from writings of
Bishop Henry B. Whipple
(1822 – 1901)

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Duty of Citizens Concerning the Indian Massacre




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Duty of Citizens Concerning the Indian Massacre

Letter from Right Reverend Bishop Whipple

published in The Saint Paul Press, December 4, 1862

Note (Hal’s): The following is part of a collection about the causes of the 1862 Dakota War. The whole set may be read in sequence by following links where indicated.

— end note

Because we had treated with them as an independent nation, we left them without a government. Their rude patriarchal government was always weakened, and often destroyed, by the new treaty relations. The chiefs lost all independence of action, and sooner or later became the pliant tools of traders and agents powerful for mischief, but powerless for good. Nothing was given to supply the place of this defective tribal government. The only being in America who has no power to punish the guilty or protect the innocent is the treaty Indian. Thefts, murders, violence to women, where death has followed, have been committed by white and red men, and the law did not hold in check the evil passions of bad men. The only law administered by ourselves was to pay a premium for crime. The penalty of theft was deducted from the annuity of the tribe, leaving the thief to profit by his ill-gotten gains.

The government instead of compelling these men to live by honest labor, has fostered idleness, encouraged savage life by payments of money, by purchases of beads, trinkets, *scalping knives, and really given the weight of influence on the side of heathen life. The sale of fire-water has been most unblushing when we knew that if it made drunkards of white men, it made red men devils.

The system of trade was ruinous to honest traders and pernicious to the Indian. It prevented all efforts for personal independence and acquisition of property. The debts of the shiftless and indolent were paid out of the sale of the patrimony of the tribe. If an Indian abandoned his wild life, built himself a house and cultivated the soil, he had no redress against the lawlessness of wild men. The Government has promised here that his home should be secured by a patent, that he might feel something of manhood in owning it. But no patent has ever been issued [...]

* In the advertisement for Indian supplies this fall are 100 dozen scalping knives; 600 pounds beads; 100 dozen butcher knives; 150 pounds of paint.

Such a mistaken policy would be bad enough in the hands of the wisest and best men, but it is made an hundred fold worse by making the office of an Indian Agent one simply of reward for political services. It has been sought not because it was one of the noblest trusts ever committed to men to try and redeem a heathen people, and lead them out of their darkness to the light of a christian civilization, but because upon a pittance of salary, a fortune could be realized in four years.

Too often government empoyees have been notorious for profanity, debauchery and dishonesty. School and civilization funds have been wasted, contracts for supplies conceived in fraud, and even dead men’s names placed on the pay-rolls. [...] Four years ago the Sioux sold the government about eight hundred thousand acres of land, being a part of their reservation. The plea for this sale was the need of more funds to aid them in civilization. This treaty provided that the chiefs should return, have and hold an open council to decide what should be done with the money. Three of the principal chiefs, the ones most deserving of credit, allege that they were not present at such council, and did not know that it had been held. Of ninety six thousand dollars due to the Lower Sioux, they have never received a cent. All has been abandoned in claims, except eight hundred and eighty dollars and fifty-eight cents, which is to their credit on the books of Washington. Of the portion belonging to the Upper Sioux, eighty-eight thousand three hundred and fifty-one dollars and twelve cents was also taken for claims. Of the large balance due the Upper Sioux, neither the agents nor the Indians knew when or where it was to be paid. For two years the Indians have demanded to know what had become of their money, and again and again have threatened revenge unless they were satisfied. Early this last spring the traders informed the Indians that the next payment would only be half of the usual amount, because the Indian debts had been paid at Washington. They were in some cases refused credits on this account. It caused deep and wide-spread discontent. The agent was alarmed, and as early as May he wrote to me that this new fraud must bring a harvest of sorrow, saying, “God only knows what will be the result.” In June, at the time fixed by custom, they came together for the payment. The agent could give no satisfactory reason for delay. There was none. The Indians waited at the Agencies for two months, dissatisfied, turbulent, mad, hungry, and then came the outbreak—a tale of horrors, enough to curdle one’s blood. The money reached Fort Ridgley the day after the outbreak.
If our own inefficient system had not permitted the Spirit Lake murderers to go unpunished, if we had not refused to regard them as subjects of law, we should not have suffered as we have in this outbreak.
Canada has not had an Indian war since the Revolution; we have hardly passed a year without one. The same tribes there are bound by ties of affection to the English crown. We spend millions to suppress Indian wars.

Note (Hal’s): Collected readings on causes of the 1862 Dakota War continue with Mary and I. Forty Years with the Sioux. by Stephen R. Riggs.

— end note

text checked (see note) Oct 2008

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