American Indian Treaties in 1816

A treaty is simply an agreement between two or more sovereign nations. Following the Constitution, the United States recognized Indian nations as sovereign entities and thus negotiated treaties with them. From the viewpoint of American law, there are three basic steps involved in the treaty process: (1) the treaty is negotiated, (2) it is then ratified by the Senate, and (3) it is proclaimed (signed) by the President. At this time, the treaty is considered to be in force and is a law which is superior to that of local or state laws.

In 1816, the primary focus of the treaties between Indian nations and the United States was for the United States to obtain title to Indian land. Briefly described below are some of the 1816 treaties.


In Washington, D.C., a Cherokee delegation including Major Ridge, Richard Brown, Cheucunsenee, John Walker, John Lowry, Richard Taylor, and John Ross, met with U.S. government officials to request compensations for damages done by American soldiers going through the Cherokee Nation at the end of the Creek war. However, the delegation was persuaded to sell their South Carolina land for $5,000. The United States, however, agreed to recognize the Cherokee claim to four million acres of land in Georgia and Alabama that had been taken from the Creek. Under the agreement, government troops would help evict illegal settlers.

The Cherokee delegation met with President James Madison in the Octagon House which was serving as the President’s residence while the fire-gutted White House underwent renovations. In his book Toward the Setting Sun: John Ross, the Cherokees, and the Trail of Tears, Brian Hicks reports:

“For the entirety of the short meeting, the president did all the talking. He promised the Indians that any of their tribesmen permanently disabled in the war would receive the same pension benefits as white soldiers, and he assured them the government would pay for the damage done by troops to the Cherokee Nation—‘as much as what is right.’”

General Andrew Jackson was furious with the new treaty and met with a group of Cherokee chiefs under the leadership of Toochalar in Alabama. Journalist Stanley Hoig, in his book The Cherokees and Their Chiefs: In the Wake of Empire, reports:

“Unable to persuade the Cherokees to give up valuable portions of their land south of the Tennessee River, Jackson turned to the tried-and-true method of bribery of the chiefs and interpreters.”

Those accepting bribes included Glass, Boat, Sour Mush, Chulioa, Dick Justice, Richard Brown, and Chickasautchee. As a result, the Cherokee gave up most of the land gained in the previous treaty for an annual payment of $5,000 for ten years. Among those signing the treaty was Sequoia. Path Killer, the Cherokee principal chief, was not present.

In her book The Cherokees, Grace Steele Woodward reports:

“To protect themselves from the wrath of the council, the delegation of twelve who signed the treaty with Jackson did so with the understanding that the Cherokee National Council must ratify it before it became final.”


In Wisconsin, a delegation of 11 Winnebago chiefs, including Naw-Kaw and Spoon Decora traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to sign a treaty of peace and friendship with the United States. Anthropologist Nancy Lurie, in an entry in Handbook of North American Indians, reports:

“Although these Winnebagos made clear that they represented only their own Wisconsin River village, the fact that Naw-Kaw made the overture indicated the official direction of tribal policy.”


In Illinois, the Americans met with the Sauk in treaty council. The Americans accused the Sauk of many crimes committed during the War of 1812, but the Sauk chiefs told the Americans that they had been deceived by the Americans and thus had been forced to join forces with the British. They smoked the peace pipe with the Americans and signed the treaty. In the words of Black Hawk:

“Here, for the first time, I touched the goose quill to the treaty — not knowing, however, that, by that act, I consented to give away my village. Had that been explained to me, I should have opposed it, and never would have signed their treaty.”


In Mississippi, the United States negotiated a new treaty with the Choctaw to settle some boundary difficulties arising from the end of the Creek war. The treaty negotiations were friendly. In his book The Removal of the Choctaw Indians, Arthur DeRosier reports:

“The Choctaws also were promised that they would always be the friend of America and that never again would the United States allow them to be mistreated.”


In the southeast, the Chickasaw ceded all of their territory south of the Tennessee River and west of the Tombigbee River to the United States.

The Removal of the Ponca Indians

In 1877 the United States government informed the Ponca that they were going to be removed from their traditional homelands in Nebraska and reassigned to a reservation in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Ponca, a nation which had been at peace with the United States and was considered friendly, were to be moved from their reservation on the Nebraska-Dakota border to Oklahoma because their reservation had been given to their traditional enemies, the Sioux, in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

The Ponca first heard about their proposed removal a year earlier. At this time, the chiefs called a great council to discuss the matter. Speaking to the representatives from the American government who attended the council, Standing Bear said:

“This land is ours, we have never sold it. We have our houses and our homes here. Our fathers and some of our children are buried here. Here we wish to live and die.”

The representatives from the American government simply told the Ponca that Indian Territory was a better country.

In 1877, the Ponca were informed of their impending relocation during a Christian church service. During the service, the Indian agent addressed the Ponca and painted a glowing picture of their new lands in Oklahoma. Standing Bear responded to the announcement by pointing out to the agent that they had never sold their land nor had they ever asked to go to Indian Territory. He also reminded the agent that the Ponca had kept their treaty with the United States and that they had harmed no one.

Standing Bear, White Eagle, Standing Buffalo, Big Elk, Little Picker, Sitting Bear, Little Chief, Smoke Maker, Lone Chief, and White Swan were then taken to Oklahoma to see their new lands. For the journey south, the government purchased “civilized clothing” (primarily shirts and vests) for the chiefs. Once in Oklahoma, the Ponca chiefs found that the land did not suit them. They felt that this was not a land where corn and potatoes would easily grow. The land did not compare favorably with their lush green homeland in Nebraska. At this point, the Ponca chiefs realized that once again the Indian agent had lied to them.

The Ponca leaders informed the government that the heat, humidity, and poor soil conditions did not suit them. The Indian agent told them that they were to select land in Indian Territory or starve. The government then refused to take them back north. In his book Standing Bear is a Person: The True Story of a Native American’s Quest for Justice Stephen Dando-Collins reports:

“The chiefs, stunned by this exchange, suddenly had visions of being stranded in this strange land and dying here without ever seeing their families again.”

They had only $8 between them and only the clothes on their backs, They had almost no understanding of English. In spite of this, the chiefs made the 500 mile walk back to Nebraska where the Indian agent had them arrested.

The Ponca chiefs met with Omaha chief Iron Eyes (Joseph La Flesche) and his daughter Bright Eyes wrote out a statement from the chiefs which tells of their ordeal. She then wrote a telegram to the President.

In response to their complaints, an inspector from the Indian Office and the Indian agent called for a council with the Ponca. Before the inspector could address the council, Standing Bear came to his feet. Pulling his red council blanket around his shoulders, he asked why the Indian Affairs men had come to the Ponca reservation when they had not been invited. He concluded by telling the Indian Office men to leave at once.

Standing Bear and his brother Big Snake were then arrested, placed in chains, and jailed for resisting the removal order. The other Ponca chiefs, however, defiantly told the Americans that they would not be removed. The Indian Office inspector simply informed the council that they could move of their own volition or the Americans would use force against them.

At sunrise, army troops—four detachments of cavalry and one of infantry—surrounded the Ponca village. The troops dragged men, women, and children from their cabins. There was no discussion, no negotiation, and no toleration of resistance. The American government had made the decision that the Ponca were to be removed and there was no recourse. The Ponca left behind their homes, their farms, and their farm equipment.

The Ponca were marched south under escort. They were deluged with rain and two Ponca children soon died from exposure. The army showed them no mercy, forcing the wet, cold people to travel along mud-clogged byways and across swollen rivers. When a tornado struck the camp, destroying tents, damaging wagons, and injuring several people, the army simply ordered the march to continue with no delay, except for burying the dead.

It took the Ponca 50 days to reach their destination. They were informed that they were now prisoners and they would be punished if they attempted to leave the reservation. In an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, Quentin Taylor reports:

“Most of the survivors disliked their new home, and the chiefs petitioned the authorities in Washington to return to their ancestral lands.”

Nearly one-fourth of the Ponca died during their first year in Indian Territory.

A delegation traveled to Washington, D.C. where four Ponca chiefs met President Rutherford Hayes. Each of the chiefs expressed dissatisfaction with their land in Oklahoma and their desire to return to their homeland. Stephen Dando-Collins describes the meeting this way:

“Standing Bear reverently, respectfully told the Great Father that his people had been wronged, that they were now in an awfully bad place, and that he hoped he would do something for them.”

President Hayes was astonished at the story of their forced march and told the chiefs that this is the first he has heard of it.

At a meeting in the Department of the Interior, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs informed the Ponca chiefs that there was no way that their request to be returned to the north could be honored without Congressional action. At a second meeting with President Hayes, who had now been briefed by the Department of the Interior, the President told them that the Ponca must stay in Indian Territory. He assured them that they would be treated well.

Outlawing American Indian Religions

For the past five centuries, American Indians have had their religions suppressed (sometimes brutally and violently) and denied. With the formation of the United States and the adoption of the Bill of Rights which speaks of freedom of religion, this freedom has been denied to American Indians based on the notion that they were not citizens and therefore this freedom did not apply to them. The period of time from 1870 to 1934 can be considered the Dark Ages for American Indian Religious Freedom. During this time, the active suppression of American Indian religions reached its peak.

Under the Peace Policy of President Grant, Indian reservations were to be administered by Christian denominations which were allowed to forcibly convert the Indians to Christianity. By 1872, 63 of the nation’s 75 Indian reservations were being administered by Christian religious denominations.

In 1877, the United States sent America’s Christian General, O.O. Howard to the Pacific Northwest to put down the Dreamer Religion. With regard to the Nez Perce, Howard feels that it is his duty as an American officer and a Christian to force the Dreamer bands, such as Chief Joseph’s, into becoming Christian. The result of this was the Nez Perce War.

In 1883, the Secretary of the Interior reported that the heathen practices of American Indians had to be eliminated. According to Secretary of the Interior Henry M. Teller, the heathen practices of the American Indians must be eliminated:

“they must be compelled to desist from the savage and barbarous practices that are calculated to continue them in savagery.”

He instructed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to compel the discontinuance of dances and feasts. He asked Congress for greater power to deal with the Indian spiritual leaders (often called “medicine men”). He asked that steps be taken to compel “these impostors to abandon this deception and discontinue their practices.”

Following the recommendations of the Secretary of the Interior, missionaries, and other influential “friends of the Indian,” the United States formally outlawed “pagan” ceremonies in 1884. Indians who were found guilty of participating in traditional religious ceremonies were to be imprisoned for 30 days. This was seen as an important step in the destruction of the Indian way of life.

In 1890, the United States government used military force to suppress the so-called “Ghost Dance” religion among the Sioux on the Pine Ridge Reservation. 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. Using Hotchkiss machine guns, American soldiers managed to kill 40 Sioux men and 200 women and children at Wounded Knee.

In 1892, Congress strengthened the law against Indian religions. Under the new regulations, Indians who openly advocated Indian beliefs, those who performed religious dances, and those involved in religious ceremonies were to be imprisoned.

On a regular basis, the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs reminded the Indian agents of the need to suppress Indian religions. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1902 told reservation agents: “You are therefore directed to induce your male Indians to cut their hair.” According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

“The wearing of short hair by the males will be a great step in advance, and will certainly hasten their progress toward civilization.”

Under the new guidelines, Indian men with long hair were to be denied rations. If they still refused to cut their hair, “short confinement in the guardhouse at hard labor with shorn locks, should furnish a cure.”

On the Hopi Reservation, the Indian agent forced a number of men to cut their hair. The agent disregarded the ceremonial purpose of long hair. Hopi men traditionally grew their hair long in the back as a symbol of the falling rain for which they prayed. For the Hopi, for a man to have his hair cut during the growing season was tantamount to asking that the corn stop growing.

Indian agents were also instructed to stop Indians from using face paint. According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

“The use of this paint leads to many disease of the eyes among those Indians who paint. Persons who have given considerable thought and investigation to the subject are satisfied that this custom causes the majority of cases of blindness among the Indians of the United States.”

In addition, Indian dances and feasts were to be prohibited. According to the BIA:

“Feasts are simply subterfuges to cover degrading acts and to disguise immoral purposes.”

In 1934, policy regarding freedom of religion for American Indians began to change when John Collier, the Commissioner for Indian Affairs, issued Circular No. 2970 (“Indian Religious Freedom and Indian Culture”) to superintendents of Indian agencies. According to Collier:

“no interference with Indian religious life or ceremonial expression will hereafter be tolerated.”

Not all of the employees, however, followed the new rule. According to JoAllyn Archambault, in her chapter on the Sun Dance in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“However, many federal employees and Christian missionaries on reservations resisted the policy and discouraged sweatbaths, the Sun Dance, and other religious practices.”

Historian Angie Debo, in her book A History of the Indians of the United States, reports:

“Superpatriots even detected the hidden hand of Red Russia behind the policy, and Collier had to defend himself before the House Indian Affairs Committee against charges of atheism, Communism, and sedition.”

Religion and American Indians in 1816

During the nineteenth century, the United States sought to bring Christianity to the American Indians and to suppress the expression of Native religions. Briefly described below are a few of the events of 1816 relating to religion and American Indians.

In Kentucky, the Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathens wrote a circular letter to Indian agents suggesting that the English language and the habits of civilization should be taught to the Indians before spreading the gospel to them. They asked that the agents have Indian children sent among non-Indians to be schooled.

In Ohio, John Stewart, a free Negro, began preaching to the Wyandot and many Indians converted to Protestantism.

In New York, Eleazar Williams, an Episcopal lay reader and catechist, moved to the Oneida reservation. He spoke the Oneida language and had a good oratory style. He quickly won the support of the Oneida Christians (also known as the First Christian Party or the Shenandoah Party).

In California, the Spanish Catholic missionaries at the San Francisco mission had the Indians stage a traditional dance for a visiting Russian expedition.

The Cherokee Nation allowed several Christian missionary groups – Baptist, Methodist, Congregational, and Presbyterian – to establish schools. According to Marion Starkey in The Cherokee Nation:

“So the missionaries came and remained to play a vital part in the further development of the Cherokees.”

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions declared that it proposed for the Cherokee—

“To make the whole tribe English in their language, civilized in their habits, and Christian in their religion.”

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

In the Morning Star Ceremony, a girl captured from another tribe would be sacrificed at the Summer Solstice. The captured girl would spend many months with the Pawnee and would be treated well. For the ceremony, her body was painted half red and half white and she was tied to a rectangular frame near the village. As the morning star rose, all of the men and boys of the village shot arrows into her body. The ceremony was not a part of the regular Pawnee ceremonial cycle, but was done only when a man was commanded by a vision to conduct the ceremony. The ritual gave the people success in war and in fertility.

American Indian Religions in 1916

Following the policies of the nineteenth century, during the first part of the twentieth century the United States was firmly convinced that American Indians could assimilate only if they became Christians. To aid in the “civilization” (i.e. Christianization) of the Indians, Congress had formally outlawed Indian religions in the nineteenth century. On the reservations, Indians could be jailed without a trial for practicing or promoting any traditional Indian religious practice. In addition to suppressing traditional ceremonies such as the Sun Dance, one of the concerns at this time focused on suppressing and criminalizing the so-called “Peyote Cult” (the Native American Church). Briefly described below are some of the events dealing with American Indian religions in 1916.


Opposition to the Native American Church has generally been based on: (1) it is an American Indian religion, and (2) the Church’s use of peyote as a sacrament. Peyote, often confused with mescaline, has been labeled addictive.

Representative Harry L. Gandy of South Dakota and Senator W. W. Thompson of Kansas introduced bills in Congress to prohibit traffic in peyote, including its sale to Indians. Support for the bill was provided by the National Indian Association, the Society of American Indians, the National Indian Student Conference, the Lake Mohonk Conference, the Indian Rights Association, and the YMCA. The presentation of anti-peyote materials was coordinated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Omaha Indians journeyed from Oklahoma to Washington to testify against the bills. The bills failed to pass. Anthropologist Omer C. Stewart, in his entry “Peyote and the Law” in the Handbook of American Indian Religious Freedom, writes:

“This was the beginning of a futile forty-seven-year effort to outlaw peyote federally. Twelve different bills were introduced into Congress to prohibit the use of peyote in the United States from the 1916 Gandy bill to the 1963 Fascell bill. No federal bill ever resulted.”

Harry Black Bear, an Oglala Sioux, was arrested in South Dakota for giving peyote buttons to other Indians. In a trial in Deadwood, South Dakota, a jury found him guilty, but the judge ruled that the prohibition under which he had been charged applied to alcoholic beverages and not to peyote. According to the judge:

“I am clearly of the opinion that this prosecution is not within the purview of this statute….[Peyote] is neither an intoxicating liquor nor a drug.”

In Oklahoma, the Indian agent for the Southern Ponca reported that half of the tribe’s 630 members were involved with the Peyote religion.

Sun Dance

In Idaho, the Shoshone and Bannock once again attempted to hold a Sun Dance off the reservation. Indian police from the Fort Hall Reservation tore down the Sun Dance structure, cut up the poles, and confined seven of the ceremonial leaders to jail for ten days.

In Montana, writer Frank Bird Linderman wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells asking that the orders requiring that Indian men cut their hair and prohibiting the Sun Dance be rescinded for the Chippewa and Cree on the Rocky Boy Reservation. Sells replied that there was no order to forcibly cut the men’s hair, but simply a strong suggestion that they do so. With regard to the Sun Dance, Sells strongly supported the ban on this ceremony citing a long-standing policy to discourage harmful Indian practices. The Indians, however, simply conducted the Sun Dance without official permission. In Reimagining Indians: Native Americans Through Ango Eyes, 1880-1940, historian Sherry Smith reports:

“Official permission mattered little to them and apparently nobody on the reservation tried to stop it.”

In Oklahoma, the Indian agent banned the Kiowa Ghost Dance because of its opposition to Christianity and allotment. However, several Ghost Dances were held on scattered allotments. The agent obtained a list of the names of 79 participants so that he could withhold their per capita payments.

American Indians, Media, and Entertainment in 1916

In 1916, people got their information about American Indians from “shows” (both stage shows and arena productions), the print media (books, magazines, and newsletters), and museums. In addition, there were interest groups which sought to increase the understanding of American Indian histories and cultures.


In New York, Cherokee entertainer Will Rogers began to headline at the Ziegfeld Follies. He presented a roping routine with a satirical narration. At this time, he was one of the most popular entertainers in vaudeville.

A wild west show featuring Buffalo Bill and the 101 Ranch Shows was organized. According to the program:

“Col. Wm. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) actively participates in the military maneuvers as well as in the battle between United States cavalrymen and a band of Indians led by the famous Sioux, Chief Iron Tail, which is a stirring feature of the exhibition…He is accompanied by over a hundred Sioux and other Indians, with their squaws and papooses…”

Books, Magazines, Newsletters

Seneca anthropologist Arthur Caswell Parker published The Constitution of the Five Nations which includes a series of documents describing Deganawida and Hiawatha and the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy. Parker argued that the Iroquois governmental system is “the greatest ever devised by barbaric man on any continent.”

Lucy Thompson (Che-na-wah Weitch-ah-wah), a Klamath/Yurok from California, self-published To the American Indian. In this book she argued that she was in a better position than any other person to tell the true facts of the religion of her people.

The first issue of American Indian Magazine appeared with the slogan “A Journal of Race Ideals.” The new magazine was edited by Arthur Caswell Parker (Seneca). The first issue included a wide range of views, including those of Yavapai physician Dr. Carlos Montezuma, one of the founders of the Society of American Indians.

To further his crusade against the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Dr. Carlos Montezuma (Yavapai-Apache) began to publish a newsletter called Wassaja. In the first issue, he explained the purpose of the newsletter:

“Its sole purpose is Freedom for the Indians through the abolition of the Indian Bureau.”

Concerning the Indian Bureau, Montezuma wrote:

“The Indian Bureau is like an old, worn out horse, perhaps quite a nag in days gone by. The horse is now past his day. He limps, has the heaves, is blind, cannot hear a single sound, BUT HE CAN SMELL THE OATS.”

A devout Baptist, Montezuma wrote about the Christian churches:

“The churches have acted as though the Indian race had the small-pox…If Christ came into the world He would tear down the barriers of the reservation.”


In Arizona, George and Helen Hunt donated 85 Western Apache and Pima baskets to the Arizona State Museum. One of the unusual pieces in the Hunt collection was a Pima coiled basket featuring woven letters spelling out Arbuckles in reference to Arbuckles’ Coffee, the “coffee that won the West.”

Geoge Gustav Heye’s Museum of the American Indian came into existence in New York City.


In Iowa, the Society of American Indians (SAI) met in Cedar Rapids. Only 28 delegates attended. Dr. Carlos Montezuma criticized the American Indian Magazine, Indian Day, and the SAI failure to take action against the Indian Bureau. At one point, Montezuma shouted at Sherman Coolidge, the SAI president:

“I am Apache, and you are an Arapahoe. I can lick you. My tribe has licked your tribe before”

Coolidge, who was significantly larger than Montezuma, simply replied: “I’m from Missouri” and laughter diffused the tension.

American Indian Reservations in 1916

During the nineteenth century, the United States had attempted to settle all Indians on well-defined reservations on lands deemed unsuitable for non-Indian development. Here Indians were to remain until they became extinct or had fully assimilated into the Christian American lifestyle. By the end of the nineteenth century, the government began the process of dismantling Indian reservations and increasing the pressures to assimilate. During the early twentieth century, for example, the United States had dissolved all of the tribal governments in Oklahoma so that the territory could become a state. By 1916, a majority of Indians still lived on reservations where they were considered wards of the government. In general, the reservations were pockets of poverty with poor health care and few educational opportunities. Briefly described below are a few of the events of 1916 which are related to Indian reservations.


In Montana, President Woodrow Wilson issues an executive order to create a reservation for the landless Chippewa under the leadership of Stone Child (whose name is also translated as Rocky Boy) and the landless Cree under the leadership of Little Bear. The tribes were given part of the former Fort Assiniboine and an 8,800 acre park was placed between the tribes and the city of Havre. The reservation was named Rocky Boy after Chief Rocky Boy, the tribe’s original Chippewa leader. Only about 450 Indians, about half of those eligible, chose to settle on the reservation.

Before the reservation was created, Chippewa leader Stone Child (Rocky Boy) died of tuberculosis at the age of 70. He died during Congress’s final consideration of a bill to create a new reservation for his people and thus the new reservation was named for him.

Papago Reservation:

In Arizona, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order to create the 3.1 million acre Papago Reservation for the Tohono O’odham. The town of Indian Wells was renamed Sells after Indian Commissioner Cato Sells and became the headquarters for the new Indian agency.

The creation of the reservation was opposed by the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona state land commissioner, and the Pima Farm Improvement Association. However, non-Indian cotton growers favored the reservation. Historian Eric Meeks, in article in the Western Historical Quarterly, explains:

“The seasonal nature of cotton production demanded that a surplus of labor be available for the harvest. However, since these workers were only needed for three or four months, it was critical that they have somewhere else to go over the remainder of the year.”


The United States used allotments as a way of breaking up reservations and allowing non-Indians to obtain what had been reservation land for little or no cost. Under the allotment system, tribal members were allotted a parcel of land and land which was not allotted was then opened to non-Indian settlement.

At the Santee agency in South Dakota, the Bureau of Indian Affairs created a ceremony to symbolize Indian progress from savagery to agrarian civilization. The Santee Sioux men who were receiving patents to their allotments came out of a tent, shot an arrow into the air, and then took hold of a plow. The agent then administered the citizenship oath, and gave each man a flag, a badge, and a purse to signify his new status. The wives took a homemakers oath, and received a flag, a badge, a workbag, and a purse.

In New Mexico, the field inspector found that the General Land Office had failed to approve about 2,900 allotment applications for Eastern Navajo. Garrick Bailey and Roberta Glen Bailey, in their book A History of the Navajos: The Reservation Years, report:

“Supposedly, the applicants did not meet improvement and residence requirements; in reality, the office was bending to local pressure, and withholding patents for no legitimate reason.”

Reservations Expanded:

In Utah, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order to expand the Shivwits Indian Reservation to 26,880 acres.

In Arizona, the federal government purchased 460 acres of land, known as the Middle Verde, for use by the Yavapai-Apache of the Camp Verde Reservation.

Reservation Reduced:

In Utah, the federal government took 84,000 acres from the Northern Ute reservation. The land was thought to contain oil shale and the federal government wanted it for a naval oil reserve.

Tribal Government:

In South Dakota, the new superintendent for the Sioux Rosebud Reservation decided to reorganize the business council feeling that the old one had been too concerned with promoting traditional dances. The Bureau of Indian Affairs drew up a constitution which called for a tribal council with members elected from each day school community and band camp on the reservation. According to the constitution:

“It shall be the purpose of this council to maintain harmonious cooperation with the Secretary of the Interior, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and the Superintendent of the Rosebud Agency.”

Shortly after the new tribal council was organized, a traditional chief requested permission from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to hold a three-fourths majority council. The superintendent informed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that the chief was among the ultraconservative people who were interested in traditional dancing and recommended that permission be denied. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs denied permission for the council.

Tribal Membership:

In Minnesota, conservative Chippewa band leaders were informed that the Secretary of the Interior had decided to restore 86 suspended tribal members to the tribal rolls. The Indian leaders complained that the Indians should have been consulted before this decision was reached and they presented evidence illustrating the reasons for suspending the 86. However, in her book The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation, 1889-1920, historian Melissa Meyer observes:

“Close ties between business and government in Minnesota and the nation at large may have insured that conservative Indian leaders’ pleas would fall on deaf ears.”

Landless Indians:

In the state of Washington, Thomas Bishop, the son of a Snohomish woman and a non-Indian, insisted that there were unfulfilled obligations to landless Indians. Learning that land might be available on the Quinault Reservation, he submitted applications for allotments on the reservation. While the Quinault tribal council was receptive to this, the legal counsel for the Department of the Interior declared that the reservation was intended solely for Indians on the Pacific Coast. A special agent was appointed to locate landless Indians elsewhere in western Washington.

In Washington, a group of 75 Snoqualmie gathered at Tolt and voiced a desire for land in this area.


In California, the Table Mountain Rancheria was established as a homeland for dislocated Indians living along the San Joaquin River.

Ottawa Band:

In Michigan, land in Manistee County which had been logged by the Manistee Boom Company reverted to the United States and was purchased by the nephew of Ottawa band chief Pacquotuah. Pacquotuah then divided the land among the households in his band.

American Indians in 1916

One hundred years ago, in 1916, American government policies regarding American Indians were emphasizing assimilation: like other immigrants, according to the assimilationist mantra, Indians would become absorbed into the great American mass. While immigrants from other countries could become citizens, most Indians were not citizens. Under the terms of treaties with the United States, Indians were supposed to have some hunting and fishing rights as well as land rights. Briefly described below are some of the Indian events and issues of 1916.


The Supreme Court in United States v Nice found that U.S. citizenship

“is not incompatible with tribal existence or continued guardianship, and so may be conferred without completely emancipating the Indians or placing them beyond the reach of congressional regulations adapted for their protection”

This was a case involving the sale of whisky and other intoxicating liquors to Sioux Indians in South Dakota. The Court found that the Sioux allottees remained tribal Indians and were thus under national guardianship which means that Congress has the power to regulate or prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquor to these Indians.


Congress passes a new law regarding the leasing of Indian lands. Marjane Ambler, in her book Breaking the Iron Bonds: Indian Control of Energy Development, reports:

“The law did not provide for tribal consent: instead, the Secretary of the Interior would set the terms, thus continuing the policies of the era.”

Indian Office:

The Indian Office, now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), launched programs to deal with the three greatest health problems of American Indians: tuberculosis, trachoma, and infant mortality.

With regard to infant mortality, the BIA began a “Save the Baby” campaign. In his work on the Northern Cheyenne in Montana, anthropologist Gregory Campbell, in American Indian Nations: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, reports:

“From all indications, the program operated under the assumption that the infant mortality problem was due to cultural ignorance and incompetence of Cheyenne mothers, rather than malnutrition, unsanitary living conditions, and cultural oppression.”

Fishing Rights

When the Indian nations in the Pacific Northwest signed treaties with the United States in 1855—the Stevens treaties (negotiated by Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens—they had retained their aboriginal fishing rights. In general, the states tended to ignore the possibility of Indian fishing rights.

In a case involving Lummi and Yakama fishing rights, Washington Su­preme Court Justice Bausman wrote:

“The premise of Indian sover­eignty we reject.”

He goes on to say that Indians are regarded as “mere occupants, and incompetent occupants, of the soil” and that the Indian

“as a child, and a dangerous child of nature, to be both protected and restrained. In his nomadic life, he was to be left, as long as civilization did not demand his region.”

In his book American Indians and the Law, law professor Bruce Duthu notes:

“The state of Washington maintained its posture of opposition toward Indian treaty fishing rights well into the modern era.”

Duthu goes on to say:

“Washington openly defied judicial precedent, federal treaty law and a growing activist Indian community in challenging the nature and scope of treaty-protected fishing rights.”

In Washington, in United States v Seufert the court found that an Indian had a right to operate a fish wheel even though fish wheels were not being used when the treaty was signed. According to the judge:

“I see no reason why Indians may not be permitted to advance in the arts and sciences as well as any other people, and, if they can catch their supply of food by a more scientific and expeditious method, there exists no good reason they may not be permitted to do so. Even more, they ought to be encouraged to adopt the more modern and advanced ways of prosecuting their enterprises.”


In the United States versus Quiver, the United States Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Dennis Quiver, a Sioux living on a South Dakota reservation, for adultery. The state of South Dakota had argued that federal jurisdiction over Indians was limited to offenses by an Indian against the person or property of another Indian and since adultery did not involve person or property, this offense could be prosecuted under state law. The Supreme Court disagreed with this argument and found that state law did not apply.

Indian Labor

In Arizona, over 100 Tohono O’odham workers joined in a general strike at the mine at Ajo. Mine owners appealed to the Catholic priest to urge the Indians to go back to work. However, the Indians joined the local labor union. The strike was put down by federal troops.

Land Claims

In Oregon, the Hanis Coos, the Kuitshes, and the Siuslaws filed a suit in the Court of Claims for lands lost to the United States. This was a part of a campaign for land claims settlements by George B. Watson (Coos/Coquille), a graduate of the Carlisle Indian School.


In Wisconsin, the State Supreme Court upheld the prohibition of the sale of alcohol to full-blooded Indians.

Water Rights

In Oregon, the Bureau of Indian Affairs asked the Justice Department to file suit on behalf of the Umatilla so that they might have sufficient water to irrigate their crops.


In Alaska, explorer, writer, and artifact collector Harold McCracken purchased two Tlingit headdresses at the village of Hoonah. One of the headdresses has a formline design crest animal painted in red and black. The other has a frog crest which is also done in formline design. These are ceremonial objects which are used in potlatches and should be inseparable from the ceremonies for which they are intended.

In Alaska, a visitor to the abandoned Tlingit village of Tuxekan counted 125 totem poles still standing.


In California, Ishi, the last member of the Yahi tribe, died of tuberculosis. Following Yahi custom, his remains were cremated. However, his brain was sent to the Smithsonian Institution for further anthropological study.

In Washington, Palouse elder Chowatyet, the brother of chief Thomash, died. His body was wrapped in buckskin, placed in a long dugout canoe, and buried on an island in the Snake River.

In Washington, Palouse elder Waughaskie died at the age of 89. He was buried at the old village of Palus in a star-spangled velvet shirt. In their book Renegade Tribe: The Palouse Indians and the Invasion of the Inland Pacific Northwest, Clifford Trafzer and Richard Scheuerman report:

“Over 250 Palouses had been laid to rest in the same cemetery, and Waughaskie became one of the last of his people to be buried there.”

The Heavy Runner Massacre

American history is filled with accounts of Indians being massacred by the U.S. Army, by American civilians, and others. Some of these “incidents” are well-known to the general public: Wounded Knee, the Washita, and Sand Creek. Others, such as the massacre of Heavy Runner’s Blackfoot band, are less well-known. In 1870, soldiers under the leadership of Colonel E. M. Baker killed 217 peaceful Blackfoot men, women, and children on the Marias River in Montana.


In the years both before and after the Civil War, many Americans came to Montana seeking their wealth either through mining or cattle ranching. Malcolm Clarke was one of those who settled down as a cattle rancher. Clarke soon married a Blackfoot woman, Kohkokima (Cutting Off Head Woman). Clarke gains the respect of the Blackfoot and was initially given the name White Lodgepole. Later, he was given the name Four Bears after he killed four grizzlies in one day.

In 1867, some Blackfoot relatives of Kohkokima, come to visit the Clarke ranch. In the group were Owl Child (Ne-tus-che-o, Kohkokima’s cousin), his wife, mother, sister, and younger brother. As a result of this visit something went wrong which created bad blood between Owl Child and the Clarke men. One version of the story, told by the Blackfoot, alludes to improper advances made by the rancher to the wife of the Piegan cousin while Horace Clarke and Owl Child were hunting in the nearby mountains. Another version of the story, usually told by non-Indians, says that Owl Child stole some Clarke horses and that Clarke publically beat him.

Two years later, a Blackfoot party led by Owl Child approached the Clarke ranch in a friendly fashion. With Owl Child are Black Weasel, Eagle’s Rib, Bear Chief, and Black Bear. Owl Child told Clarke that he had come to invite him to Mountain Chief’s village. Black Weasel, who was with the party, was Mountain Chief’s son.

Mountain Chief had disliked Americans since three Americans shot his brother and the authorities had done nothing about it. He banned all Americans from his village, but he stayed friendly with Malcolm Clarke because of his marriage to Kohkokima.

Suddenly, Bear Chief shot one of Clarke’s sons in the head. When Clarke rushed out of the house, he was shot dead by Eagle’s Rib. About 25 warriors then came out of the woods and proceeded to destroy everything in the house.

Since Malcolm Clarke was a prominent rancher, the Montana press clamored for revenge against the Blackfoot, with little concern for the actual killers. However, the military commander at Fort Shaw remained calm. He reported:

“The only Indians within reach are friendly, and nothing could be worse than to chastise them for offenses of which they are not guilty.”

However, General Sheridan, with a reputation as an Indian fighter, was in Chicago and hearing from the American settlers who wanted revenge. In his book Blackfoot Fur Trade on the Upper Missouri, John Lepley writes:

“An aggressive man, General Sheridan believed in total war against the Indians to make them pay for their predations on the whites.”

Sheridan ordered Colonel E. M. Baker to obtain revenge. It was not about justice: there was little concern for capturing the actual murderers. It was about retaliation: attacking the Blackfoot camps– any Blackfoot camp. Baker was ordered to give the Blackfoot an exhibition of military force to show the Blackfoot that they were not to trifle with the Americans. Baker’s orders from General Sheridan:

“If the lives & property of the citizens of Montana can best be protected by striking Mountain Chief’s band of Piegans, I want them struck.”

The Battle:

It was January of 1870 when the soldiers set out in search of Mountain Chief’s camp. The temperature was well below zero. Riding with the soldiers is Horace Clarke, Malcolm Clarke’s son.

On the Marias River, the soldiers encounter a Blackfoot camp. As the army approached the camp, scout Joe Kipp recognized that it is the friendly village of Heavy Runner and informed the commander that this was the wrong village. The officer ordered the soldiers to shoot Kipp if he yelled again.

As the soldiers attacked, Heavy Runner ran toward Baker waving his Washington medals and his letters of recommendation showing that he was friendly to the United States. One of the soldiers shot Heavy Runner, killing him. Baker ordered his troops to fire. The Indians did not return fire as all of their able-bodied men were on a buffalo hunt. When the firing was over the soldiers simply shot the wounded Indians. They then collected the lodges and property of the Indians in great piles, and set fire to them.

One hundred and forty women and children were taken prisoner in the attack. In her book Montana Battlefields 1806-1877: Native Americans and the U.S. Army at War, Barbara Fifer describes the camp:

“The temperature hovered about forty degrees below zero and many people were sick with smallpox, aching with high fevers and covered with running sores.”

After being held for a short time, they were released to face the cold without blankets, shelter, or food. Many died from exposure.

The first official account of the “incident” claimed that 120 Blackfoot warriors were killed, an interesting statistic since nearly all of the men were out hunting. Later, the official report was modified to indicate that a total of 173 Blackfoot were killed and that 148 of these were women, children, and elders. However, the scout Joe Kipp reported that he personally counted 217 dead.

The Aftermath:

At the time of the Heavy Runner massacre (dubbed the Baker Massacre in the eastern press), the U.S. government was debating over whether the Indian Office (later known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was to remain in the Department of the Interior or be transferred back to the War Department. The accounts of army brutality in this incident, including Horace Clarke’s testimony about the brutality of the attack against this friendly camp, helped stop the proposal to move Indian Affairs to the War Department. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Ely Parker, who was a Seneca Indian, was put in the position of defending the military operation as an effective way of dealing with the Blackfoot.

Mountain Chief and his people, upon hearing about the attack on Heavy Runner, avoided the army by crossing the border into Canada.

American Indians in 1716

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Indian nations were interacting with many European nations which had invaded the Americas and had claimed for themselves Indian land. These nations included England, France, Spain, Holland, and Sweden. The century was characterized by European exploration to establish their ownership claims and to search for riches, the establishment of European colonies, and development of the fur trade.


In New Mexico, the Ute and Comanche visited several Spanish settlements. The Spanish feared that the Indians were checking out their defenses. In a preemptive strike, Spanish soldiers attacked a Comanche and Ute village in the San Antonio mountains. Many of the captured Indians were sold as slaves.

In 1680, the Pueblos in New Mexico had revolted against the Spanish and driven them out of the region. Unfortunately, a decade later the Spanish had returned and a number of Tewa fled from their pueblo in New Mexico and sought refuge among the Hopi in Arizona. Here they had established the pueblo of Hano on First Mesa. In 1716, a Spanish army under Governor Felix Martinez invaded the Hopi territories in Arizona in an attempt to make the Tewa refugees return to their pueblos in New Mexico. At First Mesa in Arizona, the Tewa in the village of Hano refused the Spanish request. Feeling that the climb to the top of the mesa to capture the Tewas would be costly, Martinez ordered his soldiers to destroy the Tewa crops and to kill Tewa livestock.

In New Mexico, some of the people who had fled from Jemez Pueblo following the Pueblo Revolt of 1696 returned to the village from Walpi Pueblo in Hopi country.

In Arizona, the Sobaípuri cut their ties with the Hopi with whom they had traded during trade fairs on the San Pedro River.

In Texas, a Spanish missionary party of 75 people, including 6 Querétan missionaries, reached the site of the abandoned Mission of San Francisco de los Texas. Four leagues inland from this site they established the Mission of San Francisco de los Neches. This mission was intended to serve the Neches, Nabedache, Nacogdoches, and Nacono. Eight or nine leagues northeast of the new mission, they also established another mission for the Hainai which was called the Mission of Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción. A third mission, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, was established for the Nacogdoche and Nacao. A fourth mission, San José de los Nazones, was established for the Nasoni and Nadaco.

In Alabama, the Spanish government sent agents to the Lower Creek towns in an attempt to entice them to resettle in north Florida. Archaeologist Brent Richards Weisman, in his book Unconquered People: Florida’s Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, reports:

“Spanish timing was perfect: the Lower Creeks were still on the move following their failed attempt to drive the British out of Carolina in the Yamasee War.”


In Mississippi, the French, in retaliation for the killing of four traders, sent a force against the Natchez. The French demanded that the Natchez give them the heads of those responsible for the deaths of the traders. Natchez leader Petit Soleil returned with only three heads. The French then killed four Natchez hostages.


English colonists in South Carolina, with their allies the Cherokee and the Creek, attacked the Yamasee.

In Massachusetts, the Nantucket complained to the General Court about the injustice and oppression which they suffered from their English neighbors. They asked that the island be placed in another county so that their legal conflicts with the English could be heard elsewhere. The Court responded by having two judges on the mainland hear their disputes.

American Indians in 1616

During the first part of the seventeenth century, the European invasion of North America was making the transition from exploration to colonization and exploitation. In his book Laboring in the Fields of the Lord: Spanish Missions and Southeastern Indians , archaeologist Jerald Milanich describes the reasons for the European expansion:

“The driving force behind these initiatives was a desire for wealth: precious stones or metals, fertile lands suitable for productive plantations, human populations to be sold into slavery, and animals and plants that could be hunted or harvested and exported.”

Briefly described below are some of the Indian events of 1616.


One of the few Indian women whose name is known to most Americans is Pocahontas, a Powhatan woman. In 1616, the English colonist John Rolfe took Pocahontas to England where she was used as a part of the Virginia Company’s campaign to gain support for their American colonies. In his book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, historian James W. Loewen points out:

“Pocahontas stands as the first and almost the last Native to be accepted into British-American society, which we may therefore call ‘white society’, through marriage.”

He goes on to point out that after Pocahontas interracial couples are accepted in Native society, but not in Anglo society.


One of the items of European technology which provided Europeans with military superiority was the gun. In 1616, the English instructed some Powhatan warriors in the use of the new snaphance muskets which used a flint on steel ignition. According to historian Ian Steele, in his book Warpaths: Invasions of North America:

“This musket instruction was Opechancanough’s price for allowing any Christian instruction.”

Opechancanough, who was probably Pocahontas’ uncle, was one of the important Native leaders at this time.


The English colonists in Jamestown, Virginia found that their food crops were low because they had been energetically promoting the raising of tobacco instead of food crops. They sent for their annual tribute of corn from the Chickahominy. The Indians claimed that they had already paid the tribute. The next day, the English opened fire and killed 20-40 Indians.

The English were unaware of the fact that they had been manipulated into this incident by Opechancanough who had advised the Chickahominy to resist the English demands and who had told the English that the Chickahominy were killing English cattle and swine.


As contact with the Europeans intensified, so did the diseases which they brought with them. These diseases—smallpox, cholera, influenza, measles, and others—were new to the Indian populations.

The first of three epidemics struck the Indians of New England. It is estimated that 75% of the population died between 1616 and 1619. The epidemics swept from Cape Cod to the Kennebec River in Maine. The epidemics started after an English party wintered at the mouth of the Saco River.

It is estimated that prior to the epidemics, there were 24,000 people living in Indian communities affiliated with the Wampanoag confederacy led by Massasoit.

In Massachusetts, the Massachusett were nearly exterminated.

It is not known what the actual disease was that caused this epidemic. Various writers have suggested bubonic plague, smallpox, and hepatitis A. There is strong evidence supporting all of these theories.

Spanish Mission:

In Georgia, the Spanish mission Santa Isabel de Utinahica was serving the Timucua.


In Florida, Timucua chief Enecape gained control of the villages which had been in an alliance under chief Outina. Archaeologist Jerald Milanich, in his book Laboring in the Fields of the Lord: Spanish Missions and Southeastern Indians, reports:

“This power shift was probably a result of disease-related population decimation in the northern sector of the alliance, that portion closest to the sixteenth century European settlements at St. Augustine and Ft. Caroline.”

The Spanish sometimes referred to this alliance as the Agua Dulce (Sweet Water) Indians.


Who Owns the Land?

When the Europeans first blundered into the Americas, they found a land that was already occupied and developed. In 1532, Spanish judge Francisco de Vitoria declared that non-Christians could own property and therefore Indians may have title to their land. After the creation of the United States at the end of the eighteenth century, the issue of the ownership of Indian lands continued to be debated in the court system.


The English adopted the concept of vacuum domicilium which meant that if they felt that the lands were “vacant”—lacking land development (meaning fenced fields) and permanent structures (meaning English-style buildings)—then they could be occupied and possessed without any concern for actual Indian ownership or use of the land. From the English viewpoint, only land that is tilled, fenced, and built upon was owned.

In listing the legal fictions that form the basis of American law regarding American Indians, attorney Walter Echo-Hawk, in his book In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided, includes these:

Native land is wasteland or a savage wilderness that no one owns, uses, or wants and is available for the taking by colonists—therefore any aboriginal interests in the land are extinguished as soon as British subjects settle the area.

Native peoples have no concept of property, do not claim any property rights, or are incapable of owning land.

 Christians have a right to take land from non-Christians because heathens lack property rights.

There is an assumption that the European use of the land had a higher value than Native use. Anthropologist Samuel Wilson, in his book The Emperor’s Giraffe and Other Stories of Cultures in Contact, reports:

“The idea that Europeans might put the land to higher use required downplaying how the native people were using it.”

Since the Natives were already farming the land, particularly the best land, this meant that the English had to construct stereotypes of the Indians which portrayed them as nomadic hunters who did not modify or improve the land.

One of the common misconceptions is that Indian nations had no concept of land ownership at this time. Law professor Rebecca Tsosie, in her chapter in American Indian Nations: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, writes:

“While it is true that no Native people employed the concept of ‘fee simple’ or maintained written land titles prior to the arrival of the Europeans, there is a rich tradition of ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’ that accompanies Native narratives about the land. In the broader sense of ‘ownership,’ Native peoples most definitely maintained political and cultural claims to their ancestral lands.”

Preparing the Lawsuit:

In 1763, the British Crown had issued a decree which prohibited non-Indian settlement west of the Appalachians. Ignoring this decree, many Americans, including George Washington, had speculated in land in the western region. While British law held that these land purchases were illegal, after the formation of the United States questions about legal titles were clouded. Did Indians and/or Indian nations have the right to sell their land to speculators, or did the United States now own this land and Indians simply held an occupancy right?

Attorney Robert Goodloe Harper set out to clarify the land speculators’ title through the court system. To do this he contrived a controversy which he could bring to the Supreme Court. Walter Echo-Hawk reports:

“First, he selected all of the players in the lawsuit—not only the plaintiff, who Harper would represent, but he also hand-picked the defendant and hired the defendant’s attorneys who were paid by the land companies and told what to do throughout the litigation.”

Thomas Johnson was selected as plaintiff because of his close ties to people admired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Marshall. The defendant—called “pretend defendant” by Walter Echo-Hawk—was William McIntosh (M’Intosh). Walter Echo-Hawk writes:

“M’Intosh was picked because of his willingness to collude and play ball with the law.”

With regard to arguing the case before the Supreme Court, Walter Echo-Hawk writes:

“Harper selected the great Daniel Webster—the most eloquent and powerful orator of the day—as his co-counsel to assist in arguing the case on behalf of Johnson, and then he picked less-qualified attorneys to argue M’Intosh’s case, paid them, and told them what to say.”

The Lawsuit:

Before the Supreme Court, Harper and his team argued that any British prohibition of land sales had been invalid as the Indian tribes owned the land. McIntosh’s attorneys, coached by Harper, argued only that land sales had been barred by British law.

While this case involved American Indians and its outcome would impact the lives of Indian people for the next two centuries, there were no Indians in the courtroom and it is doubtful that any Indians even knew it was being argued. Harper described Indians as “savage tribes” and the attorneys for McIntosh saw them as “an inferior race of people, without the privileges of citizens.”

Walter Echo-Hawk writes:

“Everyone’s use of racial invectives in Johnson leaves us to ponder the Court’s ability to render an impartial decision concerning Indian land rights. The avowed racist views expressed by the Court and the parties assured that those rights would not be represented.”

In the 1823 decision Johnson and Graham’s Lessee versus McIntosh the Supreme Court declared that the United States has the power to extinguish the Indian right of occupancy and that absolute ultimate ownership of the land lies with the United States. The case involved valid title to the land: Johnson claimed that title comes from the Piankshaw while McIntosh claimed that title comes from the federal government. In his book Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands, law professor Lindsay Robertson reports:

“The indigenous owners were converted into tenants on their lands and denied the right to sell their ‘leases’ on the open market.”

Law professor Bruce Duthu, in his book American Indians and the Law, writes:

“The case required a ruling on the nature of Indian property interests to determine which of the non-Indian parties held superior title to the lands in dispute.”

The Court found that the Discovery Doctrine gave sovereignty to England and then to the United States. Indian tribes, under this Doctrine, have a right of occupancy to the land. Christian nations, such as England and the United States, have superior rights over the inferior culture and inferior religion of the Indians. In reviewing the long history of land claims, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote:

“It has never been contended that the Indian title amounted to nothing. Their right of possession has never been questioned.”

According to the Court:

“The tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages, whose occupation was war, and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country, was to leave the country a wilderness.”

Indians, found the Court, had been compensated for their lands by having Christianity and civilization bestowed upon them.

With regard to the sovereignty of Indian nations, the Court declared:

“They were admitted to be the rightful occupants of the soil, with a legal as well as just claim to retain possession of it, and to use it according to their own discretion; but their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished, and their power to dispose of the soil at their own will, to whomsoever they pleased, was denied by the original fundamental principle, that discovery gave exclusive title to those who made it.”

In their book Tribes, Treaties, and Constitutional Tribulations, legal historians Vine Deloria and David Wilkins summarize McIntosh this way:

“the culture and religions of indigenous peoples was judged inferior to that of Europeans, civilization and Christianity were offered them as compensation for their lands, discovery gave title to a government against other Europeans, the Indians were still the rightful owners of the land, but their sovereignty was reduced by the European agreement to restrict the sale of land to the discovering country.”

Steven Newcomb, Director of the Indigenous Law Institute, in a column in Indian Country Today, writes of the legal doctrine expressed in McIntosh:

“Based on this bizarre theory, our very existence as Indians is now assumed to be subordinate to, ruled by, and possessed as property by, the political and legal successor of the first Christian ‘discoverers,’ namely, the United States.”

Newcomb also writes:

“From the perspective of Western Christendom, it was the ‘god-given’ right of all Christian sovereigns to locate and dominate (“possess”) all non-Christian lands on the planet.”

Richard West and Kevin Gover, in an article in The Impact of Indian History on the Teaching of United States History, see Justice Marshall’s decision as practical:

“The title of every landowner in the country would have been clouded had the Court failed to acknowledge the discovery doctrine.”

With regard to the importance of McIntosh, attorney Glenn Morris, in a column in Indian Country Today, writes:

Johnson v. M’Intosh is the opinion upon which the entirety of federal Indian law (and U.S. property law) is constructed. Every destructive opinion by the Supreme Court, every destructive policy of Congress or the president to this day, is made possible because of Johnson v. M’Intosh.”

With regard to Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion, Walter Echo-Hawk writes:

“The bulk of his opinion went on to strip the legal title to land away from American Indian tribes in North America and to justify what amounted to judicial theft of Indian land.”

Georgia, the Cherokee, and the Execution of Corn Tassel

The United States has never been particularly comfortable with the idea of Indian nations and Indian people within its territorial boundaries. Like the British before them, the United States viewed Indians as impediments to “progress” who needed to be removed to make way for non-Indian economic development. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, President Thomas Jefferson recommended that all Indians be removed from the United States and given reservations west of the Mississippi River. In 1830, this recommendation was translated into reality with the passage of the Indian Removal Act. In Georgia, the greed for Cherokee land, coupled with racism, resulted in the execution of Corn Tassel, a Cherokee man.

What Came Before:

In 1827, the state of Georgia passed a series of resolutions to take control of Indian lands within the state. The resolutions insisted that the Cherokee had no legitimate claims to land within the state and declared that Georgia law was to apply to the Cherokee. Theda Perdue and Michael Green, in their book The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Southeast, report:

“Denouncing the Cherokee constitution as outrageous and claiming that the establishment of a sovereign Cherokee republic was unconstitutional, the legislature announced that Georgia had sovereignty over all the lands within its boundaries and asserted that it could take possession of the country occupied by Indians whenever and by whatever means it pleased.”

Georgia denied the validity of treaties with the United States that recognized tribal sovereignty and land rights. Georgia also demanded that the federal government honor the Compact of 1802 and remove the Cherokee from Georgia.

President Adams warned Georgia that these actions violated the treaties between the United States and the Indians. Furthermore, the United States, according to the President, would use military force to uphold these treaties. In response, Georgia called up its militia and occupied some Creek towns. The federal government backed down from any confrontation.

In 1828, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a resolution requesting the governor to ask the president of the United States to remove all Indians from the state.

In 1828, the state of Georgia also adopted legislation which extended state control over all Cherokee lands within the state. The new legislation declared all Cherokee laws to be null and void and prohibited Indians from testifying against non-Indians. As a result, groups of non-Indians invaded Cherokee country, taking Cherokee cattle and horses, assaulting those who resisted, and taking possession of Cherokee homes. According to the law, all Cherokee were to leave the state by 1830 unless they were given permission to stay by the Georgia legislature.

The following year, the state of Georgia enacted legislation which declared

“that no Indian or descendant of an Indian residing within the Creek or Cherokee nations of Indians, shall be deemed a competent witness in any court of this state to which a white person may be a party.”

Anthropologist Charles Hudson, in his book The Southeastern Indians, describes the result:

“In effect, this gave the whites – any white – a license to steal and do mayhem.”

In preparation for removal, President Andrew Jackson in 1830 ordered federal troops to be withdrawn from Cherokee lands in Georgia, leaving the Cherokee at the mercy of state residents at the time when Georgia was surveying the lands to open them for non-Indian settlement. At this same time, the Georgia Guard was created. Walter Echo-Hawk, in his book In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided, reports:

“To enforce Georgia’s growing body of anti-Cherokee laws, a special paramilitary force was created—the infamous Georgia Guard. Its mission was to enforce state law within the Cherokee Nation, arrest violators, ‘protect’ Cherokee gold mines, and otherwise harass and intimidate the Indians.”

In a report for the Niles Weekly Register, Colonel Gold (whose daughter was married to Elias Boudinot, the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix) reported that the Cherokee afford

“strong evidence that the wandering Indian has been converted into the industrious husbandman; and the tomahawk and rifle are exchanging for the plough, the hoe, the wheel, and the loom, and that they are rapidly acquiring domestic habits, and attaining a degree of civilization that was entirely unexpected, from the natural disposition of these children of the forest.”

The Cherokee National Council met in New Echota even though state law forbade it. The council unanimously adopted resolutions protesting removal.

The Cherokee sent a delegation to Washington, D.C. to present their grievances against the state of Georgia. The delegation included Richard Taylor, John Ridge, and William Shorey Coodey. In Washington, however, the Secretary of War refused to recognize them as a legally constituted delegation as they had not come with authority to discuss a removal treaty.

In Washington, D.C. President Andrew Jackson delivered a special message to the Senate. In his book Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes, Grant Foreman reports:

“He frankly announced himself as the champion of Georgia in her controversy with the Indians and as frankly disclaimed any intention to enforce the treaties made by the government with these Indians for their protection, wherein they conflicted with the pretensions of Georgia.”

In 1830, the Georgia state governor issued a proclamation prohibiting Indians from taking any more gold from their lands. According to the proclamation, the state had the right to all gold and silver found on Indian lands.

Corn Tassel:

To deal with the state of Georgia, Cherokee chief John Ross hired the Georgia law firm of Underwood and Harris and the Baltimore law firm of William Wirt. Wirt was a former attorney general and was described as “the country’s greatest expert in Indian law.” Wirt urged the Cherokee to file a case which would test their rights in the Supreme Court.

The test case involved Corn Tassel (Corn Tassels) who killed another Indian on Cherokee land. In spite of Cherokee jurisdiction, Corn Tassel was tried in a County Superior Court, found guilty, and sentenced to hang. Attorney Walter Echo-Hawk reports:

“He was prosecuted under a set of state laws enacted to harass, intimidate, and drive the Cherokee Nation out of Georgia. The Georgians wanted Cherokee land. And they wanted the Cherokee to leave.”

The case was appealed and a panel of state judges found that the state had full criminal and civil jurisdiction over the Indian tribes within their boundaries. Furthermore, the panel found that the British prior to the American Revolution had held title to the land by right of discovery. In the appeal, the Cherokee argued that the extension of Georgia laws over the Cherokee was unconstitutional as this violated the Treaty of Hopewell which was the supreme law of the land. The state, on the other hand, asserted that the treaty was void because the federal government had no right to treat with Indians within the limits of the state. According to the state, the Cherokee held no political or property rights and that Indian tribes were inferior. Walter Echo-Hawk reports:

“Their Tassels opinion espoused a dark southern view of Indian rights—an amoral world where aboriginal affairs are governed exclusively by the states without federal interference, in which Indians are an underclass; a place where treaties are void and tribes hold no political, property, or human rights.”

Wirt appealed to Chief Justice John Marshall who granted a writ of error and ordered the state to appear before the Supreme Court in Washington. Instead of complying, The Georgia legislature was called into special session and voted to defy the writ and to hang Corn Tassel. Governor Gilmor told the legislature that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to intrude on Georgia and he promised to disregard orders from the Court. Walter Echo-Hawk reports:

“Since Corn Tassels’s appeal to the United States Supreme Court had been granted, his execution should have been stayed. However, defiant and fearful Georgia could never allow the high court to review the state’s spurious race laws.”

Two days later Corn Tassel was hung. Walter Echo-Hawk reports:

“Corn Tassels had to die posthaste so Georgia could safely evade federal judicial review and continue its repugnant policies without outside interference from Washington do-gooders.”

The 14th Amendment

Following the Civil War in 1868, the United States adopted the Fourteenth Amendment as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. It was intended to deal with issues regarding the rights of former slaves.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Following the adoption of this amendment, there were a few people who felt that it might be applied to American Indians and give them U.S. citizenship. Indians were born in the United States and under U.S. jurisdiction. Citizenship for Indians had several implications: (1) it might give them voting rights; (2) it would give them homestead rights; and (3) it would provide them with certain legal protections, such as the right to a trial. Well-aware that the amendment had been intended for former African American slaves, however, most people, particularly government officials, did not feel that Indian people were included in this amendment.

In 1870, the Senate Judicial Committee inquired into the effect of the Fourteenth Amendment on Indian tribes. The Committee declared that the Amendment was intended to eliminate the phrase “three-fifths of all other persons” which had described slaves in the Constitution and therefore does not change the status of Indians. The Committee concluded:

“To maintain that the United States intended, by a change of its fundamental law, which was not ratified by these tribes, and to which they were neither requested nor permitted to assent, to annual treaties then existing between the United States as one party, and the Indian tribes as the other parties respectively, would be to charge upon the United States repudiation of national obligations, repudiation doubly infamous from the fact that the parties whose claims were thus annulled are too weak to enforce their just rights, and were enjoying the voluntarily assumed guardianship and protection of this Government.”

In 1871, a federal district court in Oregon, in the case of McKay v. Campbell, ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment had not made Indians citizens.

One of the reasons that Indians were not considered U.S. citizens is that they were citizens of Indian nations and therefore, according to this line of reasoning, not under U.S. jurisdiction. However, not all Indians lived on reservations, and many of those who were living in urban areas no longer maintained any tribal connections. In 1873, a Washington territorial district court ruled that Indians could not become citizens by simply severing tribal connections. According to the court, citizenship for Indians required a naturalization act by Congress. In addition, the court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to tribal Indians.

In 1860, Congress had passed the Homestead Act which provided for the transfer of ownership of 80 acres of unoccupied public land in exchange for a nominal fee after five years of residence. Only U.S. citizens and aliens who were eligible to become citizens could apply for homesteads. Indians were not eligible to acquire homesteads as they were not citizens nor could they become citizens. In 1874, the Secretary of the Interior ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give any land rights – such as homesteading – to civilized Indians since they had not been citizens when the Amendment had been passed. The Secretary ruled that only an act of Congress could give the benefits of the land laws to Indians.

Finally, in 1884 a case testing the Fourteenth Amendment and American Indians came before the U.S. Supreme Court. John Elk was a Ponca who had left the jurisdiction of his tribe and moved to Omaha, Nebraska. He owned a home, paid taxes, and was a member of the state militia. In Elk versus Wilkins the Supreme Court declared that Indi­ans were not citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment. While recog­nizing that Indians were born in the United States in a geographi­cal sense, they were not citizens just as children born within the United States of ambassadors or other public ministers of foreign nations were not citizens. According to the court, Indian tribes were

“alien nations, distinct political communities, with whom the United States might and habitually did deal, as they thought fit…The members of these tribes owed immediate allegiance to their several tribes, and were not a part of the people of the United States.”

The Court declared that citizenship must be directly bestowed upon the Indians by the United States. David Wilkins, in a column in Indian Country Today, writes:

“For the court, the only way for even solitary, urban-based American born Indians to become citizens under the 14th Amendment was to be naturalized by a treaty provision or congressional statute.”

According to historian Laurence Hauptman, in his book Tribes and Tribulations: Misconceptions about American Indians and their Histories:

“In the twilight zone of Indian existence, the Elk decision literally made the Indian a legal alien in his native land.”

Congress responded by passing a series of acts granting citizenship to Indians (see Indians 301: American Indian Voting Rights). In 1924 and again in 1940 Congress passed acts giving citizenship to all Indians. A number of states ignored both of these acts.

The Third Seminole War

During the nineteenth century the United States engaged in three wars with the Seminole Indians in Florida: 1816 to about 1824; 1835 to 1842; and 1855 to1858.

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

The Third Seminole War (1855-1858) was over American encroachment on Seminole lands. The Seminole who were living in Florida at this time were refugees who had avoided removal to Oklahoma and were living in the Everglades. The war started when Billy Bowlegs retaliated against a crew of surveyors who had looted his camp. Three years later, many of the Seminole accepted the government’s terms of surrender and were removed to Oklahoma. However, some Seminole remained in Florida.

In 1855, army engineers and surveyors were sent into the Great Cypress Swamp to make note of the Seminole villages and their crops. They were under orders not to provoke the Seminole. However, some of the men stole crops and destroyed banana trees belonging to the Seminole under the leadership of Billy Bowlegs. When confronted about these incidents, the army offered neither apology nor compensation. As a result, 40 Seminole warriors began a series of raids known as the Third Seminole War.

The start of the Third Seminole War is summarized by Historian Harry Kersey in his book Pelts, Plumes, and Hides: White Traders Among the Seminole Indians, 1870-1930:

“the Third Seminole War was ignited by an act of flagrant vandalism against Chief Billy Bowlegs, perhaps with the intent of provoking him into an armed response which would justify military intervention.”

On the morning after the vandalism, Mikasuki Seminole warriors attacked the army camp, killing four soldiers and wounding four others. In response the army marched against the Seminole, outnumbering them by about 14 to 1.

In 1856, the Seminole in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) signed a treaty in which they agreed to send a delegation to Florida to persuade the Seminole in Florida to remove to Indian Territory.

In 1857, the American army surprised a small Seminole camp in Lake Okeechobee, capturing several women and children.

After a series of skirmishes, the final fight in the Third Seminole War came in 1857 when the Seminole camp of Billy Bowlegs was burned by the army. In addition, the soldiers took large quantities of corn and rice, as well as some oxen.

In 1858, the Americans met with Seminole leaders Billy Bowlegs and others to discuss an end to the Third Seminole War. The Americans offered Billy Bowlegs $7,500, $1,000 to each of the other Seminole leaders, $500 to each warrior, and $100 to each woman and child. The money was payable when the Seminole boarded the ship at Egmont Key to leave the state. The Seminole held council and agreed to accept the offer.

It is estimated that the United States spent between $20 million and $60 million on this war against the Seminole. The United States used 30,000 regular army troops and volunteers, as well as the Navy and some Marines.


About 200 Seminole remained in Florida after Billy Bowlegs and his people had been removed to Indian Territory. The remaining Seminole withdrew from all willing contact with whites and existed for the next twenty years in relative isolation. The Muskogee band under the leadership of Chipco hid in the Lake Okeechobee area and could not be located by the Americans. Mikasuki leader Sam Jones refused to negotiate and his band remained deep in the Everglades. These two hundred were the cultural and biological ancestors of the Seminoles and Miccosukees of today.

The Second Seminole War

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

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

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

Prelude to Second Seminole War:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Seminole War:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Seminole War

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

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

Prelude to the First Seminole War:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Seminole War:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Royal Proclamation of 1763

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arresting Christian Missionaries

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Supreme Court:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the same decision Justice McLean wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Althea Bass puts it this way:

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

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

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

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

Christianity Comes to the Flathead Indians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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