It is impossible to explain the substantial effects of the American Civil War in a few words in this or any other blog, but it may be sufficient to say that it was the power of the federal government that defeated the Confederacy. Moreover, it was the growth of the federal government (and its military) that produced lasting consequences in the settlement of the American West. The war’s end permitted the US Army to reoccupy previously abandoned forts and, with this presence, finally come to terms with the “Indian problem.” In 1865, especially among frontier settlers, dealing with hostiles was long overdue.
The Plains Indians had been hunters for hundreds of years, and while these hunting societies were always sparsely populated, they nevertheless occupied the vast territories needed to sustain them. Whenever Indian populations grew to unmanageable levels, new bands were formed and relocated, while maintaining their affiliations with the central tribe. In the case of the plains Indians, experts claim that in the mid-1850s, the numbers of Comanche and Kiowa Indians may have exceeded 46,000 people. Plains Indians deeply resented the loss of their territories to frontier settlers (Mexican or Anglo), but they defended them equally against other Indian encroachments, as well.
In the emerging western areas, state and federal authorities struggled with the Indian problem for at least two decades before the Civil War and nothing they attempted seemed to work. Just prior to the Civil War, the US Army withdrew from most of their western fortifications and when these Indians realized that there would be no danger to themselves in raiding settlements, the number of war parties increased. Sioux war parties escalated in 1862; in that year alone, more than 1,000 settlers were murdered or taken into slavery in the Minnesota frontier. Clashes with Apache, Navajo, Cherokee, Shoshone also significantly increased.
From the beginning of European colonies in America, natives were often removed from lands that the Europeans wanted for themselves. The means of doing this varied from one colonial region to another, but included signed treaties, forceful ejection, and in some cases, instances where the Indians moved voluntarily—and when they did, it was almost always to locations further west. Over time, these westward migrations would place Indian tribes in conflict with others.
The first Indian reservation in the American colonies was established in southern New Jersey in 1758. It was known as the Brotherton Reservation (also Edgepillock), a set-aside of around 3,300 acres. Today, this reservation is known as Indian Mills near Shamong Township.
Indian reservations began with the 1763 proclamation where Great Britain set aside an enormous swath of land for the Indians. Having thus set aside this land, government officials reasoned that having done so, the government had the right to require Indians to live on these lands.
In 1764, a colonial board of trade announced its “Plan for the Future Management of Indian Affairs.” The plan was never adopted formally, but it did communicate the British government’s expectation that land would henceforth be purchased by the government (not individuals) and that lands could only be purchased at public meetings. The plan also stipulated that Indians would always be consulted before increasing the size of British colonies. Private contracts involving the sale of Indian land were replaced by treaties between sovereigns, an acknowledgment by the British that Indians tribes were regarded as autonomous nations. After the American Revolution, the United States government adopted this same protocol. In 1824, without any congressional approval Secretary of War John C. Calhoun created the Office of Indian Affairs within the War Department. The OIA remained with the War Department until the Congress moved it to the Department of the Interior as the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1832. The purpose of the OIA was to resolve land problems with the Indians. Over time, the US government had 38 separate treaties with American Indian tribes.
A document titled Indian Treaties and Laws and Regulations Relating to Indian Affairs was published in 1825; it was signed by President Andrew Jackson, who proclaimed, “… we have placed the land reserves in a better state for the benefit of society.” The president was either misinformed or lying, of course. As a benefit to society, President Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The Trade and Non-Intercourse Act of 1834 reallocated portions of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes from the southeastern United States, which of course meant that the United States government defined the boundaries of Indian Country. Among these Indians, however, it was never a matter of “setting aside lands for them.” It was forced removal from their traditional homelands and driving them as cattle to wherever the government wanted to send them.
In 1837, President Van Buren signed a treaty with the Saginaw Tribe to build a lighthouse —the point being that the American executive was involved in Indian treaties from an early period in US history. In 1838, Secretary of State John Forsyth signed a treaty on behalf of the President which dictated to the Indians that they must live in terms of a reservation system.
Texas has always been unique in the story of America. Once a Spanish province, and then a department within a province, and then a state in rebellion to an independent sovereign nation, and finally to becoming the 28th state to join the union (discounting the civil war, of course), Texas has always been the master and shaper of its own destiny. Texas, therefore, had its own Indian policy. Before 1845, Texas created a reservation system. It wasn’t a very large reservation, and it didn’t last very long. This was because, in the hearts of most Texans of the time, it was most preferred that the Indians be exterminated rather than cared for.
Policies of President Grant
Ulysses Simpson Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant) (1822-1885) was born to a modest family. His father was a tanner and store clerk. Raised in Ohio, Grant developed into an exceptional horseman. He was a graduate of the US Military Academy in 1843 and distinguished himself in battle during the Mexican American War. He left military service in 1854 to live a normal life with his family in Ohio, but for the next seven years, the Grant’s lived in poverty. Nothing Grant attempted worked out for him. He rejoined the Army in 1861 and became Abraham Lincoln’s only hope for success in the American Civil War.
In the north, Grant was largely regarded as a war hero by citizens and Republican members of Congress. In 1868, he became a reluctant politician, but one who won the presidency in 1868. He took office in March 1869 and began to focus his attention on stabilizing the post-war economy. He also established the Department of Justice, prosecuted the Klu Klux Klan, and appointed African-Americans and Jewish-Americans to prominent federal offices. In 1871, he created the first Civil Service Commission. Despite his reputation as a war leader, Grant was a somewhat naïve humanitarian —and this led him to consider a review of US Indian policies.
As previously stated, by the mid-1860s, native Americans had been at war with competing tribes since forever. The treatment of white settlers by plains Indians was no different from the depredations they foisted upon westward migrating tribes: males were killed out of hand, and women and children became the property (slaves) of the victors —“slaves” being the right word for the status of Indian prisoners of war.
Nor were Indians ever suitable for life on reservations. The Plains Indians were hunters, not farmers. They had their own religious beliefs. They could not comprehend Christianity and saw in it peculiar, unsettling hypocrisy. The Indians saw no benefit from attending schools or learning to read and write. They did not want to assimilate white culture —they had a culture of their own, and they wanted to keep it intact. In truth, the Indians were who they were. Living peacefully with their neighbors was not who they were.
The failure of US Indian policy was self-evident by the 1850s but largely ignored. The American frontier was aflame with the horror of Indian violence. Frontier families, particularly those living in Texas, loathed the Indian with unbridled passion and there was no ambiguity among them. In the words of one of Wheeler County’s earliest settlers, Mr. Emanuel Dubbs:
“… The government’s strong-arm would subdue the Indian, capture him, and always being careful not to hurt any more than they could possibly help. Again the Indian would promise to be good, and go like a lamb back to his reservation, and the government would make them a great many presents, plenty of good warm blankets and herds of good beef, in fact, everything he can eat, and just as soon as this became monotonous, out Mr. Indian would go and do the same thing over again. This has been the history of the Plains Indians. Those poor Indians!’ And for four years after this every season when I shipped buffalo meat to the eastern market, men would come to me and say: “What makes you kill the poor Indian’s cattle?” (Calling Buffalo cattle!). ‘The poor Indian!’
I can tell the reader in all honesty and with a good conscience, such talk always made me want to fight, using a western phrase ‘knock their block off.’ Of all depraved, utterly heartless and deceitful, dirty and treacherous to the last degree, the plains Indian never had his equal —poor Indian indeed. All the danger and hardships suffered by the scouts and soldiers in that milk and water system had no permanent effect in settling the Indian question and a permanent peace. Not until the bravest of all pioneers, the buffalo hunters, disposed of the buffalo forever, preventing the Indians obtaining sustenance when they cut loose from their reservations, was the Indian question settled and their depredations stopped. Not only that, but a grand fertile country was opened up for settlement. The first to see and to take advantage of these great opportunities was the cattlemen.”
Eventually forced to reevaluate official US policy, military and political leaders concluded that there were only two possible solutions to the Indian problem. Either they had to be removed to government-controlled reservations, or they had to be exterminated —it would be up to the Indians themselves to decide which of these the United States Army pursued.
President Grant equivocated, however. Following his assumption of the Presidency in 1869, Ulysses S. Grant declared, “The proper treatment of the original occupants of this land deserves careful study.” Chief among several of his Indian policies was his reliance upon religious organizations to manage Indian reservations, apparently with the hope that native Americans might respond to their benevolent and ethical administrators by living peacefully and assimilating western culture. The first of these to gain admission to the Indian reservations was the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. It was a generally held belief among these Christian reservation managers that setting aside land for Indians was insufficient to the purpose of civilizing them. What was needed, in addition to reservations, was a congressionally funded program to assimilate them. Such a program would evolve in time, but during the Grant administration, the Indians proved to be their own worst enemy.
In Washington, as American settlers suffered mightily at the hands of hostile Indians, bureaucrats squabbled among themselves about which department was best suited for managing Indian affairs. The U. S. Army wanted the Department of War to resume this responsibility, but its advocates were in the minority. Most wanted the Bureau of Indian Affairs to remain within the Interior Department. Out west, frontier settlers didn’t have much good to say about the Indian, but they didn’t have much good to say about the United States government, either. President Grant, for all of his best intentions, didn’t handle the Indian problem very well.
In the Montana territory, Indians of the Niisitapi Confederacy (involving Blackfeet Indians and members of the Blood and Piegan bands) were in a constant state of war with white settlers. It was “the same old story,” where the Indians complained about the settlers but didn’t mind borrowing (on a more or less permanent basis) their horses or cattle. It wasn’t an all-encompassing conflict—more localized, but the relations between whites and Indians —from both sides— was more on the order of taking advantage of targets of opportunity: see a white man, scalp a white man. Now enters Mr. Malcolm Clarke, who was a rancher and a fur trader. Prior to moving west, Clarke attended the U. S. Military but was expelled for fighting. In any case, Clarke became good friends with a fellow student by the name of William Sherman. Clarke found success in trading with the Blackfeet Indians and even married one and had four children with her. On 17 August, Malcolm Clarke was murdered by a member of the Blackfoot confederacy, an individual named Owl Child, of the Piegan clan, who shot Clarke in the chest and then split open his skull with an ax.
The Clarke murder caused unrest and outrage among the settlers and they, in turn, demanded that the US government protect them from Blackfeet. The Army turned to the confederacy, demanding that they hold Owl Child accountable for the crime of murder. Army officials demanded that the Blackfoot confederacy produce Owl Child’s body within a fortnight. Owl Child, however, decided the time was right fleeing northward, and he joined the Piegan band of Mountain Chief. The Piegan, although known for their hostility toward the pale faces, had not conducted any raids on white settlements.
When two weeks had passed and Owl Child had not surrendered, General Phil Sheridan directed his Inspector-General, Colonel James A. Hardie to evaluate the situation and offer his advice. Hardie issued his report on 13 January, prompting General Sheridan to issue his instructions for a military action to arrest Owl Child. Sheridan wrote, “If the lives and property of the citizens of Montana can best be protected by striking the Piegan band, I want them struck. Tell [Major] Baker to strike them hard.”
Major Eugene M. Baker (shown standing to the reader’s right) led a squadron of Cavalry from Fort Ellis. Seeking revenge for their father’s murder, Nathan and Horace Clarke were granted permission to join Baker’s expedition. Baker stopped at Fort Shaw for two additional squadrons of troops, including scouts Joe Kipp and Joseph Cobell, both of whom were familiar with the Piegan band. The scouts were critical to the operation because they were able to help distinguish between friendly and unfriendly Piegan Indians. Departing Fort Shaw, Baker’s command included four companies of the US 2nd Cavalry and 55 dragoons of the 13th US Infantry. They searched the area of the Marias River country.
On 22 January, Baker intercepted a small encampment of Piegan Indians, which he placed under arrest. The Indians informed Baker that Owl Child could be found at either of two camps: the Big Horn and Red Horn, a few miles further downstream. Baker ordered a forced march that night and maneuvered his command through rough country. The night brought heavy snow and frigid temperatures, but Baker found 32 lodges in the low ground along the Marias River. Joe Kipp recognized the camp as belonging to Chief Heavy Runner, who was known as relatively peaceful. Kipp opined that since these were “peaceful hostiles,” Baker ought not to attack them. Baker reasoned that if they were Indians, they ought to be attacked. Kipp tried to warn the Indians of approaching danger, which caused Baker to place him in custody, which we might assume included placing a gag over his mouth.
Hearing the shout from Kipp, Chief Heavy Runner ran toward the soldiers waiving a “safe conduct” order from the Indian Bureau, but he was quickly shot and killed by Joseph Cobell. Scout Joseph Cobell was married to the sister of Mountain Chief and knew full well that Owl Child was not part of Heavy Runner’s band. It was Cobell’s intent to divert attention away from Mountain Chief’s camp, which was ten miles further downstream. In any case, Cobell’s shot prompted the rest of the men in Baker’s expedition to open fire. Since most of the village’s braves were away on a hunting expedition, the soldiers killed old people, women, and children. Some of these were infected with Smallpox. Learning of the attack, Mountain Chief led his people into Canada. A rough count by Baker’s men indicated more than 170 dead, 54 of which were “non-combatant” women and children. An additional 140 women and children were taken captive. Army losses were one dead and one injured.
The conflict between white settlers and Blackfeet Indians declined after the Baker expedition. Weakened by smallpox, the Blackfoot nation could not muster enough men to engage in war with the white soldiers. Although criticized, General Sheridan expressed confidence in Major Baker’s judgment; a formal investigation of allegations that Baker murdered unarmed Indians were never conducted.
As one of those believing that military personnel was in a better position to control native populations, Phil Sheridan tried to replace Indian agents with serving soldiers. He told members of congress that he could save the government $3.5 million in annual transportation costs by taking on the responsibility of supervising Indian reservations. The Congress may have given Sheridan that opportunity had it not been for his involvement in the Marias River incident.
In fact, it was the Marias River incident that prompted President Grant to adopt his “peace policy.” Shortly after the massacre, Grant convened an advisory board of Indian Commissioners, their task being to offer suggestions for reforms to Indian policies, including federal benefits, for which he vigorously lobbied the US Congress. Grant appointed Brigadier General Ely S. Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, to serve as its chief commissioner. Serving from 1869 to 1871, Parker was the primary architect of Grant’s Indian Peace Policy. It was he who came up with the idea of turning reservation management over to religious organizations.
Parker’s idea received a boost from Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux and Spotted Tail, of the Brulé Sioux who met with Secretary of the Interior Cox and Commissioner Parker and convinced them that under the then-current arrangements, most Indian agents were thieves and swindlers. Their testimony allowed President Grant to secure congressional appropriations for the upkeep of reservation lands. Grant also sought to ease tensions by ordering his western generals to keep white settlers from invading Indian reservation land —they were authorized “the use of force, if necessary.”
In 1871, President Grant signed into law a second Appropriations Act. Importantly, this law ended the government’s policy of treating tribes as independent sovereign nations. Henceforth, Indians would be treated as individuals or wards of the state; Moreover, Indian policy would be decided by Congress.
Also, in 1871, a band of Apache Indians slipped away from their reservation to attack white settlers. In one such raid, settlers and mail runners were murdered in cold blood near Tucson. Townspeople tracked the raiders back to the reservation at Camp Grant where 500 Apache residents lived near the town of Dudleyville. In retribution, the townsfolk hired mercenaries, who attacked and murdered 144 Apaches. In May, Brigadier General Stoneman attempted to apprehend the Apache leader Cochise. During this effort, 13 Apache were killed. As a demonstration of where President Grant was at on the issue of protecting Indians, he promptly fired Stoneman.
In May 1871, a US Army surgeon examined the bodies of seven settlers killed by Kiowa Indians who had attacked their wagon train in North Texas. The doctor detailed his gruesome findings in writing: their bodies were riddled with bullets, covered with gashes, and their skulls were crushed. One victim had been tied to a wagon wheel, his body mutilated and then set ablaze. The horrific attack brought consternation to the religious masters of Indian reservations, who suddenly realized that the mantra of “peace and kindness” would not have the desired effect of curtailing Indian hostility, which left only coercion.
One Quaker standing at the center of Grant’s policies began to lobby for greater Army involvement in curtailing Indian war parties. His name was Lawrie Tatum, appointed by Grant to serve as the Indian Agent of Kiowa and Comanche tribes at Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory. Tatum began his duties in 1869 (serving until 1873). In this capacity, Tatum acted as governor, legislator, judge, sheriff, and chief financial officer at Fort Sill. While serving, he obtained the release of scores of white and Mexican captives, including the family of Gottfried Koozer, whose wife and five children were taken by the Kiowa. Tatum did receive the gratitude of Texas settlers and US Army field generals, but no kind words from the Society of Friends, who viewed his support for coercive actions as in direct contravention to what Quakers believed about “peace in our time.” Tatum’s evidence was strong, however, that “force” was all that the Indians understood, particularly after Kiowa braves admitted to, and boasted about their foul deeds.
Two weeks following Grant’s reelection to the presidency, the Modoc Indian leader Kintpuash (also known as Captain Jack), led 200 of his people off the Klamath Reservation back to their homelands in the area of Lake Tule near the Oregon-California border) and took up defensive positions. The Modoc resisted the US Army for months. In 1873, at a peace commission meeting, Captain Jack and others murdered General Edward Canby and Rev. Eleazer Thomas —apparently thinking that the incident would compel the army to leave them alone. It didn’t work. Captain Jack and three of his men were tracked down, arrested, and executed. The remaining Modoc people were sent to the Indian Territory (pre-statehood Oklahoma) where they were held as prisoners of war until 1909.
Between 1874-75, the Comanche war chief Quanah Parker led 700 braves against buffalo hunters encamped at Adobe Walls, Texas. General Phil Sheridan launched an aggressive campaign and, with only a few casualties on either side, forced the Indians back to their reservation. Sheridan did this by destroying their horses and winter food supplies. Grant eventually approved the incarceration of 74 Indian insurgents in Florida.
The Great Sioux War of 1876-77 came as the result of the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territories. During this war, Grant came into personal disagreement with Colonel George C. Custer after Colonel Custer testified in 1876 about War Department corruption under Secretary of War William W. Belknap. Grant was so incensed that he ordered Custer’s arrest for breach of military protocol and barred him from participating in the upcoming campaign against the Sioux. Eventually, Grant relented and allowed Custer to participate in the war under Brigadier General Alfred Terry. Of course, this was the engagement that resulted in the death of Custer and the 7th US Cavalry Regiment. After Custer’s defeat, Grant castigated him in the press, but the army took over the administration of the Indian agencies.
Colonel Nelson A. Miles’ expedition in 1874 was typical of all those conducted during President Grant’s administration. Significant numbers of soldiers marched against hostile Indians, but their effects were minimal. Some Indians were killed, most were forced back onto corrupt reservations, and in exchange for free food and land allocations, the Indians promised to behave themselves. Of course, Indian promises were as tenuous as government treaties and it wasn’t long before contrite braves slipped away to conduct more attacks on western settlements. In time, another colonel would be sent out to corral the hostiles back to their designated reservations. It was a turnstile.
Officials in the Grant administration finally concluded that in order to destroy the hostile intent of the Plains Indian, it would be necessary to pull out all stops. Pulling out all stops included the near-total destruction of the American Bison, the Plains Indian’s primary source of meat. By doing this, and thereafter keeping the American Indians dependent upon the US government for their survival, the white man could finally control the native American populations. Beginning in 1872, some two-thousand buffalo hunters began eradicating the buffalo between Arkansas and Kansas. Millions of these bison perished, their hides used for boots for European armies, machine belts used to operate steam engines, and buffalo coats for folks living back east. The meat was left to rot on the Great Plains. The Indians would either have to adjust to reservation life, become farmers, or perish.
In the 1870s, the white man needed superior weapons, so he developed them. He needed a sophisticated strategy in dealing with hostile Indians, so he formulated several. What the white man learned from Indian behavior was that they could no more change who and what they were than any white settler could give up his dream for a better future for his progeny. It was a clash of cultures where there was never a middle ground. The strategy finally adopted toward resolving Indian hostility was total subjugation.
American Indians Today
Today, Native Americans account for a little more than one percent of the total population of the United States. About another 5% are of mixed race. If government projections are correct, then the American Indian population will reach around five million by 2070. There are currently 566 federally recognized tribes, none of whom recognize Elizabeth Warren as one of their numbers. Thirty-one percent of modern Indian populations are non-family households. Unemployment among some Indian societies is high, ranging around 70%. The median income of employed Indians is half of that of the general population, and this includes income among Indians employed by other Indians in the gaming industry. As it was 150 years ago, there does not appear to be much compassion among Indians for other Indians.
In matters of health, roughly 12% of native Americans are in poor health. The proximate cause of poor health relates to unsanitary living conditions, poor education, and addiction to alcohol and drugs. Many native Americans have never internalized the value of education and choose not to participate in it. Those who availed themselves of educational opportunities, who have become successful in various professions, prefer not to have uneducated Indians working for them. A feeling of isolation from mainstream American society is prevalent among the uneducated, unskilled, alcohol/drug dependent Indians.
- Armstrong, W. H. Warrior in Two Camps: Ely S. Parker, Union General and Seneca Chief. Syracuse: University of New York Press, 1990
- Belko, W. S. John C. Calhoun and the Creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: an essay on Political Rivalry, Ideology, and Policymaking in the Early Republic. South Carolina Historical Magazine, 105, 2004
- Brands, H. W. The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S. Grant in War and Peace. New York: Doubleday, 2012.
- Calhoun, C. W. Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. Topeka: University of Kansas Press, 2017
- Chernow, R. Grant. New York: Penguin Press, 2017
- Harmon, G. D. The United States Indian Policy in Texas, 1845-2860. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1930.
- Keller, R. H. American Protestantism and United States Indian Policy, 1869-82. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983
- Castle, G. P. and Robert L. Bee. State and Reservation: New Perspectives on Federal Indian Policy. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992
 Unmanageable means simply more people in lodging than could be sustained by hunting for a limited supply of game.
 Emanuel Dubbs (1843-1932) was a soldier, pioneer, Indian-fighter, buffalo hunter, dairy farmer, minister, and a Texas county judge. His story appears in the book entitled “Pioneer Days in the Southwest” by Michael King.
 I’ve never quite understood why the USMA expelled students for fighting; isn’t that what they were learning how to do?
 Smallpox is caused by the variola virus (last occurring in 1977), which caused vomiting, high fever, sores emanating from the mouth, and a skin rash that over a period of the day turned into pustules which leave scars. Smallpox was spread through human contact or coming into contact with contaminated objects. There were occasions when Indian agents intentionally provided Indians with blankets infected by the variola virus. The disease killed thousands of native Americans.
 Died from drunkenness, aged 47, while serving as a purchasing officer at Fort Walla Walla, Washington.
 Tatum later became the guardian of future present Herbert Hoover and his siblings after the death of their mother.
 William Worth Belknap (1829-1890) served as the 30th Secretary of War. With previous service during the Civil War, he attained the rank of brevet Major General. In the early 1870s, Belknap came under congressional scrutiny for selling arms to France during the Franco-Prussian War. Belknap led the War Department during the post-war reconstruction effort and worked to protect freedmen from increasing violence from Democrats and Klu Klux Klan hooligans throughout the south. It was this prosecution that caused Belknap to incur the wrath of Congressional Democrats, who alleged that Belknap had accepted kickbacks from trade arrangements at the Fort Sill Indian Reservation. Threatened with impeachment proceedings, Belknap resigned as Secretary of War.
 Army records reveal that between 1866-91, there were 1,040 military engagements between US troops and the Plains Indians. In the conflict, 69 officers died, 68 more were wounded, 879 enlisted men died, and 990 more were wounded. Indian losses were 4,371 dead, 1,279 wounded, and 10,318 taken captive.