Removal of the Ponca Indians
REMOVAL OF THE PONCA INDIANS.
OPEN LETTER TO
HON. JOHN D. LONG,
Governor of Massachusetts,
HON. CARL SCHURZ,
Secretary of the Interior.
Hon. J. D. Long,
Dear Sir: I have read a full report of the speeches delivered on the resolutions passed at a meeting over which you presided, held in Boston, on the 3d of December, for the purpose of expressing sympathy with the Poncas.
That meeting was held in the interest of justice. It demanded justice for that Indian tribe. But it seems that not one of the speakers remembered that measure of justice which is due to the officers of the Government whose names were connected with that deplorable affair. Permit me to demand justice to them also. To this end it is necessary to pass once more in rapid review the salient points of the case. 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. They and the Sioux had been hereditary enemies, and the former had suffered much from the hostile incursions of the latter. After the Ponca reserve had been granted to the Sioux these incursions became more frequent and harassing, so much so that the Poncas found themselves forced to think of removal to some safe location. Several times they expressed a wish to be taken to the Omaha reservation where they might live in security. But, although they had initiated an agreement with the Omahas to that effect, the arrangement was for some reason not accomplished. In 1874 and 1875 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs recommended the removal of the Poncas to the Omaha reserve and their permanent location thereon. These recommendations, however, were not acted upon by Congress. On the 23d of September, 1875, a petition was signed by the chiefs and headmen of the Poncas requesting that they be allowed to remove to the Indian Territory and to send a delegation there to select a new home. This petition was forwarded to the Indian Office. It was subsequently asserted, by members of the Ponca tribe, that when signing the petition they had not understood it to contain a request to be removed to the Indian Territory; but they had in their minds a removal to the Omaha reservation and the sending of some of their chiefs and headmen to the Indian Territory to see whether they could find a suitable location there. However that may be, they expressed the desire to remove from their lands in Dakota.
Thereupon the Indian Appropriation Act of August 15 1876, appropriated “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.” The Act of March 3, 1877, appropriated fifteen thousand dollars “in addition to that heretofore appropriated for the removal and permanent location of the Poncas in the Indian Territory.” At the same time Congress, by act of March 3, 1877, provided for the removal of the Sioux to the Missouri river. As the Ponca reserve had, by the treaty of 1868, been formally ceded to the Sioux, the execution of the provision of law with regard to the Sioux, without the execution of the provision of law with regard to the Poncas, would have brought the old enemies together upon the same ground, and would have threatened serious consequences to the Poncas as the weaker party. It is true that in 1875 a kind of a treaty of peace had been made between the Poncas and one band of the Sioux which it is said had been observed by that band; but subsequently some of the Poncas had been killed by Sioux belonging to another band. These circumstances, it appears, induced the Indian Office to send an inspector, Mr. Kemble, to the Ponca reserve early in January, 1877, for the purpose of obtaining their consent to the proposed removal. They at first disclaimed any desire to remove, but finally agreed to send a delegation to the Indian Territory for the purpose of selecting a suitable location for their tribe, and that then their chiefs be permitted to visit Washington to negotiate for the surrender of their lands in Dakota. They were told by Inspector Kemble that the expense of sending a party to the Indian Territory and a delegation to Washington could not be incurred until they had consented to relinquish their Dakota lands. Inspector Kemble reported to the Indian Office that he had obtained that consent at a council held with the Poncas on the 27th of January, 1877, and that such consent was given with the understanding that the final details of the transaction should be completed at Washington after the selection of lands in the Indian Territory had been made. He forwarded, also, the minutes of that council, from which it appeared that the consent he claimed to have been given consisted in speeches made by the chiefs, but not in a formal relinquishment on paper with their signatures. However, Inspector Kemble reported it as a conclusive consent. A delegation of Ponca chiefs went with him to the Indian Territory where they had hoped to find a home among the Osages, whom they believed to be similar to them in language and habits. But when the delegation arrived at the Osage Agency the head chiefs as well as the agent were absent; the Ponca delegates were inhospitably received and poorly provided for, and the weather being inclement, were detained in uncomfortable quarters for several days. Most of the delegates became disheartened at the outset and refused to consider other desirable locations which were shown them, and on reaching Arkansas City eight of them left in the night without the knowledge of the inspector, and started on foot for the Ponca Agency, which they reached after a tedious and difficult journey in forty days. The other two, with the inspector, their agent, and the Rev. S. D. Hinman, continued their inspection and pronounced in favor of the northeast quarter of the Quapaw reserve as a location for their tribe.
Thus the removal was initiated, and the preliminary measures carried out, before the present administration came into power. Reports made to the Indian Office were to the effect that on their return to their people the Ponca chiefs found the tribe divided in sentiment, the opposition to removal being constantly strengthened by the influence of outside parties; that the jealousies and animosities which had always prevailed among the different bands of the tribe were so intensified by those differences of opinion with regard to the removal, that violence was threatened to any one who should attempt to leave the reservation; that to protect the removal-party from the intimidating tactics of their opponents forty-five soldiers were sent from Fort Randall. But the influence adverse to the removal so far prevailed that only 175 members of the tribe crossed the Niobrara on the 17th of April, on their way to the Indian Territory. After the departure of this party the remaining five hundred and fifty Poncas, notwithstanding strong opposition, were prevailed upon by the inspector to go, and four companies of cavalry were sent for to attend the removal; but before the arrival of the troops all the Poncas, as was reported to the Indian Office by their agent, had decided to go peaceably, and the soldiers were recalled while on their march to the agency. On the 16th of May, 1877, all the Poncas were on their way. Contrary to the express wish of the agent, but in accordance with previous orders, which the commanding officer thought he could not disobey, the twenty-five soldiers who had remained at the agency, after the departure of the first party, accompanied the second as far as Columbus, Nebraska. The journey was continued under great difficulties and hardships, occasioned by unprecedented storms and floods. On their arrival in the Indian Territory a majority of the Poncas were dissatisfied with the location chosen for them by their two chiefs who had remained with Inspector Kemble. That dissatisfaction deterred the Indian Office from making provision for their permanent settlement there. The Ponca chiefs asked to be permitted to visit Washington, and in the fall of 1877 they arrived in this city.
From this recital of facts, taken from the official records in this Department, it appears that all the legislation which brought about the removal of the Poncas, and the initiatory steps taken to this end, occurred before the present administration came into power; that the Indian Office had first recommended their removal to the Omaha reservation, upon which no action was taken, while Congress did provide for their removal to the Indian Territory. 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. During that period I had to confess myself as little conversant with Indian affairs as many of those seem to be who are now writing and speaking upon that subject. Under such circumstances I had to leave the practical management of the several bureaus, as to the business come over from the former administration, for a short time, without much interference on my part, to the bureau chiefs whom I had found in office. I believed them, and justly so, to possess what I had not the advantage of, experience in the current business. On the Ponca affair I thought it best to accept the laws recently passed as the expressed will of Congress and to take the judgment of the then Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Hon. J. Q. Smith, which I have no doubt was conscientiously formed, as he was a man of just and benevolent impulses. His opinions, as I subsequently found, were largely based upon the reports made to the Office by Inspector Kemble. 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. Besides he stood not alone. In this opinion that the removal of the Poncas was necessary, he had the concurrence of Bishop Hare of the Episcopal church, as expressed in dispatches to the Indian Office. Had I then understood this matter and Indian affairs generally as well as I do now, I should have overcome the natural hesitancy of a man new in office to take personal responsibilities.
The details of the case did not come clearly to my knowledge until the Ponca chiefs arrived in Washington and told their story. I concluded that they had suffered great hardship in losing the reservation originally conferred upon them by treaty, after a so-called consent which appeared not to have been a free expression of their will. They had also endured many disasters on their way to the Indian Territory, and after their arrival there were greatly afflicted by disease and lost a large number of their people by death. Then the question of redress presented itself. They requested permission to return to Dakota. This request was denied, not without very careful consideration. The Sioux had in the meantime been removed to the Missouri River and occupied that part of their reservation which included the Ponca lands. To return the Poncas to those lands under such circumstances seemed a dangerous experiment, not only on their account but, also, because the temper of the Sioux at that period appeared still very critical, and it was believed that the slightest irritation might lead to another outbreak of that tribe, the most powerful of all the Indian nations. Indeed, military officers predicted that another and a larger Sioux war was threatening, and that any untoward occurrence might bring it about.
In the consultations had upon that subject the late Mr. William Welsh, of Philadelphia, one of the sincerest, warmest, and also most experienced friends the Indians ever had, took an active part; and with his concurrence the conclusion was arrived at that under these difficult circumstances the return of the Poncas to Dakota would be too dangerous a venture, and that it would be best to propose to them a selection of lands in the Indian Territory, which they might choose themselves. This they consented to do. Had we then proposed to Congress the return of the Poncas and obtained authority and money for that purpose, and a new Indian war had ensued, which was not only possible, but, from the information we received from that quarter, appeared probable, the folly of such a step would have been more seriously and more generally condemned than all the wrongs done to the Poncas are now.
The Poncas did select a new location in the Indian Territory, at the Salt Fork of the Arkansas river, and in July, 1878, they went to it. It is the tract of land they now occupy. That land is among the very best in the Indian Territory, with respect to agricultural and pastoral pursuits; and since then they have been provided with houses and schools, cattle, farming implements, horses, &c. While they suffered severely from disease on the Quapaw reservation, and lost many of their people by death, their health has constantly improved, and according to the latest reports received, the births among them have exceeded the number of deaths during last year.
In the meantime the state of things in the Sioux country has been greatly changed for the better by careful management. The 13,000 Sioux, who shortly after the removal of the Poncas from Dakota had occupied the country on and near their old reserve, selected new locations for themselves farther west of the Missouri river. They are in good condition now, but I am not by any means certain whether the reappearance of the Poncas in their vicinity might not induce some reckless young men among them to resume their old quarrels, which were amusement to them, but a very serious thing to the Poncas. 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. With regard to this difficulty I expressed, in my last report, the opinion that the success of this invasion, introducing into the heart of the Indian Territory a reckless, lawless, grasping element of adventurers, sure to grow and spread rapidly after once having gained a foothold, would bring upon the Indian population of that Territory in its present condition the most serious dangers. 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. The lands occupied by the Poncas belong to that region. 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, the Nez Percés, and possibly even the Pawnees. Unscrupulous white men, agents of the invader, would be quickly on hand to foment this tendency. An evacuation by the Indians, and possibly an extensive one, of the very region which is held by the Government against the intruders on the very ground that it is reserved for Indian settlement, would be the consequence, and that just at the moment when the Government has the struggle for the integrity of the Indian Territory on its hands, and it requires the greatest watchfulness and energy to defeat the invasion. At this moment, while I am writing this letter, intelligence arrives that a new attempt is made by bands of intruders to gain possession of those lands. The unscrupulous leaders of that lawless movement, although repeatedly baffled, appear determined not to give up. Any measure looking to an evacuation by the Indians would, therefore, now be especially unsafe. An attempt to right the wrongs of the Poncas in that way now, might involve consequences disastrous to an Indian population a hundred times as numerous as they are. Those who look only at the wrongs of the Poncas may not appreciate this consideration. But it is the duty of Government officers responsible for the management of Indian affairs at large to foresee such consequences, and to guard against the danger of choosing that method of undoing a wrong to some, which will be apt to bring greater disaster upon a hundred times larger number.
Does it not appear in
, view of this complication of difficulties, that the Poncas, after the great fundamental mistake of ceding their lands to the Sioux in 1868, were more the victims of unfortunate circumstances than of evil designs on the part of anybody connected with the Interior Department? And if your meeting was called in the interest of justice, would it not have been just to the officers of the Government connected with this affair to take these circumstances into account?
But more remains to be said. It was reported in several speeches in your meeting that now at last that great wrong to the Poncas has been “unearthed.” I beg your pardon, it is by no means now that it has been unearthed. It was fully disclosed and published there years ago. And who did it? Not you, Governor, nor Mr. Tibbles, nor Senator Dawes, nor Mayor Prince. But I did it myself. In my annual report of 1877, my first report after the removal of and after my meeting with the Poncas in Washington, three years ago, I made the following statement:
Congress at its last session made provision for the removal of the Poncas from their former reservation on the Missouri River to the Indian Territory, resolved upon for the reason that it seemed desirable to get them out of the way of the much more numerous and powerful Sioux, with whom their relations were unfriendly. That removal was accordingly commenced in the early summer. The opposition it met with among the Poncas themselves and the hardships encountered on the march are set forth at length in the report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The Poncas, about 700 in number, were taken to the Quapaw reservation, in the northeastern corner of the Indian Territory, with a view to permanent settlement. But the reluctance with which they had left their old homes, the strange aspect of a new country, an unusually large number of cases of disease and death among them, and the fact that they were greatly annoyed by white adventurers hovering around the reservation, who stole many of their cattle and ponies, and smuggled whisky into their encampments, engendered among them a spirit of discontent which threatened to become unmanageable. They urgently asked for permission to send a delegation of chiefs to Washington to bring their complaints in person before the President, and it was reported by their agent that unless this request be granted there was great danger that they would run away to their old reserve on the Missouri river. To avoid such trouble, the permission asked for was given, and the delegation arrived here on November 7. They expressed the desire to be taken back to their old reservation on the Missouri, a request which could not acceded to. But permission was granted them to select for themselves, among the lands at the disposal of the Government in the Indian Territory, a tract at least equal in size to their old reservation, and they also received the assurance that they would be fully compensated in kind for the log-houses, furniture, agricultural implements, which, in obedience to the behests of the Government, they had left behind on the Missouri.
The case of the Poncas seems entitled to especial consideration at the hands of Congress. They have always been friendly to the whites. It is said, and as far as I have been able to learn, truthfully, that no Ponca ever killed a white man. The orders of the Government always met with obedient compliance at their hands. Their removal from their old homes on the Missouri river was to them a great hardship. They had been born and raised there. They had houses there in which they lived according to their ideas of comfort. Many of them had engaged in agriculture, and possessed cattle and agricultural implements. They were very reluctant to leave all this, but when Congress had resolved upon their removal, they finally overcame that reluctance and obeyed. Considering their constant good conduct, their obedient spirit, and the sacrifices they have made, they are certainly entitled to more than ordinary care at the hands of the Government, and I urgently recommend that liberal provision be made to aid them in their new settlement.
In the report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs of the same year you will find that statement amplified with much information in detail. In the report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, presented by me in 1878, the following passage occurs:
It should be remembered that their old reservation in Dakota was confirmed to the Poncas by solemn treaty and at the time of making the treaty they received promises of certain annuities in consideration of the cession to the United States of a large tract of land. That treaty, which is still in force, also recognized certain depredation claims which are still unadjusted. 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, and the bad feeling between the Sioux and the Poncas, which had existed for a long time, compelled the removal of the latter to the Indian Territory.
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 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.
Nothing having been done in the previous session of Congress, my report notwithstanding, a bill was drafted in this Department and submitted to Congress during the session of 1878-’9. In that bill provision was made for an appropriation of $140,000, to indemnify the Poncas for the lands and other property given up by them, and to acquire title for them to their new reservation.
In my annual report of 1879 the same subject was again referred to in the following language: “That the Poncas were grievously wronged by their removal from their location on the Missouri river to the Indian Territory, their old reservation having, by a mistake in making the Sioux treaty, been transferred to the Sioux, has been at length and repeatedly set forth in my reports as well as those of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. All that could be subsequently done by this Department, in the absence of new legislation, to repair that wrong and to indemnify them for their losses, has been done with more than ordinary solicitude.”
At the same time I presented the report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs of that year which, as a reminder, contained the text of the bill submitted by the Department to Congress at the previous session and adds: “By the provisions of the above bill it will be seen that everything has been done for the Poncas, so far as this Department can act. Their lands were ceded to the Sioux by act of Congress, and proper reparation can only be made by the same authority.”
You will admit that the language employed in those reports with regard to the wrong done to the Poncas could not have been stonger; there was nothing concealed or glossed over. Three years ago, therefore, the matter was fully “unearthed” and reparation demanded, and it was done by this Department. But Congress took no notice of it. If the reparation to the Poncas proposed in the bill submitted to Congress was not satisfactory, then there was a full opportunity for Congress to amend that bill and to act upon its own judgment. If the Poncas had any real friends in Congress, those friends had, ever since 1877, sufficient knowledge furnished them by me upon which to speak and to act. But session after session passed; this Department again and again called attention to the matter and Congress said nothing, and did nothing except to appropriate money for the support of the Poncas.
Had Congress directed this Department to do this or that, there would have been no hesitation in executing the law. But now I read in your speech that all that was required to right the wrongs of the Poncas was “a heart and a stroke of the pen” on the part of the principal officer of the Government managing Indian affairs. Three years ago, by my declarations in the annual report, I showed that I had a heart for the Poncas long before the speakers at your meeting. But when you said that it required merely a stroke of the pen on my part to return the Poncas to Dakota, you had certainly forgotten that the powers of the executive branch of the Government are limited; that such a removal, and the resettlement of the Poncas in Dakota would have required much more money, than their support where they were; and that this Department had no authority of law to spend a dollar of money that was not appropriated. You go even so far as to say that this Department had no legal authority to keep them in the Indian Territory, and to spend any money for them there; you forget that this Department reported the matter to Congress in 1877, without any concealment as to the wrong done, and that Congress by law made appropriations for the support of the Poncas in the Indian Territory year after year with that full knowledge. It is said that had I recommended to Congress an appropriation for their return to Dakota, it would have been granted. But an appropriation was recommended by this Department for the purpose of indemnifying them in another way, and Congress, with a full knowledge of the facts spread by me before them, might have amended that bill, had it been so minded; yet the matter received no notice at all.
The reasons why I recommended that the Poncas be indemnified upon the lands they then occupied, and why I thought it wise that it should at least be tried whether they could not be made comfortable and contented there, are stated above.
It was hoped that when they were settled upon their new reserve in the Indian Territory they would go vigorously to work to improve their condition, and that such work, with the prospect of increasing prosperity and well-being, would render them gradually satisfied. Their lands are the best in the Indian Territory; the climate is as good as in southern Kansas, which is now becoming densely peopled; their sanitary condition was greatly changing for the better. The inspiration of successful work might have made them hopeful and healthy. This would in all probability have been the case had the restlessness of their minds, which at first was natural enough, not been constantly excited by reports coming to them from the outside that their stay on the lands they occupied would only be temporary; that they would certainly be returned to Dakota, and that, therefore, any effort to improve their condition on their present location would be thrown away. That such influences were assiduously brought to bear upon them there is no doubt. The evidence is abundant, and the result has been by no means beneficial to them, although not a few of them have actually gone to work.
In my annual report I mentioned a petition which was recently received from the Poncas, and which seems to indicate that they themselves begin to appreciate their real interests. It is in the following words:
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, &c., with which to work our land.
We the undersigned certify, on honor, that we were present and witnessed the signing of the above by each of the individuals named, and that the above was written at the solicitation of the Ponca chiefs.
Joseph Esaw, Interpreter.
A. R. Satterthwaite.
Ponca Agency, Indian Ter., October 25, 1880.
I notice in your speech a remark that this petition his been obtained. “by fraud or false promises or some cajolery.” I can only assure you that there is no information in this Department to that effect, and I suppose you have none. I may assure you, further, that the petition has not been instigated by anybody here. On the contrary, there are reasons to believe that it was the outgrowth of a very natural sentiment growing up among those people. When the chiefs, White Eagle and Standing Buffalo, were here last winter to testify before the Senate Committee, it appears that great care was taken to Prevent White Eagle from coming to see me, and he did not come; but Standing Buffalo solicited an interview with me, and remembering the absurd rumor spread on the occasion of the visit of the Ute chiefs here, that they were held under duress and were not permitted to speak in the presence of anybody but a Government official, I assembled several gentlemen in my office while my conversation with Standing Buffalo was held. Standing Buffalo spoke to me as follows: “I would rather do what you want me to do because I know you have always treated me well. If I controlled matters myself I would not go away; I would stay where we are. I am the old chief, and if I go back there I want to see how many people will stay even if White Eagle goes. I have a farm-house with pine lumber, and I have got lands; I don't think it very good for white men to try to get the Poncas back to their old reservation.”
When asked what the condition of the health of his people was, he answered: “When any people, even the white man, go to a new country, when they first go there they do not get along, some die; but they get used to the country. When first we got there, all sick; now we are getting better; some people have had consumption before they went down to the Indian Territory; a good many died on account of the change.”
When asked whether they had been receiving letters from Omaha or other places, asking them not to do any work because they would be taken away from there, he answered: “Yes, we get letters all the time; I do not know whether the letters come from Omaha; they also told me the Ponca going to get his land back; that is the reason the Ponca didn't want to work. I think that letters came from here; somebody put them, Bright Eyes put them, and in that way the letters came around to the Ponca Agency.”
I have also received a letter, signed by Standing Buffalo, dated on May 3, 1880, in which the following passage occurs: “As I told you when I was in Washington last winter, I would rather stay here than anywhere else. My people have quieted down, but somebody has told, them that when Congress adjourns they will be told whether they can go back to their old reservation or not. I do not do as I want to at all times, but I do as you advise me to do; but one-half of the tribe would remain here with me if I advise it, should the others leave. I can prove by anyone that the half-breeds are the worst about trying to get back to Dakota; some white men have been fooling with us for nearly two years, and preventing us from doing anything. It is not our fault that the Poncas are unsettled. Stop these white people from interfering with us and our people will quiet down and go to work. When I was in Washington I thought that but few of the Poncas would be willing to stay, and I asked for only ten wagons, I would now like to have, twenty wagons for my people.”
The talk Standing Buffalo held with me is so much in accord with the letter I received that I am compelled to conclude the latter expresses his real sentiments; and if so, then the petition appears to be the result of a change of feeling, which from Standing Buffalo's immediate followers has spread over the whole tribe; this, certainly, can have been the case. It seems to me therefore that to call it the result of fraud or other illegitimate practices, is at least a hasty conclusion not warranted by other evidence. Moreover, if the petition does not express the real sentiments of the Poncas, and has been extorted from them by illegitimate means, the men so extorting it have made a great mistake in advising that they be permitted to go to Washington where they would be at perfect liberty to express their true sentiments not only before me but before others. I would certainly not restrain them. But if that petition does express their real sentiments and they are willing to stay where they are, and to improve their condition, and to accept indemnity for the lands they lost in Dakota, would not that be, in view of all the difficulties surrounding the case, a satisfactory solution of the problem? If the point of right and principle in question be fully and clearly established by act of Congress; if the ceding away of the Ponca lands to the Sioux be thus fully recognized as a wrong; if ample indemnity be paid for it, and if the Poncas then are content to stay where they are, thus avoiding a new removal, the breaking up of their present houses and farms and mills and educational facilities, and the transfer to Dakota, where all these things would have to be begun again from the beginning, avoiding also a possibly unpleasant contact with the Sioux, and a partial evacuation of the Indian Territory, which appears especially dangerous under present circumstances — would that not be satisfactory to you? Would you in that case wish they had not come to such a conclusion? And, indeed, considering that the quality of the land on which they now are is much better than that of their land in Dakota, and the circumstance that after much suffering they appear at last to have now become acclimated like other settlers in that region, does it not seem that in time they may become prosperous and contented? Would you regret this? It was said that the advocates of fiat money deplored the reviving prosperity of the country because it destroyed their arguments. Can it be that any sincere friend of the Indians would regret the success of a solution apt to avoid serious risks and difficulties because it stopped their agitation? I should be sorry to think so.
I say to you frankly that I desire this solution. I know very well that no reparation can be perfectly complete, for the loss they have suffered by death, which I deplore as much as you do, cannot be repaired by this settlement, nor can it be by their return to Dakota. But we have to take care of the living, and this can be done by the solution here set forth, which appears to me the best for the Poncas as well as the safest with regard to the maintenance of peace and the protection of the rights and interests of tribes in the Indian Territory much more numerous than they. Nor would such a solution leave out of view the principles contended for. It is in the nature of compensation for property taken by the Government in the way of expropriation for public use, or by an error like the Sioux treaty of 1868, where restitution in kind would endanger the rights of other innocent parties. I will say, further that conscientiously believing this to be the best solution, I shall express that opinion to the Ponca chiefs and encourage its acceptance, not by way of command, but by way of argument. I shall consider it my duty to do so, and I shall be glad if the Poncas accept it. It is quite possible, if new emissaries are sent among them again for the purpose of dissuading them from any consent to this proposition or of inducing them to run away in a disorderly manner from the lands they now occupy, that the Poncas may be prevailed upon to reject the reparation thus offered to them, notwithstanding the petition they have sent to me. But I trust that you and all the sincere friends of the Indians engaged in this movement will discountenance such mischievious practices; and that if this solution appears acceptable to the Poncas no influence be employed to prevent it. On the contrary, I should think that every true friend of the Indians would aid in its accomplishment.
Permit me now a few words about the resolutions passed at your meeting. The first of them denounces the wrong done to the Poncas and demands reparation. The second is in two parts: first, “that it is unbecoming in a free Government to allow its agents to slander, prosecute and imprison those whose only offense lies in befriending the victims of that Government's oppression.” This undoubtedly refers to the arrest of Mr. Tibbles last summer, on the Ponca reservation, by the Indian agent there. The report made to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs by agent Whiting, upon this occurrence, was as follows:
“I have to state that on the 28th ultimo, as I was on my way to Arkansas City, I was informed that Mr. Tibbles had started that morning on horse-back for Ponca Agency, and in connection with an accomplice, who was to remain in the State of Kansas, he intended to coax the Poncas to run off, a few families at a time, and meet at a point a few miles from Nez Perce reservation, where he (Tibbles) would have supplies furnished to feed them, until quite a number were collected, when he would take them all back to Dakota. The Indians informed me that Mr. Tibbles told them to collect all the property they could and meet him at the above-named point; that he promised them wagons, harness, farming implements, horses, cattle, &c., and that they would receive rations until they could raise a crop. Mr. Tibbles told them to run off in the night and to tell no one, where they were going. The evening Mr. Tibbles was arrested four families had made arrangements to run off and join him at the appointed place.
On the 29th ultimo I returned to the agency and found Mr. Tibbles under arrest, but being very pleasantly entertained at the house of Mr. Frisbie, agency carpenter, where he had taken his supper.
Mr. Tibbles was arrested on the evening of the 29th ultimo, while trying to make his way across Nez Perce reservation to a cattle camp, where he was making his headquarters, by a Nez Perce policeman, and taken to Oakland Agency, where he was recognized, and was informed that he must consider himself a prisoner until word could be sent to Ponca Agency. Mr. Tibbles was escorted to Ponca Agency by agency employés, where he arrived about dark and was given his supper. Upon my arrival I took Mr. Tibbles to my house and gave him a room for the night, stationing a white employé in the hall, to see that he made no effort to escape. In the morning Mr. Tibbles was given his breakfast, after which he was told to mount the pony he brought to the agency, and in company with the chief of police and four Indian policemen, he was escorted to the State line and warned of the consequencs should he return.
Mr. Tibbles was treated kindly and respectfully while under arrest, there was no violence attempted or threatened, and he was assured that no harm should befall him. He was entertained the same as any other person visiting the agency, except a watch was kept over him to prevent his escaping.”
I am aware that Mr. Tibbles says he went there to have a legal consultation with the Indians, and that his life was in imminent danger. He frequently speaks of such perils. He seems to like the robes of martyrdom. From what I know of the two men I see very good reason to take the word of Agent Whiting in preference to that of Mr. Tibbles. Upon this point I expect you to agree with me some day. As to the things done by Mr. Tibbles on the Ponca reservation, according to the report of Agent Whiting, I desire to call your attention to the following sections of the Revised Statutes:
Sec. 2111. Every person who sends any talk, speech, message, or letter to any Indian nation, tribe, chief, or individual, with an intent to produce a contravention or infraction of any treaty or law of the United States, or to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the United States, is liable to a penalty of two thousand dollars.
Sec. 2112. Every person who carries or delivers any talk, message, speech, or letter intended to produce a contravention or infraction of any treaty or law of the United States, or to disturb the peace or tranquility of the United States, knowing the contents thereof, to or from any Indian nation, tribe, chief or individual, from or to any person or persons whatever, residing within the United States, or from or to any subject, citizen, or agent of any foreign power or state, is liable to a penalty of one thousand dollars.
Sec. 2113. Every person who carries on a correspondence, by letter or otherwise, with any foreign nation or power, with an intent to induce such foreign nation or power to excite any Indian nation, tribe chief, or individual, to war against the United States, or to the violation of any existing treaty; or who alienates, or attempts to alienate, the confidence of any Indian or Indians from the Government of the United States, is liable to a penalty of one thousand dollars.
Sec. 2147. The Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and the Indian agents and sub-agents, shall have authority to remove from the Indian country all persons found therein contrary to law; and the President is authorized to direct the military force to be employed in such removal.
Sec. 2148. If any person who has been removed
formthe Indian country shall thereafter at any time return, or be found within the Indian country, he shall be liable to a penalty of one thousand dollars.
Sec. 2149. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs is authorized and required, with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, to remove from any tribal reservation any person being therein without authority of law, or whose presence within the limits of the reservation may in the judgment of the Commissioner, be detrimental to the peace and welfare of the Indians; and may employ for the purpose such force as may be necessary to enable the agent to effect the removal of such person.
When a man enters an Indian reservation and mischievously tries by false promises which he cannot perform, as in this case, or in any other way, to induce the Indians to run away, breaking up their settlements, an Indian agent will consider it his duty to enforce, the above provisions of law.
The second part of the resolution is as follows: “That it shows consciousness of wrong and fear of justice when the highest officials belie their principles by denying a hearing in our own courts to those who claim the protection of the laws.” I suppose this refers to the circumstance that on some occasion I stated that according to the opinion of lawyers I had consulted, an Indian tribe cannot sue the United States in the federal courts, as decided by the Supreme Court in the case of the Cherokee Nation vs. the State of Georgia, which decision was delivered by Chief Justice Marshall. If there was any denial of justice in this then it was Chief Justice Marshall who did it, unless the lawyers misunderstand him; but certainly not I, for I declared at the same time that “if an Indian tribe could maintain an action in the courts of the United States to assert its right I should object to it just as little as I would object to the exercise of the same privilege on the part of white men.” It may be that the censure expressed in that resolution refers to the circumstance that when the brief of the United States District Attorney in Nebraska for an appeal from Judge Dundy's habeas corpus decision was submitted to me, I could not approve the principles upon which the argument of that brief was based and advised the Attorney General that as far as I, as Secretary of the Interior, was concerned, there was no desire that an appeal should be taken, but rather that Judge Dundy's decision should stand without question on the part of the Government. Moreover, I have repeatedly recommended the passage of a statute by Congress extending the jurisdiction of the courts over Indian reservations, and that the Indians have the protection of the laws like white men.
Under such circumstances I think you will admit yourself that the language of the resolution was highly intemperate and unjustifiable, to say the least of it.
The third resolution calls upon the President for a prompt use of his large powers to rectify the injuries done. This seems to leave out of view that the President has to execute the laws passed by Congress as they are and cannot order the use of any money without an appropriation. And as in this case there is neither legal authority nor appropriation he can do nothing without the further action of Congress.
To sum up the case, on two things you and I are agreed. First, a great wrong has been done to the Poncas. I denounced that wrong years before you did. Second, reparation is due them. This Department asked for reparation long before you did. The only question of difference between us is what that reparation shall be. You look at it from the standpoint of one who has the Poncas alone in view. I look at it as one who has the responsibility for the management of the affairs of all the Indian tribes, of whom the Poncas form but a small part. You demand a reparation which, with that responsibility upon me, I consider attended with serious risks and difficulties. I demand a reparation which, in point of principle, is just as good, but which at the same time is to avoid all those risks and difficulties.
In differing from you I am actuated by no pride of opinion. I have shown more than once, when I became aware of having made a mistake, that I did not hesitate to acknowledge and correct it. Such an acknowledgment would be particularly easy in this instance as I was the first to denounce the wrong that was done; and when now my opinion as to what reparation should be made does not agree with that of others, they have no reason to attribute it to mere stubbornness, and certainly not to a want of heart for the suffering Indians. In what I say to you I express my honest conviction under a keen sense of the responsibility I have to bear. It may be called an error of judgment, perhaps, which I think it is not, but nobody has a right to call it anything else. The thought of gross in justice to the Indians is as revolting to me as it is to you, and probably much more so, for my impressions are not owing to a sudden excitement produced by a single case. I have seen large numbers of Indians here in Washington, where they came to express their complaints and their wishes. I have gone to visit them on their reservations and in the wilderness in order to study their needs, and there I have learned to appreciate their good traits, as well as their faults and their helplessness; and I am not ashamed to say that I have conceived for them the hearty sympathy of a personal friend. But that very friendship does not permit me to overlook the dangers and the interests of the many when a wrong done to a few is to be righted, and can be substantially righted without putting the rights of others in peril. When a man in my position has patiently, earnestly, and laboriously studied the Indian problem, when day after day he has watched over the rights and interests of those helpless people as much as any one in his position before, spared no effort to better their condition and accomplished some things at least that promise to endure, he may consider himself entitled to something better than scurrilous abuse or injurious insinuations from decent men.
I deeply regret that an agitation like this appears to have brought about antagonism between those who ought to work harmoniously together for a common end. I do not desire to boast of anything. But when an effort is made to produce the impression as if this Department had during four years devoted itself principally to the business of oppressing the Poncas, I may be pardoned for mentioning some other ends it has endeavored to serve. If those who participate in this agitation will take the trouble to raise their eyes for a moment from that one case which alone they see in the whole Indian question, they would perceive that under this administration many things have been done which deerve their hearty sympathy and co-operation; they would observe constant efforts to secure by statute to the Indians the equal protection of the laws and an impregnable title to their lands and homes; they would notice practical measures, not merely to declare the Indian “a person” in theory, but to make him a person capable of talking care of himself, and of exercising and maintaining his rights; they would see the establishment of educational institutions which, although new, have already produced most promising results; they would see thousands of Indians but a short time ago vagrant and idle, now earning wages running into hundreds of thousands of dollars as freighters; they would see the organization of an Indian police which has not only been most efficacious in the maintenance of law and order, but also in producing a moral discipline formerly unknown to them; they would see multitudes of Indians but a few years since on the war path, now building houses and cultivating their farms in their simple way, and raising cattle, and asking Congress for the white man's title to their lands; they would notice the conspicuous absence of those scandals in the Indian service which at another period called forth so much complaint; they would see a general treatment of the Indians humane and progressive; they would see the introduction of principles in our Indian policy which at a future day promise to work the solution of that difficult problem. I do not pretend that this is complete or perfect, but it is something; and every true friend of a just and sound Indian policy will rather endeavor to promote its development by sympathetic co-operation than discredit and hamper it by unreasoning criticism and random attacks.
Certainly I do not deprecate criticism. When it is just it is useful and welcome; when it is unjust it may injure the cause it is meant to serve. Needless disagreements, preventing the cooperation for a good end of those who ought to work together, I should especially deplore in a community whose enlightened public spirit and active philanthropy have served so many noble causes, and whose good opinion I therefore particularly value.
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.