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Indian Policy In Its Relations To Crime And Pauperism (1892)

The Indian Policy In Its Relations To Crime And Pauperism

A paper presented by Philip C. Garrett, Committee Chairman, at the 1892 National Conference of Charities And Correction Conference

 There is a vagueness about the phrase “The Indian Policy,” which invites discussion of the whole question of the relation of Indians to whites. It might even be instructive, in our assumed superiority, to consider the policy of the Indians. The policy of either Mexico or Canada, as to the North American Indians within their borders, would also, with shame be it spoken, be worthy of study. Because in Mexico the Europeans, far from assuming a hostile attitude toward the natives, recognized them as citizens, intermarried, and merged the Spanish in the native population; and in Canada they have at least known how to treat their darker-skinned brethren with justice and humanity.

Limiting the subject, however, to the policy pursued toward the Indians on United States soil, it may still comprise three distinct divisions: (1) The course pursued toward the Aborigines by the people of this country with whom they have come in contact; (2) the policy pursued by the national government during the past two hundred years, as indicated in the various treaties with Indian tribes, the theories and decisions of the Supreme Court as to the relation of this country to its ancient inhabitants, and the legislation about them by Congress from colonial times until now; or (3) the policy of the present day and of the present administration.

The first of these includes the policy of William Penn; but, almost with that single exception, the history of white settlers’ dealings with the Indian tribes in the colonies, and later in the Territories, may be written in characters of blood, and may fitly be described as the border-ruffian policy. The course of William Penn and his colonists for seventy years toward the Iroquois was so uniformly humane and unselfish that absolute peace and safety reigned within the borders of Pennsylvania. And there is not the slightest reason to doubt that, if precisely the same course had been pursued everywhere and at all times, there would never have been an Indian war or an Indian massacre within the length and breadth of this land.

Failure to recognize rights which belong to the Indians, and white rapacity and villany, are largely responsible both for pauperism and crime among the Indians. Here in Colorado, with the eloquent grave of the author of “Ramona,” so near to the place where we meet, it can hardly be necessary to revive the incidents recited in her remarkable book entitled “The Century of Dishonor,” some of them incidents of which this very State has been a witness. Nor should it be needful to condemn in a more enlightened day the barbarisms of which white men have been found capable in the past. And yet what will not avarice do in the way of stifling the sentiments of Christian humanity? The depravity of the human heart is unfathomable.

Many, perhaps most, of the barbarities and wars and massacres lie at the doors of white reprobates, whose responsibility is heightened by the Christian lessons of their childhood. The most barbarous of the Indians have not been more savagely cruel than some men of our own race. If not first treated ill by others, the Aborigines have been tractable, mild, and hospitable, although ferocious when wronged. They have been thus wronged; and, therefore, for the degradation which has followed the border-ruffian policy is largely responsible.

Humiliated, robbed of their spirit and manhood, filled with loathsome disease, degraded by love of whiskey, and lost to all pride of self-dependence, and then pauperized, abandoned and wretched, lazy, dirty, and repulsive, they are made to feel the twofold hatred causing their wrongs and engendered by them.

Pauperism is one manifest sequel. Crime, in the form of drunkenness and resultant violence and murder, is another. And any one can lengthen the catalogue by his own intuition.

There is also another aspect of the subject, that of the evil effect on our own people. We may be wrong in supposing- General Merrill, an old Indian fighter, says we are, and General Merrill, like the late General Crook, is one of the Indian’s best friends- that few lives are lazier or more injurious to morals than that of a private soldier on the border,– lazier in time of peace or more demoralizing in time of war. For those who have not read Mrs. Jackson’s book, we will give one illustration of the latter fact from its pages. It was after the massacre at Sand Creek, and is related by one who sympathized with the infernal policy of extermination. The few surviving Indians were leaving the awful scene. A little child, three years old, toddled after them, at a short distance through the sand. One of the soldiers, catching sight of him, raised a rifle to his shoulder and took a shot at him, but missed.

Another, observing this, said: “Let me try. I can hit him,” applying a profane epithet which we need not quote. He also missed, when a third, dropping on one knee, took deliberate aim, and the little fellow fell. Could any most ferocious savage be more of a devil in human shape? These are the men; these, and too often settlers equally bad, desperadoes who have been the offscouring of cities, fugitives from justice, men who prefer to live where there is little restraint of law, men the incarnation of selfish purposes, lost to all sense of humanity –, such are the men who have served too often as models of civilization to the Indian. What can be expected under such tuition?

And can it for a moment be defended in a country professing to be Christian? There is not a trace of the spirit of Christ in it from beginning to end. Has not God made of one blood all nations of the earth to dwell on the face thereof? and is it not out of all kindreds, nations, tongues, and people that the sanctified throng proceed, who in the Apocalypse are represented as worshipping around the great white throne?

There is every probability, from a scientific point of view, that we are of one blood. And yet aversion, hatred, utter and inconceivable selfishness on our part, reckless disregard of the rights of others, are the motives that have guided the course of this nation too often in dealing with a weaker people. Where has been our manliness, where our fair play and our sense of honor?

We praise patriotism, and then we recognize the Indian tribes as separate nationalities, and abuse and destroy them because they defend their customs and their hunting grounds.

We give them land to be theirs forever; but no sooner does a railroad company want to run through it than we yield to the pressure, rob the Indians of it again, and send them to the desert.

And now the question arises, What is crime in an Indian, and what is pauperism? People often confuse pauperism with poverty.

The Indians are always poor, at least have been since the days of Montezuma. They are not avaricious. They are content with little. That is one thing that retards their civilization, because civilization has been defined to be a multiplication of wants. When an Indian dies, they burn his wealth to ashes. How would some of our white will-contestants squirm under that mode of extinguishing avarice!

But pauperism is wilful poverty and dependence on others’ support, and under Caucasian influence. Many Indians have reached this state.

Then, again, what is the standard for crime? ” Where there is no law, there is no transgression “; and Professor Thayer has described the Indians as “a people without law.”

An Indian may be most correct and laudable in his conduct in the eyes of his tribe, and yet, when the aegis of United States law extends its protecting shadow over him, find himself guilty at once of a dozen crimes. For crime is not synonymous with sin. It is not offence against God, but offence against human law. An Indian policy is not necessary, to put the Indians in an attitude of criminality; but our Indian policy ought to be so shaped as to lift them out of this attitude without necessary condemnation, by training them to better standards of life and conduct. This is what the philanthropists, so often referred to as sentimentalists, are seeking to bring about; and, in deference to a demand of humane public sentiment, a great revolution has taken place in the whole relation of our people to the Indians. In the past that relation was far from human, and was destructive of the Indians‘ humanity.

Everything which has tended to discourage and degrade the Indian has also tended to make a pauper of him. Every failure to recognize his manhood, every ignoring of noble traits and keen perceptions, every cruel act, and every act of injustice (to which he is acutely sensitive),- all such treatment has contributed to reduce him from a condition of dignity and pride to one of ignoble dependence and beggary.

Now, it is not only the barbarity of white ruffians on the frontier, therefore, which has brought about this lamentable result, but the entire position assumed by our government during the past century. Much of this was due to the assumption that the Indian tribes were independent nations. It is difficult, we admit, indeed, to see how at the outset the European, setting foot upon occupied soil, could do less than recognize the independent nationality of the occupants. But this ought long since to have ceased. However, it is not this of itself which has almost led to their ruin.

But even the treaties made with them as sovereignties have been filled with the seeds of degradation and destruction. They have, too many of them, been conceived in unwisdom and brought forth in iniquity. The theory, therefore, of our relation to the Indian is partly responsible for the shame that has followed. If the government of the United States had, in good faith, recognized the Indian tribes as nationalities, and dealt with them in that spirit of comity shown to European nations and shown to the Indian tribes by the founder of Pennsylvania, the practice of the nation would have been an honorable sequel to the theory. In that case, the same disastrous results to the morals of the Indians would not, perhaps, have followed, or at least the theory of separate nationality would not have been responsible for it if they did. This hypothesis had to be abandoned, sooner or later; and it has been abandoned in large measure already in favor of one not much more available, —that they are wards of the nation.

But the right of separate tribal government, the right of declaring and waging war, and a certain anomalous autonomy are recognized to this day. In our estimation, the government is too slow in abandoning these antiquated and injurious positions; for the only sound, rational, and durable policy is that of recognizing the whole of the Indians simply as men, preparing them rapidly for citizenship, making them amenable to American law, compelling the recognition of their equal rights before the law, and denying them the jus belli of belligerents.

It is only by such means that the vexing Indian problem can be laid to rest. When the red race is absorbed and assimilated by the white, and millions of our population have a slight tinge of Indian blood, then at last there will be no longer a separate problem for the Indians.

The reason that the policy of dealing with the tribes as with sovereignties is liable for much of the dispirited degradation of the Indians is that it was a half-hearted policy, that it was insincere and dishonest. Professing a recognition of nationality, it really cajoled, deceived, cheated, and robbed them, and substituted the pauperizing ration and annuity systems for independence, honest pride, and selfreliance. It seized their hunting grounds, drove them before the advance of white settlement, gave them little education and less Christianity, and left them to perish in indolence and disease.

The theory of guardianship is little better, as it has been administered. For, while gratuitous food and annuities without work have fostered laziness, the tyranny of the agency system has taken away from many of them the last spark of manhood.

The Indians of most of the tribes are not people to treat with simply despotic power. It has the worst possible effect upon them, and is, moreover, most inconsistent with the genius of those republican institutions with which they should be familiarized. They fully understand the inconsistency. The Indians are proud, reserved, sensitive to wrong and affront, and not without capacity for self-government.

And, after all the experience of their docility under education and their aptness to learn, it is amazing to find so many people, in and out of Congress, who declare that the money spent on their education is worse than wasted. It is far from this. On the contrary, Congress has rather erred in not expending more money to follow up the education by providing on the reservation the means of living in a rational and civilized way,–thoroughly competent farmers to train them in practical agriculture and field matrons to instruct the women. If the educated young Indians are allowed to return and live in the midst of heathen customs, how can they resist the pressure to return to the ways of their fathers, with no opportunity for work to utilize their industrial education? The blanket Indians cannot furnish this. Better would it be to sacrifice the instincts of home and family, and scatter young Indians among industrious whites, effacing, if need be, their Indian identity forever, unless after the return to their tribes they are placed in a position to hold fast to the civilization they have attained.

The education is right: it is indispensable. But what, again, is the use of teaching them history, and illustrating thereby the value of republican government, if they are immediately placed under the autocratic rule of the agent, who is judge, jury, and sheriff, and not allowed to turn a finger without consulting him? As a system of preparation for the duties of American citizenship, the folly of the system is inconceivable.

What we need for the Indian, to get him back to the self-respect of the age of the Montezumas, is to cultivate his manhood, trust him, throw responsibility upon him, let him trade as freely as his Caucasian neighbor, teach him law, and give him the power of an equal ballot. Pay him well for his services, treat him with consideration, never lie to him, and never defraud him. And, when there comes to be between him and the white man that mutual confidence that should exist between men of one blood, then at last, and not until then, the sword and conflagration shall cease, and lasting peace shall be within all our borders.

There are at least three characteristics of the attitude of this government to the Indians in the past which we may fairly mark as follies. These are: (1) the recognition of the tribes as independent sovereignties, which suggested war, and therefore crime: (2) the creation by treaty of perpetual annuities and rations, which invited pauperism; and (3) the grant to them of land, while denying the privilege of selling it: this again tempted them to lease it, and live off it without labor. All of these prolong a state of barbarism by the direct act of the United States government, and all involve inconsistencies unworthy of good statesmanship. The recognition of sovereignty involved belligerency and territorial rights, according to the law of nations, if the North American Indians are in any sense and to any extent to be brought under that law; and, if not, it is difficult to see the obligation to admit their sovereignty at all. But they do not claim territorial rights. They were all Henry George men, and did not recognize land ownership nor territorial limitations.

And, if their belligerent inclinations are indulged, they will be after savage methods, and not in accordance with European custom; and they should not be held to account for that, so long as their national character is admitted and recognized.

The establishment of rations and annuities in perpetuity is just as inconsistent with the efforts to civilize the Indians, and in large measure renders those efforts futile.

And so, again, with their land tenure. As we have said, the Indians were forerunners of Henry George, and had no land laws

But we force land upon them, and then take it from them at will, so that they feel they have no certain tenure nor dwelling-place. And, when we give it to them severally, like white men, we still withhold the right to sell it. We nail them to the spot, and then give them very little and very poor agricultural teaching, and slender means to till the soil. What white man could you save from pauperism and crime under these conditions? Truly, the past does include a century of dishonor and folly. But there is a bright picture yet in the good time coming.

The present administration of Indian affairs deserves commendation for its forward movement. And even the present system, for which. General Morgan is not responsible, with all its defects, is far in advance of that in the past. Legislation moves slowly. A certain recognition of tribal autonomy remains, the undemocratic agency system remains, a defective system for the appointment of agents remains, the Indians are inadequately provided with justice and with the means of civilization.

But these clouds are breaking; and the Indian Bureau, under its present head, distinctly recognizes the policy of educating all the Indians, of Christianizing them, of civilizing them, breaking up the tribes, and converting every Indian into a citizen of the United States. This is the only true and radical solution of the Indian problem; and it is the only just one. The Indian, when his fine traits of character are developed in the sun of popular approval, and under the blessings of a Christian education, is every way worthy of citizenship.

In the great Indian schools, such as that at Carlisle, this character unfolds wonderfully; and no one who has seen only the lazy, ration-fed, reservation Indian has a right to a judgment as to his capacity. The common denunciation of the Indian’s friends as sentimentalists and doctrinaires is not in order on the ground that they are ignorant of his character. They are those who do know the possibility– nay, the certainty — that he can be converted into the better type of man and citizen. They are free from adverse prejudice. They have seen enough of his good qualities to be willing to give him a chance along with Italians, Hungarians, and Bohemians. The citizenship policy is the only just policy: it is also the only one which will free this country from the incubus of waste on Indian wars, Indian land purchases, Indian claims, annuities, rations, and clothing, because, when you make a man and an American of him, he becomes a producer, and he pays his share of taxes, he fights on the side of the United States, and he pays his own expenses.

The present Indian policy, therefore, carried out to all its legitimate sequences, is going to save him from the almshouse and jail, at least as much as the average of the population; and he will soon be lost and merged in the volume of American humanity.

We are disposed to clinch this very imperfect presentation of the case with the following extract from the last annual report of Commissioner Morgan. He says: —

The great forces now at work –land in severalty, with its accompanying dissolution of the tribal relation and breaking up of the reservation; the destruction of the agency system; citizenship and all that belongs thereto of manhood, independence, privilege, and duty; education, which seeks to bring the young Indians into right relationship with the age in which they live, and to put into their hands the tools by which they may gain for themselves food and clothing, and build for themselves homes — will, if allowed to continue undisturbed a reasonable length of time, accomplish their beneficent ends. They should be fostered, strengthened, maintained, and allowed to operate.

Other forces scarcely less powerful than these —namely, the progress of our own civilization, which is invading the reservations and surrounding the Indians on every side; the progress of Christianity through the active missionary efforts of the churches; the changed conditions which have forced upon the Indians themselves the necessity of greater efforts toward self-help and improvement -combine and co-operate with the organized efforts of the government to bring about their uplifting.

How long it will take for the work to be completed depends partly upon the wisdom of Congress when making necessary laws, partly upon the will of the executive in making appointments and giving direction to Indian affairs, partly upon the fidelity and intelligence of agents and others chosen to superintend the work, partly upon the vigor and efficiency of the schools and those employed to teach industries, partly upon the zeal of Christian churches and humanitarians, and largely upon the spirit of those of our people who find themselves in face to face relationship with Indian families and individuals, on the reservations and elsewhere. I will venture to say that it is possible before the close of the present century to carry this matter so far toward its final consummation as to put it beyond the range of anxiety.

Such are the views of the present Commissioner; and here we would rest the case, were it not for the importance of laying a little further stress on the serious evils — legacies from former error–which still remain engrafted on the system, being difficult of removal. We have referred to the agency system as one of these evils, but do not wish to be understood as asserting that under no circumstances are United States agents necessary.

The agency is even yet to be regarded as a necessary evil on some of the reservations. But there has been so much iniquity practised under this system, and there yet remains about the appointment of agents so much of the odium of a political favoritism which is destructive of economy and efficiency in accomplishing the purpose of the United States to civilize the Indians, that the sooner these agencies can be dispensed with, the better, unless important modifications can be made in the agent’s powers and relations to his wards. At best, the agency is an autocracy: the agent’s wards are almost serfs; and it is therefore, we say, unavoidably an evil, if unmodified, when these Indians are in training for civilized life. To exercise his unlimited power wisely and beneficently requires an incumbent nearer perfect than any method of appointment is likely to produce.

As for the recent enactment providing for the selection of agents from officers of the army, it would be a shade better than their choice from among political henchmen of politicians but for one thing. Army government is also autocratic, and the new method of appointment may only delay the time when progressive tribes can throw off every yoke and make of themselves self-governing communities of intelligent men. However, the agency system, as at present constituted, never will and never can fit the Indian to become a duly qualified citizen of the United States. It should be replaced by a democratic system of local government for the Indian, the simplest possible, but containing the germs and elements of our form of government.

As to the education of the Indians, Congress has done well, but ought to do better. If education is necessary to fit the Indians for citizenship,– and nothing is clearer,– then is it not false economy to half educate them, and to educate half of them?

Could logic make anything plainer than that, if this is a good thing, in the interest of America, it is good to do it for all of them, and to do it all for them? And that without unnecessary delay. The people of the United States, therefore, through their representatives at Washington, are mainly responsible for prolonging this obstructive problem in the path of national progress, if they fail to appropriate all the money necessary to effectuate the wise conclusions of this generation. Hitherto Congress has stopped short of that point. They maintain a certain number of schools to educate Indian children, and then turn the latter loose on wild reservations, and complain if they lapse into barbarism. They give them few and incompetent instructors in farming, furnish them with no mechanics’ tools, few implements of farming, but little stock and seed, and expect them, out of nothing but an education, to materialize all these, and resist derision and family influence besides.

Is it to be wondered at that the government furnishes 4,001,260 pounds of beef in I890 against 2,260,032 in 1878 at one agency, if no effort is made to teach them wise farming and grazing?

We have stated a strong case; but, if we mistake not, the aggregate delivery of beef this year is some 34,000,000 pounds against 33,000,000 about 1877,– an increase in fifteen years of about 1,000,00 pounds instead of a large reduction, as there should be. Much of this is issued to satisfy treaty stipulations, it is true; and this constitutes the pauperizing ration system. Now, we must fulfil the obligations of treaties, and comply with their spirit to the fullest extent. But an early stop should be put to their fulfilment in this form, because it is cruel and beggaring to the Indian.

Each reservation should be helped and taught to raise its own subsistence, and whatever money is necessary to help the Indians to help themselves should be ungrudgingly spent by the government, on the wise principle of organized charity.

It appears to us that the government should offer inducements to the Indians to accept, in lieu of these annuities in food, clothing, and money, a capitalized sum, to be given them in industrial schools, farming implements, tools of various kinds, seeds, live stock, and whatever would enable them to support themselves, with a sum left in trust at interest, the income to be applied to the payment of salaries to farmers and industrial teachers.

If a tribe is now furnished 4,000,000 pounds of gross beef, under treaty obligation, annually, and that beef costs the United States three cents per pound on an average, or $120,000 annually, it would not be out of the way to capitalize this at $2,400,000, and get rid of the annual expenditure and of the pauperism at the same time. It would be cheap for the United States.

Few people have any conception of the extent of the burden which these legacies of statesmanship have entailed on our country. At the opening of bids May 3 of this year there were 543 competitors to furnish almost every conceivable thing, including the 34,000,00o0 pounds of beef and 9,500,000 of flour; and all these things are given to the Indians. About $2,000,o000 were deposited by these bidders, merely as guarantees for faithful performance of their contracts.

A large warehouse on Wooster Street, New York, is occupied by the United States government, with a considerable force of men engaged the year round in receiving, examining, packing, and shipping goods to the various agencies and schools; and 5,187,150 pounds of freight were shipped thence in I891, besides the enormous supplies of beef, flour, etc., delivered directly from Western points.

If the policy of feeding and clothing the Indians gratuitously were ended in the way we have suggested, all this machinery and outlay would be saved to the country, and the Indians would become producers, and doubtless in some instances raise a surplus of produce for the general market.

In brief, then, our conclusions are these. It is demonstrated that Indians are capable of education and civilization. The way to correct their present state of dependence on others is to teach them self-reliance. The way to perpetuate this state is to continue to feed and clothe them. They should be trusted and thrown on their own resources, but assisted with implements and instructors to help themselves.

All tribal conditions should be terminated. Communal tenure of land should be broken up. They should be mingled with and surrounded by the best white civilization. Isolation and reservation will not accomplish this. They should be placed under the same laws as whites as soon as capable of it, and should be helped to this capability, and allowed to buy, sell, and find their own natural level; and at the earliest possible day every line of demarcation between Indians and whites, politically, should be obliterated.


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SourceProceedings of the National Conference of Charities And Correction at the Nineteenth Annual Session Held In Denver, Col., June 23-29, 1892. Pp 23-42. Note: The proceedings of annual meetings of the NCSW, 1874-1983, are available thanks to a digitization project undertaken by the University of Michigan Library, with assistance from the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota.  The web site for this resource is:

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