so sincerely repented your error, to restore them to their homes? To which you have already answered, No. Third. Will you not, even at this last moment, for the sake of the credit of the administration and the country, ascertain, by men in whom the Poncas have confidence, whether those who are still in the Indian Territory do not really wish—having full knowledge that the way is cordially open to them—to rejoin the hundred or more who have escaped and returned to Dakota? And if they do, will you not ask for an appropriation, and do what you can to restore them, also? Can you not apprehend the one fundamental thing, that this land in Dakota is theirs, theirs, theirs? We beg you to apply to their case, not the wrench of a 'policy,' but for once the good old golden rule—not always bad, even, as a policy—of 'doing unto others as ye would that men should do to you.' It may leave the constitutional 'Indian Policy' blotted by a drop of the milk of human kindness, but it will leave you a record in the administration of President Hayes upon which you will have no more sincere congratulations than our own."
Secretary Schurz may have admitted the "cruel and unlawful outrage," but he distinctly proved that he was not primarily responsible for it. His argument leaves no question of the sincerity of his opinion that, after this lapse of three years, the happiness and welfare of the Poncas could best be served by establishing them fairly and permanently upon their new reservation. To his mind, expediency was the question of the hour. The original sin was upon the preceding administration and had become immutable law. That was his reason why, for three years, these helpless Indians were left to die, were hounded if they escaped, were refused their piteous request to again visit their Great Father, after the Spotted Tail Sioux had left the old Ponca home absolutely vacant. The Government had blunderingly given the Ponca lands to the Sioux, and laws, however devilish, had given legal color to the Ponca removal before he came into office. He might "apprehend the one fundamental thing, that this land in Dakota is theirs, theirs, theirs," and only wring his hands in impotent distress over conditions beyond his control.
The splendid record of Mr. Schurz as a friend of the oppressed forces the conclusion that he really could not undo a villainy when once fastened upon the Department. Then, what unseen force comes out from the iniquitous depths of the Indian bureau to turn the will and tie the hands of such a Secretary of the Interior? Does the underworld supply "the voice of the people," even while the people protest? There is more of concern in this than the mere welfare of a luckless race.
The Ponca agitation finally resulted in an underground scheme to settle the questions at issue and end the contest. It is a tale of chicanery worthy of the Indian bureau. Observe the sequence of dates.
On October 25, 1880, twenty Ponca chiefs and head-men in the Indian Territory affixed their marks to this statement, and their agent forwarded it to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:
"We, the undersigned, chiefs and head-men of the Ponca tribe of Indians, realize the importance of settling all our business with the Government. Our young men are unsettled and hard to control while they think we have a right to our land in Dakota, and our tribe will not be finally settled until we have a title to our present reservation and we have relinquished all right to our Dakota land. And we earnestly request that the chiefs of the Ponca tribe of Indians be permitted to visit Washington the coming winter for the purpose of signing away our right to all land in Dakota and to obtain a title to our present reservation; and we also wish to settle our Sioux troubles at the same time. We make the above request, as we desire to have the young men of our tribe become settled and commence to work on their respective claims.
"We also desire to make this visit in order to convince the Government that it is our intention of remaining where we are, and requesting the aid of the Government in obtaining teams, wagons, harness, tools, etc., with which to work our land."
Now read any Indian speech, letter, or other utterance; compare with the phrasing of this; study the desires herein expressed in the light of the Ponca record; then, if it appears reasonable to do so, believe that the Indians dictated this petition, or knew what they were signing.
The next move was calculated to throw dust into the eyes of a critical public. While a delegation of Ponca chiefs was being piloted to Washington to sign away their Dakota reservation, the President announced the appointment of a commission:
"Washington, D. C., December 18, 1880.
"I request the following gentlemen to proceed to the Indian Territory as soon as may be, and, after conference with the Ponca tribe of Indians, to ascertain the facts in regard to their recent removal and present condition, so far as is necessary to determine the question what justice and humanity require should be done by the Government of the United States, and report their conclusions and recommendations in the premises: Brig.-Gen. George Crook, U. S. A.; Brig.-Gen. Nelson A. Miles, U. S. A.; William Stickney, Washington, D. C.; Walter Allen, Newton, Mass.
"It is the purpose of the foregoing request to authorize the commission to take whatever steps may, in their judgment, be necessary to enable them to accomplish the purpose set forth.
"General Crook is authorized to take with him two aides-de-camp to do clerical work.
"R. B. Hayes."
The champions of the Ponca cause then rested on their guns; the battle seemed half won.
On December 28, ten days later, before the special commissioners could reasonably have reached the Indian Territory on their mission "to determine the question what justice and humanity require should be done by the Government of the United States," the Ponca chiefs in Washington were induced to sign away all their right and title to the old home on the Missouri.
Four weeks later—on January 25, 1881—the special Commission reported to the President, setting forth the wrongs and scattered condition of the Poncas—some being on the old Dakota reserve—and recommended:
"That an allotment of 160 acres of land be made to each man, woman, and child of the Ponca tribe of Indians, said lands to be selected by them on their old reservation in Dakota, or on the land now occupied by the Ponca Indians in the Indian Territory, within one year from the passage of an act of Congress granting such tracts of land. That until the expiration of this period free communication be permitted between the two branches of the tribe."
This is followed by a recommendation of generous appropriations to the Poncas pro rata in whichever reserve they choose to locate, and that the question of title to the Ponca land be at once settled. Finally, for the special purpose of re-establishing the Poncas in their old home on the Missouri:
"That the further sum of not less than $5,000 be appropriated for the construction of comfortable dwellings, and not more than $5,000 for the erection of a school-house for the Poncas in Nebraska and Dakota, and that suitable persons be employed by the Government for their instruction in religious, educational, and industrial development, and to superintend, care for, and protect all their interests. We respectfully suggest that the welfare of these Indians requires us to emphasize the necessity of prompt action in settling their affairs, to the end that this long pending controversy may be determined according to the dictates of humanity and justice."
On March 3, by act of Congress, provision was ostensibly made for carrying out the various recommendations of the Commission:
"For the purpose of enabling the Secretary of the Interior to indemnify the Ponca tribe of Indians for losses sustained by them in consequence of their removal to the Indian Territory, to secure to them lands in severalty on either the old or new reservation, in accordance with their wishes, and to settle all matters of difference with these Indians, one hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars, to be immediately available and to be expended under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, as follows," etc.
Then the public clamor was stilled. Justice had—in words—been done. But against this seeming intent of the Government to give the Poncas free choice to locate on either their old or new reservation, there is the disturbing knowledge that the Honorable Commissioner had, weeks before, secured a deed of relinquishment from the Poncas in the Indian Territory to their old reservation. Now, what provision was made, in the settlement of the Sioux treaty blunder, for the return of Poncas still in the Indian Territory?
On August 20, of the same year, an agreement was entered into with the Sioux:
"The said tribes of Sioux Indians do hereby cede and relinquish to the United States so much of that portion of the present Sioux reservation as was formerly occupied by the Ponca tribe of Indians, set forth and described by the supplemental treaty between the United States of America and the Ponca tribe of Indians concluded March 10, 1865 (14 Stats., 675), as may be necessary for the settlement of that portion of the Ponca tribe under Standing Bear now on or residing near the old Ponca reservation, for their use and occupation, in the proportion and to the extent of as many tracts of 640 acres each as there are heads of families and male members now of the age of twenty-one years and upwards and unmarried."
No provision whatever was made for any Ponca Indians except those "under Standing Bear now on or residing near the old Ponca reservation." Nowhere is there a line to indicate that the act of Congress providing for their return was ever communicated to the Poncas. The official count two years later shows a net gain of twelve in the Indian Territory, while the Poncas on the old reserve barely hold their own. Not one Ponca was returned to the Missouri. The numbers remain in about the same proportion to this day. The Ponca country was cleared of Indians, with the exception of Standing Bear's band, and in a few years was opened to settlement.
This is the story of the Ponca removal, with inevitable sidelights on the Poncas' guardian. Whom do the facts concern more—the Poncas or the guardian?