During the 1700’s and 1800’s, the vast majority of Americans wanted Indians gone. Out of sight and out of mind. Alive or dead! And the ones with the power and ability to do something about it worked within all of their means to achieve this end. Part of the beginning of the end for the Indians was when the former governor of Michigan Territory became President Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War in 1831. Jackson was obviously no Indian lover and the new Secretary of War felt Indians should not be dealt with as a sovereign nation, but a hostile nation within a sovereign one.
Shortly after the War of 1812 with Great Britain, a nationalistic fever swept the continent and this nationalism had a dramatic effect on America’s Indian Removal policy. Monroe’s Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun also felt treating Indians as a nation was wrong. General Philip Sheridan looked at any Indian resister as a “savage” and to be killed immediately. William T. Sherman told Secretary of War Stanton that even “fifty Indians” were to many between the Arkansas and Platte rivers for safe stagecoach passage.
Consider the case of the unfortunate Ponca Indians, living on the west bank of the Missouri. They had no warning of their impending removal to Indian territory in January, 1877. Compounding their problem, bungling government officials placed them into Indian Territory, in the promised Niobrara (Nebraska) which was an existing Sioux reservation. The Sioux obviously were hostile at the Ponca’s’ arrival and many were killed.
These indigenous Indians, like the Wichita, had been living there for multiple generations. The majority would settle in one area, practice farming, game hunting, and were very peaceful. The Wichita and Pottawatomie Indians have hand longstanding traditions dating centuries back. Since the 1500s the Wichita have celebrated the Green Corn Feast of Thanksgiving. This predates even the supposed original Thanksgiving celebration of the Pilgrims.
Kansa was declared Indian Territory, in 1825, thanks in large part to William Clark. In 1831, the Delawares were one of the first Indian nation to arrive. For some Indians, the heartbreak of removal came a second time, like the twice-removed Iroquois from New York. In the early 1840s, the Great Lakes region and Ohio Valley lost the Shawnees, Wyandottes, Kickapoos, Chippewas, Peorias, Sacs, Foxes and multiple others. By the early 1840s over 100,000 Indians were removed and this was not the final figure.
Some tribes lost half their people, partially from corrupt white middlemen who siphoned of money and supplies allocated by the government for the Indians. Upon arrival to their (unbeknownst to them, temporary) new lands, many came physically exhausted and dirt poor. Even a federal agent in escort of a relocating tribe had to borrow money to complete the journey. Sadly, he had to borrow from the Indians, who themselves had little in the way of money. This Indian removal policies of the United States are a sad chapter in American history.
Kansas Territory was declared Indian territory in 1825. This small area, purposed for hundreds of tribes from the east, had no forests, few animals and not much water. This was a disaster waiting to happen. Just after it was called Indian Territory, a white-settlers tsunami from the east swept most of the Indians into even less prosperous territory, Oklahoma. In only the few short years since Kansas was declared Indian territory (1825), nearly all of the eastern Kansas Indians would be removed by 1870.
Western Kansas Indians would survive longer, with the advantage of horses, but their demise was inevitable with the arrival of the rail lines and the mass execution of the Plain’s buffalo. “Shoot from the comfort of your coach…”. Masses of carcasses rotted in the sun, taking with it the means of support for these High Plains Indians. Indians did destroy some track but these attempts were no match for the white tide.
The end came with the bloody Indian warfare in Kansas in 1867 and 1868. Just over 200 whites died, well into the thousands of Indians did. From starvation or mass camp-site invasions. The very last Indian raid in Kansas would not come until 1878. George Armstrong Custer, who would later die at Little Big Horn, helped to break the last of the Indian resistance with the 19th Kansas Volunteer Regiment’s operations in 1868. The end was near for most.
A final, fatal blow to Kansas Indians’ was the Homestead Act of 1862. From 1879 to 1881, a great influx of black emigrants, known now as the Exodusters, poured into Kansas, although most settled in cities, which gave slightly more protection from persecution and prejudice. The Dawes Act of 1887 was a final vain attempt to try and integrate Indians into White society. The act resulted in the loss of some “two-fifths” of Indian lands, much to underhanded, land-hungry whites.
With the record of dealings with whites steeped in deceit, it is not surprising that most Indian nation loyalties during the Civil War lay with the Confederacy. Congress was of no help. Of the hundreds of Indian treaty’s written by Congress (both the House and Senate), only one single treaty was ever signed and ratified. If fact, the term Congress uses to “shelf” legislation or a bill, comes from the actual shelves that were full of non-ratified Indian treaties.
To be fair to white settlers, Lewis and Clark’s Expedition revealed that large areas of North America, including much of Canada, were unoccupied. There were no tribes, no whites, no trappers…only wild game, and it was everywhere. In all of North America, only Kentucky was considered to be off limits for the Indians themselves to settle in. It was considered, by mutual tribal consent, to be the great Sacred Hunting Grounds.
To a detached, objective outsider, America’s Indian Policy and Removal Acts were nothing short of racial genocide. Broken treaty after broken treaty. One lie after another. It is very difficult to justify a nation’s past sins, especially this one. There were a few brave men who tried and spoke up for these dignified and sovereign peoples. The only defense is that this attitude was a general reflection of the times in which that society lived and it may have been easier for most to understand if they had actually lived through that time. America was a melting-pot of Europeans from the beginning. If the States had not exploited and kept pushing westward, then it might have been the French, the Spanish, the British… I believe the results would have been the same.
America, for the most part, has taken off the proverbial rose colored glasses and seen what really happened to the these proud nations. These Nations that saw the United States of America break nearly every, single treaty they ever (were forced or coherced into) signed with the Indian Nations. Native American Indian Nations…sovereign nations indeed. But being treated in a most uncivilized way, so it would seem that the definition of “civilized” is relative. These North American Indian Nations were so much more civilized than we ever gave them credit for. If you’ve seen the movie, Dances with Wolves, perhaps you could understand that the true definition of being a civilized nation is being civil. You might say that civilized is as civilized does.