A Century of Dishonor

A CENTURY of Dishonor 1 is the significant title given by H. H. to her sketch of the dealings of the United States government with some of the Indian tribes. Never was a book more needed or more timely. Up to the present day there have been in the public mind vague ideas that the Indians have been wronged, but that they are one and all treacherous, cruel, aggressive, and incapable of civilization ; that they are, moreover, dying out, and on the whole it is not much

matter if they have been wronged. The Indians, on their side, have had no way to make their condition, their wants, or their capabilities known excepting through the agents of the government, and experience has shown that our government has always been unjust to them. Want of a common language and lack of free communication with whites have kept both races ignorant, in a great measure, of each other, and have been the prolific cause of hostilities and all kinds of misunderstanding. At intervals the cause of the Indians has been earnestly taken up, and eloquent appeals have been made in their behalf in Congress and out of it ; but no fruit has come from them. The system of the government has continued substantially unchanged ; and it is a most unreasonable and pernicious system, which holds three hundred thousand human beings nominally as wards, practically as subjects, to be forcibly removed from one place to another, and cheated unmercifully, whenever it is considered “ expedient ” to remove and cheat them. The missionaries of many denominations have worked persistently, sometimes helped, sometimes only tolerated, sometimes interfered with, by the government ; but they have accomplished a great deal in the civilization and education of the tribes where they have had the fullest opportunities for work, and have been least obstructed by wars and removals. The Indians have had no historian from among their own people ; their official records are written by the white agents set over them, and those records are found scattered through the reports of the Interior Department, to which the Indian bureau belongs. These reports H. H. has diligently and conscientiously read, and from them she has made a consecutive story of seven of the tribes. She says that " to write in full the history of any one of these Indian communities, of its forced migrations, wars, and miseries, would till a volume by itself. The history of the missionary labors of the different churches would make another volume. It is the one bright spot on the dark record. All this I have been forced to leave untouched, in strict adherence to my object, which has been simply to show our causes for national shame in the matter of our treatment of the Indians. It is a shame which the American nation ought not to lie under, for the American people, as a people, are not at heart unjust. If there be one thing which they believe in more than any other, and mean that every man on this continent shall have, it is ‘ fair play.’ And as soon as they fairly understand how cruelly it has been denied to the Indian they will rise up and demand it for him.”

Whatever can be done for the Indians by an earnest purpose, careful study, logical statements, and righteous indignation H. H. has done in this book. She has a great subject, rich in all the picturesque, dramatic, and tragic elements that tempt a writer, but she has resolutely put aside the temptation to dwell on these elements, and has confined herself with remarkable and praiseworthy reserve to the unimpeachable facts of the official records.

The Delawares are the first tribe of which a sketch is given. It was this tribe that, in 1609, when Hendrik Hudson lauded on New York island, stood on the shore, and welcomed him with the words, " Behold! the gods have come to visit us ! ” They were a gentle and a noble tribe, friendly and peaceful when they were allowed to be, good farmers, and as long ago as 1794 reported to have flourishing villages and highly cultivated fields and gardens. They have been “ removed ” again and again; their rich lands have been bought for a trifle, the government, as buyer, always fixing the price, and paying or not, as it pleased ; the treaties made with them have always been to their disadvantage, but that mattered little, as our government feels no obligation to keep any promise made to an Indian. Treaties and promises are only convenient means for a temporary settlement of difficulties. The Indians believe the promises and keep their part of the treaties; the whites break them whenever they please. In spite of their wrongs, the Delawares, in 1862, enlisted one hundred and seventy men in the Union army, out of a population of only two hundred males between the ages of eighteen and forty-five. They officered their own companies, and were good soldiers, tractable, sober, watchful, and obedient. At that time they were in Kansas, having been " moved on ” so far from the Hudson River. Now what is left of them is in the Indian Territory; they have lost their name, and are Cherokee citizens. Only eighty-one', who by one of the frequent blunders made in Indian treaties were not included in their tribe, retain the name of Delaware, — that strong and friendly people to whom we long ago promised that they should be our brothers forever, and whom we have betrayed and wronged ever since.

With the Cheyennes our treaties began in 1825 ; and for fifty-five years they have been treated with persistent injustice, and driven into hostility, from which have come outrages, massacres, and untold misery to innocent and guilty alike. It is impossible to go into the details of the government policy, in its dealing with the different tribes. Delawares, Cheyennes, Nez Porcés, Sioux, Poncas, Winnebagoes, Cherokees, — the story is essentially the same, varied with different incidents, different characters, more or less suffering, more or less rebellion and bloodshed, more or less cruelty and horror upon both sides ; for brutality belongs not to the Indian race more than to the white, but to individuals, without regard to race or color; and the atrocities committed by whites against Indians fully equal in savageness any ever perpetrated by Indians, and are far worse, as done by civilized men, who assume to be the superior race. Every tribe has had in the main the same experience of the weak oppressed by the strong, and hated and maligned by the oppressor. Bishop Whipple says, “ Ahab never speaks kindly of Naboth, whom he has robbed of his vineyard.” And the good bishop’s caustic wit gives the true explanation of the wide-spread misjudgment of the Iilian character, that has permitted Americans so outrageously to use the red men that the tyranny and injustice have come to be as black a stain on our honor as ever negro slavery was. Of the 300,000 Indians in the United States, 130,000 support themselves, 115,000 are wholly or partly supported by government, and 55,000 are unsettled, living as they can by hunting, fishing, begging, or stealing. The only wonder is that so many are self-supporting. There is a great difference in the characters and the civilization of the different tribes. Many are entirely fit to become citizens at once ; and to enfranchise the whole body would be a far less dangerous experiment than the enfranchisement of negroes or the naturalization of Irishmen was. One cannot read A Century of Dishonor without amazement at the progress of Indians in civilization, their patience, their willingness to work, and their acceptance of the evil conditions of their lot; or without hot indignation at the treachery, the meanness, the cruelty, of our government to its friends and its enemies alike.

To the sketches of the tribes H. H. has added the history of massacres of Indians by whites, and a valuable appendix, containing much information in reference to the present condition of Indians, and especially of the Poncas. A great many thousands are already massed in the Indian Territory, and tribes are moved there, with or without their consent. Of course, at every removal the tribe is solemnly promised that its new home shall be a permanent one ; and the absurd talk about fatherly care and brotherly love is gone over with again ; a treaty is made and signed, and we know that it is all a mockery. Some of the tribes are well settled, prosperous, and happy in the Indian Territory, as they have been well settled, prosperous, and happy on many other reservations ; they are of those who fully accept the inevitable, and make the best of their lot. If there were the least cer tainty of their permanent occupancy of this territory, there would be something to be said in favor of the government scheme of massing them there. But there is not. No pledges can be given them more solemn than those which have been broken again and again. The Indian Territory is bounded by Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas. The citizens of those States object — as the neighbors of an Indian reservation always have objected — and with a good show of reason, to having such great tracts of land inhabited by the “ wards ” of the nation, who pay no taxes, who are not allowed to develop the resources of the country, and who, living on a basis entirely different from that of citizens, become a hindrance, and not a help, to free intercourse between the States which they separate. The fault is not in the citizens who complain, but in the system that the government has clung to all these years, — a system the infamy of which is equaled only by its folly and its costliness.

H. H.’s book is indorsed by Bishop Whipple, of Minnesota, and President Seelye, of Amherst College, the former writing an introduction for it, and the latter a preface.

There are few trustworthy histories of the Indians ; but those who care to follow out the subject will find all that H. H. says more than justified by Mr.

Manypenny in his book called Our Indian Wards, published last year; and by Colonel Carrington, who has published his Indian experiences under the title of Absaraka. They all agree in denouncing the present Indian system ; they all agree that unless the Indian is acknowledged " a person,” and has the same legal rights that a white man has, our Indian troubles never will be settled. H. H. insists, and with reason, that the Indians will be a noble and superior race, “ if civilization will only give them time to become civilized, and Christians will leave them time and peace to learn Christianity.” But these constant " removals ” (an innocent word covering unutterable woes) prevent all this. While recognizing the obstacles that lie in the way of doing justice to the Indians, after so many years of injustice, of even attempting to wipe out the terrible score that they have against us, and of deciding on what shall be done with them, she says, with a simplicity that lias a sharp sting in it, that there is no difficulty in agreeing upon four things that ought not to be done; and those are cheating, robbing, breaking promises, and refusing the protection of law to the Indian. “ Till these four things have ceased to be done, statesmanship and philanthropy alike must work in vain, and even Christianity can reap but a small harvest.”

  1. A Century of Dishonor. A Sketch of the United States Government’s Dealings with some of the Indian Tribes. By H. H., Author of Verses, Bits of Travel, etc. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1881.