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Bishop Whipple as a Mediator for the Rights of the Indians in Treaties
by General John B. Sanborn

An Address on October 14, 1901.

Minnesota Historical Society Collections, 1904, pp 713-715

No words and no eulogy can add aught to the reputation and fame of Bishop Whipple. His life and labors were an open book known and read of all men. He was necessarily brought into contact with the Sioux and Ojibway tribes of Indians in his church work in Minnesota. The Ojibways, or Chippewas, inhabited all northern Minnesota, and the bands of the Sioux that had inhabited all the southern part were still living in western Minnesota, or in the territory immediately adjacent thereto, when he became bishop.

His natural disposition seemed to accord thoroughly with his duties as bishop, to do all that he possibly could for the improvement and civilization of all these people. All his energies, his best judgment, and his greatest zeal, were devoted to this part of his work. He labored with all the officials of the government connected with the Indian service, from Indian Agent to President, and with the Indians themselves, to improve their condition mentally, morally, and physically. To accomplish this he spared no effort, he shrank from no danger, whether he was threatened from hostile foes, rigorous climate, hunger, or disease. He early became known among the Indians as their true friend, one who was trying to benefit and improve them, and to alleviate their condition; and this gave him an immense influence among all the savage tribes with whom he was brought into contact. There are no halfway friendships among the Indians. With them all is confidence or all distrust.

As early as the year 1862 he had attained to a position of greater influence both with the Sioux and Ojibway nations than any missionary that had preceded him, and I believe greater than any other white man with whom the Indians had been brought in contact. He had made himself familiar to a degree with their habits, thoughts, and feelings, both respecting their white neighbors and with reference to the schisms and divisions and conflicts among themselves. This enabled him to know, at once, when the outbreak and massacre of 1862 occurred, what band and portion of the Sioux nation originated it, and who were really the guilty parties, and he immediately used all his influence to segregate those really innocent from the guilty.

Where Indians had formed in battle array and resisted the soldiers of the army, and had fired in an attack or defense, if one was arraigned before the military commission, he was convicted of the specific crimes with which he was charged, and of having participated in the outbreak. This deprived him of the defense that his nation had gone to war and that he had been compelled to enter its military service by superior force, and had done nothing in violation of the laws of war; and nearly four hundred Indians, some of whom were members, and1 I believe officers, of the church, were found guilty and sentenced to be hung, under this rule.

The public sentiment of the people of the State resulting from the terrible massacre was so aroused that the death and destruction of all the Indians would have been received with favor, and anyone interposing in their behalf brought upon himself, for the time being, obloquy and contempt. Notwithstanding this, Bishop Whipple did not fail to make a strenuous effort in behalf of all the Indians who were not really guilty of a crime, although found guilty by a military commission, and although the finding had been approved by his old friend, the District Commander. These cases required the approval of the President of the United States before sentence could be executed. He presented their cases to Mr. Lincoln, then president. Of course, a people who could make a treaty could break it at will and go to war, and no offense could be committed until the laws of war were violated. This reasoning led to reducing the number of Indians that were to be put to death from nearly 400 to 39.

Bishop Whipple made great efforts and used his utmost influence toward locating all the Indians upon agricultural reservations, and toward inducing them to adopt and pursue a pastoral or agricultural life. Much that was accomplished in this respect was suggested and set in motion in the first instance by the Bishop. To accomplish this, he visited the Commission appointed by and under an act of Congress, passed in 1867, which was empowered to make new treaties with all the Indian bands and tribes east of the Rocky Mountains. At this time the game on which the Indians had relied for support was diminishing rapidly. They had been accustomed to exchange their furs for the goods and supplies purchased by the Indian agents with the money appropriated by Congress for the Indians, Under the changed conditions they were in danger of absolute starvation.

The Bishop accordingly made the most strenuous efforts to get the appropriations by Congress for the support of the Indians doubled, which was accomplished by making provisions therefor in the new treaties. At the same time this Commission was induced to provide for a Board of military officers to inspect the supplies purchased by the government agents when purchased, and also at the time of their issue to the Indians. There was the farther provision for an unpaid commission of philanthropists, with power to inspect and supervise the whole Indian service, and to report at any time to the President or other high officers of the government; so that the unexampled benevolence and generosity of the people of the United States could reach the Indians, and they could receive the intended benefit therefrom.

The greatest difficulty that had existed from the earliest contact with the Indian tribes had been in the failure, on the part of the executive department of the government, to provide the Indians with the supplies and provisions that the treaties and laws set apart for them, which in nearly all instances were ample for their support and comfort. With those evils remedied, and the Indians located on agricultural reservations, and provision made for the education of all Indian children, it seemed that the Indian problem was solved and the way to their civilization and Christianization absolutely secured.

Their condition, and the result that he aimed at for them, Bishop Whipple kept constantly before his mind, and labored in season and out of season to work out this problem by securing proper provisions in the treaties and in the laws passed from year to year by Congress. At the same time, whenever the Indians had been deprived of their natural or legal rights, he used all his influence and power to restore them, or to secure to them indemnification. No people ever had a truer or better friend, or a friend exerting so good and great an influence for their welfare, as the Indians of the Northwest had in Bishop Whipple.

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