The New York Times/Army Charges Answered

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Washington, Dec. 6. — The Joint Commission having under consideration the transfer of the Indian Bureau from the Interior to the War Department met to-day, and heard the testimony of several witnesses. The first among them was Hon. Carl Schurz, Secretary of the Interior, who, when the object of the committee had been explained to him, said he thought it proper, as the head of the department of which the Indian Bureau formed a part, to disclaim any desire to keep the supervision of Indian affairs in his own hands, for the management of the Indians was a very troublesome and thankless office. “If I were convinced,” he continued, “that the proposed transfer would be for the good of the Indians, or for the interests of the Government, I would be the first man to advocate it; but at the outset I must declare my firm conviction that the Indian affairs should be controlled by civil administration; that it is best for the Indians and the Government as well; that of all branches of the public service, the military is the one to which the control of the Indians should not go. The transfer of the Indian Bureau to the military authorities is based upon assumptions which, in a great part, at least, are not founded upon facts, and this I shall be able to show. But, first, permit me to state that there are two methods of Indian management possible; either to herd and corral the Indians under the walls or guns of a military force so to speak, so as to watch them and prevent outbreaks, or to start them to work upon their lands, to educate them and to civilize them. Now, in the nature of things, the first method would be the only method adopted by the military branch of the Government, for the simple reason that it is their business to keep the peace and prevent troublesome tribes from getting into mischief. The second is that the policy which we have followed and carried out was, at least, a partial success; a policy certainly the most humane and enlightened, and more in the interest of peace in the long run; for as long as the Indians remain roaming tribes, without any settled interests or property, we may always look for conflicts. It is also the most economical policy; for the sooner the Indians are civilized the sooner they will be able to provide for themselves. I think also that in the morals and industrial habits of civilized life the military branch of the Government is not the best calculated to instruct them.


“This question of a transfer has been discussed before, and in a report which has attained some celebrity it is stated that ‘under the plan which is suggested the chief duties of the bureau will be to educate and instruct in the peaceful arts; in other words, to civilize the Indians. The military arm of the Government is not the most admirably adopted to discharge duties of this character. We are satisfied that not one Army officer in a thousand would like to teach Indian children to read and write, or Indian men to sow and reap. These are emphatically civil, and not military, occupations.’ This is found in a report dated 1868, which is signed by Lieut.-Gen. Sherman, Gen. Augur, and others. Now, I have read in the newspapers that Gen. Marcy has stigmatized this report as mainly puerile and overdrawn. If he thinks so, he had better address such remarks to the General of the Army. At the present time I do not think it is overdrawn. There are in the Army a great many gentlemen who have good ideas about the Indian service. But it is one thing to have ideas and another to carry them out; and I think that patient labor and care of details necessary to raise the Indian tribes to a state of civilization would not be found among the officers of the Army.”

Gen. Scales — Did these same gentlemen, a short time afterward, make a different report in favor of the transfer in fact?

Secretary Schurz — I do not know that they recommended the transfer exactly; the second report was more for the organization of a different department for the Indians.

Gen. Scales — I think you will find they did recommend the transfer in that report, if you read a little further on.

Secretary Schurz — It may be so. You know their opinions don't keep over night. At any rate, they once thought the Army Department unsuitable for this charge, and I think they were eminently right.

The Secretary then referred to the statement of Gen. Sherman that there was a great deal of circumlocution at present in calling upon the military at the time of Indian outbreaks. To go through the whole routine laid down probably would take some time; but whenever prompt action was necessary, a few telegraph dispatches, and the whole thing was done in two hours, instead of two months. The request for the transfer of the Indian Bureau seemed to be based particularly upon the assumption, very industriously circulated, that the Indian civil service was responsible for all the war. It was said that the Indian Agent steals the Indian supplies; that the Indians at last grow desperate, and there are wars. That was not the fact at all. There was scarcely a single instance where it was the fact. The real cause of almost all of our Indian wars was the breaking of treaties and encroachment upon the lands and rights of the Indian by the white man. Then, also, it must be considered that the Indians themselves are not angels, and that they have in some instances been guilty of outrages which have provoked the resentment of the whites. Mr. Schurz then went on to quote an exhaustive history of Indian wars, showing how few arose from the maladministration of Indian Agents, and how many had occurred during the time the War Department had had charge of the Indian Bureau. Some of these conflicts might have been brought on by the subordinate officers, who had looked upon them as opportunities for advancement, but there was no reason why the Indian Agent should want war. He would be the first man to lose his scalp, and therefore he would take care to avoid any complications.

Senator McCreery — Have any agents been scalped?

Secretary Schurz replied in the negative.


It had been urged very strongly, and, as far as the papers were concerned, with a great deal of effect, the Secretary said, that the conduct of Indian affairs should be transferred to the War Department, as the latter would prove very far superior in point of honesty, correctness, and economy. It was very ungrateful to make invidious comparisons, but he must say for the civil service, that wherever an officer was found doing wrong he was at once summarily dealt with. He had read in the papers a statement by Gen. Marcy, that when in the War Department the bureau was worked smoothly enough; that there was no mismanagement, and, in fact, no suspicion of any. It was, in fact, as he had said, as if angels had descended upon the earth, doing gentle ministrations among the savages to lead them to a higher state of well-being. It was easily proved that this was far from being the case. A report of a committee to the House of Representatives, made in 1842, when the War Department had charge of Indian affairs, charged the clerks with unpardonable negligence; that the accounts showed an almost total want of method; that the accounts of expenditures were so carelessly kept as to furnish scarcely any traces of the expenditure of very large sums. For several years the entries were made so slovenly that the clerks themselves could not explain them. There was not a single entry referring to Indian land, and all the records left by the Indian officers, of the War Department, were scraps of memoranda, pencil notes, &c. To bear out his statement with respect to malfeasance he quoted from the report of Gen. Hitchcock, and instanced the action of the department in reference to the removal of the Cherokees. The contract was made at $10 per head, and 20,000 Cherokees were removed. But 16,000 in excess of the actual number were charged and paid for, making the actual payment $204,276 98 in excess, or $103 25 per capita. He also read a report dated 1834, which showed the exorbitant prices which the Indians were charged for various articles, and concluded that from all this it would be seen that the record of the War Department's management of Indian affairs was by no means as clean as Gen. Marcy tried to make out. He was not going to pretend that the civil administration was pure, but he would say that they had had no scandal quite so bad as the Cherokee affair. He alluded to the difficulties of the supervision of the different agencies, but said that many abuses that had formerly existed were being swept away. With the exception of the Treasury Department's prosecution of the Whisky Ring, he did not think any department had been more active in prosecuting its contractors when they were once detected. They had perhaps some 15 or 20 under prosecution now, and only a few weeks ago one of these contractors was convicted. Now, he should be very slow to assert that the Army officers as such had dishonest tendencies. He thought the Army deserved, as a whole, its reputation for honesty — that is to say, for honest intentions — yet it would be absurd to say such a class of men were inaccessible to the bad impulses of human nature. Gen. Marcy had stated that while the administration of the War Department cost $1,800,000, the Indian Department cost $5,000,000, a difference of $3,200,000. Such a comparison was absurd. The Indian business in 1849 was nothing to what it had now become. He read a statement of the amount paid per 100 pounds of beef by the two departments for the Indian Bureau and the military, which showed a saving of $644,000 in favor of the former. Gen. Miles had stated that the transportation for the Army cost $4,000,000, while the transportation of food, clothing, &c., for the Indians only cost $225,000. A glance would show that the Department of the Interior got its transportation at cheaper rates. He did not attribute any of these things to the dishonesty of the Army, but rather to their cavalier way of looking at and dealing with things. Soldiers never thought of the cost of a thing if it was thought to be necessary. As an instance, he mentioned that at the close of the Sioux war there were about 20,000 horses, ponies, and mules taken from the Indians, for which cows were to be given to them, and it turned out that these ponies and mules cost $19,412 96, besides the cows, and that to sell them cost $5,683 additional. This was an instance of their cavalier way, which was not found in the Interior Department.


Secretary Schurz mentioned one or two other instances of a similar character, and concluded his remarks by showing that the Indians themselves were very much averse to the transfer of the bureau. In the first place, he did not know whether it would be best to make it an independent department, for this would entail a reorganization of the Cabinet, but he thought it would be well to authorize the President to place such reservations of Indian tribes as might be involved in trouble, or threatened to become so involved, under the control of the War Department, and under martial law, if the Constitution admitted of it. In the second place, the President might be empowered to employ officers in the Indian service. The inspection force there should be increased so that all the agencies might be visited twice a year, instead of once, as at present. He did not know anything more desirable that that the whole Army of the United States should be constituted a committee of one for the perpetual visitation of Indian affairs, and to report to the Indian Bureau. Third, a measure of great importance was the increase of the Indian Police force. They had Indian Police at 22 stations, and found them exceedingly effective. They were found to be perfectly trustworthy in the discharge of their duty, and it would be well to increase the number — 450 — to 1,000 or 1,200. This would relieve the military of a great deal of the trouble they had now. Fourth, the appropriations made by Congress for the support of the Indians should not only be ample, but should be made promptly. A want of this in the past had created great embarrassment and much dissatisfaction at the agencies. Fifth, an appropriation of about $100,000 should be placed in the hands of the President for the payment of the Indians who assist the troops in troublous times. For instance, in the late rising, the Bannocks had only a few cents a day, relying upon hunting for the rest of their support.

Senators Saunders and McCreery said they had no questions to ask the witness.


Mr. Hooker said: You were speaking of a statement made by Gen. Marcy, in which you said it would be improper to compare the expenditures of the Indian Bureau, at the time to which he referred, to the cost of the War Department, because since then the Indian Bureau had largely extended its operations. Would not the same apply to the expenditures of the War Department in former years?

Secretary Schurz — I only wish to point out how much the Indian service was enlarged. The Secretary also said there were several agencies which had no military posts.

Mr. Hooker — What is the method by which troops are called upon to interfere in Indian risings?

Secretary Schurz — I think the report of the Commissioner on Indian Affairs in Oregon with reference to the Bannock troubles best shows that.

Mr. Hooker, (severely) — I have the report before me, Sir. I want to know is it the custom for the Indian Agent to call upon the officer at the post in case of disturbance or report to the Indian Bureau?

The Secretary — If the agent finds himself pressed, and he is a man of sense, and has soldiers in the neighborhood, he at once goes to the officer of the fort, and the officer helps him.

Mr. Hooker — In this case the agent did not advise the resident officer at all of disturbance?

The Secretary — Precisely. That is what Mr. Donaldson was censured for.

Mr. Hooker — Is it not true that at present the Government has two agents accountable — a civil agent for the Indians, and an officer at the fort?

The Secretary — It is true, but I believe it to be a principle of republican government that the Army should be under civil authority.

“Now tell me,” said Mr. Hooker, “how are the rations distributed?”

The Secretary — By an actual count of Indians by the agent and his report to me.

Mr. Hooker — Have you ever discovered any inaccuracies in those reports.

The Secretary — Why, certainly, and to a large extent sometimes. You see how difficult it is to keep track of them by the Cherokee removal, which I have mentioned. With regard to the Sioux, from 1873 to the present time I think there must have been numerous inaccuracies, but I doubt if there are many appreciable ones now.

Q. — Are you aware that several Army officers have been detailed as agents to the Sioux Indians? A. — Certainly; that was done at my request. Lieut. Lee took the place of Mr. Howard at the Spotted Tail Agency.

Q. — You said something about the purchase of supplied in the Army Department. Is not that carried out very correctly there now? A. — I am not aware; I suppose it is.

Q. — Are you aware that it is impossible for any maladministration of moneys to take place in that department without detection? A. — My experience in public affairs leads me to be exceedingly sparing in my expressions of judgment that a certain thing, such as that you mention, is impossible; you know that the Cherokee affair —

Q. — I didn't mean impossible; I will say improbable? A. — I don't think it would be wise to express any judgment.

Q. — Has the administration of Indian affairs by the officers appointed been satisfactory? A. — Precisely; but the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Agencies are being settled, and the officers will then be relieved by civil officers.

Q. — Did not Mr. Howard send in an account for rations for 9,134 Indians, when there were only 4,614, and were you cognizant of these facts when you removed him? A. — That was before I came into office. If you read the report of the committee appointed by me, you will find several such cases. I had them pointed out so that they might be remedied.

Q. — Your opinion as to Army officers seems to be much the same as Gen. Crook's — that some would be found competent and others incompetent, the same as civil agents? A. — Unquestionably; but here is a civil service interested personally in the prosperity of these Indians; the interests of the Army might might not be identical with that prosperity.

Q. — If you had such men as Gen. Crook for instance? A. — If all the Indian agencies could be followed by Gen. Crook I should have a great deal of confidence in them, but Gen. Crooks are not plenteous in this or any other Army.

The Secretary was then further cross-questioned upon various other suggestions he had made. After talking two hours and a half he retired to attend the Cabinet meeting.


Mr. E. C. Watkins, one of the Indian Inspectors, was next called, and, in reply to the Chairman, gave his opinion that the transfer of the bureau to the War Department would in no way benefit the Indians. It would discourage them in their progress toward civilization, reduce the amount of their agricultural lands, and militate against educational movements, because the Indians regard the Army as their enemy, and they would undoubtedly protest against being governed by force. He knew the feeling of the Indians themselves to be against the transfer. From his own observation, he found a very large majority of the Indians in favor of working and becoming independent. He considered that more schools were needed. The salaries of agents ran from $1,500 to $2,200. He certainly considered $1,500 a year too little, but did not see that a military officer would be more likely than a civilian to carry out his duties faithfully. On the contrary, the civilian agent must prove of greater benefit to the Indians because he depended upon the success of Indian civilization, while the officer held his commission for life. It was certainly practicable, in his opinion, to place the Indians on fewer reservations. All the Indians east of the Cascade Mountains should be placed on one reservation, and also those of the South-west, Arizona, and New-Mexico should be consolidated.

In reply to Mr. Hooker, witness said that he was appointed an Indian Inspector at a salary of $3,000 by President Grant. He had the general inspection of Indian affairs.

Friend John D. Miles, having charge of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, Indian Territory, stated that the Indians on his reservation were suffering severely from malaria. They complained of being removed from the Black Hills, and he was of opinion that the Government had acted unwisely in bringing these northern tribes so far to the south. As to the transfer of the management of the Indians to the War Department, his 10 years' experience as an agent leads him to believe that Indian affairs would be better managed by a civil officer. Since the organization of the Police force he had had no occasion to call upon the military, and did not anticipate any difficulty in managing the Indians under his supervision, provided a sufficient number of Indian Police are allowed him.

Under cross-examination by Mr. Hooker, the witness said that an intelligent military officer placed in charge of his agency might transact the business of the office satisfactorily, provided he was allowed to use his own judgment in minor matters and was not restricted by the rigid Army regulations.

The committee adjourned until to-morrow at 12 o'clock.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).