The Writings of Carl Schurz/From Mrs. Helen Jackson, January 22d, 1880

New York, Jan. 22, 1880.

Your letter of the 17th instant is at hand. If I understand this letter correctly, the position which you take is as follows: That there is in your opinion, and in the opinion of the lawyers whom you have consulted on the subject, no way of bringing before the courts the suits for the prosecution of which money has been and is being contributed by the friends of the Poncas; that the reason you do not approve of this movement is that “it is evidently idle to collect money and to fee attorneys for the purpose of doing a thing which cannot be done.” This is the sole reason which I understand you to give for discountenancing the collection of money for these suits. Am I correct in this? And are we to infer that it is on this ground and no other that you oppose the collection of money for this purpose? Are we to understand that you would be in favor of the Poncas recovering their lands by process of law, provided it were practicable?

You say, also, that you hope I will “concur” in your “recommendation that the money collected for taking the Ponca case into the courts shall be devoted to the support and enlargement of our Indian schools.” May I ask how it would be, in your opinion, possible to take money given by thousands of people for one specific purpose and use it for another different purpose? You say, “Had the friends of the Indians who are engaged in this work first consulted lawyers on the question of possibility, they would, no doubt, have come to the same conclusion.” Had the friends of the Indians engaged in this work, and initiated this movement without having consulted lawyers, it would have been indeed foolish. But this was not the case. Lawyers of skill and standing were found ready to undertake the case; and the matter stands therefore to-day precisely as it stood when I wrote to you on the 17th instant. All the money which is thought to be needed for carrying the Ponca case before the courts can be raised in twenty-four hours in Boston, if you can say that you approve of the suits being brought. If your only objection to the movement is the one objection which you have stated, namely, that it would be futile, can you not say that, if lawyers of standing are ready to undertake the case, you would be glad to see the attempt made in the courts, and the question settled? If it is, as you think, a futile effort, it will be shown to be so. If it is, as the friends and lawyers of the Poncas think, a practicable thing, a great wrong will be righted.

You say that “to settle them (the Indians) in severalty, and give them by patent an individual fee-simple in their lands,” will enable them to “hold their lands by the same title by which white men hold theirs,” and that “then they will, as a matter of course, have the same standing in the courts and the same legal protection of their property.” May I ask you if any bill has been brought before Congress which is so worded as to secure these ends? My only apology for troubling you again is my deep interest in the Indians, and in the Ponca case especially.