From Sheridan's Troopers on the Borders
A Winter Campaign on the Plains,
By De B. Randolph Keim
New York: George Routledge and Sons, 1870

Essahavit's Lodge
Indians on the Move


  The following letter was received from Lieutenant General Sheridan as this volume was about going to press. The author is induced to publish it, in this connection, in view of its accord with his own views expressed on the Indian policy.

MISSOURI, CHICAGO, ILLS., April 28, 1870.
Mr. De B. Randolph Keim.

  DEAR SIR: I have carefully read the proof-sheets sent me of your forthcoming book, (Sheridan's Troopers on the Borders,) and think well of it.

  I may say in reference to the management of Indiana, the reservation system is the only one offering any prospects of success, but all experience has shown that the wild Indian will not adopt it until he is forced to do so. All the tribes on the Northern Pacific coast had to be subdued and forced on the reservations, which was accomplished between the years 1855 - 1860. Then peace ensued. Latterly the same policy has been pursued in regard to the Comanches, Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Arrapahoes.

  After the wild Indians are put upon the reservations a strong military force will have to be kept there to protect the agents and others required in the work of civilization, and also for the subordination of the Indiana, and their protection against the encroachments of the white settlers, who otherwise would take possession of their lands.

Very truly, yours,
            P. H. SHERIDAN,
                        Lieutenant General.


CIVILIZATION extending in opposite directions, Westward across the great Valley of the Mississippi, and Eastward traversing the auriferous regions of the Rocky Mountains, presents two extensive fields of American Industry, approximating each other, and demanding a more convenient and rapid intercourse. Railways and Telegraphs have boldly penetrated the solitude of the Plains, and the wild Passes of the Mountains reverberate to the rumble of moving trains. The two oceans are already linked together by an Iron Highway. The savage, alarmed at this new encroachment, is ready at any moment for a desperate, probably a final effort to drive out the invaders of his hunting-grounds. Fearful of his future he opposes such encroachments, for in them he sees no benefit to the remnant of his race, who have taken refuge on the plains and in the mountains.

  The struggle has come, to solve, for all time, the question whether the white or the red man shall prevail in the vast intermediate region between Eastern and Western civilization. The exigencies of modern civilization point to the inevitable doom of the aboriginal people of the United States. Their savage natures, incapable of restraint, render them by instinct foes to progress and the cause of humanity. As with the buffalo the approach of civilization is to them the knell of destruction. As the murderous bullet of the white hunter ruthlessly slaughters the buffalo, so the vices of civilization carry off those of the red men who have outlived their kindred.

  The following chapters contain a narrative of more than six months spent on the Southern Plains, observing the operations of the army personally directed by Major, now Lieutenant General Sheridan against the refractory savage on the Republican, the Arkansas and the Washita.

[From Chapter 31]

  The traveler on the plains often meets with cairns upon the summit of hills--large stones arranged in peculiar forms--and pits of singular fashion. Aside from these and the great medicine-lodge, the progenitors of the wild tribes of the plains have lived, killed the buffalo, scalped their fallen foe, and set out upon the spirit of a horse for the happy hunting-ground, without leaving a trace of their existence. No curious remains, as encountered in the early seats of the Creeks, in the south, or the Delawares and the Shawnees, in the valleys of the Scioto and Muskingum, are to be found. Like the Beduin of the desert, upon his fleet steed the American savage has galloped over the plains, from the Missouri to the Rocky mountains, without fixed haunts, or a solitary spot which he might claim as particularly his own. The antiquarian will search in vain for the momuments of this vanishing race. That this people ever existed, will, in a few brief years, be known only from the page of history!

[From] CHAPTER XXXVIII. The Administration of Indian Affairs.

BEFORE bringing this narrative to a close, I desire to incorporate a few facts and reflections concerning the past and the future of the American Indian. It was natural that the presence, and particularly the aggressive spirit of the early settlers, should inspire in the breasts of the primitive dwellers upon the American continent a feeling of suspicion, uneasiness, and hostility. Occurrences so visibly opposed to their interests and safety, were calculated to effect the results which followed, involving upon the one hand a conflict for the perpetuation of race, and the preservation of tribal hunting-grounds, upon the other territorial acquisitions, to make way for the building up of a new and modern civilization, in the wilds of a new world. Over three centuries have elapsed. This has been a period of bloody, and desperate wars, and horrible atrocities. Whether the savage is to blame for his natural aversion to civilized habits, and the sanguinary part he has acted, or whether the superior white race is open to censure for the means too often resorted to for the acquisition of the vast territory to-day under its control, is a question now too late for consideration. What remains of this aboriginal people within the limits of the United States, is left to the alternative of civilization or rapid extinction. The spread of population, art and science, will not wait for the slow process which characterized the eflorts of a century or less ago. The two conditions of the savage, and the enlightened of the species cannot live peaceably, and with equal prosperity, together. While this is a deplorable element of human intercourse, the weaker must give way to the stronger. . . .

  The total Indian population, now living within the limits of the United States, is less than three hundred thousand. Of these about seventy-six thousand are found within the limits of civilization, while very nearly three times that number, or over two hundred and nineteen thousand, inhabit the plains and Rocky mountains. Both these regions, less inviting to the husbandman, or undeveloped, respecting their mineral wealth, have become the last point of refuge for the race.

  The Indians, in their new resorts, have found facilities for pursuing their wild habits, and trusting to the natural defences thrown around them, experience, at least, that temporary respite from harrassing and depleting wars, inspired in defence of their hunting-grounds, and retaliated by the whites from necessity and protection against the horrible outrages which belong to savage warfare.

  The Indian question now comes up in its latest phase, and is brought to a final issue. For more than twenty years an exclusively civil administration has been tried, and in no instance, when the whole subject has been investigated, do we find a single act which has advanced the savage materially above his primitive condition. A gigantic system of pauperism has been inaugurated, in which the savage has reaped the least share of the benefits. . . .

  Again, we find a deplorable lack of knowledge or true interpretation of Indian character. As a race, the condition in which we find the American Indian of to-day, is not one step above his condition three centuries ago. If any change have taken place, it has been for the worse. Influenced by the most absurd and enacting superstitions, with a spirit incapable of the restraints of a regular mode of living, with no ambition above the acquisition of scalps, as an evidence of valor and the accumulation of ponies, or other objects of Indian value, as constituting wealth, with no conception of the uses of money, with no law, save that of custom, bowing to no authority but that vested in the voice of the tribe, treacherous in his intercourse with others, depending upon the chase for food, and in most instances, for a rude covering for his body, we have the American Indian as we really find him. A savage, by nature, he persists in leading the live of a savage. He delights in scenes of blood, and spoils wrung from his neighbors, serve him as the road to fortune. . . .

[From] Chapter XXXIX. The Administration of Indian Affairs Continued.

  A review of our Indian difficulties shows, also, that the Indian has been treated frequently with the greatest injustice and falsehood. It is natural, as he sees his race declining in numbers, his former hunting-grounds annually growing less to make way for the settler, that he should feel sad in spirit. Acknowledging the stern necessities which surround him, either by force or compensation, he yields up his lands. In exchange he was to receive certain annuities. The government failed to perform its obligations. The money was appropriated, yet the poor savage complained that "their agents lie; they get nothing, and are forced to resort to war to save themselves from ruin." They invade the settlements. These settlements, they say, are upon their own lands, and they want to drive the white man away. This is natural, because the government promised, but failed, to pay them for their lands; therefore they are going to fight to get their lands back. This is the Indian's argument. The secret of the majority of wars, though the blame is attributed to the whites in general, is, in reality, the fault of mismanagement. Where the settler goes beyond the legitimate limits of the government title, he exposes himself to consequences which should receive no sympathy, and be recognized as the punishment which he deserves for a violation of the faith which the government agreed to keep. But to say that the whites are to blame for acts which have been indisputably, the logical results of faulty administration, is a charge which grossly misrepresents that hardy, adventurous, and industrious class of our population, who sacrifice the comforts and security of established society to open the way to the peaceful industries. . . .

  We have seen that the Indian can only be controlled by force. This being the case it is certain that no administration, to be effective, can be enforced without the co-operation of the army. And in many respects the army recommends itself as more competent than the civil power. The army combines executive functions with the capacity to exact compliance. No one would believe, for a moment, that the army would wantonly exercise unnecessary severity.

  It is an historical fact that, for year after year, expeditions have been sent against the Indians, to be defeated by the intrigues of the agents of the government.

  Refractory bands have been punished, and the government, at the instance of its agents, has reimbursed them for their losses at a vast outlay of the public money. An act of obedience on the part of one branch of the public service has invariably been denounced as a fiendish and atrocious massacre of innocent people by the other. The savage, it is undeniable, must be kept in certain localities. Contact with the whites is a sure precursor of extermination by disease, chronic inebriation, or drunken brawls. His days of unrestrained freedom upon his native plains is a thing of the past. When the wild Indian understands that on the reservation means peace, and outside of it war, the government may look for quiet, and the settler on the frontiers for perfect security. Then the large hearts and affluence of the humanitarians of the nation would be able, with an assurance of safety, to put into practice the benevolent intentions, which might, at least lessen, if they could not conquer, the savage instincts of the Indian. Upon the reservation the Indian would be accessible and a safe one to meet. Upon the plain to find him would be the toil of months, and when found his hospitality would be uncertain. Restrained in his longing for war, by the fear of punishment, the red man might find some object in bettering his condition. The issue to be solved is the preservation of what remains of the Indian race by an administration which he fears, or a continued warring against him, brought on by his own acts, and the encroachments of the settlers, both the natural result of an authority without a head to reason or arms to strike.

Back to Indians Homepage