Part II – The Subjugation of the American Indian
If you have not read Tucson Pioneers:Part I, you will find it here.
Grant’s Underlying Assumption
President Grant was certain that Anglo-Americans and Native Americans could not live side by side peacefully. Moreover, to accommodate U.S. citizens, the Indians would have to change their ways, give up hunting and raiding, and became peaceful farmers and ranchers on reservation land.
From Grant’s perspective, his Indian Peace Policy was intended to avert the wholesale extermination of the Indians inhabiting America’s Great Plains, forested Pacific Northwest, and desert Southwest, home to no more than three hundred thousand native people; well more than half of whom were nearly defenseless women, children, and old warriors well past their prime.
By contrast, when Grant became president, the White population of the United States was more than 30 million. Moreover, that population grew by more than 10 million every decade from 1870 to 1900. It was this explosive growth that fueled the insatiable demand for land west of the Mississippi … almost all of which was occupied by native tribes. You didn’t need to be a demographer in the Grant Administration to foresee what was about to befall the Indians. Read More
The Proper Treatment of the Indians
In his inaugural address March of 1869, Grant stated,
“The proper treatment of the original occupants of this land—the Indians—(is) one deserving of careful study. I will favor any course toward them which tends to their civilization and ultimate citizenship.”
Grant appointed Ely Parker commissioner of Indian Affairs. Parker was a Seneca Indian who served as lieutenant colonel under Grant during the Civil War and the first Native to hold the post. Two months later, in an effort to curb abuses by Indian agents, Grant established regulations for a new Board of Indian Commissioners.
The Board selected various Christian churches to administer the operations of different Indian reservations. Through the Office of Indian Affairs, it was hoped that these religious orders would provide honest and competent agents who would establish Indian schools and churches, teach the Indians farming and Christian values, and provide them with quality food and supplies at reasonable prices.
As a result, the Dutch Reform Church took control of the Apache Reservation at San Carlos and appointed John Clum Indian Agent. Clum was an honest agent who permitted the Indians limited self-government and kept the Army and others from stealing government money and supplies intended for the Indians. Although reasonably popular with the Apaches, after 3 years, Clum resigned because of constant Army interference.
[Note: Most armchair historians know John Clum as the Publisher of the Tombstone Epitaph and friend of Wyatt Earp. Few know that he was the only man to ever capture Geronimo.]
Just say “No”.
Certainly, Grant knew, and you know, that the conflict between the White Man and the Red Man could have been avoided if Anglo-Americans would have just stayed away from Indian land. Unfortunately, no matter what Grant wanted personally, he possessed neither the military resources, nor the political support, to physically keep his own people out of Indian territory that Whites coveted for potential mineral wealth, rich soil, vast timber and grazing lands.
Like his predecessor, President Abraham Lincoln, many of President Grant’s policies encouraged White expansion into the West. Lincoln had championed the 1862 Homestead Act. Any U.S. citizen or intended citizen, including freed slaves and female heads of households, would receive title to 160 acres for federal land west of the Mississippi River. All they had to do was make improvements on the property, reside there for at least 5 consecutive years, and never take up arms against the United States. The influx of White settlers was immediate and overwhelming, not merely because of free land, but also the discovery of gold on Indian lands.
During his presidency, Grant signed legislation detrimental to the Indians, including the General Mining Act that allowed White individuals and corporations to stake claims on Indian lands. This law did not require the new claimants to notify the Indians. There was no possibility for the Natives to file suit in Federal Courts to protect their property.
As a consequence of this and other legislation and public policies, American Indians suffered atrocities and gross injustices while Grant was president: The Modoc War of 1872-73 in Northern California and Southern Oregon; The Red River War of 1874 in the Southern Plains against the Comanche, Kiowa, and Southern Cheyenne; The Great Sioux War of 1876 in Dakota Territory (aka Black Hills War); The Nez Perce War of 1877 in the Pacific Northwest; The Nez Perce were forced off 7.5 million acres granted to them by the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla. The other tribes met a similar fate.
Grant’s Government Reform
Grant tried to reform federal agencies by creating a professional class of government employees. For this he established the Civil Service Commission in the hope of eliminating bureaucratic inefficiencies and corruption caused by nepotism and patronage. He also supervised the development of millions of acres of federal public lands and presided over the private acquisition of land by pioneers, spectators and railroad and mining companies.
Whites give Grant credit for supporting the U.S. Congress in establishing America’s first National Park; Yellowstone. Yet, this magnificent landscape had been home to Native Americans for at least 11,000 years. What was good for Whites was seldom good for Indians. It was a zero sum game. If one side wins, the other side must lose. The land was finite.
Grant knew that his expansionist goals for his nation required the removal of Indians from land coveted by Whites. His Indian Peace Policy, designed to reform the Indian Bureau and remove corrupt agents, also called for rigorous agricultural training on reservations and establishing schools and churches that would transform Indians into Christian citizens who would eventually be given the right to vote. In the meantime, however, the Indians would be “wards of the nation”.
For Grant, cultural genocide was preferable to literal extermination. We might have agreed if in fact these were our only two choices.
“No matter what ought to be the relations between such settlements and the aborigines, the fact is they do not harmonize well, and one or the other has to give way in the end.”
Grant, ever the military man, was nothing if not a pragmatist. Moral philosophy had its limits.
“A system which looks to the extinction of a race is too horrible for a nation to adopt without entailing upon itself the wrath of all Christendom and engendering in the citizen a disregard for human life and the rights of others, dangerous to society. I see no substitute for such a system, except in placing all the Indians on large reservations, as rapidly as it can be done, and giving them absolute protection there.”
To fortify and accelerate his vision for America Native population in the West, Grant signed the Indian Appropriation Act of 1871. This law halted the Government’s recognition of new Indian nations with which it could make treaties. Any tribe not already acknowledged as a sovereign nation could become a Nation and no formal treaties could be made with them. Thus began the official policy of concentrating all Indian tribes onto reservations, for their own good, of course.
In his 1871 address to Congress, Grant claimed,
“Many tribes of Indians have been induced to settle upon reservations, to cultivate the soil, to perform productive labor of various kinds, and to partially accept civilization. They are being cared for in such a way, it is hoped, as to induce those still pursuing their old habits of life to embrace the only opportunity which is left them to avoid extermination.”
Three years later, Grant boasted,
“A few years more will relieve our frontiers from danger of Indian depredations.”
He was off by a dozen years because so many of the Apaches of Arizona and New Mexico were not properly “cared for” on their reservations.
Whites, first prospectors, then ranchers and farmers, continued to push Indians off their land, while Grant’s army was expected to prevent retaliation. Grant oversaw the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad and the industrial slaughter of buffalo on the Plains that destroyed the Indian’s primary supply of food and hides for clothing, blankets, and tepees. The Indians starved or died from malnutrition and exposure, or White Man’s diseases such a smallpox and measles.
Was Grant’s Indian Policy The Best He Could Do?
Was this the best President Grant could do? Perhaps. To be fair, we have to consider that, from the perspective of the U.S. Congress and the federal bureaucracy, the Indians were not U.S. Citizens. They could not vote. They had little political power in Washington and even less in the Western state capitals.
Exterminate The Indians
In fact, most good citizens of Arizona and New Mexico Territories clamored for the extermination of the Apaches by any means necessary. Most did not support the federal government’s practice of giving these Indians rations. White citizens in the Territories claimed that rations of food, blankets, and clothing enabled the Apaches to continue raiding. Certainly, in some cases this was true.
Moreover, what little sympathy the Western tribes had in the Halls of Power evaporated on June 26, 1976 when news spread that thousands of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors had annihilated five companies of the 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn River in Montana. Almost unanimously, Americans demanded revenge, even though Grant made it clear he consider the massacre to be entirely the fault of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. “I regard Custer’s Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary — wholly unnecessary.”
The Indians won this battle, but lost the war. Congress quickly responded by attaching what the Sioux call the “sell or starve” rider to the Indian Appropriations Act of 1876 enacted just 3 weeks after Custer’s Last Stand. It cut off all rations for the Sioux until they terminated hostilities and ceded the Black Hills to the United States. The Agreement of 1877 officially confiscated Sioux lands and permanently established Indian reservations for these “bad” Indians.
Grant’s Political Reality
Today, there are many who believe the President should have used the Army to keep Whites from violating U.S. law by mining and otherwise settling on Indian Territory. For Grant to use his Army to physically prevent U.S. citizens from encroaching on Indian land would have been political suicide. No doubt he would have been impeached or voted out of office in the election of 1872.
For Grant’s Army to shoot down Indians … men, women, and children … in their own villages was not unheard of. Grant didn’t like it, but he knew it happened. For his Army to shoot down White prospectors and settlers trespassing on Indian Territory was unthinkable. If Grant had ordered it, most likely few officers would have obeyed. And if they had, the officers would have faced mass desertions or perhaps assassination by their own troops.
The Chiricahua and Mescalero Apaches
For the Indians, President Grant’s “large reservations” became the source of continued misery and death. This was particularly true at San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona and Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico.
One particular act of treachery by Grant occurred shortly after the 1874 death of Cochise, the great Chiricahua Apache chief. Over the slightest provocation, the president rescinded the [unwritten] 1872 treaty Cochise had forged with General Howard that granted the Chiricahua Apaches a large reservation, in perpetuity, encompassing much of their ancestral homeland in the Chiricahua and Dragoon Mountains and Sulphur Springs Valley in between. Today, this lost Chiricahua Reservation makes up much of Cochise County in Southeast Arizona. [Click on this link for our story related to the Chiricahua Apache.]
With the stroke of his presidential pen, Grant returned the Chiricahua’s territory to public domain and militarily forced these Chiricahua Apaches onto the dreaded San Carlos Reservation. The land rush for the former Chiricahua reservation was immediate and irreversible.
The San Carlos Apache Reservation
Yes, you could argue that a relatively few disgruntled Chiricahua Apaches led by Geronimo brought this travesty upon all their people. Despite many warnings, some warriors continued to raid south of the International Border. In an effort to maintain the peace, Cochise ordered them to stop. But by 1874, Cochise was dead and neither Taza nor Naiche had the powerful influence over the Chiricahuas that their father had.
Moreover, because of a treaty with Mexico, Grant was legally bound to stop this cross-border raiding. So he had his army herd the Chiricahuas onto the San Carlos Reservation where they were forced into close proximity with Tonto and Yavapai bands who were hostile to the Chiricahuas. Hostilities between these groups was easily predictable, as was the flight of many Chiricahuas from San Carlos to avoid Apache-on-Apache violence. The Whites were either unaware or uncaring.
How The Apaches Really Threatened Tucson Businessmen
In 1871-72, Crook’s army had forced the Tonto Apaches and Yavapai to settle on the Rio Verde Indian Reservation. At the insistence and assistance of the Army, they took up large-scale farming and provided crops, not only for themselves, but for the Army that had conquered them. In 1873, they produced 500,000 pounds of corn and additional quantities of beans and other crops.
Rio Verde proved the wisdom of Grant’s Peace Policy. It was a huge success … a success that proved its downfall. Tonto Apache and Yavapai gains threatened White farming and ranching interests in Tucson. Those Tucson businessmen quickly convinced the Federal Government to end the Indian experiment.
In 1874, the Grant Peace Policy morphed into the Indian Removal Policy. Its purpose was to remove the Natives from vast ancestral lands and concentrate them onto relatively small reservations. By doing so, the Government hoped it would be easier and cheaper to control them, as well as open huge tracks of fertile, but uncultivated land to productive White settlement.
In the Southwest, in 1871-2, General Crook began the roundup. His troops conquered the Yavapai and Tonto Apaches and forced them onto the Rio Verde Reservation. The U.S. Government dissolved this reserve four years later. Its Army then force-marched about 1,500 Indians over high mountains in harsh winter conditions 180 miles to San Carlos. More than 100 died on the trek. In the process, the Yavapai and Tonto Apaches lost their 900 square mile government-guaranteed land in the lush Verde Valley, although many returned after the turn of the century.
Having accomplished his assignment of concentrating these Natives at San Carlos, Crook wrote: … the Indian agents “immediately began their game of plundering.” He quickly learned, much to his disgust, that most of the government supplies intended for the Indians were being sold off the reservation by the agents. Everyone was benefiting from the reservation system except the Native Americans forced to live on them.
Soon these Apaches were again dependent on the Government that again purchased huge quantities of vegetables, grain and beef and supplies such as tools and wagons at outrageous prices from Tucson entrepreneurs.
San Carlos was purposely chosen because it was remote. No Whites or Mexicans wanted this miserable area, described at the time as “a desolate sand-waste, a sweltering disease-ridden inferno.”
The San Carlos Reservation soil was so poor the Indians had no possibility of becoming self-sufficient farmers. Moreover, they could not prevent the deaths of their infants and small children from malaria that was prevalent there.
To say the Indians were not well cared for on their reservations in general and at San Carlos, in particular, would be the grossest understatement. This was a huge failure of the Grant administration that was totally avoidable, if …
IF Grant had known about it, he surely would have considered the deplorable reservation conditions a violation of his Indian Peace Policy and foreseen the Chiricahua’s revolts as likely consequences.
From Grant’s strong and immediate reaction to the slaughter of Aravaipa Apaches on April 30, 1871, by a Tucson mob, we can reasonably assume that the President’s reaction would have been outrage and the immediate use of his military to rectify the reservation’s condition. But history does not reveal what Grant knew of conditions at San Carlos after he ordered the various Apache groups forcibly moved there in 1874-75.
Raiding To Survive
For several hundred years, Apaches in general, and the Chiricahuas in particular raided neighboring tribes who were more settled and had much to steal, including guns & ammo, food, horses, and women. This raiding way of life sowed the seeds of their eventual destruction. When the Americans began arriving en masse onto the Apaches ancestral homelands, the Chiricahuas had no friends among neighboring tribes. They had no natural alliances. As the Plains Indians proved at their Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn), alliances to consolidate overwhelming force was the only way to defeat the U.S. Army in battle.
In Chiricahua history, only two chiefs, Cochise and his father-in-law, the giant Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves), had sufficient status to unite the many bands of Apaches and create a fighting force of some 500 warriors under superb leadership. But Mangas was tortured and murdered by soldiers in ’63. And Cochise died of natural causes in ’74.
The united Indian fighting force at Little Big Horn amounted to several thousand warriors led by Sitting Bull and Chief Gall. For the Apaches to gather anywhere near that number of warriors for a pitched battle, they would have had to form military alliances with the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, Ute, and Tohono O’odham … all of whom were their bitter enemies.
Yet raiding was something Chiricahua Apaches did well. In the 1860s and ’70s, the Chiricahuas were the alpha-predator of the American Southwest. Facing overwhelming odds, they knew they had five formidable military assets. (1) The Chiricahuas knew the terrain far better than their enemies. (2) Through generations of hardship, rigorous training, and warfare, the Chiricahuas were physically and mentally tougher than their Anglo and Mexican enemies, and just as ruthless. (3) The Chiricahuas were unsurpassed at guerilla warfare. They were excellent ambush killers. (4) Usually, the Chiricahuas had excellent leadership: Mangas Coloradas, Cochise, Victorio, Juh, Nana, and Chihuahua to name a few. One can argue whether or not Geronimo was an excellent leader. Many Apaches blame him for their miserable fate. (5) Most Chiricahua warriors were willing to fight and die for the sake of their family, their way of life, and their land that Ussen, the Creator, had given them.
In addition to not having any allies, the non-reservation Chiricahuas termed “hostiles’ by the Whites, did have another liability, namely turncoats. Many Chiricahuas, thoroughly exhausted from years of continuous warfare, went to work for the U.S. Army as informants and scouts. The most historically important of these were Chatto and Peaches. Without them serving as scouts, the U.S. Army could never have discovered the hostile’s hidden rancherias and the Apache Wars might have continued for another decade or two.
Another liability was trust. General Crook, then General Miles, promised Geronimo and Naiche that, if they surrendered, all Chiricahuas would be exiled to Florida, (wherever that was), for only two years, then all would be returned to their homeland in Arizona. Apaches usually kept their promises. Not so much the Americans. The U.S. broke promises, even ratified treaties, like dried twigs.
Turncoats and treachery aside, their abiding liability, however, was far greater than their formidable assets. In a war of attrition, the Chiricahuas were bound to lose eventually. In the 1850’s and ‘60’s, there may have been as many as 2,000 Chiricahuas. By 1883, there were a mere 500. By April of 1886, the Chiricahuas could field only 2 dozen warriors against more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers and a couple hundred Apache scouts, plus hundreds of Mexican soldiers, and myriad civil militias. All of the other Chiricahua men, women, and children had been or soon would be shipped to Florida as prisoners-of-war.
In 1883, confined and facing lingering death and humiliating cultural annihilation at San Carlos, several hundred Chiricahuas, men, women, and children, bolted the res and headed for the safely of the Sierra Madre in Mexico under the leadership of shaman Geronimo and Chief Naiche.
By now, raiding on both sides of the border was their only means of survival. Any Anglo or Mexican, soldier or civilian, would shoot them on sight or let the Army know their whereabouts. For this reason, the Chiricahuas killed every Anglo and Mexican they came across; men, women, and children. Grant’s soldiers often did the same to Apaches found off their reservation. So who was to blame? Everyone? No one? Grant? Geronimo? You tell me.
NEXT: Part III – The Tucson Ring