Boulder Dam and the Navajo Reservation

In general the history of hydroelectric dams in the United States has involved the transfer of wealth from the nation’s poorest people, American Indians, to the nation’s wealthiest people, industrial capitalists. In the name of progress, industrialization, and manifest destiny American Indian nations have had their lands, water rights, fishing rights, and sacred sites taken from them. The case of Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam) on the Colorado River is different in that it did not directly impact the Navajo Reservation, but it indirectly led to the destruction of the traditional Navajo economy, and the creation of poverty and economic inequality among the Navajo.

In 1922, the seven Colorado River Basin states negotiated a compact which divided the water of the Colorado River water among themselves. Archaeologist Brian Fagan, in his book Elixer: A History of Water and Humankind, writes:  “The era of industrial water management was truly under way, for the benefit not of small farmers but of large agribusinesses.”

While the Indian tribes in the region had a legal right to this water, the tribes were not invited to the negotiations and any possible water rights which Indians might have were purposefully ignored. The negotiations were chaired by Herbert Hoover.  In 1928, Hoover, who was then Secretary of Commerce, secured from Congress the authorization for the Colorado River Project which included the construction of Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam). The dam was to protect and promote agribusiness ventures in California’s Imperial Valley and to provide water to Los Angeles.

A glance at the map suggests little connection between Boulder Dam and the Navajo, as the dam is located far to the west of the reservation. However, in 1929 the United States Geological Survey reported that the major contributors to Colorado River silt were located on the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Reservation was therefore seen as a major threat to the Boulder Dam as silt from the reservation would pile up behind the dam and destroy its usefulness. American government officials at this time were firmly convinced that overgrazing caused gullying which resulted in silt. The solution in their minds was obvious: stop overgrazing by the Navajos on their reservation and save Boulder dam.

In the 1930s, the United States, in the midst of the Great Depression, elected a new President who then appointed John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Unlike most of his predecessors, Collier had worked on Indian reservations, understood Indian cultures, and felt that Indian people should have a say in their own destinies. He felt that forced assimilation was wrong and that previous Indian policies had resulted in the creation of Indian poverty. He told the Indians:  “We believe that your Indian heritage is just as practicable and good, and just as much needed by America as is the Anglo-Saxon heritage or the German heritage or the Scotch or Irish or Norwegian heritage.”

The situation with Boulder Dam and the Navajo would, however, provide Collier with his greatest challenge and his actions in dealing with this challenge would make a mockery of the many fine words he spoke about American Indians.

Part of the problem stemmed from an economic misunderstanding. Long before the European invasion of North America, the Navajo had been farmers and they acquired sheep, goats, and horses from the early Spanish settlements in New Mexico. By the twentieth century they had a basic subsistence economy in which their farming and livestock provided them with the basic necessities of life. Their primary participation in the larger cash economy was through traders where they could trade wool blankets and other items for cash or goods.

The American government, however, viewed agriculturalists, including the Navajo, as a part of a larger industrial agricultural system in which people raised products, such as sheep, which were then sold to provide them with the money with which they could buy basic food and supplies. From this viewpoint, only Navajo sheep had economic value and goats and horses were economically worthless as there was no market for them. What the Americans failed to understand was that the Navajo ate goats and horses and that these animals provided them with the food they need to survive to tough times.

In 1931, for example, a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held hearings on the Navajo Reservation. The Senators used the hearings as a forum to lecture the Navajo on market economics. While agency personal testified that the Navajo had few surplus horses and the Navajo testified about the fact that goats are essential to their subsistence, Senator Burton K. Wheeler admonished the Navajo to get rid of their horses and goats.

There were also political misunderstandings. The Navajo had never had a tribal council: each of the many small bands and outfits were felt to be autonomous. Historically, the American government has always preferred dealing with dictatorships rather than democracies and has therefore established governments which it could easily manipulate. The Navajo Tribal Council was not a Navajo institution, but had been established by the American government to agree with all American actions and to give these actions, primarily the transfer of wealth and  resources from the Navajo tribe to American businesses, the superficial appearance of having been done with Navajo approval. Many of those appointed to the Council by the American government were highly acculturated Navajo who tended to be wealthy, bilingual, and Christian.

In 1933, John Collier, in his role as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, met with the Navajo Tribal Council to discuss stock reduction. He told the Navajo that overgrazing was resulting in erosion and that there would have to be a reduction in stock. He told the Council:  “This reservation, along with the other Indian reservations along the Colorado River, is supplying much more than half of all the silt which goes down the Colorado River, which will in the course of a comparatively few years render the Boulder Dam useless and thereby injure the population of all Southern California and a good deal of Arizona also.”

He proposed a reduction of 200,000 sheep and 200,000 goats. While there was some opposition to the stock reduction proposal, the Council did what it was told and voted 8-4 to endorse Collier’s proposal. Many Navajo, however, particularly the women, did not support the Council’s action. In Navajo culture, women owned their own sheep and felt that no one had the right to tell them what to do with their own property.

The impact of stock reduction was first felt in 1934: 148,000 goats and 50,000 sheep were sold. The prices set by the government were exceptionally low.  Not all of the goats could be delivered to the railhead, therefore some were slaughtered and the dried meat given back to the Navajo. Other goats were simply shot and left to rot; some were shot and partially cremated by soaking them with gasoline and lighting it. From a Navajo viewpoint this was an appalling waste of valuable resources. It is generally estimated that the reduction in the number of goats increased the cost of living on the reservation by about 20%.

Government officials failed to understand Navajo concepts of ownership. They simply assumed that the flocks were family owned, that is, they were owned by the male head of household. Since Navajo women owned large herds this meant that women soon found that their flocks were being credited to their husbands.

The non-Navajo conservationists advocated the reduction in goats because the animals had little market value. They did not understand that in a subsistence economy, such as that of the Navajo, goats are important as a dependable source of food: by drinking goat milk, eating goat cheese, and eating goat meat, the sheep could be bred or traded.

In 1936, Navajo women rebelled against federal government pressure to reduce the size of their sheep herds. At Kayenta, 250 Navajo gathered. While most of those present were men, Denehotso Hattie, a woman almost blind from trachoma, was the leader. She pointed her finger at the new Indian superintendent for the reservation and denounced the government plan for range management. The government had disparaged Navajo knowledge of the lands they had traditionally occupied and disregarded the women.

The United States government wanted to create the illusion that a Navajo democracy supported the herd reduction program. In 1937, seventy-odd selected Navajo headmen met and, at the prodding of the Agency Superintendent, voted themselves as the new Navajo Tribal Council. The strategy of federal government was to create a new governing body which would enact and enforce legislation to require the Navajo people to conform to grazing regulations. The new council had 70 members with each member representing a new voting district. In opposition to the Council, J.C. Morgan organized the Navajo Progressive League which vowed to form a representative council.

John Collier met with the hand-picked Council and told them they had two choices: they could approve the new regulations for stock reduction or they would be placed under the General Grazing Regulations for Indian Lands. In other words, stock reduction was going to take place in spite of any Navajo opposition.

The following year, at the request of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and without the consent of the Navajo, a set of bylaws were issued creating a new tribal council. The positions of chairman, vice-chairman, and 74 delegates were to be filled by popular vote. Jacob C. Morgan, who was opposed to Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier and to stock reduction, was elected chairman.

Rumors spread through the reservation that the federal government intended to round up all Navajo horses and shoot them, just as they had done with the goats. Many people hid their horses from government officials and refused to have them branded and counted. In some areas, federal marshals were called in to enforce compliance and suits were filed against some of the Navajo for non-compliance with horse reduction. Twelve cases involving 30 defendants were filed in the United States District Court as a way of proving to the Navajo that the federal government had the power to reduce their horse herds. Collier insisted that these actions were not a policy of coercion. In 1939, the United States District Court in Phoenix ruled in favor of the government and ordered U.S. marshals to seize the horses if they were not removed in 30 days. By the end of the year, one-fourth of the Navajo horses had been sold for $2 to $4 per head.

By the 1940s, it was clear to most Navajo that the federal government intended for them to starve and to give up their reservation. While the federal government had ordered many scientific studies of the reservation—its peoples, its ecology—the government ignored the findings of these studies. While John Collier had promised a New Deal for the Indians and an end to the old paternalism, with regard to the Navajo, the old paternalism—the government knows what is best for you—continued with more vigor than in previous administrations.

Looking back at the Navajo stock reduction program in 1949, at a time when he was no longer the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Collier noted that one of the options was:  “Go with the facts to the hundreds of local communities of the Navajo people. Educate these communities through slow, patient conference and demonstration. Vest the responsibility for launching and guiding these huge, necessary adjustments, in the local headmen, in the healer-singers, the diviners, and ultimately the heads of families.”

Collier notes that in rejecting this option they may have erred profoundly. It is interesting to note that Collier does not talk about listening to the Navajo, and particularly Navajo women, and asking for their opinions about what should be done to their land.

In the end, stock reduction did not restore the lands on the Navajo Reservation. By the 1950s, scientists recognized that gullying and siltation were not necessarily caused by over grazing and that stock reduction had little impact. Boulder Dam provided no economic benefits to the Navajo Reservation, but it destroyed a traditional economy and greatly increased poverty.

Early French Encounters With Indians

The 16th century marked the beginning of the European invasion of North America. The Spanish had already firmly established themselves in the Caribbean islands and were attempting to move north into Florida. The Portuguese had explored the coast of what would become Canada. European interests in the Americas were fueled by stories of great wealth and by new maps showing the region: Juan de la Cosa’s 1500 map commissioned by the Spanish King and Martin Waldseemuller’s 1507 map using the term “America” to designate the new territories.

In 1508, Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian working for the French, sailed as a navigator on a fishing vessel which explored the area of Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence River in Canada.

In 1523, King Francis I of France asked Verrazano to explore the American coast from Florida to Terranova (Newfoundland) with the goal of finding a possible sea route to the Pacific Ocean. His exploration of the American coast began in 1524. Making landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, the French ships then sailed northward to Maine making contact with Native American groups at several locations. In New York Bay, Verrazzano noted that the country was well inhabited.

The Verrazano party made contact with the Narragansett, Mahican, Wampanoag, Abnaki, Pokanoket, and Penobscot. Verrazano reported that he and his crew were treated well by the Natives they encountered. The Europeans and the Indians shared meals and the Indians often organized sporting games for their mutual entertainment.

In Narragansett Bay Indians came on board the ship. According to Verrazano:  “They exceed us in size, and they are of a very fair complexion, some incline more to a white and others to a tawny color; their faces are sharp, and their hair long and black, upon the adorning of which they bestow great pains; their eyes are black and sharp, their expressions mild and pleasant, greatly resembling the antique.”  In a letter to the King of France Verrazano wrote that the Narragansett  “are the most beautiful and have the most civil customs that we found on this voyage.”

Verrazano also observed that the Indians set their planting times according to their observations of the moon and the rising of the Pleiades. In other words, they understood some of the basics of astronomy.  While Verrazano did not speak any Indian languages, he concluded:  “We think they have neither religion nor laws.”

All European explorers, such as Verrazano, were guided by the Discovery Doctrine, a legal fiction which declared that Christian nations have a right, if not an obligation, to govern all non-Christian nations. If there were no evidence of Christianity, then most Europeans felt that the Indians did not have religion. Furthermore, if there was no controlling church-state hierarchy, then there were no laws.

As with other European explorers, Verrazano attempted to kidnap some natives to take back to Europe. At Cape Fear, North Carolina, he encountered an old woman, two infants, a child and a young woman. He later wrote:  “We took a child from the old woman to bring into France, and were about to take the young woman, who was very beautiful and of tall stature, but we could not for the great outcries that she made.”

In Maine, Verrazano found that the Indians were not friendly. It is likely that the Native people of this area had already had some unpleasant encounters with Europeans as the English from Bristol, the Portuguese, and the Basques had been fishing in this area for several years. Some of the fishing vessels had also been trading with the natives. In 1507, for example, Norman fishing vessels captured seven Beothuk in Newfoundland and brought them back to France and by 1519 European fishing boats were trading with the Micmac in Maine and the Maritime Provinces.


During the 17th century, four European countries—France, England, Netherlands, and Spain–established permanent colonies in the Americas. As these colonies expanded, the conflicts with the Native Americans over land increased in frequency and intensity. While the American Indian nations had superior numbers, the Europeans had a technological advantage.

The Europeans were driven to conquer the “wilderness” of the Americas by the power of greed. They sought wealth in the form of gold and silver, fertile lands which could be used to grow crops which could then be exported to Europe, furs and hides for the European market, and finally slaves.

As contact with the Europeans intensified, so did the diseases which they brought with them. Along the Atlantic coast, disease killed up to 90% of the Indian inhabitants during this century.

Listed below are some of the events of 1614.


In 1613, the English had kidnapped Pocahontas, the favorite daughter of Powhattan, a powerful Indian leader. They had hoped to hold her for ransom, but the Indians refused to pay a ransom. In 1614, as a condition of her release from her English captors, Pocahontas agreed to marry John Rolfe and became known as Rebecca Rolfe. At the marriage ceremony, Pocahontas was given away by her uncle Opechancanough.

At the time of her marriage, Pocahontas was about 18 and had been married to a warrior named Kocoum. She was fairly slender and could pass for a boy, a feature which would later allow her to have an audience with King James.

The English colonists in Virginia concluded a formal, written treaty with the Chickahominy in which the Indians agreed to send an annual tribute payment of corn to Jamestown. The treaty between the English and the Chickahominy appears to have been masterminded by Opechancanough. Opechancanough wanted the English to think that the Chickahominy were their allies while drawing the Chickahominy closer to membership in the Powhattan empire.

 In Massachusetts, the English returned with Capawake sachem Epinow, who was to act as their guide and interpreter. Epinow, however, escaped from the ship by jumping into the water and swimming toward some Indian canoes. The Indians in the canoes fired a volley of arrows at the ship to aid his escape.

In Massachusetts, English Captain Thomas Hunt captured 26 Wampanoag, including a young man known as Squanto. The Indians were taken to Spain and sold as slaves. However, Squanto escaped and found his way to England where he learned to speak English.

John Smith, the former commander at Jamestown, led two ships in search of gold and whales along the coast of Maine. After some fishing, trading, and skirmishes with the natives, the English captured 27 Wampanoag and Nauset to sell into slavery. While mapping the New England coast, Smith noted at least nine coastal towns between Cape Ann and Cape Code, each of which was ruled by a sachem. In addition, he reported that he had heard that there were more than 20 towns inland from the coast.


The Compagnie de Canada won a monopoly on trade in the St. Lawrence for eleven years. The new company was to transport six families to begin a settlement in New France.

A formal trading alliance was formed between the French and the Huron Confederacy. As a result of this agreement, Huron society would undergo great changes.


The Dutch granted exclusive trading rights to the Hudson River area of New York to the New Netherlands Company which built a trading fort on Castle Island. The trader Jacob Elkens learned both the Mahican and Mohawk languages.


A series of three epidemics began to sweep through the Indian villages in Massachusetts. At least ten Wampanoag villages were abandoned because there were no survivors. Wampanoag population decreased from 12,000 to 5,000.


In New York, the Mohawk who were living at the Kilts site (NYSM 6297—this is the archaeological designation for the site) moved their town to the Wagner’s Hollow (NYSM 1202 and NYSM 1214) area on Caroga Creek.

World War II Impacts Indian Reservations

In 1942, the United States was gearing up to fight in World War II and the military efforts on the homefront had an impact on several Indian reservations.

Administration of Indian Affairs:

The need for office space in Washington, D.C. to support the war effort resulted in moving the Indian Bureau to Chicago. The move reduced Indian Bureau influence with Congress and other federal agencies. The Indian budget was slashed and New Deal programs for Indians were dropped. This left many Indian programs in disorder.

A shortage of doctors and nurses on reservations developed as medical personnel joined the armed forces. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier warned of the potential for a complete breakdown of medical services on the reservations.


 The government established concentration camps for Japanese Americans on two Indian reservations in Arizona: the Gila Indian Reservation and the Colorado River Indian Reservation (Mohave and Chemehuevi). The tribes were not consulted in this matter.

With regard to the Colorado River Indian Reservation, the government promises that the land would be returned to the tribes substantially improved for future agricultural use. The tribes opposed the concentration camp, but understood that if they refused the government’s demands they will lose the land. The tribe did not respond to the government. On the other hand, non-Indian business people in nearby Parker saw the concentration camp as a good thing:  “The project’s going to be good for the country. It will develop a lot of land, bring in irrigation, so white farmers can use it. White men can’t work out on the reservation now.”

Following the war, the federal government used the former camps to house Hopi and Navajo who were forcibly relocated from their homes as a part of a “colonization” program. Under the plan, up to 1,000 Navajo families were to be removed from their reservation as a means of alleviating overpopulation. The colonization program was a failure.


 In Alaska, the U.S. Army removed the Unangan people from the Aleutian Islands and placed them in makeshift camps on the mainland where they suffered from hunger, cold, and disease. Many of the elders died. Their abandoned villages were vandalized by the American military.

South Dakota:

In South Dakota, the U.S. Army Air Corps “borrowed” part of the Oglala Sioux’s Pine Ridge Reservation for a gunnery range with the understanding that it would be returned after World War II. The army notified 128 tribal members that they had to evacuate their homes within thirty days. Some Indians reported that they were told they would be shot if they did not cooperate.

In 1943, more than 250 Oglala Sioux families were given 10 days notice to leave their homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation so that the land could become a bombing range.

Twenty years later, instead of returning the land to the tribe, the federal government simply declared it to be surplus which would allow non-tribal interests to acquire it. In 1968, however, the land was finally returned to the tribe except that the National Park Service was given management authority over half of the land which was now included in the Badlands National Park. For about 25 years, the federal government had leased out 90,000 acres of this land. The profit that the government received from leasing the land exceeded the compensation which had been given to the Sioux at the time the land was taken from them.


 In Oklahoma, the army expanded Camp Gruber. No thought was given to the forced relocation of the Cherokee who were living on the land taken by the army. The Cherokee had already planted their gardens and would not have food for the winter if they were removed. None of the Cherokee who were to be relocated had transportation and the army told them that it did not have any available trucks to help them. The Cherokee hoped that their land would be returned to them at the end of the war.  It was not.


 In Washington, the Wanapum fishing villages near the White Bluffs on the Columbia River were closed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a part of a top secret war project called the Gable Project (later called Hanford Engineering Works). The Wanapum were allowed to move upriver to Priest Rapids. Here they were allowed to settle in three abandoned houses that had been built for the operators of the first hydroelectric plant on the Columbia River.

Among those moved was young David Sohappy who would later become one of the leaders for Indian fishing rights on the Columbia River. Sohappy was related to the nineteenth century prophet Smohalla and would also become a leader of the Feather Religion, which is an offshoot of Smohalla’s religion.

In 1943, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation closed access to an area sacred to the Yakama. Government officials either ignored or were unaware of the 1855 treaty which guaranteed Indians access to this area.

Following the war, fish studies found that fish were now showing radioactive concentrations averaging 100,000 times the normal amount as far as 20 miles downstream from the Hanford nuclear facility.


In 1943, the federal government under the War Powers Act condemned 2,100 acres of the Shoshone and Bannock’s Fort Hall Reservation to be used as an airport. While the land was worth $100 per acre, the government paid the tribes only $10 per acre.

Aztec Social Organization

When the Spanish invaded Mexico, they found that one of the dominant empires was that of the Aztecs. While many great civilizations and empires had developed and collapses in the region over the millennia, today we know more about the Aztec society than we do about the earlier societies thanks to the observations of the Spanish. In 1519, when the Spanish first encountered the Aztecs, the Aztec empire was a complex state ruled by an emperor from the city of Tenochtitlán which had a population of about 350,000.

The “big house” (calpolli; also  spelled calpulli) was the basic unit of Aztec social organization and of the Aztec empire. The “big house” was primarily a group of families who had been related by kinship or proximity over a fairly long period of time. This group was a land-holding corporation with ritual functions: in other words, the group owned its own land and worshipped its own gods. Like Aztec society, the “big house” was stratified with both elite members and commoners. The elite would provide the commoners with arable land or with non-agricultural occupations and the commoners pay tribute to the elite in various forms.

Within the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán there were 80 “big houses” which were arranged into the four great quarters of the city.

Each of the “big houses” was presided over by a single individual who functions as a principal chief and has the title calpollec. The principal chief was elected by the members of the “big house” and confirmed by the Aztec emperor. The principal chief ruled for life.

Aztec society was stratified into a number of classes. At the very top of Aztec society were the rulers (teteuhctin) of the cities and towns. Living in palaces and wearing distinctive clothing, the rulers ensured that tribute payments were made at all of the appropriate levels of the imperial administration.

Just below the rulers were the nobles (pipiltin) which was a hereditary class (i.e. people had to be born into it). All of the Aztec imperial ministers belonged to this class. There was also a noble class known as the eagle nobles (cuauhpipiltin) who had been born as commoners but had distinguished themselves in battle and had been rewarded with a noble title.

Most of the people in Aztec society were commoners (macehualtin) who worked the lands of the “big houses” and paid tribute to the upper classes. The Aztec state maintained control over the commoners and tribute was in the form of service: labor on public works and/or as soldiers in the army.

At the bottom of Aztec society were the serfs (mayeque) who worked on the noble estates. Serfs were menial laborers and, according to some reports, were not allowed to leave the lands to which they were attached. Some scholars have estimated that perhaps as many as 30% of the Aztecs were serfs. About one-third of the produce of the serfs went to the nobles.

Aztec society, like other societies throughout the world, included slaves. Slavery was partially debt slavery which was made up of people who could not pay their debts, particularly gambling debts. When deeply in debt individuals could pawn themselves, their spouses, or their children for a certain period of time or perpetuity. Under Aztec law, slaves could not be sold without their consent. In general, slaves seem to have been treated well. Slaves could choose their marriage partners and their children were not slaves.

In addition to debt slavery, the Aztecs also captured people from other nations who were sold in slavery. By the time of the Spanish invasion, the buying and selling of slaves was a big business. Archaeologist Brian Fagan, in his book The Aztecs, writes:  “The ever-increasing nobility required en more laborers to serve in their households. Slave merchants operated from as far away as the Tabasco region of the Gulf Coast and frequented human markets in Azcapotzalco and Itzocan.”

There is also one small, but very powerful, Aztec group which must be mentioned: the long-distance merchants (pochteca). They were treated like royalty and reported directly to the royal palace. These merchants travelled hundreds of miles into foreign territories and were able to obtain luxury goods such as quetzal feathers and amber for the emperor. Membership in this merchant class was hereditary. While the long-distance merchants could become very wealthy, there were restrictions on them flaunting their wealth.

Being a long-distance merchant was a dangerous job and many died while travelling. Disease, accidents, and being killed by unfriendly people were among the job hazards. To ensure their safety and wellbeing, the pochteca had their own gods, including Yacatecuhtili (“Nose Lord”) who is generally portrayed as having a very long nose and carrying a traveler’s staff in one hand and a woven fan in the other. If one of these merchants died when travelling then, like the soul of a fallen warrior, the soul would go directly to the paradise of the Sun God.

Closely associated with the pochteca was another specialized group known as the oztomeca who dressed in local clothing and spoke the local language. Their job, in addition to obtaining exotic goods, was to gather military intelligence. Archaeologists Michael Coe and Rex Koontz, in their book Mexico, write:  “Like the businessmen-spies of modern days, the oztomeca were often a vanguard for the Aztec takeover of another nation, acting sometimes as agents-provocateurs.”

In 1521, the Spanish and their Native American allies captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, killing about 280,000 of its residents. Aztec society was then forced to be assimilated in the Spanish empire.


Two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1764, many of the Indian nations of North America had not yet had direct contact with the European colonial powers who were claiming the “God-given” right to rule them. Indirectly, however, most of the Indian nations had already been impacted by European manufactured goods and by European diseases.

Colonial Indian Policies:

 The British reorganized and reformed the administration of Indian affairs. Private and colonial purchases of land from the Indians were no longer allowed, trading was to be confined to posts, and trading rum to the Indians was banned.

Pennsylvania offered a scalp bounty on Indians as well as a bounty on live captives. Since the difference between the bounty for a scalp and a live male captive was relatively small, few bounty hunters bothered taking males alive. However, the bounty for live women and children meant that many were taken alive so that they could be sold as slaves.

In the Southeast, John Stuart, the Indian Agent for the British Southern District, suggested a divide-and-conquer policy:  “It will undoubtedly be detrimental to His Majesties service, that too strict a friendship and union subsist between the different Indian nations within this department; it is therefore incumbent upon us by all means in our power to foment any jealousy or division that may subsist between them.”

In Florida, the British took over government of Florida from the Spanish and appointed agents to represent the government in Indian affairs at Mobile, Pensacola, and St. Augustine.  A meeting was held with Cowkeeper’s Creek Indian village. A second meeting was then held with Creek leaders from five other towns: Tallahassee (Tonaby’s Town), Mikasuki (Newtown), Chiskatalofa, Tamathli, and Ochlockonee. Gifts were given to the chiefs and Cowkeeper and Long Warrior expressed strong attachment to the British.

In Louisiana, a delegation of Choctaw who were in New Orleans to confirm their attachment to the French talked with the English superintendent of Indian Affairs who happened to be visiting the city. They complained to him that the English traders beat them, stole their horses, and had sex with their women.

Anti-Indian Violence:

In Pennsylvania, a mob of about 50 men attacked the Christian Susquehannock Indians in the village of Conestogoe. They killed everyone they found, scalped and mutilated the bodies, and then burned the houses. Governor John Penn condemned the action and proclaimed a reward for the murderers.

Many of the Indians who had escaped the mob violence at Conestogoe sought refuge in Lancaster where they were locked in the workhouse for their own safety. The mob, however, broke in the door and killed several Indians, both adults and children.

The mob, known as the Paxton Boys, grew to several hundred and began to march toward Philadelphia where 140 Indians had sought refuge. The mob was angered because Governor John Penn had condemned the murder of Indians at the village of Conestogoe.

The governor called upon Ben Franklin to stop the mob. Franklin confronted the Paxton Boys in Germantown. In speaking to the mob, he used the names of the Indians they had murdered in Conestogoe. By speaking the English names of the dead Indians, Franklin treated them as human beings rather than as wild animals in the woods. Franklin told the mob that killing children was inhuman, cowardly, and unmanly. Franklin told them that  “these Indians would have been safer among the ancient heathens, with whom the rites of hospitality were sacred, than they are among us Christians in Pennsylvania.”

Franklin was successful and the mob dispersed. Following this, Franklin wrote A Narrative of the Late Massacres … of a Number of Indians. It described the massacre of Indians by “Christian White Savages.”


In Pennsylvania, Presbyterian missionaries Samuel Kirkland and Joseph Woolley traveled to the Iroquois village of Oquaga. Woolley, a Delaware Indian who had graduated from the Wheellock Academy, established a school in the village. Woolley found life in the village to be difficult and died the following year.

In Rhode Island, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent a teacher to the Narragansett.

Peace and War:

In Ohio, the Ottawa war leader Pontiac sent the British a wampum belt for peace. The British simply chopped up the belt. In terms of Indian diplomacy, the British action was highly disrespectful, somewhat like urinating on a peace treaty. The Indians were shocked and angered by the British actions and Pontiac was convinced that he had nothing to gain by negotiating with the British

The Shawnee, Seneca, and Lenni Lenape joined together to send war belts to the Miami and to Pontiac’s Ottawa asking them to fight the British. These three nations were joined by the Munsee and the Wyandot to form the Five Nations of Scioto.

In Michigan, the Ojibwa debated about traveling to Detroit to join Pontiac. To settle the debate a shaking tent ceremony was held. The spirits were asked if the English were really preparing to attack the Indians. The oracle replied that there were many English soldiers preparing to make war. As an alternative, the oracle suggested that they travel to New York to meet with Sir William Johnson, who  “will fill your canoes with presents; with blankets, kettles, guns, gunpowder and shot; and large barrels of rum, such as the stoutest of the Indians will not be able to lift; and every man will return in safety to his family.”

Other Events:

In Massachusetts, the Stockbridge realized that they had failed to exclude from a government transaction 2,500 acres of land which they had sold to a farmer. They refunded the money and petitioned the General Court to allow the farmer to keep the land. The Court did not allow the farmer to keep the land, but did give him 300 acres elsewhere.

In Florida, two Creek towns – Lachua under the leadership of Cowkeeper and Old Town under the leadership of White King – had a ball game which lasted for two weeks. During this time the participants consumed 18 kegs of rum.

In Virginia, amateur archaeologist Thomas Jefferson had his African slaves dig up hundreds of Monacan skeletons so that he could learn more about their mortuary customs.

In Massachusetts, the Nantucket were decimated by smallpox. Only 136 survived. At the time of first contact with the English in 1659 they had had a population of about 3,000.

The Iroquois Peace, 1700 to 1713

Around the year 1451 five Iroquois nations—the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk—met to form the confederacy envisioned by the Huron prophet Deganawida. The five nations buried the instruments of war and planted a pine tree of peace. By 1700, the Iroquois Confederacy, commonly known as the League of Five Nations, was in between two rival European nations: the French and the English.

To the north of the Iroquois, the French sought to establish trading relations with the Indian nations, including the Iroquois. The French, who often spoke Indian languages, married Indian women, and dressed in Indian style, did not require their Indian business partners to change their cultures.

On the other hand the English, who occupied lands to the south and to the east of the Iroquois, felt that the extermination of the Indians, or at least of Indian cultures, was necessary to “tame the wilderness.” The English rarely spoke Indian languages, generally prohibited intermarriage with Indians, and viewed Indian religions as a form of “devil worship.”

The French and the English were traditional enemies, often fighting a religious war. The English, who were Protestants, strongly opposed French Catholicism which they viewed as an atheistic, evil religion.

In 1700, three French ambassadors traveled to Onondaga to speak to the Council of the League of Five Nations. They told the Iroquois that it was time for peace and that they wished to exchange prisoners and to place a Jesuit mission in Iroquoia. The sachems (a sachem is a chief in the Northeastern Indian nations) agreed to send a delegation to Canada to arrange for the peace and for the exchange of prisoners, but they would not agree to accept a Jesuit mission.

When the Iroquois attempted to release their French prisoners, however, many refused repatriation. They had been adopted into Iroquois families and refused to abandon their new lives. Only 13 French captives agreed to return.

Upon hearing about the French delegation to the Five Nations, the English governor of New York sent a representative to the Council to tell the Iroquois not to be deceived by the French. The Indians perceived the English message as one that challenged their sovereignty and implied that the English looked upon them as subjects.

The Iroquois felt that they could work the animosity between the French and English to their own advantage. In 1701, the Iroquois made two treaties: one with the British in Albany and one with the French in Montreal. These treaties began a policy of armed neutrality between the two contending European powers. In the treaty with the British, the sovereignty of the Five Nations over a vast tract of land along the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Huron was recognized. The King of England guaranteed Iroquois hunting in that area for their heirs and descendants forever. The Great Peace treaty with the French included 31 other Indian nations who were allied with the French. The two treaties marked the beginning of a period of material prosperity for the Iroquois. The Iroquois allowed trading posts only at the borders of their territories.

In 1702, war broke out between the French and the English in the form of Queen Anne’s War (War of Spanish Succession). Both the French and the English sought to keep the Iroquois neutral in this conflict so that the fur trade would not be interrupted. By remaining neutral, the Iroquois continued to trade with both and to maintain their dominant position in the fur trade.

In 1709, the British Governor met with four of the Five Nations (all except for the Seneca) to renew the Covenant Chain. The British told the Iroquois that they wanted them to take part in a military expedition against Canada. The Iroquois agreed to provide the British with 150 Mohawk, 105 Oneida, 100 Cayuga, and 88 Onondaga. However, the English war ships never arrived to supply the invasion and the war fizzled out before it began.

In 1710, Fort Hunter was built by the English in Mohawk territory. A wooden chapel was built within the fort and Queen Anne gave it a set of communion plates. The building of the chapel marked an intensification of Protestant missionary activity in the region. The following year, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts sent a missionary to Fort Hunter to convert the Mohawk.

 In 1712, the Iroquois Five Nations received wampum belts from the Tuscarora in the Carolinas. The Tuscarora asked for help in fighting the Catawba and the Virginia and Carolina colonists. When the governor of New York heard of the request, he warned the Iroquois not to get involved. The Iroquois promised to ask the Tuscarora to stop fighting if the governor asked the colonists to put down their arms. The French, however, convinced the Iroquois to send some warriors to aid the Tuscarora.

Queen Anne’s War between the French and English ended with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Under this treaty, the Iroquois were considered British subjects and trade was permitted with the western Indians by both the British and the French.


Very often in history classes and in the popular media Indians are segregated into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with particular attention on the conflicts with Plains Indians following the Civil War. There is sometimes the implication that there were no Indians in the twentieth century, that they had somehow gone extinct or simply assimilated, like other immigrants, into mainstream American culture. Yet twentieth century American history is filled with incidents of violent conflicts (wars?) and political policies regarding Indians. Discussed below are some of the events and issues of just one year: 1964, a mere two generations in the past.

 Federal Policy:

 Indian leaders come to Washington, D.C. to lobby for a change in the War on Poverty legislation that would allow grants to be made directly to Indian tribes. When the legislation creating the Office of Economic Opportunity finally passes it includes their proposal. This marks a milestone in federal and tribal relations, in that, for the first time, Indian people had conceived of a provision to be inserted in national legislation and then lobbied it through Congress into law.

 The War on Poverty programs, unlike many federal programs, had a positive impact on Indian reservations. Not only did these programs realistically address economic, educational, and health issues, they also provided a training ground for future Indian leaders. Programs dealing with mental health and alcoholism gave Indian people the expertise to deal with these issues.

Fishing and Gathering Rights:

 Treaties between the United States and Indians nations often stated very clearly that the Indian nations had retained their traditional rights to fish, hunt, and gather in all usual and accustomed places. State governments, however, have not felt any obligation to conform to these treaties and have openly violated Indian rights.

Northwest Indians initiate a series of “fish-ins” in Western Washington. State response is brutal: Indian men, women, and children are arrested using tear gas, blackjacks, and violence. After state officers in riot gear in a high speed aluminum boat capsize his cedar canoe, Nisqually tribal member Billy Frank, Jr. comments:  “These guys had a budget. This was war.”

In Washington, the Makah erect a smokehouse on Olympic National Park land near the mouth of the Ozette River. The Park Service acknowledges their treaty rights and drafts regulations that allow seasonal structures.

In Wisconsin, game wardens arrest a number of Bad River Chippewa for illegally harvesting wild rice in the Kakagon Slough. The tribe’s regulations for harvesting wild rice differ from those of the state. The tribal council insists that the state has no jurisdiction over Indian wild rice.


 In North Carolina, the Haliwa-Saponi win a lawsuit which forces the state to change the birth certificates of tribal members to identify them as Indians.

 American Indian Art:

 In Washington, D.C., an exhibition of student work from the Institute of Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico is exhibited in the offices of the Department of the Interior.

Cochiti Pueblo artist Helen Cordera makes her first Storyteller figure – a grandfather seated with five children hanging from him. The figurative pottery is inspired by memories of her grandfather telling stories to the children of Cochiti. This innovation will inspire many other potters and will become one of the most popular Native art forms in the southwest.

In New Mexico, Tewa artist Helen Hardin has her first “formal” one-woman show at Enchanted Mesa. She recalls of the event:  “I was treated like a cute little Indian girl—so sweet, so beautiful.”

Mission Indian artist Fritz Scholder vows that he will never paint another Indian and resolves to invent a new style of Indian painting summarized as: “I have painted the Indian real, not red.”  Scholder declares:  “The non-Indian had painted the subject as a noble savage and the Indian painter had been caught in a tourist-pleasing cliché.”

 Land Issues:

 A group of about 40 Indians travel to Alcatraz Island in California by boat. Allen Cottier, a Sioux descendent of Crazy Horse, reads a statement offering 47 cents per acre for the purchase of the island.

 In Arizona, the Havasupai ask the National Park Service to relinquish administrative control over the Grand Canyon National Park campground located adjacent to the Havasupai Reservation.

 In Arizona, the Chemehuevi and Mojave of the Colorado Indian Reservation win their fight against having tribes from outside their reservation establish colonies on the reservation. Congress passes legislation to change the policy.

 In Washington, D.C., once again a bill is introduced in Congress which would provide the Yaqui with land in Arizona. To make the bill more palatable for some termination-minded Senators, the bill states:  “Nothing in this Act shall make such Yaqui Indians eligible for any services performed by the United States for Indians because of their status as Indians, and none of the statutes of the United States which affect Indians because of their status as Indians shall be applicable to the Yaqui Indians.”

The bill manages to pass and on Halloween, the Yaqui hold a ceremony commemorating the transfer of the 200 acres of land to the Pascua Yaqui Association. Anselmo Valencia makes speeches in both Yaqui and Spanish.

 In Wisconsin, Aztalan State Park, the site of an ancient Mississippian settlement, becomes a National Landmark.

In Maine, non-Indians attempt to develop Passamaquoddy land. The Passamaquoddy attempt to enlist the aid of the Governor, but are told that this is a local affair. The Passamaquoddy stage a protest and several are arrested. The attorney hired by the Passamaquoddy is given a bunch of old papers from an old Indian who had died. In these papers is the original handwritten treaty between the Passamaquoddy and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which was signed in 1794. The treaty is then used as evidence to get the charges against the protesters dismissed. (Note: Maine was a part of Massachusetts when the treaty was signed.)

In Utah, a handful of terminated mixed-blood Ute hire attorney Parker Nielson to investigate possible securities fraud in conjunction with the Ute Distribution Corporation.

The Peabody Coal Company signs a lease with the Navajo allowing for the strip mining of 40,000 acres on the Navajo Reservation.

In Wyoming, the Northern Arapaho distribute their land claim payment to each enrolled member in the form of 12 monthly payments of $124.

Urban Indians:

 In California, Friendship House opens as a drop-in facility for treating drug and alcohol abuse in San Francisco’s Indian population.

In Chicago, Illinois, St. Augustine’s Center for American Indians begins an annual buffalo dinner as a fund-raiser. More than 100 people pay $50 per plate for the event.

Media, Education, Sports:

 The newsletter Powwow Trails begins publication. It provides a monthly calendar of Indian and hobbyist events as well as articles about powwows, music, dance, and Indian material culture.

 The movie Cheyenne Autumn attempts to portray Indians in a positive light. While the title suggests that the movie comes from a book by Mari Sandoz, English professor Raymond William Stedman, in his book Shadows of the Indian: Stereotypes in American Culture, feels that  “Virtually any source, however, the Omaha telephone book included, would have served as well for this unfortunate and interminable strip of celluloid.”

The American Indian Historical Society is founded by Rupert Costo (Cahuila). The new organization hopes to correct the common stereotypes about American Indians and provide a more accurate presentation of Indians in American history.

In Mississippi, a high school for the Choctaw is opened.

Billy Mills (Oglala Sioux) wins the 10,000 meter run in the Olympic Games. He is the first American to win this event.

Early Spanish Invasions of the Plains

The Great Plains is the huge area in the central portion of the North American continent which stretches from the Canadian provinces in the north, almost to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Mississippi River in the east. This is an area which contains many different kinds of habitat: flatland, dunes, hills, tablelands, stream valleys, and mountains. It is a dry region and lacks trees except along rivers and streams.  This was not a vacant land when the European invasion began, but a region inhabited by and utilized by many different Native American groups. Along the rivers, there were many American Indian villages whose people raised many different crops, including maize (corn), beans, squash, and sunflowers. There were also nomadic and semi-nomadic hunting and gathering groups whose primary beast of burden was the dog.

The first Europeans to enter the Great Plains were the Spanish who began their initial explorations of the Great Plains of North America in the 1500s. A group of Spaniards under the leadership of Hernando de Soto crossed the Mississippi River and entered what is now Arkansas in 1541. Here they encountered the highly fortified Indian village of Casqui. These Indians were not the horse-mounted buffalo hunters which would be later stereotypes used by movies and textbooks as “Indians,” but rather they were farmers who lived in permanent villages.

The Spanish then turned south, and somewhere on the Great Plains de Soto died. His expedition left a legacy of the torture, mutilation, and killing of thousands of native peoples.

While de Soto’s expedition entered the Great Plains from the east, at the same time Francisco Vásquez de Coronado began his journey north from Mexico seeking the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. In what is now New Mexico, Coronado was told of the great wealth that was supposedly to the east, on the Great Plains. One Indian slave known as the Turk described the country of Quivira which lay to the northeast and was said to be so filled with gold that even common table service was made of gold and silver.

The Turk was probably a Pawnee who had been captured in war and was a slave in Pecos Pueblo when the Spanish arrived. The Spanish gave him the name El Turco (The Turk) because they thought his headdress looked Turkish. The Turk’s goal was obvious: he wanted to return to his people and by telling the Spanish what they were eager to hear, he felt that they would take him back to his homeland.

Somewhere in the Staked Plains of West Texas, Coronado began to distrust The Turk and had him placed in irons. The Spanish, with another Indian (Ysopete) as their guide, crossed into what is now Kansas. At the Kansas River, the Spanish stopped and sent messengers ahead to summon Tatarrax, the Harrahey chief. When Tatarrax arrived with 200 warriors, The Turk tried to convince him to attack the Spanish. The Spanish responded by strangling The Turk to death.

Most anthropologists feel that the Spanish designation “Harrahey” actually referred to one of the Pawnee tribes. The Pawnee, a Caddoan-speaking people, had migrated north from Texas into northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas at a fairly early date.

The Spanish expedition into the Plains was a dismal failure and the Spanish returned without finding any of the rumored gold. The stories told by The Turk, however, continued to inspire Spanish greed.

In 1601, Juan de Oñate led an expedition of 70 men with ox-drawn carts from New Mexico in search of the fabled land of Quivira in present-day Kansas. While the expedition was not successful, it did encounter Apache and buffalo. The Spanish estimated the population of one Apache hunting camp at 5,000 people. The Apaches were Lipan Apaches who the Spanish called Vaqueros (“Cowboys”). The expedition did not encounter any of the Teyas (Caddo) groups found by Coronado sixty years earlier.  The empty spaces encountered by Oñate seem to suggest that European diseases, such as smallpox, had resulted in massive depopulation.

Using Apache guides, the Spanish arrived at a Wichita village. The Wichita, another Caddoan-speaking group, were an agricultural people who raised corn, beans, and squash. They lived in permanent villages with houses made of grass that looked like large conical haystacks.

While the Wichita greeted the Spanish in a friendly fashion, the Apache and the Wichita were enemies. The Apache told the Spanish that the Wichita had killed earlier Spanish explorers and that they were still holding one captive. When a Wichita delegation visited the Spanish, they were taken captive to exchange for the reported Spanish captive. The Wichita, concerned that the Spanish were working with their enemies, withdrew from their village. The Apache then burned the village and took a number of women and children captive. The Spanish ordered the women released, but kept the children so that they could become Christian.

One of the prisoners was a young boy that the Spanish called Miguel. He was actually Tonkawa and had been taken captive by the Wichita in north central Oklahoma. The Tonkawa homeland was in Texas and southern Oklahoma.

Somewhere in Kansas, the Spanish had a conflict with an Indian group they called the Escanxaques. The Spanish would later report that they engaged in a 4-5 hour battle with 1,500 Escanxaque warriors. The Spanish, unlike the Indians, had horses and their horses were fully armored, including face masks. As the Spanish soldiers rode into battle they were met by a cloud of arrows. Most of the men and the horses were quickly wounded and the Spanish withdrew from the battle.

While the Spanish were successful in establishing colonies in the Southwest and California, they failed to establish a lasting presence on the Plains. The Plains Indians actively resisted Spanish attempts to convert them to Catholicism and they preferred to trade with the French who came in later and seemed to understand the Indians better.

American Indians in 1890

The 1890 United States Census formally enumerated all of the Indians of the country. According to the Census, there were a total of 248,253 Indians in the United States: 58,806 are “Indians taxed” (that is living off their reservations) and 189,447 are “Indians not taxed” (Indians on reservations). With regard to the difficulties in counting Indians, the Census Bureau reports:  “Enumeration would be likely to pass by many who had been identified all their lives with the localities where found, and who lived like the adjacent whites without any inquiry as to their race, entering them as native born white.”

In California the Indian population was estimated at 15,238, down from an estimated 300,000 in 1848.

In 1890, most Indians were not citizens of the United States because Indian tribes, as indicated in the U.S. Constitution, were sovereign nations and Indians, therefore, were considered to be citizens of these Indian nations. In an effort to make more Indians citizens, Congress passed the Indian Territory Naturalization Act which allowed any member of an Indian tribe in Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma) to become a United States citizen by applying for such status in federal courts. The act allowed these Indians to maintain dual citizenship by maintaining tribal citizenship. Few Indians, however, actually applied for U.S. citizenship under this legislation.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs announced that the 8th of February was to be celebrated by American Indians as Franchise Day. It was on this day that the General Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act) was signed into law. The purpose of this legislation was to break up the reservations into small family farms and to open up “surplus” lands to non-Indian settlement. The Commissioner felt that this legislation–  “is worthy of being observed in all Indian schools as the possible turning point in Indian history, the point at which the Indians may strike out from tribal and reservation life and enter American citizenship and nationality.”

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs published a detailed set of rules for Indian schools which stipulated a uniform course of study and the textbooks which were to be used in the schools. The Commissioner prescribed the celebration of United States national holidays as a way of replacing Indian heroes and assimilating Indians. According to the Commissioner:  “Education should seek the disintegration of the tribes, and not their segregation. They should be educated, not as Indians, but as Americans.”

Schools were to give Indian students surnames so that as they become property owners it would be easier to fix lines of inheritance. Since most teachers could not pronounce or memorize names in native languages, and they did not understand these names when translated into English, it was not uncommon to give English surnames as well as English first names to the students. Many Indian students were given names such as “George Washington,” “William Shakespeare,” and “Thomas Jefferson.” On the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, the Indian agent reported that:  “Now every family has a name. Every father, mother; every husband and wife and children bears the last names of these people; now property goes to his descendant.”

In noting that Indians often change names in response to events in their lives, Frank Terry, the Superintendent of the Crow Boarding School in Montana, wrote:  “Hence it will be seen that the Indian names are nothing, a delusion, and a snare, and the practice of converting them into English appears eminently unwise.”

While it was government policy to force American-style education and indoctrination upon Indian children, Indian parents on many reservations resisted. To force compliance, rations were withheld from Cheyenne and Arapaho parents who refused to place their children in school. In California, Indians burned the Indian day school at Tule River.

In Arizona, conservatives in the Hopi village of Oraibi refused to send their children to school. The Tenth Cavalry was sent in to ensure peace. The military troops invaded the village and “captured” 104 children for the school.

In Idaho, the Indian agent for the Fort Hall reservation managed to enroll 100 Shoshone and Bannock children in the agency boarding school. With the use of Indian police and a policy of withholding rations from reluctant parents, nearly half of all of the school-aged children on the reservation were enrolled in the school. When enrollment at the school dropped, a council was held with the Shoshone and Bannock and they were informed that the school was to be kept filled or the soldiers would come.

Taking a moralist approach to the “civilizing” of American Indians, many non-Indians felt that Indians needed to understand the meaning of hard work and sacrifice. Things that might bring some semblance of enjoyment, such as gambling, drinking, and singing traditional songs, was felt to be immoral. Thus the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered traders to stop carrying playing cards. This was one of the government’s efforts to discourage gambling on the reservations. In a related action, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered Indian agents to seize and destroy peyote and to classify it as an intoxicating liquor.

Many non-Indians felt that it would take time for Indians to be lifted out of savagery and barbarism so that they could benefit from Christian civilization.  Reverend Daniel Dorchester, a Protestant minister, wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:  “As a race the red men lack self-reliance and self-directing power—the natural effect of the centuries of ignorance, idleness, and hap-hazard lying behind them—and will long need to hold the relation of wards, that they may have the benefit of paternal counsel and advice. We must not expect that a few Indians right out of savagery can acquire such development in civilization as to leaven at once the mass of barbarism.”


An Iroquois in Oregon

In 1857, Enos Thomas, whose tribal identity is simply listed as Iroquois, was transported from Fort Vancouver to Port Orford, Oregon to be tried for war crimes committed during the recent Rogue River War. When the primary witness against him failed to appear, the Justice of the Peace William Copeland ordered the sheriff William Riley to free Enos. As soon as the blacksmith had freed him from his chains, a mob seized him, gave him some whiskey to drink, took him to the historic Battle Rock, and hung him. His body was buried at Battle Rock.

This type of incident—a mob hanging an Indian for “crimes” committed during a “war” with the United States—was common in the nineteenth century West. The interesting question is, however, how did an Iroquois, whose homelands are in the Northeast, come to be a war leader among tribes in southern Oregon?

The answer to this question lies in the early nineteenth century fur trade. The fur trade in the Pacific Northwest (in what would become Washington, Idaho, and Oregon) was dominated by two major fur companies: the London-based Hudson Bay Company (HBC) and the Montreal-based North West Company (the Nor’westers). As the Nor’westers moved into the area, they brought with them a number of Iroquois who were employed as trappers. These Iroquois had been educated by the Jesuits at the Caughnawaga Mission near Montreal in Canada. It was relatively common for these Iroquois to leave their employer and to settle among the tribes in the region.

The designation “Iroquois” does not refer to a single tribe, but is most frequently used to refer to the six Indian nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, and Tuscarora. The Iroquois homeland had originally included most of what is now New York and Ontario. Following the American Revolutionary War, many of the Iroquois settled in Canada.

Since many of the Iroquois who came to the Pacific Northwest spoke French as their primary European language, it was common for American settlers in the region to view them as French-Canadian. In most cases, the historic record does not indicate which of the Iroquois nations these trappers came from.

While there are no records regarding the early life of Enos (whose name is also indicated as Enas and Eneas and who is often described as a Canadian Indian), it is likely that he came into the region in the employ of HBC after the merger with the Nor’westers. He may also have grown up in a community of former HBC employees who had settled in Oregon. If this was the case, then his mother was most likely from an Oregon tribe or a Métis whose family was associated with the fur trade.

According to some historians, Enos may have worked as a guide for the 1843-1844 exploring expedition of John Charles Frémont: in 1843 Frémont hired two Indians—neither their names nor their tribal affiliations are recorded—to guide him from The Dalles to Klamath Lakes. According to Frémont’s records, one of these Indians had been to Klamath Lake and bore the battle scars of encounters with the Native people of that area. The physical description of this Indian appears to match that of Enos.

By 1855, Enos was living among the Tututni and had a Tututni wife. He was also friends with Benjamin Wright. In 1852, Wright had organized a party of volunteers in northern California for the purpose of killing Modocs. The Americans wanted to punish the Modoc for supposedly attacking wagon trains as they passed through Modoc territory. Wright then invited 46 Modocs to a peace conference. They first attempted to poison them with strychnine, but the Modoc declined the feast which was offered to them. The volunteers then opened fire with rifles on them. The Modoc had no guns. Only five of the Modoc, including Schonchin John and Curly Headed Doctor, escaped. The bodies of the dead Modoc were scalped and mutilated. The volunteers were proclaimed heroes and the state of California paid them for their services.

The following year, a group of Indians were invited into Wright’s camp under a white flag in order to negotiate peace. In a well-planned attack, Wright’s volunteers killed 38 Indians and scalped them.

In 1854, Benjamin Wright was appointed as special sub-Indian agent to handle affairs in the Port Orford, Oregon district. Enos and his wife gained Wright’s trust and he brought them into his confidence and sought their counsel.

In 1855, the so-called Rogue River War broke out between the Americans (particularly gold miners) and the various Indian nations along Oregon’s Rogue River. In 1856, Enos asked Benjamin Wright to meet with him at the Tututni village to discuss a possible peace. Wright, together with John Poland who represented the mining communities in the area, went upstream to meet with Enos and the Tututni. Both men were then killed and their bodies mutilated. Their bodies were never found by the Americans. These murders were the first step in a well-planned Indian uprising. The following day, the Indians attacked a volunteer regiment on the north side of the Rogue River and then went downstream to attack the community of Gold Beach. Under the leadership of Enos, the Indians burned about 60 non-Indian cabins and killed 31 people. The Americans branded Enos as a war criminal.

The siege of Gold Beach lasted for about a month and the Americans easily recognized Enos riding a white horse and encouraging the Indians in their fight. When U.S. Army troops reached the area, the Indians retreated upstream. According to one account, Enos was wounded in the thigh at a skirmish at Pistol River.

In late July, 1856 (perhaps the 26th or 27th), Enos was at the camp of Tututni Chief Taminestse at Port Orford where the Indians were awaiting transportation to the Siletz Indian Reservation. Indian agent William Chance describes his arrest:  “He made no resistance, said he could not keep away. He did not know why but it appeared to him that he had to come to the reservation.”

Among the Indian leaders of the Rogue River War, only Enos was arrested and singled out for trial. While Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer advocated the execution of all Indians who were known to have killed non-Indians during the war, only Enos was chosen for punishment. Enos was transferred from the coast reservation to Fort Vancouver where he was to be held awaiting a civil tribunal. The charges against him were murder and inciting to massacre.

In the spring of 1857, Enos was transported from Fort Vancouver to Port Orford by steamer. Due to bad weather, the ship had to dock to Crescent City to the south, when Enos was held in the local jail. When the weather cleared, he was taken north to Port Orford where he would be hung without a trial.

While it seemed to be important to the Americans to have a legal ritual (trial) before executing an Indian, in reality most Indians accused of crimes at this time were simply killed without this formality.

President Benjamin Harrison and Indian Reservations

In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) which had the intent of assimilating Indians by making them land-owning farmers. The idea of the Dawes Act was to break up the reservations by giving each Indian family an allotment of land, similar to the homesteads given to non-Indian settlers. This act guided much of the Indian policy during the Benjamin Harrison administration (1889-1892).

In 1889, a government commission headed by General George Crook met with the Sioux in South Dakota. Crook provided them lavish feasts, and obtained the needed signatures for the Sioux to cede much of their land.

Over the next two years, the Great Sioux Reservation was broken into six reservations – Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Lower Brulé, Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Standing Rock – thus reducing Sioux land holdings. Eleven million acres of land not included in these reservations was returned to the federal government. “Surplus” lands were opened to American settlers. In addition, the railroads were given permission to survey and build lines with no regard for any Sioux concerns.

Congress passed the Nelson Act in 1889 which brought the Dawes Act to bear on the special situation with the Chippewa in Minnesota. At this time, the Chippewa occupied 12 reservations in the state. Under the Nelson Act, the Chippewa were to cede all lands except for the White Earth and Red Lake Reservations. The Chippewa of Red Lake were to take allotments on their own reservations. All other Chippewa in the state were to relocate on the White Earth Reservation and to take their allotments there. All agricultural lands remaining after allotment were to be sold for $1.25 per acre. Timber lands were to be appraised and sold in 40-acre parcels in auction. Money from the sale of lands and timber were to be deposited into a special Chippewa in Minnesota Fund.

 Northern Cheyenne:

 At the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty Council, the United States government failed to distinguish between the Northern Cheyenne and the Southern Cheyenne and grouped both tribes together in the south, even though the Northern Cheyenne saw themselves as a distinct people and resisted attempts to relocate them on the Southern Cheyenne reservation in Indian Territory. Following the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, some of the Cheyenne had surrendered to the Army and had worked for them as scouts.

In 1890, Congress created the Northern Cheyenne Commission to find a permanent home for the Northern Cheyenne at the Tongue River in Montana, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, or some other reservation. The Commission traveled first to Pine Ridge where they interviewed the 429 Northern Cheyenne who were living there. They then travelled to Lame Deer, Montana where they talked with Northern Cheyenne leaders Two Moon, White Bull, American Horse, Brave Wolf, and Little Wolf. They then continued west to the Crow reservation to discuss with the Crow the possibility of buying land on that reservation for the Northern Cheyenne. The Commission found that the Northern Cheyenne on the Pine Ridge Reservation wanted to unite with their friends and relatives on the Tongue River.

With regard to the Tongue River Agency, the Commission reported that there was hunger and poverty and that the Cheyenne had already eaten their own cattle and were killing some American cattle.

With regard to the Crow, the Commission found them living in a peaceful and prosperous condition. However, they adamantly refused to sell a portion of their reservation to the Cheyenne.

The report submitted by the commission was one of the first times that the government actually possessed extensive, firsthand evidence regarding the situation and possible alternatives for the Northern Cheyenne situation.

 Indian Territory:

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the policy of the United States government had been to remove Indians west of the Mississippi to Indian Territory. Here the Indians had been told that they would be able to live in peace, without interference from the U.S. government. Soon, however, American greed was demanding these lands as well.

In 1889, Congress authorized the transfer of unassigned lands in Oklahoma to the public domain. As Congress debated the bill, Cherokee principal chief Joel B. Mayes led a delegation to Washington, D.C. to remind lawmakers that the United States had given its solemn word in treaties that territorial jurisdiction was not to be extended over them without their consent. Congress ignored the Indian testimony and passed the Springer Amendment to the Indian Appropriation Bill giving the President the power to open Indian Territory by proclamation.

As one of his first acts as President, Benjamin Harrison announced that part of the Indian Territory in what would later become Oklahoma would be opened to settlement. A three-man commission, known as the Cherokee Commission, was established to negotiate allotment with the Cherokees and other Indian tribes in Oklahoma. A month later, tens of thousands of settlers rushed in to claim land which had formerly belonged to the Creek and Seminole. Over the next few years, 15 million acres of Indian land would be opened to non-Indian settlement.

In meeting with the Cherokee, the Cherokee Commission (also known as the Fairchild Commission) offered the Cherokee $1.25 per acre for their land in the Cherokee Outlet. The total for this offer was nearly the same which the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association would pay for a 15-year lease on the same land.

In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison announced that no livestock would be grazed in the area known as the Cherokee Outlet in Indian Territory. This move deprived the Cherokee Nation of a substantial part of its operating budget and brought an end to their lease with the Cherokee Livestock Association. The move was part of a government effort to get the Cherokee to sell this land.

In 1890, a Harrison issued an executive order which required the Ponca to take allotments even though most tribal members were opposed to it. Ponca traditionalists formed a strong anti-allotment faction.

In 1890, Congress passed the Oklahoma Organic Act which established a territorial government for the western half of Indian Territory and renamed it Oklahoma Territory. Under the Organic Act, the United States annexed all Indian reservations to the new territory.

In 1891 President Harrison opened up 900,000 acres of Oklahoma land for settlement. The land had been owned by the Sauk, Fox, Iowa, and Potawatomi.

The Theft of the Cherokee Outlet

In 1836, under the terms of the Treaty of New Echota, the Cherokee were given a narrow strip of land some 225 miles long and 60 miles wide in what would later become Oklahoma. This strip of land, known as the Cherokee Outlet, was in addition to their reservation and was intended to provide them with a perpetual outlet from their reservation to lands in the west for hunting. The area within the Outlet contained more than 8 million acres of land.

When the Civil War broke out, the United States withdrew its troops from Forts Cobb, Arbuckle, and Washita, leaving the Indians open to attacks from the Plains tribes and from non-Indians. In addition, the federal government, afraid that annuity payments might fall into the wrong hands, withheld the annuities which were owed to the tribes. These actions not only violated the removal treaties of the Indian nations in Indian Territory, they also undermined the credibility of the United States. The Confederacy moved into the vacuum left by the federal government and held treaty councils with the tribes.

The Civil War divided the Cherokee into two groups: the Ridge or Treaty Party led by Stand Watie and E. C. Boudinot, and the Ross or Non-Treaty Party led by John Ross. Ross issued a Proclamation of Neutrality with regard to the war.

Following the Civil War the United States, ignoring the fact that many Cherokees had supported the Union, imposed a new treaty on the Cherokee Nation. The new treaty allowed the United States to settle other Indian nations in the Cherokee Outlet and to dispose of the land. A number of tribes—Kaw, Osage, Pawnee, Ponca, and Tonkawa—settled in the area.

The Cherokee Outlet was invaded by Texas cattlemen who grazed their herds on Cherokee land while en route from Texas to the northern markets. The Cherokee government solved this problem by charging a per head fee for grazing privileges. In 1883, the Texas cattlemen formed the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association under the laws of Kansas. The Cherokee under the leadership of Dennis Bushyhead then leased the grassy meadows of the Cherokee Outlet to the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association for $100,000 for five years. The agreement was felt to beneficial for both the Cherokee and for the cattlemen. Soon after the lease was signed, dissident Cherokee, angry at being denied free use of the Outlet, claimed that the Association had gained exclusive use of the area through illegal means. Complaints concerning bribery and corruption were lodged with the Department of the Interior.

When the lease with the cattlemen expired in 1888, the Cherokee agreed to renew the lease of the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association for the exclusive use of the Cherokee Outlet for $200,000 per year. The federal government, however, warned the Cherokee that they would consider the lease to be invalid.

In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison announced that no livestock would be grazed in the area known as the Cherokee Outlet in Indian Territory. This move deprived the Cherokee Nation of a substantial part of its operating budget and brought an end to their lease with the Cherokee Live Stock Association. The move was part of a government effort to get the Cherokee to sell this land.

In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison closed Cherokee Outlet to the cattle growers who were legally leasing the lands from the Cherokee. Federal troops then occupied the area and forcibly removed the cattle growers and their herds from the land. Having lost the major source of revenue for their schools and government, the Cherokee were forced to cede the Outlet lands. The government forced the Cherokee to sell their Outlet lands for $1.25 per acre (a total of $10.2 million).

In 1893, the Cherokee Outlet was opened to non-Indian settlement, resulting in Oklahoma’s largest land run. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people attempted to stake out claims for the land.

In 1948, the Cherokee filed suit before the Indian Claims Commission to recover the real value of the Cherokee Outlet lands. One expert from Oklahoma State University testified that the land had been worth $10.01 per acre at the time it was taken by the government. Experts testifying on behalf of the government claimed it was worth $1.70 per acre. The courts awarded the Cherokee an additional $14.7 million for the lands. The Indian Claims Commission noted that the conduct in the original transaction had been unconscionable.

President Benamin Harrison and Indian Education

When Benjamin Harrison became President in 1889, he appointed Thomas Jefferson Morgan as his Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Like most of his predecessors, Morgan had no experience in Indian affairs, little contact with actual Indians, and no understanding of Indian cultures. He was, however, a Baptist minister and an educator with a fervent belief that Christianity held the solution to the “Indian problem.” With regard to his philosophy of Indian education, Morgan wrote:  “When we speak of the education of the Indians we mean the comprehensive training and instruction which will convert them into American citizens, put within their reach the blessings which the rest of us enjoy, and enable them to compete successfully with the white man on his own ground and with his own methods. Education is to be the medium through which the rising generation of Indians are to be brought into the fraternal and harmonious relationship with their white fellow-citizens and with them enjoy the sweets of refined homes, the delight of social intercourse, the emoluments of commerce and trade, the advantages of travel, together with the pleasures that come from literature, science, and philosophy, and the solace and stimulus afforded by a true religion.”

 Congress passed legislation in 1889 which allowed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to enforce the school attendance of Indian children by withholding rations and annuities from Indian families whose children were not attending school.

 With regard to education, Morgan felt that Indian history should not be taught and that it was important that Indian children acquire a fervent patriotism for the United States. In stressing patriotism, he ordered that all Indian schools celebrate national holidays: Washington’s birthday, Decoration Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Furthermore, he ordered that the American flag be displayed and that the students be taught reverence for the flag as a symbol of American protection and power.

Morgan also felt that for Indians the “school itself should be an illustration of the superiority of the Christian civilization.”

While the United States often turned over the running of Indian schools to missionary societies, Morgan strongly opposed the funding of Catholic schools for Indians. Morgan’s anti-Catholic sentiments were well known and for his term of office he battled with the Bureau of Catholic Missions.

In 1890, Morgan announced that the 8th of February was to be celebrated as Franchise Day. It was on this day that the Dawes Act was signed into law, and the Commissioner felt that this  “is worthy of being observed in all Indian schools as the possible turning point in Indian history, the point at which the Indians may strike out from tribal and reservation life and enter American citizenship and nationality.”

Morgan also published a detailed set of rules for Indian schools which stipulated a uniform course of study and the textbooks which were to be used in the schools. The Commissioner prescribed the celebration of United States national holidays as a way of replacing Indian heroes and assimilating Indians. According to the Commissioner:  “Education should seek the disintegration of the tribes, and not their segregation. They should be educated, not as Indians, but as Americans.”

Schools were to give Indian students surnames so that as they became property owners it would be easier to fix lines of inheritance. Since most teachers could not pronounce or memorize names in native languages, and they did not understand these names when translated into English, it was not uncommon to give English surnames as well as English first names to the students. There were a number of Indians who were given names such as William Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

In 1892, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas Morgan published a pamphlet to centralize Indian education and to unify the curriculum of the Indian Office schools. With regard to the role of art in Indian schools, Morgan felt that art would help improve manual skills. Morgan’s approach to teaching art had been discarded by most public schools in the 1880s. The model for teaching art ignored individual development, skill proficiency, and intellectual progress. American Indian children were taught to draw from a European perspective which did not take into account their indigenous knowledge or environment.

Indian Schools were ordered to celebrate Columbus Day on October 21,1892. Indian students were to pay homage to the so-called “discoverer” of the “New” World. Education professor David Wallace Adams, in his book Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, notes:  “Indian students must be made to see that Columbus’s accomplishment was not only a red-letter day in history but also a beneficent development in their own race’s fortunes. Only after Columbus, the myth went, did Indians enter into the stream of history; only after Columbus did Indians begin the slow and painful climb out of the darkness of savagery.”

Imposing Law on Sovereign Nations

While the Constitution of the United States and the Supreme Court recognize Indian tribes as sovereign nations, this has been frequently ignored by Indian agents. Ignoring the fact that Indian nations had their own laws which had been developed over centuries of experience, Indian agents frequently imposed their own laws, based on their concepts of Christianity and European feudalism.

In 1842, Oregon Country—an area that included all of present-day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and western Montana—was jointly administered by the United States and the United Kingdom. At this time, the United States had negotiated no treaties with the Indian nations in this territory.

Elijah White, described by historians as “a scheming man” and “a flimflammer”, was appointed as sub-agent for Indian affairs. White was a physician and a Methodist missionary who had helped to establish the Methodist mission in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

One of White’s first actions was to hold a council with the Nez Perce in Lapwai, Idaho. Unconcerned with the fact the Nez Perce were a sovereign nation and that the United States had not established any jurisdiction over them, he imposed on them a set of “laws” under which they were to live:

1. Whoever willfully takes life shall be hung.

2. Whoever burns a dwelling house shall be hung.

3. Whoever burns an outbuilding shall be imprisoned six months, receive fifty lashes, and pay all damages.

4. Whoever carelessly burns a house or any property, shall pay damages.

5. If anyone enter a dwelling, without permission of the occupant, the chiefs shall punish him as they think proper.

6. If any one steal he shall pay back two fold; and if it be the value of a beaver skin or less, he shall receive twenty-five lashes; and if the value is over a beaver skin he shall pay back two-fold, and receive fifty lashes.

7. If any one take a horse, and ride it, without permission, or take any article, and use it, without liberty, he shall pay for the use of it, and receive from twenty to fifty lashes, as the chief shall direct.

8. If any one enter a field, and injure the crops, or throw down the fence, so that cattle or horses go in and do damage, he shall pay all damages, and receive twenty-five lashes for every offence.

9. Those only may keep dogs who travel or live among the game; if a dog kill a lamb, calf, or any domestic animal, the owner shall pay the damage, and kill the dog.

10. If an Indian raise a gun or other weapon against a white man, it shall be reported to the chiefs, and they shall punish him. If a white person do the same to an Indian, it shall be reported to Dr. White, and he shall redress it.

11. If an Indian break these laws, he shall be punished by his chiefs; if a white man break them, he shall be reported to the agent, and be punished at his instance .

In traditional Native American jurisprudence, the adjudication of a crime focused on healing and the restoration of social harmony, not on punishment. In addition, the idea of death by hanging was abhorrent. The Nez Perce Tribe summarizes the laws this way:  “To put it mildly, this system of government was not one the tribe adopted easily or even willingly.”

In addition to the “laws”, White also ordered the Nez Perce to choose a single chief as high chief and to have all of the other chiefs subordinate to him. White ignored the fact that the Nez Perce were really more than 40 culturally affiliated but autonomous bands. Each of these bands had its own leadership and the idea of having a supreme chief was alien to them.

Ellis, a Christian who was both fluent and literate in English, was designated as the high chief. However, most of the Nez Perce did not regard him as having any more power than any other Nez Perce leader.

The following year, White called a council of the Nez Perce, Cayuse, and Walla Walla. The Indians were read the “laws” which had been earlier imposed on the Nez Perce. Walla Walla chief Peopeo Moxmox asked White:  “Where are these laws from? Are they from God or from the earth? I would that you might say they were from God. But I think that they are from the earth, because, from what I know of white men, they did not honor these laws.”

After two days of discussion, the Cayuse accepted the laws and elected Tauitau as high chief. However, Tauitau was a Catholic and therefore unacceptable to the Methodist missionary. White then simply appointed Hezekiah as high chief.

President Benjamin Harrison and Indian Policy

In 1889 Benjamin Harrison, an attorney, Presbyterian church leader, and Civil War Brigadier General, was elected President of the United States. Harrison, a Republican, defeated incumbent President Grover Cleveland. In his brief inaugural address, Harrison credited the nation’s growth to the influences of education and religion (meaning Christianity). For his cabinet appointments, Harrison considered three important criteria: (1) Civil War service, (2) membership in the Presbyterian Church, and (3) Indiana citizenship.

With regard to Indian affairs, Harrison believed that Indians, like the other immigrants to the United States, should be fully assimilated into American society. Assimilation, of course, required Indians to speak English, to be Christian, to dress in non-Indian clothing, to acquire a notion of greed so that they would acquire private property, and to get rid of reservations and tribal governments. He believed that the Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes) act would help Indians into civilization by divesting them of their reservations and communally held land.

Like other Presidents, Harrison met with delegations of Indians. In 1892, Washo leader Captain Jim and his interpreter Dick Bender traveled to Washington where they met with Nevada and California senators and congressional representatives and President Benjamin Harrison. They were promised $1,000 for the immediate relief of the old and the infirm, but the money was never received.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs was the person in American government who had direct responsibility for Indian affairs. The position, which was under the Secretary of the Interior, was a political appointment. For his Commissioner of Indian Affairs, President Harrison appointed Thomas Jefferson Morgan. Like most of his predecessors, Morgan had no experience in Indian affairs, little contact with actual Indians, and no understanding of Indian cultures. He was, however, a Baptist minister and an educator with a fervent belief that Christianity held the solution to the “Indian problem.”

Morgan, who had served as an officer under Harrison in the Civil War, had contacted his old commander after Harrison won the Presidency asking to be appointed as Commissioner of Education. Instead, Harrison offered him the position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs, which Morgan accepted.

Shortly after becoming Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Morgan announced:  “When President Harrison tendered me the Indian Bureau, he said I wish you to administer it in such a way as will satisfy the Christian philanthropic sentiment of the country. That is the only charge I received from him.”

In his 1889 annual report, Indian Commissioner Thomas J. Morgan indicated that tribal relations should be broken up; that Indian social­ism be destroyed; and English be universally adopted. He writes:  “The Indians must conform to ‘the white man’s ways,’ peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must.”

In 1890, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered traders to stop carrying playing cards. This was an effort to discourage gambling on the reservations.

Civil Service:

Four groups of Indian Service employees – physicians, school superintendents and assistant superintendents, school-teachers, and matrons – were placed under Civil Service Classifi­cations in 1891. One of the members of the Civil Service Commission, Theodore Roosevelt, advocated that Civil Service rules be modified so that Indians could be given preference for these positions.

The following year, Civil Service Rules were extended to cover superintendents and teachers in the Indian Service. School Superintendent Edwin Chalcraft explained:  “Prior to this time, Indian Agents made all those appointments, but from this date they were made by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs from names submitted to him by the Civil Service Committee in Washington, D.C. These rules prohibited the dismissal of employees for political or religious beliefs, but the Appointing Officer in Washington, D.C., could remove an employee for any other cause without giving him reason for doing so.”


The 1890 Census formally enumerated all of the Indians in the country. According to the Census, there were a total of 248,253 Indians in the United States: 58,806 were “Indians taxed” and 189,447 were “Indians not taxed.”

With regard to the difficulties in counting Indians, the Census Bureau reported: “Enumeration would be likely to pass by many who had been identified all their lives with the localities where found, and who lived like the adjacent whites without any inquiry as to their race, entering them as native born white.”

 Wovoka’s Ghost Dance:

 As a Christian nation, the policy of the United States was to require Indians to convert to Christianity and to actively suppress all Native religions. During the Harrison administration, religious intolerance climaxed with the teachings of a Paiute prophet named Wovoka in Nevada. In 1889, Wovoka died during an eclipse. He then returned to life with a message and a dance for his people. This was the birth of a Native American religious movement called the Ghost Dance by non-Indians.

Wovoka’s new religion spread from Nevada to Indian reservations in Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, and Indian Territory. Christian missionaries, Indian agents, the military, and politicians opposed the new religion without understanding anything about it. Inspired by newspaper reports written by reporters who never talked to any of the followers of the new religion, there were calls to suppress it. On several reservations Indians who participated in or advocated Wovoka’s religion were imprisoned and/or beaten. In some instances, Indians who were suspected of being involved with the Ghost Dance were murdered by ad hoc militia groups.

In December, 1890, Army troops were sent to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to suppress the religion. The War Department issued a list of Indians who were to be arrested on sight. Their “crime” was simple: they had embraced a new religion, one which had not been approved by the United States government.  At Wounded Knee, the Army surrounded a group of starving, freezing, and unarmed Indians who were flying white flags from their staffs. Using Hotchkiss machine guns the soldiers managed to kill 40 men and 200 women and children. Chasing fleeing women and shooting them was sport to the soldiers and the bodies of some of the women were found four to five miles from the slaughter site. Twenty-three of the soldiers received the Medal of Honor for their heroic action against unarmed Indians.

In testimony before Congress, General E. D. Scott strongly stressed that there was nothing to apologize for and suggested that the Indians were under a strange religious hallucination.

In his evaluation of the events surrounding the “battle” at Wounded Knee, Sioux physician Charles Eastman wrote:  “I have tried to make it clear that there was no ‘Indian outbreak’ in 1890-1891, and that such trouble as we had may justly be charged to the dishonest politicians, who through unfit appointees first robbed the Indians, then bullied them, and finally in a panic called for troops to suppress them.”


Christian Missionaries in Oregon Country

The European invasion of the Oregon Country began in the late eighteenth century and intensified in the early nineteenth century. In 1818, the United States and the United Kingdom, ignoring any possibility of the sovereignty of Indian nations and relying on the legal concept of the Discovery Doctrine (stating that Christian nations have a right, if not an obligation, to rule over non-Christian nations), signed a treaty declaring Oregon Country to be a joint occupation area. Under this treaty, both the United States and the United Kingdom could claim land and both were guaranteed free navigation throughout.

Oregon Country was the American name for the region; the British called it the Columbia District. The area stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide; it was bounded in the north at Fort Simpson in what is now British Columbia; and in the south at what would now be the Oregon-California border. It encompassed the present-day states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho; western Montana; and the Canadian province of British Columbia.

While the initial invasion of the Oregon Country was led by fur traders, the English Hudson’s Bay Company, the Canadian Nor’Westers, and the American Astorians, by the 1830s the missionaries began to arrive.

The first of the missionaries was Jason Lee who had been originally sent by the Methodist Missionary Board to establish a mission among the Flathead in western Montana. The Flathead had astonished the Christian world by sending expeditions to St. Louis asking for missionaries. The Flathead had learned about Christianity, and more importantly, about the power of the Black Robes (Jesuit priests) from Iroquois employed by the fur trade. They had come to St. Louis specifically seeking a Black Robe, but the Methodists had decided to reach the Flathead first and bring them the true Christian religion.

Jason Lee met with the Flathead and the Nez Perce at the Green River Rendezvous in Wyoming. He found the Indians deeply unsettling. He 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, a Hudson’s Bay trading post. From here, he went to the Willamette Valley just north of present-day Salem, Oregon where he established a mission and a school in an area with relatively few Indians. There were, however, about a dozen Canadian settlers, former employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company, with Native American wives living in the area.

The Flathead’s request for a missionary was answered in 1840 with the Jesuit Pierre-Jean De Smet. In 1840, he was welcomed into a camp of Flathead and Pend d’Oreilles. De Smet envisioned a new Indian society similar to medieval Europe in which the Indians would become Catholic farmers subservient to the Church.

In Oregon, Methodist missionaries set up a mission and farm on the Clatsop Plains west of Fort Clatsop in 1840. The wife of an American settler in the area, Celiast Smith, was the daughter of Clatsop chief Coboway and was able to translate for the missionaries. Ideally, the missionaries wanted to be able to preach to the Indians in their own language, but they soon found learning the Chinookan languages such as Clatsop was beyond their abilities. The Chinookan languages include sounds which are difficult, if not impossible, for English-speaking adults to master. The missionaries, therefore, turned to Chinook Jargon, a pidgin language with a reduced vocabulary and no complexities of verb conjugation or noun declension. As a pidgin language, Chinook Jargon was designed to be learned by adults and to facilitate trade. It lacked vocabulary to translate spiritual concepts.

In 1840, Methodist missionaries Gustavus Hines and Jason Lee decided to visit the Umpqua in an attempt to bring Christianity to them. The Hudson’s Bay Company trader at Fort Umpqua, however, informed them of recent Indian attacks. He warned them not to visit the Umpqua villages. When the missionaries insisted, the trader and his Indian wife accompanied them. The trader later insisted that only the presence of his Indian wife kept them from being killed.

Like the Flathead in western Montana, the Coeur d’Alene in Idaho had heard about the powers of the Blackrobes from fur traders. In 1841, three Coeur d’Alene men traveled to western Montana to see the Jesuit missionary Father DeSmet. They asked him to send the Black Robes (Jesuits) to their people. The following year, the Jesuits sent Father Nicholas Point to establish a mission among the Coeur d’Alene. Jerry Camarillo Dunn, in his The Smithonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States, writes:  “The mission had some success, although Father Point himself was dismayed by what he saw as his flock’s dirtiness, idolatry, and ‘moral abandonment.’”

In the nineteenth century there were several competing kinds of Christianity. The Protestant missionaries in Oregon Country resented the presence of Catholic missionaries whom they regarded as atheistic papists. In 1841, the wife of a Protestant missionary among the Nez Perce complained:  “Romanism stalks abroad on our right hand and on our left and with daring effrontery boasts that she is to prevail and possess the land.”

Two years later, a Protestant missionary to the Nez Perce blamed his failure to convert Indians on the opposition of the Catholics.

In 1843, the Canadian missionary Father Bolduc established a mission among the Cowlitz in Washington. Bolduc wrote in his journal:  “One must develop a strong spirit here. It is important to be kind to the savages, to make them laugh now and then so as not to frighten them, and give them a favorable impression of religion. It is not necessary to show them the severe side at first, but in time and successively to introduce everything, or the end will not be accomplished.”  Bolduc also reported:  “Since being with the Cowlitz tribe, I have converted only a few. They are unwilling to submit.”

According to Balduc, polygyny, slavery, and gambling were obstacles to conversion to Christianity.

In 1843, Father Nicholas Point and the Jesuit brother Charles Huet established a mission on the St. Joe River in Idaho to serve the Coeur d’Alene. Father Point noted that the Coeur d’Alene were living in 27 villages around Lake Coeur d’Alene.

In 1845, the Jesuits under Father De Smet established a mission at Chewelah, Washington. The mission was called Saint Francis Regis and was intended to serve the Kalispel as well mixed blood trappers who were living in the area.

While the Flathead had asked for a Blackrobe (Jesuit priest), what they were actually seeking was the spiritual power to enable them to defeat their traditional enemies, the Blackfoot who controlled much of the buffalo hunting grounds on the Northern Plains. After five years of living with them, Father De Smet had gained little real understanding of Flathead culture. Feeling that he had been successful in converting the Flathead, he crossed the Rocky Mountains and attempted to convert the Blackfoot. When he returned to the mission among the Flathead he found them angry with him and openly challenging his Christianity. Many of his converts left the church.

In 1846, the United States and the United Kingdom negotiated the Oregon Treaty which divided the territory between the two countries. Oregon Country thus became Oregon Territory.

Hanging Indians in 1865

Since the creation of the United States there have been conflicts with American Indian nations. The United States has generally viewed the actions of Indian in defending their traditional homelands not only as acts of war, but also as crimes. Unlike other crimes, however, in which the focus is on justice which requires a due process of law (sometimes called a trial) and punishment of the guilty, American dealings with Indian “crimes” focused on retribution with no concern for due process of law or punishing the guilty. In the racist view of the United States all Indians were the same: therefore when hanging an Indian for an alleged crime, there was no concern about which Indian was actually hung. Often there was little concern regarding tribal affiliation: all Indians in the eyes of many Americans were the same and, as Indians, they had to be guilty of some crime.

In their 1865 “war” against the Plains Indians, most notably the Cheyenne and Sioux, the United States began a policy of publicly hanging Indians and leaving the bodies hanging until they rotted. It was felt that this would send a message about the great power and peaceful intentions of the United States.

In Colorado, the Cheyenne and Sioux attacked the small settlement of Julesburg hoping to lure the troops from Fort Rankin into a trap. The decoys were led by Big Crow, a chief of the Crooked Lance Society. The warriors smashed windows and doors. They raided the warehouse and the blacksmith shop where they liberated supplies, provisions, clothing, and harnesses.

The small force of mounted Indians—five Cheyenne and two Sioux—managed to lure the cavalry (37 men) into a trap. However, some of the younger warriors rode into the fight prematurely, allowing most of the cavalry to escape.

In the Julesburg area, the warriors also attacked a wagon load of Americans from the American Ranch. In another incident, Little Bear and Touching Cloud led a group of warriors against two discharged soldiers riding in a wagon. Afterwards, they found two scalps in a valise. The scalps belonged to White Leaf and Little Wolf/Coyote and had been taken at Sand Creek.

Following the Julesburg raid, most of the Cheyenne leaders favored further raids on the American settlements. However, Black Kettle opposed this plan and so his band, which numbered about 80 lodges, separated from the main tribe and returned to the Arkansas River.  He planned on joining with the Kiowa, Comanche, and Little Raven’s Southern Arapaho.

Following the Julesburg raid, the army captured Cheyenne chief Big Crow. The orders from the commanding general read:  “Take Big Crow to the place where soldier was killed yesterday, erect a high gallows, hang him in chains and leave the body suspended.”

Historian John McDermott, in his book Circle of Fire: the Indian War of 1865 reports:  “Big Crow was hanged with the ball and chain that had manacled him still attached to his leg, and it was not long before the body decayed sufficiently so that the weight of the ball pulled off the limb, and there the grisly remains stayed as a warning to others.”

There was no trial, no concern for the actual guilt of Big Crow. He was an Indian leader and was therefore hung as an example to other Indians.

In Wyoming, the army discovered a group of Sioux camped about 10 miles from Fort Laramie. With the Sioux was Lucinda Eubank and her small daughter. She and her daughter had been captured by the Cheyenne and then sold to Sioux Chief Two Face. She had been forced to work and to have sexual relations. In retaliation, the army ordered the hanging of two Sioux chiefs—Two Face and Black Foot—as an example to other Indians. According to Special Order No. 11:  “The execution will be conducted in a sober soldierly manner and the bodies will be left hanging as a warning to them. No citizens or soldiers will be permitted to visit or touch the dead bodies without permission from this headquarters or that of this post.”

Once again, there was no trial to determine guilt. While the executions of the two chiefs were intended to show the Indians that it would be fruitless to oppose the power of the United States, John McDermott reports:  “The death of the chiefs, however, did not seem to affect the depredations of the Sioux and Cheyennes. If anything, it may have inspired them to greater efforts.”

In summary, the United States did not hang Indians in the pursuit of justice, but instead did so as a show of raw power. It was an early form of shock and awe.  The crime of Indians was often that of being Indian.

The Lame Cow War

In the 1840s a massive migration of non-Indians began in which long wagon trains would cross the Great Plains bringing new settlers into Utah, Oregon, and California. The people in the wagon trains were generally oblivious to the fact that they were trespassing on Indian land and using Indian resources. As they crossed the Plains, their oxen, cattle, and horses grazed on the grass, depleting the resources needed for Indian horses and for the bison on which Plains Indian lives depended. Many of the non-Indians viewed Indians as a part of the wildlife, like coyotes and wolves, destined to be exterminated before the relentless push of Manifest Destiny. The Indians, on the other hand, viewed the intruders as thieves stealing grass and game.

In 1845, Joel Palmer, who was leading a wagon train to Oregon, met with a group of about 100 Oglala Sioux at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. One Sioux leader, whose name was not recorded, told Palmer:  “This country belongs to the red man, but his white brethren travels through, shooting the game and scaring it away. Thus the Indian loses all that he depends upon to support his wife and children. The children of the red man cry out for food, but there is no food.”

Ignoring the fact that the Indians had just pointed out that wagons trains like his were stealing from the Indians, Palmer informed them that they were compelled to pass through Indian territory on their way to the coast.

In 1850, the U.S. Army at Fort Laramie tallied the wagon trains that passed through. They counted: 7,472 mules, 30,616 oxen, 22,742 horses, 8,998 wagons, and 5,270 cows. All of these animals were, of course, eating Indian grass for which the tribes were never reimbursed. With regard to the buffalo, generally regarded as a primary food source for Plains Indians, the hunters from the wagon trains would shot buffalo regularly, taking only the choice cuts of meat and leaving the rest for the wolves, coyotes, and buzzards. Unlike the Indians, they had no interest in preserving any meat for future use.

In 1854, a Mormon wagon-train was crossing Wyoming on its way to Utah when it abandoned a lame cow. When a hunting party of Sioux came across the cow on what they felt was their land, they killed it for food. Chief Pretty Voice Eagle explained it this way:  “They had with them a cow which was lame, and they left it. The Indians thought they had thrown it away, and killed it. We killed this cow not for subsistence but because it was lame and we felt sorry for it.”

When the Mormons complained about the killing of the cow, the Indians offered them a horse worth double the cow as a trade, but the Mormons refused and later filed a formal complaint with the army. A young army officer and 20 troops, described by Father De Smet as “armed to the teeth and with a cannon loaded with grapeshot,” were sent out to bring back the Indian responsible for killing the cow. According to Lakota Sioux writer Charles Eastman, in his book Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains: “It would seem that either the officer was under the influence of liquor, or else had a mind to bully the Indians, for he would accept neither explanation or payment, but demanded point-blank that the young men who had killed the cow be delivered up to summary punishment.”

The officer then fired his cannon into the Indians, killing chief Conquering Bear and a number of men. The Indians defended themselves and the army unit was annihilated. The non-Indian press declared that a state of war existed with the Sioux and called for reinforcements. The focus was not on justice, but on retaliation and punishment. Father DeSmet, the Belgian-born Jesuit who spent 32 years among the Indians and often aided the Americans in holding Indian councils, wrote that a lame cow was   “the origin of a fresh war of extermination upon the Indians which is to be carried out in the course of the present year.”

George W. Manypenny, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, felt that the whole incident could have been avoided if Indian funds had been used to pay for the cow. In his annual report, Manypenny noted:  “No officer of the military department was in my opinion authorized to arrest or try the Indian for the offense charged against him.”

Mannypenny, while the government official responsible for Indian Affairs, expressed no concern over the depletion of Indian resources nor did he suggest that Indians be compensated for these losses.



In 1722, Samuel Shuttle, the governor of Massachusetts, declared total war on the Abenaki. Part of the concern of the English colonists was the presence of Jesuits among the Abenaki. The colonial Puritans were vehemently anti-Catholic and particularly anti-Jesuit. Father Sebastian Rasles had strongly encouraged the Abenaki to defend their lands and themselves against the English colonists.

The English colonists viewed North America as a vast wilderness, ignoring the fact that the park-like environment they encountered was, in fact, carefully managed by Native Americans. They viewed the Indians as savage nomads, ignoring the fact that Native agriculture had fed them; ignoring the fact that Indian people lived in permanent villages and raised a variety of crops. The English felt that it was their God-given duty to “tame” the wilderness by exterminating all animals they didn’t like and for this reason they encouraged the killing of coyotes, wolves, and, of course, Indians.

To encourage the killing of these “wild” and “dangerous” animals, the colonial government established a bounty system. To get paid the bounty, hunters had to provide proof of the kill: for this they submitted coyote skins, wolf skins, and red skins (usually the scalps or heads of the Indians they had killed). Some colonists earned their livings through bounties.

In January 1725, Captain John Lovewell organized a militia group to hunt Indians. With the bounty set at £100, Lovewell and his militia members saw killing Indians for the bounty as a way to get rich. In his book The Forgotten America, Cormac O’Brien describes Lovewell’s decision to hunt Indians this way: “A farmer with little to do in the winter but fight off boredom, he decided to raise a company of volunteers, go off into the woods, and cash in on the government’s offer of scalp money.”

The group set out to attack the Abenaki village of Pigwacket (near present-day Fryeburg, Maine), but they changed plans when they came across the tracks of an Indian party heading south. They followed the tracks and came across and Indian camp.

At about 2:00 AM on February 20, the sixty-two English bounty-hunters formed a semi-circle around the sleeping camp. Lovewell fired first and the others followed. One surviving Abenaki man jumped up and began to run and the English set their attack dogs on him. The English stormed the camp, clubbing to death any who had survived the volley of bullets and then scalping all of them. They then took the Abenaki guns (which were of French manufacture and considered quite valuable) and other souvenirs.

When the militia arrived in Boston, they proudly displayed ten scalps which they hoisted on poles for all to see. They were greeted as heroes. They were paid £1,000 by the General Court and they sold their booty for another £70. At this time, this was a lot of money.

Having found bounty hunting for “red skins,” Lovewell decided to raise yet another militia and to enrich himself even further. By spring, Lovewell had signed up 46 men for another bounty expedition hunting Indians for profit and fun. Among those who joined the expedition was Jonathan Fry, a twenty-year-old graduate of the Harvard Divinity School. Fry was to be the group’s chaplain, seeking God’s help in their slaughter of Indians.

Once again, the initial target was the Abenaki village of Pigwacket which was believed to be friendly to the hated Catholic Jesuits. They set out in April, in good weather. On Sunday, May 9, just a short distance from an Indian village, Fry called the men together for a prayer service. The service, however, was interrupted by a gunshot. The English rushed to the shore of a pond where they saw a lone Indian hunting ducks.

Lovewell told his men to leave their blankets and gear so that they could move in quickly to kill the Indian. They quickly surprised the hunter who was carrying some dead ducks and two muskets. The hunter fired one of the muskets, which had been loaded with shot for duck hunting, and wounded two of the English militia. Fry and another man returned fire, killing the hunter. Fry, the group’s chaplain, then scalped him so that he could claim the bounty.

While the English were busy killing and scalping the Abenaki duck hunter, a party of Abenaki under the leadership of Paugus, a Mohawk who had become an Abenaki war leader, were in canoes. When they heard the gunfire, they put ashore and happened to find the English camp. They concealed themselves and waited for the English to return.

The English returned to their camp, basking in the victory over the lone hunter. As they became aware of the fact that their blankets and gear were missing, the Abenaki opened fire. As the battle raged, the surviving English took refuge on a small peninsula on the pond. From here their accurate rifle fire could hold off the Abenaki.

Among those killed in the battle were the English leader Lovewell, the Abenaki leader Paugus, and the Abenaki spiritual leader Wahwah. Twenty of the English bounty hunters survived.

The Battle of Saco Pond, as it was later called, became glorified in American history and literature. In 1820, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “The Battle of Lovewell’s Pond” and in 1824, the Reverend Thomas Cogswell wrote “Song of Lovewell’s Fight.” In the histories and in the literature glorifying the battle, however, the initial cause—hunting Indians for their bounty—was generally omitted.