HARPER’S WEEKLY
February 24, 1877

THE SIOUX WAR

 THERE is a Sioux war.  Several times in the week we read in the morning paper that there has been a
gallant attack by our forces, who were disposed with great skill,  routing the savages,  whose loss is
believed to be very great,  but who,  as usual,  carried off their dead.  What is this Sioux war?  Who is
responsible for it?  Who has broken faith?  Who has lied and swindled?  Is it the red savage or the
civilized white man?  Is it heroic to deceive an ignorant Indian,  and sentimental to insist that a great
civilized nation shall keep its word?  These are questions which are suggested by the slightest inquiry into
the causes of the Indian war,  and the answers to many of them are not agreeable to the pride or
conscience of honorable Americans.  Those answers may be found in a document which has escaped
general attention during the Presidential excitement,  but which is one of the most important of the year.  It
is the report of the Sioux Commission which was appointed last August.  The report was made to the Hon.
J.Q.SMITH, Commissioner of Indian Affairs,  in December last,  and is well worthy universal attention and
consideration.
 The Commission consisted of nine gentlemen selected for their acquaintance with the Indians and their
friendship for them.  The chairman was Colonel GEORGE W. MONEYPENNY,  of Ohio,  who was Indian
Commissioner more than twenty years ago;  and among the members were a grandson of DANIEL
BOONE,  who has been familiar with the Indians for fifty-five years,  and Bishop WHIPPLE,  of Minnesota,  
the brave and persistent friend of the Indians,  whose interest in them and sympathy for them recall those
of JOHN ELIOT in the early days of New England.  The report of the Commission is long,  but there is
seldom a public document so full of earnest felling,  while its statements of fact are entirely new,  except to
the very few who care to keep themselves acquainted with the details of the national guilt toward the
Indians.  The testimony of military men and of all who have had the most intimate dealings with those
people shows that the troubles do not begin with them,  but with the national bad faith.
 The Sioux, says the report,  were one of the finest bodies of Indians upon the continent.  NICOLLET,  
who visited all the Indian tribes,  considered them superior to all.  The officers of the Northwest Fur
Company testify to their uniform friendship for the whites;  and it was the boast of the Sioux that for thirty-
five years their hands had not been stained with the blood of the white man.  They occupied a vast
territory between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains,  and from the British possessions to the
Kansas line.  In 1825 the Sioux acknowledged that they were within the limits of the United States,  and
recognized the supremacy of the government,  and the government pledged them its protection and kind
care.  In 1851 the California emigration made a new treaty necessary.  This confirmed peaceful relations,  
conceded the right of the government to make military roads,  and the Sioux agreed to make restitution for
any injury done by them to any citizen of the United States.  The government agreed by treaty to pay the
Sioux fifty thousand dollars for fifty years.  The Senate amended the treaty by limiting the appropriation to
ten years.  The amendment was never submitted to the Indians.  They believed the treaty to be in force,  
and went to war,  as we should have done,  to maintain their rights.
 Then came the mixed Commission,  with General SHERMAN at the head.  Generals HARNEY,  TERRY,
and AUGUR were also members.  They reported unanimously that we alone were responsible for the
War.  Naturally the Indians were willing to make another treaty, except with a pledge on our part that no
white man should ever enter their territory.  The Commission sympathized with them.  Its report is eloquent
with honorable feeling.  “It is said that our wars with them have been almost constant.  Have we been
uniformly unjust?  We answer unhesitatingly,  Yes.”  These are the words of tried and brave soldiers.  The
Commission made a treaty and gave the pledge.  The treaty was ratified by the Senate.  It was signed by
the President.  The national faith was pledged.   The Constitution makes treaties the law of the land.  The
ordinance of 1787 guarantees that the territory of the Indians shall never be invaded,  “unless in just and
lawful wars authorized by Congress.”  There is a Sioux war to-day.  By what authority is that war waged?  
The treaty conceded to the Indians the right to hunt in the unceded territory north and west of the Sioux
reservation.  General SHERIDAN issued an order in 1869 that all Indians found outside of the reservation
would be considered hostile.  The Black Hills expedition of the brave General CUSTER was in direct
violation of the treaty.
 The Commission emphasize one significant fact,  the observation of which,  when he was a young officer
upon the frontier,  led General GRANT to his wise Indian policy.  It is that the English government in
Canada has spent no money in Indian wars since the American Revolution,  has lost no lives by
massacre,  has had no desolated settlements,  and its Indians have been always loyal.  The reason is
very simple.  The government has kept faith.  It has given the Indians the protection of the law,  has
fostered missions,  and has placed over them agents who hold office during good behavior.  In a word,  as
General GRANT has said,  it has treated the Indians as if they had rights which white men are bound to
respect.  It has not regarded them as vermin to be exterminated,  and it has not contemptuously broken its
own pledged faith.  Our system of treaties with the Indian tribes is foolish,  but understandings and
arrangements with them are indispensable,  and require sagacious,  experienced,  honest,  and well-paid
agents.  The Commission recommend an independent department of Indian affairs,  and assert that if by
the independence of such a department the fearful cost of one Indian war could be saved,  it would be the
wisest economy.  The Commission have made an arrangement with Sioux chiefs at the agencies,  which
they trust will be faithfully carried out by the government;  but they look to Congress for general redress of
Indian grievances,  persuaded that without instant and appropriate legislation for the protection and
government of the Indians,  they must perish.        
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