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FEDERAL INDIAN POLICY: BUREAUCRATS OR BULLETS?

[The National Tombstone Epitaph, April & May, 1988]

The making of federal Indian policy in the United States during virtually all of the 19th century was marked by almost as much disagreement between and among white policy-makers as between the government itself and the various tribes of Indians with whom it dealt. The areas of disagreement were practically as numerous as were the number of policy-makers participating! However, the four areas of disagreement which seem to stand out can be most easily expressed in the form of questions: (1) What is the legal/constitutional status of Indians and what does does that status mean in terms of Government obligations/ responsibilities? (2) Should the Government negotiate with Indians or merely conquer them; in other words, in dealing with Indians, what ought to be the instrument of choice for the Government -- treaties or force? (3) Within the Government itself, should authority for Indian affairs be vested in the Department of the Interior or the Department of War; should Indians be subject to civil or to military authority? (4) How frequently, under what circumstances and and to what extent should military force be used in Indian affairs?

The question of the constitutional/legal status of Native Americans occasioned much ambivalence and rather vague definitions on the part of government from the earliest times. The Supreme Court early denominated Indian tribes as being "domestic dependent nations", while also describing them as being "sui generis" or one of a kind. There was always, however, a sizable (and vocal) minority which held, very simply, that Indians had no status or rights at all and, in any event, had not in any way been mistreated by the government! Two of the better examples of this point of view were expressed by Senators James Harlan (Republican; Iowa) and Lott Morrill (Republican; Maine). On June 11, 1864, Senator Harlan rebuked those of his colleagues who decried the treatment afforded the Indians. "Sir," he said, "the glorification of the Indian character, and the poetic tale of his wrongs inflicted by this Government in the purchase of their lands, is all a chimera, a phantom of a poetic brain." "We have paid to these Indian," he went on, "and invested for their benefit millions of money for lands that to them were valueless at the time in the markets of the world, and have thus brought to their doors all the arts of a Christian civilization."

Three years later, on July 13, 1867, Senator Morrill of Maine went even further, stating bluntly that "The Indian has no absolute rights conceded to him". Lest anyone mistake his meaning, the Senator added that an Indian "has no rights, the Senate has said over and over again by its policy, which the American nation can respect."

"By virtue of its necessities," Mr. Morrill continued, "by virtue of that great law of manifest destiny under which we are developing our institutions, he (Indians) cannot have protection. We want his possessions; the presence of the Indian is incompatible with our civilization. . ."

While most legislators agreed that Indians had no absolute rights vis-a-vis whites, most believed that some type of a relationship did exist and must be maintained between the two groups. Just what that relationship should be, however, was another matter. During the first 2/3 of the 19th century, treaties were thought to be the appropriate instrument for dealing with Indians whose tribes were, thus, considered to be political entities separate from white society. During the last half of that century, however, two other views came to dominate. The more radical of the two was the notion that Indians should be (or become) citizens/subjects while the more widely held view was that of Indians as wards of the Government.

The concept of Indian tribes as separate legal/political entities was, of course, as old as the Republic itself, indeed older. Negotiating "international" agreements between the Government and Head Men of various tribes was the procedure followed not only during colonial times, but until 1871 by the independent government which succeeded the colonial governments. Thus, as late as February 22, 1867, Senator Jacob Howard (Republican; Michigan) advanced the following argument.

I do not believe that the Congress of the United States have any such power under the Constitution to govern the Indian tribes upon our continent by means of Federal legislation and Federal officers and Federal laws. The Constitution recognizes them as independent nations, the owners of the soil itself, of the continent originally, and never to be divested of that ownership except by an honest and fair treaty. Congress has power to regulate the intercourse of the United States, the commerce of the people of the United States, with the Indian tribes. That power is granted to Congress in almost exactly the same terms which are used to convey the power to regulate foreign commerce, showing that the Indian tribes are as tribes free and independent nations, and that the United States have no right to interfere to control them or govern them, except the simple right of being the first purchasers of the Indian title to lands.

Five months later, on July 13, 1867, Reverdy Johnson, Democratic Senator from Maryland, agreed with his colleague while adding another point. Senator Johnson found simply ludicrous a notion, frequently advanced in the process of attacking the use of treaties in Indian affairs. And what was that ludicrous notion? ". . .the idea that the power of a Government strong enough to keep ten States in subjection, to hold in its hand eight or nine million people consisting of as gallant men as ever trod on the soil of any land, is not able to keep against violating the treaties of the Government the few men, unruly and reckless spirits, who without any fault on the part of the mass of the people in those borders from time to time are found violating their duties to the United States and trampling upon the rights of the Indians secured by the pledged faith of the United States -- the idea is not be be entertained."

Without doubt, the most widely accepted definition of the relationship between Indians and the government was that of ward- guardian. Senator Jefferson Davis (Democrat; Mississippi), hardly an apostle of racial equality, nonetheless defined clearly this perception of the obligations owed by the Government to the Indian tribes. In a February 2, 1859, speech, he admonished his colleagues to "remember that the Indians bear to the United States the relation of ward and guardian." "The United States are not merely charged with the duty of protecting their citizens from outrage by the Indians", he continued, "they are also charged with the care of the Indian tribes." In like manner, and on the same day, William Phelps, Democratic Representative from Minnesota, argued in favor of adopting the principle that "the Indians would be the wards of the Government, and should be treated with parental kindness."

By the 1860's, some opinion in favor of supplanting the guardian- ward relationship had emerged. The Ohio Republican, Senator John Sherman, on June 11, 1864, agreed that "The United States stands toward these Indians precisely like a guardian of a ward." In this capacity, the Government "is bound to use reasonable and due diligence in the care of . . .the ward; no more, no less." But, vastly disturbed both by the operation and the thrust of Indian policy, he was convinced that "the whole relation between the United States and the Indians is the most absurd that can probably be imagined." And the greatest absurdity of all? "We treat these Indian tribes like foreign nations. We send our Governors and ex-Governors and other authorities to negotiate treaties with a people who cannot read or write, who do not know the difference between a dollar and a sovereign, without intelligence, who are dependent upon us for their daily bread. We treat them as we do the most favored nation. We negotiate treaties with them, bring them here, and have them ratified by the Senate."

Senator Sherman's solution to this self-described "absurdity" was rhetorically to ask when someone would "bring in a bill abolishing the whole system and providing for the government of the Indian tribes as subjects." "Until we treat them as citizens and give them the right to vote," he added, "we ought to treat them as subjects to be governed, to be protected in their natural rights, to be looked after and watched over as children." And there was no doubt as to the quarter from which Senator Sherman expected the greatest threat to Indian well-being. "We ought to protect them from our own people," he concluded, bluntly adding that "The worst enemies they have got are our own people who go out there and rob and plunder them and. . . I believe the very worst enemies to these people in many cases are the men that the Government of the United States employs as agents to protect them, who rob and plunder them."

The negative view of the Indian Service bureaucracy was widely held, and over quite a period of time. For instance, fourteen years after Senator Sherman's speech, Representative Hendrick Wright (Democrat; Pennsylvania), while asking his colleagues to remember that the "white man has many rights in this Government which we pass by with indifference and neglect", nonetheless states his willingness "to do what is right between the red man and the white man". "But, sir", he protested, "when we appropriate vast sums of money to the red man I do not want the white man, the official white man, to steal three-fourths of it.(Laughter)"

The notion that treaties should be the primary vehicle for establishing Indian policy was an extremely controversial one, particularly during the latter half of the 19th century. This controversy reflected a growing opposition to the use of treaties which led to a change in policy in 1871. After that date, Congress asserted, Indian policy would be enacted by legislation. A bit more than 40 years earlier, on May 15, 1830, Representative Wilson Lumpkin (Democrat; Georgia) had, in fact, already described the underlying relationship which made treaties initially useful. "When the Indians in any colony of State were numerous, powerful and war-like," he said, "it has been the practice of all to conciliate them by entering into condescending compacts and treaties, and thus effect by prudence what they were unable to perform by force."

There were, it seems, three principal objections raised to the continued use of treaties in Indian affairs. The first, and most potent, argument was simply the perceived inevitability of white expansion. As Republican Senator Richard Yates of Illinois put it on July 13, 1867, "These treaties have not been kept, and will not be kept" "White men," he continued," will not keep out of the Indian country whatever treaties you may make, and Senators all around say they ought not, and should not, and will not be kept out of that territory." There were those who attempted to rebut the proposition advanced by Yates and others; one of this small band was Representative Thomas Reed (Republican; Maine). On December 19,1878, he pointed out that "there is. . .before this House a proposition to violate all these treaties - a proposition that the United States with the consideration of the treaty in its coffers -- a consideration which it will not and cannot return -- shall violate those treaties and open that Territory to the 'march' of a 'civilization' which signalizes itself by violating all the principles of equity and of honor." It is quite clear that, for a majority of Anglo-Americans, such concepts as "equity" and "honor" had little, if any, operational meaning within the context of Indian affairs.

Senator John Sherman well expressed the cynicism widely prevalent concerning the lack of political realism which invested most treaties. Referring, in a speech delivered on July 13, 1867, to the Treaty of Greenville, the Ohio Republican rhetorically asked "How long was that treaty observed?" "Not one year", he replied to his own question; "and now the very region of country that was set aside for the Indian tribes in Ohio contains over a million white people." The weakness inherent in the treaty, Sherman sadly noted, was that "General Wayne, Mr. Jefferson who approved the treaty, and all who took part in it simply made a stipulation which they had no power to perform, and no human agency, no human power could have enabled them to carry out the stipulations of that treaty."

The second principle objection to treaties was purely materialistic and acquisitive. The author of the following statement (to which italics have been added) was Senator Timothy Howe, Republican of Wisconsin, but it could easily have been made by any one of hundreds of other legislators, state and national; the statement was made on July 18, 1867, but it accurately reflected majority opinion for most of the century.

. . .it is true historically that the obligations of your treaties have not been attended to or observed at all by our Government or by our people; but it is not true that the American people or the American Government cannot be trusted. The obligations of a treaty will be observed when you find a treaty which ought to be preserved. A title is as secure and as safe in the United States as it is anywhere in the world. When a man claims under a title that ought to be respected, that title is respected here as much as anywhere else. But the trouble is that by your treaties heretofore you have turned out to barbarism immense tracts of country which were needed by civilization. Now, you ought not to do that, and you cannot do it.

The final objection to treaties was considerably more sophisticated in that it was based on a recognition of the vast cultural differences which marked Indian-white relations. In negotiating treaties, white policy-makers simply assumed that Indians invested in their leaders the same kind of authority constitutionally exercised by white negotiators. The essential absurdity of this assumption was caustically noted by Representative Walter Burleigh (Republican; Dakota) on June 9, 1866. "To think of concluding a valid treaty with a tribe of savages numbering twenty-one hundred with only three of its members present to participate in the negotiation is supremely ridiculous. To attempt to palm off such a transaction upon the Government is a fraud of the grossest character. No body of white men would abide by such a transaction, nor will the Indians of those tribes." Lest anyone mistake the point he was making, Representative Burleigh added, "Certainly no one will be foolish enough to suppose that a treaty made by a few indolent, irresponsible members of these large warlike tribes -- and without the participancy and consent of the majority -- who could know nothing of the character of the stipulations made to bind their whole people, would be likely to result in anything permanent or peaceful."

The same essential argument was advanced, with considerably less vehemence and flamboyance, fifteen years later by Senator Henry Teller. In a speech delivered on January 20, 1881, the Colorado Republican said that he could "guarantee to get any kind of a treaty signed that this Government wants to make, by pursuing just the course that this Government has pursued, and that is to corrupt a few of the men who make the treaties." Furthermore, he argued, "so far as a treaty made with Indians expresses the will and the sentiment of the masses of the Indians it is a mere nullity, it amounts to nothing at all." "Who supposes," he rhetorically concluded, "that the . . . Indians knew anything about the contents of that treaty when they signed it, except a few of the headmen?"

The efficacy of treaties as an instrument of policy in Indian affairs may have been the subject of much disagreement, but the method for enforcing such treaties as were concluded was not. From the time of the raid on the Abanaki village by Rogers Rangers in colonial times to the surrender of Chief Joseph and the Nez Percé near Bear Paw Mountain, the use of military force was uniformly considered to be at least the instrument of last resort. For many, perhaps most, whites, of course, the use of force was the preferred option, an instrument of first rather than last resort.

The primary purpose served by the use of military force was, of course, the protection and security of white immigrants/settlers. The great migration west during the middle third of the century occasioned acquisition by the Government of a string of military posts -- Fort Kearny, Fort Laramie, Fort Caspar, Fort Bridger, Fort Hall and others; their purpose was to protect the line of white travel along the Oregon-California Trail. This theme of protecting frontier travelers/ settlers, far from being new, had been sounded since the beginning of the Republic. The rhetoric of a debate in the House of Representatives on April 22, 1836, gives a prime example of arguments consistently advanced during most of the 19th century. The regular Frontier Army may have been essentially a post-Civil War creation, but the demand for regular troops was not! Albert Harrison (Democrat; Missouri), noting presence of Indians "immediately upon our borders, without our solicitation or consent, and in such a manner as to make them feel their strength, and consequently to be more ready to seek that revenge which their wild and ferocious temper nurtures against the white men", protested vehemently against a bill which provided for the "services of the militia, for a term of one year, in the event of a war with the Indians, or in the event of a just apprehension of difficulties with them" "We ask for present security", the Missouri Democrat observed, and "are answered that we shall have it when necessary. "I say that it is now and always will be necessary, as long as these Indians are upon our borders;" thus did Representative Harrison support an amendment which provided for "raising and organizing another regiment of dragoons".

Echoing Harrison's sentiments, Francis Granger (Whig; New York) also supported whatever "becomes necessary to take measures to guard the frontier settlements against their (Indians') depredations." That this was a call for the creation of a national frontier army is made clear not only by Representative Harrison's reference to another regiment of dragoons, but also by John Young Mason's (Democrat; Virginia) description of the bill under consideration. "The object of this bill," he stated, is "to organize an efficient force, which would act as a protection to our Western frontier, and be more effective than any militia force that could be brought out." The justification for the creation of such a force? The right of white settlers/travelers "to look to the Government for protection, to call upon it to use the strong arm of power, when necessary, to protect them from the wanton aggressions of savages, who, experience has taught us, could neither be civilized nor conquered but by a powerful force."

John Reynolds (Democrat; Illinois) concurred with the views of his colleagues here quoted. "At any time, should they (Indians) believe they have an equal chance in war with us", he observed,"we will see our frontiers laid waste, and murder and massacre visited on all classes of our citizens within their reach." Furthermore, he continued, "It is necessary to the peace, quiet, and happiness, of the Indians themselves, that they should be kept in proper subjection." ". . .there is no good feelings in the hearts of the Indians towards us -- we cannot expect it", he concluded, "Therefore, we must keep them in fear, or else we have a war with them." No participant in this debate noted the oddity of equating Indian "peace, quiet, and happiness" with being kept in fear by white military force!

Practically everyone in the white power structure agreed that the overall purpose of using military force was to provide for white security. The methods by which such security could be guaranteed were thought to be (1) chastisement, and (2) enforced removal to reservations. For Senator John Sherman (Republican; Ohio; July 13, 1867) there was a stark choice to be made. The Government must either arm "our people in the West in a kind of uncivilized warfare to destroy the Indians, or else. . .seize their people, men, women, and children, wherever you can find them, and bring them within the reach of civilization, far within our lines. There you can control and manage them."

Eight months earlier, on April 18, 1866, James McDougall (Democrat; Georgia) had advanced a similar argument. Indians, he argued, "must be whipped into their place, and subjected to obedience." The problem with this approach, according to Senator James Doolittle (Republican; Wisconsin) was not white inability to "conquer. . .capture and slaughter" Indian in direct combat; the problem, rather, was to find ways to engage them in direct combat! ". . .it is just as impossible, within any reasonable amount of expenditure, to catch these Indians and reduce them to obedience by war as it is to catch the buffalo upon the plains or the blackbirds that fly over the plains." The subsequent decimation of the buffalo herds by white hunters coupled with a new military tactic of winter campaigns against Indian villages in the 70's proved the conclusions of the Wisconsin Republican to be wrong! Much that happened during that and ensuing decades, however, provided bitter support for another conclusion rendered that day by Senator Doolittle: "There is not much honor to be won by the Army or by the Government in fighting with these Indians."

Senators spoke of long-term objectives and methods appropriate to their accomplishment. In regard to immediate reactions to specific instances of Indian depredations/victories, Senator Sherman's brother, William Tecumseh, was a popular spokesman. Responding to news of the complete destruction of Captain Fetterman and his command of 80 men near Fort Phil Kearny, General Sherman, in a telegram to U.S. Grant dated December 28, 1866, confessed "I do not yet understand how the massacre of Colonel Fetterman's party could have been so complete". But he had no such doubts as to what the military response ought to be! "We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women, and children. Nothing else will reach the root of this case." Attitudes such as this coupled with the record of the "March Through Georgia" make it clear the W.T. Sherman was one of the first practitioners of the theory of "total war"!

Such reservations as existed relative to the use of military force tended to center in two areas: cost and expertise, with some modest concern for the constitutional relationship between the executive and legislative branches of the government. Senator James Doolittle spoke to the latter point on February 22, 1867. "The power to declare war", the Wisconsin Republican declared, "is in the Congress of the United States and in Congress alone." The problem, however, was "that the whole history of our dealing with our Indian tribes has been to transfer the power to declare war to some commander of the forces upon our frontiers." "Without any act of Congress, without any direction by the Government, by the mere act, it may be, of a lieutenant, it may be of a captain or a major or a colonel in command of the military forces upon the frontier, they make war on a nation of Indians, which, before its termination, involves the expenditure of millions upon millions of dollars, and we simply foot the bill."

Mr. Doolittle's Republican colleague from neighboring Michigan, Jacob Howard, added the second point -- the frequent lack of expertise and training on the part of the officers of the frontier military. There was nothing new about this charge. Thomas Fitzpatrick, first Indian Agent for the Upper Platte and Arkansas, had made the same charge with some vehemence more than a quarter of a century earlier. And the situation had changed hardly at all! "Military men, or at least that class of military men who are likely to be sent to the Indians, are, for the most part, unacquainted with the Indian character and the Indian habits," according to Senator Howard. Furthermore, "They (military men) go there carrying with them all the pride, and, I regret to say, haughtiness which pertains to their profession; and I think you will find, on a careful inspection of the history of these wars, that the most of them have been provoked by little petty interferences and insults on the part of small military officers who held the Indians in contempt or did not regard their rights" It is a matter of historical record that Lieutenant Grattan, Captain Fetterman and Lieutenant Colonel Custer held in common a very dim view of the Indians' fighting ability; they also shared one additional distinction -- the entire force under their immediate field command was destroyed by Indians, the only three times in the history of American arms such a defeat has been suffered!

The remainder of Senator Howard's statement also deserves attention.

I do not believe that military men who come in contact with the Indians are less likely to practice fraud and imposition upon them than are civilians. I know no distinction in point of honesty and commercial honor between a soldier or an officer and a civilian, and I do not believe it exists; while, at the same time, I do believe, for I think history justifies me in the belief, that these Indian collisions are more frequently brought about by the impertinence and unjust interference of military men located among the Indians. An Indian, perhaps, in his ignorance of civilized manners, affronts a lieutenant without intending to injure his feelings and not knowing that he has done so. The young gentleman, fresh from West Point, with his epaulets bright and clean upon his shoulder and his sword by his side, whips out the toasting-iron and returns this imaginary insult by a blow or a stab, and then comes on an Indian war that costs the Government ten or fifteen or twenty million dollars.

Senator Howard's statement leads directly to the final point of this brief discussion of the reservations entertained by some regarding the use of military force -- the cost which it entailed. Senator William Windom (Republican; Minnesota) made the point as well as any, and more eloquently than most, on February 19, 1875. "Some years ago," he informed his Senate colleagues, "I had occasion to make an examination and received a report from the War Department as to the cost of fighting one single band of Indians during the two years, 1862 and 1863, and it came to over $30,000,000, and the report was that there were not over five or six Indians killed in the expeditions. So in that case it cost about $6,000,000 each to kill those Indians." The Senator went on to cite "a recent report of General Sheridan or General Sherman -- I have forgotten which it is -- (which) shows that it costs on an average a million dollars to kill an Indian on the plains by the military." The response by the vast majority of the American population to arguments such as this, however, was not to favor non-military solutions to Indian problems, but rather simply to get it over quickly, once and for all, and then disband the military!

The arguments of Senators Doolittle, Howard and Windom all revolved around a much more fundamental issue which permeated the entire field of Indian affairs. That issue? Should authority/responsibility for Indian affairs be vested in civil or in military personnel, in the Department of the Interior or the Department of War? Until 1849, in fact, Indian Affairs were administered by the War Department; for the remainder of the century much bureaucratic effort and in-fighting, as well as open political war in both Houses of Congress, revolved about continuing efforts to return Indian Affairs to military jurisdiction.

This debate was both too extended and too complex to deal with in detail here, but the general positions advocated by each set of participants can be summarized. Debates in the Senate in 1866 and 1867 admirably illustrate this debate and thus provide us with a summary.

One of the most eloquent spokesmen for the military cause in this matter was Senator John Sherman, Republican from Ohio and brother of William Tecumseh Sherman, Commander of the Department of the West. For Senator Sherman, there were three principal reasons (expressed in a June 30, 1866, speech) why authority in Indian Affairs should be returned to the military. First, "it is better to substitute military officers, who hold their commissions for life, in place of the Indian superintendents and Indian agents." The superiority of a military over a civilian appointment, according to Sherman, results from the fact that with a military officer "we shall get the security of a commission for life, and get the services of an officer of the Army for this duty without any increased pay" while with civilian appointees "we have no security from a superintendent of Indian affairs or from any Indian agent that amounts to anything. . ." Furthermore, with a military appointment "there would be a chain of accountability from the soldier up to the general that would always give a sense of security . . . (because) There is a burden of responsibility as against an officer of the Army that does not exist against any other person. This security would be worth more than all the bonds that can be executed by any civil officer."

Sherman's second argument, while widely held in some quarters during the 19th century, largely dissipated during the current century. "Two thirds of the officers of the Army," the Senator noted, "now are persons taken from civil life, who are under the restraints of a military commission. . . (and) are generally men of character and experience, who have familiarity with Indian affairs, and therefore can better discharge the duty of Indian superintendents and agents." Even more significant in Sherman's view was "Another thing. . .to be considered; an Indian always has more respect for a uniform and a musket than he has for any civil authority; one soldier, or one officer, can do more in an Indian territory than any number of agents or superintendents."

Finally, the Ohioan made his usual pragmatic point. ". . .the Army," he pointed out, "will necessarily be stationed in a great measure , in the Indian country, and. . .the present complex system by which the Indian agents and superintendents are to do certain duties, and the Army officers certain other duties, make often a conflict of jurisdiction." "Out of that conflict of jurisdiction," Senator Sherman contended, "has arisen several Indian wars." The solution for this jurisdictional conflict was simple. "If there is but one source of authority in the Indian Territory, and that is the War Department, there will then be proper responsibility." In theory, of course, the removal of the Army from Indian territory would also have eliminated jurisdictional conflict, but no one, regardless of their preference in terms of authority to administer Indian Affairs, ever advocated such removal!

A bit less than a year later, on February 22, 1867, Senator William Stewart strongly seconded Sherman's opinion. "The War Department is just as humane as the Interior Department," argued the Nevada Republican; thus, a return of authority to the War Department "does not mean extermination; it means protection in the end." Stewart vehemently rejected the notion "that officers of the Army will be more cruel and unjust to the Indians than mere speculating Indian agent!"

Besides, the Indian respects shoulder-straps; he respects the warrior, and he likes to deal with warriors, and he does not look upon anybody as honorable unless he is a warrior. Every Indian that is of any account is a warrior. let him deal with those that he respects as a class. Civilians he has a great contempt for. He will use them to avoid punishment by the Army, and cheat them the next hour.

Nine months earlier, Senator Stewart had made another significant point. Regardless of the distribution of authority within the bureaucracy, he argued, "You must keep armed forces in all these Territories and throughout the entire region of the Indian country. . .(in order to) whip the Indians as soon as the traders shall have cheated them.". Thus, "you are compelled to incur about the same expense for the Army now that you would be under the proposed system."

In the same two debates (June 30, 1866, and February 22, 1867) in which Senators Sherman and Stewart called for transfer of Indian Affairs authority to the War Department, Senator James Doolittle (Republican; Wisconsin) eloquently summarized the objections to such a move. Doolittle admitted that "there is jealousy between the employees of the Indian Bureau and the officers of the Army. . .(and) that there is sometimes a conflict of opinion and apparently a conflict of jurisdiction, that they are exceedingly jealous of each other". ". . .far from that jealousy working to the disadvantage of the government it works rather to its advantage. The fact that there are two sets of officers in the Indian country jealous of and watching each other, is both for the good of the Indians and for the good of the government." In addition to this somewhat unusual application of the principle of separation of powers, the Wisconsin Republican, however, leveled a much more serious charge in the same speech. "I do not charge upon the Army greater mistakes than I would charge upon any other men in the same circumstances", he said, "but I do charge that the greatest Indian wars that have occurred within the last twenty years may be traced directly to the Army and to the blunders of officers in command." Yet, Senator Doolittle made it quite clear that "I stand not here to condemn the Army. . .(for) The men who control it are as honorable men as we can find." Referring to the "Grattan Massacre" a dozen years earlier, he added "If you put a young lieutenant who knows but little about human nature, and not much about Indians, in the command of a fort in an Indian country, he may involve you in a war that will cost you $20,000,000 before you come to the end of it. . ."

The principle problem, in Doolttle's view, of conferring upon the military complete and absolute jurisdiction over Indian Affairs had to do with his perception of the nature of military training.

Withdraw all checks and guards whatever, and leave this whole thing to be determined by the officers of the Army, leave them to deal with the Indians as it is the profession of the soldier to deal with them, and my word for it, they will deal with them with the sword. It is their profession to do so; and there is no man in any profession of life who is not disposed from the very nature of the human heart to magnify his own profession.

Senator Doolittle again considered this subject on February 22, 1867, making two major points. First, he argued that, while the presence of troops on the frontier was an absolute necessity, they "are to be used upon the frontier to sustain the civil administration, we should put those troops there in aid of the civil administration of the Government rather than put them there in supreme power over the civil administration of the Government." He then concluded his remarks with a very blunt warning. "I say to that sense of justice and propriety of this whole nation, that if the proposition is now made to deliver the whole of the Indian tribes over to the absolute, unqualified control of the War Department, to be administered by the Army and the officers of the Army, it is to deliver them over to the shortest road to extermination."

And the Senator from Wisconsin was not alone in holding this view. Senators Thomas Hendricks (Democrat; Indiana) and James McDougall (Democrat; Georgia) made the same point. The former was of the opinion that "If we attach this service (Indian) to the War Department now after a lieutenant general of the Army has announced the doctrine that when a tribe is at war with the United States the only remedy is extermination, then we adopt in my judgment that doctrine." Senator McDougall was even more direct in his speech.

I am altogether opposed to returning this authority to the Military Department; for I know that a lieutenant or a captain commanding a post thinks his business is, if he sees a band of Indians, to order out his men booted and saddled; and as soon as he can approach them to draw and strike and slay and slaughter. I have seen it done, and I have felt it to be an outrage upon humanity. They are not to be overcome, unless they should be exterminated in that manner; and yet the Indians of our possessions are many of them superior men.

The Georgia Democrat concluded his remarks by noting what was probably the most pervasive weakness of administering Indian policy throughout the century -- the lack of truly qualified, competent and dedicated personnel. "Few men are fitted to discourse with them," he noted. But there had been at least a few stalwarts. "Fitzpatrick, who was for many years our agent with the Camanches and with the southwestern tribes coterminous, could go among all the Indian tribes and converse with them, for he had a kind eye and a strong arm, and they knew him and knew he was a man to be trusted. I think it is by kindness and by the influence of Christian principles that we may save them from utter oblivion." Just how desperate was the need for qualified men is perhaps reflected in the fact that Thomas Fitzpatrick -- mountain man, entrepreneur, Indian Agent -- had died thirteen years to the month before Senator McDougall invoked his name before the United States Senate!

In view of the controversy and conflict which permeated the Indian Affairs policy-making apparatus during the 19th century, one may indeed wonder whether Native Americans during this period did not suffer as much from bureaucracy as from bullets!

 

 

 


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