THE STORY OF THE BITTER ROOT
"If it [the Bitter Root Valley] shall prove, in the judgment of the President, to be better adapted to the wants of the Flathead tribe, . . . then such portions of it as may be necessary shall be set apart as a separate reservation for said tribe." The National Pledge to the Flatheads.
SITUATED in the mountainous country at the extreme western edge of Montana is the fertile valley of the Bitter Root, the ancient home of the Flathead Indians. The earliest noteworthy incident in their history dates back to about 1835; the story is rather fancifully told by a Government agent, in a report made many years later:
"Nearly forty years since some Iroquois from Canada, trading with the Flatheads, told them of the teachings of the Jesuit fathers, who for many previous years had been laboring among them, both for their spiritual and temporal good. The Flatheads, listening to these narratives of wonder and love, and as if directed by inspiration from above, selected some of their best men, rude and savage warriors, to proceed to St. Louis and ask a mission to teach them 'the ways of the cross.' Wending their way through the then almost trackless wilds between here and St. Louis, the delegation found itself among a hostile band of Sioux, on the western borders of Missouri, only to be murdered, but one escaping to tell the fate of the rest. In the following year, another and a larger delegation was despatched on this Heaven-inspired duty, which succeeded in reaching the object of their destination, and prevailing on Father De Smet to accompany them to their wild mountain homes—the Flatheads thus becoming the first spiritual children among the red men of that venerated and distinguished Catholic missionary. Located among them, the Pend d'Oreilles soon sought his teachings, and bending their necks to the Christian yoke, both tribes in aggregate were duly received into the church, and to this day, although subject to failings and shortcomings, like the rest of humanity, they (particularly the Flatheads) will compare favorably, at least in morality, with a like number of people anywhere."
The capacity of the Indian nature to absorb and literally follow the teachings of a higher faith was never better illustrated than in the case of these tribes. During the years of warfare that followed the advent of the whites in search of gold, nearly all the tribes in the mountains of the great Northwest, alarmed at the flight of their game—their livelihood—before the reckless white explorers, resisted with the ferocity of despair this invasion of what they regarded as their own country. Throughout these bloody years the Flatheads, the Pend d'Oreilles, and the Nez Perces, three neighboring tribes under Christian teachers, remained steadfast friends of the whites, and under the guidance of their self-sacrificing instructors these Indians supplemented the pursuit of game with increasingly successful attempts at agriculture and stock-raising.
But the restless white explorers gradually crowded into the attractive valley of the Bitter Root. Then comes the story of another bargain for the Indian country. In 1855 the Flatheads, numbering something less than five hundred, under the leadership of their old Chief Victor, met in council with commissioners appointed to treat with them for the cession of territory and settlement on a reservation. Some miles to the northward of the Bitter Root, in what was known as the Jocko Valley, there had been set apart a large reservation for the Flatheads, the Pend d'Oreilles, and the Kootenais, and thither it was proposed to remove them. The Pend d'Oreilles and Kootenais were successfully disposed of, but Victor and his people strenuously opposed this measure. They were ready to give up the large territory demanded of them, except their Bitter Root Valley; this they would not cede and remove to a country that did not compare in fertility with their own. Besides, why should they? In that valley they had set up their church, their houses, their farms; it belonged to them; there they had established themselves to learn the ways of the white man, and there they proposed to remain. All argument and persuasion failed to shake their determination; Victor and his men flatly refused to sign a treaty which involved the cession of the beloved land of their fathers
Now, large interests were dependent upon the signing of this treaty; no Brunot was in attendance to cut off the persuasive tactics of the commissioners. The Bitter Root Valley was only a portion of the coveted territory to be ceded. The treaty must be signed.
The white man is resourceful, while the Indian is simple; these two characteristics appear prominently in every treaty council with the Indians. After all other expedients had failed, this clause was added to the document for the special benefit of the Flatheads:
"Article XI. It is, moreover, provided that the Bitter Root Valley, above the Lo-Lo Fork, shall be carefully surveyed and examined, and if it shall prove, in the judgment of the President, to be better adapted to the wants of the Flathead tribe than the general reservation provided for in this treaty, then such portions of it as may be necessary shall be set apart as a separate reservation for said tribe. No portion of the Bitter Root Valley, above the Lo-Lo Fork, shall be opened to settlement until such examination is had and the decision of the President made known."
"If it shall prove, in the judgment of the President, to be better adapted to the wants of the Flathead tribe—". "The pledge of the Great Father," the Indians argued; of course the land of their fathers was better adapted to their wants than the barren Jocko. With an abiding faith in the nation that gave to them their first instructors in the better way, Victor and his chiefs signed the treaty.
There seems to have followed a subsidence of the wave of immigration to that section of country, and no urgent demand for the evacuation of the valley is in evidence for a considerable period. Victor died a few years later, and the chieftainship of the tribe fell to his son Charlos (sometimes written Charlot), a man full worthy to watch over the affairs of this peaceful community. For seventeen years after the signing of the treaty these Indians were left in undisturbed possession of their lands, except for the gradual encroachment of the white settlers, and during those years they made most remarkable progress in civilization.
In 1872 their number is given as four hundred and sixty; they have four hundred and fifty acres in cultivation, and fifty-five log-houses furnish them with comfortable homes. Two thousand horses and cattle, and large quantities of grain and vegetables, indicate the thrift of these Indian farmers.
It would seem that if ever a band of Indians struggling toward the light of a higher civilization were entitled to the earnest consideration of a powerful republic, the Flatheads should have had that recognition; but the surrounding whites were already clamoring for the Indian possessions.
During all these seventeen years the Bitter Root Valley had not been "surveyed and examined," nor had the "judgment of the President" been obtained, as provided for in the eleventh article of their treaty. The Indians had not given the question of title another thought. Since Victor signed the treaty, every succeeding year had made the valley "better adapted to the wants of the Flathead tribe" than the Jocko or any other reservation, and the Indians held the national pledge that on this one condition the land was to be set apart for them as a separate reservation.
Still, the title had never been formally settled in the Indians; and the whites coveted the valley. Political wires were manipulated, and Washington was appealed to; the great Juggernaut which was to crush this band of Indians began to move.
To dispossess the Flatheads, their title must first be invalidated under color of law. This necessary formality required "the judgment of the President." Here it is, signed by U. S. Grant, President of the United States:
"Executive Mansion, November 14, 1871.
"The Bitter Root Valley, above the Lo-Lo Fork, in the Territory of Montana, having been carefully surveyed and examined in accordance with the eleventh article of the treaty of July 16, 1855, concluded at Hell Gate, in the Bitter Root Valley, between the United States and the Flathead, Kootenai, and Upper Pend d'Oreilles Indians, which was ratified by the Senate March 8, 1859, has proved, in the judgment of the President, not to be better adapted to the wants of the Flathead tribe than the general reservation provided for in said treaty; it is therefore deemed unnecessary to set apart any portion of said Bitter Root Valley as a separate reservation for Indians referred to in said treaty. It is therefore ordered and directed that all Indians residing in said Bitter Root Valley be removed as soon as practicable to the reservation provided for in the second article of said treaty. . . ."
This effectually cleared the land of the Indian title. One would infer that the general reservation must have been a better land than the Flathead home, although the best portions of the Jocko had long since been taken by the tribes already there. The missionary to the Flatheads wrote an earnest letter of protest, and this is his opinion of the land:
"I am satisfied to say—and I know the ground, every inch—that in that whole flat not a couple of hundred acres of middling farming-land can be taken. Besides, what there is of good land is in small, narrow strips, spots, and patches, far apart one from the other. Hence the necessity of fencing in large tracts of bad land, in order to enclose two or three acres of good soil. The few acres of good farming-land along and on both sides of Finley Creek have been taken up long since by half-breeds, and two or three white men married to Indian women. . . ."
Yet the Bitter Root Valley, with its four hundred and fifty acres of growing crops, its houses and cattle, its Indian church and its Indian graves of many generations, was declared "in the judgment of the President, not to be better adapted to the wants of the Flathead tribe" than this unsubdued waste in the Jocko!
President Grant's record as a steadfast friend of the Indian is too secure to be called into question, but this executive order is eloquent of a system which can procure the signature of an illustrious president to as black a lie as ever Russia's bureaucracy compelled from the hand of the Czar. Can this business be charged to the American people? Certainly not. Public opinion, whenever it has been sufficiently aroused to take notice of Indian affairs, has invariably been with the Indians. But it can be charged to the extremely popular system of government which holds every national official with his ear to the ground, listening to popular clamor. Rule by "the voice of the people" is well enough when all the people are interested, but a disinterested, contented people will not take the trouble to rule anything; this relegates local matters, such as the seizing of Indian lands, to the control of a very few—the interested few. Wherever a few faithful voters are gathered together, they can, if they present their demands vociferously, impress their own particular congressman into their service. They become, for him, "the voice of the people"; silent ones do not count. He is the servant, not of the whole American people, but of his immediate constituents. It becomes his business to secure the necessary legislation; no matter how questionable the business may be nor how much opposed to the righteous sentiment of the whole people, a congressman cannot rise above the average moral standard of his own clamorous electors if he would hold his political ground. But this imposes no moral strain upon the congressman, unless he be an accident in office. He makes representations to the Indian bureau, backed by documents galore from the anxious settlers, and the case travels from official to official as the expressed "will of the people." He approaches a few other congressmen, each burdened with the wants of his electors; "you support my Indian bill, I vote for your scheme;" the rest will vote "aye" anyway, little knowing whether it is to be a cheese factory for New York City or a junket to Hoboken.
Thus a bit of depravity threads its way, unrecognized, upward through the official line to the Chief Executive. Thus a "vociferous few" obtain national legislation which would not for a moment bear the scrutiny of the whole people.
The plans for this removal were well laid. The Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in his report, alluded to these Indians as "the Flatheads and other Indians remaining by sufferance in the Bitter Root Valley," and in the spring Congress passed an act ordering their removal to the Jocko reservation. Within ten weeks of the passage of the removal act special commissioner James A. Garfield (afterward President of the United States) appeared among the Flathead Indians, to acquaint them with the demands of the Government and to secure their removal.
The argument with which they met the mandate of the Government is given in General Garfield's own words:
"Responses were made by the three chiefs, and by several head-men of the tribe, and all of the same tenor. The substance of their views may be thus briefly stated:
"It seemed to be their understanding that they had never given up the Bitter Root Valley, and they were very strongly opposed to leaving it. They insisted, and in this I believe they are partly borne out by the facts, that when the treaty of 1855 was nearly completed, Victor, the Flathead chief, refused to sign it unless he and his people could be permitted to remain in the Bitter Root Valley.
"It will be remembered that by that treaty a very large territory was ceded to the United States—a tract extending from near the forty-second parallel to the British line, and with an average breadth of nearly two degrees of longitude; that this territory had long been held in undisputed possession of the Flathead nation, and that, on yielding it, Victor insisted upon holding the Bitter Root, above the Lo-Lo Fork, as a special reservation for the Flatheads proper.
"The chiefs admitted that, under the provisions of the eleventh article, it was left in the power of the President to determine whether the Bitter Root Valley, above the Lo-Lo Fork, should be reserved as the permanent home of the Flatheads. But they insisted that by that article the President was required to have the Bitter Root Valley carefully surveyed and examined, and, if it should be better adapted to the wants of the Flatheads, then it should be made a permanent reservation.
"They insisted that such a survey and examination should have been made immediately after the ratification of the treaty, but that it had never been done at all. That for seventeen years no steps had been taken in regard to it, and they considered the silence of the Government on this subject an admission that the valley was to be their permanent home.
"They further called attention to the fact that they had learned something of civilization, and had done a good deal in the way of cultivating the lands and making the valley a more desirable home. They complained that the schoolmasters, blacksmiths, carpenters, and farmers promised them in the treaty of 1855 had never been sent into the Bitter Root Valley; and all the speakers concluded by the declaration that they claimed the Bitter Root Valley as their home and were wholly unwilling to leave it. They, however, affirmed their steady friendship for the whites and disclaimed any hostile intentions, declaring themselves willing to suffer, peaceably, whatever the Government should put upon them, but that they would not go to the reservation."
But as an officer of the Government commissioned to execute a law already enacted, General Garfield was not in a position to discuss with the Indians the ethics of the situation. It became necessary to inform them that the question was, not whether the order was just or unjust, but, to quote his words, "whether they had decided to disobey the order of the President and the act of Congress." Moreover, he realized, as these Indians could not, the utter futility of an appeal from the decision of the Department; a fertile valley certainly would not be cleared of white men in order that the provisions of an Indian treaty might be fulfilled. And he foresaw, as they could not, the pathetic hopelessness of a long-continued struggle to maintain their homes in this valley if they resisted the command to move.
It was explained to the Indians that, by act of Congress, the first fifty thousand dollars received from the sale of their lands were to be used to establish them on the Jocko; but they contended (and General Garfield records his full agreement with them) that the sum was wholly inadequate remuneration, even if they were disposed to relinquish their homes for any consideration. They were offered the privilege of taking land in severalty in the Bitter Root if they would break up tribal relations, but the proposition to accept a small tract each out of the large valley which they regarded as their own in its entirety did not appeal to their sense of justice.
Charlos and his people steadfastly refused to go to the reservation, and the council ended with the secession of two sub-chiefs, who, with their following of twenty families, consisting of eighty-one people, consented to remove to the Jocko. General Garfield contented himself with the reflection that when Charlos saw these people comfortably housed and specially favored he would surely follow.
Unfortunately for the Indians, the missionary in charge of the Agency Mission was in Helena at the time of the council. On his return he at once forwarded by letter an appeal for the Indians. He objected strenuously to the location on the Jocko selected for them, and asserted that the land "is mostly rocky and gravellous, and altogether unfit for any agricultural purposes." He continues:
". . . Such being the case, the consequences can be easily foreseen. Either the Flatheads will not move to that new place, or they will soon abandon it, or if they should remain there the Government will have to feed and support them, since they could never become self-sustaining on it. The first remark I heard from the Indians on this subject, on my return from Helena, was simply this: 'The Great Chief has no heart for the Indians, since he intends to make them settle down on rocks.' . . .
"Besides the two objections above, there is a third one, deserving even more particular consideration. All the Flatheads are practical Catholics. There in the Bitter Root Valley they have a Catholic mission and church to themselves; two of our missionaries live among them to instruct them in their religious duties and minister to them in all their spiritual wants. . . .
"We would have no means to start a new mission for them in their new home. Consequently, those poor Flatheads will be made also necessarily to suffer in what is most dear to them, in what they value more than anything else in this world, viz., their religion and the practice of it. When the whole Flathead tribe will be notified of this fact I doubt not that their unwillingness and repugnance to move thither will be intensely increased.
"Hoping, dear sir, that you will give these my observations the consideration your kindness may deem them to deserve, I beg to remain, respectfully, yours,
"F. L. PALLADINI, S.J.
"In charge of Saint Ignatius Mission.
"Hon. James A. Garfield, M.C."
This letter was laid before the Secretary of the Interior by General Garfield, but it availed nothing. The good priest had a distorted idea as to what observations were likely to impress the Indian bureau.
Then began a record unparalleled in Indian history for unique features. Charlos and his four hundred, clinging with Indian faith to the promise in the eleventh article of their treaty, determined to stand by their homes and passively await the action of their Great Father in Washington; "to suffer, peaceably, whatever the Government should put upon them," as they had said to General Garfield.
The Indian ring was in a quandary. To grant the demands of the "Vociferous Few," call out the military, and remove the inoffensive Indians by force would advertise the malodorous record to the country, with the certainty that swift condemnation of the whole business would follow. On the other hand, to redeem the national pledge required the removal of the whites from the Indians' land, besides congressional and executive acts in reverse order—a retreat unprecedented, impossible.
Finally a plan of peaceful reduction was developed. All the benefits and protection provided for in their treaty were withdrawn, and the Flatheads were left to shift for themselves,—a little, independent people closely encircled by a hungry horde of frontiersmen. Their history from this time appears year by year in the reports of the Jocko agent.
One year; the agent writes:
"I have visited most of the Indian lodges and houses in the Bitter Root Valley, and talked as much as possible with the white settlers, and notwithstanding the desire of the latter to see troops brought into requisition, yet some of them don't wish to part with the Indians; nor can they state more than one case in which a Flathead has committed a crime against a white person, and this was the shooting of a cow by one who received one hundred and fifty lashes for the offence by order of the chief Charlos."
Three years; Charlos still holds out. Here is a quiet scheme to dispossess him:
"There are yet between 300 and 400 Flatheads living in that valley, adherents of the chief Charlos, who so far have refused to listen to any counsel for removal, and hold no communication with the agency whatever; having apparently abandoned all relations with the Government, believing that the Garfield treaty will never be fully carried out. However, as an order has been issued by the county authorities for the assessment of their property with the view of collecting taxes, the majority of them will, if the Garfield promises are kept in good faith before them, probably remove to the Jocko within another year."
It must be borne in mind that the Indians were wholly without the protection of law, with no standing in the courts, and no vote or other representation of any kind. An Indian was not even declared to be a person in the eyes of the law until 1879. Now if there is one principle of government that does not find a place in the boasted declarations of the Free and Equal, it is that of taxation without representation. How will a scheme so un-American be received at the seat of Government?
The Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in his report for that year to the Honorable Secretary of the Interior, says:
"The remaining 350 Flatheads, under two chiefs, are still in the Bitter Root Valley, and hold no communication with the agency, and are trying to maintain themselves on their farms. Whether they will prove equal to the competition which the settlements have brought around them, and be able to save their property from sheriff's sale by prompt payment of taxes, is yet a question. Amid the eager desire to gain possession of their valuable farms, there will be few days of grace after the taxes are due."
It is a curious coincidence that at this time the country was celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of its own famous protest against this same form of oppression. "Taxation without representation is tyranny," declared the patriot fathers, and several hundred chests of taxed tea cast upon the waters of Boston Harbor proclaimed their sentiment in concrete terms. So, at this centennial time, the Government looked approvingly upon the festivities of its Chosen, while it calmly discussed the same scheme of taxation for another distressed people—not for revenue only, but as a means to gain the property taxed.
Five years; the confiscation scheme seems to have failed:
"The whole Flathead tribe, consisting of nearly four hundred souls, with the exception of the few families who removed to this agency, adhere to Charlos and follow his fortunes, choosing rather to eke out a livelihood by their own exertions in the neighborhood of their venerated chief than to accept the bounty of the Government and leave their homes. . . ."
The summer of 1877 was an eventful one in the mountains of the Northwest. A portion of the Nez Perces in Idaho, under Chief Joseph, refused the demand of the Government for the evacuation of their valley and location on a reservation. Troops were hurried to the valley, and the command to move was repeated with a show of force. This led to murder, and murder to war. The Nez Perces, fleeing before the United States troops under General O. O. Howard, came directly through the Bitter Root Valley. They called upon their old friends, the Flatheads, to join their cause. Could a tribe of harassed Indians resist this appeal?
The Jocko agent reports: "They not only refrained from joining their ancient allies, the Nez Perces, but they gave them warning that if an outrage was committed, either to the person or property of any settler of the Bitter Root Valley, in their retreat before General Howard's advancing troops, they would immediately make war upon them; and to this worthy action of Charlos, the non-treaty Flathead chief, and the chiefs and head-men of this reservation, do the white settlers of the Bitter Root Valley owe their preservation of life and property during those trying days."
Now it would seem possible for a great Government to be magnanimous in a case of this kind without offending petty politicians; under similar circumstances one might expect something handsome from the king of the Hottentots. A communication from the agent to the Commissioner contains the story of the Indians' reward:
". . . The Flatheads lost their crops, owing in part to neglect, caused by assisting the whites in guarding their homes, and to a hail-storm which cut everything down before it that season, leaving them destitute, and compelling them to go to the buffalo country to sustain life by the chase, as they were refused any assistance by the government, although I made an earnest appeal in their behalf at the time."
Seven years; the lines are drawing closer:
"Under Chief Charlos some 350 Flatheads still cling to their homes in the Bitter Root Valley, refusing to remove to this reservation. The rapid settling up of the valley by a white population has hedged these people in so closely that there is scarcely grazing room for their cattle and horses."
A new scheme now comes to light. The Indians were induced—by misrepresentations which will appear—to sign a request for patents of the tracts of land occupied by them individually as farms. Of course, the acceptance of such patents would be equivalent to a surrender of the entire valley, with the exception of the little tracts on which they actually lived.
But the abandonment of "the Bitter Root Valley, above the Lo-Lo Fork," which Charlos steadfastly insisted must be "set apart as a separate reservation for said tribe," was far from the Indian intention. They were shrewd enough to perceive the significance of the plan when the patents were offered to them. The agent reports:
"Charlos, the chief, refused to accept his patent, and of course all the Indians present followed his example. In explanation he said, in substance, that the treaty agreed upon between his father, Victor, head chief of the Flathead nation, and other Indian chiefs, and Governor Stevens on the part of the Government, on the 16th of July, 1855, provided that the Bitter Root Valley, above the Lo-Lo Fork, should be set apart as a separate reservation for the Flathead tribe. . . .
"In regard to the issue of the patents, Charlos claims that that matter was never properly explained to him or his people, and when they gave their names for title they simply understood they were signing a petition to the President to allow them to retain the Bitter Root Valley as a separate reservation from the Jocko, as agreed upon by the eleventh article of the treaty. I found it in vain to try to explain the precise meaning and wording of this clause, as he persisted that it was the Indian understanding that according to the Stevens [Victor] treaty they have a valid right and title to the Bitter Root Valley as a reservation. It was also inferred by him that if his people did accept the patents they would not know where to find the land, as a part of what he claimed to be his land has already been taken away from him by a white man, who claimed his land ran through it. Taxation and the breaking up of tribal relations is another objection, and also an utter lack of appreciation or confidence in the good intentions of the Government. He fully appreciates the strength of the Government and the fact that he can be forced into measures, but he claims that if it should come to that he will only ask the privilege to seek another home in another country of his own choice rather than give up his title to the Bitter Root as a reservation by accepting a patent for his farm or by removing to the Jocko.
"I would state to the honorable Commissioner that the affairs of the Flatheads of the Bitter Root Valley are in a most deplorable and unsatisfactory condition, and my motive in entering into so many details is to place the matter before you in as intelligent form as I can, so that some action may be taken to settle the question definitely without resort to force. The time is surely approaching when the Bitter Root land question will lead to serious difficulty, as the valley is fast being settled by thrifty farmers. The chief, Charlos, is a good and peaceable Indian, and well respected by the whites, but he clings to the notion that his people have been wronged in regard to the Bitter Root question."
Twelve years; Charlos still gazes fondly upon the land of his fathers, and awaits with childlike faith the fulfilment of the promise "if it shall prove, in the judgment of the President, to be better adapted to the wants of the Flathead tribe." The agent suggested to the Department the advisability of "inviting Charlos to a conference at Washington, when the intentions of the Government for the welfare of his people might be thoroughly impressed upon him." Charlos went to see the "Great Father." The record of that visit is interesting:
"In January, 1884, Chief Charlos and four of his head-men, accompanied by the agent and an interpreter, visited Washington under orders from the Indian Department. Nearly a month was spent at the National Capitol, and during that time several interviews were held with the Secretary of the Interior, but no offer of pecuniary reward or persuasion of the Secretary could shake Charlos' resolution to remain in the Bitter Root Valley. An offer to build him a house, fence in and plough a sufficiency of land for a farm, give him cattle, horses, seed, agricultural implements, and to do likewise for each head of a family in his band; also a yearly pension to Charlos of $500, and [to] be recognized as the heir of Victor, his deceased father, and to take his place as head chief of the confederated tribes of Flatheads, Pend d'Oreilles, and Kootenais Indians, living on the Jocko reservation, had no effect."
On one hand, poverty, the white man's promise, and the home of his people; on the other, plenty, and the Jocko. Charlos' grip on the national pledge could not be loosened; his country was not for sale. And Charlos seems to have considered himself "the heir of Victor, his deceased father," regardless of Washington's approval or consent.
Having failed to liquidate the national obligation in open conference with Charlos, the Honorable Secretary devised a new plan of campaign:
"In compliance with verbal instructions from the Honorable Secretary of the Interior, a full report of which I furnished the Indian Office under date of March 27, 1884, I made certain propositions to individual families to remove from the Bitter Root and settle at the Flathead reservation, and the result was that twenty-one heads of families concluded to remove, and to them, following the views of the Honorable Secretary of the Interior, as expressed to the Indians in Washington, I promised to each (1) a choice of 160 acres of unoccupied land on the reservation; (2) the erection of a suitable house; (3) assistance in fencing and breaking up ten acres of land for each family; (4) the following gifts: two cows, a wagon, set of harness, a plough, with other agricultural implements, seed for the first year, and provisions until the first crop was harvested."
Quite tempting inducements, surely. It may be interesting to know what sort of Indians these seceders were; the agent supplies the information:
"The members of Charlos' band who removed from the Bitter Root to this agency cannot be classed among the most industrious and civilized members of the tribe. In fact the colony is composed mostly of Indians who, with their families, followed the buffalo until this game became almost extinct, and continued to make a precarious living by hunting, fishing, and wandering among the settlements."
Fourteen years; more of the band have given up the struggle. Three hundred and forty-one remain in the Bitter Root Valley.
Fifteen years; the pressure is telling on Charlos' followers. The agent writes: "Those who choose to remain should be made to understand that they need look no further for Government aid;" and the number drops to two hundred and seventy-eight.
Sixteen years; Charlos and one hundred and eighty-nine still cling to their forlorn hope.
Seventeen years; now one hundred and seventy-six. But the census of the confederated tribes on the Jocko shows a decrease of one hundred and four. The Indians seem in truth to be going to a "better country."
Eighteen years; still one hundred and seventy-six. But a handful of men cannot hold out forever against a government intent on their peaceful reduction. Denied the protection of the courts against the encroachment of the whites, they were finally reduced to a condition of abject poverty. The time was at hand when the interests of humanity, in the absence of original justice, demanded that these people be wrested from the land they loved too well. At this opportune time a proposition was made to sell their lands and improvements and devote the proceeds to their establishment on the Jocko. The terms were accepted, and in 1890, after eighteen years of endeavor as an independent people, maintaining to the last the peace they had promised to General Garfield, Charlos and his band surrendered their beloved valley of the Bitter Root.
Such a surrender arouses a mingled feeling of relief and added interest. Of relief, for the vanquished are no more under the stern displeasure that has borne them down; of added interest, for it brings opportunity to a magnanimous victor.
This is the record in the Great Book:
"The last arrangement with this unfortunate band and the delay in its consummation has entirely discouraged the Indians. They are now helpless and poverty-stricken on their land in that valley, looking forward to the promise for the sale of lands patented to certain members of that band and to their removal to this reservation. The hope was given them, when their consent was secured for an appraisement and sale of their lands and improvements, that arrangements would be made to remove them to the Jocko reservation before the 1st of March, 1890, in order to give them an opportunity to select lands on the reserve and to put in crops to harvest this year. With that view they could not be induced to plough or sow their land in the Bitter Root Valley. They are destitute of means of support and, if the contemplated appropriation to remove and support them until they can raise crops is not carried out this year, some means should be adopted to furnish them with provisions, or they will certainly suffer from starvation."
The Indians were in fact not removed until the autumn of the following year. It seems beyond belief that indifference for the welfare of this tribe should have followed so closely upon their giving up the coveted valley, but for some inexplicable reason the money received from the sale of their farms was withheld for three years more, although $14,674.53 were reported on hand in 1892, nearly two years before the first payment was made to them. In 1893 the agent reports:
"These Indians are very anxious in regard to the payment to them of the money already paid to the Government from sale of certain tracts of said lands, claiming that it was promised to be sent without delay for distribution to the owners or heirs of the same, in order to enable them to improve and cultivate their new farms on their reservation."
The record discloses nothing that accounts for this situation. It deals with facts, not explanations. But we find these once independent farmers on a bare reservation, without means to begin life anew, reduced to the condition of ration Indians, living for four years on the bounty of the Government. The voice of Charlos is raised in one continued protest; but even this man of indomitable will seems to have reached the limit of his endurance, and it is painful to find him at last embittered, broken in spirit, with little faith in the white man and his ways.
Finally, four years after their surrender of the Bitter Root, the first payment arrived:
"This payment was made at a most opportune time in the early spring. The money was paid by check, but the following day all the beneficiaries proceeded by rail to Missoula, where, in the presence of the agent, their checks were cashed, and though the sum paid was over $18,000, and the number of Indians receiving shares was 47, not one of their number could be tempted by the numerous whiskey vendors, and all, after making some purchases of tools, implements, clothing, and provisions, returned quietly to their reservation."
Here we leave Charlos and his heroic band. Charlos—an ignorant, unknown Indian. But in patriotic endeavor for his people according to his light; in steadfast love of liberty, justice, and native land, he shared in the nobility of some with whom the Fates have dealt more kindly. A once struggling people are pleased to call such a man the Father of his country.
It is the story of an endeavor that failed. The Bitter Root Valley was added to the land of the Noble Free, at a cost in money insignificant compared with its value; but in the pledging of the national faith, "if it shall prove, in the judgment of the President, to be better adapted to the wants of the Flathead tribe," have they not paid the price incalculable—the national honor?