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never failed to express in an Indian's way their contempt for "treaty Indians." In their daily or weekly visits they stole the horses of the Poncas, killed their oxen, and sometimes in the skirmishes that ensued killed members of the tribe. The agent was powerless to do more than place in a defensive attitude the Indians under his charge. They had given up their arms to the government; but there were a few guns on the reservation that could be used. The agent called upon the army officials to station soldiers at the agency. Half a dozen were finally placed there. Later, as many as fifteen were allowed for protection against bands of Sioux numbering 200 to 300.
The Poncas became so terrorized that they could be removed scarcely far enough from the agency buildings to do the farm work. The hostile Indians frequently showed themselves at the tops of the bluffs in sight of the agency and shot at anything in sight. Some feeble effort was made by the commissioner to secure protection. In 1871, this small paragraph found its way into the Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs: "The government owes them (i. e., the partially civilized tribes) the protection of their rights, to which it is solemnly pledged by treaty, and which it cannot fail to give without dishonor."*
How did the Indians themselves behave under these circumstances? I will read you for answer two excerpts from the reports. The agent in 1863, referring to the failure of crops and the destitution of the Indians, says:†
"The Poncas have behaved well; quite as well, if not better than, under like circumstances, the same number of whites would have done. I have known whole families to live for days together on nothing but half-dried cornstalks, and this when there were cattle and sheep within their sight. If I had given them what beef they could have consumed, the fifty head at this agency would not have lasted them ten days. If there are any Indians who deserve the charity of the government, the Poncas do."
Rept. Sec. Interior, 1863-'64, p. 279.
Governor Newton Edmunds, of Dakota territory, wrote in 1866:* "Since my acquaintance with this tribe for a period of upwards of five years, they have remained faithful to their treaty obligations in every particular, under circumstances that would have palliated, if not excused, a hostile attitude on their part."
Here, then, was a problem: A tribe of Indians willing to work, placed where they were unable to gain a living by the chase, and where by a fortuitous combination of circumstances they were unable to raise enough to subsist themselves from year to year. Their annual appropriations, while apparently large, afforded very insufficient means of living when expended upon various kinds of things: the school, the two mills, the agricultural machinery, clothing, labor of government blacksmith, physician, and farmer,—every separate item of this kind drew upon their funds until an appropriation of $20,000 went but a small part of the long way to a tolerable condition of life.
From the Indians' own standpoint a solution could be had in this way: They might go down to their cousins, the Omahas, where there was apparently subsistence enough, and certainly land enough, for both. At the failure of their crop in 1863, in fact, they did go there and the Omahas shared their own corn with the Poncas. The secretary of the interior suggested in his report for that year that the Poncas perhaps could be settled upon the Omaha reserve. Several times this was suggested, and in one report it was declared that both tribes desired it and that there was nothing lacking except funds for purchasing lands of the Omahas and for expenses of removal.
Meanwhile the government had greatly complicated matters by a treaty with the Sioux tribes, in which, all the Ponca lands were included within the territory granted to the Sioux. It may be true that the Ponca language is properly classified as a "Siouan dialect." But it is very clear that the Sioux did not regard the Poncas as one of their kind. The Brule Sioux, from whom the Poncas seem to have suffered most, told them long be fore this treaty that the country where the Poncas hunted was * Rept. Sec. Interior, 1866-'67, p. 178.
Sioux territory. After the unfortunate treaty of 1868, the continuance of the Poncas within the Sioux reservation was construed by the Sioux as a breach of the treaty by the whites. From more distrust came more hostility towards both Poncas and whites. Instead of correcting the mistake of extending the Sioux reserve over the Ponca lands; instead of affording sufficient protection to these defenseless Indians at their original establishment upon the very border of hostile territory, the slow machinery of our government found another way. There appears no evidence in the reports through which I have looked that the Indian commissioner seriously considered the proposition to locate the Poncas and Omahas together. It was determined to locate the Poncas in Indian Territory, nominally with their consent, really without it.* By 1876, when money was appropriated for the purpose of relocating them, "with their consent," better times had come. The Sioux had quite ceased to trouble them; crops were better; and they were much more contented to remain in their native land than go to others they knew not of. Said the agent sent out from Washington: "An order has been issued to take the tribe to Indian Territory." In the council of his tribe, assembled to hear this, Chief Standing Bear replied: "This land is ours. We never sold it. We have our houses and our homes here. Our fathers and some of our children are buried here. Here we wish to live and die. We have harmed no man. We have kept our treaty. We have learned to work. We can make a good living here. We do not wish to sell our land, and we think no man has a right to take it from us. Here we will live and here we will die."
"The Indian Territory is a very much better country," was the answer. "You can raise more grain and not work near so hard. If you once see it you will not want to stay in Dakota. Let the chiefs go down and look at the land and if they do not like it the Poncas may stay where they are. And if they want to sell the Great Father in Washington will buy your Dakota lands and give you all the land you need in Indian Territory."
* Rept. of Com., 1876, p. xvii. †The Ponca Chiefs, pp. 2, 3.
The tribe chose ten of the leading men to look at the country. They came, they saw, but they did not choose. They preferred their own lands in Dakota. The officials of the government now began to use shall instead of may.
Upon repeated refusal of the chiefs to consider the matter, the the commissioners lost their temper. "Then stay here and starve," they said; and they left the Indians to be arbiters of their own fate. The ten Poncas saw sickness there, and stony ground, and they said: "It is better for ten of us to die than that the whole tribe, all the women and little children, should be brought there to die." Eight of the ten commenced the journey home on foot, two being old men, too feeble for such exertion. In fifty days they reached the Otoe agency in southern Nebraska. With the help they obtained of the Otoes, the rest of the journey was made more rapidly. Again at the Ponca agency, they found those same agents and officials. Standing Bear's temper now got the better of him, and he said:
"What are you here for? What business have you to come here at all? I never sent for you. I don't want anything to do with you. You are all liars. You are all bad men. You have no authority from the Great Father. You came out here to cheat and steal. You can read and write and I can't and you think you know everything and I know nothing. If some man should take you a thousand miles from home, as you did me, and leave you in a strange country without one cent of money, where you did not know the language and could not speak a word, you would never have got home in the world. You don't know enough. I want you to go off this reservation. You have no business here, and don't come back until you bring a letter from the Great Father. Then if you want to buy my land, bring the money with you so I can see it. If I want to sell, I will talk with you. If I don't, I won't. This is my land. The Great Father did not give it to me. My people were here and owned this land before there was any Great Father. We sold him some land, but we never sold this. This is mine. God gave it to me. When I want to sell it, I will let you know. You are a rascal and a liar,
and I want you to get off my land, If you were treating a white man the way you are treating me he would kill you and everybody would say he did right. I will not do that. I will harm no white man, but this is my land, and I intend to stay here and make a good living for my wife and children. You can go."*
The half-breeds were the only part of the tribe that wanted to go. The Poncas refused. On the 17th of April, 1877, 170 members of the tribe, mostly half-breeds, accompanied the agent across the Niobrara river and began the journey on foot towards the Indian Territory. Mr. E. A. Howard, just appointed their new agent, reached Columbus in time to meet this detachment there. He left this advance guard with the former agent, and made his way to the Ponca reservation. Several councils were called without avail. Finally, when the United States soldiers had been sent for, and it was represented to the Indians that the soldiers were coming to fight with them, they sorrowfully chose the other alternative.
This journey was also by foot, at a time when rains detained them and swollen streams lengthened their long way, and the slippery path made home-leaving doubly hard. With heavy hearts the tribe moved their baggage across the Niobrara on the 16th of May, and traveled fifty-four days before they reached the new location in Indian Territory, tired and sick. The first part of the tribe had occupied two days longer than this in their trip. A last word from the agent, taken from his report for that year, will be sufficient to show the lack of foresight, the deliberate stupidity, the brutal neglect, of the government in the last act. After reporting the details of this injustice, Mr. Howard writes:t
"I am of the opinion that the removal of the Poncas from the northern climate of Dakota to the southern climate of the Indian Territory, at the season of the year it was done, will prove a mistake, and that a great mortality will surely follow among the people when they shall have been here for a time and become *The Ponca Chiefs, 7, 8.
Rept. Indian Commis., 1877, p. 100.