صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

Apaches. This want of completeness and consistency in the treatment of the Indian tribes by the Government has been made the occasion of much ridicule and partisan abuse; and it is indeed calculated to provoke criticism and to afford scope for satire; but it is none the less compatible with the highest expediency of the situation. It is, of course, hopelessly illogical that the expenditures of the Government should be proportioned not to the good but to the ill desert of the several tribes ; that large bodies of Indians should be supported in entire indolence by the bounty of the Government simply because they are audacious and insolent, while well-disposed Indians are only assisted to self-maintenance, since it is known they will not fight. It is hardly less than absurd, on the first view of it, that delegations from tribes that have frequently defied our authority and fought our troops, and have never yielded more than a partial and grudging obedience to the most reasonable requirements of the Government, should be entertained at the national capital, feasted, and loaded with presents. There could be no better subject for the lively paragraphist in his best estate, or for the heavy editorial writer on a dull news day, than such a course on the part of the Government. These things can be made to appear vastly amusing, and the unreflecting are undoubtedly influenced in a great degree to the prejudice of the Indian policy by the incessant small-arms fire of squibs and epigrams, even more perhaps than by the ponderous artillery of argument and invective directed against it. And yet, for all this, the Government is right and its critics wrong; and the "Indian policy” is sound, sensible, and beneficent, because it reduces to the minimum the loss of life and property upon our frontier, and allows the freest development of our settlements and railways possible under the circumstances. The mistake of those who oppose the present Indian policy is not in erroneously applying to the course of the Government the standard they have taken, but in taking an altogether false standard for the purpose. It is not a whit more unreasonable that the Government should do much for hostile Indians and little for friendly Indians than it is that a private citizen should, to save his life, surrender all the contents of his purse to a highwayman; while on another occasion, to a distressed and deserving applicant for charity, he would measure his contribution by his means and disposition at the time. There is precisely the same justification for the course of the Government in feeding saucy and mischievons Indians to repletion, while permitting more tractable and peaceful tribes to gather a bare subsistence by hard work, or what to an Indian is hard work. It is not, of course, to be understood that the Government of the United States is at the mercy of Indians; but thousands of its citizens are, even thousands of families. Their exposed situation on the extreme verge of settlement affords a sufficient justification to the Government for buying off the hostility of the savages, excited and exasperated as they are, and most naturally so, by the invasion of their hunting-grounds and the threatened extinction of game. It would require one hundred thousand troops at least to form a cordon behind which our settlements could advance with the extent of range, the unrestrained choice of location, the security of feeling, and the freedom of movement which have characterized the growth of the past three or four years. Indeed, the presence of no military force could give that confidence to pioneer enterprise which the general cessation of Indian hostilities has engendered. Men of an adventurous east will live and work behind a line of troops with, it is possible, some exhilaration of feeling on that account; but, as a rule, men will not place women and children in situations of even possible peril, nor will they put money

into permanent improvements under such circumstances. Especially has the absence of Indian hostilities been of the highest value, within the last few years, in directing and determining to the extreme frontier the immigrants arriving in such vast numbers on our shores. Americans habituated to the contemplation of this species of danger as one of the features of pioneer life, will scarcely comprehend the reluctance with which men accustomed to the absolute security of person and property in the settled countries of Europe expose themselves and their families to perils of this kind. I was informed by the late president of the Northern Pacific Railroad that it was found almost impossible to hire Swedes and Norwegians to work upon the line of that road, then under construction from the Red River to the Missouri, on account of the vague apprehension of Indian attack which prevailed in connection with the progress of the road through the past summer. As a matter of fact, no well informed person believed that the savages would undertake any offensive operations whatever until after the Missouri had been crossed and passed at least one hundred miles. But these people, unaccustomed to regard possible torture and murder as one of the conditions of a contract to labor, would refuse high wages rather than subject themselves to the slightest risk. The fact that Americans are more daring and adventurous in the presence of a danger more familiar to them, only constitutes a stronger reason for maintaining the immunity which has, for three years now, been secured by the feeding system. There are innumerable little rifts of agricultural or mining settlements all over the western country which, if unmolested, will in a few years become self-protecting communities, but which, in the event of a general Indian war occurring at the present time, would utterly and instantly disappear, either by abandonment or massacre. The first month of hostilities would see fifty valleys, up which population is now slowly but steadily creeping under cover of the feeding system, swept bare by the horrid atrocities of Indian warfare, or deserted by their affrighted inhabitants, hastily driving before them what of their stock could be gathered at a moment's notice, and bearing away what of their household goods could be carried in their single wagons. Such would be the result even with the most favorable issue of military operations. It is right that those who criticise the policy of the Government toward the Indians, and ridicule it as undignified in its concessions and unstatesman-like in its temporizing with a recognized evil, should fairly face the one alternative which is presented. There is no question of national dignity, be it remembered, involved in the treatment of savages by a civilized power. With wild men, as with wild beasts, the question whether in a given situation one shall fight, coax, or run, is a question merely of what is easiest and safest.


The system now pursued in dealing with the roving tribes dangerous to our frontier population and obstructing our industrial progress, is entirely consistent with, and, indeed, requires the occasional use of the military arm, in restraining or chastising refractory individuals and bands. Such a use of the military constitutes no abandonment of the "peace policy," and involves no disparagement of it. It was not to be expected--it was not in the nature of things-that the entire body of wild Indians should submit to be restrained in their Ishmaelitish proclivities without a struggle on the part of the more audacious to maintain their traditional freedom. In the first announcement made of the reserva

tion system, it was expressly declared that the Indians should be made as comfortable on, and as uncomfortable off, their reservations as it was in the power of the Government to make them; that such of them as went right should be protected and fed, and such as went wrong should be harassed and scourged without intermission. It was not anticipated that the first proclamation of this policy to the tribes concerned would effect the entire cessation of existing evils; but it was believed that persistence in the course marked out would steadily reduce the number of the refractory, both by the losses sustained in actual conflict and by the desertion of individuals as they should become weary of a profitless and hopeless struggle, until, in the near result, the system adopted should apply without exception to all the then roving and hostile tribes. Such a use of the strong arm of the Government is not war, but discipline. Yet it would seem impossible for many persons to apprehend any dis tinction between a state of general Indian war, and the occasional use of the regular military force of the country in enforcing the reservation policy, or punishing sporadic acts of outrage on the part of disaffected individuals or bands. Such persons appear to think that the smallest degree of Indian hostilities is equivalent to the largest degree of such hostilities, or at least to hold that if we are to have any Indian troubles whatever-if everything in the conduct of Indian affairs is not to be as calm and serene as a summer day-we might just as well have all the Indians of the continent on our hands at once. Upon the other side, many persons zealously and painfully intent on securing justice to the aborigines of the country, bewail the slightest use of the military in carrying out the reservation system and repressing depredations, as in effect a making of war upon the Indians and a resort to the bloody methods of the past. This misunderstanding in regard to the occasional use of force in making effective and universal the policy of peace, has led no small portion of the press of the country to treat the more vigor ous application of the scourge to refractory Indians which has characterized the operations of the last three months as an abandonment of the peace policy itself, whereas it is, in fact, a legitimate and essential part of the original scheme which the Government has been endeavoring to carry out, with prospects of success never more bright and hopeful than to-day.

It will be sufficient, perhaps, to mark the distinction, to say that a general Indian war could not be carried on with the present military force of the United States, or anything like it. Regiments would be needed where now are only companies, and long lines of posts would have to be established for the protection of regions which, under the sateguard of the feeding system, are now left wholly uncovered. On the other hand, by the reservation system and the feeding system combined, the occasions for collision are so reduced by lessening the points of contact, and the number of Indians available for hostile expeditions involving exposure, hardship, and danger is so diminished through the appeal made to their indolence and self-indulgence, that the Army in its present force is able to deal effectively with the few marauding bands which refuse to accept the terms of the Government.


It is unquestionably true that the Government has seemed somewhat tardy in proceeding under the second half of the reservation policy, and in applying the scourge to individuals and bands leaving their prescribed limits without authority, or for hostile purposes. This has been

[ocr errors]

partly from a legitimate deference to the conviction of the great body of citizens that the Indians have been in the past unjustly and cruelly treated, and that great patience and long forbearance ought to be exercised in bringing them around to submission to the present reasonable requirements of the Government, and partly from the knowledge on the part of the officers of the Government charged with administering Indian -affairs, that, from the natural jealousy of these people, their sense of wrongs suffered in the past, and their suspiciousness arising from repeated acts of treachery on the part of the whites; from the great distance of many bands and individuals from points of personal communication with the agents of the Government, and the absence of all means of written communication with them; from the efforts of abandoned and degraded whites, living among the Indians and exerting much influence over them, to misrepresent the policy of the Government, and to keep alive the hostility and suspicion of the savages; and, lastly, from the extreme untrustworthiness of many of the interpreters on whom the Government is obliged to rely for bringing its intentions to the knowledge of the Indians: that by the joint effect of all these obstacles, many tribes and bands could come very slowly to hear, comprehend, and trust the professions and promises of the Government.

Such being the sentiment of the general community, that forbearance was due to the Indians on account of past wrongs; and such the knowledge on the part of the Government of difficulties to be encountered in fully acquainting these people with its benevolent intentions, all the resources of expostulation and conciliation have been exhausted before the aid of the military arm has been invoked. It is not a matter for wonder or blame that communities which suffer, meanwhile, from the continuance of the evil should complain bitterly and accuse the Government of inaction, without inquiring very closely whether the evil is not the result of a previous wrong on the part of those to whose evil as to whose good things they succeed alike, or whether their present troubles are not the waves of a storm that is over and past. But it is the duty of the Government to act in the premises with a somewhat broader view and more philosophical temper than is to be expected of those who are actually smarting in their families and their property from the scourge of Indian depredations.

The patience and forbearance exercised have been fully justified in their fruits. The main body of the roving Indians have, with good grace or with ill grace, submitted to the reservation system. Of those who still remain away from the assigned limits, by far the greater part are careful to do so with as little offense as possible; and when their range is such as for the present not to bring them into annoying or dangerous contact with the whites, this Office has, from motives of economy, generally been disposed to allow them to pick up their own living still by hunting and fishing, in preference to tying them up at agencies where they would require to be fed mainly or wholly at the expense of the Government.


There is a residue whose disposition and behavior certainly give little encouragement to further forbearance. The numbers of the actually hostile and depredating bands of to-day probably do not exceed in the aggregate eight thousand. Among these are several bands of Apaches in Arizona, principally the Tonto Apaches, the Quahada Comanches, and their confederates of the Staked Plains, west of the Indian Country,

and the greater portion of the Kiowa nation. It would be impossible, from the large number of tribes, great and small, kuown to the annals of the country, to select three which have so little in the way of past wrongs to justify present hostility as these three tribes, which commit, practically, all the outrages properly to be charged against Indians. The depredating Kiowas and the Quahada Comanches are utterly without excuse. They are compelled to go back as far as 1847 to find a single substantial grievance of which to complain. Since that time the United States have given them a noble reservation, and have provided amply for all their wants. No white man has gone upon their lands to injure them; the Government has failed in no particular of its duty toward them; yet they have persisted in leaving their reservation, and marauding in Texas. They have not done this through any misappre hension of the intentions of the Government, from the pressure of want, or under the smart of any real or fancied wrong. I am disposed to think that the messages recently delivered to them by their agent and by the special commission sent to them the last summer; the unequivo cal declarations made to their chiefs on the occasion of a recent visit to Washington; and, especially, the chastisement inflicted on the Quahada Comanches at McClellan's Creek, in October, by Colonel Mackenzie, have fully convinced these tribes that the Government is in earnest, and that a continuance in their present course will involve, as it ought, their extirpation. This may be enough; but, if it proves otherwise, they should be signally punished. An example made here would do much to strengthen the policy of peace, both with other Indians and with the country at large, as well as free the borders of Texas from a scourge that has become intolerable.


It is saying nothing against the course of the Government toward the semi-hostile tribes, to allege, as is often done, that it is merely temporizing with an evil. Temporizing as an expedient in government may be either a sign of weakness and folly, or it may be a proof of the highest wisdom. When an evil is manifestly on the increase, and tends to go from bad to worse, to temporize with it is cowardly and mischievous. Even when an evil cannot be said to be on the increase, yet when, not being self-limited or self-destructive, and having, therefore, no tendency to expire of inherent vices, it cannot be shown to be tran sient, the part of prudence and of courage is to meet and grapple with it without hesitation and without procrastination. But when an evil is in its nature self-limited, and tends to expire by the very conditions of its existence; when time itself fights against it, and the whole progress of the physical, social, and industrial order by steady degrees circumscribes its field, reduces its dimensions, and saps its strength, then temporizing may be the highest statesmanship.

Such an evil is that which the United States Government at present encounters in the resistance, more or less suppressed, of the Indian tribes of this continent to the progress of railways and settlements, growing out of the reasonable apprehension that their own existence as nations, and even their own individual means of subsistence within the duration of their own lives, will be destroyed thereby. This case differs from others recorded in history only in this-that never was an evil so gigantic environed, invaded, devoured by forces so tremendous, so appalling in the celerity and the certainty of their advance.

« السابقةمتابعة »