Congressional Policy In Indian Affairs

In Arizona, 1871-1886

Barry Goldwater

by Barry Goldwater, United States Senator

Before trying to get into the main topic of discussion, I think there are two basic premises which must be made that have a large bearing on the main subject. Both of them are interrelated with the main topic and with each other. Without proper mention and without keeping them in mind could easily lead us to some undesirable conclusions.

The first is that, by and large, the majority of the white settlers who moved westward across this country during the 19th Century had no real animosity toward the native Indian dwellers of the land. There was, to be sure, a fear caused by misunderstanding of one another's motives and fed upon by a small group who, for whatever selfish ideals, kept the flames of warfare fanned.

The second premise is that, although we had groups of Indian "friends" and "reformers", these were not the trained ethno-historians to whom we look today for expertise on Indian affairs. With the conflicting aims of these various groups of one hundred years ago, our national policy was often created on a catch-as-catch-can basis. However well-meaning these people might have been, their major fault lay in the fact that they simply did not understand or take into consideration the myriad of differences which occured not only from tribe to tribe, but from clan to clan. The resulting problems of this "One Indian Policy" only prolonged the bitter disputes among Congress, the War Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the social reformers.

Keeping these two things in mind, let us first take a brief look at the post Civil War years before getting into the period 1871-1886.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, as in most cases, the Congress was unwilling to maintain any sort of large, standing Army which, whether they liked it or not, was to become a vital instrument in Indian policy. From a high of over one million men at the end of 1865, by the next year Congress mandated a cut of almost one-half in the manpower of the U.S. Army and, by 1871 it was cut to a little over 29,000. The only reason these cuts were not greater was a strange political combination of radical reconstructionists and western states legislators who could foresee the need of the Army on the western frontier. However, in managing to keep alive the Army even to this extent, the radical reconstructionists managed to insert into every Military Authorization Bill the proviso that one-third of the standing Army was to be stationed in the recently defeated southern states. And, this provision was not deleted until the end of reconstruction in 1877. Also, it was during this post war period that some of the bitterest arguments arose, both in and out of Congress, as to who should have control over Indian affairs. As you probably recall, Congress had mandated the transfer of Indian affairs from the War Department to the Interior Department in 1849. With the increasing flood of white settlers moving west in the post war years, the inevitable clash of cultures began to occur more and more regularly. It was not to-the Bureau of Indian Affairs which people turned to solve the problem but rather to the Army directly and indirectly through Congress. Several times during the period 1865 to 1871, the House of Representatives passed and sent to the Senate bills which called for the transfer of Indian affairs from the Interior Department to the War Department. In the Senate, a combination of eastern senators and enlightened reformers was enough to forestall any such action. The various arguments both for and against transfer continued to plague Congress for almost 15 years.

During the period from 1869 to 1871 there were several major events which would ultimately play a part in any Congressional debate concerning Indian policy during the next decade and a half. Without going into detail, there were four major things which occured in those three years. The first was Ulysses Grant's election to the Presidency in 1869. As with any war hero, his old comrades in arms, particularly Sherman, who had taken his place as head of the Army, and Sheridan felt that they now had "one of their own" in the White House and were certain to receive a free hand in dealing with the Indian problem. Generals Sherman and Sheridan along with the rest of the Army received, not a free hand, but a shock when Grant expounded his now famous peace policy. One of the particular features of Grant's policy was the establishment of an unpaid.Board of Indian Commissioners. This board was to be made up of unpaid volunteers- -as it turned out generally they were New England philanthropists--who were to advise the Indian Bureau and to stimulate cooperation between the bureau and the general public. Another significant event was the selection by President Grant of Vincent Colyer, Secretary of the B.I.A., to be a special peace emissary to the Chiricahua Apaches in September, 1871. Still trying to maintain his peace policy, Grant then dispatched General 0. 0. Howard on his famous peace mission to the same group of Apaches.

These events are cited because, whether any or all could be claimed as successes or failures, they developed their own set vocal adherents who would lobby Congress during the decades of the 70's and 80's.

The coming of the year 1871 saw the Forty-First Congress still in session arguing over the various prerogatives of the House of Representatives versus those of the Senate. One "bone of contention" was the role of each chamber in dealing with the Indian problem. Historically, the House had always resented the idea that, while the Senate could advise and consent to the execution of treaties with the various Indian tribes, all that the House could do was to appropriate money to pay for the treaties. Finally, in an attempt at compromise, the House added an amendment of the Indian Appropriations Bill of 1871 to abolish the treaty-making power. This amendment, however reluctantly agreed to, declared that no Indian tribe or nation would thereafter be recognized as a sovereign power. The resulting effect was that all Indians were to become wards of the government. Even the most ardent reformers at the time could little have guessed at the consequences this law would have over the next two decades. All the problems of transfer of authority, concentration, removal, the various severalty proposals and Indian citizenship all would arise anew because of a new legal basis for dealing with the Indians. With all of these problems arising, there was no one to whom Congress could really turn to for enlightened, scientific data to help them make their decisions. The result was that Indian legislation varied greatly from year to year in its harshness or leniency.

To be sure, there were groups of reformist friends who tried to give able assistance to the various concepts which implied civilian control. The earliest of these groups was the previously mentioned Board of Indian Commissioners established in 1869. Unfortunately, they never really exerted much influence over Indian policy except for the first two years. This lack of influence could be attributed to several factors, chief among them being their inability to reach agreements among themselves as well as with the several Secretaries of Interior. One of the outgrowths of this board was the Lake Mohonk (New York) conferences. In 1883, Commissioner Albert Smiley invited all of the leading people involved in Indian problems to yearly conferences to discuss various problems in Indian affairs. The notable thing about these conferences was almost total exclusion of the military which, at that time, probably had more contact.with the Indians than anyone else. Also, a few notable publications arose during the mid-1880's which had some effect on Indian policy but they were handicapped by B.I.A. scandals and an uncompromising attitude toward the Army. The two most notable were Our Indian Wards founded by George W. Manypenny, a former Indian Commissioner, and Council Fire, a monthly magazine founded in 1878 by Alfred B. Meachem and Theodore Bland. The ultimate aim of these groups, whether right or wrong in today's light, was the rapid extension of all rights, privileges and the obligations to the American Indian under the provisions of the 14th Amendment just as they had been granted to the American negroes. Their professed aim was one of acculturation and assimilation as rapidly as possible or, in other words "Destroy the Indian to Save the Man."

It is rather ironic that in considering the problems which faced Congress and the people of Arizona during the period in question, they always seemed incapable of peaceful solution and ended up being resolved by the military. For, without belaboring the obvious, this particular time frame coincides identically with the arrival and departure from Arizona of General George Crook. In this context, it is interesting to note the modern day reformists who have so bitterly castigated the Army for its role in Indian affairs of one hundred plus years ago. With a few possible exceptions such as Sand Creek and one or two others, the Army as a whole, probably had a more enlightened attitude than the multitudes of "Indian Friends" of that age. In considering all of the problems and resultant policies of that time, it becomes rather obvious that the solutions mandated by Congress and the different presidents were not founded upon any real military basis. Rather, the military was relegated to playing a policeman's role throughout the whole affair. In trying to assess the impact of Congressional policy during the time in question, it must be remembered that, with very few exceptions, this policy was a national one and the effects varied greatly from place to place. Without trying to analyze the impact on Arizona, a brief review of Congressional action, or inaction, of the problems cited earlier may be helpful.

The first of these problems was that of returning Indian affairs management to the War Department. Historically, the House of Representatives has sided with the Army's point of view mainly as a token of resentment against the Senate's treaty power. In the waning days of the 39th Congress, the House passed a transfer bill only to see it defeated in the Senate. The same fate occured during the 40th Congress primarily out of consideration for Grant and his peace policy. Transfer continued to be a hotly debated issue and probably would have passed except for a couple of incidents such as Colonel Baker's with the Piegans in 1870 and the Camp Grant affair of 1871. With the Sioux outbreak of 1876, Congress was again in the mood to urge transfer. This time, however, it was as much the Sioux as it was a political football between a democratic house versus a republican administration. This time the Senate narrowly defeated it by a margin of only three votes. Thereafter until 1879 the issue was kept alive by the House until the beginning of the end of the Indian wars began to show that it was no longer necessary.

The second major problem area had three distinct facets, but, to try to deal with them separately would be like trying to make an omelet without breaking the egg. These three things--removal, concentration, and the reservation system--were all part of the evolutionary process of how the white settler coped with the physical presence of his Indian counterpart. From the earliest days of the Spanish Conquistadores through the English and French explorers and settlers, one of the thorniest problems was, where should the Indian live in relation to these other civilizations? As long as vast amounts of what is now the United States were not sought after and settled by the white man, the easiest course was removal. By promising the Indian that if he moved to make way for the people of the Great White Father, they and their descendants could "for ever more" inhabit a certain area. As history has shown, this tactic only left a string of broken promises in its wake. With the advent of mass migration into and through the TransMississippi West after the Civil War, a marked stiffening of Congressional attitude against this practice began to occur. There again strange alliances were created and recreated as new demands arose. It is interesting to note that the long-time champions of the Indians, the representatives and senators from the New England states, almost consistently voted for the policy of removal. This attitude prompted Senator Plumb of Kansas to note somewhat bitterly that interest in the Indian was in exact ratio to the distance from him. So it was that removal remained a fairly consistent policy because of fears and misunderstandings well into the late 19th Century.

The natural consequence of the policy of removal was an ill-considered theory of concentration. The same factors which gave rise to removal also played an important part in this phase of Indian management. In Arizona this manifested itself at San Carlos where, for whatever reasons, vast numbers of Indians were forcibly moved during the 1870's and 1880's. This in effect spelled out the "One Indian Policy" whereby even hereditary enemies had to live shoulder to shoulder. The problems arising from these attempts do not need further elaboration at this point.

As a result of removal and concentration a full-fledged reservation system came about somewhat like Topsy--"It grow'd." As was noted earlier, in some cases the Army had a more enlightened attitude than the so-called reformers. So it was in this case. The Army, for obvious reasons, desired to maintain the system, while the reformers, as early as 1874, began to push for the end of the reservations. By doing so, these people felt that they could hasten the pace of Indian assimilation. It was in this area of policy that the reformers had the somewhat surprising support of some western states Congressmen. This Congressional support was probably based on equal parts avarice, idealism and state versus national control. Throughout the 70's and 80's various proposals surfaced in Congress to do away with the reservations and, in some cases, they received a substantial number of votes. One of the suggestions from a western delegate was to break up the reservations and resettle the Indians back to their original homelands, including resettlement east of the Mississippi. This, of course, was the furthest thing from the minds of the eastern Congressmen--the socalled "friend of the Indian". The continuing push for the end of the reservation system lasted until the 1890's and the system was undoubtedly saved only through the opposition of the Department of Interior which was unwilling to give up its prerogatives in managing Indian affairs.

Probably the most irksome problem which was to face Congress from 1871 to 1886 was the matter of Indian citizenship and the various severalty plans which finally culminated in the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. The idea of severalty goes back at least to 1816 when the then Secretary of War proposed tribal apportionment of land. Some experiments were tried during the 20's, 30's and 40's but it was not until 1854 when it was widely tried through a series of treaties with various tribes. These tests were, for the most part, abject failures since the individual Indian was completely unfamiliar with the concept of private ownership of land. Years later, the Indian Commissioner who had negotiated these treaties felt as though he "had committed a high crime." With the abolishing of the treaty power in 1871, the next thing which Congress did in this whole debate was to extend in 1875 the benefits of the Homestead Act to the Indians. With this bill, an individual Indian could lay claim to 160 acres and by virtue-of living on the land and paying a small entry fee, the Indian,would then be assuming certain rights and obligations of citizenship. There were two conditions of this bill which its sponsors thought would make it particularly attractive to the Indians. The first was that even if an individual Indian wished to claim a homestead, he did not relinquish his share of tribal annuities. The second stipulation was that no Indian could sell his homestead until five years after the final patent was granted. This was supposedly to protect the Indian against his own inabilities in money matters and also to prevent unscrupulous whites from cheating the Indian. How little accepted this 1875 law became was evident in 1879 when the House of Representatives actually debated the existence of the law! Finally, in 1879, the Congress began proposing and debating general allotment bills. In 1880 Senator Coke of Texas proposed a bill which was debated in 1881 and finally passed in 1882 only to have it die in the House. At the opening of the 48th Congress in 1883, both the House and Senate had Severalty Bills introduced and debated. The Senate Bill was passed in 1884 but the House did not complete action on their version. In 1885, for the third time, the House failed to take action on a Senate Bill. Finally, in February 1886 the Senate passed the Dawes Bill but, not until December did the House pass it with several amendments. The Conference Bill was passed by the House and Senate in January 1887 and it finally became law on February 8, 1887 when it was signed by President Cleveland. The content and impact of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 would, indeed, fill a very large volume but, suffice to say at this point is that it formed the basis of this country's Indian policy for the next 50 years.

In conclusion, I would like to make one more observation. And that is, by and large, even though our Indian policy took many convoluted twists and turns during the preceding two hundred and fifty years, the overall treatment which the Indian received at the hands of the white settler was just as good and humane, if not better, than any vanquished tribe could expect from its Indian foes.


Loring B. Priest, Uncle Sam's Stepchildren, The Reformation of United States Indian-Policy, 1865-1887, New-York, 1969.

Robert M. Utley, Frontier Regulars, The United States Army and the Indian, 1866-1891, New York 1973.

William T. Corbusier, Verde To The San Carlos, Tucson 1968.

Russell F. Weigley, History of the United States Army, New York 1967.

Dee Brown, The Westerners, New York, 1974.

Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1971, 92nd Congress, 1st Session, Senate Document 92-8, Washington D.C. 1971.

Benjamin Capps, Ed., The Indians, Time-Life Books, New York 1973.

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