Cherokee Government and the English

The primary unit of government among the Cherokee was the town. Each town—perhaps 50 at the time of first European contact—was autonomous. The government of each town was not tied to the government of other towns. These Cherokee towns were loosely affiliated into three groups: (1) the Lower Towns on the headwaters of the Savannah River (including the towns of Keowee and Estatoe), (2) the Middle Towns on the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River (including Etchoe, Stecoe), and (3) the Upper Towns (Overhill and Valley) on the Lower Little Tennessee River and the headwater of the Hiwassee River (including Settico and Tellico).

Each Cherokee village had two governments: a white government which governed when the village was at peace, and a red government which governed during times of war. The white government included the chief who was given the title Beloved Man; the chief’s advisor; counselors from each clan; a council of elders; a speaker; messengers; and ceremonial officers. The red government included the Great War Chief; the Great War Chief’s Second; seven war counselors; a War Woman; the Chief War Speaker; messengers; ceremonial officers; and scouts. The fate of captives and war prisoners was decided by the War Woman.

Among the Cherokee, all were able to participate in the councils. Cherokee society tended to be egalitarian rather than hierarchical. The chiefs had an advisory role and their power lay in their ability to persuade through oratory. According to historian John Finger in his book The Eastern Band of Cherokees 1819-1900:  “There were no leaders in the European sense, no king or prince who wielded coercive authority over others.”

After the chiefs spoke, each person had an opportunity to speak. Issues were discussed until consensus was reached. The council did not pass laws nor regulate conduct, but sought to resolve differences and difficulties.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, Cherokee government had to face the challenges of co-existing with intruding English colonists. According to the English worldview, there was only one legitimate form of government: a monarchy in which power was passed down through the paternal line from father to son. The English had a great deal of difficulty in trying to understand the matrilineal system of the Cherokees and other American Indian nations in which each person belonged to the mother’s clan.

The English viewed leadership as coercive—that is, the leader had the right to tell others what to do. The idea of consensus, the basis of Cherokee government, was an alien concept to them. In their dealings with the Cherokee and other Indian nations, the English preferred to impose their own concepts of an authoritative monarchy on Indian nations.

Another point of conflict between the English view of government and the Cherokees was over the role of women. While English women had few rights, Cherokee women were full participants in Cherokee government. Women were important in Cherokee government because of their leadership within the matrilineal clan system. In the war council, women were present and were consulted with regard to strategy. Grace Steele Woodward, in her book The Cherokees, reports:  “Custom dictated that an assemblage of war women or Pretty Women be present at every war council. And since the war women had themselves won previous honors in wars and were the mothers of warriors, they played an important role in Cherokee war councils.”

Initially, the English sought to establish a trading relationship with the Cherokees. In 1673, Virginia trader Abraham Wood sent James Needham and Gabriel Arthur out from Fort Henry to establish trade with the Cherokee at their capital of Chota. The English colony was in need of Cherokee furs, hides, beeswax, and bears’ oil for export to England.

In 1684, the formal government-to-government relationship between the Cherokees and the English was established with a formal treaty between the English and the Cherokee towns of Toxawa and Keowa.

At a meeting with the leaders from 37 Cherokee towns in 1721, the British governor, being more comfortable with a single leader, simply appointed Wrosetasatow (Mankiller or Outacite) as the supreme chief or “king” of the Cherokee. The English felt that it would be easier to deal with only one chief to fix the boundaries between the Cherokee nation and the European settlements.

With a common danger from the English settlers, the Cherokee villages came together to elect a principal chief to represent all of the villages in 1721. The concept of Cherokee nationality as opposed to village autonomy began to emerge. According to historian Marion Starkey in The Cherokee Nation:  “The Cherokees, a reasonable people, willing to learn from their enemies, found this innovation of practical value and did not discard it.”

At this time, it was estimated that the Cherokees were living in 53 towns which ranged in population from 62 to 622. The total Cherokee population was estimated at 10,434.

In traditional Cherokee government, when individuals did not agree with the line of reasoning that was gaining acceptance within the council, they would simply withdraw. Thus, in 1721, a group of Cherokee led by Yunwi-usgaseti (Dangerous Man) moved west across the Mississippi River to escape the colonists’ insatiable demands for land and the Cherokee government’s acquiescence to these demands. After Yunwi-usgaseti’s group crossed the Mississippi River there was no further communication with the Cherokee who remained behind in the Southeast. However, oral tradition records that many years later a runner came from the west to report that they were still living at the base of the Rocky Mountains.

In 1730, Sir Alexander Cuming traveled to the Cherokee town of Keowee. He brazenly entered the council house wearing pistols and a sword (a violation of Cherokee tradition) where 300 town elders were meeting. He demanded that they recognize the authority of the English King and threatened to burn down the council house if they did not. Journalist Stanley Hoig, in his book The Cherokees and Their Chiefs: In the Wake of Empire, reports:  “Cuming’s audacity, however, overwhelmed the Cherokee leaders, and they on bent knee pledged their loyalty to the Crown of England against the French in North America.”  Cuming appointed Moytoy of Tellico as the Cherokee “emperor.”

In reviewing the historical accounts of this event, Cherokee historian Robert Conley, in his book The Cherokee Nation: A History, concludes: “The story is absurd.” Conley acknowledges that Cuming visited the Cherokee and talked with people in the townhouses, but points out that “whatever he accomplished, he certainly embellished the tale for the benefit of King George.”  Conley writes:  “It is easy to believe that the egotistical King George II was taken in by Cuming’s fabrication. What is astonishing is that almost all historians ever since writing about the Cherokees have also been gullible enough to accept it at face value. In the first place, it has always been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get all Cherokees to agree on anything. In the second place, the Cherokees have always (at least since the time of the killing of the Ani-Kutani) been almost fanatical about democracy.”

With regard to Moytoy being selected as “emperor”, it was more likely that the Cherokee selected Moytoy to be their trade representative in dealing with the English traders.

In 1753 the Cherokee villages delegated to the town of Chota the power to negotiate trade and diplomatic relations for the entire Cherokee nation. In a trade agreement with the Carolinas, Old Hop was declared the Cherokee emperor by the British.

In 1753, a delegation of Cherokee leaders under the leadership of Attakullakulla met with the British governor in South Carolina. The Cherokee assured the British of their loyalty. The British governor informed the Cherokee that the purpose of the council was to establish peace between the Cherokee and the Creek. Attakullakulla argued with the governor, telling him that when he had spoken with the King, the King had asked the Cherokee to avenge the lives of his people taken by the Creek. While the governor insisted that he spoke for the King, Attakullakulla said that he should go to England to speak with the King in person. Attakullakulla reminded the governor of the treaty which the Cherokee signed in England which had promised them goods. He said:   “I remember the great King George’s talk, for the paper said the governor of Carolina was to supply us with all kinds of goods, but if he did not, we might have them in Virginia.”  In the end, the governor agreed to provide the goods.

In 1755, the British governor of South Carolina met with the Cherokee to ask them to sell their landholdings in areas in which there were no active Cherokee towns. Old Hop, unaccustomed to speaking with the British, asked the Cherokee council to select someone to represent the welfare of the Cherokee people. The council selected Attakullakulla. Attakullakulla presented a young boy to the British governor saying:  “I have brought this child that when he grows up he may remember our agreement this day and tell it to the next generation that it may be known forever.”

As a result of the council, the Cherokee agreed to provide the British with warriors and to give up their land in South Carolina. In return, the British agreed to provide the Cherokee with guns and ammunition and to build forts to protect the Cherokee.

While the Cherokee nation had changed its government during their interactions with the English colonial government and had begun to function with regard to its national interests rather than just the interests of the individual villages, there were even more challenges to their form of government ahead.

In 1776 a group of American colonists signed the Declaration of Independence which condemned King George III for preventing the colonists from appropriating western lands which belonged to Indian nations. The Revolutionary War divided the Indian nations as both the British and the newly formed United States tried to obtain Indian allies. As a result of the war, the Cherokee nation’s government had to change again to meet the incessant demands of the newly formed United States.

Natick, A Christian Indian Village in Massachusetts

The English colonists in Massachusetts were sometimes conflicted with regard to Indians. Many colonists, viewing the New World as a wilderness, felt that Indians impeded civilization and like other wild animals, such as wolves and coyotes, should be exterminated. There were also a few who viewed Indians as potential souls to be harvested in the name of their religion. With regard to religion, historians Robert Utley and Wilcomb Washburn, in their book Indian Wars, report:  “A few pious remarks were made about introducing the Indian to Christianity, but there was little real missionary zeal.” The royal charters always mentioned the obligation to bring Christianity to the “savages.”

For the English Protestants, conversion to Christianity required more than a simple baptism and a profession of faith. To be Christian required living in an English-style house, wearing English-style clothes, speaking English—in other words, becoming English. The English-speaking Christian missionaries felt that the Indian gender roles must be changed to fit the colonial norms. They were offended by the fact that Indian women did the farming, were in control of their own sexuality, and had freedoms which English women could only dream about.

English policies toward Indians were based on segregation. Initially, the rationale for this segregation was based on religion: the English were Christian and the Indians were heathens. As some Indians converted to Christianity, however, the rationale for segregation became less valid. Historian Frances Jennings, in his book The Creation of America: Through Revolution to Empire, reports:  “Race, identified by skin color, became a more satisfactory means of making essential distinctions.”

The English colonial policy of segregation and the Protestant concept of conversion requiring complete assimilation came together in a plan that called for Christian Indians to have their own separate, English-style towns. In 1651, Puritan missionary John Eliot received from the British Crown 2,000 acres of land so that Christian Indians could build an English-style town. The site straddled the Charles River 18 miles upriver from Boston.

John Elliot, who was sometimes called Apostle to the Indians, believed that Indians were descendents of the Jews who had been led to America by Satan. Indian salvation, according to Elliot, required them to embrace the moral philosophy and practices of the Puritans.

Waban, the leader of the Massachusett village of Nonantum, made the request for the new village. Waban’s reluctant embracing of Christianity was based on two primary factors: (1) he was afraid that the English would kill him if he didn’t pretend to embrace their religion, and (2) they provided him with good food.

The new town called Natick, whose name means “the place of seeking,” is a sacred place and well-suited for vision quests and dances. Unknown to the Christian missionaries, the new Christian town was strategically placed within traditional sacred geography.

The physical layout included an English-style meetinghouse, fort, and arched footbridge across the river. While lots for houses were laid out for nuclear families, most of the Indians erected traditional wigwams rather than English clapboard houses.

The Christian Indians, who came from several different tribes, adopted English-style clothing and English hairstyles as a way of demonstrating to the English that they were walking the Christian path of righteousness. The Indians adopted a legal code based on a biblical prototype which outlawed many traditional practices, including premarital sex, long hair, and cracking lice between the teeth. Penalties for breaking the rules included fines and flogging.

In 1660, Puritan missionary John Eliot claimed that 100 of his Natick converts were now literate. Elliot translated the Bible and other works into the Massachusett language and had these distributed among his converts.

In 1675, many English colonists felt that all Indians were involved in King Philip’s War even though many groups, particularly the praying villages such as Natick, had declared their neutrality. The English colony confined all “friendly” Indians to a few of the eastern praying towns and the colonists confiscated the crops and tools in the praying towns of Wamesit, Hassanamisset, Magunkaquag, and Chabanakongkomun. The Indians were confined to the village limits on penalty of death.

The colonists, however, continued to accuse the Christian Indians of supporting King Philip (whose Indian name was Metacom).The Natick were forced from their homes and interred on Deer Island in Boston Harbor. The Punkapoag were also sent to Deer Island.

The setting is generally described as a “windswept bit of rock” with little fuel and little shelter from the cold sea wind. Historian Daniel Mandell, in his book Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts, notes:  “Despite English hostility and abuse, Indian men on the island clamored to help in the war against Metacom, showing their deep loyalty to the Christian colony, an older dislike of the Wampanoags, or perhaps a strong desire to escape the conditions of the island.”  About 100 men enlisted in the colonial army as scouts.

In 1677, the General Court ordered that all Indians be settled in four praying towns: Natick, Punkapoag, Hassanamesit, and Wamesit. The Indians in these towns were prohibited from entertaining “stranger” Indians and the Court ordered that a list of all inhabitants of the praying towns be made annually. When leaving the towns, the Indians were required to have a magistrate’s certificate proving their loyalty. When approached by an English person, the Indians were to lay their guns on the ground until the English had examined their papers.

In 1680, an English farmer bought 50 acres from two Indians living in the Christian Indian village of Natick. The sale was without the consent of the town council and in violation of colonial law. The Englishman then altered the deed to 500 acres. The village then sued, won, and recovered 400 acres. In other words, the farmer who bought 50 acres fraudulently wound up with 100 acres.

In 1682, a group of Nipmuc under the leadership of Black James left Natick and traveled southwest where they resettled at Chabanakongkomun.

In 1690, the General Court ordered all Indians in the Bay Colony to go to Natick or Punkapoag. The order was in response to the war between the English and French and the French Indian allies, and the fear that it would be difficult to discern between friends and foes.

In 1690, Natick minister Daniel Takawampait replaced John Elliot as minister to his people. At this time Indian leaders, including ministers, had to be approved and supervised by colonial officials appointed by Massachusetts Bay Colony magistrates. All laws and ordinances enacted in Indian communities also had to be approved by colonial authorities.

In 1698, the English town of Dedham stole 1,400 acres from the bordering Christian Indian town of Natick. The stolen land included orchards and corn fields.

In 1707, the Christian Indian community of Natick began holding the annual election of town officers, following the pattern of its English neighbors.

In 1715, the New England Company asked the Natick to sell them the apparently abandoned praying town of Magunkaquog. The Company proposed to rent out the land to English settlers and share the rent money with the Natick families. The Natick, however, were still growing crops in the area and had deep emotional feelings about the area. Magunkaquog means the “place of the giant trees” in reference to the great trees – oak and chestnut – which were found in abundance in the area.

After initially rejecting the offer, the Natick agreed to the deal. After signing the deed, one of the signatories, Isaac Nehemiah, commited suicide by hanging himself with his belt.

In 1719, the Natick created a proprietorship – a corporate entity to govern land allotments. The 20 proprietors – 19 men and one woman – were the heads of long established families. The proprietorship provided secure land titles and boundaries under colonial law which was seen as useful in meeting outside pressures. According to historian Daniel Mandell:  “But the Natick proprietorship undermined the native community by severing landholding from the town polity and bringing the native community into a closer orbit to the province’s legal and economic systems.”

In 1738, the Natick complained that a mill dam on the Charles River was preventing them from taking fish. There was no response to their complaint.

In 1759, Natick warriors returned home from the French and Indian War bringing with them the contagious illness which had been killing the soldiers. In the space of three months, 20 people died.

By 1785, most of the Indians had drifted away from Natick, its lands having been sold off to non-Indians to cover debts.

The Yamasee War and the Indian Slave Trade

The Yamasee were a Muskogean-speaking Indian nation living in what would become southern Georgia and northern Florida when first encountered by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. In 1687, the Yamasees, unhappy with the Spanish occupation and rule of their territories, moved north in South Carolina, was then under British rule. In South Carolina, the Yamasees became allies and trading partners with the British colonists.

For the British in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, one of the important commodities was Indian slaves who could either be sold in the Caribbean slave markets or used on the colonists own plantations. By 1708, the English colonists in the Carolinas owned 1,400 Indian slaves and by 1715 this had increased to 1,850. Since 1680, British slavers had taken between 24,000 and 51,000 war captives, most of whom had been shipped as slaves to New England or to the Caribbean.

The Yamasees were allies in the British slave trade and carried out slave raids against Indian nations in the Spanish territories of Florida. In 1708, the Spanish governor at Saint Augustine reported that there were only 300 natives left in the area. He estimated that 10,000 to 12,000 Florida Indians had been enslaved by the Carolinians and their Indian allies.

The Yamasees soon found that the British were neither good allies nor good trading partners. Not only did the traders consistently cheat their Yamasee trading partners, they were not above beating them and even enslaving their women and children. Christina Snyder, in her book Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America, writes:  “From the Yamasee perspective, their Carolina allies had become greedy, irresponsible, and violent, thereby destroying the chains of obligation that once bound them as allies.”

The Carolinians were aware that the Yamasee had some complaints about the way they were being treated. On April 14, 1715, South Carolina’s Indian agent Thomas Naine, along with former Indian agent John Wright and others, met with the Yamasee chiefs at the village of Pocataligo. They spent the evening drinking rum, feasting, and discussing their trade issues. The following morning, which happened to be Good Friday, the Yamasees bound Naine to a post in the center of the village square. They pierced his body with lighted splinters and slowly burned him to death. This was the start of the Yamasee war.

It was not just the Yamasee who went to war against the British colonists: in a coordinated action, the Creeks under the leadership of Brim of Coweta and the Choctaws killed some of the traders in their towns and attacked several plantations.

About 400 English colonists were killed in the war, which was about 7% of the colonial population. In response, an army was put together from the South Carolina militia, enslaved African Americans, volunteers from Virginia and North Carolina, and some friendly Indian nations. A force of 70 Tuscacoras aided South Carolina in their war against the Yamasee. The campaign against the Indians has generally been described as “brutal.”  In his book Catawba Valley Mississippian: Ceramics, Chronology, and Catawba Indians, archaeologist David Moore reports:  “… South Carolina forces were particularly ruthless with those Indians located closest to Charles Town: the Congarees, Santees, Sewees, Peedees, and Waxhaws suffered devastating losses.”

Over the next two years, the British and their allies continued to attack the Yamasee, driving them out of the region. Many of the survivors fled south to Florida and north to join the Catawba Confederacy. Those who fled to Florida once again became allied with the Spanish.

The Yamasee War officially ended in 1718 with a peace accord between the British colonists and the Indian nations. As a result of this war, many colonists began to question the wisdom of capturing and using Indian slaves. Christina Snyder writes:  “After the Yamasee War, they increasingly turned to African labor, despite the fact that Africans cost more and were taxed at higher rates than Indian slaves.”

The last distinctively Yamasee village, located near St. Augustine, was destroyed by the British in 1827. The Yamasee who settled with other Indian nations—Apalachee, Creek, Seminole—lost their tribal identity.

Visiting European Royalty

Beginning with Christopher Columbus in the late fifteenth century, it was a common practice for European explorers and colonists to bring Native peoples back to Europe to meet with European royalty. During the first half of the eighteenth century there were several groups of American Indians who visited with European royalty.

Mohawks and Mahican:

 In 1710, England was visited by a formal Indian delegation composed of three Mohawks and one Mahican. The delegation was called the “Four Kings” and had been assembled by New England colonists who wanted to persuade Queen Anne to support the colonial plans for an invasion of New France. In London, the Four Kings enjoyed all of the activities and festivities which would normally be bestowed on foreign dignitaries. The visit helped to cement a strong friendship between England and the Iroquois Confederacy, of which the Mohawk were a part.

In their meeting with the Queen, the Four Kings asked for her assistance. Historian Herman Viola, in his book Diplomats in Buckskins, reports:  “The chiefs, obviously well coached by their patrons, told Queen Anne that the capture of Canada would bring England important economic benefits, for the Mohawks would then be able to conduct ‘a great Trade with Our Great Queen’s children.”

They also asked for Christian missionaries and presented the Queen with several belts of wampum.

 Otoe, Osage, Missouri, Illinois, Chicagou, and Methegamias:

In 1725, a group of Indians, including one Otoe, one Osage, one Missouri chief, one Missouri young woman, one Illinois, one Chicagou, and one Metchegamias, were sent to Paris, France. There they met with the Director of the Company of the Indies, and the Duke and Duchess de Bourbon. The chiefs were given a complete French outfit which included a blue dress coat, silver ornaments, and a plumed hat trimmed in silver. They were presented to King Louis XV and they performed a dance at the opera. The French King gave each of the chiefs a royal medallion, a rifle, a sword, and a watch.


 In 1730, the English Crown sent seven Cherokee chiefs – Attakullakulla, Ookounaka, Ketagusta, Tathtiowie, Clogittah, Collanah, and Ounakannowie–   on an educational trip to England, which concluded with a treaty. According to Cherokee historian Robert Conley, in his book The Cherokee Nation: A History:  “They were wined and dined at fashionable spots in London, had their portraits painted, and were followed around town by curious crowds.”

Under the treaty, the Cherokee were to fight for the British; they were to keep the trading path clean; they were to return runaway slaves; and they were to give up any Indian who killed an Englishman.

According to popular reports on their visit with the King, Ookounaka was supposed to have said:  “We look upon the Great King George as the Sun, and as our father, and upon ourselves as his children. For though we are red, and you are white yet our hands and hearts are joined together”

However, as Robert Conley has pointed out, the Cherokee saw the Sun not as male, but as female and thus it would have been highly unlikely of any Cherokee to make this statement. Secondly, the idea of categorizing people according to perceived skin color was totally alien to the Cherokee, thus invalidating the accuracy of the second part of the quote.


 In 1734, several Yamacraw from Georgia, including Tomochichi and his wife Senauki, traveled to England. According to historian Nancy Shoemaker, in her book A Strange Likeness: Becoming Red and White in Eighteenth-Century North America:  “The highlight of their trip was a meeting with King George II, who held court from his throne, promised friendship between their peoples, and offered the Indian delegation use of one of his carriages so as not to be outdone by Queen Anne’s royal treatment of the ‘four Indian kings’ two decades earlier.”

Senouki, who was the only woman in the group, wore conventional English clothing instead of Native clothing. This included a tightly laced jacket and a long petticoat, both of solid pink. Her hair, however, was kept in Native fashion rather than English. In a similar fashion, Toonahowi, Tomochichi’s nephew and heir, dressed more like a young, wealthy squire than an Indian leader. According to historian Julie Anne Sweet, in an article published in The Georgia Historical Quarterly:  “Through their clothing choices, Senauki and Toonahowi demonstrated their knowledge of the customary English traditions and their willingness to adapt to the present circumstances to further their overall objectives.”

In his negotiations with the English, Tomochichi explained how the English traders had cheated the Indians through price gouging and asked for fairness in trade. It was clear that the Indians were aware that the English traders in South Carolina were cheating them.


In 1735, Mahomet traveled to England where he identified himself to the King as the chief sachem of the Mohegan in Connecticut. He asked the King for protection against the injuries and wrongs which the English colonists had committed against his people. Although Mahomet died in England, the king created a commission to look into the situation.

The Ozette Reservation

In 1855 the United States met with the Makah Nation in Washington to negotiate a treaty. At this time, the Makah were composed of five semiautonomous villages that shared language, kinship, and cultural traditions. As in other treaty councils, Governor Isaac Stevens told the Makah to select a single man to serve as their supreme chief. When they declined to do so, he simply appointed Tse-kow-wootl, from the village of Ozette, as supreme chief.

Under the terms of the treaty, dictated by Governor Isaac Stevens, the Makah reservation was to be centered at Neah Bay. Only one of the five main Makah villages was included within the new reservation. While the Makah had been successful fishing people for thousands of years, the United States wanted them to become farmers on land which was not suited for agriculture. All of the Makah land which was suitable for agriculture was outside of the new reservation.

With the formation of the Makah Reservation, the village of Ozette is six miles south of the reservation. While the United States government wanted all of the Makah to move to the Neah Bay area, the people of Ozette preferred to remain in their traditional village.

The United States Indian policy was based on the idea of civilizing Indian people through farming. Since the treaty excluded nearly all of the land which could be farmed, a Presidential Executive Order in 1873 expanded the Makah reservation to include some farmable land. However, the village of Ozette, which was still occupied by a number of Makah families, remained outside of the reservation. At this time there were about 200 families living in Ozette.

In the 1880s, the Indian agents on the Makah Reservation were encouraging the Makah families in Ozette to relocate to Neah Bay so that they could be near the schools for their children. With this, the population of Ozette began to decrease. By 1888 only 91 families remained in the village.

In 1893, the 719-acre Ozette Reservation was established by Presidential Executive Order. This action, however, would result in some confusion later on. While Ozette was one of the five traditional Makah villages, the creation of a distinct Ozette Reservation created for non-Indians the illusion that the Makah people on that reservation were somehow a distinct tribe (the Ozette).

The government continued to strongly encourage people to leave Ozette. The population dropped to 44 in 1901, to 35 by 1906, to 17 by 1914, and to only 8 by 1923. In 1911, Congress passed an act directing the Secretary of the Interior to allow members of the Ozette Tribe to receive allotments of land on the Quinault Reservation.

In 1937, only one person was officially living in the village. While the village was officially viewed by the U.S. government as “vacant” it continued to be an important Makah cultural and spiritual center. The people continued to visit the village regularly.

In 1952, with the passage of House Joint Resolution 698, the United States formally began the termination era in which the policy of the United States focused primarily on the termination of all federal responsibilities for Indian tribes and for the dissolution of Indian reservations.

In 1956, the Area Office of Indian Affairs notified the Makah that the Ozette Reservation was going to be terminated. Ozette was to be turned over to the National Park Service (it is adjacent to Olympic National Park), turned over to the General Services Administration, or declared open and unclaimed. The Makah Tribe was given 60 days to respond.

Noting that the Superintendent was opposed to Makah cultural expression and that he had discouraged people from returning to Ozette, and frustrated with the lack of help from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe submitted a petition directly to the solicitor general in Washington, D.C. and made a personal plea to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Concluding that the Makah had no beneficial interest in Ozette, the Interior Deputy Solicitor recommended that Ozette be returned to public domain.

In 1970, PL-91-489 declared that the Ozette Reservation would be held in trust by the federal government for the Makah Tribe. At this time, Ozette was beginning to enter the national and international spotlight because it had become an important archaeological site.

The Marmes Rockshelter

Much of what we know about the people of the ancient world has come from archaeological findings in caves and rockshelters. A rockshelter, by the way, is wider than it is deep, while a cave is deeper than it is wide. Rockshelters and caves provided people with shelter, usually temporary, where they could camp while hunting game, gathering wild plants, fishing, or gathering materials for making tools.

More than 13,000 years ago, Indian people began using a rockshelter, 40 feet wide and 25 feet deep beneath a basalt ledge, in southeastern Washington which later became known as the Marmes Rockshelter Site. The site is located near the confluence of the Snake and Palouse Rivers. This was a time, just two millennia after the maximum advance of the glaciers, when the ice age glaciers were retreating into British Columbia. The climate at this time was cold. The ecosystem at this time was a mixed forest of pine and spruce, not the sagebrush prairie ecosystem found in the area today.

Cremation was a common way of dealing with dead bodies, and by 9700 BCE, the Marmes Rockshelter was being used for cremations. One corner was used repeatedly and had a hearth that was ten feet across. The cremations may have been spaced decades apart. With regard to the mortuary practices at Marmes Rockshelter, anthropologist James Chatters in his book Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man and the First Americans writes:  “Marmes Rockshelter, it seems, had been an ancient crematorium.”

Prior to cremation, the bones of the dead were cleaned of their flesh. Within the hearth are the bones of at least six people: three adults (a young woman, a young man, and an adult of undetermined age and gender) and three children between the ages of 8 and 14. Ochre and large implements were used as offerings.

At this time—9700 BCE—the Indian people using the rockshelter were hunting rabbit, elk, deer, and antelope, as well as fishing. As with ancient Indians in other parts of North America, the people who were using the Marmes Rockshelter were using atlatls (a type of spear thrower) as a hunting weapon.

In a layer of the site dated to about 7,000 years ago, archaeologists found a fairly large quantity of Olivella shells which would have had to come from the Pacific coast some 200 miles away. The presence of the shells this far inland suggests that a trade network with the coastal tribes existed at this time. Most of the shells had holes drilled through so that they could be strung together as necklaces.

The archaeology at the Marmes Rockshelter site, ranked among the important North American archaeological sites by archaeologists, can be considered incomplete at best. Archaeologists—or rather archaeologist Richard Daugherty and a few of his students from Washington State University—began in 1952 to survey the area which would be flooded by the Lower Monumental Dam. It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that any attention was paid to the Marmes Rockshelter. By 1968, it was apparent the Marmes Rockshelter was a significant site and the Army Corps of Engineers, the builders of the dam, funded a salvage archaeology effort. The Corps of Engineers also reluctantly agreed to postpone the closing of the dam’s gates for a year. Work on the site continued in 18-hour shifts through February 1969. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, write:  “By February 1969 only about a quarter of the floodplain deposits had been excavated and work in the rockshelter was incomplete, but time ran out.”

With time running out, the archaeologists decided to sacrifice precision for speed and used bulldozers to get to the deeper layers, an action which probably destroyed some of the archaeological evidence.

With an emergency appropriation from President Lyndon Johnson, the Army Corps of Engineers attempted to build a cofferdam to hold the rising waters away from the archaeological site, but the dam failed. The rising waters inundated the rockshelter and 83 other known archaeological sites in the area.

The archaeologists, racing against the rising waters of the reservoir, attempted to protect the site as much as possible with plastic sheeting and dump truck loads of sand. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty wrote:  “Someday the reservoir will silt in and archaeological excavation may resume. For the time being nothing more could be done. The site, with all its remaining evidence, lay drowned.”

Marmes Rockshelter today lies under 40 feet of water.

Sixteenth Century European Laws About Indians

The European invasion of the Americas really began in the sixteenth century with several European nations competing to divide up the new lands among themselves. In justifying their ability to take lands from Indians, to rule Indians, to make slaves of Indians, and to kill Indians, the European formulated a number of laws.

In 1512, the Spanish King Ferdinand promulgated the Laws of Burgos which spelled out how Indians were to be treated. The laws regulated Indian work and conversion.

The following year, King Ferdinand of Spain told Native Americans that God had declared that the Pope rules all people, regardless of their law, sect, or belief. This included Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, or any other sect. He asked that the Native Americans come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or  “with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”

Furthermore, the Natives who resisted were to be held guilty of all resulting deaths and injuries. In other words, the victims were to be blamed for their own deaths. Killing Indians who refused to convert to Christianity was seen as a part of a “just war.”

The idea of a “just war” was based upon the word of Saint Augustine. Under this concept, a just war was one that was waged to right an injustice or wrong by another nation. One of these wrongs, according to the Christian view, was not being Christian. Thus, if an Indian nation were to fail to let missionaries live and preach among them, then they were committing a “wrong” which would have to be set right through a “just war.”

In 1519, Catholic Bishop Juan de Quevedo declared that Indians were slaves by nature because some people were by nature inferior.

In 1525, Dominican official Tomas Ortiz reported that Indians eat human flesh, engage in sodomy, go naked, and have no respect for love, virginity, or the truth. He said:  “It may therefore affirm that God has never created a race more full of vice and composed without the least mixture of kindness or culture.”

In 1526, Spanish King Charles V issued orders concerning the fair treatment of Indians. He ordered that Indians be treated so that  “it may be accomplished with no offence to God, without death nor robbery of said Indians and without enslaving them, so that the desire to spread our faith among them be achieved without grieving our consciences.”  However, there was also a royal levy of one-half of all looted grave-goods.

In 1529, Pope Clement VI wrote to King Charles of Spain:  “We trust that, as long as you are on earth, you will compel and with all zeal cause the barbarian nations to come to the knowledge of God, the maker and founder of all things, not only by edicts of admonitions, but also by force and arms, if needful, in order that their souls may partake of the heavenly kingdom.”

In 1532, Spanish judge Francisco de Vitoria declared that non-Christians can own property and therefore Indians may have title to their land. He also wrote:  “The Spaniards have the right to go to the lands of the Indians, dwell there and carry on trade, so long as they do no harm, and they cannot be prevented by the Indians from doing so.”

In 1537, in a papal bull Sublimis Deus, Pope Paul III declared that Indians were not to be enslaved nor were they  “to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside of the faith of Jesus Christ.”  The Spanish King, however, disagreed with the bull and confiscated all copies of the bull before it could reach the Americas. He then prevailed upon the Pope to revoke the bull.

In 1573, the Spanish King issued “Laws Concerning Discoveries, Pacifications and Settlements Among the Indians” which was an extensive series of laws about exploration, settlement and the treatment of Indians. The new laws did not speak of “conquest,” but rather of the “pacification” of the Indians.

In 1578, Sir Humphrey Gilbert was granted a patent by England to discover and occupy North American lands not occupied by Spain. Under the legal fiction of the Discovery Doctrine, Christian nations could occupy any lands which were not under the rule of a Christian monarch. American Indians, of course, were not consulted and were not seen as having any legal rights.

In 1579, England formally declared that she would not acknowledge the 1493 papal demarcation which gave the Americas to Catholic Spain and Portugal. England, under the law of nations, saw itself free to have colonies in the Americas which were not already inhabited by Christians.

The English Queen Elizabeth I in 1580 claimed a right of discovery for North America based on the voyages of the Irish Saint Brendan in the sixth century and the mythical voyages of Prince Madoc of Wales in 1170.

Boulder Dam and the Navajo Reservation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early French Encounters With Indians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Listed below are some of the events of 1614.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

World War II Impacts Indian Reservations

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

Administration of Indian Affairs:

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

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


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

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

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


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

South Dakota:

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

Aztec Social Organization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Colonial Indian Policies:

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Indian Violence:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Peace and War:

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

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

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

Other Events:

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

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

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

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

The Iroquois Peace, 1700 to 1713

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 Federal Policy:

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

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

Fishing and Gathering Rights:

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

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

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

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


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

 American Indian Art:

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

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

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

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

 Land Issues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Indians:

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

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

Media, Education, Sports:

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

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

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

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

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

Early Spanish Invasions of the Plains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Indians in 1890

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An Iroquois in Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Benjamin Harrison and Indian Reservations

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

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

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

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

 Northern Cheyenne:

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

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

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

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

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

 Indian Territory:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Theft of the Cherokee Outlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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