Death Valley, located in California, is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the United States. It is an area of sand dunes and wilderness. Non-Indian tourism into this desolate region actually began in 1926 and in 1933 President Herbert Hoover created the Death Valley National Monument by Presidential Executive Order. While some saw this act as the first step in transforming one of the earth’s least hospitable spots into a popular tourist destination, for the Timbisha Shoshone, the aboriginal inhabitants of the area, this action made them landless. While the Timbisha Shoshone were not forced from their traditional homeland, the control over their land (and thus over their lives) was assumed by the National Park Service. Death Valley officially became a National Park in 1994.
Briefly described below are a few of the American Indian events of 1917.
Briefly described below are some of the American Indian events of 1817.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 and ended on July 27, 1953. As with other twentieth century wars, American Indian men did not hesitate to enlist. Many men came from Native cultures which had traditionally emphasized a warrior tradition. For many young men the Korean War provided them with the opportunity to count coup and obtain traditional war honors.
During the nineteenth century, the United States had attempted to settle all Indians on well-defined reservations on lands deemed unsuitable for non-Indian development. Here Indians were to remain until they became extinct or had fully assimilated into the Christian American lifestyle. By the end of the nineteenth century, the government began the process of dismantling Indian reservations and increasing the pressures to assimilate. During the early twentieth century, for example, the United States had dissolved all of the tribal governments in Oklahoma so that the territory could become a state. By 1917, a majority of Indians still lived on reservations where they were considered wards of the government. In general, the reservations were pockets of poverty with poor health care and few educational opportunities. Briefly described below are a few of the events of 1917 which are related to Indian reservations and tribes.
In 1914, the nations of Europe began the conflict which would become known as the Great War and later as World War I. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called for the United States to enter what he called “the war to end all wars” and “to make the world safe for democracy.” The military estimated that a million men would be needed for the war and in the first six weeks following the declaration of war only 73,000 men volunteered. In response, Congress implemented a draft and 2.8 million men were called to service. American Indians, however, were not citizens and could not be drafted. Many Indians volunteered for service.
The fur trade was an important part of the economic history of North America and incorporated American Indian economies into a larger world economy. Furs were valuable, easily portable, and renewable resources. The prime furs—marten, otter, fox—were sold at high prices in the European and Chinese markets. Of less value, but still profitable, were pelts from buffalo, beaver, muskrat, and squirrel.
By 1617, four European nations—Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands—were staking their claims in North America through exploration and colonization. Archaeologist Jerald Milanich, in his book The Timucua, describes the reasons for the European expansion into North America:
“The driving force behind these initiatives was a desire for wealth: precious stones or metals, fertile lands suitable for productive plantations, human populations to be sold into slavery, and animals and plants that could be hunted or harvested and exported.”
The early nineteenth century was a period in which American Indians came into contact with non-Indian explorers and missionaries.
In 1817, James Monroe became the new President of the United States. In his book The Removal of the Choctaw Indians, Arthur DeRosier writes:
“America embarked upon a period of intense nationalism which completely dominated Monroe’s administration.”
Arthur DeRosier goes on to say:
“The changing attitudes of the period affected even the handling of the Indian problem and coincided with the emergence of a new policy.”
When the Europeans began their invasion of the Americas, the Cherokee were an agricultural people whose villages could be found throughout the American Southeast. By the first part of the nineteenth century, the Cherokees had had enough experience in dealing with the American government that they understood that they needed to have a unified government. Summarized below are some of the Cherokee events of 1817.
One example of religious imperialism can be seen in the era following the Age of Discovery which began in the fifteenth century. European kings, and later the United States, used a legal fiction known as the Doctrine of Discovery to justify their acquisition of new territories outside of Europe. Following this doctrine, Christianity is seen as superior to all other religions and therefore Christian monarchs (and later Christian republics such as the United States) have a legal and religious right and even an obligation to impose their rule on all non-Christians.
It should be noted that the Doctrine of Discovery applies only to Christian nations in their dealings with non-Christian peoples. In his book American Indians and the Law, law professor Bruce Duthu writes:
“Only Christian colonizers in their encounters with non-Christian peoples could invoke the discovery doctrine. An indigenous seafaring tribe, by contrast, could not plant a flag in the British Isles or on the beaches of Normandy and make comparable claims to England or France under the doctrine.”
Law and its interpretation by the courts regarding American Indians in the United States are based on two concepts: (1) the U.S. Constitution, and (2) legal precedents from international law, primarily a legal fiction known as the Doctrine of Discovery.
In 1787, the United States adopted a constitution which is considered the supreme law of the land. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 delegates to Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes” and thus dealings with the tribes are to be federal. Most of the litigation regarding Indian matters concerns this clause. However, it has not been unusual for legal scholars, including one Supreme Court Chief Justice, and for many politicians and government leaders to ignore this clause.
The Doctrine of Discovery is not well-known to people who are not: (a) historians, (b) legal scholars, or (c) American Indians. In brief, this is an ancient European Christian legal concept which says that Christian nations have a right, if not an obligation, to rule over all non-Christian nations. Thus, the European nations, and the United States after 1787, felt that they had a legal right to govern American Indians. The Doctrine of Discovery gave Christian nations, including the United States, the right to take land away from indigenous peoples paying for it with the gift of Christianity.
The Catholic Pope in 1452 laid the foundation for the Doctrine of Discovery by issuing the papal bull dum diversas which instructed the Portuguese monarchy “to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.” The ideas found in this papal document were later woven into U.S. Indian law and continues to guide U.S. Indian policy.
A papal bull is a special kind of patent or charter issued by a pope. It is called a “bull” because of the seal (bulla) which was appended to the end of it and served to authenticate the document.
The original papal bull, which is still in force, was strengthened in 1455 with another papal bull, Romanus Pontifex, which sanctified the seizure of non-Christian lands and encouraged the slavery of natives. Following the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans, Papal bulls by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 granted Spain and Portugal all of the lands in the Americas which were not under Christian rule. This began the European assumption that the native people of the area didn’t really own the land because they were not Christian. The Pope decreed that: “barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” The Inter Caetera papal bull stated: “We trust in Him from whom empires, and governments, and all good things proceed.”
This laid the legal foundation for assuming that government comes only from the Christian god and therefore Christian nations have a legal right to rule over non-Christian nations. Indian writer Vine Deloria would later comment:
“Thus armed with a totally bogus title issued by God’s representative on earth, the Spaniards then began a brutal conquest in the Americas which virtually obliterated the native populations in the Caribbean within a generation.”
The Doctrine of Discovery provided Europeans with the legal right to claim the Americas. While non-Christian Indian nations owned the land, the European nations, as Christian nations, had the right to rule Indian nations. If the Indian nations failed to recognize this right, then the Christian nations could wage a just war against them.
By 1513, Palacios Rubios, Spain’s master jurist, had refined the Doctrine of Discovery into a document which was to be read aloud, in Spanish or in Latin, when new peoples and/or lands were encountered. The fact that the indigenous people might not speak Spanish or Latin was not seen as relevant. The document recited the Christian history of the world and then demanded that the Natives accept this version of history and submit themselves to the authority of the Christian Spanish King. The indigenous people were told that God has declared that the Pope rules all people, regardless of their law, sect, or belief. This includes Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, or any other sect. The Native Americans were to come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or
“with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”
Furthermore, the Natives who resist are to be held guilty of all resulting deaths and injuries from the “just” war waged against them. The idea of a “just war” is based upon the word of Saint Augustine. Under this concept, a just war was one that was waged to right an injustice or wrong by another nation. One of these wrongs, according to the Christian view, was not being Christian. Thus, if an Indian nation were to fail to let missionaries live and preach among them, then they were committing a “wrong” which would have to be set right through a “just war.”
The Doctrine of Discovery entered into American jurisprudence in 1823 when the Supreme Court ruled on Johnson and Graham’s Lessee versus McIntosh. The Court found that the Doctrine of Discovery gave sovereignty of Indian lands to England and then to the United States. Indian nations, under this Doctrine, have a right of occupancy to the land. Christian nations, such as England and the United States, have superior rights over the inferior culture and inferior religion of the Indians. According to the Court, Indians have been compensated for their lands by having the gift of Christianity bestowed upon them.
The Supreme Court’s use of the Doctrine of Discovery in Johnson and Graham’s Lessee versus McIntosh laid the foundation for Indian law that still continues. The decision reinforced the superiority of Christianity as a governing philosophy and paid little attention to either Indian history or the possibility of Indian religions.
In an article in This Week from Indian Country Today, Steven Newcomb, Director of the Indigenous Law Institute, writes:
“From the perspective of Western Christendom, it was the ‘god-given’ right of all Christian sovereigns to locate and dominate (“possess”) all non-Christian lands on the planet.”
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the Tee-Hit-Ton case. The government argued that under international law Christian nations can acquire lands occupied by heathens and infidels. In an article in Indian Country Today, Steven Newcomb writes:
“This is a religiously premised argument. It is also racist, to be sure, but it is an argument made by the United States government on the basis of the Christian religion.”
In their argument, the United States government not only cited the nineteenth century case of Johnson v M’Intosh, but also the Papal bulls of the fifteenth century and the Old Testament from the Bible.
In 1955, the Supreme Court announced its decision which denied the Tee-Hit-Ton any compensation for the taking of the timber. According to the Court:
“The Christian nations of Europe acquired jurisdiction over newly discovered lands by virtue of grants from the Popes, who claimed the power to grant Christian monarchs the right to acquire territory in the possession of heathens and infidels.”
Legal scholar Steven Newcomb, in an articles in Indian Country Today, writes of the government’s brief:
“It is a gem of religious racism that fully documents the illegitimate foundation of U.S. Indian law and policy.”
The Tee-Hit-Ton case reaffirmed the Doctrine of Discovery as the basis for U.S. law with regard to Indian nations. It reaffirmed this Christian doctrine as the principle to be used in judging American Indians and discounted American Indian history and religious traditions. It denied that Indians had any legal rights as pagan nations. Attorney Peter D’Errico, in an article in This Week from Indian Country Today, sums up the case:
“It reaffirms Christian Discovery as the basis of U.S. law regarding Indian nations; and it says this racist religious doctrine is still in full force and effect. It also says that Indians as people are not covered by the U.S. Constitution, which undermines the arguments of those who believe the Constitution ‘protects’ Indians.”
In 2005, the Supreme Court once again cited the Discovery Doctrine in City of Sherrill v Oneida Indian Nation of New York. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:
“Under the ‘doctrine of discovery,’ fee title to the lands occupied by the Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign—first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.”
George Zebrowski, in an article in Free Inquiry, writes:
“In other words, the Sherrill decision was based in part on the Doctrine of Discovery, one of the rare principles of American law that came not from English common law or from the pen of some Enlightenment philosopher but rather from the Vatican.”
In 2008, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers traveled to the Vatican to ask Pope Benedict XVI to rescind historic church doctrine—the Discovery Doctrine—that has encouraged the genocide of millions of indigenous people. Vatican police, however, claimed that the women were engaged in conducting anti-Catholic demonstrations.
In 2009, Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons asked Pope Benedict XVI to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. While the Pope declined, thus indicating that this Doctrine continues as Church policy, the Episcopal Church adopted a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. The resolution called on the United States to review its historical and contemporary policies that contribute to the continued colonization of native peoples. The resolution also called for Queen Elizabeth II to repudiate publicly the validity of the Doctrine of Discovery.
In 2010, “A Preliminary Study on the Doctrine of Discovery” was presented to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues by Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga). According to the study, the Doctrine of Discovery has been used to justify indigenous genocide and is one of the underlying reasons for the worldwide violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples. In 2012, the 11th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues discussed the Doctrine of Discovery.
On numerous other occasions, Indian leaders in the Americas have formally asked the Pope to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. At the present time, it would appear that this is still the policy of the Catholic Church and is a part of American law.
Susette (Yosette) La Flesche was born on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska in 1854. She was the eldest daughter of Joseph La Flesche and Mary Gale La Flesche. Joseph LaF lesche was the principal chief of the Omaha. With regard to Joseph La Flesche, John Little, in his biography of Susette La Flesche in Notable Native Americans, reports:
“Joseph La Flesche was a remarkable and far-seeing leader who realized that both his children and his tribe would have to adapt to and make their way in white America. He did all in his power to influence his often reluctant tribesmen to move in that direction, and he inspired his children to seek education in the English language and in American life and culture.”
Susette grew up on the Omaha Reservation and attended the Presbyterian mission school. In 1872, non-Indian philanthropic groups made it possible for her to attend the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
After graduating from the Elizabeth Institute in 1875, she returned to the Omaha Reservation with the intention of teaching. She applied for the position of elementary school teacher at the Indian Agency school on the reservation, but failed to get the job. She was told that she had to pass a teaching examination from the School Committee of Nebraska. When she applied for permission to leave the reservation to take the examination, her request was refused. She left the reservation without permission and took the test.
Later, she discovered that the Indian Office (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) had a policy which required that Indians be given preference for positions in the Indian Service, including teaching positions. With this information, she wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. She demanded that she be given preference and in 1877 she obtained a teaching job at the Omaha Agency school. She was paid just half of what non-Indian teachers received.
Events far to the south, in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), would, however, soon impact her life. In 1877, the United States government had forcibly and brutally moved the Ponca from their Nebraska reservation to Indian Territory. The Ponca had always been at peace with the United States. At sunrise, army troops—four detachments of cavalry and one of infantry—surrounded the Ponca village and dragged men, women, and children from their cabins. The Ponca were force-marched for 50 days to their new home where they were informed that they were now prisoners of war. During the next year, one-fourth of the Ponca died.
Among those who died of malnutrition was Bear Shield, the eldest son of Ponca chief Standing Bear. His dying wish was to be buried in the traditional Ponca land. Standing Bear decided to return north to Nebraska to bury him in traditional Ponca territory. In 1879, Standing Bear and about 65 of his people left their Oklahoma reservation and traveled to Decatur, Nebraska where they were welcomed by the Omaha and given food and shelter.
The Ponca and the Omaha are closely related tribes. At one time they had been a single people and when they had moved from the Ohio Valley into the Central Plains about 1715 they separated into two distinct tribes.
The Department of the Interior notified the War Department that the Ponca had left without permission and the army was ordered to return them to the reservation. The Ponca were detained by the army at Fort Omaha, but illness among the Indians and the poor condition of their horses made it impossible to return them to Indian Territory immediately.
While the Ponca were being held captive, Thomas Henry Tibbles, the assistant editor of the Omaha Herald, began to stir up public support for the Ponca. Tibbles arranged for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Standing Bear and his people in federal court in Omaha. The court found that the army had no authority to incarcerate the Ponca. The U.S. Attorney had argued that Indians were not persons under the law and therefore were not entitled to a writ of habeas corpus. Historian James King, in an essay in The Western American Indian: Case Studies in Tribal History, writes:
“The government’s case was simply that an Indian was neither a person nor a citizen within the meaning of the law, and therefore could bring no suit of any kind against the government.”
In Standing Bear versus Crook the United States District Court declares that an Indian is a “person” under United States law and therefore has the right to sue for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court.
Tibbles wanted to take the Ponca case to the Supreme Court so that a definitive statement on the status of Indians in the United States could be obtained. He also wanted to help the Ponca regain a Nebraska reservation. In order to gain support for the Ponca, Tibbles sent Omaha chief Joseph LaFlesche and his daughter Susette to Indian Territory to investigate the conditions which the Ponca had to endure. Upon their return, Susette La Flesche made her first appearance as a public speaker supporting the Ponca cause.
Kenny Franks, in his essay on the LaFlesche family in Encyclopedia of North American Indians, reports:
“Susette was convinced that the only solution to the ‘Indian problem’ was American citizenship. Such an action would legally give the nation’s Native American population equal status with its other residents.”
To take the Ponca case to the Supreme Court would require money. Therefore, Tibbles decided that a speaking tour featuring Ponca chief Standing Bear would be an effective way to raise both money and public support for their cause. Standing Bear, however, spoke no English. The Ponca and Omaha languages are closely related so Tibbles asked if Susette La Flesche could accompany them as an interpreter. Tibbles also suggested that Susette use the name Bright Eyes for the tour.
The tour began in Chicago in 1879. By the time they reached the Northeast, there were eager crowds waiting to hear from Standing Bear and Bright Eyes. In the Northeast, the speaking tour drew packed audiences five to seven nights a week.
The tour stayed for a month in Boston. At a presentation in Worchester, Massachusetts, U.S. Senator George F. Hoar was moved by what he heard. He wrote to President Rutherford B. Hayes expressing his concern at the wrong done to the Ponca by the American government. The President replied that he would give the matter attention.
Their visit to Boston resulted in the formation of an Indian Citizenship Committee composed of a number of prominent non-Indians.
Following Boston, the tour continued on for lengthy stays in New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Tibbles also testified before several Congressional committees.
They returned to Nebraska in 1880. John Little reports:
“La Flesche Tibbles, or Bright Eyes, had by now become a well-known public figure who would find a ready audience for both her speeches and writings for the rest of her life.”
In 1881, Thomas Henry Tibbles married Susette La Flesche (thus she also became known as Susette La Flesche Tibbles). The couple made frequent lecture trips to the eastern United States and made one lecture tour of England and Scotland in 1886-1887. Carl Waldman, in his book Who Was Who in Native American History, reports:
“In their lectures, they described Omaha and Ponca reservation conditions and argued against removal and in favor of assimilation.”
Working with Standing Bear, she co-authored Ploughed Under: The Story of an Indian Chief. In 1881, she presented a paper “The Position, Occupation, and Culture of Indian Women” before the Association for the Advancement of Women.
Writing under the name Bright Eyes, Susette La Flesche Tibbles wrote for a number of magazines. Her writings including stories about Indian life for children’s magazines as well as adult stories.
Susette La Flesche Tibbles died in Nebraska in 1903.
During the first part of the seventeenth century, the Wampanoag Confederacy controlled a large portion of what is now New England. Wampanoag territory ranged from Narragansett Bay to Cape Cod. The leader of this confederacy during the first part of the seventeenth century was Massasoit, who is generally described as the Great Sachem. His main village was located near present-day Bristol, Rhode Island.
The Wampanoag were hit hard by the epidemics which swept through New England in 1616-1619. Prior to the epidemics it is estimated that there were 24,000 people living in Indian communities affiliated with the Wampanoag confederacy led by Massasoit. As a result of the epidemics, 75% of the population died.
With the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1621, Massasoit saw an opportunity to increase the power of the Wampanoag confederacy. By signing a treaty of mutual support and protection with the Pilgrims, Massasoit insured that there would be peaceful relations with these people, but more importantly, this alliance would give the Wampanoag better access to European trade goods. With these goods, particularly firearms, the Wampanoag were able to increase their power among the tribes in the region. Historian John Humins, in an article in New England Quarterly, writes:
“This treaty was a bold move by the Wampanoag sagamore, who, as a result, bolstered his economic, military, and political control. He may well have assumed that the pact made the newcomers members of his confederation.”
Writer Frank Waters, in his book Brave are My People: Indian Heroes Not Forgotten, describes Massasoit:
“He wore a deerskin robe and a great chain of white beads to which were fastened a long knife and a leather tobacco pouch.”
In 1621, Massasoit had two of this people—Hobomok and Squanto—teach the Pilgrims agricultural techniques. Without these lessons and without the food supplied to them by the Indians, it is doubtful that the little colony would have survived. That fall, following the harvest, Massasoit brought 60-100 Wampanoag to Plymouth for a traditional harvest feast and with this action set the pattern for a holiday which Americans would later call Thanksgiving. The Wampanoag brought with them five deer to provide venison for the feast, as well as turkey, geese, ducks, eels, shellfish, cornbread, succotash, squash, berries, wild plums, and maple sugar.
In 1621 there was a rumor that Massasoit had been captured by the Pocasset sachem Corbitant. Squanto, Hobamok, and Tokamahomon, who were living with the Pilgrims, went to Corbitant’s village where they found that the rumor was not true, but Corbitant took them captive. Hobamok managed to escape and told the English who then attacked the village, wounding several Indians and freeing Squanto and Tokamahomon. Massasoit then negotiated a peace between the English and the Pocasset.
In 1622, the Narragansett sent a bundle of arrows tied with a snake skin to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The Pilgrims interpreted this message as a challenge and returned the skin with bullets in it. Historian John Humins reports:
“By doing so, the Pilgrims committed a major diplomatic blunder: they ignored Hobamok’s urgings to confer with Massasoit before responding.”
In 1623, Massasoit became sick and was treated by English physicians. At this time, he warned the Pilgrims that some of the tribes—Narragansett, Massachuset, and some Wampanoag—were plotting against the settlers. Massasoit’s war chief, Annawan, led a series of raids against the insurgent groups.
Over the years, however, Massasoit found that his alliance with English was not beneficial to his people. With the great English hunger for land, more and more Wampanoag land was taken from them. When the Indians complained, they were punished by the English courts who viewed them as trespassers on their own homelands.
Massasoit died in 1661 and the peace which he had helped forge with the Europeans began to crumble. His son Alexander (Wamsutta) became the Grand Sachem briefly. Then his other son Philip (Metacom) became Grand Sachem and led the Wampanoag into the uprising against the English known as King Philip’s War.
Long before the European invasion of North America, the Coeur d’Alene, who call themselves Schitsu’umsh, occupied a territory that included parts of eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana.
According to their tribal history:
“We were lake and rivers people who had permanent encampments along these waterways but also followed the natural cycle of life. We followed this sacred cycle, not only for survival but, to live live harmoniously with nature and to respect the delicate balance between creation and our ceremonial and spiritual way of life.”
The water ways that sustained the people included Coeur d’Alene Lake, Spokane River, Coeur d’Alene River, and St. Joe River. These waterways formed an aboriginal super highway between the villages and their resource areas.
Things began to change when the fur traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company began to enter their territory at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The traders brought the people new goods. Then came the missionaries in the 1840s who sought to make the Indians into European Christians. The Catholic Jesuits establish a mission at Cataldo.
In 1859, the Coeur d’Alene signed a treaty with the United States at the Cataldo Mission. Two years later, the United States established a road across Coeur d’Alene territory to connect Fort Benton in Montana with Fort Walla Walla in Washington.
In 1871, German immigrant Frederick Post met with Coeur d’Alene Chief Moses Seltice to negotiate the rights to a parcel of land. Treaty Rock symbolizes the verbal agreement between these two men that allowed Post to use 200 acres of tribal land on the Spokane River to start a mill. There was no formal treaty signed at Treaty Rock nor was any money exchanged for the land. Oral tradition indicates that Post promised to provide the tribe with lumber, but there is no record of that agreement being kept.
Post carved his name and the date in the rock to acknowledge the agreement. There are also pictographs on the rock done in red ochre. According to the Coeur d’Alene tribal history:
“Treaty Rock, as it is known in written history, is a special place for both the Coeur d’Alene people and the residents of today. It represents a moment in time when great change occurred and affected both a growing nation and a people that had been on these lands for thousands of years.”
From the viewpoint of non-Indians, particularly government officials in the nineteenth century, a progressive Indian leader was one who advocated the assimilation of Indians into “mainstream” American culture. One of these progressive Indian leaders was Joseph LaFlesche.
Joseph LaFlesche was the son of a French fur trader and a Ponca woman. When he married an Omaha woman he was formally adopted into the Omaha Elk clan and was thus considered to be Omaha. When his adopted father, Omaha chief Big Elk, died in 1853, many people considered Joseph LaFlesche as principal chief of the Omaha.
While many Omaha considered Joseph LaFlesche a chief, and even the principal chief, the Americans and Joseph LaFlesche considered Logan Fontelle to be the principal chief. Historian Judith Boughter, in her book Betraying the Omaha Nation, 1790-1916, reports:
“Because his father was a French trader and he was never adopted into the tribe, Logan Fontelle probably did not qualify for chieftainship.”
Logan Fontelle was killed by a Sioux war party in 1855.
Joseph LaFlesche favored adopting American ways. For example, he refused to allow his four daughters to be tattooed in the Omaha fashion as he wanted them to be able to freely mingle in Euro-American society. He also encouraged the Omaha to build houses in the American style.
One aspect of American society which Joseph La Flesche opposed was alcohol. In 1856, together with the Indian agent for the reservation, he established an Indian police force for the purpose of eliminating alcohol on the reservation. This police force was headed by Ma-hu-nin-ga (No Knife).
In 1857, the Presbyterians, with the encouragement of Joseph LaFlesche, established a mission day school for the Omaha. The children were all given English names. The LaFlesche children attended this school.
At this same time, a group of Omaha under the leadership of Joseph La Flesche began to build American-style, two-story frame houses. For this reason, the other Omaha referred to them as “Make-Believe White Men.”
In 1858, chief Joseph La Flesche organized a great council of the Omaha because of rumors that the government was planning to reduce the size of their reservation. The council reaffirmed their commitment to the Americanization program, and strenuously opposed any reduction in the reservation.
The Omaha reservation in Nebraska had been established in 1854 when the Omaha ceded all of their lands west of the Missouri River to the United States. As a part of this treaty, the United States was to protect the Omaha from attacks by other tribes, particular the Sioux.
In 1860, a Sioux war party under the leadership of Little Thunder attacked the Omaha within sight of the Presbyterian mission. As a result of this attack, many Omaha left their villages. Joseph LaFlesche and other Omaha leaders met with the Indian Agent and demanded that their treaty’s clause which called for the United States to protect them from raids by other Indian nations be honored.
In exchange for ceding much of their land to the United States, the Omaha were to receive an annual annuity payment. In 1862, Joseph La Flesche began asking why most of their annuity was paid in paper money while the more rebellious tribes received theirs in gold and silver. According to historian Judith Boughter:
“He considered the practice unfair, since it made a $7,000 difference in the Omahas’ yearly income and since the government expected its payments in coin.”
In 1865, the United States asked the Omaha to sell 100,000 acres of their reservation in Nebraska to provide a new home for the Winnebago. In the treaty, negotiated by Joseph La Flesche, Standing Hawk, Little Chief, Noise, and No Knife, the Omaha were to receive $50,000 to be used by their Indian agent to improve their reservation. The Omaha were also to be provided with a blacksmith, a shop, a farmer, and mills for 10 years.
In 1866, the Indian agent for the Omaha Reservation accused chief Joseph LaFlesche with producing discord among the tribe, leaving the reservation without permission, lending money at usurious rates, encouraging the tribal police to inflict unfair punishments, and refusing to allow people to deal with licensed traders. The agent called for him to be deposed as tribal chief and to be banished. LaFlesche’s protector, the Presbyterian mission school superintendent, was then dismissed. LaFlesche and his family hastily fled from the reservation.
A few months later, the Indian agent agreed to allow LaFlesche to return to the reservation, but only if he agreed to be subordinate to the agent. Historian Judith Boughter reports:
“LaFlesche did return home, but he never again held a seat on the tribal council and apparently was recognized as a leader only among his band of followers in the young men’s party.”
Joseph LaFlesche had several wives and at least ten children. With Mary Gale, he had five children, including Susette LaFlesche (Bright Eyes) who became an Indian activist and Susan LaFlesche who became the first Indian woman physician. With Elizabeth Esau, he also had five children, including Francis LaFlesche, who became an ethnographer. Joseph LaFlesche died in 1888.
While the Indian nations in what is now Maine may have had some limited contact with Europeans as early as 1480, regular contact began in the sixteenth century and intensified during the first half of the seventeenth century. During this time, the Indians began to incorporate aspects of European culture, such as trade goods, into their own lifestyles. These early contacts were with four broad categories of Europeans: fishermen, explorers, missionaries, and colonists.
By 1519, European fishing boats were trading with the Micmac in Maine and the Maritime Provinces. By 1524, ships were crossing over from Europe in increasing numbers, first to fish offshore for the great schools of cod, and eventually to trade with natives for furs.
During the early part of the seventeenth century, English ships scouted the coast from Maine to Cape Cod, trading with Indians and gathering sassafras roots which were prized in Europe as a treatment for syphilis. In 1602, off the coast of Maine, the crew of an English ship saw people in a European boat – described as a Biscay shallop – sailing toward them. They assumed that the eight men in it must be Europeans. However, all were Indians. The Indians, using a piece of chalk, drew a map of the Maine coast for the newly arrived English sailors.
Sailing shallops could be fairly large: up to 12 tons and forty feet in length. Many had more than one mast. Regarding the adaptation of this craft by Indian people, the Jesuit missionaries noted that the Souriquois handled them “as skillfully as our most courageous and active sailors in France.” Some writers feel that the Indians had acquired the shallops from the Basque fishermen who had a history of fishing in the area.
There are a number of other reports of Indians using the European shallops. In 1606, for example, the Souriquois under the leadership of Membertou raided other Indian villages using sailing shallops. The following year, the English on their way to establish their colony on the Kennebec River encountered two sailing shallops being used by Souriquois under the leadership of Membertou. The Souriquois offered skins for trade and the English noted that the Indians seemed to be using a lot of French words.
Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian working for the French, explored the North America coast from the Carolinas northward to Maine in 1524. In Maine, Verrazano found that the Indians were not particularly friendly. They appeared to have already had some contact of an unpleasant sort Europeans, perhaps Europeans who were fishing off the coast. While Verrazano did not speak any Indian languages, he concluded:
“We think they have neither religion nor laws.”
According to Barbara Mann, in her essay in Debating Democracy: Native American Legacy of Freedom:
“What Verrazano, and all European observers after him, meant by lack of ‘any law’ in Native America was the absence of any controlling church-state hierarchy.”
The following year, a Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese pilot Estévan Gomes landed near the River of Deer in Maine and took 58 Indians captive.
In 1580, the English adventurer John Walker landed in Penobscot Bay. He took about 300 moose hides from an unattended building. In their chapter in American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega, Bruce Bourque and Ruth Whitehead report:
“It may be inferred that such a large concentration in a single structure meant that the hides were intended not for the local population but for export, ultimately to Europeans; but Walker provided no further clue as to their intended destination.”
In 1602, the English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold landed at “Savage Rock” (Cape Elizabeth) where he encountered some Micmac. Geographer G. Malcolm Lewis, in his chapter in North American Exploration. Volume 1: A New World Disclosed, reports:
“From aspects of their dress and a few of the words they spoke, they appeared to have had some previous contact with Europeans.”
The European explorers found that the Indians were wearing large copper breastplates and European costumes including shoes, waistcoats, breeches, and hose. The following year, English explorers under the leadership of Martin Pring encountered a group of Indians near present-day Saco. They reported that some of the Indians had brass breastplates which were a foot long and about half a foot wide.
In 1604, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed up the Penobscot River. Near the site of present-day Bangor, he made contact with the Wabanaki under the leadership of Bashabes. From Bashabes the French learned a great deal about the interior of Maine. Bashabes, wanting French partnership in the fur trade, provided Champlain with guides. While the French were looking for the fabled Indian city of Norumbega, they found that the city was a myth. The French did, however, gain a great deal of information about the interior between Kennebec Basin and the St. Lawrence. Getting around the language barrier, the Indians drew maps on sand and bark for the French.
The French next explored Saco Bay where they saw and recorded on their chart an Indian corn-growing settlement. On the Saco River they were met by Indians who painted their faces black and red. The Indians were a farming people who raised corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, grapes, and tobacco. Champlain’s Etchemin guides called the people at this village Archmouchiquois and they called the village Chouacoit. The area surrounding the village contained many small hamlets.
In 1609, Henry Hudson met with Indians in Penobscot Bay. The Indians told him that they traded with the French. A few days later, two French shallops filled with Indians sailed into the harbor bringing many beaver skins and other furs for trade. Hudson was not equipped for trade, so he simply resorted to force to obtain the furs. His men captured one of the shallops and took the Indian furs.
In 1614, John Smith, the former commander at Jamestown, led two ships in search of gold and whales along the coast of Maine. They did some trading with the natives and engaged in a few skirmishes. Like other European explorers, they captured some Indians to sell into slavery.
One of the unintended consequences of contact between Europeans and Indians was epidemic disease which often decimated the Indian populations. In 1610, an epidemic struck the Souriquois at La Have taking at least 60 lives.
The first of three epidemics struck the Indians of New England in 1616. It is estimated that 75% of the population died between 1616 and 1619. The epidemics swept from Cape Cod to the Kennebec River in Maine. The epidemics started after an English party wintered at the mouth of the Saco River. While it is not known what the actual diseases were, various historians have suggested bubonic plague, smallpox, and hepatitis A as possibilities.
A new disease which produced bloody vomiting broke out among the Abenaki in 1646. This outbreak may have contributed to Jean-Baptiste’s missionary success.
By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the French and English were turning from the exploration of what is now Maine to establishing colonies and converting the Indians to Christianity. The Europeans assumed that Christianity gave them superior rights to both land and resources. The idea that the Native peoples of Maine might any rights seldom occurred to the European.
The first European attempt to establish a colony in Maine came in 1604 with the arrival of French colonists who attempted to settle on the Sainte Croix River. The settlement soon moved to the present-day Annapolis-Royal in Nova Scotia.
The English established a trading camp on the Kennebec River in 1605. The expedition was funded by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, captain of the Port of Plymouth. At the end of the trading season, the English kidnapped five Abenaki and took them to England to turn them into guides and interpreters. The Abenaki captives were not to be sold into slavery, but they were exhibited as curiosities. They were also studied by Gorges, who wished to learn more about the new land to the westward and its inhabitants. Among those taken by the English was Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, who later becomes an important figure in Massachusetts history.
In 1607, the Virginia Company established the colony of Sagadohoc on the Kennebec River. The party included 120 men and Skidwarres, one of the Abenaki who had been kidnapped in 1602. Skidwarres was supposed to serve as the trusted interpreter-liaison between the English and the Abenaki. However, as soon as he made contact with the Abenaki, he simply slipped into the crowd and returned to his people.
The purpose of the new colony was to find precious metals and spices, establish a fur trade with the Native Americans, and show that New World forests were a limitless resource for English shipbuilders. Concerned about the possibility of a French attack, the colonists built an earthenwork fort, which they called Fort St. George. The fort was fortified with eight cannons.
In one instance, five Abenaki, including Skidwarres and the leader Nahaneda, showed up at the fort. They joined the colonists for both food and church services. They had to endure public prayers both morning and evening. They told the English that King James was a good king and that his God was a good God, but that Tanto (their own deity) had commanded them to avoid contact with the English.
The English soon managed to anger their Abenaki neighbors so that trade between the two groups had to be suspended. There were a number of minor skirmishes in which 11 colonists were killed. According to historian Ian Steele, in his book Warpaths: Invasions of North America:
“The English bungled their opportunity to establish influence with the Abenaki.”
In 1608, the English abandoned their colony on the Kennebec River. The re-supply ships from England found that the colonists had successfully traded with the Indians for furs, gathered the herbal cure-all sarsaparilla, and built and launched a 50-foot ship. However, the colony’s leader upon discovering that he was the heir to an immense fortune decided to return to a lavish castle in England.
Part of the motivation for the European invasion of North America was to acquire converts to their religion. The Jesuits arrived in New France in 1611 and began to learn the native languages as a way of carrying their message to the people. Unlike other Europeans, the Jesuits did not want land or furs: they asked only to live in an Indian household that they might study the language. While the Jesuits were well-liked because of their quiet manners, the Indians felt that these men were poorly educated because they had not learned that God made all religions, and they came here to tell the people who already believed in a Creator that such a One exists.
In 1611, Jesuit missionaries attempted to establish a mission on Mt. Desert Island. However, an English ship arrived and captured the entire settlement. James Moore, in his book Indian and Jesuit: A Seventeenth-Century Encounter, writes:
“English paranoid attitudes toward Catholics, especially Jesuits, and their current fears generated by alleged plots to undermine the English government, placed the missionaries in special jeopardy.”
Two years later, the French priests built a mission for the Penobscot at Bar Harbor, Maine.
In 1635, the Capuchin Catholics established a small church at Pentagoet to proselytize among the Penobscot. The priests learned the local language.
In 1642, Charles Meiaskwat, a Montegnais lay preacher, visited the Abenaki at Norridgewock. The following year, an Abenaki from Norridgewock went to Quebec with Charles Meiaskwat so that he could be converted to Christianity. As a convert he was given the name Jean-Baptiste and he returned to his people to proselytize. Three years later, Jean-Baptiste returned to Quebec claiming that he had 40 potential converts at Norridgewock and asking that a black robe (Jesuit priest) be sent to instruct them.
In 1646, the French Jesuit Gabriel Druillettes began working with the Abenaki. He emphasized steady prayer and quiet nurturing of the sick which contrasted to the traditional religion which was quite animated. On one occasion he offered Mass with a fervent beseeching of God to relieve the hunger of his traveling party. Right after Mass, the Abenaki killed three moose. This impressed the Indians with his apparent ability to deliver results.
In a typical Jesuit approach to the Indians, Druillettes learned the Abenaki language. He impressed many Indians, and his visit established a link between the Abenakis and Quebec that would continue for many years.
The Huron, an Iroquoian-speaking people whose traditional homeland was north of the Great Lakes, were a confederacy of four major tribes: Bear, Rock, Barking Dogs, and White Thorns (also known as Canoes). The people called their confederacy Wendat or People of the Peninsula. They were given the name Huron by the French.
The first contact between the Huron and the Europeans was with the French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535. At the palisaded Huron town of Hochelaga, the French were greeted by about a thousand Huron men and women. The French did not care for the Huron food – cornbread, beans, peas, and cucumbers – because it was not salted.
In 1609, some Huron warriors joined French explorer Samuel de Champlain and a mixed group of Montagnais and Algonquin warriors. While Champlain wanted the warriors to keep watch at night, they refused. Instead, they conducted a shaking tent ceremony and consulted the spirits about the nearness of any enemies. The spirits indicated that no enemy were near and so the warriors slept.
At the northern shore of what is today called Lake Champlain, the combined French, Montagnais, Algonquin, and Huron forces encountered a Mohawk war party massed in battle formation and wearing wooden body armor. The French firearms killed several Mohawk leaders and the Mohawk retreated. In an article on the French and Indians in Attitudes of Colonial Powers Toward the American Indian, Mason Wade reports:
“This exploit sealed the alliance of the French with the Algonkians and the Hurons and fixed their deadly enmity with the Iroquois.”
In 1611, the Huron confederacy sent presents to the French along with word that they wished to establish an alliance with them independent of the French alliance with the Algonquin. The Algonquin, however, opposed this and managed to delay the French response to the request.
In 1611, Samuel de Champlain arranged for a young Frenchman to live among the Huron and learn their language and culture.
A formal trading alliance between the French and the Huron Confederacy was negotiated in 1614. With this agreement, the Huron allied themselves with the French.
The following year, Huron warriors accompanied Samuel de Champlain into Iroquois territory in what is now New York. They captured three Iroquois men, four women, three boys, and a girl. Champlain complained when the Huron cut off one of the women’s fingers as a demonstration of the torture that lay ahead. The Hurons agreed not to torture the women.
Near present-day Fenner, New York, the French-Huron party attacked an Iroquois fort. After the initial attack, the Huron warriors withdrew. Champlain then convinced the warriors to build large wooden shields for protection and a large moveable platform which overlooked the Iroquois palisades. While the plan had initial success, the Huron warriors, unused to the discipline expected by European military leaders, broke ranks and attempted to set fire to the palisades. The Iroquois, however, simply poured water into the troughs which formed their fire defense system and the fires were quickly extinguished. Champlain was hit twice by arrows and was severely wounded. The Huron retreated carrying their wounded, including Champlain, in improvised baskets.
The Iroquois, who had been trading with Dutch traders in New York, sent emissaries north to propose peace and trade with the French. This would allow them to play the two European powers against each other with regard to trade. While the French were concerned that the Iroquois would convince the Huron to start trading with the Dutch, they agreed to the peace in 1622.
In 1623, the French sent a party of French traders to winter with the Huron to make sure that they continued to trade with the French rather than with the Dutch.
As the European demand for furs increased during the seventeenth century, both the Iroquois and the Huron began to expand westward in search of new furs and new Indian trading partners. This expansion brought about some violent conflicts between the Huron and the western Indian nations such as the Winnebago (Ho Chunk) and Ottawa. In addition, conflict between the Huron and the Iroquois also increased.
In 1642, a party of 36 Huron and 4 French under the leadership of Father Isaac Joques was attacked by an Iroquois war party. The priest and 21 others were captured. The Mohawk, one of the nations of the Iroquois League of Five Nations, later killed Father Joques in the manner reserved for sorcerers because he was suspected of started an epidemic.
In 1648, the Seneca and the Mohawk, both members of the Iroquois League of Five Nations, set out to destroy the Huron trading network. The Seneca, armed with firearms obtained from the Dutch, attacked the Huron town of Teanaostaiaé. Three hundred of the 2,000 inhabitants of the town were killed and 700 were taken captive. The following year, the Iroquois, supplied with 400 guns and unlimited ammunition on credit by the Dutch, attacked and destroyed the Huron. This marked the end of the Huron confederacy. Many of the Huron people took refuge with other Indian nations in the Great Lakes area. A new nation, however, the Wyandot, composed of Huron refugees as well as other Indian refugees, soon emerged, but did not challenge the Iroquois supremacy.
The Yamasee were a Muskogean-speaking Indian nation living in what would become southern Georgia and northern Florida when first encountered by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. In 1687, the Yamasees, unhappy with the Spanish occupation and rule of their territories, moved north in South Carolina, was then under British rule. In South Carolina, the Yamasees became allies and trading partners with the British colonists.
For the British in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, one of the important commodities was Indian slaves who could either be sold in the Caribbean slave markets or used on the colonists own plantations. Donald Grinde, in an article in The Indian Historian, reports:
“They developed an Indian slave trade based on predatory raids. This practice became a lucrative business for Charleston merchants.”
As with the African slave trade, the English used indigenous allies to obtain slaves. They would arm the coastal tribes and then encourage them to raid the tribes in the interior to obtain slaves. Donald Grinde writes:
“Within a few years after the settlement of Charleston, Indian slaves were being brought from the interior to Charleston just as Africans were being funneled through the trading forts of the West African coast.”
Carl Waldman, in his book The Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, describes the process of obtaining Yamasee slaves:
“First, they gave the Indians all the rum they wanted plus trade goods. Then they demanded immediate payment from the Indians. The Indians could not pay off their huge debts and asked for more time. To settle the debts, the slavers seized Yamasee wives and children for the slave market.”
The Indian slaves were then sold in the West Indies slave markets or they were taken to New York and the New England colonies.
By 1708, the English colonists in the Carolinas owned 1,400 Indian slaves and by 1715 this had increased to 1,850. Since 1680, British slavers had taken between 24,000 and 51,000 war captives, most of whom had been shipped as slaves to New England or to the Caribbean.
The Yamasees were allies in the British slave trade and carried out slave raids against Indian nations in the Spanish territories of Florida. In 1708, the Spanish governor at Saint Augustine reported that there were only 300 natives left in the area. He estimated that 10,000 to 12,000 Florida Indians had been enslaved by the Carolinians and their Indian allies. By 1710, it was estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 Indian slaves had been shipped from the Southeast to New England and the Caribbean.
The Yamasees soon found that the British were neither good allies nor good trading partners. Not only did the traders consistently cheat their Yamasee trading partners, they were not above beating them and even enslaving their women and children. Christina Snyder, in her book Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America, writes:
“From the Yamasee perspective, their Carolina allies had become greedy, irresponsible, and violent, thereby destroying the chains of obligation that once bound them as allies.”
The Carolinians were aware that the Yamasee had some complaints about the way they were being treated. On April 14, 1715, South Carolina’s Indian agent Thomas Naine, along with former Indian agent John Wright and others, met with the Yamasee chiefs at the village of Pocataligo. They spent the evening drinking rum, feasting, and discussing their trade issues. The following morning, which happened to be Good Friday, the Yamasees bound Naine to a post in the center of the village square. They pierced his body with lighted splinters and slowly burned him to death. This was the start of the Yamasee war.
It was not just the Yamasee who went to war against the British colonists: in a coordinated action, the Creeks under the leadership of Brim of Coweta and the Choctaws killed some of the traders in their towns and attacked several plantations. Christina Snyder reports:
“Similarly discontented neighboring nations, including the Lower Creeks, Savannahs, and the captive Apalachees of Savannah Town, applauded the Yamasees’ declaration of war and followed suit.”
Most of the Indian traders—an estimated 90%–are killed in the first few months of the war.
About 400 English colonists were killed in the war, which was about 7% of the colonial population. In response, Governor Charles Craven quickly put together an army from the South Carolina militia, enslaved African Americans, volunteers from Virginia and North Carolina, and some friendly Indian nations. A force of 70 Tuscacoras aided South Carolina in their war against the Yamasee. The campaign against the Indians has generally been described as “brutal.” In his book Catawba Valley Mississippian: Ceramics, Chronology, and Catawba Indians, archaeologist David Moore reports:
“… South Carolina forces were particularly ruthless with those Indians located closest to Charles Town: the Congarees, Santees, Sewees, Peedees, and Waxhaws suffered devastating losses.”
Over the next two years, the British and their allies continued to attack the Yamasee, driving them out of the region. Many of the survivors fled south to Florida and north to join the Catawba Confederacy. Those who fled to Florida once again became allied with the Spanish. Jerry Keenan, in his book Encyclopedia of American Indian Wars, 1492-1890, reports:
“So thorough was Craven’s pursuit that the Yamasee almost ceased to exist as a tribal entity thereafter. What had been Yamasee territory now became part of James Oglethorpe’s new colony of Georgia.”
The Yamasee War officially ended in 1718 with a peace accord between the British colonists and the Indian nations. As a result of this war, many colonists began to question the wisdom of capturing and using Indian slaves. Christina Snyder writes:
“After the Yamasee War, they increasingly turned to African labor, despite the fact that Africans cost more and were taxed at higher rates than Indian slaves.”
Donald Grinde, in an article in The Indian Historian, summarizes the Yamasee War this way:
“The Yamasee War demonstrated the fullest extent of white economic exploitation of aboriginal people in colonial America. With little criticism from church or government, the South Carolinians had persuaded larger tribes to enslave lesser coastal tribes for the sake of English trade goods.”
With regard to the lessons from the Yamasee War, Grinde writes:
“Slave-catching almost inevitably led to Indian uprisings, and the more populous inland tribes were formidable adversaries. Due to this fact, it seemed easier to turn to Black slavery.”
The last distinctively Yamasee village, located near St. Augustine, was destroyed by the British in 1827. The Yamasee who settled with other Indian nations—Apalachee, Creek, Seminole—lost their tribal identity.