Rutherford B. Hayes Indian Peace Medal


From the earliest days under the Constitution, the United States, following the practice of the British, French, and Spanish, presented silver medals to American Indian chiefs as a sign of friendship and attachment to the United States. After the use of engraved oval medals for George Washington's administration, the practice became established of striking round medals with a portrait of the president on the obverse and a symbolic message of peace and friendship or of Indian and white cultures on the reverse. At first three sizes were made, but later the smallest medal was dropped, and for President Grant only one size was produced. The business of finding an artist to design the medal, making arrangements for striking the medals (usually at the United States Mint), and, of course, presenting them to the Indians was in the hands of the War Department and then the Indian Office.

With the medal known as the Rutherford B. Hayes Indian Peace Medal two significant changes occurred. In the first place, the initiative for the production of the medal came from the Mint, not from the Indian Office. In June 1878, fifteen months after Hayes's inauguration, the Director of the Mint called attention to the custom of striking peace medals for each president and noted that none had yet been made for Hayes. After some delay, as the suggestion passed through bureaucratic channels, Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz, who had jurisdiction over the Indian Office, asked the Mint for designs and for an estimate of cost.

The second change was in the shape of the medal - oval instead of round. This change, too, came at the suggestion of the Director of the Mint, who thought that the medals struck up to that time had been "too large and cumbersome" and that new ones ought to be reduced in size.

The Mint had already prepared a bust of Hayes for the inaugural medal, the work of an assistant engraver at the Mint, George T. Morgan, which was suitable for use also on the Indian peace medal. For the reverse, two designs were forwarded to Schurz. One showed a covered wagon and an Indian encampment on the Plains. The other, eventually chosen by Schulz, was a symbolic presentation of the progress of the Indian toward civilization. At the top was the word PEACE, with rays radiating from the date 1877. In the center a pioneer farmer conversed with an Indian in native costume. The farmer held an ax, and in the background appeared a log house, with a woman and baby sitting in front, and in the distance a man plowing. At the bottom was a wreath entwining a crossed peace pipe and tomahawk. The reverse, like the bust, was the work of Morgan, and his name appears at the bottom of the scene. Schurz directed that dies be prepared.

The mint slowly moved ahead, even though no medals had been ordered by the Indian Office for presentation to the Indians. One medal struck in fine silver, however, was presented to Mrs. Hayes by the Mint in May 1879, and apparently some others were struck in bronze. Meanwhile requests for medals did come in from the Indian agent at the Yankton Agency, to reward Chief Strike-the-Ree and other Indians for preventing the Yanktons from joining the hostile Sioux and for inducing members of the tribe to abandon the hunt and to become good farmers. But by the time the request for the medals reached the Mint, Hayes had left office, and James Garfield, his successor, had been inaugurated. When the request of the Yankton agent was finally answered in March 1882, the medals sent bore the portrait of Garfield, not of Hayes.

Hayes medals in bronze continued to be struck at the Mint for collectors; some of them possibly came into the hands of Indians, but they were not officially-presented medals. A number of these bronze restrikes carried the modified reverse made for the Garfield medals and used as well on the subsequent Indian medals struck for Presidents Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland. This reverse omitted the 1877 date and substituted a simple initial "M" for "Morgan."

It is not surprising that the Hayes restrikes used the newer reverse. The same thing had happened earlier, when a new die was cut of the PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP design that had been used on the medals from Madison through Tyler. When the earlier medals were restruck in bronze, the new reverse was used for many years. In more recent times (the date cannot be precisely determined), the Mint has made new dies of the original Hayes reverse, so that the recent bronze medals are fully authentic in design. This has confused collectors, museum curators, and dealers who do not know the true documentary history of the production of medals.

The Hayes Indian Peace Medal is part of the long and important tradition of presenting silver medals to Indian chiefs. It is unfortunate that because of slowness and delay on the part of the Indian Office and the Mint no Hayes medals were actually used for the purpose for which they were designed.

[Further information on the Hayes medal and on other Indian peace medals can be found in Francis Paul Prucha, Indian Peace Medals in American History (1971).]

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