I HAVE been asked many times by presidents of the United States to serve on commissions to make treaties with the Indians. In 1876 a commission was sent to the hostile Sioux, consisting of Colonel G. W. Manypenny, Colonel A. G. Boone, General Sibley, Dr. J. W. Daniels, Attorney-General A. S. Gaylord, Newton Edmunds, Henry C. Bulis, and myself. Ill health prevented General Sibley from serving. Colonel Boone, grandson of Daniel Boone, had lived fifty-five years with the Indians. Dr. Daniels had been physician to the Sioux and the agent at the Red Cloud Agency. Colonel Manypenny was Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Pierce.
We left the Union Pacific Railway at Cheyenne and travelled by wagon two hundred miles to Camp Robinson. The Sioux Indians had a treaty with the United States, in which it was stipulated that no white man should enter the reservation, and that it should be forever in the possession of the Sioux. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and there was a mad rush to this new Eldorado. The only remaining herds of buffalo were in the Sioux country, and they were being killed for their hides by white men. It is no marvel that these red men called us a people with forked tongues,--a race of liars.'
In one of our first councils at this visit, an aged chief, holding in his hands some treaties, said:--
"The first white man who came here to make a treaty, promised to do certain things for us. He was a liar." He repeated the substance of each treaty, always ending with, "He lied." The accusation was true. The fault was not in the commissioners, but either in Congress failing to appropriate the means, or in the failure to execute the treaty. These treaties are too often hastily made, simply to settle hostilities, and promises are given which cannot be fulfilled.
There were many men of mark among the Sioux. Red Cloud was a born leader of men, one who had the faculty of clothing truth with a terseness which stamped it upon the memory of the listener. Having been asked for a farewell toast at a public dinner, he arose and said:--
"When men part they look forward to meeting again. I hope that one day we may meet in a land where white men are not liars."
A council was held with Red Cloud and his fellow-chiefs in Washington, the Government having been anxious to secure the relinquishment of a tract of land which the Indians wanted to retain. The Secretary of the Interior asked a clergyman to open the council with prayer, which he did, praying especially that the hearts of the Indians might be moved to do right. The secretary then said:--
"We have asked the blessing of the Great Spirit, and we are now ready to proceed to business."
Red Cloud arose and said: "I want to pray to the Great Spirit." Lifting his hands toward heaven, he prayed, "0 Great Spirit, have pity on the red man and his children! "
Vice-President Hendricks said, in speaking of it afterward, "They were the most eloquent words I have ever heard, and every heart was touched."
Spotted Tail was a picture of manly beauty, with piercing eyes, self-possessed, and a man who knew what he wanted to say and said it. When he met Dr. Daniels at the time of this Commission, he smiled gravely and said:--
"The white man wants another treaty. Why does not the Great Father put his red children on wheels, so that he can move them as he will?"
Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horse was a noted warrior. He was always where the fight was fiercest, and whenever his spotted horse was seen approaching his foes were filled with terror.
Indian children are usually named from some event, or some phase of nature, which impresses the mother during her child's infancy. Thus a mother holding her babe in her arms sees a great cloud rolling by, and she calls the child"Ne indah"--Passing Cloud; or a sudden rift comes in the cloud, and the child is called Hole-in-the-Day. These names are often changed when the child grows to manhood and perhaps accomplishes some worthy deed. If on a hunt he were to kill four bears, he would thereafter be called Four Bears.
American Horse was a scout for General McKenzie, who had tried in vain to capture a Sioux warrior who had been the leader in several massacres. American Horse went alone to the camp, shot the Sioux and brought the body to headquarters.
When President Grant asked me to name a man who could take care of these semi-hostile Indians, I gave that of Dr. Daniels, who was personally acquainted with all the prominent chiefs and warriors at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies. He went to the Red Cloud Agency in the dead of winter, with the thermometer thirty degrees below zero. When I asked him a year later how he found the Indians, he replied:--
"As wild as wolves, and scores of them would have been glad to have had a dance around my scalp, but now there are as many who would die for me."
Red Dog was another noted chief and had led many war parties against the whites. He brought his sick son to Dr. Daniels, who told him that he could not cure the disease, but he could relieve the pain and prolong his life. Medicine was given him for temporary relief, but a few months after the young man died. When an Indian loses his favorite child he gives away his blanket, gun, and pony, and sitting down by the dead body, cuts deep gashes into his own flesh. It is the old story of the Bible--"the heathen cutting themselves with knives." The doctor had a coffin made and sent to Red Dog, with a blanket and a gun. He said to the messenger:--
"Tell Red Dog that his white friend sends him a coffin in which to bury his son, and some things with which to begin life again. Then sit down and wait. If the chief accepts my gifts, he will be my friend for life. If he refuses them, he will be on the war path to-morrow."
The chief received the messenger and sat for a long time in silence. He then arose and said to his soldiers:--
"The white man has made my heart like the heart of a woman. I shall bury my son beside his door, so that when I visit his grave I shall remember that it was a white man who was my friend in my sorrow."
From that day Red Dog would have given his life for the doctor.
Upon this visit we were to meet the representatives of the Sioux at a point midway between Red Cloud's and Spotted Tail's camps. General McKenzie urged us to take a guard of soldiers, but Colonel Boone, Dr. Daniels, and myself objected on the ground that it would indicate that we had no confidence in the Indians. We therefore met them unarmed. There were three hundred Indians, each with a Winchester rifle and a belt of cartridges. They formed a semicircle and we presented our message. Our confidence assured success.
At Standing Rock we found the Indians very turbulent. One of our clergy had been murdered a few days before. Two of the leading chiefs held long consultations with us and were favorable to a treaty which ceded the Black Hills. The large majority, however, were determined to prevent the treaty; if necessary, by violence. My son, Major Charles Whipple, has sent me the following letter of Captain E. C. Bowen, U. S. A., who was present.
The Indians on the Cheyenne Agency, on the Missouri River, were in a very ugly and turbulent disposition, in the fall of 1876. Most of them had been engaged in the Ouster massacre, the previous summer, and in rights with Crook, of last year, notably on the Rosebud.
They were now back at the Agency, drawing supplies from the Government, with their usual promptness and regularity, employing their spare time in committing depredations of various kinds, which included killing and scalping and mutilating the Agency missionary, whose body was found on the road between the Agency and the Mission House.
Four companies of the 11th United States Infantry, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel G. P. Buell, were stationed near the Agency for its protection.
A Commission, of which Bishop Whipple of Minnesota was a member, was appointed by the President of the United States, to meet the chiefs and head men of these Indians, for the purpose of settling the trouble with them peaceably, and thereby of avoiding another Indian war. The chiefs and head men were invited to meet the Commission on the day of its arrival at the Agency.
Colonel Buell and the Commission had selected a large store-house at the Agency as a place of meeting. This building was of one story, containing a single room about one hundred feet long by forty feet wide, entered by two wide doors at the middle of each side. The Indians refused to meet at this building, but offered to do so outside the Agency at a point on the Missouri River bottom, which they designated, about half a mile distant. Colonel Buell would not allow this, particularly as rumors were rife that the Indians intended treachery, and to massacre the members of the Commission.
Parley with them was carried on for several hours, by means of interpreters and couriers, regarding the place of meeting, the Indians remaining all the time back on the hill in the rear of the Agency. The Indians continued obstinate, and would not come in.
Finally, Colonel Buell sent them word that the meeting must take place in the building at the Agency, at once, or not at all, and that if they still refused, the Commission would leave the Agency that day without seeing them.
The Indians, thereupon, very reluctantly concluded to come in, and arrived shortly at the Agency. They had been waiting on the hills in the rear of the Agency, during the negotiations regarding the place of meeting. In fact, the bluffs and river bottom, near the Agency, were thronged with armed and mounted Indians, to the number of a thousand or more, and had been, since early morning. They remained until the Council broke up.
The Commission was seated at a long table between the doors, which were left open; the Indians sat on the floor facing the Commission, near the opposite side of the table, the space between them and the end of the room in the rear being crowded with standing Indians, a hundred or more, armed, it was afterwards learned, with revolvers, knives, and clubs, hidden under their blankets.
Behind the members of the Commission, facing the Indians, a platoon of troops were standing under arms, also Colonel Buell, a number of other army officers, the Indian Agent, and several employees of the Agency. A guard of about twenty soldiers was also stationed outside each door. The remainder of the troops were under arms at their quarters, in readiness to act promptly if necessary.
The Council proceeded in the usual way, the Indians speaking in turn, stating their grievances and what they wanted the Government to do for them, etc.; replies being made for them by Bishop Whipple.
For the most part the Indians were very defiant and ugly in their manner and talk. When they spoke, the Indians standing behind them howled and shouted their approval. But there were two chiefs who spoke for peace and counselled a compliance with the propositions of the Commission, but their views met with great disfavor from the Indians in the rear, who yelled and hooted their disapproval, and had twice rushed upon their friendly speakers, pushing them and threatening to kill them.
It was believed that the Indians standing behind the Indians of the Council had planned to attack any Indian who should speak for peace, and inaugurate thereby an attack on the Commission, troops, and people of the Agency, to be joined by the Indians outside at a given signal.
Colonel Buell cautioned the Indians, after the first rush, that it must not be repeated, and after the second that they would be fired on by the troops if it should occur again.
They defiantly made a third rush upon a friendly Chief who was speaking, yelling and shouting threats, hustling and pushing him, during which, upon direction of Colonel Buell, the officer in command of the troops gave the command, "Load," "Beady," "Aim," and was about to give the command, "Fire," when a most remarkable thing occurred.
Bishop Whipple arose from his seat, where he had been quietly sitting during all this furor and commotion, turned toward the troops and Colonel Buell, and holding out his arms to them, exclaimed, "Don't fire, Colonel, for God's sake don't fire!"
The bishop was perfectly cool and calm, without the slightest trace of fear, but, as all could see, in earnest. It was an anxious and awful moment, as all present realized. What was passing in the mind of Colonel Buell, of course, none but himself could know. That he distrusted his own judgment as against that of Bishop Whipple, who was held in the highest esteem and veneration by all the officers of the Army present, is very likely, for on his intimation the officer commanded, "Recover Arms," instead of "Fire," and the situation was changed, and the terrible tension of feeling upon all present was relieved.
It was at once agreed by members of the Commission that no good results could be attained by continuing the Council any further, and it was immediately broken up, the Indians leaving very hurriedly.
The writer will always believe that Bishop Whipple's conduct on this occasion averted an awful catastrophe. Had the troops fired, a fight between the troops and the Indians would have begun immediately. As the Indians outnumbered the troops by six or eight hundred and were well armed, the result to the troops would have been most serious, to say the least, and many valuable lives inevitably lost.
Captain Bowen gives me over-much praise. I only did what any one would have done who realized the situation. The real heroes that day were two young chiefs, Four Bears and Rattling Ribs.
I presented to the Indians the wishes of the Government. Four Bears arose, and said:--
"It is a fine day. The Great Spirit shines on His children. It is a good sign for you and for us. You have come to ask a question--' Will you sell us some of your land?' To that I say yes."
Then there arose a bedlam of yells and a rush. Four Bears did not turn, but stood calm. Rattling Ribs drew his knife, and said, "You know me. I will kill the first man who does harm to the Commission."
Three times there was a tumult, and for a time it looked serious. When quiet was restored Four Bears continued his speech in a calm voice, as if there had been no interruption and without turning:--
"I say yes, and will tell you my reasons."
I have never seen coolness in peril equal to that of this brave man, whose courage secured the Indians' assent to the treaty.
This treaty provided that the chiefs of different bands of Sioux should visit the Indian Territory to select homes for their people. The chiefs were delighted with the country. Red Dog said when he saw it, "If any man had told me that the Great Spirit had made such a country for men to live in, I should have thought him a liar."
The people of the Southwest prevented the ratification of this treaty. If the Sioux had removed and had begun civilization, as they were ready to do, it would have saved some of our later Indian wars.
Near the close of President Grant's administration I was invited to meet the Indian Peace Commission in Washington. The Sioux were on the eve of another war. The President, the Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Cameron, the Secretary of War, General Sherman, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs were present.
One of the Commission, a member of the Society of Friends, arose, and said:--
"Mr. President, Bishop Whipple knows the causes of the present Indian troubles, and we should like to have him give them to you."
Breathing a prayer for wisdom, I said, turning to the Secretary of the Interior:--
"You said in your report that the Sioux had, for the most part, faithfully observed the treaty; and," turning to the Secretary of War, "you said in your report that the hostile element of the Sioux was not as a drop in the bucket.
"These statements were true. In December last, an order was sent to the Indians from the Agency of the Missouri River, north of the Cannon Ball, that they must return to the Agency before the middle of February, or be regarded as hostile.
"On account of the inclemency of the weather, the scouts who carried the message were not themselves able to return before the time expired. The Indians received the message without irritation, and said, ' We cannot return in the winter, but will do so early in the spring.'
"The Indians had the right to hunt in this territory, and Congress had appropriated two hundred thousand dollars for this support while roaming.
"Troops with comfortable tents could not remain in the field during the Arctic weather. The agent at Standing Rock telegraphed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs: ' The Indians have heard that their ponies are to be taken from them. What shall I tell them?' The commissioner called upon you, Mr. President, and asked you what answer he should give. You said, 'Tell them that their ponies shall not be taken as long as they are at peace.' You told the commissioner to see General Sherman and send an answer. General Sherman and the commissioner agreed upon the telegram which was sent to the agent."
General Sherman here asked, "Bishop, do you know what was in that despatch?"
"Yes," I replied, "I have a copy of it in my pocket," and I handed it to him. In those days I was in the habit of carrying documents of the kind with me, never knowing when the occasion might come to make use of them.
This message pledged the Indians protection of their property as long as they were peaceful. The general looked at it and then said:--
"But this does not speak of ponies."
I smiled and answered, "General, you are too old and too good a soldier to have said that."
"Bishop, you are right," energetically responded the general. "Lying is lying; we had better call it what it is! It did pledge protection."
President Grant then said: "Bishop, when I sent your Commission to these Indians, Attorney-General Gaylord came to me and said, ' We shall be asked a great many questions, and we want your views.' I replied: ' Tell the Indians that as long as they remain at peace they shall be protected in their property.' General Gaylord asked if it included their ponies, and I said yes. He wrote my words in his notebook, and I do not doubt that they were repeated to the Indians."
"Yes, Mr. President," I replied, "General Gaylord read your words to us, and we made that pledge to the Indians."
The President said, "Gentlemen, a great wrong has been done, and you may rely upon my making every effort that can be made to recompense the Indians for their loss."
I know that the President asked that appropriation should be made for this purpose, but it was only a short time before he went out of office, and Congress adjourned without making the appropriation. It has since, however, been made.
General Sherman was a manly man. With him war was no play, and he carried it relentlessly to the bitter end. We had many sharp passages of arms on the Indian question. When Black Kettle was killed on the Wichita, I was asked to meet a Commission of which General Sherman was chairman. I told the story of Black Kettle's life as I had learned it from Colonel Boone who had known Black Kettle from childhood. I made an earnest plea for the Indians, which was followed by a somewhat sharp contest between the general and myself, but I have reason to know that he loved and respected me for defending my poor children. One day as I was entering a hotel in Florida, I heard the general's voice behind me, calling to his adjutant, "Here is our Indian bishop; we have the Indians between us and we will exterminate them."
"Why don't you say, General, that you thank God that there is a bishop to defend these poor red men?"
He put his hands on my shoulders, and said earnestly, "Bishop, I do."
When he published the history of his campaigns he sent a copy to my son with the inscription,
To Major C. H. Whipple, U. S. A., son of my great and good friend, Bishop Whipple of Minnesota, with love and veneration for the Father, and earnest wishes for the honor and happiness of the Son.
W. T. SHERMAN, General.
NEW YORK, Oct. 9th, 1886.
I loved General Sherman for his singular uprightness of character and his devotion to his country. Notwithstanding our early differences on Indian questions, we became devoted friends, and he was often my helper in my efforts for the Indians and in securing instruction in military science for Shattuck School.
The following letter, written just after the death of his wife in answer to a letter of sympathy from me, reveals his sincere character.
No. 75 WEST N St., NEW YORK, December 10th, 1888.
Dear Bishop Whipple: I have simply been flooded with letters of condolence and sympathy from mutual friends on the death of my wife, and have been compelled to devolve the answers to------, but yours is exceptional. I personally recognize the full measure of your recorded words. Mrs. Sherman was a Romanist by inheritance from Mother and Grandfather, Hugh Boyle, Esq. (whom I well remember as a classical scholar), an emigrant who came to Ohio in 1790, and became the Clerk of the United States District Court, in my native town, Lancaster, Ohio. Many a time when I was late, and running barefoot to school, he would intercept me and make me construe some Greek verb. Yet that man stamped his religion on probably the best intellect in Ohio, Thomas Ewing, indifferent to religion, generally, but big in his apprehension of the grandeur of America, and her influence in the destinies of the Great Future. His daughter Ellen was my wife from 1850 to 1888, and she never for one instant wavered from her faith in that the Roman or Irish Catholic Church had and would to the end preserve the true and only faith in God and His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. All other creeds were to her schisms, disturbing elements in the universally desired wish for Eternal Salvation.
Of course my old Puritan blood somewhat rebelled at the doctrines of the Holy Ghost, the Communion of Saints, Tran-substantiation, the Immaculate Conception, etc., none of which are necessary to an admission that Christ on earth taught the highest morality, charity, and religion thus far reached on this earth, and was consequently entitled to not only reverence but submission. Nevertheless, such is God's ordinance that progress is the law, not stagnation. Truth, of course, is eternal, but even truth presents different phases, and any church which puts down the brakes and declares here we stand, "no further," compels schisms, departures, and final rupture. The Catholic Church has gone through all these vicissitudes, and as far as I can comprehend, the Episcopal Church is keeping pace close behind.
For you, Bishop Whipple, I now declare my profound respect and love. I believe you have been through life a pure, conscientious man and Bishop. Your heart has been with the poor Indian, who sits by the ocean's beach, and knowing there is a flood-tide coming, is too lazy to change his seat. The remnants of the Indians of America will be as the gipsies of Moscow, whom I saw, and who, in my judgment, are the remnants of the Aborigines, or Indians of Austria, Russia, and Germany. Fragments of them have travelled all over the world, but have no more been able to change their skins than the leopards. We must simply do to-day what seems best, and trust to Him to bring all things into the one Harmonious Whole.
Excuse me for these crude thoughts, and all I can say is that I continue to ask the good will of Bishop Whipple.
W. T. SHERMAN, General.