Submitted by scott on Mon, 01/25/2021 - 13:44

This valley is the Belgium of the adjoining tribes, the once terrible Pawnees, who here met their enemies, the Dakotahs and the Delawares: it was then a great buffalo ground; and even twenty years ago it was well stocked with droves of wild horses, turkeys, and herds of antelope, deer, and elk . The animals have of late migrated westward, carrying off with them the " bones of contention.” Some details concerning the present condition of these bands and their neighbors may not be uninteresting — these poor remnants of nations which once kept the power of North America at bay, and are now barely able to struggle for existence .

In 1853, the government of the United States, which has ever acted paternally toward the Indians, treating with them — Great Britain did the same with the East Indians as though they were a civilized people, availed itself of the savages' desire to sell lands encroached upon by the whites, and set apart for a general reservation 181,171 square miles. Here, in the Far West,were collected into what was then believed to be a permanent habitation, the indigenes of the land, and the various bands once lying east of the Mississippi. This “Indian's home” was bounded, in 1853, on the north by the Northwestern Territory and Minnesota; on the south by Texas and New Mexico; to the east lay Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas; and to the west, Oregon , Utah, and New Mexico.

The savages' reservation was then thus distributed. The eastern portion nearest the river was stocked with tribes removed to it from the Eastern States, namely, the Iowas, Sacs and Foxes, Kickapoos, Delawares, Potawotomies, Wyandottes, Quapaws, Senecas, Cherokees, Seminoles, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Miamis, and Ottawas. The west and part of the northeast — poor and barren lands — were retained by the aboriginal tribes, Ponkahs, Omahas or Mabas, Pawnees, Ottoes, Kansas or Konzas, and Osages. The central and the remainder of the western portion wild countries abounding in buffalo — were granted to the Western Pawnees, the Arickarees, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Kiowas, Comanches, Utahs, Grosyentres, and other nomads.

It was somewhat a confusion of races. For instance, the Pawnees form an independent family, to which some authors join the Arickaree; the Sacs (Sauk ) and Foxes, Winnebagoes, Ottoes, Kaws, Omahas, Cheyennes, Mississippi Dakotahs, and Missouri Dakotahs, belong to the Dakotan family; the Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles are Appalachians; the Wyandottes, like the Iroquois, are Hodesaunians ; and the Ottawas, Delawares, Shawnees, Potawotomies, Peorians, Mohekuneuks, Kaskaskias, Piankeshaws, Weaws, Miamis, Kickapoos, and the Menomenes, are, like the Ojibwas, Algonquins.

The total number of Indians on the prairies and the Rocky Mountains was estimated roughly at 63,000.

Still the resistless tide of emigration swept westward: the federal government was as powerless to stem it as was General Fitzroy of New South Wales to prevent, in 1852, his subjects flocking to the “gold diggings.” Despite all orders, reckless whites would squat upon, and thoughtless reds, bribed by whisky, tobacco , and gunpowder, would sell off the lands. On the 20th of May, 1854, was passed the celebrated “ Kansas-Nebraska Bill," an act converting the greater portion of the "Indian Territory," and all the “ Northwestern Territory," into two new territories – Kansas, north of the 37th parallel, and Nebraska, north of the 40th. In the passage of this bill, the celebrated “ Missouri Compromise" of 1828, prohibiting negro slavery north of 36° 30', was repealed, under the presidency of General Pierce.* It provided that the rights and properties of the Indians, within their shrunken possessions, should be respected. By degrees the Indians sold their lands for whisky, as of old, and retired to smaller reservations. Of course, they suffered in the bargain; the savage ever parts with his birthright for the well-known mess of pottage. The Osages, for instance, canceled $4000, claimed by unscrupulous traders, by a cession of two million acres of arable land. The Potawotomies fared even worse; under the influence of liquor, ώς λέγονδι, their chiefs sold 100,000 acres of the best soil on the banks of the Missouri for a 'mere song. The tribe was removed to a bald smooth prairie, sans timber and consequently sans game; many fled to the extreme wilds, and the others, like the Acadians of yore, were marched about till they found homes — many of them six feet by two — in Fever Patch, on the Kaw or Kansas River. Others were more fortunate. The Ottoes, Omahas, and Kansas had permanent villages near the Missouri and its two tributaries, the Platte and the Kansas. The Osages, formerly 'a large nation in Arkansas, after ceding 10,000,000 of acres for a stipend of $52,000 for thirty years , were settled in a district on the west bank of the Neosho or Whitewater — the Grand River. They are described as the finest and largest men of the semi-nomad races, with well-formed heads and symmetrical figures, brave, warlike, and well disposed to the whites. Early in June, after planting their maize, they move in mounted bands to the prairies, feast upon the buffalo for months, and bring home stores of smoked and jerked meat. When the corn is in milk they husk and sun dry it ; it is then boiled, and is said to be better flavored and more nutritious than the East Indian butah" or the American hominy. After the harvest in October they return to the game country , and then pass the winter under huts or skin lodges. Their chief scourge is small-pox: apparently, all the tribes carry some cross. Of the settled races the best types are the Choctaws and the Cherokees; the latter have shown a degree of improvability, which may still preserve them from destruction; they have a form of government, churches, theatres, and schools ; they read and write English; and George Guess, a well-known chief, like the negro inventor of the Vai syllabarium in West Africa, produced an alphabet of sixty-eight characters, which , improved and simplified by the missionaries, is found useful in teaching the vernacular.

Upon the whole, however, the philanthropic schemes of the government have not met with brilliant success. The chiefs are still bribed, and the people cheated by white traders, and poverty, disease, and debauchery rapidly thin the tribesmen. Sensible heads have proposed many schemes for preserving the race . Apparently the best of these projects is to introduce the Moravian discipline. Of all missionary systems, I may observe, none have hitherto been crowned with important results, despite the blood and gold so profusely expended upon them, except two — those of the Jesuits and the United Brethren. The fraternity of Jesus spread the Gospel by assimilating themselves to the heathen ; the Unitas Fratrum by assimilating the heathen to themselves . The day of Jesuitism , like that of protection, is going by. The advance of Moravianism , it may safely be prophesied, is to come. These civilization societies have as yet been little appreciated, because they will not minister to that ignorant enthusiasm which extracts money from the pockets of the many. Their necessarily slow progress is irksome to ardent propagandists . We naturally wish to reap as well as to sow; and man rarely invests capital in schemes of which only his grandson will see the results.

The American philanthropist proposes to wean the Indian say age from his nomad life by turning his lodge into a log tent, and by providing him with cattle instead of buffalo, and the domestic fowl instead of grasshoppers. The hunter become a herdsman would thus be strengthened for another step — the agricultural life, which necessarily follows the pastoral. Factors would be appointed instead of vicious traders — coureurs des bois, as the Canadians call them; titles to land would be granted in fee-simple, practically teaching the value of property in severalty, alienation into white hands would be forbidden , and, if possible , a cordon militaire would be stretched between the races . The agricultural would lead to the mechanical stage of society. Agents and assistant craftsmen would teach the tribes to raise mills and smithies (at present there are mills without millers, stock without breeders, and similar attempts to make civilization run before she can walk), and a growing appreciation for the peace, the comfort, and the luxuries of settled life would lay the nomad instinct for ever.

The project labors only under one difficulty — the one common to philanthropic schemes. In many details it is somewhat visionary — utopian. It is, like peace on earth, a “ dream of the wise .” Under the present system of Indian agencies, as will in a future page appear, it is simply impossible. It has terrible obstacles in the westward gravitation of the white race, which , after sweeping away the aborigines — as the gray rat in Europe expelled the black rat — from the east of the Mississippi in two centuries and a half, threatens, before a quarter of that time shall have elapsed , to drive in its advance toward the Pacific the few survivors of now populous tribes, either into the inhospitable regions north of the 49th parallel, or into the anarchical countries south of the 32d . And where, I may ask , in the history of the world do we read of a people learning civilization from strangers instead of working it out for themselves, through its several degrees of barbarism, feudalism ,monarchy, republicanism , despotism? Still it is a noble project; mankind would not willingly see it die.

The Pawnees were called by the French and Canadian traders Les Loups, that animal being their totem , and the sign of the tribe being an imitation of the wolf's ears, the two fore fingers of the right hand being stuck up on the side of the head . They were in the last generation a large nation, containing many clans — Minnikajus, the Šans Arc, the Loup Fork, and others. Their territory embraced both sides of the Platte River, especially the northern lands; and they rendered these grounds terrible to the trapper, trader, and traveler. They were always well mounted. Old Mexico was then, and partially is still, their stable, and a small band has driven off horses by hundreds. Of late years they have become powerless. The influenza acts as a plague among them , killing off 400 or 500 in a single season , and the nation now numbers little more than 300 braves, or rather warriors, the latter, in correct parlance, being inferior to the former, as the former are subservient to the chief. A treaty concluded between them and the United States in the winter of 1857 sent them to a reserve on the Loup Fork , where their villages were destroyed by the Sioux. They are Ishmaelites, whose hand is against every man . They have attempted, after the fashion of declining tribes, to strengthen themselves by alliances with their neighbors, but have always failed in consequence of their propensity to plunder developing itself even before the pow-wow was concluded . They and the northern Dakotahs can never be trusted. Most Indian races, like the Bedouin Arabs, will show hospitality to the stranger who rides into their villages, though no point of honor deters them from robbing him after he has left the lodge-shade. The Pawnees, African like, will cut the throat of a sleeping guest. They are easily distinguished from their neighbors by the scalp -lock protruding from a shaven head . After killing white men, they have insulted the corpse in a manner familiar to those who served in the Affghan war. They have given up the practice of torturing prisoners, saying that the “Great Spirit," or rather, as the expression should be translated, the "Great Father” no longer wills it. The tradition is, that a few years ago a squaw of a hostile tribe was snatched from the stake by a white trader, and the action was interpreted as a decree of heaven . It is probably a corruption of the well-known story of the rescue of the Itean woman by Petalesharoo, the son of the “Knife Chief.” Like the Southern and Western Indians generally , as is truly remarked by Captain Mayne Reid, “They possess more of that cold continence and chivalrous delicacy than characterize the Red Men of the forest." They are too treacherous to be used as soldiers. Like most pedestrian Indians, their arms and bodies are light and thin , and their legs are muscular and well developed. They are great in endurance. I have heard of a Pawnee , who, when thoroughly “ stampeded” by his enemies, “loped" from Fort Laramie to Kearney — 300 miles — making the distance as fast as the mail. This bad tribe is ever at war with their hereditary enemies the Sioux. They do not extend westward of Fort Kearney . The principal subtribe is the Arickaree, or Ree, called Pedani by the Dakotah , who attacked and conquered them . Their large villages, near the mouth of the Grand River, were destroyed by the expedition sent in 1825 – 26 , under Colonel Leavenworth, to chastise the attack upon the trading party of General Ashley.

A more interesting people than the Pawnee is the Delaware, whose oldest tradition derives him from the region west of the Mississippi. Thence the tribe migrated to the Atlantic shores, where they took the title of Lenne Lenape, or men, and the neighboring races in respect called them “uncle.” William Penn and his followers found this remnant of the great Algonquin confederacy in a depressed state : subjugated by the Five Nations, they had been compelled to take the name of "Iroquois Squaws." In those days they felt an awe of the white man, and looked upon him as a something godlike. Since their return to the West their spirit has revived, their war-path has reached through Utah to the Pacific Ocean, to Hudson's Bay on the north, and southward to the heart of Mexico. Their present abodes are principally near Fort Leavenworth upon the Missouri, and in the Choctaw territory near Fort Arbuckle, upon the eastern Colorado or Canadian River. They are familiar with the languages, manners, and customs of their pale-faced neighbors ; they are so feared as rifle shots that a host of enemies will fly from a few of their warriors, and they mostly lead a vagrant life, the wandering Jews of the West, as traders, hunters, and trappers, among the other Indian tribes. For 185 years the Shawnees have been associated with them in intermarriage, yet they are declining in numbers; here and there some are lost, one by one, in travel or battle ; they have now dwindled to about a hundred warriors, and the extinction of the tribe appears imminent. As hunters and guides, they are preferred to all others by the whites, and it is believed that they would make as formidable partisan soldiers as any on this continent. When the government of the United States, after the fashion of France and England , begins to raise “Irregular Native Corps,” the loss of the Delawares will be regretted .


Burton, Richard. 1861. The City Of The Saints. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.