Harper's Weekly Magazine
17 August 1867


Certainly the country has reason to be dissatisfied with the present conduct of the Indian war on the plains. It was begun by volunteer troops of the United States in 1864 by the commission of a series of outrages culminating in the horrible "Chivington massacre." It has been characterized in its progress since only by ambuscades and massacres of the white settlers, travelers, and troops. The great industrial enterprise of the age, the Pacific Railroad, has been retarded--it is now, as far as one branch is concerned, abandoned; the overland routes to the Pacific coast have been interrupted, and, practically, travel is at this time suspended. Fights, in which our troops are invariably at the disadvantage of inadequate numbers of men and animals, are of almost daily occurrence; and disasters to our arms or massacres of our settlers have been recorded and illustrated in this journal for the last ten months with painful frequency. Nothing, literally nothing, has been accomplished by the commands of Generals Hancock and Custer in their seemingly purposeless marches to and fro between the Platte and Arkansas rivers; the Indians, in small but decidedly predatory bands, control the whole region between those streams and along the Kansas and Colorado border. And yet we are officially told that this ineffective style of warfare is costing the country $1,000,000 per day, and it was estimated a month ago that $100,000,000 would be expended in accomplishing the work of subduing about ten or fifteen thousand warriors spread over a territory of only about two hundred miles square. At the present rate of progress it will certainly cost that much.

But is there not a cheaper, wiser, and more humane method of dealing with these refractory subjects? Is it imperatively necessary that the country should prosecute the war to the "lame and impotent conclusion" which it threatens? What has become of the mysterious Indian Peace Commissioners lately mentioned as at Washington ready to proceed to the scene of warfare? If such a Commission is not on its way to the West one should be sent immediately, and the war terminated at once. If we were right in beginning it we are powerful enough to afford to be generous in granting terms of peace; if we were at fault--and there remains but little doubt of that--we ought to be for that reason more eager to conclude a liberal peace. It is very clearly understood that this, like all the previous Indian wars in the West, originated in disputes between the Indians and white settlers--that it is the natural contest arising out of the clashing of the adverse interests of the two races located on and each claiming the territory; and the surest way to settle this and prevent all similar wars, is for the Government to take its proper position as an arbiter between its sons and its dependents, and see that the latter have mercy shown them. It is not justice but mercy that the Government is called upon to exercise, for justice to the poor, contemptible, and degraded Indian would be severest cruelty. The Indian tribes, as regards numbers and nature, are in a dependent state; they prefer that idle and ignoble condition, and can be just as well, and much more cheaply, taken care of as our pensioners than as our antagonists. In every treaty which has been made with them for years past they have easily been induced to abandon their old homes for new reservations away from the white man's track; and there is nothing to prevent a sensible commission, properly authorized, from inducing all the belligerent tribes occupying the envied and contested ground between the Platte and Arkansas rivers to remove to more remote hunting-grounds by the judicious expenditure of a few millions in trinkets and annuities.