The Second Seminole War

During the nineteenth century the United States engaged in three wars with the Seminole Indians in Florida: 1816 to about 1824; 1835 to 1842; and 1855 to 1858.

Contrary to some popular opinions, there was no traditional overall governmental or political organization among the Seminole at this time. They tended to be politically organized around busk groups, each of which had its own medicine bundle on which the annual busk (green corn) ceremony was focused. Thus, the Seminole military actions against the U.S. military did not have a single leader or coordinator.

The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) stemmed from the American policy of removing all Indians from east of the Mississippi River and relocating them in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Many of the Seminole, however, were not in favor of removal and resisted American attempts at forcing their removal. The war began when a group of anti-removal warriors under the leadership of Osceola killed Charley Emathla, a pro-removal leader, and Wiley Thompson, the Seminole agent. Over a period of seven years, the United States spent nearly $40 million in trying to defeat, capture, and remove the Seminole. As a result of this conflict, most of the Seminole were relocated onto the Creek Nation in Oklahoma. When the government troops withdrew in 1842, declaring victory, several hundred Seminole remained in Florida.

Prelude to Second Seminole War:

The Second Seminole War began during Andrew Jackson’s Presidency and may be seen as an extension of his Indian policy. Jackson felt that the mere existence of Indians was a threat to American peace and tranquility. He felt that Indians should either be removed from the United States or they should be eliminated. In his 1833 annual message to Congress, he stated:

“They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvements which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear.”

With regard to the Seminole, Jackson had a deep personal resentment against them as they sheltered and adopted runaway slaves. Jackson felt that the United States had a duty to seize all runaway slaves and return them to their masters.

The 1832 Treaty of Payne’s Landing, signed by Seminole leaders Charley Emathla and Foke Luste Hadjo, required all Indians to leave Florida in exchange for lands in Indian Territory, plus grants of clothes and money. The men who signed the treaty were not empowered to represent the Seminoles, and the treaty was therefore clearly fraudulent. Micanopy did not make his mark on the treaty and yet his name appeared on the treaty.

As one excuse for the treaty, the U.S. government had declared that the land reserved for the Seminole in Florida was not worth cultivating, a fact well-known among the Seminole. However, the more important reason involved runaway slaves and the conflicts between slave-owning Americans and the Seminole. From a Seminole perspective, they were facing starvation due to a prolonged drought which provided some incentive for signing the treaty.

The Treaty also specified that any Seminole with Black blood were to be considered runaway slaves and were to be returned.

In 1834, the Americans held councils with the Seminole to discuss their removal to Indian Territory. While it was clear that the majority opposed removal, the Indian agent informed them that they were to sell their cattle and horses in preparation for removal and to move to the port of embarkation. If they do not do this, they are told, U.S. troops would use force against them.

The Second Seminole War:

In 1835, 25 Seminole leaders meet with the American Indian agent to discuss their removal concerns. Holata Emathla was selected by the chiefs to speak for the Seminole people. The Indian agent at Fort King was a former Georgia congressman named Wiley Thompson. Thompson intended to take out of office any Seminole chiefs who did not agree to removal.

One of the Seminole concerns was the fate of the Blacks who were living among them. Some of the Blacks had married Seminole; they dressed like Seminole; they spoke the language; and they took part in both hunting and war parties. Yet the Americans had encouraged slave-owners to seize many of these Blacks, an action that aroused a great deal of bitterness among the Seminole. Osceola was one of the leaders who opposed the surrender of runaway slaves. Osceola then made some nasty comments to the Indian agent and was placed in irons and jailed. He was released when he agreed to sign an acceptance of the two treaties requiring the Seminole to be removed to Indian Territory.

A short while later, a war party led by Osceola ambushed Charley Emathla, the Seminole leader who signed the removal treaty with the Americans. As a symbolic gesture, Osceola scattered the money Emathla received from the Americans over his dead body. Osceola’s warriors then ambushed Indian agent Wiley Thompson, killing seven of the Americans. Warriors led by Alligator, Micanopy, and Jumper attacked American soldiers near Tampa Bay, Florida and killed 105 of the 108 soldiers. This marks the formal beginning of the Second Seminole War.

With regard to the war leader Osceola, historian Patricia Wickman, in her book Osceola’s Legacy, writes:

“Osceola lacked the hereditary credentials necessary for the Indians to recognize him as an official leader at any level in his society.”

Osceola is also known by the American name of Billy Powell.

The standard military philosophy which the Americans had used against other Indian tribes—to bring in a massive force, build forts, and to attack villages—failed to work against the Seminole. The Americans were unfamiliar with the terrain and the swamps proved good hiding places for the Seminole.

In 1836, the United States negotiated a deal with Creek leaders Opothle Yaholo, Little Doctor, Tukabahchee Micco, and Yalka Hadjo in which the Creek were to supply 600 to 1,000 warriors for service against the Seminole. The warriors were to be paid like soldiers and they would be able keep plunder (taken to mean slaves) which they captured from the Seminole. Believing that the Seminole War would be of short duration, 776 Creek warriors under the leadership of Jim Boy enlisted in the army. They assumed that they would be released from duty in time to remove to Oklahoma and get their crops planted in the spring. The following year, however, they found that their enlistments had been extended.

In 1837, Seminole leaders Jumper, Davy Elliott, Cloud, and Alligator signed an agreement with the Americans that an immediate cease fire was in effect for the Second Seminole War. The Seminole leaders gave their word that they would remove to Indian Territory.

About 200 Seminole, including Jumper and Micanopy, moved toward Tampa Bay and were lodged in two camps eight miles from Fort Brooke. Another group of Seminole, including Osceola, Sam Jones (Arpeika), Philip, and Coacoochee gathered at Fort Mellon on Lake Monroe, about a hundred miles from Tampa Bay.

A party of about 200 Mikasuki Seminole under the leadership of Osceola and Sam Jones, traveled from Fort Mellon to Tampa where they seized Micanopy, Jumper, Cloud and their followers. They then fled to the interior with their captives.

The cease fire gave the Seminole bands a chance to grow and harvest some crops, to obtain more gunpowder and firearms and to prepare for the resumption of the war.

At a peace council called by the Americans at Fort Augustine, a number of Seminole leaders come in under a white flag of truce. The purpose of the council, however, is to attack and arrest the Seminole leaders. This was a common military strategy used by the Americans. Osceola was struck on the head and then tied up. Osceola died after being in captivity for just a few months. Jerry Keenan, in his Encyclopedia of American Indian Wars, 1492-1890, writes:

“Seminoles who surrendered were immediately deported to the Indian Territory. Blacks unfortunate to be captured were often sold to white slave owners.”

Most of the battles of the Second Seminole War were guerilla skirmishes in which small groups of Seminole warriors quickly vanished. One of the largest battles of the war was the 1837 Battle of Lake Okeechobee. Alligator, Arpeika, and Wildcat led their Seminole warriors against Colonel Zachary Taylor’s troops. The Americans, with 1,000 soldiers, were under orders to destroy any Seminole force which they met. The American troops were met with well-directed fire from the Seminole warriors. The Seminole warriors had breech-loading Spanish long guns with rifled barrels which meant that they were more accurate and could be reloaded quickly. Taylor’s plan was for his militia to retreat at first fire and then re-form behind the regular soldiers. However, the militia sustained heavy losses and the frightened volunteers broke and ran for their horses, too shattered to re-form. The battle left 26 soldiers dead and 112 wounded. The Seminole casualties included 11 dead and 14 wounded.

From the Seminole perspective the Battle of Lake Okeechobee was a victory as they had confronted a military force nearly twice their size and had stalled it long enough to ensure the escape of the Seminole women and children. American officials in Washington, D.C., on the other hand, declared the battle to be the greatest victory of the Second Seminole War. Zachery Taylor was hailed as a hero and promoted to brigadier general.

By 1838, the Americans had learned a lot about the Seminole hiding places. Along with Indian allies from a number of tribes, the American forces were attacking Seminole camps, burning their houses, capturing their livestock, and destroying their fields. During this time, the Seminole began to shift from cabins to chickees: open-sided log shelters that were easily constructed. They also began to use a new style of clothing made by sewing rags together.

During this time, one of the important Seminole spiritual leaders was Otulke-thloco (the Big Wind), a Creek prophet who was living in the Big Cypress Swamp and had influence over Billy Bowlegs, Hospetarke, Assinwar, and Fuse Hadjo. He was able to hear the approaching troops before other people, he knew where the deer were hiding, and he was able to cause the death of another person. He kept in constant touch with the Great Spirit with midnight fires, dances, and songs.

By 1838, Major General Thomas Jesup had concluded that the Seminole War could not be militarily won and recommended ending the hostilities with a truce that would grant the Seminole a reservation in southern Florida. He met with Seminole leaders and found that they would agree to stop hostilities if they were allowed to remain south of Lake Okeechobee. He sent this proposal to the Secretary of War, but President Martin Van Buren, determined to continue Andrew Jackson’s Indian policies of removal and eradication, rejected the idea.

In 1839, a band of Calusa under the leadership of Chakaika joined the Seminole under the leadership of Billy Bowlegs and Hospetarke, in the Second Seminole War. The combined forces attacked the camp and store established by Colonel William S. Harney. Thirteen Americans were killed.

In 1839, the Americans re-opened peace talks with the Seminole. Chitto Tustenugee, Halleck Tustenugee, and Macomb made a verbal agreement to a cease fire and to move to southwestern Florida to await arrangements for removal.

In 1840, a band of nearly 100 Seminole warriors under the leadership of Wildcat ambushed an American army detachment, killing a lieutenant and five soldiers. The group then attacked a number of unescorted wagons traveling to St. Augustine. In response to these attacks the army searched through Big Swamp. They destroyed 500 acres of Seminole corn fields. When the troops had finished searching an area, the Seminole usually moved back in.

In 1840, the army tried using bloodhounds to track down the Seminole. Nearly three dozen dogs were imported from Cuba to be used in the military campaign against the Seminole. The effort failed.

In 1840, the Americans offered Seminole chiefs Tiger Tail and Halleck Tustenugee $5,000 each if they would bring in their bands for removal to the West. The Seminole considered the matter for two weeks while eating army food. The leaders and the warriors then declined the offer.

In 1841, the American army began a scorched earth policy in their war against the Seminole. Second Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman writes to his brother that he wants “a war of extermination—the most certain and economical method.” The soldiers burned all crops, canoes, and shelters that they found. In response Wildcat surrendered to the army. He and two of his aides were dressed in Shakespearian costume from trunks which they had captured from a theatrical company.

Halleck Tustenuggee, Tiger Tail, Nethlockemathlar, Octiarche, and 120 of their warriors met in council at the Long Swamp and they agreed that no peace terms with the Americans were to be accepted. Furthermore, they declared that any Seminole or Black who attempted to deliver such terms was to be killed. Similarly, the Big Cypress Seminole bands under the leadership of Billy Bowlegs, Sam Jones, the Prophet, Hospetarke, Fuse Hadjo, and Parsacke met in council and agreed that anyone who brought them terms of surrender from the Americans would be killed.

In 1842, the Seminole under Billy Bowlegs surrendered and the government announced the end of the Second Seminole War which cost the United States the lives of 1,500 soldiers and $30 million. Bowlegs refused to relocate in Oklahoma and was given a small piece of land in the Great Cypress Swamp.

The Seminole understood if they remained in Florida they would receive no money or food but would be allowed to occupy their land. While the agreement allowed the Seminole to remain peacefully in Florida, the policy of the federal government was that they should be removed to Indian Territory. Therefore, their reservation was not to have any permanent or exact boundaries. The American understanding of the agreement was that the Seminole would be allowed to remain “for a while.” Historian James Covington, in his book The Seminoles of Florida, writes:

“By concluding a negotiated peace with the federal government, the Seminole Indians had accomplished something that many other larger tribes had not: they had fought a war with the whites during the nineteenth century in the eastern United States and under the peace terms had been allowed to remain in their own land.”

The Seminole bands remaining in Florida at this time include: the Seminole band of Billy Bowlegs; the Mikasuki band of Sam Jones which lived deep in the Everglades; the Muskogee band led by Chipco which lived near Lake Istokpaga; a northern band under the leadership of Octiarche (since Octiarche is a Creek, many do not consider it to be Seminole); the Muskogee band under the leadership of Tiger Tail.

Immediately following the treaty, the Americans captured Creek leader Octiarche and his band while they were visiting Fort Brooke. They were then shipped to New Orleans for removal to Indian Territory. While this appeared to be a violation of the peace agreement with the Seminole, the Americans justified it on the basis that Octiarche would cause problems if his band were moved to the south to be with the other Seminole bands.

The First Seminole War

During the nineteenth century the United States engaged in three wars with the Seminole Indians in Florida: 1816 to about 1824; 1835 to 1842; and 1855 to 1858.

Contrary to some popular opinions, there was no traditional overall governmental or political organization among the Seminole at this time. They tended to be politically organized around busk groups, each of which had its own medicine bundle on which the annual busk (green corn) ceremony was focused. Thus the Seminole military actions against the U.S. military did not have a single leader or coordinator.

Prelude to the First Seminole War:

The colonial administration of Florida was transferred from Spain to Britain in 1763. The Spanish and some of the Indians affiliated with them moved to Cuba. At this time, the British began to use the term Seminole in distinguishing the Indians of northern Florida from those in Georgia and Alabama.

In 1765, 50 Lower Creek chiefs met with the British governor of Florida on the banks of the St. Johns River west of St. Augustine. The chiefs performed a pipe ceremony and smoked with the two English representatives. Cowkeeper of the Alachua band did not participate in this meeting, and made it clear that the Lower Creeks did not speak for him. A month later, Cowkeeper and 60 of his people met personally with the governor and returned home as a “Great Medal Chief”. After this meeting, travelers, traders, and government officials increasingly referred to the Indians of North and Central Florida as Seminoles. Some people feel that this marks the birth of the Seminole nations.

Cowkeepers’s band had migrated south from the Oconee Creek area of South Georgia into Florida where they herded the wild cattle descended from the Spanish herds of the old La Chua Ranch. The earliest use of the term “Seminole” – a corruption of the Spanish term “cimarron” meaning “wild ones” – was in reference to this band.

In 1777, Seminole warriors led by Cowkeeper and Perryman joined with British troops on raids into Georgia.

In 1784, the British left the area and turned the governing of Florida back over to the Spanish. The British held a final conference with some Seminole leaders, including Kinache of Mikasuka, Five Bones of Coweta, and Long Warrior of Cuscowilla. The Seminole expressed their dismay at having the British leave. Cowkeeper told the English that he would kill all Spanish who tried to enter his land. When Cowkeeper died a short time later—he was estimated to be in his seventies—his dying words urged his people to continue fighting the Spanish. With the death of Cowkeeper, the leadership of the Alachua band passed to his nephew, King Payne. With regard to the death of Cowkeeper, historian Colin Calloway, in his book The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities, writes:

“Even though his dying words ostensibly urged his people to continue fighting the Spaniards, his death eased to some degree the transition from the British to the Spanish regime.”

As a preview to the Seminole Wars, the Georgia Militia and other volunteer groups invaded Spanish Florida on several occasions and engaged the Seminole militarily. The Georgian invasions centered around two closely interrelated concerns: (1) to acquire Florida for the United States, and (2) to capture escaped African slaves who had found refuge among the Seminole. It was not uncommon for escaped slaves to become a part of Seminole culture, marrying into the tribe and having children.

In 1811, the Patriot Army composed of 70 Georgians and nine Floridians invaded Florida to seize the territory. The army quickly occupied Fernandina and moved toward St. Augustine. However, the Seminole attacked the invaders and the plantation owners who supported them. The Seminole killed eight Americans and liberated a number of cattle and slaves from the American plantations.

In order to rescue the Patriot Army, the Georgia Militia sent in 177 men who fought three engagements with the Seminole. The Americans attacked Payne’s Town where they caught the Seminole by surprise. However, Seminole leaders King Payne (who was 80 years old at this time) and Bowlegs directed fire against the American attackers and drove them off.

In 1812, the Seminole village of Paynes Town was attacked by Georgia militia who were a part of the U.S.-inspired offensive to seize Florida from the Spanish. The Seminole wealth was in their cattle, which made tempting targets for Americans looking for booty and quick wealth. Archaeologist Brent Richards Weisman, in his book Unconquered People: Florida’s Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, reports:

“The Seminole wealth on the hoof and their agricultural surpluses stored away in corn cribs and potato houses made tempting targets for groups of border ruffians.”

The Seminole, under the leadership King Payne, counter-attacked and drove the militia back. King Payne, however, was killed and his brother Bowlegs assumed leadership. Bowlegs had about 200 Seminole warriors and 40 African Americans and they waged a war to cut off the Patriots’ supply line.

In a three-week campaign, the Americans burned 386 Seminole houses and destroyed or consumed 1,500 to 2,000 bushels of Seminole corn. Twenty Seminole were killed and nine were captured. With the aid of Florida’s free black militia troops commanded by Lieutenant Juan Bautista Witten, the Seminole turn the tide of the war and the Patriots withdraw.

In 1815, the British withdrew their troops from Florida in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812. However, when it became obvious that the Americans had no intention of honoring article 9 of the Treaty which specified that the Indians would not lose any land, the British left a large supply of arms and ammunition behind for the Indians to use.

First Seminole War:

The first Seminole War erupted in 1816 when the United States army, aided by Creek allies, invaded Spanish Florida. The rationale for the invasion centered around escaped slaves and Seminole raids. The war involved a series of raids and counterraids and culminated with General Andrew Jackson’s scorched earth campaign against the Seminole. As a result of this war, the United States acquired Florida from Spain.

American soldiers together with 200 Creek warriors under Chief William McIntosh invaded Spanish territory in an attempt to capture blacks who were living among the Seminole. The 300 Seminole – including 30 Seminole men and 70 black men – took refuge in Fort Apalachicola. The fort was blown up by the Americans, killing 270 people. The survivors were taken to Georgia where they were enslaved. In revenge, other Seminole began a campaign of attacking American settlements along the Georgia-Florida border. This marked the beginning of what would later be called the First Seminole War.

In 1817, the United States demanded that Neamathla, a Red Stick Seminole leader, surrender some alleged murderers. When Neamathla refused, the army sent in a force of 250 men to attack his village. Five Seminoles—four men and one woman—were killed and the rest escaped into the swamp. In his book The Seminoles of Florida, historian James Covington reports:

“This episode marked the first action in what has come to be known as the First Seminole War.”

Neamathla’s band then joined forces with the Seminole under the leadership of Kinache.

In 1817, the Seminole attacked and killed a party of 40 Americans. In retaliation, American troops under the leadership of Andrew Jackson invaded Seminole erritory, burning homes, and capturing some slaves.

In 1818, American troops under Andrew Jackson and Creek warriors under William McIntosh invaded Spanish Florida and attacked the Seminole village of Chief Bowlegs on the Suwanee River. Jackson’s force outnumbered the Seminoles by at least ten to one, so the Indians simply directed some scattered shots toward the advancing soldiers and then fled to nearby lowlands. Although the Seminole escaped the attack, the Americans captured two Englishmen who had been living with the Seminole. The Englishmen were tried and hanged for aiding the Indians.

The army also captured a number of women and children, including Billy Powell (who would later be known as the warrior Osceola).

In 1819, Spain sold Florida to the United States. The United States promised to honor the rights of the Indians. Historian Louise Welsh, in an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, notes that the Seminoles

“certainly had no reason to welcome the substitution of the United States control for the weak and distant authority of a Spanish sovereign.”

Two years later the United States formally took possession of the territory, which included an estimated 5,000 Seminole. The Americans immediately began making plans to relocate the Seminole who were living near the American settlements. The American governor viewed the area between the Suwanee River and Alachua, the area in which most of the Seminole lived, as the richest and most valuable in the territory. The Americans assumed that this land should be given to American settlers for development and the Seminole should be moved to Alabama or to west of the Mississippi River. The Americans did not recognize any Seminole rights to land ownership. According to historian John Mahon, writing in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“As far as the new owner of the land was concerned the Seminoles were an unwelcome appendage to the soil, clearly without any right of permanent ownership in it.”

The United States decreed that Neamathla was the chief of the Seminoles in Florida. In actuality, Neamathla was an eneah, an advisor to the village chief. As a Hitchiti (one of the tribes considered to be Seminole by the Europeans), Neamathla was determined to retain his culture and economic way of life.

In 1823, the Seminoles signed the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. The terms of the treaty called for the Seminoles to give up all land claims in Florida except for a reservation to be designated for them by the government. In addition, all Seminoles were to move to the reservation where they were to be provided with tools, annuities, and rations. Historian Louise Welsh reports:

“Government officials had decided that the ideal solution to the Seminole problem was to remove them to the West or merge them with the Creeks. The Seminoles opposed both proposals so vigorously that they were removed to a reservation in the interior of the Florida peninsula below Tampa Bay.”

The Treaty also divided the Seminoles into two divisions: a northern group and a southern group.

In 1824, President James Monroe recommended that the Seminole either be removed from Florida or placed on a reservation.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763

By 1776, some of the British colonists in North America had become somewhat irritated with the Monarchy and particularly with its limitations on the expansion of the colonies. Colonial displeasure with the British King was expressed in a document known as the Declaration of Independence in which they express the following charge against the King:

“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

The last portion of this charge—“ raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands”—is a reference to the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

In 1763, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War). Under the terms of the treaty, which was negotiated with no Indian leaders present, all of the Indian nations east of the Mississippi River were to come under the jurisdiction of the English.

In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the English King drew a boundary line from Nova Scotia to Florida following the Appalachians which was intended to separate the Indians from the colonists. Under this decree, non-Indian settlement of the west was prohibited and squatters currently living in the area were to be removed. With this decree, only the Crown had the right to obtain land from Indians. Historian Frances Jennings, in his book The Creation of America: Through Revolution to Empire, reports:

“Thus by royal prerogative alone, a vast territory was reserved temporarily as Indian hunting grounds, colonials were forbidden to settle west of a line on the map while colonial charters were arbitrarily curtailed at that line, and new colonies were decreed in East and West Florida and Province of Quebec.”

The Proclamation also assumed imperial authority over the Indians, thus claiming the continent while allowing Indians to live upon it at their grace and favor. Historian Donald Smith, in his book Sacred Feathers: The Reverend Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) and the Mississauga Indians, writes:

“The Royal Proclamation of 1763 had become the Magna Carta of Indian rights in British North America, immediately prohibiting the purchase of Indian lands by private individuals.”

Anthropologist Charles Hudson, in his book The Southeastern Indians, writes:

“The British never had the wherewithal to enforce the boundary, and neither the colonists nor Indians took it seriously.”

Many of the European colonists, such as George Washington, simply viewed the proclamation as a temporary expedient to calm the Indians. Regarding George Washington, historian Joseph Ellis, in his book His Excellency: George Washington, writes:

“He regarded the Indian tribes of the region as a series of holding companies destined to be displaced as the growing wave of white settlers flowed over the Alleghenies.”

In his book In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided, Walter Echo-Hawk writes:

“For George Washington, black-market buying was simply a good investment opportunity.”

Washington bought as much land as possible west of the demarcation line. Washington wrote:

“Any person therefore who neglects the present opportunity of hunting out good Lands and in some measure marking and distinguishing them for their own (in order to keep other from settling them) will never regret it.”

European settlers simply ignored the new line and continued to settle on Indian land, to build blockhouses, and to dare the Indians to force them out. In his book Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands, Lindsay Robertson writes:

“Most colonists loudly protested the proclamation, viewing it as an unconstitutional denial of access to lands they had fairly won by defeating the French in the Seven Years’ War.”

In the end, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was simply one more grievance against the British monarch for not recognizing that American Indians should have no rights, and particularly no land rights, that would be equal to those of the colonists. For the colonists, the First Nations of North America should have no property rights as they were too warlike and savage.

Some Words

From a traditional American Indian perspective, words are living things which live on long after their sounds are spoken. In traditional ceremonial songs, words are repeated as a way of enhancing their spiritual power. Care must be taken to understand the symbolism and spirit behind the words when talking about Indians.


The word Indian is a misnomer created by a lost and confused Christopher Columbus who thought he was in or near India when he was not. He mistakenly referred to the inhabitants who greeted him as Indians (indios in Spanish) and more than five hundred years later the word is still used. Since it is common to refer to the aboriginal inhabitants of this continent as Indians, this term is used here even though it is a misnomer. In addition, the terms Native American, First Nations and aboriginal are used as interchangeable with Indian.


What do we call a group of Indians? In the early years of English exploration and colonization, groups of Indians were designated as nations and later, under the United States, they tended to be called tribes and bands. The idea of the tribe and the band brings forth the common stereotype of primitive people whose economy is based on hunting and gathering and who have not developed the land and therefore should not have title to it. For the United States it has been important to describe groups of Indians in ways that reduce their sovereignty and title to the land.

While anthropologists, geographers, and political scientists have definitions of what constitutes a nation as opposed to a tribe as opposed to a band, these terms are often used almost interchangeably. The concept of sovereignty is better expressed in the term nation, but many Indian people and their governments refer to themselves as tribes or bands.


Next, we have the problem of what to call non-Indians. Many people use the term white which implies that the difference between Indians and non-Indians is primarily racial. This racist viewpoint has guided and continues to guide United States governmental policies about Indians and about other peoples. What it does not take into account is that a racist world view was not originally an Indian view and has come about among Indian people only in the past century or so.

Non-Indians can be more accurately described as Europeans, Asians, or Africans since these indicate a group of cultural characteristics and world-views and imply that the differences are cultural. For the most part, it has been Europeans who have forced their religious values upon Native Americans and have actively suppressed and persecuted Indian ceremonies and spiritual beliefs.

There are many who feel that this use of Europeans does not distinguish between the different European cultures, such as the differences between the French and the Dutch, between the English and the Spanish, between the Scots and the Norwegians, but neither does the term Indian distinguish between the 500 or so very different Indian cultures.

The term Anglo is often used to refer to English-speaking Europeans. People familiar with the cultures and history of the American southwest will probably feel at home with this term, but it may sound a little strange to those whose interests are in other parts of the country.

In my writings and lectures, I will often use the term American to refer to the European, and primarily Anglo, people in the United States. American culture is a distinct European sub-culture. Some of the characteristics of American culture include the English language, Christianity, and an obsession with private property. The United States government has continually attempted to assimilate Indians into American culture by requiring them to speak English, become Christian, and give up their notions of communal ownership of property.


The words settle and settlers are often used to describe non-Indians as if Indians did not settle down, but wandered as nomads. These words when used in this way imply an ignorance of Native American history. Indians settled this continent long before the Europeans arrived here. Indian people lived in villages, towns, and even cities. They fed themselves through well-developed agriculture which included irrigation. To imply or state otherwise is to ignore reality.

New World and Turtle Island:

New World is another misnomer as it ignores the fact that the Americas had been inhabited for thousands of years before Columbus. In fact, the term America, a European name given to this continent, also implies that there was nothing here before the Europeans. Yet, five centuries later, both of these terms are in common use and everyone understands what they mean. While there are some Indian people who refer to this area as Turtle Island in reference to one of their creation stories, not all Indian people see or talk about the land in this way.

From an Indian perspective, this continent is an old world which had been explored and developed for thousands of years before the coming of the European explorers. While native people had already named the rivers, the mountains, the bays, and the other geographic features of this continent, the European map makers gave new names to these things thus adding to the illusion that they were unknown before the Europeans arrived.

Under European law Indians are given certain rights to the land because of their occupancy, but non-Indians are given superior rights because of discovery. In reality, the Europeans discovered nothing. Historian James Loewen, in his book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, asks:

“how can one person discover what another already knows and owns?”

The European explorers simply followed their Native American guides along well-known routes. The so-called “trail-blazers” followed traditional trails and often called these trails roads which were often marked with piles of stone.


It is not possible to talk about Indians in the United States today without reference to reservations. Most Americans are aware that as the European population expanded across the continent Indians were confined to “reserved” areas which were set aside for exclusive Indian use for “as long as the grasses grow and the rivers flow” or until Congress changes its mind. In talking about reservations and their importance to Indian people, it is important to remember:

  • Not all Indians live on reservations: less than half of the Indians who are enrolled members of federally recognized Indian tribes live on their reservations.
  • Not all Indian tribes have reservations.
  • The “Trail of Tears” is about the forced removal of the Southeastern Indian Nations (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole) from their homelands to Oklahoma. While this is a story which is often told by history books and the popular media, it is important to realize that not all tribes were removed to reservations. Many reservations are on the traditional lands of the tribes which occupy them.
  • Many reservations contain “confederated” tribes. The United States government placed different tribes with different cultures and different languages on the same reservation. As a result of this, some smaller tribes have lost their individual identity and have become a part of a new “confederated” tribe.
  • While there are many reservations which were established by treaties between the tribes and the United States, there are also many reservations which were established by executive order of the President and by Congressional action.
  • Originally, reservations were areas in which non-Indians were to have only limited access. While this is no longer true (and has never really been true), reservations today are areas which are under the jurisdiction of Indian tribes as a part of their sovereignty. This is a concept which many non-Indians, particularly local non-Indian politicians, have difficulty understanding or accepting.
  • While many Indians will refer to the reservation as “the rez”, there are also some Indians who feel that this is a derogatory term.

Arresting Christian Missionaries

One of the central themes of United States policies with regard to American Indians is the need to convert them to Christianity and to repress traditional Indian practices. While many Indians have been jailed for practicing traditional religions, it is interesting to note that one of the landmark Supreme Court cases in Indian law stemmed from the arrest of Christian missionaries among the Cherokees. The missionaries were not arrested by tribal authorities, but by the state of Georgia.


The State of Georgia in 1831 passed a law forbidding non-Indians to live in Cherokee country without a license and notified the missionary boards serving the Cherokees that it was now illegal for a non-Indian missionary to be in Cherokee country unless he had taken an oath of allegiance to Georgia and had obtained a special permit from the governor.

The Georgia Guard, a paramilitary group created specifically to impose Georgia law on the Cherokee, invaded the Cherokee capital of New Echota and arrested several non-Indians, including missionaries. The missionaries were soon released because they served as postmasters at their missions, and were, therefore, federal agents and not subject to the laws of Georgia. One of the missionaries who was arrested and then released is Samuel A. Worcester, whose friendship with Elias Boudinot (also known as Buck Wati, or Galagina), the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, had earned him many enemies in Georgia.

Worcester was arrested again after he returned to New Echota to be with his sick wife. Along with ten other non-Indian missionaries, Worcester was tried for violating Georgia law, quickly found guilty, and sentenced to four years of hard labor.

The eleven missionaries were chained together and forced to march to prison. In spite of their religious principles which forbade travel on Sunday, they were forced to march on Sunday and were refused religious services. When they reached the prison at Milledgeville, the eleven were offered a pardon in exchange for taking an oath to sustain the efforts of Georgia against the Cherokee or to abandon their missionary efforts and leave the state. Nine of the men took the pardon. Samuel Worcester and Elizur Butler did not. In her book Althea Bass Cherokee Messenger,describes the attempt to have these two men agree to the pardon:

“For hours the two men were urged to accept the terms accepted, for the sake of expediency or necessity, by the others; and at intervals the gate of the prison was opened and closed again, grating on its iron hinges with a sound intended to produce terror in the hearts of the listeners.”

In spite of having a sick wife at home, Worcester maintained his support for the Cherokees and was assigned to prison labor. Prior to his arrest, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions had written to Worcester, telling him that if he were to be arrested and imprisoned this would rouse the whole country. According to the Board:

“You would not only benefit the Cherokees, but your case would be known through the civilized world. You would do good to the poor and oppressed everywhere.”

The missionaries appealed their conviction. This became the vehicle for bringing a test case to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court:

The case of the missionaries reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1832. In Worcester versus Georgia, the Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice Marshall, maintained that the Cherokee were a nation separate from the jurisdiction of the state. In his book In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided, attorney Walter Echo-Hawk reports:

“Rejecting the South’s dark version of Indian law, the Marshall Court ruled that Georgia had no right to tread on the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation or to take its land.”

The Court described Indian nations in the same sense as all other nations of the earth. According to Chief Justice Marshall:

“The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community, occupying its own territory, with boun­daries accurately described, in which the laws of Georgia can have no force, and which the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter, but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves, or in conformity with treaties, and with the acts of Congress.”

Marshall also stated that the Georgia was “repugnant to the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States.” Chief Justice Marshall wrote that

“the settled doctrine of the law of nations is, that a weaker power does not surrender its independence—its right to self-government, by associating with a stronger and taking its protection.”

He went on to say that the relationship between the United States and the Cherokee

“was that of a nation claiming and receiving the protection of one more powerful, not that of individuals abandoning their national character, and submitting as subjects to the laws of a master.”

In summarizing Marshall’s view of Indian relations within the United States, in his book American Indians and the Law, law professor Bruce Duthu writes:

“Marshall’s opinion makes clear that the Constitution contemplates two sets of bilateral relations, one bilateral relationship between the national government and the several states, and another between the national government and Indian tribes.”

In the same decision Justice McLean wrote:

“The exercise of the power of self-government by the Indians within a State, is undoubtedly contemplated to be temporary.”

The Cherokees were elated by the decision. Elias Boudinot wrote to Stand Watie:

“It is a great triumph on the part of the Cherokees so far as the question of their rights were concerned. The question is forever settled as to who is right & who is wrong.”

While the power of law seems to be in favor of Cherokee sovereignty, the political reality is quite different. In his book Native American Tribalism: Indian Survivals and Renewals, D’Arcy McNickle points out:

“Unfortunately for the Cherokees, the executive branch of the government was not obliged, or interpreted to oblige, to uphold the decision of the Court.”

Althea Bass puts it this way:

“The supremacy of the Supreme Court, it appeared, was not a matter for the President’s concern.”

Attorney Mark Scherer, in an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, writes:

“With President Andrew Jackson’s implicit indulgence, the state of Georgia effectively annulled both the letter and the spirit of the Court’s decision.”

Ignoring the ruling of the Court, Georgia refused to release Worcester and the other missionaries from prison.

Manifest Destiny Begins

During the nineteenth century, the United States aggressively pursued a policy of Manifest Destiny to spread out between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. In the minds of many Americans, it was the God-given duty of the United States to spread across the continent. In 1804, the United States began trudging its way toward Manifest Destiny. The Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off to explore the northern Missouri River area. Part of the purpose of this expedition was to inform the Indian nations on the Northern Plains that they were now under the jurisdiction of the United States. For this purpose, Lewis and Clark held a number of councils with Indian nations. In terms of diplomacy, the United States prefers to deal with dictatorships and so Lewis and Clark simply appointed chiefs themselves for many of the Indian nations which they encountered

.What Came Before:

 In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson obtained a copy of the book written by Sir Alexander MacKenzie who had crossed Canada to the Pacific Ocean on behalf of the North West Company. Jefferson and his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, were inspired by the book and felt that an American expedition should cross the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Anthropologist Raymond Wood, in his book Prologue to Lewis and Clark: The Mackay and Evans Expedition, writes:

“Perhaps no one read the book more intently than that nation’s recently elected president, Thomas Jefferson, for the volume contained nothing less than a blueprint for the British acquisition of western North America and its commerce, a coup that would deny its riches to the ever expanding Republic.”

Historian James Ronda, in his chapter in North American Exploration. Volume 3: A Continent Comprehended, reports:

“After reading the book, Thomas Jefferson took actions leading directly to the Lewis and Clark expedition.”

In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. Under the Doctrine of Discovery, what the United States purchased was the right to govern the area because a “Christian” nation has the right to govern “non-Christian” nations. The United States did not purchase the land: under international law at the time, Indian nations were recognized as the land owners. Later treaties would be negotiated with Indian nations to obtain title to the land.

With regard to the inhabitants of the Louisiana Territory, Article III of the treaty between the United States and France says:

“they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the religion which they profess.”

Many people assume that this refers only to the European inhabitants and that religion refers only to Christianity.

In 1804, official ceremonies were held at St. Louis transferring Louisiana to the jurisdiction of the United States. Historian Landon Jones, in his book William Clark and the Shaping of the West, notes:

“The most prominent absentees at the Three Flags Ceremony were the Indians who actually controlled the lands being transferred.”

Jones also observes:

“Four thousand people lived in the single agricultural complex at the Mandan-Hidatsa villages, more than in the American capital of Washington City.”


The Otoe (also spelled Oto) and Missouria were Siouan-speaking peoples who were closely related to the Winnebago and Iowa. The Otoe and Missouria had been a single nation until two chiefs quarreled and divided them into two distinct nations.

Near present-day Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, Meriwether Lewis held a council with the Otoe-Missouria. While six chiefs were present, the two principal chiefs – Little Thief and Big Horse – were not in attendance. The Indians were promised a dependable fur trade and Lewis stressed that the Indians would be destroyed if they did not acknowledge the power of the United States.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark scheduled another meeting with the Otoe-Missouria, this time with the Omaha invited so that they could mend a rift between the two groups. However, the party found the Omaha village deserted and in ruins.

After passing the deserted Omaha village, a party of Otoe-Missouria, including Little Thief and Big Horse, rode into Lewis and Clark’s camp. Lewis held council with them and explained that they were now a part of the United States. There is no report on the chiefs’ reactions to this news.


The designation Sioux has been applied to a number of related, but autonomous, Plains Indian groups. Since they had reputations as fierce warriors, many depravations against non-Indians were blamed on them. For example, when one of the Americans with the Corps of Discovery, John Colter, reported that his horse had been stolen, it was presumed that the nearby band of Sioux had been the culprits.

Near the present-day site of Pierre, South Dakota, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered the Sioux and attempted to hold council with them. They had some language difficulties since none of their interpreters were fluent in the language. In some instances there was confusion and the threat of violence. According to James Ronda:

“The Partisan and his retinue proved the most aggressive, at one point causing the usually unflappable Clark to draw his sword.”

Lewis designated Black Buffalo as the leading chief. Black Buffalo was given a medal, a military coat, and a cocked hat. Two other chiefs, Partisan and Buffalo Medicine, were given medals. The Indian response to the gifts is described by historian Stephen Ambrose in his book Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West:

“‘That’s all?’ the Tetons demanded, unbelieving. Some worthless medals and a silly hat.”

The gift-giving was two-way as historian James Ronda reports:

“And the captains received a gift that did not translate well across the cultural divide—bedmates, a mark of respect accorded to distinguished guests.”


The Arikara (sometimes known as the Ree) were village people and farmers who lived along the Missouri River. They were a Caddo-speaking group closely related to the Pawnee. While they did hunt buffalo, they were not a nomadic hunting people.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark held council with the Arikara in South Dakota. Believing that every Indian nation had to have only one leader, they designated Crow at Rest as the principal chief, and Hawk Feather and Chief Hay as secondary chiefs. Hawk Feather and Chief Hay boycotted the second day of the council, insulted at not having been considered as primary chiefs. Both were village chiefs, as was Crow at Rest.


The Osage were a Siouan-speaking group who had been one people with the Kaw, Omaha, Ponca, and Quapaw. Their territory in 1804 was along the Osage River in what is now Missouri. They were semi-nomadic and maintained farming villages.

In Washington, D.C, an Osage delegation under the leadership of White Hair arrived for talks with the Americans. The delegation was the first in a series of Indian visits to the Capital arranged by Meriwether Lewis. White Hair urged President Thomas Jefferson to abandon his plans for expansion west of the Mississippi, saying that it would upset both his people and the Spanish.

Dogs Among Northwest Coast and Plateau Indian Nations

When the Europeans began their invasion of the Americas, they found that the Native Americans, like people throughout the world, had domesticated dogs. At the time of first contact, American Indians had at least 17 different types of dogs.

Northwest Coast:

The Northwest Coast culture area, which is generally described as the area along the Pacific Coast north of California and between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean, is the home to many Indian nations who traditionally based their economy on the use of sea coast and river ecological resources. This is an area which stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California.

Among the Northwest Coast First Nations, dogs were often kept as pets and dogs were never eaten. Several of the tribes used dogs in hunting mountain goats and deer. The dogs were used to drive the animals to the hunters and/or into the water where they could easily be taken.

With regard to Salish dogs, Reg Ashwell and David Hancock, in their book Coast Salish: Their Art and Culture, report:

“They were highly trained by their masters, who called them by name, treated them like respected members of the family, and according to tales old Indians tell, even sang to them.”

Among the Tlingit, dogs were used for hunting bear, elk, goat, and river otters. The dogs also carried packs. In A History of Dogs in the Early Americas, Marion Schwartz reports:

“The typical Tlingit dog was shepherd sized with long hair, a bushy tail, and erect ears. The Tlingit also kept a separate breed of ‘Tahltan bear dogs,’ fox terrier-sized dogs that were quick and fearless in holding a bear at bay until the hunter arrived. The highly prized bear dog may have been kept only by the Tlingit and some of the nearby Athapaskan groups.”

Some of the tribes, such as the Quileute and the Central Coast Salish tribes, had wool-bearing dogs which were sheared and their wool used in blankets. Anthropologist Wayne Suttles, in his article on the Coast Salish in the Handbook of North American Indians, describes this dog as

“a small to medium-sized, Pomeranian-like, nonbarking animal, generally white, with a thick, compact coat that was shorn with a knife in the spring.”

Reg Ashwell and Rogere Hancock report:

“The wool of the dogs was much finer than that of the goats, and the yarns produced from it were very much like those of a fine grade, commercial wool.”

Professor Annie Ross, in article in American Indian Art, writes:

“Wooly dogs were raised by the Coast Salish peoples, and the dog wool was traded by and among the Coast Salish tribes, and perhaps beyond their territory.”

This dog apparently went extinct in the middle of the nineteenth century. Peter Simpson, in his chapter in Shadows of Our Ancestors: Readings in the History of Klallam-White Relations, reports:

“With the arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company and their even-then-famous blankets, the tribes neglected their isolated breeding of ‘wool dogs’ which soon became mongrelized and their fur unworkable.”

Paula Gustafson, in her examination of Salish weaving, does not feel that dog hair was widely used in weaving. In her book Salish Weaving, Gustafson reports:

“Canine hair, no matter from what breed, is not a good spinning fibre, and it is particularly difficult to work with using the suspension-spindle method of spinning employed by the Salish.”

She feels that the “dog hair” blankets reported by the early European explorers were most likely woven from mountain goat hair mixed with some dog hair.

A protein analysis of nine Coast Salish blankets found that dog hair was used in five. Nikhil Swaminathan, in a report in Archaeology, reports:

“The dog hair seems to have been incorporated into common nonceremonial blankets and disappears from them not long after contact with European explorers, who arrived in the late-eighteenth century with cheaper textiles.”


The Plateau culture area is generally described as the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. Most of the Indian nations in this culture area have linguistic, cultural, and/or historic ties with the Northwest Coast.

Prior to the acquisition of the horse, dogs were important pack animals. Among the Kootenai, dogs carried packs made from baskets which were covered with rawhide. Kootenai dogs were used as pack animals and were not used to pull loads. Kootenai dogs were a large, hairy breed.

Among the Kootenai, dogs were considered to be family rather than personal property. In spite of being considered part of the family, H.H. Turney-High reports in his Ethnography of the Kutenai:

“Dogs were never tolerated inside the lodge, even in the coldest weather.”

With regard to the Salish-speaking Flathead, Samuel Lang, in his chapter in Lifeways of Intermontane and Plains Montana Indians: In Honor of Verne Dusenberry, reports:

“The dog, the only domesticated animal among the Flathead prior to their acquisition of the horse, was apparently not used as a pack animal.”

Among the Okanagan, dogs were not used for hauling. They were, however, used in hunting. In hunting mountain sheep, dogs were used to drive the animals to the waiting hunters.

Many of the tribes used dogs in hunting deer and elk. The Wenatchee, Entiat, and Chelan, for example, would use dogs to drive deer into the Columbia River where they would be killed.

Ancient America: Wyoming 6000 BCE to 2500 BCE

About 8,000 years ago (6000 BCE), the American Indian cultures of the Northern Plains began undergoing a series of major changes. There was a decrease in dependence on big game hunting as the people engaged in a wide range of hunting and gathering patterns. This is a period which archaeologists call the Archaic Period (also called the Middle Precontact Period by some archaeologists).

At about 5000 BCE, the Great Plains began to enter into a climate period known as the Altithermal. This was a hot, dry episode that lasts for about 2,500 years. During this time, the bison had to shift their ranges and subsequently Indian people either moved with them or changed to other game. In his Columbia University Ph.D. Dissertion on the MacHaffie Site, Richard Forbis reports:

“During the Altithermal period, climatic conditions appear to have forced bison from the Plains to the northerly regions. Man does not seem to have occupied the Plains in the Altithermal period. Man did, however, occupy other areas of North America then.”

The lack of moisture during this period meant that the production of grasses needed to sustain bison herds was restricted. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:

“Humans adapted to the changing climate and decreasing bison by increasing the breadth of their diets, changing their technology, exploiting new resources, and living in different places.”

In his book Prehistory of the Americas, archaeologist Stuart Fiedel writes:

“It seems that the bison deserted much of the Plains; some of them may have taken refuge in stream valleys or peripheral foothill areas where the water shortage was less severe.”

In his book Indians in Yellowstone National Park, anthropologist Joel Janetski writes:

“It is characterized by a greater reliance on plant foods, especially small seeds, and the increased hunting of smaller animals, although the modern large animals—deer, mountain sheep, and bison—continued to be important.”

Briefly described below are some of the Wyoming sites between 6000 BCE and 2500 BCE.

Buffalo Kill: about 6000 BCE, near Casper, Wyoming, hunters used a parabolic sand dune with steep sides to capture a herd of about 100 bison during a hunt in late autumn. The bisons’ hooves sank into the loose sand and immobilized them, which allowed the hunters to move in and kill them at close range.

James Allen: by 5900 BCE, Indian people are occupying the James Allen site (48AB4). The stone used to make the tools found at the site are from a site a hundred mile or so to the north-northeast.

48JO303: by 5850 BCE, Indian people are now occupying sit 48JO303 in the southern Big Horn Mountains. The site is located at an elevation of 7000 feet and consists of a small group of rockshelters. One of these rockshelters, designated as Shelter Three, faces west onto a steep drainage. Don Grey, in a report in the Wyoming Archaeologist, writes:

“Shelter Three had about 300 square feet of floor space under an overhanging ledge, and opened onto a large flat area thirty to forty feet wide and a hundred feet long.”

The stone projectile points in the site include McKean-like materials.

Southsider Cave: by 5700 BCE, people were occupying the Southsider Cave (48BH364). The occupants dug two cache pits about 58 centimeters in diameter and about 45 centimeters deep. The cache pits, when uncovered by archaeologists, were filled with trash. According to George Frison, in an entry in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“However, in order to preserve a cache pit of this nature for reuse once it is emptied, it must be filled with something or the sides will collapse within a short period. The easiest way to preserve them was to fill them with trash, which was removed when the pit was reused.”

Mummy Cave: by 5680, Indian people were occupying Mummy Cave (48PA201) in northwestern Wyoming.

Trappers Point: by 5580 BCE, Indian hunters camping at Trappers Point were killing pronghorn antelope and other animals. The pronghorn were corralled, killed, and then butchered. All parts of the animals are used

Chittendon Bridge: by 5000 BCE, Indian people were using the Chittendon Bridge site east of Mammoth Hot Springs on the Gardner River in present-day Yellowstone National Park.

Deadman Wash: by about 4890 BCE, Indians were occupying the Deadman Wash Site (48SW1455) in southwest Wyoming.

Helen Lookingbill: by 4800 BCE, Indian people were using the Helen Lookingbill site (48FR308) which is located at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet the Absoroka Mountains. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes:

“Several bighorn sheep are represented at the site, but no bison. Local cherts were quarried at the site, suggesting a tethered settlement pattern around known resources in this rugged setting.”

Hawken: by 4340 BCE, the Hawken site (48CK303) in northeast Wyoming was used as a communal buffalo kill site. This was an arroyo trap. The bison were killed in the winter. The bison bones at the site are intermediate in size, between the extinct Bison antiquus and the modern Bison bison.

Fishing Bridge Point: By 3870 BCE, Indian people were using the Fishing Bridge Point site in present-day Yellowstone National Park. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes:

“The presence of Early Archaic sites on the Yellowstone Plateau shows that Early Archaic hunter-gatherers moved into the uplands, at least during the warmer months, to hunt animals and collect the plethora of plant resources available around the shores of Yellowstone Lake.”

Twin Creek Valley: about 3260 BCE, Indian people began using a camp site in the Twin Creek Valley. Among the tools they were using were obsidian projectile points from Malad, Idaho (about 135 km to the northwest).

Hogsback: by 3330 BCE, Indian people are now occupying a pithouse at the Hogsback site (48UT2516). The pithouse is of moderate size: slightly more than 4 meters by slightly less than 4 meters. The structure was repeatedly occupied as a seasonal camp for several years. Roasting pits at the site appear to be used for cooking meat. Archaeologist Summer Moore, reporting in the Wyoming Archaeologist, writes:

“Analysis of faunal remains from the site indicates animal use was primarily focused on the procurement and processing of large game animals such as pronghorn, although the significant proportion of rabbit-sized faunal remains also suggests small animals were captured, as well. Pronghorn antelope appear to have been transported to the site as whole carcasses, possibly suggesting a trapping location or otherwise advantageous hunting site was situated nearby.”

The site was occupied during the period which archaeologists call the Opal Phase in the Wyoming Basin. This phase is characterized by a decrease in mobility due to the availability of large game animals.

House Structure: by 3250 BCE, Indian people at site 48CO1712 in the Powder River Basin constructed a house. The people at this site were gathering wild plants, such as goosefoot, and hunting mule deer and pronghorns.

McKean: by 2590 BCE, Indian people were occupying the McKean site (48CK7) near the Belle Fouche River in northeastern Wyoming. They were hunting bison as well as deer, rabbit, and pronghorn.

Scoggin: about 2540 BCE, a small band of Indian hunters used the Scoggin site (48CR304) as a bison impoundment area. The impounded buffalo were killed by using a thrusting spear. This site is located in south central Wyoming near the North Platte River.

Dead Indian Creek: by 2500 BCE, Indian people were hunting deer between October and March near the Dead Indian Creek site (48PA551) in northwestern Wyoming. This suggests that this high elevation site was occupied during the winter. Features at the site suggest that the Indian people here had constructed a housepit. Anthropologists Peter Nabokov and Lawrence Loendorf, in their book Restoring a Presence: American Indians and Yellowstone National Park, report:

“They ate mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, processed collected seeds, possibly making flour to thicken soup or to bake a mealy, unleavened bread, and survived at elevations where winter temperatures can drop to life-threatening lows.”

Mule deer skull caps at the Dead Indian site were arranged with their antlers attached which suggests ceremonial treatment. While sheep were an important source of food, there is no evidence of ceremonial treatment for these animals.

Medithermal Period: about 2500 BCE, the Medithermal period began with temperatures declining to modern levels. With regard to the Plains area, Richard Forbis reports:

“The Medithermal marked a return of cooler temperatures. Probably its effect on the Plains was a reduction in the number, intensity, and duration of drought periods and a gradual westward and southward return of the grasslands. And with the grasslands, capable of supporting year-round grazing, bison reappeared in great numbers; man followed the buffalo. All bison of the Medithermal period appear to be modern species.”

Note: the information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.

Christianity Comes to the Flathead Indians

During the 1830s, a major stir occurred among the missionary groups in North America when there were reports of the “savage” tribes from the interior who had come to St. Louis seeking Christianity. One of these tribes was the Flathead or Bitterroot Salish, a Salish-speaking tribe whose traditional territory included much of Western Montana. After they acquired the horse during the early 1700s, they began going east of the Rocky Mountains to hunt buffalo.

During the 1800s, the buffalo hunting area east of the Rocky Mountains on the Great Plains was claimed by a number of different tribes and there were often battles between them. The animosity between the Flathead and the Blackfoot was particularly intense and Blackfoot warriors were often successful in their raids on Flathead hunting parties.

In 1810, the North West Company established a trading post called Saleesh House in Flathead country on the Clark Fork River near present-day Thompson Falls in Montana. Fur trader David Thompson employed six Iroquois at Saleesh House to help him find bark for making canoes.

Following the establishment of Saleesh House, Nor’wester fur traders accompanied a hunting party of 150 Flathead across the Rocky Mountains through Marias Pass to hunt buffalo on the Plains. The hunting party was attacked by a party of 170 Piegan Blackfoot. The Flatheads won the battle, in part through the aid of the three traders who were traveling with them. The Flathead were armed with 20 guns obtained from the Nor’westers. They killed 7 of the Blackfoot and wounded 13 others. Among the Flathead, 5 were killed and 9 wounded. This was the first time in many years that the Flathead had won a battle against the Blackfoot.

The following year, the North West Company trading post Saleesh House was abandoned because of Blackfoot raids against the Flathead and fear of reprisals for the Nor’westers’ role in the battle against the Blackfoot.

In 1820, a group of about two dozen Christian Iroquois (Catholic Mohawk from Quebec) under the leadership of Old Ignace La Mousse came to live among the Flathead. The Iroquois worked for the Canadian fur traders and were to help establish fur trade and to show the Flathead how to trap.

The Iroquois preached their version of Christianity to the Flathead and taught them a number of Christian prayers and hymns. They told the Flathead about the great power of the Black Robes – the Jesuit Priests of the Catholic Church.

In 1831, some of the Flathead decided that the power of the Black Robes (Jesuits) could help them prevail over their enemies. The American Fur Company transported four Indians, including Silver Eagle and Running Bear, to St. Louis where they met with William Clark. Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, had first made contact with the tribe when the Corps of Discovery had passed through their territory. While Clark was sympathetic to their request for missionaries, he was unable to find any Black Robes who were free to go to western Montana.

Two of the Flathead men died in St. Louis. The other two traveled part of the way home with the well-known American artist George Catlin who later reported that the Flathead had told him that the Jesuits had a superior religion and that they would be lost if they did not embrace it. The two remaining Flathead men died before returning home.

In 1834, Jason Lee, sent by the Methodist Missionary Board to establish a mission among the Flathead, met with the Flathead and Nez Perce at the Green River Rendezvous in Wyoming. He found the Indians deeply unsettling and concluded that the Indians were slaves to Satan and to alcohol. Instead of establishing an Indian mission, he continued his journey west to Fort Vancouver in Washington.

 In 1835, the Flathead still felt it would be good if they were to have a Black Robe live among them and share with them the great power of the Black Robes. Consequently, a second delegation of Flathead left Western Montana to travel to St. Louis, Missouri. The journey from Western Montana to Missouri was not an easy one for it meant that they had to pass through territories claimed by other tribes, such as the Crow and Lakota. Even though they were on a peaceful mission, it was easy to be mistaken for a war party and to invite attack by other tribes.

In St. Louis they asked for a Black Robe to be assigned to them. The delegation included Old Ignace, the Iroquois who first introduced the Flatheads to Catholicism. Historian Larry Cebula, in his book Plateau Indians and the Quest for Spiritual Power, 1700-1850, reports of Ignace:

“He was familiar with Catholicism and went straight to the cathedral to have his sons baptized. There he told the blackrobes that the Flatheads had sent him to St. Louis to request missionaries and that other Plateau groups, including the Spokans, Nez Perces, Cayuses, and Kutenais, wanted missionaries as well.”

In spite of the request, all available Jesuit manpower was committed to establishing a mission among the Kickapoos on the southern Plains and therefore there was no one available to be assigned to the Flathead.

In 1836, a party of four Flatheads left their Western Montana home for St. Louis to ask for the Blackrobes (Jesuits) to come to their people. This delegation was also lead by the Iroquois Old Ignace. The group was not heard from again. Indian agent Peter Ronan, in his 1890 book History of the Flathead Indians, reports:

“Whether killed while passing through the roaming places of their enemies or died of sickness or fatigue on their wearisome journey has never been known.”

In 1839, a fourth delegation of Flathead, including Peter Gaucher and Young Ignace, left Western Montana to journey to St. Louis. Upon reaching St. Louis, they met with Bishop Rosati. In their meeting with Bishop Rosati they extracted the promise that a priest would be sent to live with them.

In 1840 the Jesuits sent Father Pierre-Jean De Smet to live among the tribes of Western Montana. His first contact with them was at the Three Forks of the Missouri River where he was welcomed into a camp of Flathead and Pend d’Oreille. In his M.A. Thesis Religious Acculturation of the Flathead Indians, Richard Forbis reports:

“Like the Catholics of medieval Europe, De Smet wanted to make all aspects of life subservient to the Church and to Christianity.”

As a part of this assimilation, he wanted the Indians to become farmers.

Upon his arrival in Western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley in 1841, Father De Smet set about constructing St. Mary’s mission, baptizing children, and instructing the people in the ways of Catholic Christianity. He placed a large hand-hewn cross in the center of a circle. According to J. F. McAlear, in the book The Fabulous Flathead: The Story of the Development of Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation:

 “Following a short service by Father DeSmet, all the Indians, young and old, came forward and solemnly kissed the cross and declared an oath that they would never forsake the religion of the Black Gown.”

At least this was DeSmet’s interpretation of what happened. According to Indian agent Peter Ronan:

“On the 3d day of December, 1841, about one-third of the Flathead tribe were baptized into the Catholic faith, and the others who were under religious instructions were received into the fold on Christmas day of that same year.”

In his book Charlo’s People: The Flathead Tribe, Adolf Hungry Wolf reports:

“But after all their efforts to learn about the Catholic religion, the Flatheads were soon discouraged by the attitudes of the priests. The People wanted to add Catholicism to their own Ways of Life—not to exchange their Ways for the ways that the priests demanded.”

In 1846, the Small Robes band of Blackfoot were living among the Flathead and observed their great victory over the Crow. The Blackfoot felt that the reason for the victory was the great War Medicine of the Blackrobes (Jesuits). Consequently, they had Father De Smet baptize 80 of their children. Encouraged by this baptism, Father De Smet set out to find the main band of the Blackfoot so that he might: (1) establish peace between the Flathead and the Blackfoot, and (2) establish a permanent mission among the Blackfoot.

In a letter to a London supporter, Father De Smet described the Blackfoot:

“They are the most treacherous and wily set of savages among all the nations of the American desert, in whose words no reliance can be placed.”

By seeking to bring Christianity to the Blackfoot De Smet angered the Flatheads. According to Richard Forbis:

“Although De Smet had lived with the Flatheads for five years, he apparently did not appreciate the fact that the Indians were not particularly interested in the moral and non-material aspects of Christianity; they were primarily concerned with its protective powers.”

When the Flathead had become Christian they had become successful in repelling Blackfoot attacks. This success, according to the Flathead, was due to the superior power of the Black Robes and if this power were to be given to their enemies, they reasoned, they might be exterminated. De Smet’s promiscuous proselytizing – giving the power to their enemies – caused Flathead resentment and hostility toward the priests and toward Christianity.

When DeSmet returned to the Flathead he found that their attitude toward the Black Robes had changed. Now they openly challenged the Black Robes by publically gambling, an activity which the priests discouraged. According to historian Larry Cebula:

“One Flathead disrupted religious services and others practiced shamanism within the mission itself.”

In 1847, smallpox struck the Flathead shortly after the hunters left for the buffalo hunt. Eighty-six people died, leaving only fifteen children alive. In her M.A. Thesis Bighorn Sheep and the Salish World View: A Cultural Approach to the Landscape, Marcia Pablo Cross reports:

“The priests regard this as a sign of God’s displeasure with the Flatheads for so many of them turning away from the mission. The Salish could have viewed this incident as the priests withholding their good medicine.”

In 1850, the Jesuits closed their mission to the Flathead and sold the mission to a local trader. The trader turned it into Fort Owen which served as a trading post for the Bitterroot Valley. The Jesuits abandoned the mission because they had little protection from Blackfoot attacks. Indian agent Peter Ronan blamed the lack of Flathead protection for the mission on the traders:

“Those men—licentious, immoral and impure generally, who accept from the great fur companies of the west, situations as trappers, hunters, etc., lead wild and desolate lives, and in their career of debauchery among the simple natives, brooked no opposition, and looked with jealous eyes upon the missionaries’ teachings of Christianity and virtue, and in the councils of the Indians began to sow the seed of discontent against the missionaries for the new order of things, which deprived the Christianized Indian from as many wives as he chose to take and in prohibiting debauchery of the Indian women by those lewd camp followers.”

It should be pointed out that Ronan had been appointed Indian Agent for the Flathead Reservation by the Catholic Church under the U.S. government policy of requiring Indians to convert to Christianity.

In 1854, the Jesuits established St. Ignatius as a mission among the Pend d’Oreille, a Salish-speaking group north of the Flathead. The Jesuits hoped that this mission would encourage the Flathead to abandon their traditional home in the Bitterroot Valley and move north to resettle among the Salish-speaking Pend d’Oreille. The Jesuits were led to the site of the new mission by Chief Alexander.

Today many, if not most, of the Flathead are Catholic and participate in Catholic ceremonies. At the same time, many also practice some of the “old ways” and see no conflict between the two. Christianity provides them with additional power.


Grizzly Bears

While Grizzly bears were once found throughout much of the American West, today there are two primary locations where Grizzly bears are abundant: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Although at one time there were an estimated 50,000 Grizzly bears in North America, the current population is estimated at about 1,800. At the present time, federal wildlife officials are considering lifting protections for the Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area. This would allow trophy hunting of Grizzly bears outside of the Park. A number of American Indian tribes are protesting this possible decision, citing the spiritual importance of Grizzly bears to traditional Native religions. For many American Indians, the Grizzly bear is a sacred animal.

Indians and Bears:

In general, American Indian people have seen themselves as being in harmony with nature and animals, such as the bears, are spoken of not only as people, but as relatives. Some examples of the importance of bears to Native American spirituality are described below.

Among the Ute, the veneration of the bear is expressed ceremonially. Anthropologist Bertha Dutton, in her book The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute Peoples: Indians of the American Southwest, reports:

“The bear is regarded as the wisest of animals and the bravest of all except the mountain lion; he is thought to possess wonderful magic power. Feeling that the bears are fully aware of the relationship existing between themselves and the Ute, their ceremony of the bear dance assists in strengthening this friendship.”

The Bear Dance is a traditional Ute ceremony which is performed in the Spring. During the 10-day ceremony, a group of men play musical rasps (notched and un-notched sticks) to charm the dancers and propitiate bears. According to oral tradition, this dance was given to the Ute by a bear. The circular dance area represents a bear cave with an opening to the south or southeast. Traditionally, the dance area was enclosed with timbers and pine boughs to a height of about seven feet.

In the Ute Bear Dance, women choose male partners and the women lead in the dancing. Spiritual leader Eddie Box, quoted in Nancy Wood’s book When Buffalo Free the Mountains: The Survival of America’s Ute Indians. says:

“Bear Dance is a rebirth, an awakening of the spirit. It’s a time of awareness. You come to learn from the past in order to arrive at the present with an understanding of the harmony of things.”

Historian Richard Young, in his book The Ute Indians of Colorado in the Twentieth Century, describes the Bear Dance this way:

“Probably the oldest of the Ute Dances, the Bear Dance was a festive, social dance that had always been held in the spring before winter camps disbanded and family groups went their separate ways in search of food.”

The Utes are not the only tribe with a bear dance: the Shoshone, who are linguistically related to the Ute, also have a bear dance. This was originally a hunting dance, which had nothing to do with hunting bears. Men and women would face each other in two long lines and dance in a back-and-forth manner. In one form of the dance, a drum is used while in another form an upside-down basket is scraped by a rasp stick.

In the Dakotas, the Arikara, an agricultural nation with villages along the Missouri River, also had a bear ceremony. Among the Arikara, the bear-medicine men would put on a ceremony to gain the bear’s help in hunting. The ceremony was conducted in an earth lodge where seven elders would sing a number of songs. A young man would then be instructed to go out and get a certain kind of clay. From this clay, the bear-medicine men would make little figures of men, horses, and buffalo. They would then have the little men hunt and finally have them jump into the fire.

The bear also has important spiritual significance for many other Indians.

 Non-Indians and Bears:

When the English began their invasion of North America, they tended to view the Americas as a wilderness, a frightening concept with strong religious overtones. Edwin Churchill, the chief curator at the Maine Museum, writes in his chapter in American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega:

“They viewed the wilderness as a place where a person might lapse into disordered, confused, or ‘wild conditions’ and then succumb to the animal appetites latent in all men and restrained only by society.”

The English world-view tended to reflect the ethnocentric notion that they were divinely commanded to subdue the earth. According to Frank Waters, in his book Brave are My People: Indian Heroes Not Forgotten:

“They leveled whole forests under the axe, plowed under the grasslands, dammed and drained the rivers, gutted the mountains for gold and silver, and divided and sold the land itself. Accompanying all this destruction was the extermination of birds and beasts, not alone for profit or sport, but to indulge in a wanton lust for killing.”

For the English, taming the wilderness and claiming their dominion over the land involved the eradication of many predators, such as wolves, bears, and (in their minds) Indians. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Americans continued the policy of extermination. Even within national parks, government hunters sought to kill as many wolves and bears as possible.

With regard to Grizzly bears, the extermination policy was nearly successful. One display sign in the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana indicates:

“Although the Grizzly inspires fear and can pose real danger to people, human beings are powerful natural enemies of this bear. Through killing this animal and competing for the use of its habitat, humans have eliminated the Grizzly from most of its original range.”

The Current Situation:

Protections for Grizzly bears were imposed in 1975 and since that time the bear population has rebounded. According to one newspaper report:

U.S. wildlife officials and their state counterparts in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming contend the region’s 700 to 1,000 bears are biologically recovered. They’ve been pushing for almost a decade to revoke the animal’s threatened status, a step that was taken in 2007 only to be reversed by a federal judge two years later.

Removing federal protections for Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region would mean that the animals would be under state management. This would allow the states—Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming—to allow hunting of them. Wildlife officials in these states have been advocating bear hunts as a way to deal with problem bears.

Grizzlies have killed six people in and around Yellowstone National Park since 2010. In addition, they have regularly mauled both domestic livestock and hunters outside of the Park. The ranching industry has lobbied for eliminating protections for the Grizzly bears.

Under the Endangered Species Act, decisions regarding the Grizzly bear should be guided by “best available science,” but federal officials have indicated that they will take tribal views into consideration. Consultation with the tribes is required by Presidential Executive Orders and, according to tribal officials, by treaty obligation. Federal officials report that they have consulted with five tribes and have discussions scheduled with two more. In addition, letters have been sent to more than 50 tribes inviting them to participate in the discussions.

Tribal leaders from several tribes have opposed the removal of Grizzly hunting restrictions. The Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho is the home of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes. Tribal Vice-Chairman Lee Juan Tyler has stated:

“These are our treaty lands, our ancestral homelands. Too many times in our relationship with the federal government we have surprises. … We want the grizzly bear protected with those lands, and the grizzly bear returned to areas where we can co-manage them.”

Federal officials are expected to rule on lifting protections for the Grizzly bear sometime in the next several months. This decision would impact only the bears in the area around Yellowstone National Park. The area around Glacier National Park would not be impacted by this decision.

Dissolving Cherokee Government

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, that great American visionary Thomas Jefferson proposed that Indian nations be moved to territories west of the Mississippi River so that they would not hinder American economic development. Government policies during the first half of the nineteenth century forced the removal of many Indian nations and thousand of Indian people to new “reservations” in the west. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Manifest Destiny and American greed caught up with the removed Indian nations. The governmental mantra became assimilation and the idea that reservation lands and resources should be developed by non-Indians.

In 1893, Congress established the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes (commonly known as the Dawes Commission) to persuade the leadership of the Indian nations in Oklahoma to give up title to their land so that it could be allocated to individuals. The primary governmental concern at this time was for Indians to become assimilated into the dominant culture. In addition, dissolution of tribal governments would clear the way for what had been Indian Territory to become a part of Oklahoma and for Oklahoma to become a state. Powerful non-Indian groups pushed for this as an opportunity to make a profit. With regard to the Cherokee, an Indian nation which had been removed from their aboriginal homelands and had created an American-style democratic government in the west, this meant that the United States sought to dissolve the Cherokee government.

In 1894, the Cherokee told the Dawes Commission that something as momentous as allotment must be discussed by the people at length. Furthermore, they suggested that the United States first settle all outstanding claims from previous treaties. Historian Andrew Denson, in an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, reports:

“This reluctance to embrace allotment left the American commissioners mystified and angry. Advocates of the policy at this time were convinced that common landholding and tribal government were doomed.”

There were at this time 41,824 Cherokees in the west and of these 8,703 (21%) were classified as full-bloods.

In 1895, Cherokee leader Bird Harris proposed that the Cherokee move to Mexico in order to preserve their culture and heritage. A large meeting was held at which Harris proposed a large reservation—100 miles by 300 miles—in Mexico. As an alternative to Mexico, he suggested Colombia. E.C. Boudinot traveled to Washington, D.C. to discuss the possibility of Cherokee emigration with the foreign ministers of Mexico and Venezuela.

In 1896, the Dawes Commission was empowered by Congress to determine tribal citizenship. Ken Carter, in an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, writes:

“The loss of control over citizenship was a serious blow to the power of the tribal governments that made it almost impossible to defend themselves against the government’s determined efforts to abolish them.”

The government’s rationale for giving the Dawes Commission power to determine citizenship was based on allegations that the tribal rolls were loosely kept. With regard to the Cherokee roll, Kent Carter, in another article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, reports:

“Throughout its existence, the Dawes Commission held firmly to the philosophy that it did not matter if a person had Cherokee blood because if he or she did not meet all the requirements of the various laws passed by Congress and the numerous opinions issued by government attorneys, they were not eligible for enrollment. It is a philosophy that drove contemporary lawyers to distraction and drives present day researchers to tears.”

The Curtis Act in 1898 extended the provisions of the Dawes Act over Indian Territory. This act allowed the federal government to break up the Indian reservations into individual allotments. At this time there were almost no Indians in the Territory who favored allotment. Theda Perdue and Michael Green, in their book The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Southeast, write:

“Frustrated at the unwillingness of the tribes to negotiate allotment agreements, Congress simply mandated allotment and the termination of tribal governments.”

The Act stipulates that tribal governments would continue to exist only to issue allotment deeds to tribal members and to terminate any other tribal business.

The Cherokee objected to the bill and sent a delegation to Washington to testify but they were not allowed access to the rooms where committees were debating the bill. Corporate representatives, on the other hand, had free access to the committees. Business historian H. Craig Miner, in his book The Corporation and the Indian: Tribal Sovereignty and Industrial Civilization in Indian Territory, 1865-1907, describes the vote:

“There was no quorum; a roll call would have revealed that there were only a dozen men in the Senate.”

While the Cherokee opposed the Curtis Act, in the 1899 case of Stephens versus Cherokee Nation, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Curtis Act.

In 1900, a delegation of Cherokee traveled to Mexico with the intent of finding out if a reservation could be established for them in the Mexican states of Sonora or Sinaloa.

The Board of Indian Commissioners in 1901 declared that the purpose of the Indian Office (now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was “to make all Indians self-supporting, self-respecting, and useful citizens of the United States.”

In 1901, all members of the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma were granted citizenship by an act of Congress. This meant that every Indian adult male was a registered voter. This was an attempt to increase the number of voters in Oklahoma territory so that it could gain statehood.

In 1902, the Dawes Commission attempted to force enrollment on the Cherokee. Many of the full bloods, members of the Kootoowah Society, refused to submit to the process. In her book The Cherokees, Grace Steele Woodward reports:

“Hiding from the agents in inaccessible and out-of-the-way places known only to Keetoowahs, they eluded capture as long as possible. And many of these full bloods when captured purportedly preferred imprisonment to enrollment.”

In 1903, the Five Civilized Tribes Executive Committee passed a resolution asking each tribal council to petition Congress for statehood for Indian Territory.

In 1903, the Cherokee elected William C. Rogers as principal chief. The Indian Chieftain reported:

“So far as the chief’s election is concerned, the last political battle that the Cherokee will ever engage in has been fought out.”

The article concludes:

“As the nominal head of a defunct nation the chief will have little authority.”

In 1905, Cherokee chief William C. Rogers refused to call for tribal elections as the U.S. Congress had declared that the Cherokee government would not continue past 1906. Nevertheless, the elections were held and many opponents to Rogers were elected. Rogers notified the tribal council that he did not consider it to be legally elected. While Rogers was in Washington, D.C, the tribal council voted to impeach him and named Frank Boudinot as principal chief. However, the secretary of the Interior simply re-appointed Rogers to the position.

In 1905, the Cherokee Keetoowah Society, composed primarily of full-bloods, became incorporated. However, the Keetoowah were soon factionalized, and Redbird Smith and his followers who were opposed to allotment formed the Nighthawk Keetoowahs.

In 1905, representatives from the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Choctaw nations held a convention at which they drew up a constitution for the state of Sequoyah, which would be separate and distinct from Oklahoma Territory which was seeking statehood. The call for the convention was issued by W.C. Rogers, the Cherokee Principal Chief, and by Green McCurtain, the Choctaw chief. The issue of whether Oklahoma should be one state or two was summed up by the Muskogee Phoenix:

“There are in Indian Territory some few persons who desire two states made of the two territories and who honestly believe this can be done. There are some persons who desire conditions to remain as they now are and who know that to fight for two states is to fight for no statehood legislation, and this makes them especially active.”

In her book And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes, Historian Angie Debo reports:

“The constitutional convention was characterized even by a hostile newspaper as the most representative body of Indians ever assembled in the United States.”

The constitution for the state of Sequoyah was submitted to the voters: the turnout was light, but the vote was strongly in favor of it. The measure was presented to Congress which simply ignored it. According to Angie Debo:

“There was never the slightest chance that Congress would consent to the admission of two Western, radical, and probably Democratic, states in the place on the map that could be occupied by one.”

Congress, in 1906, passed an Act to Provide for the Final Disposition of the Affairs of the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma. The Department of the Interior took over the Indian schools, school funds, and tribal government buildings and furniture. The law provided that the President may appoint a principal chief for any of the tribes. If a chief failed to sign a document presented to him by U.S. authorities, he was either to be replaced or the document could be simply approved by the Secretary of the Interior.

Congress passed the Oklahoma Enabling Act in 1906 as one step in the creation of the state of Oklahoma. The Act combined Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. With regard to Indians, the Act imposed a condition on the state constitution: Oklahoma cannot limit federal authority over Indians within its boundaries.

In 1906, the Cherokee Nighthawk Keetoowah Society changed Redbird Smith’s title from Chairman to Chief as a political statement which pointed out that the Cherokee now have no principal chief.

The state of Oklahoma was created in 1907. With statehood, tribal governments in the area were dissolved. Indians constituted only 5% of the population of the new state.

The Pawnee Morning Star Ceremony

Human sacrifice is generally defined as the ritual killing of a human being as a part of a religious ritual. While human sacrifice was an important part of the ceremonial practices of the Indian nations of Mesoamerica (such as the Aztec and Maya), it was uncommon among the American Indian people of North America. One of the few groups who incorporated human sacrifice into their ceremonies was the Pawnee.

At the time of the European invasion of the Great Plains, the Pawnee were an agricultural people raising corn along the rivers of the Central Plains in what would later become Nebraska. They also engaged in seasonal buffalo hunts, particularly after they obtained the horse. They had a sophisticated understanding of the movement of the stars and celestial observation was important in determining the cultivation cycle of their corn. The Pawnee lifestyle was centered on the astronomical observation. The movements of the stars formed the basis for their seasonal rituals.

In each Pawnee village there was an elite group composed of a hereditary chief, sub-chiefs, religious leaders, and leading warriors which discussed tribal matters such as the timing of ceremonies, assignments of farming plots to families, warfare, and foreign relations.

The Pawnee lived in permanent earth lodges which were constructed so that the four central posts represented the four cardinal directions. The east-facing doorway would have an unobstructed view of the eastern sky and at the vernal equinox the first rays of the sun would strike the altar within the lodge.

One of the important Pawnee ceremonies, the Morning Star Ceremony, involved the sacrifice of a young woman. As a part of the ceremony, a captive woman would be tied spread-eagled to a wooden frame and every man and boy in the camp would shoot an arrow into her body. The young woman represented Evening Star and with her death, her soul went to her husband Morning Star who then clothed her with the colors of the dawn. The reunion of Morning Star and Evening Star meant the renewal of growing things on earth. The Morning Star Ceremony was a fertility rite, and from the Pawnee perspective, the young woman was not a victim, but a messenger.

The Morning Star Ceremony was not conducted on a regular schedule. Rather, it was conducted in response to a vision by a warrior. In this vision Morning Star would appear as a man anointed with red paint with leggings decorated with scalps and eagle feathers. In the dream, Morning Star would tell the warrior:

“I am the man who has power in the east. I am the Great Star (Upirikutsu). You people have forgotten about me. I am watching over your people. Go to the man who knows the ceremony and let him know. He will tell you what to do.”

Following the vision, the warrior would consult with the Morning Star shaman (priest, in some accounts). The warrior and the elder would then determine if Morning Star in the vision was asked for the regular symbolic ceremony or the full ceremony which included the human sacrifice. The elders would consult with the stars: the full ceremony was performed only in years when Mars was the morning star.

If it was decided that the full ceremony was needed, then the warrior would be instructed to obtain a suitable captive from another tribe. From the keeper of the Morning Star bundle, the warrior would receive a special warrior’s outfit. The warrior would then recruit some volunteers and set out to capture a girl. At the time of her capture, the girl would be dedicated to Morning Start and then turned over to the keeper of the Morning Star bundle upon their return to the village.

In the village, the captive would be treated with respect, but kept isolated from the rest of the camp. As the time for the five-day ritual approached, the captive would be ritually cleansed. The keeper of the Morning Star bundle would then sing a series of songs during which the captive would be symbolically transformed from a human form to a celestial form. With this, the girl now became the ritual representative of Morning Star: she was not viewed as impersonating Morning Start, but rather she was viewed as the earthly embodiment of Morning Star.

On the last day of the ceremony, the men and boys from the village would take the captive outside of the village to a place where they had erected a scaffold. This scaffold represented Evening Star’s garden in the west, the source of all animal and plant life.

The captive would be placed on the scaffold and her clothing removed. When the morning star appeared, two men would approach her from the east and touch her lightly with torches. Four other men would then touch her with war clubs. The warrior who had captured her with then come forward with a sacred bow and shoot her through the heart with a sacred arrow. At the same time, another warrior would strike on the head with the war club from the Morning Star bundle.

The elder supervising the ceremony would then cut open her breast with a stone knife. He would smear his face with her blood. The warrior who had captured her would catch some of her blood on dried meat.

All of the men and boys would then shoot arrows into her body, circle the scaffold four times, and return to the camp.

In 1816, Pawnee leader Petalesharo rescued a Comanche girl from the Morning Star Ceremony, stating that the ritual should be abolished. He offered himself in her place and when the other Pawnee hesitated in killing him, he untied the girl, placed her on a horse, and led her to safety.

Petalsharo, the son of Chief Lachelesharo (Old Knife), was a respected warrior of about 30 years of age at this time. Carl Waldman, in his book Who Was Who in Native American History, writes:

“He won the respect of his people for confronting the powerful class of priests, and, on succeeding his father, he proved influential among many of the Pawnee bands.”

In 1833, the Pawnee prepared to sacrifice a Cheyenne woman captive in their Morning Star Ceremony. Chief Big Ax called a council of chiefs and leading men and asked them to abandon the plan. While the people in the village were hostile to the idea of letting the captive go, they brought the woman to Big Ax’s lodge. The American Indian agent and five others attempted to take the captive from the village. They were blocked by Soldier Chief and the woman was shot with an arrow. The Pawnee warriors then took the dying woman out onto the prairie and carried out the sacrifice.

With increasing opposition to the Morning Star Ceremony from both the American government and some of the Pawnee leaders, the Pawnee held their last known Morning Star Ceremony in 1838. At this time, they ritually sacrificed Haxti, a young Oglala woman.

Ancient America: Wyoming Before 6000 BCE

Although the region of North America known today as Wyoming first entered into the written Euro-American histories in the early nineteenth century with the exploits of fur traders, trappers, and non-Indian adventurers, Indian people had been living in the area for many millennia. Archaeologists often refer to the era prior to 6000 BCE as Paleo-Indian. This appears to have been a time when the people specialized in the hunting of big game.

Yellowstone National Park:

While Indian people had utilized the resources and unique geological features of what is now Yellowstone National Park for thousands of years, when the fur traders first began describing the region to non-Indians, they were met with disbelief.

By 9600 BCE, Indian people were camping at Osprey Beach on Yellowstone Lake in present-day Yellowstone National Park.

By 8000 BCE, Indian people were living along the shores of Yellowstone Lake in present-day Yellowstone National Park. The stone tools which they were using resemble those of the complex which archaeologists call Cody (see below).

By 7400 BCE, Indian people using Cody Complex tools at the Osprey Beach site in present-day Yellowstone National Park were hunting a variety of game, including bear, deer, bighorn sheep, bison, and rabbit. They may have been exploiting the resources of Yellowstone Lake using boats.

Hell Gap:

By 9450 BCE, Indian people were beginning to occupy the Hell Gap site (48GO305) in southeastern Wyoming. They were making large, wide, un-stemmed, and lanceolate points with a long, slender tip and a wide, concave base.   In his entry on Hell Gape in A Dictionary of Archaeology, William Billeck writes:

“The Hell Gap site consists of a stratified series of short-term campsites where bison was the predominant animal represented.”

By 7600 BCE, the cultural tradition which archaeologists call the Hell Gap Complex moved into the Northern Plains. Hell Gap people were big game hunters with a primary emphasis on bison. In some areas, Hell Gap is associated with bison procurement using a parabolic dune entrapment method.


 Clovis culture, which is actually a stone tool technology complex, is one of the earliest well-documented archaeological cultures in North America. The signature artifact of the Clovis people is an atlatl point. The Clovis point is a finely made stone projective point with a characteristic flute which helps in attaching the point to an atlatl dart. Clovis points have lateral indentations (or flutes) which allow them to be efficiently tied to a shaft. The shafts were thrown with the aid of a throwing stick or atlatl. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture, report:

“Fluted projectile points are the most readily identifiable Clovis artifacts, but there are many other items that make up the Clovis inventory. Among these are tools made from blades and flakes struck from specialized cores, plus bi-facially flaked knives and adzes.”

With regard to Clovis in Wyoming, in 9330 BCE, Clovis hunters drove a mammoth into the muck of a bog where it became trapped. They killed it and butchered it, taking the meat to their hunting camp on higher ground.

By 9280 BCE, Clovis people were occupying the Union Pacific site.

By 9250 BCE, Clovis people were occupying the Colby site. The people stacked mammoth bones in what may have been a meat cache. The stone chopper which was used at the site had been made from granite which was not from the area.

By 9200 BCE, Clovis people were camping at the Sheaman site.


About 11,000 years ago, the climate changed: it became warmer (by about 13 degrees Fahrenheit) and drier. There was also an increase in the seasonal extremes: summers were warmer and winters were colder. For Indian people, this difference meant that their cultures had to change so that they could adapt to the new environment.

Folsom people are known for their fluted spear points which were smaller and more delicate than the Clovis points. Their flutes are also longer than Clovis. In his book Bones, Boats, and Bison: Archeology and the First Colonization of Western North America, Archaeologist James Dixon writes:

“The hallmark of Folsom culture is the Folsom projectile point, which is recognized throughout the Americas for its unique design, exceptional workmanship, and the high-quality raw materials from which they are manufactured.”

Geographically, Folsom culture spread eastward from the Rocky Mountains across the Great Plains. It extended from North Dakota to Mexico. It seems to have been centered, however, along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

With regard to Wyoming, by 8830 BCE, Folsom hunters were camping on the floodplain of an arroyo in Agate Basin. They trapped, killed and butchered eight buffalo. They lived in hide-covered structures which used bison ribs as tent pegs.

By 8750 BCE, Folsom people were occupying the Hanson site in the northern Bighorn Basin. The people were living in circular structures. The floors of the lodges were covered with a layer of sand. In his book Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains, George Frison reports:

“The site was apparently a campsite and suggests that many of the usual campsite activities were going on. The most obvious activity was flint knapping and the site provides evidence—from core reduction to tools and finished projectile points—of all the basic processes.”

Frison also reports:

“Projectile point manufacture involved bi-face reduction to a final stage characterized by a blunt, ground distal end and a concave base with a carefully prepared striking platform for channel flake removal.”

Careful striking would then remove the long flake and provide the point with the characteristic Folsom groove. Archaeologists have found evidence of many failures in the final production of Folsom points at this site.

In 7950 BCE, Indian people who were using Folsom tools are occupying the Rattlesnake Pass site (48CR4520).

Cody Complex:

The Cody complex is found in the Northern Great Plains area. In his entry on the Cody Complex in A Dictionary of Archaeology, William Billeck writes:

“The tool assemblage consists of projectile points, flake tools, scrapers, gravers, wedges, choppers, bi-faces, hammer stones, and bone tools that are often found in bison kill and processing sites.”

By 8500 BCE, Indian people from the Cody Complex were spending the warmer months in the Rocky Mountains. Here they repaired and manufactured tools which were used for hunting and for cleaning hides. In the winter, they moved to lower elevations. They were hunting bear, bighorn sheep, deer, and rabbit. According to anthropologist Carroll Riley, in Rio del Norte: People of the Upper Rio Grande From Earliest Times to the Pueblo Revolt:

“Cody stone technology suggests more diverse hunting of a variety of small game.”

By 7076 BCE, Indian people using Cody complex tools were using the Horner site. This was a buffalo kill site or a butchering area. The bison were killed in the fall using a corral at the river’s edge.

Agate Basin:

 By 8480 BCE, Indian people were using the Agate Basin site for buffalo hunting. Bison in groups of 10 to 20 animals were apparently driven into the arroyo bottom. The hunters would be stationed at strategic points above the animals in order to harvest them.

By 8000 BCE, the cultural complex which archaeologists call Agate Basin extended into the Northern Plains region. These Agate Basin people were big game hunters whose subsistence strategies included bison trapping. The Agate Basin points were long, narrow, unfluted lanceolate forms. The quality of the lithic work was very good. Archaeologist Sandra Morris, in her University of Montana M.A. Professional Paper Prehistoric Cultural Resources of the Whitetail Pipestone Area, Jefferson County, Montana: An Overview and Implications for Cultural Resource Managers, reports:

“The Agate Basin projectile point morphology is distinct: the form is a long and narrow leaf shape, with no notches.”

Agate Basin appears to be a continuation of Goshen and Folsom in which bison is the economic mainstay.

By 8000 BCE, Indian people at the Agate Basin site had a dog-wolf hybrid.

Two Moon Shelter:

By 8060 BCE, Indian people were using the Two Moon Shelter (48BH1827) in the Bighorn Mountains. In an article in Mammoth Trumpet, Floyd Largent explains:

“A rockshelter is basically a rocky overhang that lacks an extensive interior cave system.”

The Two Moon rockshelter has a protected interior of about 45 square meters with another 30 square meters of flat area just outside of the dripline.

Medicine Creek Lodge Site:

By 7500 BCE, Indian people are now occupying the Medicine Lodge Creek site (48BH499) on the western flanks of the Bighorn Mountains. The site is located at an elevation of 4,800 feet. Indian people at the Medicine Creek Lodge site were hunting small mammals -–mostly bushy-tail wood rats commonly known as packrats (Neotoma cineria). They were also hunting some deer, mountain sheep, and buffalo. They were also using grinding stones to process gathered plant foods.

By 7360 BCE, the people at the Medicine Creek Lodge site were using a Cody Complex tool tradition (see above).

Mummy Cave:

By 7280 BCE, Indian people had begun to live in Mummy Cave (48PA201), a west-facing natural room. This site is located in northwest Wyoming. They were using a side-notched projectile point. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:

“Hunters of bighorn sheep utilized the cave during the entire span of its use.”

Nets may have been used to trap the sheep.

Sheep Mountain:

By 7000 BCE, at Sheep Mountain in the Absaroka range Indian people were using nets to harvest game, including mountain goats, deer, and rabbit. They were using a net that was 200 feet long and 6 feet high made from two-ply cord twisted from juniper bark fibers. In his book The Smithsonian Book of North American Indians: Before the Coming of the Europeans, Philip Kopper reports:

“The hunters who made the Sheep Mountain net probably used it by stringing it across a game trail in the rugged mountains and waiting for animals to pass, or by hanging it across a natural bottleneck and driving game into it.”

Granite Creek Rockshelter:

By 6000 BCE, Indian people were using the Granite Creek rockshelter (48BH330) in the Bighorn Mountains. The rockshelter is 85 feet long and 18 feet deep at its deepest point. This was an animal processing area which was used repeatedly by hunting groups for several thousand years. Most of the stone tools at this site were made from local materials.

Note: the information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.


California Indians Lose Their Home

The United States acquired what would become the state of California under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the war with Mexico. In the treaty, the United States agreed to recognize Indian land holdings, and to allow Indian people to continue their customs and languages.

In 1901, the Supreme Court in the case Barker versus Harvey decided that the Cupeño did not have the right to retain their homes at Warner’s Hot Springs in California. The Indians had argued that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico recognized the Indian right to villages on Mexican land grants. The Supreme Court, however, decided that the Indians had failed to bring their case to the Land Commission in the allotted time and that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had failed to bring about legislation to reaffirm the land rights for these Indians.

In 1851, Congress had established a Board of Land Commissioners to investigate all land claims in California. While the Commissioners were to have submitted a report to the Secretary of the Interior, no one has been able to find the report. In an article in the Journal of the West, Joel Hyer reports:

“Without confirming evidence, the Supreme Court believed that the Board of Land Commissioners informed all Indians—including those living in the isolated mountain communities at Warner’s Ranch—of the necessity of presenting land claims within two years.”

Hyer also reports:

“The Court based its decision on a supposition that someone visited these peoples, informed of their duty to file a land claim, and then made a report.”

The land in question actually belonged to the Mission San Diego which had reported them to be abandoned.

The Supreme Court decision affected 250 Cupeño families. Anthropologist Edward Castillo, in one of his entries in the Handbook of North American Indians, reports:

“At several villages native families locked themselves in their homes as sheriff’s deputies broke down their doors with axes to evict them.”

Many influential California Anglos were sympathetic to the cause of the Cupeño and other Mission Indians. In 1902, the Sequoyah League was organized by writer Charles Fletcher Lummis. The goal of the new organization was “To Make Better Indians” and one of the primary concerns was the Mission Indians. Historian William Hagan, in his book Theodore Roosevelt and Six Friends of the Indian, reports:

“The fifty-odd people who attended the organization meeting including Episcopal and Catholic bishops from the area.”

Charles Lummis, who had worked with the Indian Rights Association, hoped that the new organization would not be adversarial, but would work with the government. Historian Sherry Smith, in her book Reimagining Indians: Native Americans Through Ango Eyes, 1880-1940, reports:

“Beyond addressing the needs of California’s Indians, the League intended to cooperate with the Indian Bureau while maintaining ‘a friendly watchfulness over’ reservations.”

While the League favored assimilation, it rejected allotment as the primary vehicle to accomplish this. Only one Indian was on the League’s board of directors: Francis LaFlesche (Omaha) who lived in Washington, D.C. According to Sherry Smith:

“In assuming Anglos were best qualified to direct Indian affairs, the Sequoyah League marched in step with other Indian reform groups of its time.”

In 1902, in an issue of Out West, Charles Lummis launched a campaign to help the Cupeño families who were being evicted from Warner Ranch. Lummis also denounced the directive from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs which specifies the proper length of an adult male Indian’s hair.

The Indian interest groups, such as the Sequoyah League, had an impact. They forced Congress to bow to public opinion and purchase a ranch in California’s Pala Valley for the Cupeño who had been evicted from the Mission San Diego land grant.

In 1903, government officials met with the Cupeño on Warner’s Ranch to inform them that they were to be moved to the Pala Reservation. In trying to explain why they don’t want to move, Cecilio Blacktooth told the officials:

“You see that graveyard out there? There are our fathers and our grandfathers. You see that Eagle-nest mountain and that Rabbit-hole mountain? When God made them, He gave us this place. We have always been here. We do not care for any other place.”

In spite of this plea, the Cupeños were removed.