Harper's Weekly Magazine
23 July 1870


The Indian difficulty seems to be almost hopeless. Two influential chiefs have just been at Washington and New York, seeking to come to some understanding. They are scarcely back again upon the plains--the Red Cloud has hardly vanished--when the black cloud rolls up, and we are told that we are to have a war. If it be a general war it will be a terrible war; a war full of atrocities and involving enormous expense; and when there comes a lull called peace we shall find that the only result is an immense increase of the debt and a slight decrease of the Indian population. It is not very easy to discover what the exact understanding was between the Government and Red Cloud. His complaint, however rhetorically served up in the reports, was very distinct. It was the old story of bad faith. "You are the strong power," he says. "You ask us to make a treaty. We make it, and you break it." And that is undoubtedly the truth. Yet it must be allowed that the Indians are a wild and impracticable race; that contact with civilization corrupts them; and that, if we break treaties, they are also treacherous and ferocious. We must deal with facts, not with theories nor hopes nor wishes. It can not be honestly said, for instance, that the approach of the white race and civilzation have made the Indian cruel. They found him so.

Shall they, then, be exterminated? If the bare suggestion be denounced as infamous, it is evident that we must do something else than fight them perpetually. But if we find that we can not manage them from without, can we not manage them from within? If, for instance, Red Cloud and others be really chiefs of influence, why not make them directly serviceable? Why not prove to them the generous intention of the Government, show them its willingness to atone liberally for injuries, explain to them the difficulties which necessarily surround the subject, persuade them that it is not hostile but friendly, and so win the leaders who command the tribes? Macaulay, in his essay upon "Ranke's History," says that the administrative genius of the Roman Church shows itself conspicuously in turning to account every kind of material, every whim and prejudice and fanaticism and passion. Instead of allowing the discontented or the zealous to withdraw as sects, it organizes them as orders. Loyola, at Oxford, would have headed a secession; John Wesley, at Rome, would have been made general of a new society in the Church.

The principle is as wise in the government of a country as in that of a Church. Is it wholly impracticable in our Indian policy? Is it impossible for us to prove to Red Cloud and his brethren that their highest interest lies in friendly relations with us, relations that we will honestly maintain? If, indeed, mutual intelligence is impossible--if Red Cloud is a mere grizzly bear, and it would be as reasonable to attempt relations with the buffaloes as with the Indians, which seems to be the theory of some, let us act accordingly. There is no prohibition upon hunting the buffalo. Every hunter rides and shoots at his own risk. We propose no buffalo treaties; we have no buffalo reservations. If the Indians are mere horned beasts, the only care we need have is to prevent them from goring the frontier. But if they are not buffaloes we must act differently. If we make treaties with them, we must insist that they be observed. The Chinese question excites Congress to that degree that it loses its temper and bandies unhandsome epithets in the freest manner. Is there nobody in Congress from the West familiar with the details of the Indian question who is interested enough to propose an honorable and feasible policy?