HARPER’S  WEEKLY
Saturday, March 19, 1870

OUR INDIAN POLICY OF EXTERMINATION

On the 24th of May, 1637, before dawn, Captains Mason and Underhill prayed, broke camp, and
surprised a Pequot fort upon the Mystic River in Connecticut.  Within an hour it was burned to the ground,
and of the four hundred Indians not more than five escaped.  This fearful blow, says the historian, secured
civilization in New England.  William Penn secured it differently in Pennsylvania .  But without refining too
closely upon the necessities of war in the earliest colonial times, is it not evident that what may have been
necessary for a band of settlers in a strange and savage country three thousand miles from their own land
is hardly justifiable two hundred and fifty years later in a civilized nation of forty millions of people dealing
with some thousands of skulking savages?  
 Yet the recent destruction of the Piegan Indians by United States troops was in pursuance of that policy
of Indian warfare which has undoubtedly the general approval.  We mean that it is the common opinion
that the Indians are a treacherous,  cruel,  remorseless race, wretched human vermin, who observe no
rules of honorable war, and who will ravage and murder the innocent and helpless wherever and
whenever they can,   and that nothing but striking them “where it hurts,”  as General SHERIDAN says, will
tend to protect our women and children from their ferocity.  Last year when we had spoken deprecatingly
of some government severities toward the Indians,  we received an indignant protest from the frontier,
assuring us that the most ingenious tortures that could be devised for their punishment were mild in
comparison with the horrors they inflicted.  And recently we knew of the wife of a Territorial judge in an
Indian region,  who,  starting with her husband upon a journey, mad him promise to shoot her if they were
taken by the Indians.  “And I would have done it,”  said the judge, quietly.
 It is not surprising that under such circumstances the popular Indian policy of the frontier should be
extermination.  And,  undoubtedly,  the feeling which led to the destruction of the Piegans was,  at bottom,  
precisely the same as that which burned the Pequot fort upon the Mystic.  Nevertheless,  the policy of
extermination is inhuman and unworthy of the United States;  and it is enormously expensive.  It costs the
Government, says Mr. Phillips,  about a million of dollars to kill a single Indian.  Moreover, what must be
the moral effect upon an army and its officers of such a system of warfare?  In the Middle Age chronicles
we read that captured cities were given up to the license of the soldiery for several days.  And one such
little sentence appalls the imagination quite as much as the most harrowing stories of Indian enormities.
 No exposed family upon the frontier need suppose that we are indifferent to its situation, nor to the
question of  its most vigorous and successful  defense.  The very point to determine is how it can be best
defended.  General PARKER,  the Indian agent or superintendent, himself of Indian descent, does not
approve the policy of extermination.  President GRANT does not approve it.  The country, which gives but
a languid attention to the subject, and is willing to believe any crime of savages,  must yet observe that the
Indian question is by no means settled by the present policy;  the exposed families are not defended;  
and,  if it inquires, it will discover that in Canada Indian wars are unknown,  and that the Indian policy of
that country is radically different from ours.  One of the most valuable and interesting documents laid
before Congress during its present session is the Report upon the Management of the Indians in British
North America by the British Government, by Mr. F. N. BLAKE,  United States Consul at Hamilton,  
Ontario.  According to the census of 1868 there were more than 20,000 Indians in the Dominion of
Canada, and the effort of the Government is directed to their incorporation with the rest of the inhabitants
as citizens.  The British policy aims to place the Indians under the protection of the law of the land.  Our
plan is to keep them aliens,  and to make treaties with them as foreign people living upon our own  
domain.  The result in the first case is unbroken peace;  in the second,  endless war.
 The British act of 1869 for the management of Indian affairs recognizes,  indeed,  to a certain degree,  
the existence and the authority of tribes,  and provides a Superintendent-General of Indian affairs.  The
chiefs are elected under his supervision,  and certain local duties are laid upon them.  But the culmination
of the system is that,  on the report of the Superintendent,  the Governor-General in council may issue
letters of enfranchisement to any Indian by which he may acquire the fee of land,  and all legal distinctions
between him and other subjects cease.  But Mr. BLAKE is of  opinion that the better plan for the Indian is
not in this manner to separate the best men from the communities,  but to divide the land question from
enfranchisement ,  and to give ordinary political rights to the most thrifty and intelligent without tempting
them to desert their communities.  Mr. BLAKE adds,  that careful study of the subject brings him to the
conclusion of the Canadian Commissioners in 1858,  that,  although there can be no sudden
transformation, the Indian is capable of civilization;  and he concludes his report with these significant
words:  “Whatever  may be the ultimate result,  those who have aided in this honorable effort may safely
be assured that their country will be known in history as having striven to do justice to the aborigines
whom the white man found in possession of it;  and that they have so far founded their empire or dominion
upon the principles of humanity and true civilization.”
 That is more than the United States have done,  and if we are not very careful our Indian policy will stain
our name as indelibly as its Irish policy has disgraced England hitherto.  The statesman who regards
humanity as sentimentality is not capable of dealing with the Indian question;  and a policy of extermination
is a policy of crime.  The savages of the plains--the Sioux,  the Comanches--may be a very different
people from the Canadian Indians.  But it is enough that our policy toward them hitherto has totally failed.  
And if not for the Indians, then for ourselves,  let us ascertain who is to blame in these endless quarrels,  
and whether the force of the army should not rather be directed against our own people, whose endless
cheating and lawlessness rouse their victims to revenge.
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