United States Indian Policy During The Late Nineteenth Century:
Change And Continuity

by Edmund Jefferson Danzinger, Jr.

By the 1890's, the status of Indian people seemed to validate Frederick Jackson Turner’s claim that "the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history."1 Natives ceased to threaten the Republic military, and the process of educating and Christianizing reservation residents was well begun. No longer, wrote one Indian policy reformer, would Native Americans be driven from their reservations "again and again - tossed westward, ever westward, like the driftwood and wreckage before the incoming tide."2 The last twenty-five years of the nineteenth century, in some respects, began a new era.

Unbeknownst to Turner and his contemporaries, the so-called "Indian problem" was far from over. Indeed, the entire frontier process was more complex than Turner initially envisioned and continued far into the twentieth century. Certain patterns of race relationships also persisted - patterns that still characterize America. These continuities as well as significant changes in United States-Indian relations during the late nineteenth century are the subject of this essay.

When Rutherford B. Hayes entered the White House, Indian matters were considerably murkier than they appeared to Turner sixteen years later. The Census Bureau had estimated in 1870 that of the 383,712 United States Indians, 234,740 still roamed the western territories and states. Most nomads lived in Alaska (70,000), Arizona (27,700), Nevada (16,220), Montana (19,330), Dakota Territory (26,320), and in present-day Oklahoma (34,400).3 Washington officials worked energetically during the 1870s and 1880s to concentrate these wandering tribes on western reservations. Only then would expanding non-Indian pioneers (1) be free from attack by hostile tribes and (2) get title to extensive Indian land holdings. Only then could America’s aboriginal peoples be safeguarded. The "civilization or the utter destruction of the Indians is inevitable," predicted Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Q. Smith in 1876, unless they are "taught, and taught very soon, to accept the necessities of their situation and begin in earnest to provide for their own wants by labor in civilized pursuits."4

Fiercely independent Indians, determined to control their homelands and retain their traditional ways of life, had triggered nearly two decades of intermittent warfare. These struggles between United States military forces and the Nez Perces, Banncoks, Modocs, Utes, Apaches, Kickapoos, and the Indians of the Southern and Northern Plains are well-chronicled elsewhere. By the end of Hayes’ presidency, the Indian wars were about over and the hostiles, crushed militarily, confined to reservations.5 What to do with them caused much anxiety in Washington and elsewhere in the country. Reservation life also became a pernicious ordeal for Native residents.

During the late 1870's, federal policymakers set two goals for their Indian wards: continued reduction of Native land holdings and the Americanization of "savage" reservation residents in preparation for integration into mainstream society. Several assumptions guided the federal Office of Indian Affairs’ program. Frontiersmen would applaud the opening of Indian lands to white settlements as they had for over two centuries. Washington also hoped that "civilized" neighbors would provide a good influence on fledgling Native farmers and ranchers. Certainly the United States no longer had room for traditional Indian cultures whose inefficient use of the land included hunting, gathering, and bloody intertribal warfare.6 "We are fifty millions of people, and they [Indians] are only one-fourth of one million," reported Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hiram Price in 1881. "The few must yield to the many." Advocates of civilizing the Indians obviously believed, furthermore, that aboriginal peoples were capable of learning the English language and of adopting an alternative, superior mode of life. Finally, a desire to solve the long-standing Indian problem motivated policymakers like Commissioner Price. To "allow them to drag along year after year...in their old superstitions, laziness, and filth...would be a lasting disgrace to our government." To transform the Indians into self-sufficient and productive citizens would be "a crown of glory to any nation."7

To attain the twin goals of Indian land reduction and the assimilation of Native Americans into the dominant society, Carl Schurz, President Hayes’s Secretary of the Interior, and other reformers advocated specific strategies. These included the promotion of Indian self-sufficiency through farming and stock raising, the formal education of their young, allotment of Indian land in severalty, and the conferring of United States citizenship on Indians who had abandoned traditional ways.8 By the time Schurz and Hayes left office in 1881, the government had not fully tested these evolving techniques on the reservations.

Conditions there challenged federal Indian agents charged with wiping out traditional cultures and pushing Native peoples into the forbidding waters of the American mainstream. Specifically an agent’s responsibilities included: administering agency as well as tribal moneys and property; controlling the chiefs; fostering farming by the men and instructing the women in household skills; safeguarding the health of his charges; aggressively restricting Indian dress, language, and other "vicious habits;" advancing Christianity; and educating children. The agency staff (usually a clerk, farmer, medical doctor, blacksmith, and one or more teachers) also played key roles in this Americanization process. In 1890, Washington supervised fifty-eight such agencies.9

Educating Indian youth and maintaining law and order became two of the Indian agent’s biggest challenges. Congress considered schooling an important priority and increased its annual funding from $20,000 in 1877 to $1,364,368 by 1890. During this period Christian missionaries also lost control of Indian education as Washington created its own system of Indian schools and defined increasingly elaborate goals for its Native wards who were considered "as bright and teachable as average white children of the same ages."10 The curriculum included reading, writing, and arithmetic. English was the language of instruction, and teachers emphasized the vocational application of knowledge. As with parents, this meant domestic arts for the females and farming plus a knowledge of common trades for the boys. Native self-sufficiency and Americanization remained the government’s objective. The only major controversy concerned the effectiveness and practicality of various types of Indian schools: reservation day schools, reservation boarding schools, and off-reservation boarding schools. By the close of the century more than 20,000 Indians attended an elaborate system of 148 boarding schools and 225 day schools.11

Indian police and judges helped to preserve law and order, and assisted with other principal agency tasks. In 1878 Congress authorized police units to fill the power vacuum created by the withdrawal of military troops from the West and the weakened authority of tribal chiefs. What began as an experiment blossomed within three years into a system that operated on forty-nine reservations and included eighty-four commissioned officers and 786 non-commissioned officers and privates. "The question has been asked whether these policemen can be depended upon," reported Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas J. Morgan in 1890:

Almost without exception they are courageous, faithful, determined men,  And hesitate at no danger when carrying out instructions. They are not only of practical assistance to the agents in making arrests, removing intruders, seizing contraband goods, etc., but they also act as a deterrent upon the lawless element of a tribe, as the fact that the agent has at hand a reliable police force prevents crime and disturbance which might otherwise prevail.12

To the Indian Office, a disciplined and well-trained police force also served as a "perpetual educator" for fellow Natives who would walk the white man’s road. Indeed, a button on the police uniform depicted an Indian plowing and surrounded by the words: "God helps those who help themselves."13 Another weapon in the federal government’s acculturation arsenal was the courts of Indian offenses established by the Interior Department in the early 1880s. In less than a decade, ninety-three Native judges staffed courts at twenty-eight agencies. They enforced Indian Office rules that forbid the sun dance, scalp and war dances, polygamy, and various practices of medicine men. The courts also heard cases against Indians charged with theft, destruction of property, drunkenness, and trafficking in intoxicating liquors.14

Washington’s attack on traditional Indian customs, languages , and political structures expanded in the late nineteenth century to include tribal sovereignty. In 1871 the federal government stopped negotiating treaties with Native political groups. Henceforth, the House and Senate simply legislated policies and programs - with or without Indian consultation. For example, in 1885 Congress enacted the Major Crimes Act. It made Indians who committed certain crimes on reservations subject to federal government jurisdiction rather than tribal. The United States Supreme Court upheld the act’s constitutionality in United States v. Kagama.15 In another case the Court determined that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give United States citizenship to Native persons born on reservations.16 American Indian independence, like the frontier, thus seemed a thing of the past at the time of Frederick Jackson Turner’s speech.

As vulnerable, subject peoples hemmed in on reservations, Indians ironically were harmed at times by the very persons charged with protecting them. Historian Francis Paul Prucha concluded that the "Indian service, upon which rested much of the responsibility for solving the ‘Indian problem’ of the post-Civil War decades, was itself a large part of the problem."17 Opportunities for fraud corrupted many federal agents who yearly handled large amounts of Indian money, annuity goods, and farm equipment. They also supervised the leasing of reservation lands and negotiated contracts for agency improvements. One bitter Native observed that when his agent came, "he bring everything in a little bag, when he leaves it take two steamboats to carry away his things."18 Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz reformed Indian Office operations and purged it of many dishonest officials, but the service did not fully eradicate the political spoils system until the next century.19

Meanwhile, many reservation residents understandably scorned their Indian agents and the American way of life they represented. Rather than salvation, wrote historian Arrell M. Gibson, the "reservation experience matched, and in some cases exceeded, the somber ‘Trail of Tears’ for needless, agonizing want, unthinkable suffering, and personal and group decline to the brink of destruction." Natives responded by massively resisting Washington’s Americanization program. Parents withheld their children from government schools and their cooperation from those who would change other aspects of the old ways. In some cases, the government seemed to ask the impossible. Farming, for example, ran counter to hunter-warrior traditions; furthermore, reservation lands often were semiarid or, for those in the north, had too short a growing season. When favorable agricultural conditions prevailed, the poverty-stricken Indians frequently lacked the equipment, livestock, and seeds to farm profitably. Constant white encroachment on Native lands also hurt economic self-sufficiency. Perhaps the most subversive force was the Indians’ distrust, based on bitter experience, of the supposedly-superior American way of life.20  Shoshoni Chief Washakie doubtless spoke for many Natives when he remarked in 1878:

The white man’s government promised that if we, the Shoshones, would be content with the little patch allowed us, [it] would keep us well supplied with everything necessary to comfortable living, and would see that no white man should cross our borders for our game, or for anything that is ours. But it has not kept its word! The white man kills our game, captures our furs, and sometimes feeds his herds upon our meadows. And your great and mighty government...does not protect us in our rights. It leaves us with-out the promised seed, without tools for cultivating the land, without implements for harvesting our crops, without breeding animals better than ours, without the food we still lack....I say again, the government does not keep its word! And so after all we can get by cultivating the land, and by hunting and fishing, we are sometimes nearly starved, and go half naked, as you see us! Knowing all this, do you wonder, sir, that we have fits of desperation and think to be avenged?"21

Perplexed by reservation life and its apparent lack of opportunity, residents responded in a variety of ways. Some abandoned hope of ever restoring traditional lifestyles, took up farming, sent their children to school, and tried to walk to white man’s road. Some took off-reservation jobs as military scouts and as actors in popular Wild West and medicine shows that toured the United States and Europe.22  Many Chippewas living in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota left their assigned lands to work in white towns, lumber camps, sawmills, in mines, and for white railroad companies. A few Chippewa entrepreneurs operated fishing fleets on Lake Superior. Among the Natives who stayed closer to home, whether in the Midwest or elsewhere in the United States, the old ways of life still beckoned. Many, disregarding Indian Office prohibitions, continued to practice traditional courtship practices and polygamy, clan ceremonies, and sacred rituals like the Sun Dance. Reservation residents also used two mind-altering drugs, alcohol and peyote, which Washington had forbidden.23

Living conditions in the late 1800's further prompted the emergence of Indian messiahs who provided some hope amidst despair. Most influential was the Paiute medicine man, Wovoka. He advocated performance of the Ghost Dance as a supernatural means to make whites disappear and to restore the old days when proud, independent Indians held sway. The notorious clash between federal troops and Sioux Ghost Dancers at Wounded Knee in 1890 highlighted Washington’s resolve to overcome resistence to reservation acculturation plans. More subtle, but far more devastating in the long run to Uncle Sam’s wards, were Indian policy changes in the 1880s.24

Reform advocates, known collectively as "Friends of the Indians," included standard bearers like Helen Hunt Jackson, author of the influential A Century of Dishonor (1881). The "Friends" embraced several Indian advocacy organizations established in the late nineteenth century including the Women’s National Indian Association of Philadelphia, the National Indian Defense Association, and the Indian Rights Association. Beginning in 1883, their representatives convened annually, along with scholars and government officials, at Lake Mohonk, New York, to discuss Indian affairs and promote reform efforts. The "Friends of the Indian", wrote Gibson, "mobilized public opinion on the ‘Indian Problem’ to the point that during the 1880s a greater number of citizens became interested in Indian affairs than ever before in American history." The movement they generated built on the reform traditions of Christianity and the antebellum era. Ethnocentrism, individualism, patriotism, and Darwinism also shaped their thinking, as did the conviction that past federal Indian programs had failed miserably. Policy platforms hammered out by delegates each year at Lake Mohonk testified to the remarkable consensus they achieved about what was best for Native Americans.25  The Indian was clearly not being prepared for American citizenship by his reservation - "that hot-bed of barbarism." Commissioner of Indian Affairs John H. Oberly called it, "in which many noxious social and political weeds grow rankly."26  Instead, Natives, demoralized by dependence on the government dole, remained communal in their thinking and followed too many of the old ways. The Indian Rights Association asserted that:

The Indian as a savage member of a tribal organization cannot survive, ought not to survive, the aggressions of civilization, but his individual redemption from heathenism and ignorance, his transformation from the condition of a savage nomad to that of an industrious American citizen, is abundantly possible. This change can be fully accomplished only by means of legislation...These three foundation stones, [law, education, a protected individual title to land]...must be laid by the Congress of the United States.27

Native schooling cried out for reform. The Indian Office reported in 1880 that only fifteen of its sixty-six agencies could adequately educate their children.28  That year Congress appropriated a mere $75,000 to support Indian schools.29 Moreover, their buildings were "poor and the furniture scanty." White teachers, isolated from their kind, passed their nights and weekends in primitive living quarters. Most detrimental to the reformers’ goals was the overpowering influence of the children’s families to whom the youngsters returned each day and relapsed "into their former moral and mental stupor."30 During the 1880s and 1890s, reformers encouraged the building of more on-reservation boarding schools as a partial solution to these problems. Here the children learned academic subjects as well as "industrial training." For the boys this included instruction in farming, stock raising, gardening, plus such trades as carpentry, masonry, and blacksmithing. Girls learned comparable competencies for their domains: the kitchen and dining room, dormitory, laundry room, and the sewing room. The on-reservation boarding facility, like the day school, was still subject to strong reservation influences, particularly the pervasive Indian languages and the proximity of the children’s parents, who "often prove troublesome guests," complained Indian Commissioner Morgan, "by reason of their clamors for the return of the children to their teepees."31

To improve education, that is to detribalize the children and prepare them for integration into American life, "Friends of the Indian" involved students with two off-reservation institutions. In 1879 Richard Henry Pratt started a boarding school on an experimental basis in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The school drew it first eighty-four students, a mixture of boys and girls, from the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Agencies in the Dakota Territory.32  By the mid-1890s Carlisle enrolled 769 pupils. Their education was similar to that of reservation residential schools except that students were under tighter discipline and totally cut off from home influences for years at a time. Reformers felt the intertribal mixture was also healthy: "Children from different tribes are brought together under influences where all tribal differences disappear. They learn to respect each other, and are prepared for association together as fellow-citizens. They hear and use only the English language."

Another Carlisle innovation was Pratt’s "Outing System" by which selected Native students spent the summer months with non-Indian, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts farm families. Pratt expected the students to practice their skills and to become even more indoctrinated into the American mainstream.33  Pratt’s militaristic methods were heavy-handed, but much was at stake. He believed:

It is a sad day for the Indians when they fall under the assaults of our troops...but a far sadder day is it for them when they fall under the baneful influences of treaty agreements with the United States whereby they are to receive large annuities, and to be protected on reservations, and held apart from all association with the best of our civilization. The destruction is not so speedy, but it is far more general.34

So successful was the Carlisle experiment in the eyes of white reformers that the Indian Office created eighteen similar institutions by 1895. The number of Indians enrolled in non-reservation boarding schools that year was 4,673.35

Beginning in 1890, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Morgan advocated a second off-reservation educational experience. He observed how effective public schools were at "Americanizing our foreign population" and hoped that these institutions might do the same for Native children. Thus, he began contracting (at the rate of $10 per quarter per student) with selected school districts.36  Within five years 487 children attended public schools in California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Michigan. In addition, by 1895 the Indian Office educational network had grown to include nineteenth off-reservation boarding schools, seventy-five reservation boarding schools, 110 reservation day schools, and sixty-two privately-owned institutions with whom the government contracted. That year Congress appropriated $2,060,695 for Indian education. In the 1890s Washington also required that all Indian children attend school and subjected Indian Office educational personnel to Civil Service Act provisions. The Indian Commissioner proudly reported that his schools enrolled 23,036 Indian pupils. This was:

over 60 percent of the entire Indian school population exclusive of of the New York Indians and the Five Civilized Tribes. Every agency and almost every reservation has one or more school plants, many of them well equipped with modern conveniences and fully adapted to their purpose.37

Reformers believed that education for citizenship must be linked with severalty and legal rights if assimilation were to work. Thus, the "Friends of the Indian" pushed for a reservation allotment program throughout the 1880s. By breaking up these holdings into individual family tracts, they could further reduce tribal ties and Indian farmers would learn how to compete in a market economy alongside their white neighbors. "So long as the government continues to feed the Indian and encourages him in his lazy, indolent, vagabond life," warned Indian Commissioner Hiram Price, "just so long will large annual appropriations have to be made out of the public treasury for that purpose." The severalty idea was not new; the Indian Office had applied it to selected tribes with mixed results. In Michigan, for example, five-sixths of the Isabella Reservation Chippewas lost their lands a few years after receiving titles to individual holdings. This merely convinced reformers that the government must retain ownership of Indian allotments for at least twenty-five years so that land-hungry whites could not trick natives out of their farms.38

Massachusetts Senator Henry L. Dawes, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and a leading light at the Lake Mohonk Conferences, led the lobbying effort for a general Indian allotment act. Besides reformers, the railroads, white settlers, and other entrepreneurs favored severalty legislation. They had their eyes on surplus reservation lands that would end up for sale following allotment. (These amounted to over 60,000 acres.)39

Success for the "Friends of the Indian" came in 1887. The Dawes Act provided 160-acre allotments to reservation families plus all the "rights, privileges, and immunities" of other United States citizens. Following a quarter-century trust period, Washington would issue fee simple titles to the new owners.40  Historian Frederick E. Hoxie wrote that the Dawes Act:

was the first piece of legislation intended for the general regulation of Indian affairs to be passed in half a century, and it remained the keystone of federal action until 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act replaced it...[S]upporters of the Dawes Act hailed it as the ‘Indians’ Magna Carta’.41

This sense of satisfaction seemed justified. Communal reservations, so long an impediment to the acculturation process, were soon dismantled by an allotment act that reformer Merrill E. Gates described as "a mighty pulverizing engine for breaking up the tribal mass." In unprecedented numbers Indian youth attended formal schools, where resistance to mainstream American ways was likewise under assault. When Frederick Jackson Turner proclaimed the end of frontier era, the Indian reformers must have agreed - with some pride. In 1900 Gates noted at Lake Mohonk that, since Helen Hunt Jackson’s book had been published two decades earlier, there had been "marked progress toward a solution of the ‘Indian problem.’"42

Looking back from the perspective of the 1990s, the "Friends of the Indian" seem too caught up in their reform dreams and too divorced from reservation realities. Rather than breaking decisively from past patterns of Indian-white relations, the United States of a century ago was continuing many of its traditional and harmful practices.

One was a suffocating paternalism towards Natives. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Morgan spoke for many of the "Friends" in 1891 when he pronounced that thousands of Indians were "yet in a stage of childhood; they are living in the twilight of civilization, weak, ignorant, superstitious, and as little prepared to take care of themselves as so many infants." The Dawes Act was the "high point" of this damaging solicitousness, according to historian Paul Prucha. "Lacking all appreciation of the Indian cultures, they [reformers] were intent on forcing upon the natives the qualities that they themselves embodied. It was an ethnocentrism of frightening intensity."43  The general allotment act approach of the 1880s was unique, but the notion that the central government and evangelistic Christians knew what was best for the Indian "children" was as old as the Republic and was still heard in the halls of Washington during the twentieth century. Paternalism was deadly. It produced harmful legislation like the Dawes Act - as will be shown. It bred Indian powerlessness and dependence. It fostered an unwillingness to take Indian spokespersons seriously. Not until 1977 could a congressional American Indian Policy Review Commission announce:

It is the fortune of this generation to be the first in our long history to listen attentively to the Indians, and thereby to begin to understand what they are saying, to recognize realistically their own points of view, as a unique part of our population, and to heed their voices for the righting of wrongs, the ending of frustrations and despair, and the attainment of their needs and aspirations as Indians and as free and proud Americans.44

In the minds of late nineteenth century paternalistic reformers, schooling for Native children was a key to their transformation and ultimately fitting into national life. Education involved more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. Teachers inculcated their students with patriotism and capitalistic American values. Merrill E. Gates again spoke eloquently for the Mohonk reformers:

To bring him out of savagery into citizenship we must make the Indian more intelligently selfish before we can make him unselfishly intelligent. We need to awaken in him wants...Discontent with the teepee and the starving rations of the Indian camp in winter is needed to get the Indian out of the blanket and into trousers, - and trousers with a pocket in them, and with a pocket that aches to be filled with dollars! 45

Some reforms originated in this time period, such as the off-reservation industrial school. But attempts to mold Indian minds in the white man’s classroom went back as far as the American colonial period and continued throughout the twentieth century. After all, education was a source of America’s greatness. It imparted useful skills and competitiveness. It honed the thinking of the nation’s children as well as would-be citizens from around the world. Small wonder that the eradication of Native cultures became an obsession with "Friends of the Indian," or that over time the repressiveness of American schools drove away hundreds of thousands of resentful Indians. This bitter legacy still challenges United States educators as the twenty-first century dawns.

Another fixation of the reformers was severalty and the opening of "surplus" Indian land to non-Native settlers. "The greatest danger hanging over the Indian race," warned Carl Schurz in 1881, "arises from the fact that, with their large and valuable territorial possessions which are lying waste, they stand in the way of what is commonly called "the development of the country."46  The desire to protect Indians by relieving them of land was likewise an enduring North American theme. Native peoples once controlled the nearly three billion acres that is the United States. This was reduced to 150 million acres by 1887. Like so many American Indian Policy innovations, the Dawes Act that year benefited not so much Native land owners as those who sought their resources. By the New Deal period of the 1930s, when Congress revoked the allotment program, Indians had only 48 million acres left.47  Not only had "surplus" reservation land been sold following allotment, but Natives had also lost many of their individual family holdings. The Dawes Act, rather than integrating Indians into the mainstream, ultimately led to large-scale Indian homelessness and poverty. "An overwhelming majority of the Indians are poor, even extremely poor," concluded a 1928 government-sponsored study:

and they are not adjusted to the economic and social system of the dominant white civilization....It almost seems as if the government assumed that some magic in individual ownership of property would in itself prove an educational civilizing factor, but unfortunately this policy has for the most part operated in the opposite direction.48

More recently, historian Philip Weeks judged that "allotment hung like a millstone from the necks of most Indians, entrenching even more deeply Indian dependence on the government for subsistence, survival, and protection from land-hungry whites."49

Seemingly new federal land and educational policies of the late 1800s produced consequences similar to earlier and later innovative programs. In many ways, paternalistic and ethnocentric non-Native reformers ended up hurting the very Indian families they wished to help.

Change as well as continuity was a hallmark of Indian-white relations during the closing years of the nineteenth century. For the first time in the nation’s history, Indians posed little military danger on the frontier. As late as 1878, for example, non-Indian claimants accused Natives of 266 depredations that caused $542,000 in damages. In 1888 the government noted three such instances and in 1889 only seven. The damages claimed for the two years totaled less than $6,000.50

The acculturation of these peaceful Indians was well under way by 1899, although Indian Office educational programs met stiff Native resistance. The Office had vital statistics for 187,319 Indians and claimed that 13 percent resided in permanent homes, 28 percent spoke English for everyday purposes, and 23 percent could read. Schools enrolled 23,615 students.51  Another notable change affected the Indian Office. Besides placing personnel under Civil Service regulations, Washington greatly expanded its size, from 2,102 employees in 1881 to 3,917 by 1897. This was to cope with the challenge, wrote Paul Prucha, "of dealing with the Indians, not as a relatively few tribal units, but as thousands upon thousands of individual wards of the federal government."52

Granting these changes, what strikes today’s historian studying the late 1800s is the continuity of Indian affairs and the wrongheadedness of "Friends of the Indian," who envisioned the transformation and assimilation of "savage" Native peoples. The acceptance of cultural pluralism is trendy in the 1990s. Yet, we should not be too harsh on nineteenth century reformers who, wrote historian William T. Hagan, worked so hard for the Indian’s "acceptance as a full-fledged fellow citizen."53

By 1900, America’s 267,905 Indians, not including Native groups living in Alaska, had made their initial adjustment to life on widely-scattered reservations.54  They were not thriving, but as[sic] least Indian adaptability and fortitude enabled them to survive the transition and establish permanent homes on restricted land bases. Native peoples had forged a new set of relationships with whites on and off the reservations by 1900. No longer free-wheeling nomads who controlled vast resources, their lives revolved around island communities, which most whites expected to enter the American mainstream before long. As the century drew to a close, reservation Indians had stepped part way into the current. In the coming years, it tugged forcefully at them with offerings of the good life, if only they would let go of their past. The year 1900 saw these moderately-acculturated Natives poised between two worlds and two centuries.

Just as Frederick Jackson Turner was wrong about the end of the frontier process, the "Friends of the Indian" were mistaken about the end of the "Indian problem." The course of twentieth century American history also suggests that lasting solutions to the persistent, so-called Indian question will not come from the Potomac. As Hopi Tribal Chairman Ivan Sydney remarked to President Ronald Reagan in December, 1988, "We have the best answers to our problems."55


End Notes

1 Frederick Jackson Turner, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," in George Rogers Taylor, ed., The Turner Thesis: Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History, revised edition (Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1956), 18.  go back

2 Merrill E. Gates, "Addresses at the Lake Mohonk Conferences [1896, 1900]," in Francis Paul Prucha, ed., Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the "Friends of the Indian," 1880-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), 341.  go back

3 "Census of 1870," in the United States Bureau of the Census, Report on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed in the United States (Except Alaska) at the Eleventh Census: 1890, VII (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1894), 21-22.  go back

4 Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs J. Q. Smith, October 30, 1876, in Wilcomb E. Washburn, ed., The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History, I (New York: Random House, 1973), 216.  go back

5 For a brief summary of these events, see Robert M. Utley, "Indian-United States Military Situation, 1848-1891," in Wilcomb E. Washburn, ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 4: History of Indian-White Relations (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1988), 163-184.  go back

6 Arrell M. Gibson, The American Indian: Prehistory to the Present (Lexington: D. C. Heath and Company, 1980), 426-428; Francis Paul Prucha, The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians I (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 580-581, 593; Philip Weeks, Farewell my Nation: The American Indian and the United States, 1820-1890 (Arlington Heights, IL; Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1990), 204-205, 217-218, 232-233.  go back

7 October 24, 1881, in Washburn, Documentary History, I (New York, 1973), 300.  go back

8 Carl Schurz, "Present Aspects of the Indian Problem," in Prucha, Americanizing, 14; Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs J. Q. Smith, October 30, 1876, in Washburn, Documentary History, I:217; Report of Price, 1881, Ibid., 300-301; Gibson, American Indian, 428; Prucha, Great Father, I: 593-594; Weeks, Farewell, 217-218.  go back

9 Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs Edward P. Smith, November 1, 1875, in Washburn, Documentary History, I:210-211; Gibson, American Indian, 429-431; Prucha, Great Father, II:645; Donald J. Berthrong, "Nineteenth-Century United States Government Agencies," in Washburn Handbook, 261-263; Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior, 1890 (National Cash Register Microfiche Edition , 1969), cxxix. Henceforth cited as AR, CIA.  go back

10 Report of Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed in the United States (Except Alaska) at the Eleventh Census: 1890, VII:74; David Wallace Adams, "From Bullets to Boarding Schools: The Educational Assault on the American Indian Identity," in Phillip Weeks, ed., The American Indian Experience. A Profile: 1524 to the Present (Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1988), 220-221; Brian W. Dippie, The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1982), 112: Report of Commissioner E. A. Hayt, November 1,1879, in Washburn, Documentary History, I:249. For a discussion of Christian mission schools among the Indians, see Prucha, Great Father, I:141, 146-148, 597 and 2: 693-694, 707-711.  go back

11 William T. Hagan, "United States Indian Policies, 1860-1900," in Washburn, Handbook, 58-59; Prucha, Great Father; 2:689,692-693; Gibson, American Indian, 431-432; Adams, "Bullets to Boarding Schools," 220-221.  go back

12 Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hiram Price, October 10, 1882, in Washburn, Documentary History, I:336-337; Report of Price, 1881, 307; Report of Morgan, September 5, 1890, in Washburn, Documentary History, I:476.  go back

13 Report of Price, 1881, 307; Report on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed in the United States (Except Alaska) at the Eleventh Census: 1890, VII:76.  go back

14 Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hiram Price, October 10, 1883, in Wahsburn, Documentary History, I:348-349; Report of Morgan, 1890, 470-471. The Sun Dance, writes historian Arrell Gibson, was "the most important Teton Sioux ritual...It was a time for giving thanks, for renewing national solidarity, and for gaining personal strength and status." Gibson, American Indian, 70  go back

15 Gibson, American Indian, 439-440; Walter L. Williams, "American Imperialism and the Indians," in Frederick E. Hoxie, ed., Indians in American History: An Introduction (Arlington Heights, IL: Forum Press, Inc., 1988), 235-237; United States, Statutes at Large, XXXIII: 385; United States v. Kagama, 118 U.S., 375 (1886).  go back

16 Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S., 94 (1884).  go back

17 Prucha, Great Father, I:582.  go back

18 Gibson, American Indian, 430; Prucha, Great Father, I:586-589; quoted in Weeks, Farewell, 198.  go back

19 Gibson, American Indian, 430; Weeks, Farewell, 197-204.  go back

20 Gibson, American Indian, 443, 451-455. Gibson noted, too, that by 1890 "the Indian population of the United States had been reduced from an estimated original 1,500,000 to less than 250,000."  go back

21 Quoted in Ibid., 456.  go back

22 Weeks, Farewell, 231; Gibson, American Indian, 469-472. The off-reservation experience of Black Elk was notable. See John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy man of the Oglala Sioux, revised edition (New York: Pocket books, 1972. Reprinted by University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1979).  go back

23 Edmund J. Danzinger, Jr., The Chippewas of Lake Superior (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978), 94-97; Weeks, Farewell, 231-232.  go back

24 Gibson, American Indian, 466-469, 472-482; Utley, "Indian-United States Military Solution, 1848-1891," 183.    go back

25 Robert W. Mardock, "Indian Rights Movement Until 1887," in Washburn , Handbook, 303-304; Hazel Whitman Hertzberg, " Indian Rights Movement, 1887-1973," Ibid., 305-306; Gibson, American Indian, 457-459, 494.  go back

26 Report for December 3, 1888, in Washburn, Documentary History, I:421.  go back

27 Prucha, Great Father, II:656; "Statement of Objectives" (1885) in Prucha, Americanizing, 43-44.  go back

28 Report of Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs E.M. Marble, November 1, 1880, in Washburn, Documentary History, I:283.
go back

29 Table 10, AR, CIA, 1895, 16.  go back

30 Report of Morgan, 1890, 445: Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs, J. D. C. Atkins, September 28, 1886, in Washburn, Documentary History, I:396.  go back

31 Report of Price, 1882, 330-331; Report of Morgan, 1890, 444-445.  go back

32 Report of Marble, 1880, 284.  go back

33 AR, CIA, 1895, 5; Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs, T. J. Morgan, October 1, 1889, in Washburn, Documentary History, I:429-431; Report of Price, 1882, 333-334.  go back

34 Pratt, "The Advantage of Mingling Indians with Whites," in Prucha, Americanizing, 262.  go back

35 AR, CIA, 1895, 5.  go back

36 Report of Morgan, 1890, 445-446.  go back

37 AR, CIA, 3-16; Frederick E. Hoxie, A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880-1920 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 65. The trend toward educating Indians in the public schools continued, and by 1930 over half the enrolled Native students attended these institutions, Margaret Connell Szasz and Carmelita Ryan, "American Indian Education," in Washburn, Handbook, 293.  go back

38 Report of Price, 1882, 336; Report of Hayt, 1879, I:225-229. For a discussion of 1880s objections to serveralty, see House Committee on Indian Affairs, "Minority Report on Land in Severalty Bill" (1880), in Prucha, Americanizing, 122-128, and Hertzberg, "Indian Rights Movement," 306.  go back

39 1890 Census, VII:67; Gibson, "Indian Land Transfers," in Washburn, Handbook, 226-227.  go back

40 United States, Statutes at Large, XXIV: 388-391. For a discussion of those tribes initially exempted from the Dawes Act, see Gibson, American Indian, 497-498.  go back

41 Hoxie, Final Promise, 70.  go back

42 Gates, "Address at the Lake Mohonk Conferences," in Prucha, Americanizing, 337, 342.  go back

43 Report of Morgan, 1891, 529; Prucha, Great Father, II:610.  go back

44 American Indian Policy Review Commission, Final Report, Submitted to Congress May 17, 1977 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1977), 1.  go back

45 Gates, "Addresses at the Lake Mohonk Conferences," 334.  go back

46 Schurz, "Present Aspects of the Indian Problem," in Prucha, Americanizing, 25. For a detailed analysis of how the idealistic purpose of the Dawes Act was subverted, see Janet A. McDonnell, The Dispossession of the American Indian, 1887-1934 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).  go back

47 Gibson, American Indian, 506.  go back

48 Lewis Meriam et al., The Problem of Indian Administration (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1928), 3, 7.  go back

49 Weeks, Farewell, 222. For a description of Native land loss under the Dawes Act, see Prucha, Great Father, II: Chapters 29 and 34.
go back

50 AR, CIA, 1890, cxxxiii.  go back

51 Berthrong, "Nineteenth-Century Government Agencies," 263.  go back

52 Prucha, Great Father, II:759.  go back

53 Hagan, "Reformers’ Images of the Native Americans: The Late Nineteenth Century," in Weeks, American Indian Experience, 216.
go back

54 Berthrong, "Nineteenth-Century Government Agencies," 263.  go back

55 "Statement by Assistant to the President for Press Relations Fitzwater on the President’s Meeting With American Indian Leaders, December 12, 1988," in Public Papers of the President of the United States. Ronald Reagan, 1989-90, II (Washington: Government Printing Office. 1991), 1615.  go back

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