“Legislation that is desirable in reference to the Indians:” Riggs & Williamson letter January 2, 1862

Yesterday, September 7, 2012, Dan Olson of Minnesota Public Radio published a Minnesota Sounds and Voices article, “Sheldon Wolfchild’s View of the U.S. Dakota War.

This is the second of two interviews Olson has conducted inside the MHS Dakota War exhibit gallery and it has been fascinating listening to descendants including Jan Klein interact with exhibit.

In the interview, Wolfchild expressed his frustration with the exhibit’s limits. Referring to the quote from a George Day letter on the wall, “Wolfchild says missing from the history center’s exhibit is an even more strongly worded warning letter from missionaries telling Congress how the war could be avoided. That letter should be prominently displayed, and viewers should not have to search on their own for the document, *he* says, sputtering with frustration at an exhibit he considers small and incomplete about a defining event in Minnesota history.”

I am not aware that the January 2, 1862 letter Wolfchild is referring to was ever deselected from the exhibit list. In fact I believe as a white-authored document, it would have been exempt.

I don’t have the power to put the letter on the wall at MHS, but I can post a transcription from my files here, and maybe lessen the frustration of others trying to find it.

T.S. Williamson and S. R. Riggs to The Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress Assembled January 2, 1862, NAR 75, St. Peter’s Agency Letters Received, MHS M175 r764. Paragraphing Added.

Pajutazee Jany 2, 1862

To The Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress Assembled

            Something over two years ago we addressed you on the necessity of further legislation for the Indians.

            Though what we asked for was not accomplished, we feel encouraged to address you again upon the same subject hoping we may be more successful. For when our nation is engaged in a terrible struggle to put down a most wicked rebellion we cannot hope for all the legislation that is desirable in reference to the Indians. But the war in which we are engaged makes it more necessary that some legislation should be had speedily in order to guard as far as possible against a collision with the Indians on our frontiers.

We will mention some of the evils for which we hope you may by law provide a remedy before the close of the present session, and thus do much not only [to] ameliorate the condition of the aborigines of our country; but at the same time add much to the security and comfort of citizens of the United States among and near them.

            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. We have not now access to the law. Its general provisions are just, but as understood by Indian Agents and other Officers of government, defective. It provides for remunerating citizens of the United States for injuries suffered from Indians and vice versa, but not expressly for remunerating Indians for injuries suffered from each other; and makes no proper provision for adjudicating such claims.

The practice has been to present such claims to the Agent, Who, if the claim is against Indians, mentions the matter to them, and if they tell him to pay it out of their money annuity, very well. If not, as is mostly the case, the claim is sent to Washington, and seldom heard from again unless and attorney is employed to prosecute it. Consequently the poor men whose cow or ox has been killed or horse stolen generally loses it while wicked men with large and unjust claims employ attorneys who get them paid at Washington.

When the Hon. Henry H. Sibley was [a] delegate in congress he got a bill passed forbidding any officer of Government from holding back any annuity due Indians under any pretext whatsoever. This has never been of any advantage to the Indians while it has prevented their Agents from settling just claims. It ought to be repealed and it should be made the duty of all Indian Agents to adjudicate all claims against the Indians of their several agencies whether such claims be made by whites or Indians, and to render just satisfaction to the injured person so far as he can do so, from the annuities of the Indians and it would be well if he was required to prosecute whites who have stolen or destroyed the property of Indians.

Of late years a few individuals of the annuity Sioux have become very much addicted to stealing horses. Several have been stolen from whites and many from Indians in this neighborhood and so many from settlers around the Big Sioux that they have threatened to shoot any Sioux from this region seen in their neighborhood, and the past summer did shoot and kill a grandson of the principle chief of the Sissitonwas [sic] while attempting to steal a horse. Such things endanger the peace of the frontiers. They may be prevented by requiring payment to be made for horses stolen from the band to which the thief belongs, that is the one in which he was enrolled before the theft was committed, though it would be well also to imprison the thief when he can be taken. By absenting themselves from the pay table and changing from one band to another, horse thieves have hitherto escaped punishment.

On page 103 of the report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1860 it is asserted on the authority of some United States Judges that there is no law for the punishment of persons for cutting timber from Indian reservations. Some law of this kind is very necessary for the welfare of the Dacotas. In the agreement made with them at Washington in 1858 it is promised that land shall be assigned in severality to those who will improve and cultivate it and the late agent had some lots surveyed and assigned. But as the amount of timber or wood land on the reservation is very small, probably less than four acres to each family, without some law to protect the timber which is being rapidly destroyed, assigning land in severality can do but little good. The civilizing process must soon be arrested for want of wood, and another country assigned these Indians.

Some regulations in regard to herding cattle are necessary for the advancement of this people in agriculture, as timber for fencing is already very scarce and becoming more so every year. 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.

            The undersigned understand that the Secretary of the Interior proposes that the Government furnish the Indians with the goods usually supplied by the Indian traders on the ground that the Indians are greatly cheated by the traders. We think the Secretary has been misinformed and would view the adoption of his proposition as a great calamity. The best remedy for cheating in trade is competition. We have never had any connection with the Indian traders and would not be inclined to favor them at the expense of the Indians; and we do not suppose the Indians would be in the least benefited by the change, but think that the contrary will prove true. We know that the Indians express more dissatisfaction with the goods furnished by the Government Officers than with those furnished by the traders. Monopolies are not less hateful to Indians than to other peoples. Even if the Government should furnish them with the same quality of goods at a less price, it would be bad policy at this time to displease them by interfering with the traders. The worst cheating the traders have practiced upon the Indians has been done by complicity with the officers of the Government who have aided the traders in getting pay for goods that many of the Indians say they had already paid for. We have reference to the money which the traders have received for debts due them at each treaty.

                                                                                                Thomas S. Williamson

                                                                                                Stephen R. Riggs

[endorsed] The original of foregoing memorial returned with letter of May 23 [?] 1862 to Hon. C. Aldrich.

This entry was posted in Primary Sources, Stephen R. Riggs, Thomas S. Williamson. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “Legislation that is desirable in reference to the Indians:” Riggs & Williamson letter January 2, 1862

  1. Pingback: The ABCs of Reading a Primary Text | A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War of 1862

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