Gateway to the Classics: Indian History for Young Folks by Francis S. Drake
Indian History for Young Folks by  Francis S. Drake

The Indians at the Present Day

The surrender of the frenzied ghost-dancing Sioux on that winter day in January, 1891, brought to a close for all time the Indian wars in our country. Since the disbanding of that formidable, magnificent force which received their unconditional submission it has not again been necessary to carry on hostilities against the Indian tribes. Nearly three decades have passed since that time without the firing of a hostile shot between the Government forces and the Indians, so that we are justified in calling the Sioux outbreak of 1890–91 the last Indian war. Most of the fierce warriors of that day have now passed on to the land of the Great Spirit, their latter days having been passed in peaceful pursuits on their reservations. Their sons and daughters, like their white brothers and sisters, are brought up in the environment of peace, passing their early, formative years in the reservation schools instead of the hostile camp, and taught to appreciate the benefits of a life of civilization.

Our country, however, is still burdened with the unsolved Indian problem, although to-day it is in a better way of being solved than ever before. The expensive and complicated machinery for the management of Indian affairs has in the past been much in the way of the elevation of the Indians in the scale of civilization. Due to the lack of permanency in the policy of the administration of Indian affairs, the solution of the Indian problem has been greatly retarded. The Indians were filled with a feeling of distrust in the white race, and it was difficult in the past to get the tribes to accept the protection and fostering care of the Government. After the completion of the great railway systems to the Pacific a great pressure of population set in westward, until, about 1885, it became the problem of the Government to adopt some method which would prevent the Indians living in the Indian Territory from being pushed back into the wilderness. The Indian Territory had once been remote from civilization, but now the country to the west was being rapidly filled up with whites, and the Indians had to make a final stand for existence. To continue the Government system of rations meant for the Indians a life of dependence and little or no progress in solving their problem.


United States infantry in winter rig.

In 1887, therefore, by the enactment of the Dawes bill, a new solution was proposed, to be effected by breaking up the tribal relation and substituting in its stead individual ownership of land. Lands were to be allotted to the Indians in severalty; each head of a family was to receive a quarter-section and smaller allotments were to be provided for others. The allotted Indians were also to be protected against land-sharks by a provision which prohibited the Indians from conveying their land for a period of twenty-five years. To the Indians receiving allotments was also to be given the rights of citizenship. It was hoped that this policy would soon solve the Indian problem by gradually merging the race into the body politic of the nation.

Allotment of land in severalty, with patents conferring fee-simple title and inalienable for a certain period, had been proposed as a policy as far back as 1815. In later years homestead rights also were opened to Indians in several of the Western States—in Michigan in 1875 and in other States later, but very few Indians availed themselves of these opportunities to secure farms. The tribal ties and the easy reservation life still kept too strong a hold upon them. But the Government continued to persist in its policy to induce the Indians to accept land in severalty, expecting that by becoming an owner of his own farm the Indian would gradually overcome his natural antipathy to systematic labor and become a self-supporting and independent citizen. The Indian's natural reluctance against breaking away from his tribal relation has, however, been gradually overcome in recent years, due to the more liberal policy adopted by the Government, and the various tribes are now accepting these conditions in larger numbers each year, engaging in settled pursuits and becoming citizens. For example, in 1907, the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma, who now number 101,506 enrolled members, accepted their lands in severalty and were merged into the body politic of their State.

Great progress, especially at the present time, is being made in the education of the Indian, upon the success of which, probably more than all other things combined, depends the solution of the Indian problem. About 1873 the educational idea was inaugurated by Congress, with an appropriation of twenty thousand dollars, and the sums appropriated for this purpose have grown annually until, in 1917, they passed the five million-dollar mark. "The schools provided for in this manner were located for the most part on the different Indian reservations, but in 1878 seventeen Indians, who were prisoners in Florida, were sent as an experiment to a normal and industrial school for negroes which had been opened a decade before in the abandoned war barracks at Hampton, Virginia. The hope that the young Indians, when removed from the enervating influence of the reservation, would progress more rapidly in the arts of civilization were well founded. Consequently, Captain R. H. Pratt was authorized to bring fifty more Indians from Dakota, and in 1879 an abandoned army post at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was made into the United States Training and Industrial School for Indians." Located off the reservation, in an environment of civilization, where the students came in contact with the civilization of the whites and were influenced by their habits and customs, this experiment met with great success, and Carlisle now offers to Indian youths advantages unexcelled by any school in the land. That many Indian boys have taken advantage of the well-balanced industrial education to be obtained there is evident from the fact that over eight hundred students were in attendance in 1917. The graduates of this institution represent upwards of seventy different tribes. Unfortunately, in 1918, on account of the tremendous cost of carrying on the Great War, the Government found it necessary to close this school, transferring the students to the Haskell Industrial School in Kansas and other Western schools. It is expected that the closing of Carlisle is only temporary, and that when the war is over its doors will be opened again and the work which has accomplished so much in reclaiming the Indian boys and girls and fitting them to take their places in civilized society will be resumed.

The system of Indian education thus established has grown and developed until to-day there are approximately thirty-four non-reservation boarding-schools, similar to the white college; seventy-three reservation boarding-schools, similar to the white high school; and about two hundred and fifty day schools. In 1917 there were enrolled in schools a total of 34,595 pupils. Provisions have also been made for the enrolment of Indian children in the public schools of the Western States, and at the present time there are upwards of thirty thousand Indian children attending public schools. No serious objection to their attendance has been offered by the white patrons, and as time goes on the number of Indians in the public schools will rapidly increase, which fact will greatly help in the solution of the Indian problem.

In 1917 a uniform course of study was introduced in these schools the aim of which is "to fit thoroughly the student to become an efficient wage-earner and citizen qualified to make his way successfully and with credit to himself and his race." This course of study will give the Indians the best vocational training offered by any school system in the United States and will develop "a body of young men and women who will become the leaders and transformers of their people as the generations come and go." To all students upon reaching the age of twenty-one years, who have completed the full course of instruction and given evidence that they possess the qualities of character and scholarship that fit them for responsibility and competition, there is given a certificate of competency or a patent in fee, as an attestation of the faith of the United States in their ability and determination to prove worthy of this recognition which declares them to be capable of managing their own affairs.

In connection with this development of policy, Mr. Cato Sells, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in April, 1917, announced a new declaration of policy which grants every Indian whose competency has been determined the right to transact his own business and the full control of his property and all his lands and money, with the intent of thereafter freeing him from all departmental restraints; in other words, he is to be no longer a ward of the Government. In carrying out this policy patents in fee are to be issued only to adult Indians of less than one-half Indian blood, but Indians of one-half or more Indian blood may also have patents in fee issued to them when, after careful examination, they are found to be competent. The adoption of this policy means that the Government feels the time has come to discontinue guardianship of all competent Indians, while even closer attention is to be given to the incompetent class, to the end that they may more speedily achieve competency. As Commissioner Sells says: "This means the dawn of a new era in Indian administration. It means that the competent Indian will no longer be treated as half ward and half citizen. It means reduced appropriations by the Government and more self-respect and independence for the Indian. It means the ultimate absorption of the Indian race into the body politic of the nation. It means, in short, the beginning of the end of the Indian problem."

The Indian has not failed to profit by the opportunities offered him, and in recent years has made remarkable progress in material advancement, being ambitious to cast off the ties of paternalism by which he has been bound for so many years. Nor can it be any longer said that he is a vanishing race, since the number of Indians has increased from 300,930 in 1913 to 335,998 in 1917. As an example of their great advancement in material wealth the Indians in 1911 cultivated 388,025 acres, while in 1916 they had 678,529 acres under cultivation. In 1911 their crops were valued at $1,951,000 and increased in 1917 to the value of $5,293,719. The value of all live stock owned by Indians has risen from $17,971,209 in 1911 to $28,824,439 in 1916. From reports received in 1918 every reservation shows a large increase in the number of acres of land under cultivation, some showing an increase of one hundred per cent. The acreage of Indian land cultivated this season (1918) is from twenty-five to fifty percent, greater than ever before, so that the Indian is proving a substantial factor in increasing the country's food-supply during these pressing war-times. They are rapidly achieving self-support and becoming independent. They are displaying evidence indicative of their ability and capacity for the responsibilities of modern civilization; they are no longer a liability, but rather an asset to the nation. As stock-raisers the Indians have reached the highest success and have shown that they are fully equal to their white neighbors in this respect. They not only can raise cattle, but also know how to obtain the best market price for their product.

The Indians are rapidly becoming business men and the possessors of great wealth. They put money in the bank for themselves as well as having the Government put it in for them. The value of the Indians' individual property rose from a total of $380,934,110 in 1911 to $432,225,913 in 1917; and of this sum there was a total in 1917 of over $21,000,000 in the banks belonging to individual Indians.

That the Indian is appreciative of what is being done to advance his material, social, and mental welfare is shown in his attitude towards the World War in the loyal response that these original, unhyphenated Americans are making to serve the Government that is trying to do so much for them. After years of shabby treatment they realize that they are at last receiving a square deal under the present administration. They now feel that this country is their own; they appreciate the fact that they are at last entering upon the possession of their birthright; of being allowed to work out their own destiny and occupy their own place in the country's political and economic life. The measures that are now being taken to make their isolation unnecessary and to merge them in the body politic of the nation is already bearing rich fruit. The Indian, especially the younger generation, largely the product of our Indian schools, has been quick to catch the spirit of the new era which is enabling him to participate in the democracy of his land and to exercise equally with the white man the privileges of citizenship. It has been brought home to him in the present hour of national peril that the Indian and the white man alike must take up the cross and bear it patiently together until the fight "to make the world safe for democracy" has been won.

The American Indian is now showing his loyalty and patriotism on the battle-fields of France, where he is fighting shoulder to shoulder with his white brother "as the equal and comrade of every man who assails autocracy and ancient might," commanded in many instances by white officers who took part in many campaigns against the warlike Apaches and Sioux in the days that are now past and gone forever.

As a conclusion to our subject let us reproduce the answer of Commissioner Sells to an inquirer, in which are given facts and figures regarding the activities of the Indians in connection with the World War and which are most enlightening as a demonstration of the loyalty and willing service of the red man:

Department of the Interior

Office Commissioner Indian Affairs,
Washington , February 19,1918,

Mrs. Marie E. Ives Humphrey,
President American Indian League,
927 Madison Avenue, New York City.

Dear Mrs. Humphrey:

I am pleased to acknowledge the receipt of your recent letter requesting information relative to the present war service of the Indians, their purchase of Liberty Bonds, and their interest in Red Cross and other war-relief activities, and am glad to give you such data as can be furnished at this time with approximate definiteness.

The official records of all matters connected with our part in the prosecution of the war are, of course, properly archives of departments having charge of military and naval affairs. However, I have gathered considerable general information and am now preparing a record of the Indians' active part in the war, which I expect will be dependable when completed, but can now give you only close estimates.

The Indians took an early interest in our war preparation as to the men, money, and production required. Their subscriptions to the first issue of Liberty Bonds amounted to $4,607,850. Subscriptions to the second issue totaled $4,392,750. The total of subscriptions thus far actually reported is $9,000,600, almost evenly divided between adults and minors, $4,919,550 standing to the credit of the former and $4,081,050 to the latter. There is good reason to believe, however, that many subscriptions were made through banking channels in localities where Indians quite generally have acquired citizenship, report of which did not reach this bureau, and such additions with known applications too late for acceptance would almost certainly raise the grand total to more than $10,000,000, or a per capita subscription of $30 or $40 for all Indians in the United States.

Upon any fair basis of comparison such an expression of patriotic allegiance for every man, woman, and child of the Indian race must be as surprising as it is gratifying. In all these transactions I have been almost amazed by the wonderful and spontaneous fidelity of the Indian to the highest welfare of the Nation, as well as his ready appreciation of a desirable investment. The promise of thrift and the saving habit as a co-ordinate feature of his response to our present colossal needs is a most encouraging evidence of growth toward the principle of self-support, so essential to his stability and progress as a citizen. I have had occasion to say that man has no stronger element, when properly developed, than the disposition to acquire property, own a home, and be a substantial factor in society, and I hail this growing manifestation in Indian life as a sure basis for the strong and trustworthy citizenship to which our efforts are directed.

Our emergency campaign to develop more extensive and intensive farming has resulted in a tremendous increase in the production of meat and agricultural products on Indian reservations. As producers of food Indians have demonstrated their sympathetic spirit with the war movement in a manner altogether harmonious with their attitude and action in the purchase of bonds and their enlistment as soldiers.

Official information is not assembled respecting the number of women engaged as nurses or the Indians' participation in Red Cross work. A complete vocational course of four years in nursing is of comparative recent introduction in our larger Indian schools, so that only limited relief service from this source is practicable. However, quite a number have applied and been accepted, among them six young ladies from one of the large schools who have had excellent training and have been assigned to hospital work in this country and abroad.

Red Cross activities have been carried forward usually in co-operation with local and State organizations. The Indian Bureau, having approved this plan, has not instituted official connection therewith further than to urge and encourage membership and assistance on the part of Indians on the reservations and at the schools. As you are no doubt aware, there are in the Indian service some 25 non-reservation schools enrolling more than 10,000 pupils, 10 tribal and 73 reservation boarding-schools, with more than 12,000 pupils, besides 210 day schools and 77 mission and other schools furnishing over 12,000 additional pupils. In all, some 20,000 Indian pupils, most of whom are adding their mite and doing their bit in this great humane movement. There are about 30 school publications, with most of the mechanical and considerable of the literary work done by Indian students. These periodicals, all of them creditable and some of them showing highly artistic work and excellent editing, now usually carry Red Cross departments that disclose a systematic and active interest among the schools carefully directed by equally interested employees.

As a typical instance, one of our far-Western schools recently reported having placed a Christmas Red Cross banner in every Indian home on the reservation, and stated that the larger girls of the school and the lady employees were devoting Saturday afternoons to Red Cross work in the sewing-room, while for the same period the larger boys under male employees gathered the finer grade of sphagnum moss in the marshes and bogs for use in making surgical pads, bed pads, and ambulance pillows, this branch of the work being done in co-operation with the State university and the Junior Red Cross of a near-by high school. I doubt if there is anywhere in our great country a more responsive and tender desire, when properly awakened, than is found among the Indians, both children and adults, to lend a helping hand in alleviating present world-wide suffering. The unspoiled Indian heart is beautifully sensitive to all the finer humanities of the most advanced enlightenment.

The record in course of preparation upon the number, location, etc., of Indians in the military service enables me to quite safely estimate the whole number at 5,000. At present 2,200 of them are reported and properly indexed. Of this number, 1,800 are in the army, 300 in the navy, and 100 in other military work; 1,600 entered by enlistment and 600 by conscription. The number and rank of officers cannot yet be stated. I am receiving assurance of aid and co-operation from various social organizations which will cover different phases of Indian welfare in camp and battle-field life and will contribute helpfully to an understanding of actual conditions and such needs as may require attention.

It is my purpose to complete this work as rapidly as possible so as to keep in personal and even intimate touch with our Indian soldiers, by far the larger number of whom are volunteers who have willingly accepted the strictest discipline and severest possible danger and all of whom are bearing themselves with credit and courage. I expect to be proud of their part in this war. They have placed themselves in a concrete and vital relation to the Government under whose protection they live and in the administration of which they arc destined to participate, and have entered a school of rugged experience that cannot fail to fit them more thoroughly for the service and competition of civil life. The day is not beyond my vision when something from the brain and soul of him whose ancestors dwelt in this land before the white man dreamed of its existence shall find expression in the order and liberty and power of our national greatness. It seems to me especially fortunate and right that the Indian's military status should be on a level with the white man's. To repeat from one of my published statements: I am strongly opposed to independent Indian units, large or small, and am firm in the opinion that they should enter the army upon the same basis as other citizens; that they should be mixed indiscriminately among the whites, elbow to elbow, so they may absorb the English language, habits, and civilization of their white brothers. In this way only can they advance. I want no discrimination either for or against them, but believe they should be promoted on their merits and always advanced when they are deserving.

Our Indian military enrolments being largely from the student class, have had military drills and movements, besides systematic athletics, in connection with their school work, and from the resulting discipline of such exercises they are in a measure prepared for the more rigid tests of the training-camp and, as a rule, are in fine physique and good health. There is something both epochal and eloquent in the patriotic fervor and martial spirit of the Indians everywhere during the recent months that has brought a clarion call to every loyal heart. Before me, as the frontispiece of one of our leading school magazines, is a brilliant service flag of that school with 150 stars, all but 15 of which represent volunteer enlistments. Another school reports 175 stars in its flag. Many pages of our school papers are filled each issue with short letters from Indian boys in camp who in their unpretentious language sound a note of steadfast courage and cheerful optimism. History in the making shines from many quarters. Families of old warriors of hostile leadership against the Government vie with others in the purchase of Liberty Bonds. Grizzly chieftains wearing the scars of battle with the whites are preaching patriotism to their tribal descendants in native oratory as ardent as Patrick Henry's, while the sons and grandsons of Chiefs Joseph, John Gall, John Grass, and their followers throng the enlistment office.

I have not the least misgivings about the Indian's part in this war. He will step to the drum-beat of democracy, and, whether on the reservation, in the training-camp, or "over there," he will gather knowledge and under-standing of the great principles he helps to defend and come out of the conflict an element of real and progressive strength in our national life.

Sincerely yours,
Cato Sells, Commissioner.

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