Harper's Weekly Magazine
9 March 1867


That our whole Indian policy must be reviewed and improved there is no longer any doubt. The Secretary of War informs the Military Committee that the Indian traders are freely selling muskets and ammunition to the Indians, who, by the exorbitant prices they pay, are manifestly preparing for hostilities. Lieutenant-General Sherman has forbidden any further transactions of the kind, and General Grant has approved his prohibition, saying that if we are to go on arming the Indians we must either withdraw our troops, and Congress must authorize a general Indian war, or the whites upon the great Plains must be exterminated.

The frontier whites are doubtless responsible for much of this trouble. The mutual hostility of the whites and the Indians is most bitter. The horrible massacre by the Indians of the garrison of Fort Kearney shows how relentless the enmity is, and it is difficult to see what remedy there is but the presence of a large and imposing military force upon the Plains and the sternest punishment for such offenses. The difficulty is constantly increased by the jealousies among the Indians in regard to the money which it is the duty of the Secretary of the Interior to spend for their benefit. General Grant is of opinion that the exigency demands the transfer of the Indian Bureau to the War Department, and the abolition of the system of Indian agents and licensed traders.

It is evident that the present Indian management is inefficient. As the Pacific Railroad is pushed across the Plains, and the question of rapid intercourse with the western shore of the continent rises into importance, the question of its security is not less vital. The country which the Indians occupy is not arable. Their reliance is the chase; and when the buffalo is scarce they must depend upon the plunder of emigrant trains. The whole subject has been postponed and laid aside. But we trust that the reports of the Secretary of War to the Military Committee, with the testimony of Generals Grant and Sherman, will lead to a comprehensive and careful consideration of the matter.

It should be constantly remembered, however, that the whites are equally guilty with the Indians; and the new system should comprehend the strictest supervision of the whites with the utmost possible protection of the Indians. Any policy which encourages the whites to regard the Indians as mere vermin to be shot at sight, which is substantially the present policy, will only teach the Indians to retaliate. We have no sentimental theory of the Indians, but a system of simple extermination will cost us as dearly as it costs them. The frontiers must be made secure; but if the savages could feel that we were not necessarily their enemies we should have taught them what our treaties have hitherto failed to teach.