Nineteenth Lake Mohonk Indian Conference

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Proceedings Of The Board Of Indian Commissioners At The Nineteenth Lake Mohonk Indian Conference.

[Addresses and proceedings which concern the Indians are included in this appendix.]

First session, Wednesday. October 16, 1901.

The Nineteenth Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian was called to order after morning prayers, which were conducted by Rev. Dr. Theodore L. Cuyler, at 10 a. m. Wednesday, October 16, 1901. The guests were welcomed by Mr. A. K. Smiley, the generous host of the occasion, in the following words:

Ladies And Gentlemen: The time has arrived for the Nineteenth Annual Conference of the Friends of the Indian. I am not sure but we shall have to change that name. These friends are friends of other peoples besides the Indians. I can not begin to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to welcome you here. To see a company of men and women, with earnest hearts and clear brains, coming together to discuss the elevation of different races of people, and the best way of doing it, is to me an intense delight. I believe all good causes can be best promoted by the friendly, earnest, open discussion of people holding different views, comparing notes, and then arriving at some conclusion. We have always had open and free discussion here, and at the end we have come to some conclusion in which we could agree, owing to the fact that there were peacemakers as well as wise heads among us.

I have great hopes for the success of this conference. There are here this morning just an even hundred invited guests, with about fifty yet to come. There are two hundred and thirty-one regular guests of the house also here an unusual number at this time of the year. I am afraid that we may have to put our conference off later another year, because we do not like to turn away people who want to attend it.

It has been thought best that the Indian question should not monopolize the whole three days of the meeting. A great many matters which needed attention eighteen years ago have been settled now, so that the need of an Indian conference is not so strong as it was; but other questions have come up which are very important, such as Porto Rico, the Philippines, and Hawaii, about which we ought to confer, and time will be given for that.

It is important that we have a good presiding officer, and I have always assumed the privilege of nominating one. We have had one man who has served us admirably for some years, and I have no doubt that it will meet with your full approval when I again nominate as our presiding officer Dr. Merrill E. Gates, secretary of the Board of Indian Commissioners.

The motion was seconded, and Dr. Gates was unanimously elected.

Dr. Gates took the chair and called for further organization.

On motion of Mr. Philip C. Garrett, the following secretaries were elected in the order named: Mrs. Isabel C. Barrows, Mr. Joshua W. Davis, Mrs. George H. Knight.

On motion of Mr. Charles F. Meserve, Mr. Frank Wood, of Boston, who, as was said, has served the conference faithfully for eleven years in that capacity, was elected treasurer.

On motion of Mr. James Talcott, the following named persons were elected a business committee: Dr. Lyman Abbott, Dr. Addison P. Foster, Mr. Daniel Smiley, Mr. Lucien C. Warner, Mr. D. W. McWilliams, Mr. Philip C. Garrett, Mr. Darwin R. James, and Gen. T. J. Morgan.

On motion of Hon. W. W. Beardshear, Mr. William H. McElroy was elected press reporter.

On motion of Dr. H. B. Frissell, the following publication committee was elected: Mrs. I. C. Barrows, Mr. Joshua W. Davis, and Mr. Frank Wood. 24

The following address was delivered by Dr. Gates, the presiding officer:

The Next Steps To Be Taken. Address Of The President, Merrill E. Gates, LL. D., of the Board of Indian Commissioners.

Ladies And Gentlemen, Friends Of The Indians, And Members Of The Mohonk Conference: Once More, In Response To The Hospitable Invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Smiley, we are met at Mohonk to take counsel together for the welfare of the Indians. The beauty of the autumn time renews itself no more unfailingly than does the gracious and hearty welcome of our host to his annual guests. The beauty of the autumn does not pall with added years; but all the glories of the autumn time are suggestive of fruit, and our conferences here, beautiful as they are in their setting of natural scenery, and gracious and delightful as they are in their social intercourse and their ennobling friendships, do not exist primarily and chiefly for these social and aesthetic delights. The rich colors of autumn and its falling foliage bear witness to a period of life, which has been used in producing fruit and enriching other lives; and so it passes in serene beauty, its mission accomplished. And all our conferences here, to those of us who have known them for almost a score of years now, are valued and have become beautiful in memory not chiefly for the gracious charm which has marked our intercourse here, but by the fruitage of ennobling friendship in our united helpful effort to uplift and enrich the life of the less favored and belated races of our country.

Progress Already Made.

Much has been accomplished in these eighteen years. In the autumn or 1884, when I was first present at a Mohonk Indian conference, the only original Americans had no rights before the law. They were without citizenship, and they could not possibly become citizens. They had no homes. No way was open to them by which they might enter into the life of our people. There was no door of hope for the Indian. A severalty bill to give them homes, which had been outlined and urged by the Board of Indian Commissioners as early as 1870, did not become a law until 1886. There was no adequate system of Government schools; and the mission schools and contract schools of the different denominations reached but a small fraction of the Indian children of school age.

Now about 60,000 of the Indians have become citizens under the severalty act. If we except the 20,000 Navaho, there is almost enough of opportunity at Indian schools for all the Indian children of school age. The average of attendance at Indian schools is approximating that of the average schools for whites in our country. The number of Indians who are dependent upon rations is decreasing from year to year, and should be still more rapidly diminished. Wars between Indians and the United States Government are at an end, as we believe. And we dare to hope that there will not be much more even of bloody rioting on the part of Indians against the authorities. The regulations of the civil service have removed from the problem many of the evils connected with inexperience and incapacity on the part of teachers and employees in the service. There is no longer a ” clean sweep” for partisan reasons after each general election. The service still suffers terribly from the appointment of incapable and worthless agents by local and political influence, and purely from partisan considerations. But we remember that in 1892 Theodore Roosevelt, then Civil Service Commissioner, and an interested participant in this conference at Mohonk, said that the President of the United States, while he could not by his own act put Indian agents under the civil-service law, could, if he chose, put an end to many of the evils attaching to the present system of appointing agents by declaring that he would not nominate as Indian agent any man whose fitness for the service had not been tested and approved by examination or by some competent commission; and we have confidence that Theodore Roosevelt, as President of the United States, knowing the actual condition of affairs upon our Western Indian reservations by personal observation as no other President has ever known them, in some way which shall commend itself to his sound judgment and his high principles, as President will carry into effect the reforms which, as Commissioner, he saw were so much needed in order to secure well qualified and effective men as Indian agents, and to keep in positions where their experience will be of service to the nation and the Indians, the agents who show themselves capable.

Regulations To Protect The Family.

During this last year decided progress has been made in more than one line of effort that looks toward the solution of the Indian problem. Those of you who were present at this conference a year ago remember how strongly your chairman insisted at that time upon the crying need of regulations for the licensing and solemnizing of Indian marriages, and for the making and keeping of a permanent record, at every agency, of family relations, and of births and deaths, as well as of marriages. If any others felt, as your chairman certainly felt (at the close of the session, in which the Commissioner of Indian Affairs had spoken to us in a way to command so fully the interest and the esteem of all who heard him make that address), that the chairman of the conference went to the extreme limit of the allowable in urging upon the Commissioner of Indian Affairs his personal responsibility for taking immediate action to carry into effect such a system of family records, we may say, in the circle of this conference, that the friendly challenge to act at once was taken up most cordially by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs; and before your chairman and the Commissioner reached Washington, steps had been taken to prepare the necessary papers and blanks. The experienced head of a division in the Indian Bureau, Miss Cook, was named by Commissioner Jones to give especial attention to this matter. Members of the conference will be gratified to know that the entire system of instructions, forms and regulations requiring the licensing and solemnizing of marriages between the Indians, forbidding polygamous marriages, providing for the immediate registration of all families at each Indian agency, and for a permanent record of all births, marriages, and deaths, has gone into effect in the Indian service within the last two months. To Commissioner Jones (and to Miss Cook, of the Indian Bureau, to whose manifold duties the preparation and supervision of forms were added), belongs the credit for immediate and effective action along this important line. The Secretary of the Interior has given his hearty approval to the plan. We are anticipating with pleasure the presence of Commissioner Jones to speak to us at a subsequent session of this conference; and from him we shall hear in detail of the progress of the year in Indian affairs.

The End Of “The Indian System” Is In Sight.

Among the many matters connected with the Indian problem which interest us, and to which true friends of the Indian and lovers of their country must still give thought and steadfast effort, one or two subjects are so centrally, so supremely important, that I want to impress them especially upon your thought. I want to ask you, as leaders of public thought and shapers of public opinion, through the press, the pulpit, and the ever widening influence which belongs to the intelligent womanhood of our land, to do all that lies in your power to stimulate thought, and to secure legislative and administrative action along these central lines.

Conservative Influence Of Tribal Funds.

You know the intensely conservative force of vested funds in maintaining an established order of things. Many who are eager and strenuous in their efforts to influence men toward new and wiser courses of action seem to be struck with paralysis of awe when they contemplate millions of dollars which have been used in certain ways, and therefore, in the minds of many, always should be used in precisely the same way. When vast tracts of land and great sums of money are united in their force of inertia to perpetuate great abuses, all hope of change seems to die out of the hearts of many. The history of ” mortmain, ” and its deadly conservative effect upon the life of certain European nations, is a notable case in point.

By the old system, in Indian affairs our National Government palavered and treated with the so called “tribal governments” of Indians. This evil old system was based upon the idea of isolated reservation life for savages, while we pauperized them by feeding them rations in their laziness; and thus we cut off from civilization (not for the use of Indians, but merely as vacant “roaming ground,” no longer hunting fields) vast realms of our territories, larger than States. Twenty years ago this system seemed solidly entrenched behind the conservative bulwarks of landed interests and great tribal funds.

The inertia and opposition to all reform which was inherent in the land system of the undivided reservation for the tribe we have successfully attacked by the severalty act. Nearly six thousand homestead farms and holdings have been carved out of a small fraction of the reservations. And the land still held by the Government for Indian reservations is greater in extent than the area of all the New England States, New York, New Jersey, and half of Pennsylvania. But by recognizing the individual Indian (instead of the tribe) in his right to hold and use land, we are steadily making of Indians self supporting and home loving citizens; while we are at the same time doing away with many of the evils of the reservation, and opening vast tracts of land to settlement and to the influence and example of American homes and civilized families.

Tribal Funds Prevent Progress.

The conservative influence of the vast tribal funds held in trust by the Government of the United States for Indians remains intact. Only those who watch attempted legislation and the efforts of claim agents for Indian tribes, can properly estimate the dead weight of inertia which often crushes attempts at reform in methods of dealing with the Indians, or the constant temptation to perversion of justice, which the maintenance of these unused funds inevitably stimulates. The influence of these funds is always felt in favor of perpetuating the worst abuses of the reservation system, with its issue of rations to able bodied idlers, its favored and too often exorbitant agency traders, its long perpetuated “annuity payments” in goods and in cash, its indefinitely prolonged period of helpless tutelage for Indian men and women who are not taught the proper use of money and property, by themselves using it, but become sadly familiar with its abuses by having it doled out to them in ways which render them still more helpless. When this conference and other friends of the Indian unite in asking that agencies pronounced by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to be no longer needed, and worse than useless, be abolished, the selfish interests of the localities where money from the tribal funds has been spent come to the front. Intense pressure is brought to bear upon Senators and Members of Congress to continue the agency with all its evils. This is not the place to recount in detail the history, even of the last year, in respect to such recommendations. But here, as everywhere, the conservative force of these tribal funds in keeping “things as they are” and at their worst, in our Indian service, can hardly be overestimated. When Dickens satirized the delay the “red tape,” the deadly conservatism of “the circumlocution office ” in attacking the evils of chancery practice in England a generation ago, Americans used to feel thankful that in America such things were not possible. But those of us who at Washington watch the skill with which a system of “how not to do it” can be perpetuated by department methods, under the influence of the conservatism of great tribal funds, at times are tempted to feel that the worst enemy of reform for the Indians is the (sometimes unconscious) combination of well meaning employees who stand for doing things precisely as they have always been done, and shrewd intriguers Indian and white who wish tribal funds and Indian claims to be indefinitely perpetuated, that they may profit by the “system as it is.”

(Here the speaker related incidents to illustrate his position.) I ask you, then, how can the Indian take his place as an American citizen among American citizens, if the Government is to perpetuate indefinitely a system, which holds him in tutelage (for his alleged interest), and administers vast tribal funds for him “as a ward?” Let the Government, as guardian, prepare to “give a final accounting” of what it has done with these trust funds of its ward. As fast as they “come to years of discretion” let these so called “wards” be entrusted with the management of their own property. And because the Indian tribe is neither a sound social group nor a political entity, let us cease to keep up the pretense that the Government can do good to Indians by dealing with the little groups of half-breeds, Indians, and “squaw men” (I use the term with an apology, but purposely, to indicate the whites who for interested reasons marry Indian women), whose corrupt and selfish use of the funds which come into their hands has been proved in so many cases and has brought “tribal councils” into contempt.

What Is The Remedy? Break Up Tribal Funds.

Let the Government recognize the individual Indian in his right to his divided share of the tribal fund, as the Government has already recognized the individual Indian in his right to his divided share of the tribal land. A law can be and should be devised (and such a law should be speedily enacted) by which a date should be fixed (for each tribe) after which no more children shall be born into such tribal relations as will give them the right to an undivided share in tribal funds. Let no Indian child born after that date have any share in tribal funds, except as he may inherit, under the laws of the State or Territory in which he resides, the right to a part of his father’s or his mother’s individual holding of a share of those funds.

The system of family records at agencies, for which the Board of Indian Commissioners has earnestly called for the last two years, within the last three months has been put into operation. Wherever the Government has sought to divide tribal funds in the past, the first great difficulty has been to secure a trustworthy list of those who were entitled to a share in such division. “The system of family records at each agency, this year inaugurated by the Department, if faithfully carried out, will at once give a basis for such a complete list in the case of each tribe.

Outline Of The Needed Law.

My idea of a general plan for breaking up tribal funds is something like this: Let a list of all those in a tribe who are entitled to a share in such a tribal fund at a given date be prepared and filed; and let a general law provide that, on that date, the whole fund for that tribe (possibly with such reservations for educational and tax paying purposes as may be wise and consistent with the equities of the spirit and intent that governed the treaty) be divided into individual holdings, and let each member of the tribe who is entitled, on that date, to a share in the fund, be credited with his divided and individual share. Let no children born after that date have any share, save as they inherit from their parents or older relatives, under the laws of the State or Territory in which they reside. Let these individual holdings stand to the credit of individual Indians upon the books of the agency, and upon the books of the Department and the Treasury. This means some increase in clerical force at Washington, but the expense in salaries for such an increase of clerical force for a short time would be as nothing compared to the money that is annually wasted in keeping the system as it is. Let authority be given by law to the Secretary of the Interior, upon recommendation of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to fix a date for each tribe at which these individual holdings shall be paid to the individual Indians in whose name they stand on the Treasury books. Such a date might be fixed for the entire tribe in numerous instances, and payments might be made to all immediately. The Indians of several tribes are now prepared to use well such payments. In the case of other tribes it might be wiser to fix a date on which all Indians who can meet certain prescribed tests of intelligence, and so manifest a fitness to manage their own affairs, should be paid each his own individual share, while the other members of the tribe should receive each his own share as rapidly as he might be able to meet similar tests. In this way we should soon see “the beginning of the end” of that injurious system by which the United States Government holds and administers great sums of money for a peculiarly pampered, exceptionally favored body of native Americans. Of course, some Indians would at once waste the money they received. But added years of observation are bringing friends of the Indian to the unanimous conviction that Indians cannot learn to swim successfully in the tides of civilization if they “never go near the water.” We are all settling into the conviction that there is but one way for people to learn how to use property, and that is by using it. The Government may deem it best to make some provision by which Indian holders of allotted lands may have at least a portion of the regular county, State, and Territorial taxes upon their lands paid for them during the period of protected title, so that there may no longer be a harsh division of interests between Indian settlers untaxed and the neighboring white settlers, who alone are now taxed for local government and local improvements which are of benefit to Indians and whites alike. Is there any wiser way to fit the Indian for citizenship than by intrusting to him (with such limitations as have been indicated above) his own money, to be used in his own way? When the few years needed to inaugurate such a system shall have passed, there will be comparatively few Indians under 40 years of age who have not had some instruction in our schools. The process of education by contact with whites, melancholy as are some of its results, goes forward, and must go forward, and upon the whole does good. We are entirely convinced that the Government should break up tribal funds into individual holdings, and should bring the Indians as rapidly as possible under the civilizing influence of our American public schools, where Indian and white children can mingle, and of local government and good fellowship in neighborly interests. This participation in our American life will fit Indians for citizenship more rapidly and better than any other instrumentality that, could be devised.

Check The Leasing Of Indian Lands; Stop Rations For The Idle.

Certain groups of Indians who ten years ago were working upon their own land are now leasing their lands, securing enough yearly rental to supply them with the mere necessities of life, and not doing a stroke of work for the last few years. We are thus sending them back to barbarism, by allowing them to lease their lands. We had lifted them a little way by land and labor; we are letting them fall back again. From the issue of rations, from a share in “annuity payments,” and from leasing their lands they get enough to enable them to live in idleness. The necessity of working if one would eat the great fundamental discipline of civilized life we deprive them of. While you seek to inculcate sound ideas as to the breaking up of tribal funds, will you not in these next months use all your influence to direct public thought to the danger and evils which, attend that reckless leasing of Indian lands, allotted and un-allotted, which enables Indians to live in squalid idleness? And will you not protest against the continuance of rations to able bodied men who will not work?

Connect The “Homestead” Idea With The Allotting Of Lands In Severalty.

Is it not possible, as we approach the final solution of the Indian problem, to devise some plan by which the title of an Indian to his allotted land shall be made to a certain degree dependent upon occupancy and use, so that the principle of the homestead act, which gives land to the actual settler who wishes to use it, may be worked in with the principle of the severalty act? I have not yet attempted to think through the details of such a plan. Its suggestion was made to me since we came together for this conference by one of the thoroughly educated young women who, from philanthropic motives and from the experience gained in unselfish Christian service among the Indians, are thinking out results. I am sure that the idea deserves our careful attention.

Information Can Be Had From The Board Of Indian Commissioners.

Let me say to the friends of the Indians who are attending this conference that requests for our annual reports or for such literature of information as we can place within your reach, if addressed to me as secretary of the Board of Indian Commissioners, 1429 New York avenue, Washington, D. C., will receive immediate attention. And our board always welcomes suggestions and questions from those who are interested in that policy of educating, uplifting, and Christianizing the Indian, and thus fitting him for intelligent American citizenship, which the Board of Indian Commissioners was thirty years ago created and commissioned to devise, shape, and forward, that “the Indian question” may cease to exist.

Congress And The Government Intend To Do What Is Right.

In the purposes, which, we have at heart in this conference friend of the Indian, should come to understand that the Government of the United States, in the Department and in Congress, is with us and not against us. I want to bear witness here to the steadily growing confidence with which those who seek justice for the Indian may expect to be received by the members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate of the United States. It is now more than seventeen years since I became a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners; and, as chairman of that board for nine years and its secretary for the last two years, I have had occasion to see something of every Congress, which has convened since 1884. Sixteen or eighteen years ago it was difficult to find members of Congress in the Senate or in the House who would listen to suggestions with intelligence and friendly interest when justice, education, and civilization for the Indian were the objects sought. Senator Dawes in the Senate and Mr. Darwin R. James, now chairman of this board, when a member of the House, were perhaps the most prominent and consistent friends of the Indian in the very small group who at that time could be counted upon to favor legislative efforts at justice and civilization for the Indians. There seemed to be comparatively few members of Congress who did not share the feeling expressed in the old and bitter jibe, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Now there are few members of either House who share in that feeling, and a still smaller number who venture to express the feeling if they have it. Gradually, but steadily, a great change has come about in Congress. When the members of our board appear before the House committee, whose chairman is with us in this conference today, we uniformly find him and his fellow members of the committee quick to appreciate the rights and the needs of the Indian and responsive to every appeal for justice. This is equally true of the Senate committee. It is well for friends of the Indian to appreciate this changed attitude toward the matters, which interest us here. Always there will be the pressure of many other interests to stand in the way of giving time to needed legislation for the Indians. And always there will be some selfishly interested men in Congress and outside of Congress, who will seek in every possible way to obstruct legislation which, if secured, would put an end to the abuses by which they profit. But in general we have the right to feel that our Senators and Representatives in Congress intend to do the righteous thing. And I have no sympathy with those writers and teachers of morality, whether they are preachers, editors, or college professors, who cannot speak of members of Congress or of men who are active in political life with out an implied sneer. The teacher of morality is never truer to his high calling than when he insists upon high standards of honor and morality in the public life of our land and recognizes these principles in the lives of public men who practice them.

The Influence Of This Conference Steadily Grows.

There was a time in the early history of the Mohonk conference when a little band of the tried and true, who had been pioneers in special work for the Indian, met here, and were drawn into such close relations with one another that if death entered the circle during the year all the members of this conference felt the loss as a personal bereavement. It is a source of great encouragement to those of us who have longest shared in this work that the number of those who through the meetings of this annual conference are deeply interested in the welfare of the Indians has come to be so large that we feel the enthusiasm of numbers as well as the enthusiasm of a lofty purpose. Our circle has now grown to such proportions that we do not venture even to name over in public the list of those who, from year to year, are called from our life of Christian service here into the larger life beyond. But high aims in life make firm friends; and the higher the aim the greater the number of aspiring souls who may be bound by it to one another, and to that grateful service of the God who loves us,” which is possible only in the loving service of our fellowmen. To the fellowship of this high service, as your chairman, as president of the conference, I bid all a most cordial welcome. Those who are with us for the first time (at first disinterested spectators, but sure to become interested friends of the cause) are no less welcome than are the trusted friends who have so often taken counsel together here in the years that are past.

Gen. Thomas J. Morgan. I received yesterday a brief statement of the tribute of Lone Wolf to President McKinley, which to me was very touching. Lone Wolf was one of the chiefs of the Kiowa Indians. He has professed Christianity and united with a little local church. I would like to read this tribute. It was taken in shorthand as he spoke.

Lone Wolf’s Tribute To President McKinley.

Lone Wolf, chief of the Kiowa, lives near the new town of Hobart, which sprang up in a day when the Kiowa Reservation was opened to settlement in August, The following account of his remarks, as contained in the Kansas City Star of October 3, is vouched for as substantially correct by one who heard him speak:

“One of the unique incidents of the memorial services held at Hobart in honor of President McKinley was the address delivered by Lone Wolf. He had been invited to make a talk, but when he arrived at the place of meeting he called for an interpreter. None being present, Lone Wolf, who is chief of the Kiowa, rose up from his seat and solemnly addressed the crowd. He spoke as follows, according to a stenographer’s report of his address: Mebbe so me not talk; mebbe so me not read; mebbe so me not make you understand when me talk. Me never go to school, but me not like I used to be. Mebbe so me better than me was. Me changed. Mebbe me pa was bad; he not know r better. He not read. Mebbe so he not Christian, for he lived long ago and go on the warpath and kill.

Mebbe last summer me go to Washington to see McKinley. McKinley he work; he work; he great father; he be fine man. Me shake hands with him and me proud. Me like him, the great father.

“At this point Lone Wolf raised his hands in a gesture of sorrow, and with tears streaming down his cheeks said: Mebbe so McKinley dead; him gone; him no more walks; him no more speaks to his red children; him dead. With breaking voice he continued: Me not able to say what me mean. Me know. Mebbe people all over country, mebbe so white people and Indians feel heap bad Kiowa, Comanche, Apache sorry. With tears flooding down his cheeks he said: Me sorry; me heap sorry. That’s all. Notwithstanding his bad English and disjointed remarks, Lone Wolf made a wonderful impression on his audience.”

The chairman introduced the next speaker as a man of clear vision and great experience, “our beloved General Whittlesey.”

Gen. E. Whittlesey. I have no hesitation in saying that the Indian service is improving year by year. It is now administered by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the Secretary of the Interior at Washington, honestly and faithfully; and in the field, though here and there a man creeps into office through political influence who is unfit for the place, yet the great majority of Indian agents, inspectors, teachers, and matrons are honest, faithful, and efficient; so that as we look back, some of us who have been watching Indian matters for twenty five or thirty years, and see how order and system have been made to replace chaotic confusion, we feel that there is ground in the present state of affairs for optimism as we look toward the future.

One auspicious fact is the retention of our present excellent Commissioner of Indian Affairs in office. Some years ago we tried pretty hard to secure the retention of another good Commissioner of Indian Affairs, but political influence was too much for us. The present auspicious fact is due to the wisdom of that noble, much loved President, William McKinley. However much we mourn, and shall continue to mourn his untimely death, yet another auspicious fact is that we have in the White House at Washington, as our Chief Magistrate, a man who has a large knowledge of Indian affairs, larger probably than that of any President who has preceded him, and who is fully committed to the principles of civil service reform. We may feel sure that he will make no changes in the personnel of the service without cause, and that he will make no new appointments without having ascertained in some way the fitness for office of those whom he appoints.

I may mention another auspicious fact, and that is that A. K. Smiley still lives and that the Mohonk conference still thrives. It certainly is no insignificant fact that a hundred and fifty or two hundred men and women gather here year after year, at a considerable sacrifice of time, and sometimes of business interests, to discuss topics of interest concerning the education, the industries, the moral training of a race of our own people. These things afford ground for optimism as we look to the future. Above all, and far greater than all, is our assurance that God himself is with us; and with Him on our side it matters very little who or what is against us.

The Chairman. We are to have now the pleasure of listening to one of those fearless women who, years ago, went beyond the verge of civilization to dwell among warlike savages, where she has in trenched herself in the affections of the Indians, and has done more, perhaps, than any one woman we could name to lead the Sioux to Christian civilization Miss Mary C. Collins, of Standing Rock Agency, Fort Yates, N. Dak.

Address Of Miss Mary C. Collins.

It is always a great pleasure to come to Mohonk and stand before these friends, though I hardly know what to say, there are so many things I would like to have you know and understand. I want to speak from the standpoint of the Indian, letting you into the life of the Indian his home and thought and heart life. The Indian, like all other people, has his intellectual, his physical, and his spiritual nature, and we must reach him in all points if we would make a full man of him. I should say also that all we can do for him intellectually and physically, although very important, is not enough; we must reach him spiritually, because we cannot separate the Indian from his religion. It is impossible. His daily, hourly life in the old times was religious, and the religious spirit comes up in everything that he does. If an Indian smokes, he is offering incense; it is part of his religion. He does not smoke to gratify his appetite. Wherever tobacco does not grow he uses the red willow bark or Kinnikinnick. They sit in a circle, and after lifting up the pipe to the Great Spirit, and then to the four winds, and making a prayer, they pass the pipe around the circle. So in the dances. All the dances are religious ceremonies. If I could only have the people understand, and have our agents understand, and the Government understands, that dancing, to the Indians, is not play, I think I could make a great step forward in teaching the Indians to lay aside old customs. To the white man dancing is play, and to have the old time Indian dances and Wild West Fourth of July to amuse the white people is a great thing in the West; and some of our best Indians are led into this through the prizes offered and the glory they get out of it from those who ought to work to stop these things. It is not play; it is religious worship, and an Indian can not go into it for exhibition without doing violence to his conscience as a religious man; and no man can violate his conscience and not retrograde. Not only is dancing a part of their religion, but even the preparation for going after the game has its religious ceremony. So also when they start on the warpath. Everything they do they do with prayer. They are praying constantly. From childhood they are taught their dependence upon the Unseen, not the one Great Spirit as we understand it, but upon something which is unseen and unknown the Wakonda, the Great Unknown. We are so apt to speak of Indian gods as if they meant the great God. He worships everything under the sun, and the sun itself. He offers prayers to them, but he knows nothing of a God of Love. All the old gods were cruel, and required sacrifices, and brought all kinds of trouble to the Indian. They had never a god that brought blessing. What was the maize dance? When the Indian went out, was it to offer thanksgiving for his corn? It was not that. All these prayers were raised to the various spirits that they should not destroy the corn crop that they should not come with blighting winds and frosts to destroy and take away their life food from them. It was not a prayer to bring a blessing. It was a prayer to let them alone. When we come to the Indian tribe I speak of the Sioux we find them full of religion. Now, can we train them to make them self supporting men and leave out this most important part of their lives? It is impossible. We must bring to them knowledge of the true God, a knowledge of Christ, a knowledge of how to live the true Christian life. If we remember that they are essentially religious, we readily meet a response from them. When you meet an Indian on that ground he can understand what you are talking about. If you ask that his children be educated he does not feel much interest in that, If you ask that they be taught a trade he can not understand what benefit it would be; but talk to him about the Great Spirit, about the inner life, about prayer; tell him that you have the word of God, that God is directing his people, that they are God’s people, and he can meet you and you will gain his confidence. The president in introducing me spoke of the devotion of the Indians to me. It is because I have come to them in this spirit. There is no Indian so poor or so low or so ignorant that he does not know something of the religious life; and knowing that I am a religious teacher, he can open his heart to me, and, speaking his language, I can understand him and help him.

I was much interested in stopping at Buffalo. I made my way from the gate directly to the Indian show in the Midway, and I reached there just in time to see a chief from Pine Ridge introduced to the great throng as the greatest living chief of the Sioux Nation. The audience was told that this man was the greatest warrior among the Sioux; that he had killed many people, and was considered by the President of the United States and by the generals of the Army as one of the greatest generals of the day; that he had been on the warpath and followed up by our Army, which was not able to overtake him, and had to call in assistance from another country before he was vanquished. Then an Indian whom I do not know made a speech to the people at the door, and the old man, in his own tongue, said:

“My friends, we are brought here by your white people to play before you, and in the inside of this tent the play will be going on; and if you pay you will see our people. You will see us ride on our horses. This is all I have to say.” The interpreter said: “Now you will want to know what the old man said. He said that he wished he had been in this late war; that he would have annihilated all those enemies, and he also said that he was a great man among his own people, and that there was only one thing that he was not happy about, and that was that he had only eight wives, and there was another old red devil on the reservation that had nine.”

[Cries of Shame! Shame!]

The President. It is a shame, is it not, that such things should be tolerated? Was the so called interpreter a Government official?

Miss Collins. I do not know. I stood within 6 feet of him and heard the speech. The congress of Indians, as I saw it, was only a poor imitation of a Wild West show with another name. I tell you this that you may understand how perfectly helpless these people are in the hands of their interpreters, and how important it is that you know your interpreters when you use them in Washington. I have frequently been in a great meeting when I have heard things said by the Indian which were translated by the interpreter to mean a very different thing. Our Indians are very often misrepresented in this way.

It is necessary for the good of these people that the missionary should keep out of all political questions on the reservation as far as possible; but when the missionary is a woman and speaks the language of the people, and is among three or four thousand Indians who know that they can go to her without an interpreter and tell her everything that is in their heart, she does sometimes get mixed up in the politics of the reservation, and it is necessary that she should make protests against things that are going on which she knows are a detriment to the Indians. I look forward to the time when the Indian shall own his own home and the issue of rations shall be done away with. But I live neighbor to these people. I am right at their doors; I visit their houses every day and know them as you know your neighbors; and it is a very hard thing when an order comes to cut down rations, and we know that owing to drought almost nothing has been raised to eat. How can it be done? What are they to eat? I know it is said that necessarily some must starve, but must it be dear old Grindstone, the faithful old chief who has served his people all his life, a Christian man, loyal to the Government, who for many years has cared for his old mother, who is 100, and he himself 79? Must they go hungry and die perhaps because “some must suffer?” Could you pick out those who might starve? Very many are hungry today because the rations have been cut down so small that in places they barely sustain life. I know that you can not make men out of people who are always fed; but are there not enough wise people to make the change come in such a way that it will not be felt so violently in its coming. Why should a Senatorial committee come out from Washington and make a treaty with the Indians, and in ten years after we be told that the treaty is old fashioned; that they did the best they knew, but that things are different now?

President Gates. In your opinion how could a measure be devised which should discriminate between those who really need help and those who do not?

Plan For Reducing Indian Rations.

Miss Collins. After one year’s notice I would cut off all English speaking mixed bloods and all families of white men who have married Indians. At the same time I would also give notice that in two years all English speaking young men (and their families) who have been in school shall be cut off, and in one more year those coming out of school, etc. But have it understood that a man who has had his rations taken away should take his allotment of land for home at once, still holding his right in the grazing land. On Standing Rock the land should be allotted in homesteads, and let the grazing land be in common, as there is so little water that the reservation can not support many cattle unless they are herded on the streams. To become self supporting they must raise cattle.

The half breeds are almost all English speaking, and have more influence with the agents than an Indian who can not speak for himself. Most of them have some property. Then, not too rapidly, I would take it from others, but never without previous notice.

I would let the old people, those who will never be able to support themselves, and who have but little property, and who will live probably only a few years, have rations; and where rations are stopped and land taken I would give cows to them to start a herd.

I want to leave the impression with you who believe in the Christian work that you must see to it that the missionary work is carried on and supported. Whatever the Government does, it cannot do this Christian work in the hearts of the people. If we would change a savage Indian into a citizen who shall be faithful to the Government, there must be those as guides who care for his soul life as well as his physical life. If we take away his old religion we must give him something in its place, for his religion is cruel; and he cannot become a good citizen, the best kind of a citizen, with his old ideas of religion, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

A Crisis.

I would ask that the friends at Mohonk, the Indian Rights Association, and all who have gathered here, as friends of the Indian, take more thought for our people. We have indeed reached a crisis; and between the Government’s idea of treaty rights and the greed of Western cattle men, and the power of railroads, and weakness of Indian agents and their helplessness in the hands of State politicians, we were never before so much in need of strong, able friends to see that the Indian is not deprived of all the benefits which should come to him. Allot the lands as soon as possible; but in no case allow the lands to be rented to cattlemen in bulk, lest we are in the condition of the State of Nevada, where the cattlemen have all the water and farmers have no chance to live.

Friends, if you are not alert now to prevent wrongs, you will have to be aroused sooner or later to a state of things that will make you see that the Indian problem has two sides. Do not let all of these great questions of the day in regard to our new possessions make you forget that our Indians are in this helpless condition, not of their own choice, but in obedience to the demands made by the Government through treaties. Then hold these treaties sacred until you can induce the Government honorably to get out of them the best way for both parties, just as if they were white people. I trust that Congress will allow no juggling with words, but insist that until lawfully abrogated the treaties must be left.

Give the law, and liberty, and the religion of the meek and lowly Nazarene.

Miss Annie B. Scoville was introduced as the next speaker.

Miss Annie Beecher Scoville. If there is an idol that the American people have, it is the school. What gold is to the miser, the schoolhouse is to the Yankee. If you don’t believe it, go out to Pine Ridge, where there are 7,000 Sioux on 8,000,000 acres of land incapable of supporting these people, and find planted over that stretch of territory 32 schoolhouses, standing there as a testimony to our belief in education. There is something whimsical in planting schoolhouses where no man can read, far from the highways, neighbored by farms, and planted, not at the request of the Sioux, but because we believed it was good for them. It is a remedy for barbarism, we think, and so we give the dose. Uncle Sam is like a man setting a charge of powder. The school is the slow match. He lights it and goes off whistling, sure that in time it will blow up the old life, and of its shattered pieces he will make good citizens. And there lies the danger. The danger is that he whistles over his task. It is easy to blow up the old life. It is easy to teach a child the three R’s, and to put on him a civilized dress though he may hide his clothes on the way home from school. It is easy to blow up the old life. But how if you have destroyed his old belief in the old father, such a father as Grindstone, who stands for the best, whether Indian or white? How is it if you take the child from the mother who can advise, and the daughter who can care for it, and if you say to the child, “See, education is all that you need?” And the child goes across from the schoolhouse to the Omaha dance house, which waits to teach its lessons. You say we must not take all amusement from these people, yet the Omaha lodge is an amusement that will not bear explanation; but for those who know what it was for the Hebrew to worship Baal it will be easy to understand how that Omaha appeals to the flesh and this world, and robs those children of righteousness and the training that has been given them. Do not misunderstand me; this dance is not the worship of the old Indian. We have broken the life, which demanded the exertion, the self sacrifice, the long prayer, and vigil, which made the man. We have left nothing but a game, which appeals to all that is low in life, and then we say that that is their social life. The children go to our schools, but all summer long, on every other Friday and Saturday, they go down to that Omaha. And when the mother says that is not a good thing to do, they reply, “You don’t know as much as I do; I can read.” So, unchaperoned and unguarded, they go into that life, and the Indian camp is really less moral because of the work we have done in it. That sounds terrible for our schools, and yet I believe in the schools and in all that they can do; but we must not leave everything to them, and forget that though religion without education may breed superstition, yet it is not so dangerous as education without religion, which makes of the barbarian an atheist. These boys and girls who are allowed to go on with these dances do not believe in them. If they had any religious significance to them it would be different; but we have wiped away by our work all that stood for strength, and now we are in danger of leaving these young people without a God; without an ideal to lift them up. However broadly you educate, unless you have given ideals to the people, unless you have put soul into the body, you might better leave it untrained. You do not want an educated savage. And the man who has no God is a man who is a danger to us, whether a modern socialist or a wild Indian.

Miss Estelle Reel, superintendent of Indian schools, was next introduced.

Miss Estelle Reel. The work for the past year has been generally encouraging. I spend much of my time in the field about nine months each year and have just returned from Oregon and Washington. I find it much easier to go out and correct evils than to write about them. In Washington the Indians are nearly all citizens, and the time has arrived when they should be released from tutelage. I found Indian citizens riding into town in vehicles better than my old buckboard and wearing better clothes than I. I call to mind one Indian whose income from lease money is $800 annually, his land renting for $10 per acre. These Indians speak good English, and I think need no further assistance from the Government in educational matters.

My heart goes out to the Indians of Arizona. They are not like the Indians of Oregon, many of whom are rich, nor those of Washington. They are greatly in need of assistance, and we are asking Congress to appropriate money for irrigating the arid lands of this region. If this request is granted, they will soon become not only self supporting, but well to do.

Affairs in the Indian Territory are somewhat discouraging, owing to the fact that the Indians are so ready to lease their lands. An Indian woman who owned land near a school wished to obtain a position in the Government service, but I endeavored to make her see that it would be much more profitable for her to raise chickens and sell eggs, butter, and milk. A white woman in the same neighborhood sold $60 worth per month, and I convinced her that it was better to remain at home and rear her children than to go into the Indian service at $50 per month.

The missionaries are doing a noble work in uplifting and Christianizing the Indians, and the Indian Bureau greatly appreciates their efforts; but we cannot get many people to dedicate their lives to it, as Miss Collins has. I want also to thank Mrs. Doubleday and the Woman’s Association for their ever ready sympathy and the great assistance they have been to me in my work.



MLA Source Citation:

Board Of Indian Commissioners. Thirty-Third Annual Report Of The Board Of Indian Commissioners. Government Printing Office. 1901. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 23 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/nineteenth-lake-mohonk-indian-conference.htm - Last updated on Aug 9th, 2013


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