Thomas J. Galbraith, Believe It or Not


Lobby card for the movie, Titanic, 1953. Twentieth Century Fox. “Based on the actual logs and incidences and persons aboard the doomed ship, screenwriters Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch and Richard Breen came up with an Academy Awarding winning Best Writing, Story and Screenplay combination of facts and great drama.”


There’s no getting around the fact that Thomas J. Galbraith was the man at the helm of the Good Ship Civilization when it collided with the iceberg of Dakota resistance on August 18, 1862. That story, like the Titanic’s, has long been the subject of “facts and great drama.”

Modern allegations are nothing new. The 1862 war was barely three weeks old,  when the media found its whipping boy, Galbraith. A native of Pennsylvania, in early 1861, Thomas J. Galbraith was a Minnesota Republican state senator appointed Agent as a political favor in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election.

The centerpiece of this three-post series will appear tomorrow: Thomas J. Galbraith’s empassioned 1862 defense of the allegations flung at him in the period press.

To frame that piece, I’m supplying some period sources suggesting what people thought of Galbraith as Agent before the war colored public opinion. In the third and final post in this series, I’ll supply some period reactions to the media fray over Galbraith’s alleged culpability for bringing on the 1862 war.

John P. Williamson, August 1861: “The new Agent — Hon. Thos. Galbraith — is not a religious man, but appears honest & upright & friendly to the Mission. He made the Annual Payment immediately after his arrival here, which he conducted with energy & accuracy.”

(John P. Williamson to S.B. Treat August 2, 1861. ABCFM Papers, MHS. Williamson, a Presbyterian missionary at the Lower Agency, the son of missionaries Margaret P. and Thomas S. Williamson, had been born and raised among the Dakota.)

George E.H. Day December, 1861: “Enclosed I forward you a letter of Major Galbraith a man of the largest capacity of any Agent I have found yet. After a long consultation with him he thought it far better if I could go to Washington & he offered to write a letter which I accepted. He is an able man & agreed with me … that the whole [Indian] system should be revised & changed.”

(George E.H. Day to William P. Dole December 28, 1861. OIA Special File 228. In August 1861, Day was appointed a Special Agent by the Secretary of the Interior, at the request of the Senate and House Committees on Indian Affairs, to investigate allegations of fraud, nepotism, and the misappropriation of funds by officers of the Northern Superintendency of Indian Affairs between 1857 and May, 1861, and future frauds which he suspected could be perpetrated under the then-current system.)

Samuel D. Hinman, October 1861: “….I send you a copy of the Agt’s Circular in which he speaks kindly in regard to the Sioux Missionaries. Indeed the whole document shows system. It is but due to the Agt to say that so far everything has been done honestly and above board and that I am more than satisfied with his manly stand in regard to Ind. Affairs….”

(Samuel D. Hinman to Henry B. Whipple, Oct. 31, 1861. Hinman was the Episcopal Missionary at the Lower Sioux Agency.)

Thomas S. Williamson and Stephen R. Riggs, January 1862: [Proposing Indian system reforms to Congress] “….The only law for the protection of the property of Indians and of whites living among them with which we are acquainted was passed about the year 1834 or 35…. It ought to be repealed…. As the present Agent (Mr. Galbraith) appears to be an honest, judicious man it might be well to empower him to promulgate and enforce such regulations for the protection of the timber, fields and cattle of these Indians as their present circumstances require.”

(T.S. Williamson and S.R. Riggs to The Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress Assembled, January 2, 1862 OIA Letters Received, St. Peter’s Agency. (Soft brackets) in original. Riggs and Williamson had been Presbyterian missionaries among the Dakota for more than a quarter century in 1862, and had personally known every Sioux Agent since Lawrence Taliaferro.)

Stephen R. Riggs, March 1862: [Writing to Galbraith] “…I ought not to close this letter without saying distinctly, that in my intercourse with you, you have uniformly trusted me with all the kindness and consideration I could deserve. My views of various things have much more frequently coincided with your own than I had previously any reason to expect. And may I be permitted to express the hope that this good understanding and kindly feeling will not soon be interrupted.”

(Stephen R. Riggs to Thomas J. Galbraith, March 13, 1862. Stephen R. Riggs Papers. MHS.)

Bishop Henry B. Whipple, July 1862: “Maj. Galbraith has entered fully into my plan [to reform the Indian system] & seems to be a faithful public servant.”

(Henry B. Whipple Diary, entry July 8, 1862 on a visit to the Sioux Reservation. Protestant Episcopal Church, Diocese of Minnesota Papers MHS.)


Photo credit and caption quote: WalterFilm via Google Images.

This entry was posted in Primary Sources, Thomas J. Galbraith. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Thomas J. Galbraith, Believe It or Not

  1. Pingback: Thomas J. Galbraith Defends Himself: September 12, 1862 | A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War of 1862

  2. Pingback: “I am pained by the severe criticisms…upon Mr. Galbraith.” | A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War of 1862

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