Myths & Legends


Sioux Relations to 1885

Helen Maria Hunt Jackson, born Helen Fiske, was an American poet and writer who became an activist on behalf of improved treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government.

She was born October 15, 1830, Amherst, Massachusetts, United States, and died
August 12, 1885, San Francisco, California, United States.

What follows is a chapter in A Century of Dishonor, A Sketch of the United States Government’s dealing with Some of the Indian Tribes, originally published in 1885.
— Orly

The word Sioux is a contraction from the old French word "Nadouessioux," or "Enemies," the name given by the French traders to this most powerful and warlike of all the North-western tribes. They called themselves "Dakota," or "many in one," because so many bands under different names were joined together. At the time of Captain Carver's travels among the North American Indians there were twelve known bands of these "Nadouwessies." They entertained the captain most hospitably for seven months during the winter of 1766-'7; adopted him as one of their chiefs; and when the time came for him to depart, three hundred of them accompanied him for a distance on his journey, and took leave with expressions of friendship for him, and good-will toward the Great Father, the English king, of whom he had told them. The chiefs wished him to say to the king "how much we desire that traders may be sent to abide among us with such things as we need, that the hearts of our young men, our wives, and children may be made glad. And may peace subsist between us so long as the sun, the moon, the earth, and the waters shall endure;" and "acquaint the Great King how much the Nadouwessies wish to be counted among his good children."

Nothing in all the history of the earliest intercourse between the friendly tribes of North American Indians and the Europeans coming among them is more pathetic than the accounts of their simple hospitality, their unstinted invitations, and their guileless expressions of desire for a greater knowledge of the white men's ways.

When that saintly old bigot, Father Hennepin, sailed up the Illinois River, in 1680, carrying his "portable chapel," chalice, and chasuble, and a few holy wafers "in a steel box, shut very close," going to teach the savages "the knowledge of the Captain of Heaven and Earth, and to use fire-arms, and several other things relating to their advantage," the Illinois were so terrified that, although they were several thousand strong, they took to flight "with horrid cries and howlings." On being reassured by signs and words of friendliness, they slowly returned—some, however, not until three or four days had passed. Then they listened to the good man's discourses with "great attention; afterward gave a great shout for joy," and "expressed a great gratitude;" and, the missionaries being footsore from long travel, the kindly creatures fell to rubbing their legs and feet "with oil of bears, and grease of wild oxen, which after much travel is an incomparable refreshment; and presented us some flesh to eat, putting the three first morsels into our mouths with great ceremonies."

It was a pity that Father Hennepin had no more tangible benefit than the doctrine of the "efficacy of the Sacraments" to communicate to the hospitable Illinois in return for their healing ointments. Naturally they did not appreciate this, and he proceeded on his way disheartened by their "brutish stupidity," but consoling himself, however, with the thought of the infants he had baptized. Hearing of the death of one of them, he says he is "glad it had pleased God to take this little Christian out of the world," and he attributed his own "preservation amidst the greatest dangers" afterward to "the care he took for its baptism." Those dangers were, indeed, by no means inconsiderable, as he and his party were taken prisoners by a roaming party of these Indians, called in the Father's quaint old book "Nadouwessians." He was forced to accompany them on their expeditions, and was in daily danger of being murdered by the more riotous and hostile members of the band. He found these savages on the whole "good-natured men, affable, civil, and obliging," and he was indebted for his life to the good-will of one of the chiefs, who protected him again and again at no inconsiderable danger to himself. The only evidence of religion among the Nadouwessies which he mentions is that they never began to smoke without first holding the pipe up to the sun, saying, "Smoke, sun!" They also offered to the sun the best part of every beast they killed, carrying it afterward to the cabin of their chief; from which Father Hennepin concluded that they had "a religious veneration for the sun."

The diplomatic relations between the United States Government and the Sioux began in the year 1815. In that year and the year following we made sixteen "treaties" of peace and friendship with different tribes of Indians—treaties demanding no cessions of land beyond the original grants which had been made by these tribes to the English, French, or Spanish governments, but confirming those to the United States; promising "perpetual peace," and declaring that "every injury or act of hostility committed by one or other of the contracting parties shall be mutually forgiven and forgot." Three of these treaties were made with bands of the Sioux—one of them with "the Sioux of the Leaf, the Sioux of the Broad Leaf, and the Sioux who shoot in the Pine-tops."

In 1825 four more treaties were made with separate Sioux bands. By one of those treaties—that of Prairie du Chien—boundaries were defined between the Chippewas and the Sioux, and it was hoped that their incessant feuds might be brought to an end. This hostility had continued unabated from the time of the earliest travellers in the country, and the Sioux had been slowly but steadily driven south and west by the victorious Chippewas. A treaty could not avail very much towardkeeping peace between such ancient enemies as these. Fighting went on as before; and white traders, being exposed to the attacks of all war-parties, suffered almost more than the Indians themselves. The Government consoled itself for this spectacle of bloody war, which it was powerless to prevent, by the thought that the Indians would "probably fight on until some one or other of the tribes shall become too reduced and feeble to carry on the war, when it will be lost as a separate power"—an equivocal bit of philosophizing which was unequivocally stated in these precise words in one of the annual reports of the War Department.

In the third Article of the next treaty, also at Prairie du Chien, in 1830, began the trouble which has been from that day to this a source of never ending misunderstanding and of many fierce outbreaks on the part of the Sioux. Four of the bands by this article ceded and relinquished to the United States "forever" a certain tract of country between the Mississippi and the Des Moines River. In this, and in a still further cession, two other bands of Sioux, who were not fully represented at the council, must join; also, some four or five other tribes. Landed and "undivided" estate, owned in common by dozens of families, would be a very difficult thing to parcel out and transfer among white men to-day, with the best that fair intentions and legal skill combined could do; how much more so in those days of unsurveyed forests, unexplored rivers, owned and occupied in common by dozens of bands of wild and ignorant Indians, to be communicated with only by interpreters. Misconstructions and disputes about boundaries would have been inevitable, even if there had been all possible fairmindedness and good-will on both sides; but in this case there was only unfairmindedness on one side, and unwillingness on the other. All the early makers of treaties with the Indians congratulated themselves and the United States on the getting of acres of valuable land by the million for next to nothing, and, as years went on, openly lamented that "the Indians were beginning to find out what lands were worth;" while the Indians, anxious, alarmed, hostile at heart, seeing themselves harder and harder pressed on all sides, driven "to provide other sources for supplying their wants besides those of hunting, which must soon entirely fail them," yielded mile after mile with increasing sense of loss, which they were powerless to prevent, and of resentment which it would have been worse than impolitic for them to show.

The first annuities promised to the Sioux were promised by this treaty—$3000 annually for ten years to the Yankton and Santee bands; to the other four, $2000. The Yankton and Santee bands were to pay out of their annuity $100 yearly to the Otoes, because part of some land which was reserved for the half-breeds of the tribe had originally belonged to the Otoes. "A blacksmith, at the expense of the United States; also, instruments for agricultural purposes; and iron and steel to the amount of $700 annually for ten years to some of the bands, and to the amount of $400 to the others; also, $3000 a year 'for educational purposes,' and $3000 in presents distributed at the time," were promised them.

It was soon after these treaties that the artist Catlin made his famous journeys among the North American Indians, and gave to the world an invaluable contribution to their history, perpetuating in his pictures the distinctive traits of their faces and their dress, and leaving on record many pages of unassailable testimony as to their characteristics in their native state. He spent several weeks among the Sioux, and says of them: "There is no tribe on the continent of finer looking men, and few tribes who are better and more comfortably clad and supplied with the necessaries of life. *** I have travelled several years already among these people, and I have not had my scalp taken, nor a blow struck me, nor had occasion to raise my hand against an Indian; nor has my property been stolen as yet to my knowledge to the value of a shilling, and that in a country where no man is punishable by law for the crime of stealing. *** That the Indians in their native state are drunken, is false, for they are the only temperance people, literally speaking, that ever I saw in my travels, or expect to see. If the civilized world are startled at this, it is the fact that they must battle with, not with me. These people manufacture no spirituous liquor themselves, and know nothing of it until it is brought into their country, and tendered to them by Christians.

"That these people are naked, is equally untrue, and as easily disproved with the paintings I have made, and with their beautiful costumes which I shall bring home. I shall be able to establish the fact that many of these people dress not only with clothes comfortable for any latitude, but that they dress also with some considerable taste and elegance. *** Nor am I quite sure that they are entitled to the name of 'poor' who live in a country of boundless green fields, with good horses to ride; where they are all joint tenants of the soil together; where the Great Spirit has supplied them with an abundance of food to eat."

Catlin found six hundred families of the Sioux camped at one time around Fort Pierre, at the mouth of the Teton River, on the west bank of the Missouri. There were some twenty bands, each with their chief, over whom was one superior chief, called Ha-won-je-tah (the One Horn), whose portrait is one of the finest in Catlin's book. This chief took his name, "One Horn," from a little shell which he wore always on his neck. This shell had descended to him from his father, and he said "he valued it more than anything which he possessed:" affording a striking instance of the living affection which these people often cherish for the dead, inasmuch as he chose to carry this name through life in preference to many others and more honorable ones he had a right to have taken from different battles and exploits of his extraordinary life. He was the fleetest man in the tribe; "could run down a buffalo, which he had often done on his own legs, and drive his arrow to the heart."

This chief came to his death, several years later, in a tragic way. He had been in some way the accidental cause of the death of his only son—a very fine youth—and so great was the anguish of his mind at times that he became insane. In one of these moods he mounted his favorite war-horse, with his bow and arrows in his hand, and dashed off at full speed upon the prairies, repeating the most solemn oath that he would slay the first living thing that fell in his way, be it man or beast, friend or foe. No one dared follow him, and after he had been absent an hour or two his horse came back to the village with two arrows in its body covered with blood. Fears of the most serious kind were now entertained for the fate of the chief, and a party of warriors immediately mounted their horses and retraced the animal's tracks to the place of the tragedy, where they found the body of their chief horribly mangled and gored by a buffalo-bull, whose carcass was stretched by the side of him.

A close examination of the ground was then made by the Indians, who ascertained by the tracks that their unfortunate chief, under his unlucky resolve, had met a buffalo-bull in the season when they are very stubborn, and unwilling to run from any one, and had incensed the animal by shooting a number of arrows into him, which had brought him into furious combat. The chief had then dismounted and turned his horse loose, having given it a couple of arrows from his bow, which sent it home at full speed, and then had thrown away his bow and quiver, encountering the infuriated animal with his knife alone, and the desperate battle had resulted in the death of both. Many of the bones of the chief were broken, and his huge antagonist lay dead by his side, weltering in blood from a hundred wounds made by the chief's long and two-edged knife.

Had the provisions of these first treaties been fairly and promptly carried out, there would have been living to-day among the citizens of Minnesota thousands of Sioux families, good and prosperous farmers and mechanics, whose civilization would have dated back to the treaty of Prairie du Chien.

In looking through the records of the expenditures of the Indian Bureau for the six years following this treaty, we find no mention of any specific provisions for the Sioux in the matter of education. The $3000 annually which the treaty promised should be spent "on account of the children of the said tribes and bands," is set down as expended on the "Choctaw Academy," which was in Kentucky. A very well endowed institution that must have been, if we may trust to the fiscal reports of the Indian Bureau. In the year 1836 there were set down as expended on this academy: On account of the Miamis, $2000; the Pottawattomies, $5000; the Sacs, Foxes, and others, $3000; the Choctaws, $10,000; the Creeks, east, $3000; the Cherokees, west, $2000; the Florida Indians, $1000; the Quapaws, $1000; the Chickasaws, $3000; the Creeks, $1000: being a total of $31,000.

There were in this year one hundred and fifty-six pupils at the Choctaw Academy, sixteen of them being from the Sacs, Foxes, Sioux, and others represented in the Treaty of Prairie du Chien of 1830. For the education of these sixteen children, therefore, these tribes paid $3000 a year. The Miamis paid more in proportion, having but four youths at school, and $2000 a year charged to them. The Pottawattomies, on a treaty provision of $5000, educated twenty.

In 1836 Congress appropriated $2000 "for the purpose of extinguishing the Indian title between the State of Missouri and the Missouri River. The land owned here by the Indians was a long, narrow belt of country, separated from the rest of the Indian country by the Missouri River. The importance of it to the State of Missouri was evident—an "obvious convenience and necessity." The citizens of Missouri made representations to this effect; and though the President is said to have been "unwilling to assent, as it would be in disregard of the guarantee given to the Indians in the Treaty of Prairie du Chien, and might be considered by them as the first step in a series of efforts to obtain possession of their new country," he nevertheless consented that the question of such a cession should be submitted to them. Accordingly, negotiations were opened, and nearly all the Indians who had rights in these lands, "seeing that from their local position they could never be made available for Indian purposes," relinquished them.

In 1837 the Government invited deputations of chiefs from many of the principal tribes to come to Washington. It was "believed to be important to exhibit" to them "the strength of the nation they would have to contend with" if they ventured to attack our borders, "and at the same time to impress upon them the advantages which flow from civilization." Among these chiefs came thirty chiefs and headmen of the Sioux; and, being duly "impressed," as was most natural, concluded treaties by which they ceded to the United States "all their land east of the Mississippi River, and all their islands in the same." These chiefs all belonged to the Medawakanton band, "community of the Mysterious Lakes."

The price of this cession was $300,000, to be invested for them, and the interest upon this sum, at five per cent., to be paid to them "annually forever;" $110,000 to be distributed among the persons of mixed blood in the tribe; $90,000 to be devoted to paying the just debts of the tribe; $8230 to be expended annually for twenty years in stock, implements, on physicians, farmers, blacksmiths, etc.; $10,000 worth of tools, cattle, etc., to be given to them immediately, "to enable them to break up and improve their lands;" $5300 to be expended annually for twenty years in food for them, "to be delivered at the expense of the United States;" $6000 worth of goods to be given to them on their arrival at St. Louis.

In 1838 the Indian Bureau reports that all the stipulations of this treaty have been complied with, "except those which appropriate $8230 to be expended annually in the purchase of medicines, agricultural implements, and stock; and for the support of a physician, farmers, and blacksmiths," and "bind the United States to supply these Sioux as soon as practicable with agricultural implements, tools, cattle, and such other articles as may be useful to them, to an amount not exceeding $10,000, to enable them to break up and improve their lands." The fulfilment or non-fulfilment of these stipulations has been left to the discretion of the agent; and the agent writes that it "must be obvious to any one that a general personal intercourse" on his part "is impracticable," and that "his interviews with many of the tribes must result from casualty and accident." This was undoubtedly true; but it did not, in all probability, occur to the Indians that it was a good and sufficient reason for their not receiving the $18,000 worth of goods promised.

Five thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine dollars were expended the next year under this provision of the treaty, and a few Indians, who "all labored with the hoe," raised their own crops without assistance. Six thousand bushels of corn in all were housed for the winter; but the experiment of turning hunters into farmers in one year was thought not to be, on the whole, an encouraging one. The "peculiar habits of indolence, and total disregard and want of knowledge of the value and uses of time and property," the agent says, "almost forbid hope." A more reasonable view of the situation would have seen in it very great hope. That out of five hundred warriors a few score should have been already found willing to work was most reassuring, and promised well for the future of the tribe.

For the next ten years affairs went on badly with the Sioux; they were continually attacked by the Chippewas, Ottawas, and others, and continually retaliated. The authorities took a sensible view of this state of things, as being the easiest way of securing the safety of the whites. "So long as they (the Indians) are at war with each other they will not feel a disposition to disturb the peace and safety of our exposed frontier settlements," wrote Governor Dodge, in 1840.

Whiskey traders flocked faster and faster into the neighborhood; fur traders, also, found it much more for their interest to trade with drunken Indians than with sober ones, and the Sioux grew rapidly demoralized. Their annuities were in arrears; yet this almost seemed less a misfortune than a blessing, since both money, goods, and provisions were so soon squandered for whiskey.

In 1842 several of the bands were reduced to a state of semi-starvation by the failure of corn crops, and also by the failure of the Senate to ratify a treaty they had made with Governor Doty in 1841. Depending on the annuities promised in this treaty, they had neglected to make their usual provisions for the winter. Frosts, which came in June, and drought, which followed in July, combined to ruin their crops. For several years the water had been rapidly decreasing in all the lakes and streams north-west of Traverse de Sioux: the musk-rat ponds, from which the Indians used to derive considerable revenue, had dried up, and the musk-rats had gone, nobody knew where; the beaver, otter, and other furry creatures had been hunted down till they were hard to find; the buffalo had long since been driven to new fields, far distant. Many of the Indians were too poor to own horses on which to hunt. They were two hundred miles from the nearest place where corn could be obtained, even if they had money to pay for it. Except for some assistance from the Government, they would have died by hundreds in the winter of this year.

In 1849 the "needs" of the white settlers on the east side of the Mississippi made it imperative that the Sioux should be again removed from their lands. "The desirable portions of Minnesota east of the Mississippi were already so occupied by a white population as to seem to render it absolutely necessary to obtain without delay a cession from the Indians on the west side of the river, for the accommodation of our citizens emigrating to that quarter, a large portion of whom would probably be compelled to precipitate themselves on that side of the Mississippi."

Commissioners were accordingly sent to treat with the Indians owning these desired lands. In the instructions given to these commissioners there are some notable sentences: "Though the proposed purchase is estimated to contain some twenty millions of acres, and some of it no doubt of excellent quality," there are "sound reasons why it is comparatively valueless to the Indians, and a large price should not be paid for it." Alive to the apparent absurdity of the statement that lands which are "absolutely necessary" for white farmers are "comparatively valueless" to Indians whom the Government is theoretically making every effort to train into farmers, and who have for the last ten years made appreciable progress in that direction, the commissioner adds, "With respect to its being valuable to the United States, it is more so for the purpose of making room for our emigrating citizens than for any other; and only a small part of it is now actually necessary for that object. *** The extent of the proposed cession should be no criterion of the amount that should be paid for it. On a full consideration of the whole matter, it is the opinion of this office that from two to two and a half cents an acre would be an ample equivalent for it." Some discretion is left to the commissioners as to giving more than this if the Indians are "not satisfied;" but any such increase of price must be "based on such evidence and information as shall fully satisfy the President and Senate."

Reading farther on in these instructions, we come at last to the real secret of this apparent niggardliness on the part of the Government. It is not selfishness at all; it is the purest of philanthropy. The Government has all along been suffering in mind from two conflicting desires—"the desire to give these Indians an equivalent for their possessions," and, on the other hand, "the well-ascertained fact that no greater curse can be inflicted on a tribe so little civilized as the Sioux than to have large sums of money coming to them as annuities." *** On the whole, the commissioner says that we are called on, "as a matter of humanity and duty toward this helpless race, to make every exertion in our power not to place much money at their discretion." The Government is beginning very well in this direction, it must be admitted, when it proposes to pay for Mississippi Valley lands in Minnesota only two and a half cents per acre. "Humanity and duty" allied could hardly do more at one stroke than that.

We cannot ascribe to the same philanthropy, however, the withholding from 1837 to 1850 the $3000 a year which the treaty of 1837 provided should be expended "annually" as the President might direct, and which was not expended at all, because President after President directed that it should be applied to educational purposes; and there being no evident and easy way of expending it in that manner, it was allowed to accumulate, until in 1850 it amounted, according to the report of Governor Ramsey, of Minnesota, to $50,000. The governor also thinks better than the United States Government does of the country to be relinquished this year by the Sioux. He says that it will be "settled with great rapidity, possessing as it does from its situation considerable prospective commercial as well as agricultural advantages." It was evidently very cheap at two and a half cents an acre.

In this same code of instructions by the Indian Bureau there is a record of another instance of the Government's disregard of treaty stipulations. At the time of the treaty of Prairie du Chien, in 1850, the Sioux chiefs had requested that a certain tract be set apart and bestowed upon the half-breeds of their nation. This was provided for in the ninth Article of that treaty; but the Government refused to give to the half-breeds any title to this land, except "in the same manner as other Indian titles are held." It was agreed, however, that the President might "assign to any of said half-breeds, to be held by him or them in fee-simple, any portion of said tract not exceeding a section of six hundred and forty acres to an individual." This tract of land was known as the "Half-breed Reservation on Lake Tepin."

The half-breeds had made almost unintermitting efforts to have these assignments made, but the Government had as constantly refused to do it. The Indian Bureau now assigns two reasons why this treaty stipulation was never fulfilled: 1st, that "the half-breeds, or most of them, would be speculated upon by designing persons, and cheated out of their reservations;" 2d, that, "on account of the quality of the lands, some would necessarily have much better reservations than others, which would engender dissatisfaction and heart-burning among themselves as well as against the United States." The Bureau felicitates itself that "the only title they now have to this land, therefore, is that by which other Indians hold their lands, viz., the occupant or usufruct right, and this they enjoy by the permission of the United States." Such being the case, and as the Government would probably never find it expedient and advisable to make the assignment referred to, this tract, whatever may be the character of the land, must be and would continue comparatively worthless to them.

Nevertheless, it appears that in 1841 one of the three treaties made with the Sioux, but not ratified, was with these very half-breeds for this same "valueless" tract of 384,000 acres of land; that they were to be paid $200,000 for it, and also to be paid for all the improvements they had made on it; and that the treaty commissioners are still instructed "to allow them for it now whatever sum the commissioners deem it to be" fairly worth; "under no circumstances," however, "to exceed the sum stipulated in 1841." Putting this all into plain English, it simply means that in 1830 the Government promised to let a band of men take out tracts of land in fee-simple, and settle down like other men on their homesteads; that for ten years the men begged to do so, and were refused; that at the end of ten years, thinking there was no hope of anything better, they agreed to sell the whole tract back to the Government for $200,000; that this bargain, also, the Government did not fulfil (the treaties never being ratified), and nine years later was found congratulating itself on the fact that, by reason of all these unfulfilled agreements, the land was still "held only in the same manner as other Indian titles are held"—i.e., not "held" at all—only used on sufferance of the Government, and could be taken possession of at any time at the Government's pleasure. (This matter was supposed to be finally settled in 1854 by a law of Congress; but in 1856 the thing appears to have been still unsettled. A commission had been sent out to investigate it, and the report was that "the subject has been one of some difficulty and intricacy; but the final report of the commissioners has just been received, and steps will be taken at once to cause the scrip to issue to the parties entitled thereto.")

A little farther on in this same notable document is a mention of another tract, of which it is now "desirable to extinguish the title." This was set apart by the tenth Article of that same old treaty for the half-breeds of the Omahas, Otoes, Iowas, and Yankton and Santee Sioux. This contains about 143,000 acres, but is "supposed to be of much less value than that on Lake Tepin much less value than 'valueless;'" but the "amount to be paid for it is left to the discretion" of the commissioners.

At this time the bands of the Medewakanton Sioux were occupying a tract of over two hundred miles along the west shore of the Mississippi, reaching also some twenty-five miles up the St. Peter's. The Yanktons, Santees, and other bands lived high up the St. Peter's, reaching over into the lands west of the Missouri, out of reach of ordinary facilities of intercourse. These bands were often in great distress for food, owing to the failure of the buffalo. They never lost an occasion to send imploring messages to the Great Father, urging him to help them. They particularly ask for hoes, that they may plant corn. In his report for 1850 the superintendent of the territory embracing these Indians says: "The views of most of those who have lived the longest among the Indians agree in one respect—that is, that no great or beneficial change can take place in their condition until the General Government has made them amenable to local laws—laws which will punish the evil-disposed, and secure the industrious in their property and individual rights."

Superintendents, agents, commissioners, secretaries, all reiteratedly recommending this one simple and necessary step toward civilization—the Indians themselves by hundreds imploring for titles to their farms, or at least "hoes"—why did the United States Government keep on and on in its obstinate way, feeding the Indian in gross and reckless improvidence with one hand, plundering him with the other, and holding him steadily down at the level of his own barbarism? Nay, forcing him below it by the newly added vices of gambling and drunkenness, and yet all the while boasting of its desire to enlighten, instruct, and civilize him. It is as inexplicable as it is infamous: a phenomenal thing in the history of the world.

In the summer of 1851 the desired treaties were made, the upper and lower bands of Sioux being treated with separately at Traverse de Sioux and at Mendota. The upper bands were soon disposed of, though "some few of them, having been taught to read," had become impressed with the idea that their country was of immense value, and at first demanded six million dollars for the lands to be ceded. The treaty with the lower bands—the Medawakantons and Wahpacootas—was "exceedingly difficult of attainment" on account of, firstly, "their proximity to the flourishing settlements on the east side of the Mississippi producing necessarily frequent contact with the whites, whose ideas of the great value of the country had been imparted to these Indians; secondly, their great experience in Indian diplomacy, being in the enjoyment already of liberal annuities under former stipulations"—all these things rendered them as "indifferent to the making of another treaty at present as the whites on their borders were anxious that their lands should be acquired." In consequence of this indomitable common-sense on the part of the Indians the sessions of the commissioners were tedious and long; not until a month had passed did they prevail on these Indians to sign away the coveted lands, "the garden-spot of the Mississippi Valley," and they were obliged to more than treble the number of cents per acre which they had been instructed to pay. For thirty-five millions of acres of land they agreed to pay nominally $3,075,000, which would be between eight and nine cents an acre. But as $2,500,000 was to be held in trust, and only the interest at five per cent, to be paid to the Indians, and this only for the term of fifty years, at which time the principal was to revert to the Government, it will be easily reckoned that the Indians would receive, all told, only about six and one-quarter cents an acre. And taking into account the great value of the relinquished lands, and the price the Government would undoubtedly obtain for them, it will be readily conceded that Governor Ramsey was not too sanguine when he stated, in his report to the Interior Department, that the "actual cost to the Government of this magnificent purchase is only the sum paid in hand" ($575,000).

The governor says that it was "by no means the purpose" of the commission "to act other than justly and generously toward the Indians;" that "a continuation of the payment of large sums of interest annually would do them no further good "after fifty years had expired, and would be "inconsistent with sound governmental policy." He says that the Dakota nation, although warlike, is "friendly to the whites," and that it may be reasonably expected that, "by a judicious expenditure of the civilization and improvement funds provided for in these treaties," they will soon take the lead "in agriculture and other industrial pursuits."

One of the provisions of this treaty forbade the introduction of ardent spirits into the new reservation. This was put in in accordance with the "earnest desire" of the chiefs, who requested that "some stringent measures should be taken by the Government to exclude all kinds of liquors from their new home."

By this treaty the four great bands of Minnesota Sioux were all to be "consolidated together on one reservation in the upper part of the Mississippi Valley." This region was thought to be "sufficiently remote to guarantee" them against any pressure from the white population for many years to come. Farms were to be opened for them, mills and schools to be established, and dwelling-houses erected. They were to have now a chance to own "that domestic country called home, with all the living sympathies and all the future hopes and projects which people it." From this time "a new era was to be dated in the history of the Dakotas: an era full of brilliant promise." The tract of territory relinquished by them was "larger than the State of New York, fertile and beautiful beyond description," far the best part of Minnesota. It is "so far diversified in natural advantages that its productive powers may be considered almost inexhaustible. *** Probably no tract on the surface of the globe is equally well watered. *** A large part is rich arable land; portions are of unsurpassed fertility, and eminently adapted to the production in incalculable quantities of the cereal grains. The boundless plains present inexhaustible fields of pasturage, and the river bottoms are richer than the banks of the Nile. In the bowels of the earth there is every indication of extensive mineral fields."

It would seem that the assertion made only a few lines before this glowing paragraph—"to the Indians themselves the broad regions which have been ceded are of inconsiderable value"—could not be true. It would seem that for eight thousand people, who, according to this same writer, "have outlived in a great degree the means of subsistence of the hunter state," and must very soon "resort to the pursuits of agriculture," nothing could have been more fortunate than to have owned and occupied thirty-five millions of acres of just such land as this.

They appear to be giving already some evidence of a disposition to turn this land to account. The reports from the different farms and schools show progress in farming industry and also in study. The farming is carried on with difficulty, because there are only a few carts and ploughs, which must be used in turn by the different farmers, and therefore must come to some quite too late to be of use, and there is much quarrelling among them owing to this trouble. Nevertheless, these bands have raised over four thousand bushels of corn in the year. There is also a great opposition to the schools, because the Indians have been told that the accumulated fifty thousand dollars which is due to them would be paid to them in cash if it were not for the schools. Nevertheless, education is slowly progressing; in this year fifty copies of a little missionary paper called The Dakota Friend were subscribed for in the one mission station of Lac qui Parle, and sixty scholars were enrolled at the school. The blacksmith at St. Peter's reports that he has made during the year 2506 pieces of one sort and another for the Indians, and repaired 1430 more. Evidently a community keeping blacksmiths so busy as this are by no means wholly idle themselves.

It is worth while to dwell upon these seemingly trivial details at this point in the history of the Minnesota Sioux, because they are all significant to mark the point in civilization they had already reached, and the disposition they had already shown toward industry before they were obliged to submit to their first great removal. Their condition at the end of two years from the ratification of these treaties is curtly told in the official reports of the Indian Bureau:

"The present situation of that portion of the Sioux Indians parties to the treaties of July 23d and August 5th, 1851, is peculiar, unfortunate, and to them must prove extremely injurious. By these treaties they reluctantly parted with a very large extent of valuable country, which it was of the greatest importance to the Government to acquire. An insignificant portion of it near its western boundary, not deemed necessary or desirable for a white population for many years, if at all, was agreed to be reserved and assigned to them for their future residence. The Senate amended the treaties, striking out this provision, allowing ten cents an acre in lieu of the reservations, and requiring the President, with the assent of the Indians, if they agreed to the amendments, to assign them such tracts of country, beyond the limits of that ceded, as might be satisfactory for their future home. To the amendments was appended a proviso 'that the President may, by the consent of the Indians, vary the conditions aforesaid, if deemed expedient.' The Indians were induced to agree to the amendments; 'confiding in the justice, liberality, and humanity of the President and the Congress of the United States, that such tracts of country will be set apart for their future occupancy and home as will be to them acceptable and satisfactory.' Thus, not only was the assent of the Indians made necessary to a country being assigned to them without the limits of that ceded, but, by the authority given to the President to vary the conditions of the amendments to the treaties, he was empowered, with the consent of the Indians, to place them upon the designated reservations, or upon any other portion of the ceded territory, 'if deemed expedient.'

"To avoid collisions and difficulties between the Indians and the white population which rapidly commenced pouring into the ceded country, it became necessary that the former should vacate at least a large portion of it without delay, while there was neither the time nor the means to make the requisite explorations to find a suitable location for them beyond the limits of the cession.

"Under these pressing and embarrassing circumstances the late President determined to permit them to remain five years on the designated reservations, if they were willing to accept this alternative. They assented, and many of them have been already removed. However unavoidable this arrangement, it is a most unfortunate one. The Indians are fully aware of its temporary character, and of the uncertainty as to their future position, and will consequently be disinclined and deterred from any efforts to make themselves comfortable and improve their condition. The inevitable result must be that, at the end of the time limited, they will be in a far worse condition than now, and the efforts and expenditures of years to infuse into them a spirit of improvement will all have been in vain.

"The large investments in mills, farms, mechanic shops, and other improvements required by the treaties to be made for their benefit, will be entirely wasted if the Indians are to remain on their reservations only during the prescribed five years. At the very period when they would begin to reap the full advantage of these beneficial provisions they would have to remove. Another unfortunate feature of this arrangement, if temporary, is that the Indians will have expended the considerable sums set apart in the treaties for the expenses of their removal to a permanent home, and for subsistence until they could otherwise provide it, leaving nothing for these important and necessary purposes in the event of another emigration. In view of these facts and considerations, no time should be lost in determining upon some final and permanent arrangement in regard to them."

The Governor of Minnesota also writes at this time: "The doubtful tenure by which this tribe hold their supposed reservation is well understood by their chiefs and headmen, and is beginning to give deep dissatisfaction, and throwing daily more and more obstacles in the way of their removal. This reservation will not be wanted for white men for many years.

"There is not wood, or timber, or coal sufficient for the purposes of civilization, except immediately on the St. Peter's and its tributaries. From near the vicinity of the new agency there commences a vast prairie of more than one hundred miles in extent, entirely destitute of timber, and I feel confident that we never shall be able to keep any very large number of them at their new agency, or near there.

"Already the fund set apart for the removal and subsistence the first year of the Sissetons and Wah-pa-tons has been expended, and all their provisions eaten up. Seventeen thousand dollars and upward have been expended by Governor Ramsey, and one year in advance of the time fixed by the treaty for their removal. This expenditure was made while he was getting them to sign the Senate amendments to the treaty of 1851, which they were very reluctant to do, and which not more than half the chiefs have signed. These Indians want the Government to confirm this reservation to them. I would recommend that this be done as the only means to satisfy them, and humanity demands it."

Here is a picture of a helpless people! Forced to give up the "garden-spot of the State," and accept in its stead an "insignificant tract, on the greater part of which there is not wood, or timber, or coal sufficient for civilization;" and then, before the ink of this treaty is dry, told that even from this insignificant tract they must promise to move at the end of five years. What words could characterize such a transaction between man and man? There is not a country, a people, a community in which it would be even attempted! Was it less base, or more, being between a strong government and a feeble race?

From the infamy of accomplishing this purpose the United States was saved. Remonstrances, and still more the resistance of the Indians, prevailed, and in 1854 we find the poor creatures expressing "much satisfaction" that the President has decreed that they are to remain permanently on their "insignificant tract."

The Upper Missouri Sioux are still suffering and destitute; a few of them cultivating little patches of ground, depending chiefly on the chase, and on roots and wild berries; when these resources fail there is nothing left for them but to starve, or to commit depredations on white settlers. Some of the bands, nevertheless, have scrupulously observed the stipulations of the Fort Laramie treaty in 1851, show a "strong desire for improvement," and are on the most friendly terms with the whites. These peaceable and friendly bands are much distressed, as well they may be, at the reckless course pursued by others of their tribe. They welcome the presence of the soldiers sent to chastise the offenders, and gladly render all the service to them they can, even against their relatives and friends.

In 1855 it is stated that "various causes have combined to prevent the Minnesota Sioux from deriving, heretofore, much substantial benefit from the very liberal provisions of the treaties of 1851. Until after the reservations were permanently assured to the Indians (1854) it would have been highly improper to have made the expenditures for permanent improvements, and since then the affairs of the agency have not been free from confusion."

"Large sums of money have been expended for these Sioux, but they have been indolent, extravagant, intemperate, and have wasted their means without improving, or seeming to desire to improve their condition."

Both these statements are made in grave good faith; certainly without any consciousness of their bearing on each other. It is not stated, however, what specific means the Sioux could have employed "to improve their condition," had they "desired" to do so.

The summer of 1857 was one which will long be remembered by the citizens of Minnesota. It was opened by terrible massacres, which were all the work of a strolling outcast band of Sioux, not more than fifteen in number. They had been driven out of their tribe some sixteen years previous, and had been ever since then leading a wandering and marauding life. The beginning of the trouble was a trivial difficulty between one of the white settlers on Rock River and an Indian. The settler's dog bit the Indian, and the Indian shot the dog. For this the white settlers beat the Indian severely, and then went to the camp and by force took away all the guns of the band. This was at a season of the year when to be without guns meant simply to be without food, and the Indians were reduced at once to a condition of great suffering. By some means they either repossessed themselves of their guns or procured others, and, attacking the settlement, killed all the inhabitants except four women, whom they carried away with them, and treated with the utmost barbarity. The inevitable results of such horrors followed. The thousands of peaceable Indians in Minnesota, who did not even know of this outrage, were all held in one common terror and hatred by the general public; only the very great firmness and discretion of the military officers sent to deal with the outbreak saved Minnesota from a general uprising and attack from all the Sioux bands, who were already in a state of smouldering discontent by reason of the non-payment of their annuities. However, they obeyed the demands of the Government that they themselves should pursue this offending band, and either capture or exterminate it. They killed four, and took three prisoners, and then returned "much jaded and worn," and said they could do no more without the help of United States soldiers; and that they thought they had now done enough to show their loyalty, and to deserve the payment of their annuities. One of the chiefs said: "The man who killed white people did not belong to us, and we did not expect to be called to account for the people of another band. We have always tried to do as our Great Father tells us." Another said: "I am going to speak of the treaty. For fifty years we were to be paid $50,000 per annum. We were also promised $300,000 that we have not seen. I wish to say to my Great Father we were promised these things, but have not seen them yet. Why does not the Great Father do as he promised?"

These hostilities were speedily brought to an end, yet the situation was by no means reassuring for the Indians. But one sentiment seemed to inspire the whole white population, and this was the desire to exterminate the entire Indian race.

"For the present," writes the superintendent, "it is equally important to protect the Indians from the whites as the whites from the Indians and this in spite of the fact that all the leading bands of the treaty Sioux had contributed warriors to go in pursuit of the murderers, had killed or captured all they could find, and stood ready to go again after the remaining eight, if the United States troops would go also and assist them. Spite of the exertions of one of the chiefs of the Lower Sioux, "Little Crow," who, the superintendent says, labored with him "night and day in organizing the party, riding continually between the lower and upper agencies," so that they "scarcely slept" till the war-party had set out on the track of the murderers; spite of the fact that the whole body of the Sioux, without exception, "received the intelligence with as much indignation and disapprobation as the whites themselves, and did their best to stand clear of any suspicion of or connection with the affair—spite of all this, they were in continual danger of being shot at sight by the terrified and unreasoning settlers. One band, under the chief Sleepy Eyes, were returning to their homes from a hunt; and while they were "wondering what the panic among the whites meant" (they having heard nothing of the massacre), were fired into by some of the militia volunteers.

The next day a white settler was found killed near that spot—presumably by some member of Sleepy Eyes' band. This excitement slowly abated, and for the next four years a steady improvement was visible in the Minnesota Sioux. Hundreds of them threw aside the blanket—the distinctive badge of their wild state; schools were well attended, and farms were well tilled. That there was great hostility to this civilization, on the part of the majority of the tribe, cannot be denied; but that was only natural—the inevitable protest of a high-spirited and proud race against abandoning all its race distinctions. When we see the men of Lorraine, or of Montenegro, ready to die for the sake merely of being called by the name of one power rather than by that of another, we find it heroic, and give them our sympathies; but when the North American Indian is ready to die rather than wear the clothes and follow the ways of the white man, we feel for him only unqualified contempt, and see in his instinct nothing more than a barbarian's incapacity to appreciate civilization. Is this just?

In 1861 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, visiting these Sioux, reports: "I was much surprised to find so many of the Sioux Indians wearing the garb of civilization, many of them living in frame or brick houses, some of them with stables or out-houses, and their fields indicating considerable knowledge of agriculture. Their condition," he says, "affords abundant evidence of what may be accomplished among the Sioux Indians by steadily adhering to a uniform, undeviating policy.

"The number that live by agricultural pursuits is yet small compared with the whole; but their condition is so much better than that of the wild Indian, that they, too, are becoming convinced that it is the better way to live; and many are coming in, asking to have their hair cut, and for a suit of clothes, and to be located on a piece of land where they can build a house and fence in their fields."

Many more of them would have entered on the agricultural life had the Government provided ways and means for them to do so. In this same report is a mention of one settlement of two thousand Indians at Big Stone Lake, who "have been hitherto almost entirely neglected. These people complain that they have lived upon promises for the last ten years, and are really of opinion that white men never perform what they promise. Many of them would go to work if they had any reasonable encouragement."

The annuities are still in arrears. Every branch of the industries and improvements attempted suffers for want of the promised funds, and from delays in payments expected. The worst result, however, of these delays in the fulfilment of treaty stipulations was the effect on the Indians. A sense of wrong in the past and distrust for the future was ever deepening in their minds, and preparing them to be suddenly thrown by any small provocation into an antagonism and hostility grossly disproportionate to the apparent cause. This was the condition of the Minnesota Sioux in the summer of 1862.

The record of the massacres of that summer is scarcely equalled in the history of Indian wars. Early in August some bands of the Upper Sioux, who had been waiting at their agency nearly two months for their annuity payments, and had been suffering greatly for food during that time—so much so that "they dug up roots to appease their hunger, and when corn was turned out to them they devoured it uncooked, like wild animals"—became desperate, broke into the Government warehouse, and took some of the provisions stored there. This was the real beginning of the outbreak, although the first massacre was not till the 18th. When that began, the friendly Indians were powerless to resist—in fact, they were threatened with their lives if they did not join. Nevertheless, some of them rescued whole families, and carried them to places of safety; others sheltered and fed women and children in their own lodges; many fled, leaving all their possessions behind—as much victims of the outbreak as the Minnesota people themselves. For three days the hostile bands, continually re-enforced, went from settlement to settlement, killing and plundering. A belt of country nearly two hundred miles in length and about fifty in width was entirely abandoned by the population, who flocked in panic to the towns and forts. Nearly a thousand were killed—men, women, and children—and nameless outrages were committed on many. Millions of dollars' worth of property were destroyed. The outbreak was quickly quelled by military force, and a large number of Indians captured. Many voluntarily surrendered, bringing with them over two hundred whites that they had taken prisoners. A military commission tried these Indians, and sentenced over three hundred to be hung. All but thirty-nine were reprieved and put into prison. The remainder were moved to Dakota, to a barren desert, where for three years they endured sufferings far worse than death. The remainder escaped to the Upper Missouri region or to Canada.

Minnesota, at a terrible cost to herself and to the United States Government, was at last free from the presence of Indians within her borders—Indians who were her enemies only because they had been treated with injustice and bad faith.

During this time the bands of Sioux in the Upper Missouri region had been more or less hostile, and military force in continual requisition to subdue them. Re-enforced by the Minnesota refugees, they became more hostile still, and in the summer of 1863 were in almost incessant conflict. In 1864 the Governor of Dakota Territory writes to the Department that the war is spreading into Nebraska and Kansas, and that if provision is not made for the loyal treaty Indians in that region before long, they also will join the hostiles. One band of the Sioux—the Yanktons—has been persistently loyal, and rendered great service through all the troubles. Fifty of these Yankton Sioux had been organized by General Sibley into a company of scouts, and had proved "more effective than twice the number of white soldiers." The only cost to the Government "of this service on the part of the Yanktons had been fifty suits of condemned artillery uniforms, arms, and rations in part to the scouts themselves."

In 1865 the Government, having spent about $40,000,000 on these campaigns, began to cast about for cheaper, if not more humane methods, and, partly at the instance of the Governor of Dakota, who knew very well that the Indians desired peace, sent out a commission to treat with them. There were now, all told, some 14,000 Sioux in this region, nearly 2000 being the refugees from Minnesota.

The report of this commission is full of significant statements. There seems to be no doubt that the great majority of the Indians are anxious for peace; but they are afraid to meet the agents of the Government, lest they be in some way betrayed. Such bands as are represented, however, gladly assent to a treaty of peace and good-will. The commissioners speak with great feeling of the condition of the loyal Yanktons. "No improvements have been made on their lands, and the commissioners were obliged to issue provisions to them to keep them from starving. *** No crops met the eye, nor is there the semblance of a school-house."

Yet by Article four of the treaty with the Yankton Sioux the United States Government had agreed to expend $10,000 in erecting a suitable building or buildings, and to establish and maintain one or more normal labor schools; and it is to be read in the United States Statutes at Large that in each of the years 1860, 1861, 1862, and 1863, Congress appropriated $65,000, as per treaty, for the benefit of the Yankton Sioux.

"With the exception of a few miserable huts, a saw-mill, and a small amount of land enclosed, there are few vestiges of improvement. *** They are reduced to the necessity of hunting for a living, and, unless soon reassured and encouraged, they will be driven to despair, and the great discontent existing among them will culminate in another formidable Indian war."

Nine treaties were concluded by this commission with as many different bands of Sioux, the Indians pledging themselves to abstain from all hostilities with each other and with the whites, and the Government agreeing to pay to the Indians fifteen dollars a head per annum, and to all who will settle down to farming twenty-five dollars a head.

In the winter following these treaties all these Indians faithfully kept their promises, in spite of terrible sufferings from cold and from lack of food. Some of them were at the old Crow Creek Reservation in Dakota, where they were "kept from absolute starvation only by the issue to them of such scanty supplies as could be spared from the stores at Fort Sully, and from the agency." It is much to the credit of these Indians that, in spite of their manifold sufferings, scarcely a case of stealing occurred among them, they being determined to keep their faith to the Government.

"They will run like chickens to gather the offal from the slop buckets that are carried from the garrison kitchens; while they pass a pile of corn and hundreds of loose cattle without touching a thing, except when told they may gather up the grains of corn from the ground where the rats in their depredations have let it fall from the sacks," says the report of one of the commissioners.

In the summer of 1865 still further treaties were concluded with the Indians of the plains, and all the Sioux, with the exception of those in the British possessions, were now pledged to peace. This summer also saw the first recognition on the part of the Government of its flagrant injustice toward the friendly Minnesota Sioux who were moved to Crow Creek, Dakota, at the time of the massacre. There were nearly one thousand of these—mostly old men, women, and children—many of them the widows and children of those who had been hung or were in prison at Davenport. For three years they had been "quiet and patient in their sufferings."

The two hundred prisoners in Davenport had also shown "an excellent disposition and entire submission," although many of them were known and proved to have been "absolutely guiltless of any acts of hostility; and not only this, but deserving of reward for the rescue of white captives." Certificates, petitions, and letters showing these facts were forwarded from Iowa to the Department, but the commissioner says, in his report for 1866, that "they have been mislaid in their passage through the various departments, and cannot be found!"

There was still another class of these Indians deserving of help from the Government—some two hundred and fifty friendly farmer Indians, who were living in 1862 quietly on their farms, "who have acted as scouts for the Government; who never committed any acts of hostility, nor fled with those who did commit them," and have still remained friendly through these four years, "while compelled to a vagabond life by the indiscriminate confiscation of all their land and property."

"The crops belonging to these farmer Indians were valued at $125,000, and they had large herds of stock of all kinds, fine farms, and improvements. The United States troops engaged in suppressing the massacre, also the prisoners taken by them—in all, some 3500 men—lived for fifty days on this property."

Strong efforts were made by Bishop Whipple and others to obtain from the Government some aid for these friendly Indians, and the sum of $7500 was appropriated by Congress for that purpose. The letter of Bishop Whipple, who was requested to report on the division of this sum, is so eloquent a summing up of the case of these Indians, that it ought to be placed on permanent record in the history of our country. He writes:

"There is positive injustice in the appropriation of so miserable a pittance. *** A much larger sum would not pay the amount which we honestly owe these men. The Government was the trustee of the Upper and Lower Sioux. It held several millions of dollars for their benefit—the joint property of the tribes. These friendly Sioux had abandoned their wild life, and adopted the dress, habits, and customs of civilization; and in doing this, which placed them in open opposition to the traditions of their tribes, they were pledged the protection of the Government. By a mistaken policy, by positive neglect to provide a government, by the perversion of funds due them for the sale of one-half their reservations, by withholding their annuities until two months after they were due (which was caused by the use of a part of these funds for claims), by permitting other causes of dissatisfaction to go on unheeded, we provoked the hostility of the wild Indians, and it went on until it ripened in massacre. These farmer Indians had been pledged a patent for their farms: unless we violated our solemn pledge, these lands were theirs by a title as valid as any title could be. They had large crops, sufficient to support General Sibley's army for a number of weeks. They lost all they had—crops, stock, clothing, furniture. In addition to this, they were deprived of their share in these annuities, and for four years have lived in very great suffering. You can judge whether $5000 shall be deemed a just reward[25] for the bravery and fidelity of men who, at the risk of their own lives, were instrumental in saving white captives, and maintained their friendship to the whites.

"I submit to you, sir, and through you hope to reach all who fear God and love justice, whether the very least we can do for all the friendly Sioux is not to fulfil the pledges we made years ago, and give to each of them a patent of eighty acres of land, build them a house, and provide them cattle, seeds, and implements of husbandry?"

In 1866 all these Sioux were removed, and, in spite of the protestations of the Nebraska citizens, settled on reservations on the Niobrara River, in Northern Nebraska. It soon became evident that this place was undesirable for a reservation, both on account of its previous occupancy by the whites and scarcity of timber.

In the fall they removed again to the mouth of Bazile Creek. Temporary buildings were again erected, and here they spent the winters of 1866 and 1867. In February they were cheered by the invitation sent their chiefs and headmen to visit Washington. They went, feeling sure that they should get a home for themselves and people. "All they got was a promise that a commission should be sent out to visit them the next year." They were told, however, to move to Breckenridge, on the west bank of the Missouri, plant crops there, and were promised that, if they liked the place, they should have it "secured to them as a permanent home." Accordingly, the "agency buildings" were once more removed, and two hundred acres of land were planted. Before the crops were harvested the commission arrived, and urged the Indians to move farther up the Missouri. The Indians being averse to this, however, they were allowed to remain, and told that if they would cultivate the soil like white men—take lands in severalty—the Government would assist them. The Indians gladly consented to this, and signed a treaty to that effect. But in 1868 their agent writes: "That treaty is not yet ratified, and, instead of assistance to open farms, their appropriation has been cut down one half. After paying for supplies purchased on credit last year, it is entirely insufficient for clothing and subsistence, and leaves nothing for opening farms, procuring cattle," etc. These Indians, only five years previous, had been living on good farms, and had $125,000 worth of stock, implements, etc. No wonder their agent writes: "Leave them without a home a few years longer, and you offer strong inducements for them to become idle and worthless."

It is an intricate and perplexing task to attempt now to follow the history of the different bands of the Sioux tribe through all their changes of location and affiliation—some in Dakota, some in Nebraska, and some on the Upper Arkansas with the hostile Cheyennes and Arapahoes—signing treaties one summer, and on the war-path the next—promised a home in spring, and ordered off it before harvest—all the time more and more hemmed in by white settlers, and more and more driven out of their buffalo ranges by emigrations—liable at any time to have bodies of United States soldiers swoop down on them and punish whole bands for depredations committed by a handful of men, perhaps of a totally distinct band—the wonder is not that some of them were hostile and vindictive, but that any of them remained peaceable and friendly. Bandied about from civil authorities to military—the War Department recommending "that all Indians not on fixed reservations be considered at war," and proceeded against accordingly, and the Interior Department neglecting to provide them with "fixed reservations," or to define or enforce the boundaries of even their temporary reservations—tricked, cheated on all sides—starving half the time—there is not a tribe of all the persecuted tribes of Indians that has a more piteous record than the Sioux. Nevertheless, we find many of the bands, in 1870, advancing in civilization. In the Yankton band nearly one hundred children are in school, and eight hundred acres of land are under cultivation. The Lower Yanktons are peaceful and quiet, although they are near the Brulés, who are always roving and hostile. The Sissetons and Wahpetons, who were by a treaty of 1867 placed on reservations in Dakota, are "industrious, and fast advancing in agricultural pursuits." Four schools are in operation among them. The Yanktons are "anxious to farm, and state that the Government has promised to assist and teach them to farm; that they are and have been ready for some time, but as yet the agent has not received any instructions or funds to permit of their accomplishing their desire."

Two events, important in the history of the Sioux tribe, happened in 1869 and 1870. One was the visit of a delegation of chiefs and headmen from several of the bands, under the leadership of the chief Red Cloud, to Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. They had thus an opportunity of relating all their grievances, and of receiving the Government's declarations of good intentions toward them. Red Cloud, after his return home, became an ardent and determined advocate of peace and loyalty. The other was the withdrawal of a portion of the Santee Sioux from their band, for the purpose of taking up farms under the Homestead Act, and becoming independent citizens. The story of this experiment, and the manner in which it was met by the United States Government, is best told in the words of Dr. Williamson, a missionary, who had lived thirty-five years among them, and who pleaded thus warmly for them in a letter addressed to the Department in the summer of 1870: "Several considerations have influenced the Dakotas in going to the Big Sioux River: 1st. The soil and climate are more similar to that to which they have been accustomed in Minnesota, their former home, than is that of their reservation on the Missouri; 2d. Feeling that they were men capable of sustaining themselves if a fair opportunity is afforded them, they felt that it was degrading to live as sinecures and pensioners dependent on Government for food and clothing; 3d. And chiefly a desire to make homes for their families where they could be subjected to, and protected by, the laws of the United States, the same as all other men are. This they thought could not be the case on their reservation.

"These Sioux were parties to the treaties made in 1851, by which they and other bands ceded to the United States all the best settled parts of Minnesota west of the Mississippi for less than one-hundredth part of its present value, and much less than the lands were worth to them as hunting-grounds. And while as hunters they needed no protection of the law, they knew that as agriculturists they could not live without it; and they positively refused to sell their hunting-grounds till the Commissioner of the United States promised that they should be protected in their persons and property the same as white men. Government never accorded to them this protection, which, in the view of the Indians, was a very important consideration in selling the lands. This neglect on the part of the Government led to yearly complaints, and the massacres of 1862. *** These Sioux were most of them previous to the war living in comfortable homes, with well-cultivated farms and teams," and were receiving by annuity provisions, either in money or the equivalent, about $50 a head annually, from interest on their money invested in the bonds of the Government. These Indians, in taking up their new homesteads, were required by the Department to renounce, on oath, all claims on the United States for annuities. Without doubt, citizenship of the United States, the protection of our laws, is worth a great sum; but is it wise or right in our Government to require these natives of the country to purchase, at a price of several thousands of dollars, that which is given without money or price to every immigrant from Asia, Europe, or Africa that asks for it?

"Besides their annuities, there is due them from the Government the proceeds of the sale of their old reservation on the Minnesota River, which is more than forty miles long and ten wide; which, after paying expenses of survey and sale, are, according to a law of the United States, to be expended in assisting them to make homes elsewhere; and as these lands were valued at $1.25 an acre and upward, and are rapidly selling, the portion which will be due each of the Indians cannot be less than $200 or $300—or $1000 for each family. The oath required of them is supposed to bar them from any claim to this also. Now, I cannot see how this decision of the Indian Department is consistent either with justice or good policy, and it is certainly inconsistent with both the spirit and letter of Articles six and ten of a treaty between the United States of America and different bands of Sioux Indians, concluded in 1868, and ratified and proclaimed February, 1869. *** What I ask for them is that our Government restore to them a part of what we took from them, and give them the same chance to live and thrive which we give to all the other inhabitants of our country, whether white or black. *** That some aid is very necessary must be obvious to you, who know how difficult it is for even white men, trained to work, and with several hundred dollars in property, to open a new farm in this Western wilderness. Their number is probably greater than you are aware of. When I administered the Lord's Supper there on the first Sabbath of this month, there were present seventy-seven communicants of our church, besides quite a number of other persons. *** It is owing to the Santee Sioux—partly to those on the Big Sioux River, chiefly to those near Fort Wadsworth—that in the last five years not a single white inhabitant of Minnesota or Iowa has been murdered by the wild Indians, while many have been cut off in every frontier State and Territory south-west of the Missouri. So long as the Christian Sioux can be kept on the frontier, the white settlements are safe. *** In conclusion, I wish again to call your attention to the fact that these Indians on the Big Sioux purchase citizenship at a very great sum, and to entreat you to do all in your power to secure for them that protection of person or property for which they bargain, and without which nothing our Government can do will make them prosperous or happy."

No attention was paid to this appeal; and the next year the indefatigable missionary sent a still stronger one, setting forth that this colony now numbered fifty families; had been under the instruction of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions for many years; had a church of one hundred members; a native preacher, partly supported by them; had built log-cabins on their claims, and planted farms, "many of them digging up the ground with hoes and spades."

Dr. Williamson reiterates the treaty provisions under which he claims that these Indians are entitled to aid. The sixth Article of the treaty of 1868 closes as follows: "Any Indian or Indians receiving a patent for land under the foregoing provisions, shall thereby and henceforth become and be a citizen of the United States, and be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of such citizenship, and shall at the same time retain all his rights and benefits accruing to Indians under this treaty."

This treaty goes on to provide most liberally for all Indians adopting the civilized mode of life. Article eighth specially provides for supplying them with seed and agricultural implements, and this is what they most of all need.

The encouragement held forth in this treaty was one great motive in leading these people to break tribal influences, so deleterious to improvement, and adopt our democratic civilization. Is it not base tyranny to disappoint them? They are the first Sioux, if not the first Indians in the United States to adopt the spirit and life of our American civilization. They have of their own accord done just what the Government has been for generations trying to get the Indians to do. And now will the Government refuse this helping hand? To our shame, it has for two years refused. And why? Because the Indians said, "If we become civilized, it is necessary for us to break up tribal relations, and settle down like white men."

In 1873 the Government at last yielded to this request, and sent out oxen, wagons, ploughs, etc., enough to stock thirty farms. In 1874, Dr. Williamson, having been appointed a special agent for them, reports their progress: "They all live in log-houses and wear citizens' dress. *** One hundred and nineteen can read their own language fluently. They all go to church regularly. They have broken one hundred and seventy-seven acres of new prairie. Twenty new houses have been built. *** They have cut and hauled two hundred cords of wood, hauling some of it forty miles to market. *** They have done considerable freighting with their teams, going sometimes a hundred miles away. They have earned thirty-five hundred dollars, catching small furs. *** One Indian has the contract for carrying the mail through Flandreau, for which he receives one thousand dollars a year. *** It is but a few miles from Flandreau to the far-famed pipe-stone quarry, and these Indians make many little sums by selling pipes, rings, ink-glasses, etc., made of this beautiful red stone. *** They are anxious to be taught how to make baskets, mats, cloth; and the young men ask to be taught the blacksmith and carpenter trades."

This is a community that only five years before had pushed out into an unbroken wilderness without a dollar of money, without a plough, to open farms. "Without ploughs, they had to dig the sod with their hoes, and at the same time make their living by hunting. They suffered severe hardships, and a number of their best men perished in snow-storms. Believing they were carrying out the wishes of the Great Father, as expressed in the treaty of 1868, to which they were parties, they were disappointed when for three years no notice was taken of them." There is something pathetic in the gratitude they are said now to feel for the niggardly gift of a few oxen, wagons, and ploughs. They have apparently given over all hope of ever obtaining any of the money due them on account of their lands sold in Minnesota. No further allusion is made to it by Dr. Williamson.

From the Yankton Sioux this year comes a remarkable report: "We have no jail, no law except the treaty and the agent's word, yet we have no quarrels, no fighting, and, with one or two exceptions, not a single case of drunkenness during the year. This I consider remarkable, when we take into consideration the fact that the reservation is surrounded by ranches where liquors of all kinds can be obtained." Is there another village of two thousand inhabitants in the United States of which this can be said?

In this year a commission was sent to treat with some of the wilder bands of Sioux for the relinquishment of their right to hunt and roam over a large part of their unneeded territory in Kansas and Nebraska. Some of the chiefs consented. Red Cloud's band refused at first; "but on being told that the right would soon be taken from them," after a delay of two days they "agreed to accept," merely stipulating that their share of the twenty-five thousand dollars promised should be paid in horses and guns. They insisted, however, on this proviso: "That we do not surrender any right of occupation of the country situated in Nebraska north of the divide, which is south of and near to the Niobrara River and west of the one hundredth meridian."

It was a significant fact that, when these Sioux gave up this hunting privilege, "they requested that nearly all the $25,000 they received in compensation for this relinquishment should be expended in cows, horses, harness, and wagons," says the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1875.

There are still some thousand or more of hostile Sioux roaming about under the famous chief Sitting Bull—living by the chase when they can, and by depredations when they must; occasionally, also, appearing at agencies, and drawing rations among the other Indians unsuspected. The remainder of the bands are steadily working their way on toward civilization. The Santees are a Christian community; they have their industrial-schools, Sabbath-schools, and night-schools; they publish a monthly paper in the Dakota tongue, which prints twelve hundred copies. The Yanktons have learned to weave, and have made cloth enough to give every Indian woman in the tribe one good dress. The Flandreau citizen Sioux have a Presbyterian church of one hundred and thirty-five members, and pay half the salary of the native preacher. On the occasion of an anniversary meeting of the Dakota missionaries there, these people raised one hundred dollars to pay for their entertainment. These three bands are far the most advanced, but all the others are making steady progress.

In 1876 the news from the Sioux on the agencies is that, owing to the failure of appropriations, the Indian Bureau had been unable to send the regular supplies, and the Indians, being in "almost a starving condition," had been induced, by the "apparent purpose of the Government to abandon them to starvation," to go north in large numbers, and join the hostile camps of Sitting Bull. This was in the spring; again in midsummer the same thing happened, and many of the Indians, growing still more anxious and suspicious, left their agencies to join in the war.

Congress would probably have paid little attention at this time to the reading of this extract from "Kent's Commentaries:" "Treaties of peace, when made by the competent power, are obligatory on the whole nation. If the treaty requires the payment of money to carry it into effect, and the money cannot be raised but by an act of the legislature, the treaty is morally obligatory upon the legislature to pass the law; and to repeal it would be a breach of the public faith."

A disturbed and unsettled condition of things prevailed at all the Sioux agencies, consequent on this state of things. Companies of troops were stationed at all of them to guard against outbreaks. Owing to lack of funds, the Yanktons were obliged to give up their weaving and basket-making. At the Standing Rock Agency, after the Indians had planted eight hundred and seventy-two dollars' worth of seeds—of corn, potatoes, and other vegetables—the grasshoppers came and devoured them. "Many of these Indians, with their whole families, stood all day in their fields fighting these enemies, and in several places succeeded so far as to save a considerable part of their crops." The Santees were made very anxious and unhappy by fresh rumors of their probable removal. Public sentiment at the East, knowing no difference between different tribes of Sioux, regarded it as maudlin sentimentalism to claim for the Santees any more rights than for the hostiles that had murdered General Custer. One of the agents in Dakota writes:

"The recent troubles in the Indian country, and the existing uncertainty as to the future intentions of the Government toward the Indians, occasion considerable uneasiness among them. *** Reports are circulated that no further assistance will be rendered by the Government, as the Great Council in Washington refuses to furnish money unless the Indians are turned over to the War Department. Every inducement is held out to encourage secession from the agencies, and strengthen the forces of the hostile camp. It is not surprising that, in view of the non-arrival of supplies, and the recent order of the War Department to arrest parties leaving and arriving, that people less credulous than Indians would feel undecided and uneasy. *** It must be remembered that the whole Sioux nation is related, and that there is hardly a man, woman, or child in the hostile camp who has not blood relations at one or the other of the agencies."

Contrast the condition into which all these friendly Indians are suddenly plunged now, with their condition only two years previous: martial law now in force on all their reservations; themselves in danger of starvation, and constantly exposed to the influence of emissaries from their friends and relations, urging them to join in fighting this treacherous government that had kept faith with nobody—neither with friend nor with foe; that made no discriminations in its warfare between friends and foes; burning villages occupied only by women and children; butchering bands of Indians living peacefully under protection of its flag, as at Sand Creek, in Colorado—no wonder that one of the military commander's official reports says, "The hostile body was largely re-enforced by accessions from the various agencies, where the malcontents were, doubtless, in many cases, driven to desperation by starvation and the heartless frauds perpetrated on them;" and that the Interior Department is obliged to confess that, "Such desertions were largely due to the uneasiness which the Indians had long felt on account of the infraction of treaty stipulations by the white invasion of the Black Hills, seriously aggravated at the most critical period by irregular and insufficient issues of rations, necessitated by inadequate and delayed appropriations."

It was at this time that Sitting Bull made his famous reply: "Tell them at Washington if they have one man who speaks the truth to send him to me, and I will listen to what he has to say."

The story of the military campaign against these hostile Sioux in 1876 and 1877 is to be read in the official records of the War Department, so far as statistics can tell it. Another history, which can never be read, is written in the hearts of widowed women in the Sioux nation and in the nation of the United States.

Before midsummer the Sioux war was over. The indomitable Sitting Bull had escaped to Canada—that sanctuary of refuge for the Indian as well as for the slave. Here he was visited in the autumn by a commission from the United States, empowered by the President to invite him with his people to return, and be "assigned to agencies," and treated "in as friendly a spirit as other Indians had been who had surrendered." It was explained to him that every one of the Indians who had surrendered had "been treated in the same manner as those of your nation who, during all the past troubles, remained peaceably at their agencies." As a great part of those who had fled from these same agencies to join Sitting Bull had done so because they were starving, and the Government knew this (had printed the record of the fact in the reports of two of its Departments), this was certainly a strange phraseology of invitation for it to address to Sitting Bull. His replies and those of his chiefs were full of scathing sarcasm. Secure on British soil, they had for once safe freedom of speech as well as of action, and they gave the United States Commissioners very conclusive reasons why they chose to remain in Canada, where they could "trade with the traders and make a living," and where their women had "time to raise their children."

The commissioners returned from their bootless errand, and the Interior Department simply entered on its records the statement that "Sitting Bull and his adherents are no longer considered wards of the Government." It also enters on the same record the statement that "in the months of September and October, 1876, the various Sioux agencies were visited by a commission appointed under the Act of Congress, August 15th of that year, to negotiate with the Sioux for an agreement to surrender that portion of the Sioux Reservation which included the Black Hills, and certain hunting privileges outside that reserve, guaranteed by the treaty of 1868; to grant a right of way across their reserve; and to provide for the removal of the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail bands to new agencies on the Missouri River. The commission were also authorized to take steps to gain the consent of the Sioux to their removal to the Indian Territory. *** The commission were successful in all the negotiations with which they were charged, and the Indians made every concession that was desired by the Government, although we were engaged at that very time in fighting their relatives and friends." The only comment needed on this last paragraph is to suggest that a proper list of errata for that page should contain: "For 'although' read 'because!'" "On behalf of the United States the agreement thus entered into provided for subsisting the Sioux on a stated ration until they should become self-supporting; for furnishing schools, and all necessary aid and instruction in agriculture and the mechanical arts, and for the allotment of lands in severalty."

In accordance with this act, a commission was sent to select a location on the Missouri River for the two new Sioux agencies (the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail).

"For the former the site chosen is the junction of Yellow Medicine and Missouri rivers, and at that point agency buildings have just been erected," says the Report of the Indian Bureau for 1877. "For the latter the old Ponca Reserve was decided on, where the agency buildings, storehouses, one hundred and fifty Indian houses, and five hundred acres of cultivated fields, left vacant by the Poncas, offer special advantages for present quarters."

The commissioner says: "The removal of fourteen thousand Sioux Indians at this season of the year, a distance of three hundred miles from their old agencies in Nebraska to their new quarters near the Missouri River, is not a pleasant matter to contemplate. Neither the present Secretary of the Interior nor the present Commissioner of Indian Affairs is responsible for the movement, but they have carried out the law faithfully though reluctantly. The removal is being made in accordance with the Act of August 15th, 1876. It is proper to say here that I cannot but look on the necessity thus imposed by law on the executive branch of the Government as an unfortunate one, and the consequences ought to be remedied as speedily as possible.

"Let us for a moment consider that the Spotted Tail Agency was in 1871 on the west bank of the Missouri River, where the whites became exceedingly troublesome, and the river afforded abundant facilities for the introduction of intoxicating liquors. In 1874 the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies were removed to what a subsequent survey proved to be the State of Nebraska—the former agency one hundred and sixty-five miles from Cheyenne, and the latter one hundred and eight miles from Sidney, the nearest points on the Union Pacific Railroad. Here the usual ill-fortune attending the removal of these Indians was again exemplified in placing the agencies on absolutely barren land, where there was no possibility of cultivating the soil, no hope of their being enabled to become self-supporting, and where they have of necessity been kept in the hopeless condition of paupers."

In the hope of placing these Indians upon arable land, where they might become civilized and self-supporting, the determination was hastily taken to remove them back to the Missouri River. This step was taken without a proper examination of other points on their reservation, where it is stated that "a sufficient quantity of excellent wheat lands can be found on either bank of the White River, and where there is also timber sufficient in quantity and quality for all practical purposes. *** The Indian chiefs, in their interview with the President in September last, begged that they might not be sent to the Missouri River, as whiskey-drinking and other demoralization would be the consequence. This was the judgment of the best men of the tribe; but the necessity was one that the President could not control. The provisions and supplies for the ensuing winter had been placed, according to law, on the Missouri, and, owing to the lateness of the season, it was impossible to remove them to the old agencies. Accordingly, the necessities of the case compelled the removal of these Indians in the midst of the snows and storms of early winter, which have already set in."

If there were absolutely no other record written of the management of Indian affairs by the Interior Department than this one page of the history of these two bands of the Sioux tribe, this alone would be enough to show the urgent need of an entirely new system. So many and such hasty, ill-considered, uninformed, capricious, and cruel decisions of arbitrary power could hardly be found in a seven years' record of any known tyrant; and there is no tyrant whose throne would not have been rocked, if not upset, by the revolutions which would have followed on such oppressions.

There is a sequel to this story of the removal of the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail bands—a sequel not recorded in the official reports of the Department, but familiar to many men in the Western country. Accounts of it—some humorous, some severe—were for some time floating about in Western newspapers.

The Red Cloud and Spotted Tail bands of Sioux consented to go to the old Ponca Reserve only after being told that all their supplies had been sent to a certain point on the Missouri River with a view to this move; and it being too late to take all this freight northward again, they would starve if they stayed where they were. Being assured that they would be allowed to go back in the spring, and having a written pledge from General Crook (in whose word they had implicit faith) that the Government would fulfil this promise, they at last very reluctantly consented to go to the Ponca Reserve for the winter. In the spring no orders came for the removal. March passed, April passed—no orders. The chiefs sent word to their friend, General Crook, who replied to them with messages sent by a swift runner, begging them not to break away, but to wait a little longer. Finally, in May, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs went himself to hold a council with them. When he rose to speak, the chief Spotted Tail sprung up, walked toward him, waving in his hand the paper containing the promise of the Government to return them to White Clay Creek, and exclaimed, "All the men who come from Washington are liars, and the bald-headed ones are the worst of all! I don't want to hear one word from you—you are a bald-headed old liar! You have but one thing to do here, and that is to give an order for us to return to White Clay Creek. Here are your written words; and if you don't give this order, and everything here is not on wheels inside of ten days, I'll order my young men to tear down and burn everything in this part of the country! I don't want to hear anything more from you, and I've got nothing more to say to you:" and he turned his back on the commissioner and walked away. Such language as this would not have been borne from unarmed and helpless Indians; but when it came from a chief with four thousand armed warriors at his back, it was another affair altogether. The order was written. In less than ten days everything was "on wheels," and the whole body of these Sioux on the move to the country they had indicated; and the Secretary of the Interior says, naïvely, in his Report for 1868, "The Indians were found to be quite determined to move westward, and the promise of the Government in that respect was faithfully kept."

The reports from all the bands of Sioux for the past two years have been full of indications of their rapid and encouraging improvement. "The most decided advance in civilization has been made by the Ogallalla and Brulé Sioux," says the Report of the Indian Bureau for 1879. "Their progress during the last year and a half has been simply marvellous."

And yet this one band of Ogallalla Sioux has been moved, since 1863, eight times. Is it not a wonder that they have any heart to work, any hope of anything in the future?

"It is no longer a question," says this same report, "whether Indians will work. They are steadily asking for opportunities to do so, and the Indians who to-day are willing and anxious to engage in civilized labor are largely in the majority; *** there is an almost universal call for lands in severalty; *** there is a growing desire to live in houses; the demand for agricultural implements and appliances, and for wagons and harness for farming and freighting purposes, is constantly increasing."

That all this should be true of these wild, warlike Sioux, after so many years of hardships and forced wanderings and removals, is incontrovertible proof that there is in them a native strength of character, power of endurance, and indomitable courage, which will make of them ultimately a noble and superior race of people, if civilization will only give them time to become civilized, and Christians will leave them time and peace to learn Christianity.


Related Reading

The English in America

Cherokee: Relations to 1885