From Our Indian Wards
By George J. Maypenny
Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1880

Maypenny was a former U.S. Commissioner of Indians. The "recent publication" he refers to and quotes from is The Plains of the Great West and Their Inhabitants; Being a Description of the Plains, Game, Indians, &c., of the Great North American Desert, by Richard Irving Dodge (New York: G. P. Putnam's, 1877).

[From] Chapter VIII.

The incessant destruction of the buffalo and other animals, as well as the game on the western prairies and the plains, and even in the mountain territories, has been a source of great injury to the native inhabitants. It has deprived the wild tribes of the support on which they had relied from time immemorial, and often induced them to take to the war-path. As well might we expect the farmers in agricultural regions to witness with composure the destruction of their crops by an invading force, as to suppose that the nomad Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa, or Comanche could witness the destruction of the animals and game on which they relied for sustenance, with indifference. When treaties were made, in 1867-8, with these Indians, assigning specific reservations to them, the right to roam and hunt was guaranteed to them in the territory outside of the same. By this right the Indians not only acquired food, but the hides of the buffalo they killed were made into robes, and, with the skins of other animals, were sold, and thus they were supplied with such things as were useful and necessary. Notwithstanding this fact, there has been a systematic and continuous effort to destroy the buffalo, as well as the small animals and game abounding at that time in certain localities. In Dodge's "Plains of the Great West," a recent publication, William Blackmore, a distinguished and intelligent Englishman, who has for many years made excursions over our western plains, wrote the introductory chapter, and in it referred at some length to the destruction of the buffalo. He said:

"Before referring to the Indian tribes, I desire to add my testimony to that of Colonel Dodge, as to the wholesale and wanton destruction, during the last few years, of the buffalo. When one reads of the total destruction, during three years (1872-3-4), of four millions and a half of the 'black cattle of Illinois,' out of which number upward of three million have been killed for the mere sale of their hides, it is at first almost impossible to realize what this slaughter represents, and how much good and nutritious animal food, which would have fed the red men as well as the hardy settlers of the Great West,' has been wasted.

"The figures speak for themselves. When in the West, in 1872, I satisfied myself, by personal inquiries, that the number of buffalo then being annually slaughtered for their hides, was at least one million per annum. In the autumn of 1868, whilst crossing the plains, on the Kansas Pacific Railroad, for a distance of one hundred and twenty miles, between Ellsworth and Sheridan, we passed through an almost unbroken herd of buffalo. The plains were blackened with them; and more than once the train had to stop, to allow unusually large herds to pass. A few years afterward, when traveling over the same line of railroad, it was a rare sight to see a few herds of from ten to twenty buffalo. A like result took place still further southward, between the Arkansas and the Cimarron rivers. In 1872, while on a scout for about a hundred miles south of Fort Dodge, to the Indian Territory, we were never out of sight of buffalo. In the following autumn, on traveling over the same district, whilst the whole country was whitened with bleached and blackening bones, we did not meet buffalo until we were well in the Indian Territory, and then only in scanty bands. During this autumn, while riding some thirty to forty miles along the north bank of the Arkansas river, to the east of Fort Dodge, there was a continuous line of putrescent carcasses, so that the air was rendered pestilential and offensive to the last degree. The hunters had formed a line of camps along the banks of the river, and had shot down the buffalo, night and morning, as they came to drink. In order to give some idea of the numbers of these carcasses, it is only necessary to mention that I counted sixty-seven on one spot, not covering more than four acres.

"But this great loss of good and wholesome animal food, all of which, with a little judgment and foresight, could have been utilized, will be better understood by a reference to the statistics of cattle in other countries. On reference to the official agricultural returns of Great Britain, the United Kingdom, and British Possessions, and foreign countries, it will be seen that the wanton and wasteful slaughter for the three years in question (and in making the comparison I am keeping to the legitimate slaughter for hides, and not legitimate for food), swept away more buffalo than there are cattle in Holland and Belgium, or as many as three-fourths of the cattle in Ireland, or one-half of those in Great Britain.

"The result, therefore, would be the same as if a fearful murrain in one year had destroyed the whole of the cattle in Holland and Belgium, or, in the same time, if either threefourths of the cattle in Ireland, or one-half of those in Great Britain, had been swept away by a plague as great as that of Egypt.

"The citizens of the United States will better realize this great waste, if they consider that this destruction amounted annually to more than double of the annual drive of the cattle from Texas, which ranges from three hundred and fifty thousand to five hundred thousand head per annum; or that it would have been the same, during the three years, as if half the cattle of Texas, or all the cattle in Canada, bad been carried off by some dire disease.

"The mere loss of food, however, is not the only evil which has resulted from the wanton wastefulness. Many of the wild Indians of the plains, deprived of their ordinary sustenance, government rations not being forthcoming, and driven to desperation by starvation, have taken to the war path; so that, during the present war, many of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, and some of the young braves from the friendly 'Iced Cloud' and 'Spotted Tail' agencies, have left their reservations and joined the hostile Sioux under 'Sitting Bull.' The hardy settler and pioneer of the plains, who always looked to the buffalo for his winter supply of meat, has been deprived of this resource, and complains most bitterly of this slaughter for pelts."

Mr. Blackmore pursues this subject at considerable length, and expresses surprise that the government should tolerate it, while seeking to enforce economy in all departments, and suggests, that "as it was allowed," it was a proper source of revenue as well as the seal in Alaska, and that for buffalo, killed annually for the hides alone, a reasonable tax on each hide would have brought millions into the treasury. So far as the destruction of the buffalo deprived the wild Indian of his most desirable and natural food, the deficiency had to be supplied by the issue of rations, thus putting an additional burden of millions on the treasury of the nation.

A vast number of buffalo, as well as deer, etc., and the small game, have been killed by parties visiting the plains for the express purpose of hunting, and such parties, if successful, are profuse in the destruction of such game as falls in their way. In the country surrounding military posts the pursuit of the buffalo and other game is an amusement that the officers engage in, and the visitors to the posts are generally entertained with a hunt. Col. Dodge, in his book, refers to the pleasure of hunting as only an expert could. He thinks there is a vast deal of "enjoyment" in it, especially in a country where game is in great variety. He gives a specimen of a twenty days' hunt in the country south of Fort Dodge, on the tributaries of the Cimarron river, in the month of October, 1872, accompanied by three English gentlemen and an officer of the post. They killed 127 buffalo, 20 deer, 11 antelope, 154 turkeys, 5 geese, 223 teal, 45 mallard, 49 shovel-bill, 57 widgeon, 38 butter-ducks, 3 sheldrakes, 17 herons, 6 cranes, 187 quail, 32 grouse, 84 field-plover, 33 yellow-leg snipes, 12 jacksnipes, l pigeon, 9 hawks, 3 owls, 2 badgers, 7 raccoon, 143 meadowlarks, doves, robbins, etc., 1 bluebird, and 11 rattlesnakes--total, 1,262. The next year the same party, diminished by one, went over nearly the same ground, with a bag of like variety, numbering 1,141. The colonel exults at the success of his party, and thinks it might challenge the whole world "to offer a greater variety of game to the sportsman."

The wanton waste that this exhibit of the work of Col. Dodge's company of sportsmen presents, and the effect such destruction. must have on the minds of the Indians who were compelled to witness it all, does not seem to trouble him in the least. Mr. Blackmore was one of the gentlemen who made up Col. Dodge's hunting party, and while they can see an impropriety, a wanton waste in the destruction of the buffalo, by those who kill the animal for the pelts, neither of them seems to be at all concerned at the destruction and waste produced by the hunting parties, who go out chiefly for the excitement and amusement growing out of these expeditions. The destruction of the buffalo and the game has, however, the same effect on the mind and temper of the Indian, whether done by professional hunters or by gentlemen who go out on a hunting excursion merely for the enjoyment imparted by the sport. He looks upon the matter in a practical sense. It destroys his means of subsistence, deprives him of the pecuniary aid supplied by the sale of the robes and skins, and fills his mind with mingled feelings of despondency, desperation, and revenge.

In his work, Col. Dodge states that it was his "desire and intention to have furnished complete and authentic official statistics of the number of hides of buffalo transported over the different railroad routes, and thus obtain a pretty accurate knowledge of the numbers actually killed." To that end he made application, "either direct or through friends, to the officers of the various railroads which bring this product to market." To his very great surprise he states that he soon found he was treading on most delicate ground, the authorities of but one prominent road giving the desired information. After offering reasons which he considered futile why his requests were not complied with, Col. Dodge says that he was. "constrained to believe that the refusal is prompted by fears that publicity in this matter might result in some legislation which would interfere with profits." This language seems rather cool, coming from one who, in many years' service on the plains, has done his share in destroying the subsistence of the native population, and thus actively aided in indelibly fixing in the minds of the Indians the impression that the white race is imbued with cruel and bitter feelings toward the red man. To cap the climax, Col. Dodge, like the most of military officers, is ready to join in the denunciation of the Indian as an irreclaimable savage, devoid of any noble impulses; that he will not voluntarily do any thing good; that he must be compelled, by punishment and force; in short, that he must be given over to the army, and by the bayonet receive lessons in civilization.

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