NYT/A Plea for the Indians

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A Plea for the Indians
Carl Schurz, Nelson Appleton Miles, Richard Henry Pratt, and others
This meeting in New York City on March 15, 1881, was reported on in The New York Times of the next day with the full text of Carl Schurz's speech. See also A Significant Meeting for the Harper's Weekly editorial on this meeting.


A PLEA FOR THE INDIANS



THE INTERESTS OF THEIR SCHOOLS ADVOCATED.

CIVILIZATION OF THE RACE POSSIBLE — EDUCATION STRONGLY URGED — ADDRESSES BY THE HON. CARL SCHURZ, GEN. MILES, CAPT. PRATT, AND OTHERS.

Every seat was filled at the meeting in Association Hall last evening to advance the interests of the schools at Hampton, Carlisle, and other points, for the education of Indian children. The Rev. Dr. R. W. Hitchcock, President of the Union Theological Seminary, occupied the chair. Near him on the platform were seated the Rev. Robert Collyer, the Rev. Howard Crosby, the Rev. Howard Potter, Bishop Hare, Gen. Armstrong, William E. Dodge, and a number of other gentlemen. Dr. Hitchcock, in his introductory remarks, said that it is impossible to speak well of civilization in its dealings with the Indians. Our American Christian civilization has not done its duty by these barbarous tribes. But it must be borne in mind that when civilization and barbarism meet, they meet on a line of fire. No Government can control its frontiersmen. The Roman Catholic Spaniards have done better by the savages than our Protestant Christians. What Roman Catholic Spain could do for the Mexican Indians she did, and she puts our Protestant work to shame. She followed the sword with the crucifix. Our Protestant religion stands impeached for doing so much less than we might have done. “Our people,” said the speaker, ”have developed certain features before which I stand in awe. We are a kind people. On all the globe you will not find a people so kind to the aged, the feeble, the downtrodden as we are. We have a public conscience. A recognized wrong takes the lightning quicker than any rod on this continent. Convince the people that a wrong has been done, and it will be righted. Another feature is in common sense. We are not lacking in reverence for ideas, but we are very impatient of idle dreams. We want to know just how an evil is to be remedied.” President Hitchcock then introduced the Hon. Carl Schurz as “a man of very hard-headed sense.”

Mr. Schurz said: “I take a very warm interest in this question. My personal contact with the Indians has made me their friend. We are to discuss a very practical, wise thing — the education of the Indian. This is a more important subject now than it ever was before. Not long ago it was considered wise to set apart great domains for the Indians for hunting grounds. That was not a sound thing to do. Those large domains could not be preserved and that theory was long ago exploded. Look at the population rolling westward, the demand for land, and think of exempting these hundreds of thousands of square miles. It is useless to think of it. We all know that it is impossible. Whether it is right or not, it is true, and we must deal with facts in this question. The power of the Government is great in some respects, but it is very weak in others. I can scarcely imagine a man in power in Washington who would deliberately plot against the poor Indian. It is a portion of the people who do it, not the Government. If the Government should resolve that the Indian reservations shall remain forever intact, the stream that is flowing westward in mining enterprises, in agriculture, in railroads, would make such a measure impossible. There would be quarrels, and the Government would soon be mixed up in them. In such a case, extermination stares the Indian in the face. In Canada they have an Indian frontier, which we long ago ceased to have. On this account they have less trouble with their Indians than we have. Their Indians have plenty of room. Their trouble will come in time. Humane statesmanship demands that we should open our eyes to the facts and see what remedies we can find. There is this great alternative — either a conflict, which must result in extermination or civilization. Let us do all in our power to induce them to fit themselves for the rights and duties of civilized life. Meanwhile let us protect them. There is no other alternative. Is there an American who can contemplate extermination with patience? It would be abhorrent to every sentiment of humanity and a dying disgrace to the American name. The only thing that remains is Indian civilization. Is the civilization of the Indian race possible? I conscientiously believe that it is. My intercourse with them has confirmed me in this belief. Of course, we must not expect too much nor too rapid development. We will not make them great statesmen, but industrious small farmers and tradesmen. The ultimate end must be clear to every thinking mind. It is the gradual absorption of the Indian race in the great body of the people. Their present political status is an anomaly. They were once considered as separate nations. They must finally be received as citizens. The whole problem cannot be solved at once by giving them rights they cannot understand or appreciate. They are not yearning to become citizens. Most of them would to-day look upon citizenship with suspicion. They must be educated up to it, fitted carefully for the exercise of their rights and duties. First, they should be taught to work; secondly, they should be individualized, and not hold lands in common; thirdly, they should be educated, particularly the youths. They are more ready to follow the lead of Government now than they ever were before. They know that they can no longer live by hunting. They are open to tuition. Within my own experience their work has been much extended. Many of them are herders. There are 2,000 freight wagons now run by Indians, and they are honest, faithful, and efficient. On the plains of Dakota they have often suffered from hunger without even breaking open a cracker-box. Some of them are successful small traders, and have made money. A Sioux Indian who visited Washington lately, well dressed, began two years ago with $25, and had made $2,000 by trading. His name, very inappropriately, was Don't Know How. Now that he has made money he signs himself “D. K. How.”

The Indians show a laudable zeal in pursuit of education. The first step has been the establishment of schools on the reservations. This system is necessarily imperfect, and must remain so for a time. An Indian must not only learn how to read and write, but he must learn how to live. He cannot learn this on a reservation. He may feel a necessity for a change in his mode of life, but civilization is only a shadowy idea to him. How is he to learn the white man's way? The school is insufficient, in the nature of things, to clear up his mind. To impress him with these things, he must see civilization in its own atmosphere. This led me to do all I could to develop Indian education in the East among the whites. If my administration of the Indian Department leaves no other trace behind it, I shall look upon the establishment of the schools at Hampton and Carlisle with great satisfaction. If you should visit those schools you would be astonished to see intelligence dawning in their countenance. They not only learn there to read and write, but they learn to live and to work. A few weeks ago 50 sets of double harness were sent to the Army made by the Indian boys at Carlisle. In a short time we will furnish not only harness from Carlisle, but wagons, too. Gen. Armstrong and Capt. Pratt must be particularly mentioned for their good work among these children. Let nobody disturb you by saying that when the pupils return to their tribes they will become savages again. That may have been the case when civilization was not in demand among the Indians. But things have wonderfully changed. The old mode of life is felt to be untenable. They know that work will become necessary — that knowledge will be in demand to that end. Even the old fogy chiefs want to see their children educated. An educated Indian is no longer ridiculed, but envied. There is no danger now of his relapsing into a savage life. He will be a teacher and a leader. The system at these schools calls for a very large extension. Congress ought to be liberal to educate the Indians. Hampton is not a Government institution. Instead of two schools we ought to have fifteen in various parts of the older States. We want particularly to enable Gen. Armstrong to erect a building for the education of Indian girls. Indian women have always been only beasts of burden. No human society can be good where woman is not recognized as an equal. Woman makes the atmosphere and must make the attraction of the human home. If we want the Indians to respect their women we must teach the women to respect themselves. I commend this object mainly to your consideration. The time will come when we will speak no more of Sioux and Apaches, but of good and orderly American citizens of Indian descent.” [Applause.]

Gen. Miles was the next speaker. “I take great pleasure,” he said, “in commending the institution at Hampton to your liberal patronage. Good results are inevitable as the dawn of day. More than 400 years ago the Spanish Government authorized the enslavement of the American Indians. In the early days the colonies were widely separated and the Indians were numerous. They were proud of their history and their strength. All that is changed. Their number have been diminished, their powers exhausted. They cannot maintain a separate nationality. It would be well for them and wise for us if we could adopt the best means to bring them within the pale of civilization. And I know of no better way than to educate them. We need to take the young men and women and show them the advantages of education and civilization. Educate a few of them in the East, and they go back and tell their friends of the advantages they have received. When that is done there will be no further trouble with the Indian problem.”

Capt. Pratt, of the school at Carlisle, made a humorous and interesting address. “We are encouraged,” he said, “in our Indian work every day by the advance of public sentiment. If we succeed in what we are doing, it will be through building up a strong and a bright hope in the breast of the Indian. A hope that they may become white men, and follow the white man's road. I will not attempt to discuss this question; I will only give you a few detached items. Two years ago, when I was in the West, I read that a wealthy man in Connecticut had left $1,000,000 to a missionary association. I thought of the Hindu Indians, and wondered what they would think of the American people if they could see our own Indians. The Indians are as deep thinkers as any people in the world. Boston is disturbed about the Poncas. I went out to Lee with one of the Indian boys, and there I found a history of the county, telling how the land was bought from the Indians for £485, two barrels of flour, and 30 quarts of rum. That was where Massachusetts began. Indians, some of them, are just as good and loyal citizens as anybody. They want to do what is right when they know how. Last Summer I asked for tents, so I could put the children in camp for the sake of health. I put the boys in camp, 16 miles away, and left them, telling them not to come back without permission. Next day four of the boys came back. They said they thought they would rather come home. The next morning I told them they must walk back and ask permission to leave. They said they could live in a tent in Dakota — they wanted to live in a house in the East. House very good; tent no good. They proposed that I should give them all a good whipping and let them stay. But I made them go back and get permission. After they had worked on a farm for a week or two they were quite willing to go into camp. Prof. Lippincott was talking to the boys not long ago, telling them how they would do their work if they had the love of God in their hearts. And he said that when a girl was sweeping if she had the love of God in her heart she would be very careful to sweep the corners. The new Secretary told me yesterday, ‘Capt. Pratt, you may depend I will do all I can to help you.’ There are about 56,000 Indian children in the country. The Secretary says 10 schools — I say 100 schools. We are now educating just about 1 per cent. of these Indian children; we ought to educate 100 per cent. I sent one of our Indians home to-day. He had learned the tinner's trade and was finished. The pull on him was his girl. He had been engaged for six years. There are men in this audience, I have no doubt, who could cure this whole Indian trouble. It costs just as much to educate an Indian as a white man, and no more. You can build up the Indian boys very fast by giving them the West Point diet of an Army officer to every three pupils, and $500 a year each for food and clothes.”

Bishop Hare, of Minnesota, was the next speaker. “I have been to Carlisle and Hampton,” he said, “and to go there is to have every doubt removed. I have seen the Sioux Indians just as they live. No one can mix with the Indians without feeling for them an unspeakable pity and a tender love. What is to be done with these Indian children after they are educated if they are not taught the principles of Christianity? It is important that when he goes back to his home he shall not go back to a wilderness.” Bishop Hare was followed by Gen. Armstrong, of the Hampton School. “We must beware of over-education,” he said. “It would be a blunder, if not a crime, to send the young Indians back to their homes with new tastes that they could not gratify. It takes them about a year and a half to learn to read intelligently. In about three years they can speak English very well. Indians are very quick to learn, particularly work in leather. An Indian boy never made a bad pair of shoes.” The speaker introduced three large diagrams, mounted on frames that entirely obscured all the gentlemen on the platform, showing the buildings that are needed at Hampton and the furniture required. After a few remarks by Dr. Potter, who was introduced as “a broad churchman and a broader man,” subscriptions were called for, $300 being required for the building and furnishing of each of the sleeping-rooms, of which there are to be 40. Mr. William E. Dodge opened the list by subscribing for one three hundred-dollar room for himself and another in the name of his wife. In a very few minutes, 13 of these $300 rooms had been subscribed for as follows: William E. Dodge, W. H. H. Moore, Birdseye Blakeman, Howard Potter, Major T. K. Gibbs, Miss Grace H. Dodge, Mrs. J. J. Slocum, Charles R. Henderson, Horace White, Mrs. William E. Dodge, James Black, Mrs. George Wood, and Miss Charlier.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.