Letter From Senator Dawes
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Thursday morning, October 17.
The following letter from Hon. Henry L. Dawes, who was unable to attend the conference, was read by Dr. Foster:
Pittsfield, Mass.., October 15, 1901.
My Dear Mr. Smiley:
I had anticipated much pleasure in meeting at another of your delightful conferences coworkers in the cause, and in renewing most valuable friendships there formed, but an unexpected delay in business connected with the Indian Territory compels me to remain at home. I cannot, however, keep out of mind the range of discussion and the importance of questions likely to come before that body for discussion. Since I cannot listen, I venture to put on paper briefly some few words expressive of my views of what has been and what is yet to be done before the work shall be complete.
In the first place, permit me to congratulate the conference upon the most gratifying evidence, coming from all quarters, of healthy progress and important results attendant upon efforts that have been put forth in recent years for the care of the Indian race in our midst. Results are the best test of wisdom in all effort. A retrospect of less than twenty-five years covers the entire period since the work in which you are engaged, of making a self-supporting citizenship of the Indian race in this country, was begun. And history nowhere records more gratifying results. It was in 1877 that the nation took from its own money in the Treasury the first dollar and applied it in aid of this work for Indian education. It was but $20,000, but it was a beginning; and every year results have stimulated an increase of the amount, till last year there was appropriated for the support of Indian schools $3,184,250. That first appropriation of $20,000, with the help of benevolent contributions and the interest on a few Indian funds that could not be otherwise used, maintained 48 small boarding schools, 102 day schools, with 3,398 scholars all told. There were a year ago 148 well-equipped boarding schools and 295 day schools engaged in the education of 25,202 Indian children, with an average attendance of 20,522. This does not include those outside institutions of Carlisle, Hampton, Haskell, Genoa, and others like them, which send forth yearly large numbers of young men and women fully equipped to take their places and discharge the duties incumbent on the average citizen. This, in a total Indian population of less than 250,000 all told, approximates very nearly to the school facilities in the newly organized Western States.
Statistics also make it plain that 76 per cent of the pupils who yearly leave these schools to take upon themselves the duties of practical life do, in the language of the present broad minded and devoted Commissioner of Indian Affairs, “Go forth equipped for the part of good average men and women, capable of dealing with the ordinary problems, and of taking their place in the great body politic of the country.”
The next step was the severalty act. Up to 1887, less than fifteen years ago, there was not an Indian on a reservation who owned the hut he lived in or a foot of the land over which he had raised a tepee for a night’s shelter. That act, made possible by aid of these conferences, has called into being a home and a farm of 160 acres for each of 55,457 allotted Indians, aggregating 6,708,628 acres of farms. Each farm is set apart to its Indian owner, with a title warranted to him by the United States, and which he can not part with, if he would, for twenty-five years. These thus become so many home centers, where all the forces of future character and influence must take root and bring forth the first fruits of civilized life. Before the passage of that act not an Indian on a reservation had any defined legal status among his fellowmen. He was in law an incompetent ward of the nation, incapable of making a binding contract, to whom the very courts, open to you and me, were closed; and he could neither maintain nor defend any right secured by the Constitution to us. He had no voice in the making of the laws he was bound to obey, or in the choice of those who were to enforce upon him their penalties. There is no human being so helpless and at the mercy of irresponsible selfishness as such a ward under a guardian no one can call to account for his stewardship. Instead, under this law each one of those 55,000 allot tees stands up among his fellow-citizens clothed with all the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizenship of which you and I boast and are proud. Each one of them walks to the polls side by side with the proudest of us, and to him are open, equally with haughtiest millionaire, every court of justice in the land. Every door of opportunity in all the pursuits of active life is as wide open to him as to every other citizen of the United States.
Thus much of the past, if there were nothing more to record, is sufficient for encouragement and continuance with renewed zeal in the still unfinished work. But that indirect influence upon the Indian still on the reservation, undisturbed as we all were before the work you are engaged in was begun, has been no less marked and is no less hopeful. I cannot now do more than allude to the changes which have come over Indian life on the reservations themselves, traceable directly to the policy your conferences have done so much to promote. We no longer hear of bloody Indian wars, of the slaughter of warring clans, or the scalping of women and children fleeing from burning wigwams. The pioneer can now go forth to trade with the red man as safely as he does with his white neighbor, and return at night to his defenseless home with less apprehension of peril to those within than when scouts and sentinels mounted guard over it. The Indian no longer doubts and mistrusts. It is dawning upon him that he is made for something, and he is beginning to care for the morrow. He is daily growing more and more sure that the hand held out to him is for his guidance and help, and not for betrayal and spoliation.
There can be no more striking proof of this great change than the touching tribute to a life consecrated to the elevation of their race by forty Sioux Indians and sixty Chippewa journeying on foot a hundred miles, that they might walk beside the bier and sing hymns of praise in their own language over the grave of the late Bishop Whipple, whom they had trusted, and who had trusted them. It was a tribute to a noble life work worth more than all the pomp and display of a royal funeral.
But you will not assemble to contemplate the rich legacy of the past alone. The work is not yet finished, and new demands upon zeal and energy confront you to which what has been already gained will incite to still more untiring effort. Mistakes of the past are to be corrected, and new needs developed by its experiences are to be provided for. As tribal organizations are dissolving into individuality, tribal funds now amounting to many millions in the Treasury must be used. Great care should be taken that these funds be devoted to those needs of that higher civilization for which tribal organizations are being exchanged, and which call for new expenditures hitherto unknown. These should, as far as possible, be in lieu of local taxes for these necessities, from which all allottees are exempt for the first twenty-five years. Any distribution of such funds per capita would be worse than waste. Allottees should not be permitted to barter away all the educational and preparatory teaching for self-supporting citizenship, derived from occupancy alone, for a mere mess of pottage in the form of a lease to a white man. The process of leasing now so alarmingly prevalent is sure, if persisted in, to work the ruin of the lessor, turning him back in the end to that barbarism from which his only sure rescue is the preparatory school of personal occupancy. Another question involved in the question involved in the allotment system not contemplated in the beginning has grown in importance till its solution has become imperative; and that is the disposition of the lands fit only for grazing, now occupied in large quantities by the Indians, not as yet allotted. These lands are unfitted for small holdings for ordinary farming purposes, but are a great source of profit to large herders of cattle, who have heretofore rented them in large areas from the Indians for small rentals, usually effected through agents, who make more than the Indians by the transaction. Much of this has, unfortunately, been already allotted, to the great injury of the allottee, unable as he is to utilize it except by sub-rental, leaving him without other means of support a citizen of the United States whose contracts are as binding as those of any other citizen, but who knows no more how to make a contract than a puling infant. Independent individual ownership and occupancy of such lands, so as to be a school of preparation for an independent life, makes some change in the allotment system necessary to save the land and the allottee alike from ruin. I am sure that it will not escape your attention.
A situation for immediate and honorable employment for those who go out yearly from those institutions which are doing so much to fit the Indians under their care for their part in the multiplied activities of actual life is another great need of that work. It will do much to protect them from the taunts and jeers of those they have left behind, from discouragement sure to come of waiting for employment, and temptation to return to the companionship they have left. Every day that witnesses increasing numbers of the unemployed, calls louder on the friends of the Indian to take care of their apprentices in the ways of civilization.
I would gladly dwell at more length upon the work of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes in the Indian Territory, in which I am more especially engaged of late. It will suffice to say that work is progressing satisfactorily along the lines I had the opportunity to present at your last meeting, though very slowly, in consequence of new and complicated questions arising there, as among the other tribes. The most difficult of all these proves to be the discovery of natural oil and gas in different parts of the Territory. The conditions of land there make altogether different methods of allotment necessary from those on the reservations. There unoccupied and unimproved lands of comparatively equal value, by a list of Indian names furnished at the agency, were to be allotted, a given number of acres to each one. The Indian Territory, however, has been occupied for seventy-five years by a people considerably advanced in civilization when they came there. They have taken in since 300,000 white residents. Almost all business enterprises common to civilization have been carried on there. Towns and railroads have been built, and coal and other minerals discovered, misadjusting and destroying relative values till there are scarcely 2 acres of equal value side by side. To allot equally among the Indian owners to whom it belonged to one as much as to any other, the same number of acres to each had to be displaced by equality of value. The commission has been compelled, therefore, to acquaint itself with the value of every acre, so that the allotment to each when it is done, whether it be 10 acres or 50, would be worth as much as that of any other. That work, covering an area as large as the whole State of Indiana, was drawing to a close when, during the past year, oil and natural gas were discovered in different parts, overthrowing all relative values and appraisements yet made. Ten acres in one place are deemed worth a thousand in another. The law does not provide for the allotment of an oil well. Other parts of the work are approximating a close, and the people are fast adjusting themselves to the new order of things awaiting them.
There is, however, here, as well as on the reservations, much to be done in clearing away entanglements and pitfalls from the way leading to the goal of self-supporting citizenship, now opening so auspiciously to the race.
But that work will not be complete till self-respecting manhood shall stand guard over and modest womanhood adorn every Indian home in the land.
Truly, yours, H. L. Dawes.
Mr. A. K. Smiley. I should like to have the secretary to send a letter to Senator Dawes, expressing our hearty approval of this fine paper.
Mr. Garrett. I move that the paper be referred to the business committee, that it may be used in connection with the platform.
It was voted that the thanks and appreciation of the conference should be sent to Senator Dawes for his paper, and that the paper should be referred to the business committee. It was also moved that a letter of sympathy with Senator Dawes in the loss of his wife, and deploring his absence, should be sent to him by the secretary.