Project Canterbury

Plea for the Red Man.

By Bishop Whipple, of Minnesota.

[Reprinted from the "Missionary Paper," No. 24, Epiphany, 1868.]

THERE are times when the Christian laborer has the right to ask for the sympathy, the prayers and the co-operation of all good men; for this reason I ask the calm attention of my fellow citizens to an appeal in behalf of one of the most wretched races of heathen men on the earth. I do not make this plea simply for a heathen race--I plead for every interest which is dear to my heart. The fair fame of the State, the blessing of God upon the nation, the protection of peaceful citizens from savage violence, the welfare of our children, and the prosperity of the Church of CHRIST, are bound up in our settlement of this Indian question. It is too late to shrink from responsibility. The fearful issues are upon us, and as we settle them justly or unjustly, we shall receive the blessing or the curse of Almighty GOD.

It is not a pleasant task to make an appeal, where excited public feeling may arouse unkind suspicions and unjust accusations. Few men love more than myself the approval of their fellow citizens, and none desire more the affection of those among whom they labor. I dare not be silent; I fear less the reproaches of the people than the anger of GOD.

The nation has heard of the most fearful Indian massacre in history, but those who live remote from the border can have no idea of the awful horrors which have accompanied the desolation of two hundred miles of the fairest country on the earth. Many of these victims of savage ferocity were my friends. They had mingled their voices with mine in prayer; they had given to me such hospitality as can only be found in the log cabin of the frontier. It fills my heart with grief, and blinds my eyes with tears [1/2] whenever I think of their nameless graves. It is because I love them, and would save others from their fate, that I ask that the people shall lay the blame of this great crime where it belongs, and rise up with one voice to demand the reform of an atrocious Indian system, which has always garnered for us the same fruit of anguish and blood.

There is not a man in America who ever gave an hour's calm reflection to this subject, who does not know that our Indian system is an organized system of robbery, and has been for years a disgrace to the nation. It has left savage men without governmental control; it has looked on unconcerned at every crime against the law of God and man; it has fostered savage life by wasting thousands of dollars in the purchase of paint, beads, scalping knives, and tomahawks it has fostered a system of trade which robbed the thrifty and virtuous to pay the debts of the indolent and vicious; it has squandered the funds for civilization and schools it has connived at theft; it has winked at murder; and at last, after dragging the savage down to a brutishness unknown to his fathers, it has brought a harvest of blood to our own door.

It was under this Indian system that the fierce, warlike Sioux were fitted and trained to be the actors in this bloody drama; and the same causes are to-day, slowly but surely, preparing the way for a Chippewa war. There is not, to-day, an old citizen of Minnesota who will not shrug his shoulders as he speaks of the dishonesty which accompanied the purchase of the lands of the Sioux. It left in savage minds a deep sense of injustice. There followed ten years of savage life, unchecked by law, and uninfluenced by good example. They were taught by white men that lying was no disgrace, adultery no sin, and theft no crime. Their hunting grounds were gone, the onward march of civilization crowded them on every side. Their only possible hope of being saved from starvation was the fidelity with which a great nation fulfilled its plighted faith, which before God and man it had pledged to its heathen wards. The people here on the border, and the rulers at Washington, know how that faith has been broken. The constant irritations of such a system would in time have secured an Indian Massacre. It was hastened and precipitated by the sale of nearly 800,000 acres of land, for which they never received one farthing, for it was all absorbed in claims. Then came the story (and it was true), that half of their annuity money had also been taken for claims. They waited two months, mad, exasperated, hungry--the agent utterly powerless to undo the wrong committed at Washington--and they resolved on savage vengeance. For every dollar of which they have been defrauded we shall pay ten dollars in the cost of this war. It has been so for fifty years, it will be so again. God's retributive justice always has compelled a people to reap exactly what they have permitted [2/3] to be sown. In the Chippewa country there was the same wretched policy, and, if possible, ten fold more of wrong. They had seen an innocent woman die by the brutal violence of white men. They knew that fictitious amounts were certified to, and dead men's names placed on the pay rolls. They saw disease and death holding a carnival in every Indian village, and they knew that much of their sorrow was a cup of degradation which we had given them to drink. They have always been our friends, and hoping against hope, have waited for the tardy justice of white men. Last fall a crafty leader sought to use these elements of discontent to excite an Indian outbreak, and had it not been that there was a Christian Indian Clergyman, and faithful Indian friends to give us warning, there would have been another devastated border. That Indian Clergyman lost his all by his fidelity. His eldest son, then sick, died in consequence of that night journey, another child is lying at the point of death, and his wife is broken hearted with grief and care. His Indian friends were many of them also sufferers from the anger of their savage people, but they felt overpaid by having saved their white friends from death. The Indian Commissioner, the Secretary of the Interior, the Clerk of the Department, all knew these facts, and pledged these men in the name of their Great Father, ample reward and protection for their fidelity, and that the leaders in this attempted insurrection should be punished. The Legislature of the State also sent a Commission to the Indian country, and they made pledges, in a solemn treaty, that all past wrongs should be redressed. Has any such commission been appointed? any examination been made? any effort made to redress these wrongs? The Indian Chiefs say that the Government has rewarded the wrong-doer, whom they can prove had made a treaty with Little Crow, and they also say that the reason of this reward is that he knew too much of the past robberies of his own people. They warn us that the Government is teaching their young men that they will be losers to follow the advice of good Chiefs, and that we will surely secure a bolder outbreak and massacre. They complain that no discrimination is ever made between the good and the bad Indian, that no law punishes the one or protects the other, that no efforts are made to redress their wrongs, that no help is offered them to become like white men, that we are crowding them into their graves, and that however much they desire peace, the time is coming when we shall compel them to a choice of deaths. After months of waiting for the fulfilment of these pledges, these Indians have received at the hands of their agent, a treaty, which they are urged to sign at once. The alternative is peaceable or forcible removal. This treaty provides that they shall relinquish all their reservations, many of which are valuable, and receive as payment therefor a tract of country, much of it so [3/4] poor that it is absolutely valueless. Any white man who has travelled over that country knows that these Indians cannot live on that proposed reservation, without they are aided far beyond the provisions of this treaty. It has filled the friendly Indians with sorrow, and the bad with anger. A Chief who did as much as any man to prevent a Chippewa war, said in the council that he thought that their Great Father would never have asked Indians to give up their homes, who had lived in peace with the white men, and been so faithful to them. He said that no confidence can be placed in white men's words, for they have again and again made promises which they have broken. He said, "before you came to us, we had plenty and were happy, but since we sold you our land we are growing poorer and poorer every day. If you will take away our annuities you may do so, we cannot leave our country; we love the place where good braves and chiefs closed their eyes we love our country as much as you love your great city at Washington, named after your great chief; we cannot leave it." This feeling that our faith has been broken is common among the Chippewas. During the last Summer I visited the Indians at Red Lake. After the services, the head chief came to me and said, "You have spoken good words to us; you are the servant of the Great Spirit. I want you to go and see my people's gardens, and then I will ask your advice." I took the Chief's pony, and rode four miles through corn-fields, every acre of which was cultivated with the hoe. I ate new corn and new potatoes from these gardens, the first week in August. My interpreter counted twenty-nine sacks of last year's cot-n in one lodge, and we hardly found a lodge without plenty of old corn. On my return the Chief said, "You have seen my people; they have plenty; they are not hungry; our Great Father is about to send a Commissioner here to buy our land; I have noticed that whenever Indians sell their lands to their Great Father, they always perish. I should be sorry to have my people become like the Indians at Crow Wing. Will the Bishop tell me all he has in his head?" Never did my cheeks mantle as they did then with shame. What could I say? If I told him what I knew, no treaty could have been made, and I could not afford to have the Government accuse me of preventing the making of an Indian treaty. I simply said, "I am a Spiritual Chief; I have no right to say one word about treaties; I can advise you what to do when you do sell your land. Select your home, not for its game, but as a place where you can live as white men, by labor. Take your pay, not in paint, beads, and hatchets, but in implements of labor. Try to become like white men; embrace the white man's religion; the Great Spirit will bless you, and you will save your people."

Recently I received a message from an old Chief; it was a story he told his young men:--"A very nice and pretty bird of all [4/5] colors, came and sang beside our village--a voice said, 'listen not to him, pay no heed to his song, look not on his colors'--he went away. He came again with finer colors and sweeter songs, and he continued to do so until we heard him, and he led us away to die. The bird is the big-knives, his songs are his fair words, and lying promises; his colors are the paints, the beads and goods he gives for our country--wo to us, for the day we hear the big- knives' words we go to our graves."

Our Indian Clergyman writes to me--"Do, dear Bishop, do all you can for my dying people; to-day, if we had never seen the white man, we should be a hundred times better off; our only hope is in you; if you fail, we shall perish; that the good Bishop may yet be the means of doing much good to our oppressed people, in private and public, we make our devotions. We have remembered him at the throne of grace, and may he, as our spiritual parent, live many days, and be the means of the salvation of our people." Can I hear the cry of this wretched people and be silent? Can I see these wrongs and not speak out? I should be ashamed of my manhood, if I dared to be silent; I should be recreant to my awful trust as a shepherd of souls!

I shall be told it is too late to reform. It is never too late to redress wrong. It will cost time, labor and money. This course of injustice will provoke a Chippewa war, and our people can imagine what that war will be, when savage foes have wilderness hiding places, filled with lakes, swamps, and thickets, 300 miles long, and 300 miles broad. Such a war we tried in Florida. After long years, of wasted treasure and precious lives sacrificed, we may hunt them out. But the most expensive justice would be a thousand fold cheaper. The chiefs among the Chippewas desire peace, they dread a war more than we do. This whole question can be settled whenever good men can say to them, your people shall be cared for, honestly and faithfully; but mere promises will not answer. On my recent visit they plead with me for hours, and asked me to write their old friend Wabah Manomin (Senator Rice), to come and settle all these questions. But they say truly an unjust treaty will never be approved by the Indians, it must lead to war. The people, who have no interest in the gains of this wicked system, are desirous for such reform; but the agitations, the threats of public speakers, the retaliatory measures offered in the Legislature, are all read by half bloods on the border, and repeated, with exaggeration, to Indians, and they are like goads to drive them to madness.

There are questions pressing upon us more grave than the hanging of a few hundred Indian prisoners. They concern a nation's broken faith, and the reform of a crying evil. Deeply as our people feel on the question of slavery, they may see here on the border a system which in curses to body and soul, in the loss of [5/6] manhood, home, and Heaven, has worked out a degradation to red men, which slavery has never done for the African race.

For openly asking this reform I have been accused of sympathy with savage crimes. The story was sent out on the wings of the wind that my absence from my diocese was to secure pardon for savage murderers, when the truth was that I visited Washington at the request of the Governor, to secure protection for our defenceless people; and I delayed my return, simply to secure relief for our poor homeless sufferers. I have no desire to condemn individuals. There have been Indian traders and Indian agents who have desired to do their duty, but they were utterly powerless. The blame of the Sioux massacre does not lie at the agent's door. The same system which has destroyed Indian Missions has fettered them. I submit to every man the question whether the time has not come, for a nation to hear the cry of wrong, if not for the sake of the heathen, for the sake of the memory of our friends whose bones are bleaching on our prairies. I should feel less sad at this history of sorrow, if I did not see that in Canada there has never been an Indian massacre, or an Indian war. They are not compelled, as we, to remove the Indians or live in terror. They spend a hundredth part in preventing that we spend in suppressing Indian outbreaks. Their missions are prospered, and ours are blasted--they live in peace, and we live in perpetual strife.

More than a year ago I felt that we were living over a slumbering volcano; I felt sure that the day was at hand when it would burst forth; I plead with all the earnestness of a man pleading for his home, and I believe if my prayer had been heard, there would be no widowed wives, nor orphaned children, nor blackened homes, from this savage war. Last fall I sent another petition to our Chief Magistrate, signed by all our northern Bishops and many of the first clergy and laity in the nation:--

To His Excellency the President of the United States:

SIR,--We respectfully call your attention to the recent Indian outbreak which has desolated one of the fairest portions of our country, as demanding the careful examination of the Government.

The history of our relations with the Indian tribes of North America, shows that after they enter into treaty stipulations with the United States a rapid deterioration always takes place. They become degraded, liable to savage outbreaks often incited to war, until at last the wretched remnant perish from the face of the earth.

It is believed that much of this record has been the result of fundamental errors in the policy of the Government, which thwarts its kind intentions towards this hopeless race. We therefore respectfully call your attention to the following suggestions:--

[7] First, That it is impolitic for our Government to treat a heathen community living within our borders as an independent nation, but that they ought to be regarded as our wards. So far as we know, tin English Government has never had an Indian war in Canada; while we have seldom passed a year without one.

Second, That it is dangerous to ourselves and to them to leave these Indian tribes without a Government, not subject to our own laws, and where every corrupt influence of the border must inevitably foster a spirit of revenge leading to murder and war.

Third, That the solemn responsibility of the care of a heathen race, requires that the Agent and servants of the Government, who have them in charge, shall be men of eminent fitness, and in no case should such offices be regarded as a reward for political service.

Fourth, That every feeling of honor and of justice demands that the Indian funds which we hold from them as a trust, shall be carefully expended under some well-devised system which will encourage their efforts towards civilization.

Fifth, That the present system of Indian trade is mischievous and demoralizing, and ought to be so amended as to protect the Indian and wholly to prevent the possibility of the sale of the patrimony of the tribe to satisfy individual debts.

Sixth, That it is believed that the history of our dealings with the Indians has been marked by gross acts of injustice and robbery, such as could not be prevented under the present system of management, and that these wrongs have often proved the prolific cause of war and bloodshed. It is due to these helpless red men that these evils shall be redressed, and without this we cannot hope for the blessing of Almighty GOD, in our efforts to secure permanent peace and tranquillity on our western border.

We feel that these results cannot be secured without much careful thought, and therefore request you to take such steps as may be necessary to appoint a commission of men of high character, who have no political ends to subserve, to whom may be referred this whole question, in order that they may devise a more perfect system for the administration of Indian affairs, which shall redress these wrongs, preserve the honor of the Government, and call down upon us the blessings of GOD.

H.B. Whipple, Bishop of Minnesota.

T.H. Clark, Bishop of Rhode Island.

Jackson Kemper, Bishop of Wisconsin.

C. S. Hawks, Bishop of Missouri.

George Burgess, Bishop of Maine.

Henry J. Whitehouse, Bishop of Illinois.

Alonzo Potter, Bishop of Pennsylvania.

Carlton Chase, Bishop of New Hampshire.

[7/8] Alfred Lee, Bishop of Delaware.

Charles P. McIlvaine, Bishop of Ohio.

B. B. Smith, Bishop of Kentucky.

Manton Eastburn, Bishop of Massachusetts.

Horatio Potter, Bishop of New York.

G. T. Bedell, Assistant Bishop of Ohio.

Jos. C. Talbot, Missionary Bishop of North West.

Wm. Bacon Stevens, Assistant Bishop of Pennsylvania.

Henry W. Lee, Bishop of Diocese of Iowa.

George Upfold, Bishop of Indiana.

Nicholas Hoppin, Rector Christ Ch., Cambridge, Mass.

S. P. Parker, Rector of St. Paul's Church, Stockton.

Geo. C. Shattuck, Deputy from Massachusetts.

Andrew Oliver, Rector Immanuel Ch., Bellows Falls, Vt.

J. L. Clark, Rec. St. John's Ch., Waterbury, Conn.

M. Schuyler, Rector of Christ Church, St. Louis.

T. Wilcoxson, Missionary in Minnesota.

R. S. Adams, Rector St. Andrew's Ch., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Francis Chase, Rec. St. Andrew's Ch., Hopkinton, N.H.

Alex. Burgess, Rec. St. Luke's Ch., Portland, Maine.

John W. Andrews, of Ohio.

Erastus Burr, of Ohio.

Wm. Welsh, of Philadelphia.

Murray Hoffman, New York.

Isaac Atwater, Ass't Justice Supreme Court, Minn.

John E. Warren, St. Paul.

E. T. Wilder, Red Wing, Minnesota.

L. Bradish, New York.

Samuel B. Ruggle, New York.

Fred. S. Winston, New York.

I am sick at heart; I fear the words of one of our statesmen to me were true:--"Bishop, every word you say of this Indian system is true; the nation knows it. It is useless; you will not be heard. Your faith is only like that of the man that stood on the bank of the river waiting for the water to run by, that he might cross over dry shod." All I have to say is, that if a nation, trembling on the bring of anarchy and ruin, is so dead that it will not hear a plea to redress wrongs which the whole people admit call for reform, God in mercy pity us and our children.

Bishop of Minnesota.

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