Among these reports, that of Lieutenant-General Sheridan will, from his rank and large experience, attract the first notice, and I beg to invite close study of his entire report. His command embraces eight of the ten regiments of cavalry and eighteen of the twenty-five regiments of infantry, which compose the entire Army; and though he states this force to be entirely inadequate to perform the vast amount of labor required of him by the vicissitudes of service, yet it is impossible further to re-enforce him without absolutely stripping our seaboard, or abandoning other territories of equal value and subjected to the same dangers which he so graphically describes in his own. The troops now subject to his command compose quite two-thirds of the effective force of the whole Army, and his territorial command extends from the British line on the north, to the mouth of the Rio Grande south, an average of 1,500 miles long, and from the Mississippi westward to and including the Rocky Mountain Chain, an average of 1,200 miles broad. As General Sheridan well describes, this vast region has undergone in the past ten years a more violent and radical change than any like space of the earth's surface during any previous fifty years. From being the pasture-field of millions of buffalo, elk, deer, antelopes, and large game, affording abundant food for the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche Indians, it has already passed into the condition of a farming or pastoral country traversed by many railroads. The game is nearly all gone, the Indian has been forced on to small reservations; farms and herds of neat-cattle are fast taking the place of the buffalo, and every ox and steer has an owner who will fight for his property. Nearly all the Indian treaties were made on the theory that this change would occur more slowly, that the government would only have to furnish partial food for the Indian, and that he could procure half or a quarter of the necessary meat by hunting. I know that such was the belief of the commission, of which I was a member, which negotiated the treaties of 1868, and, having traversed the plains ten or fifteen times since that date, I can bear personal testimony that where in 1868 millions of buffalo could be found, not a single one is now seen.
Again, it was then a favorite theory that the Indian would gradually see for himself, in the disappearance of these herds of buffalo, a reason why he should plow and cultivate the ground like the white man; but his progress in this direction is scarcely perceptible, save in the remnants of tribes like the Santees, Pawnees, Navajoes, Cherokees, &c., while the Sioux, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, &c., "the nomade of the Great West," seem to prefer death to the common toil of the farmer. Beyond question, it was hunger which drove the Bannocks and Cheyennes to war this summer, as recounted by Generals Pope, Crook, and Howard; and similar escapades, causing great alarm and some murders, will occur each coming year unless these Indians be kept quiet by more food. It seems idle to expect that the enterprising and industrious white race will cease till every acre of this continent susceptible of cultivation is reduced to possession, and till the vast unfenced prairie which has been for ages the pasture-field for its millions of buffalo is covered by herds of horses, beef cattle, and sheep, each having an owner entitled to protection in his property by the government, local or national.
It is not to be expected that these pasture-fields can be used by the two races in common without everlasting conflict; but the reservations already set apart for the Indians are large enough, and should suffice for them ultimately to raise all the meat and grain necessary for their subsistence; but mean time they must have more food, else they will steal and fight. To convert the Indians into a pastoral race is the first step in their upward progress toward civilization; that of agriculturist must be the next stage, though slower of realization; but in this direction is the sole hope of rescuing any part of the "nomade" Indians from utter annihilation.