Chronicles of Oklahoma

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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 6, No. 1
March, 1928


Page 35

Between 1880 and 1885 a series of events took place on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation in Indian Territory which attracted nation-wide attention and had a far-reaching influence upon the range cattle industry of the United States. This reservation lay in the western part of the Territory just south of the Cherokee Outlet and was bounded on the east by the Oklahoma Lands, on the south by Greer County and the reservations of the Kiowa-Comanche and Wichita Indians, and on the west by the Panhandle of Texas.

The reservation embraced about 4,300,000 acres on which lived about 3,500 Indians of whom approximately two-thirds were Cheyenne and one-third Arapaho. It had been set aside by executive order in 1869.1 The agency was located at Darlington near the southeast corner, not far from the military post of Fort Reno. The agent in 1880 was John D. Miles who had been there since about 1872. He was an able and efficient executive who had ruled wisely and well these fierce tribesmen—at that time among the wildest and most intractable Indians of the entire country.

Among the first cattle to enter this region were the herds of beef contractors. Under the “reservation policy” adopted by the United States Government it was necessary to feed the Indians, especially after buffalo began to grow scarce due to the activity of the hide hunters. Contracts were accordingly made with ranchmen in Texas and elsewhere and beef herds were brought in and pastured on the reservation near the agency in order to supply the Indians with food.

Long before 1880 two well-defined trails had been developed across the reservation leading north to the Kansas “cow towns.” One of these—the “Chisholm Trail”— cut through the eastern part of it not far from the agency, while the other or old “Western Trail” crossed the South Fork of Red River at Doan’s Store and meandered northward across the prairie, passing through the western part of the reservation and on across the Cherokee Outlet past Fort Supply to Dodge City. The region was well grassed and had an abundant water supply so men driving north from Texas over these

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trails frequently turned aside for days and weeks in order to fatten their cattle on the rich pasture lands and so deliver them in good condition at the markets.

By 1880, in addition to the herds of the beef contractors and these cattle nominally on the trail, cattle were drifting in from Greer County, Texas, or the Cherokee Outlet, or were being driven in by ranchmen operating along the border or in nearby Kansas. Some of these men sought a more or less permanent occupation of these lands with their cattle. Good range was growing scarce and it is quite natural that enterprising cattlemen should turn their attention to this inviting area. Among the men who sought to pasture cattle on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation quite early on a permanent or semi-permanent basis were Dickey Brothers, whose range lay near the northern boundary and extended across it into the Cherokee Outlet, B. H. Campbell—better known as “Barbecue Campbell,” and a number of others. As the need for range grew more and more pressing others came in, so by 1882 a number of men were pasturing cattle on the reservation, probably in most cases under some kind of tentative arrangement made with a band of Indians but no doubt in other instances without any arrangement whatever.

These men fully recognized the precarious nature of their tenure but whatever efforts they had made to place their business upon a more certain footing had met with no success owing to the fact that the Department of the Interior claimed it had no right to grant leases of Indian lands for grazing purposes or to give permission to occupy them with cattle. As early as 1879 R. D. Hunter, who was at that time a beef contractor at the Kiowa-Comanche agency, had asked permission to place herds of cattle upon that reservation in consideration of the payment of ten cents a head per year but his request had been refused.2 The following year he had sought permission to occupy the “Oklahoma Lands” with cattle but had again met with refusal.3 Other requests came in thick and fast during the next year or two. Some of these were to occupy Greer County with herds, others for the privilege of

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pasturing cattle upon some of the reservations or the Oklahoma Lands.4

All of these were refused, but the Department of the Interior was far away and the need for range great. By 1882 the cattle business was in a most flourishing condition. Prices had begun to advance sharply in 1881 and by 1882 had reached a level never before equaled except for a brief period during the Civil War.5 As a result when cattle were set in motion in the spring of that year new ranges were sought with a feverish eagerness. Even while the Secretary of the Interior was refusing his permission, cattle were pouring into Greer County in large numbers. Ikard and Harrold brought herds into that region in 1881 and by 1882 their cattle in Greer County numbered 60,000 head.6 Some of these drifted across the North Fork of Red River onto the Kiowa-Comanche lands; others came onto this reservation across the South Fork of Red River from Texas and by February, 1882, the Secretary of the Interior was so alarmed by this influx of cattle that he called upon the War Department for aid in removing them.

The War Department responded in very half-hearted fashion since its officers in the field were most reluctant to undertake the task and asserted it could not be done with any degree of success. They insisted that this was work the army should not be called upon to do and declared that the Department of the Interior should allow grazing upon Indian lands in consideration of the payment of a fee for that privilege.6

With this idea the agents in direct charge of the Indians fully agreed. They were having a difficult time feeding their charges and keeping them contented. The first beef contracts had been made at a time when the Indians could eke out their beef ration very considerably by hunting buffalo. In the late 70’s, however, buffalo began to grow scarce, and by 1880 the southern herd had been virtually exterminated. Yet the beef issue was not increased in quantity and the Indians were often hungry and in consequence restive and ripe for trouble.

Early in 1882 Agent P. B. Hunt of the Kiowa-Comanche reservation was notified that owing to lack of funds it would

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be necessary to reduce the beef ration of his Indians one-third. Convinced that this could not be done without serious trouble and possibly bloodshed he determined to take the matter of grazing upon his reservation into his own hands without waiting for orders from Washington. He accordingly recalled his police who were assisting the military in the latter’s somewhat feeble effort to remove cattle from the reservation and sent one of his subordinates to seek out the ranchmen who owned the trespassing cattle to propose that if they would make good the beef deficiency he would not disturb them until after July the first.7

The ranchmen eagerly assented, and the arrangement was made. The order reducing the beef ration was later countermanded, however, so Hunt had the cattlemen give him breeding animals for the Indians instead of beef.8 What Hunt’s superior officers thought of this arrangement is not apparent but it seems probable that they did not approve of his action though they made no direct protest. Several requests for grazing permits in the Indian Territory were refused, however, in the spring of 1882, and in the meantime the situation with respect to trespassing cattle grew steadily worse.9 Late in April a group of Wichita and Caddo Indians complained to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that their lands, or lands claimed by them, were occupied by 150,000 head of cattle which were causing them great damage by destroying their best range and bringing disease among their own small herds.10

This complaint was transmitted by the Commissioner to the Secretary of the Interior and the latter once more called upon the War Department for aid in removing all cattle from the Indian Territory except the Quapaw reservation where licenses to graze had been granted, the country of the Five Civilized Tribes, and those herd’s passing through the Territory along well-defined trails.11

To this request the Secretary of War did not reply for more than a month. At the end of that time he sent to the Secretary of the Interior a brief note calling attention to a number of inclosures in the form of letters from officers in

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the field. Most important of these was a long letter from General Pope commanding the Department of the Missouri. In this letter Pope stated that there were three classes of cattle in the Indian Territory: those passing through on trails, cattle pastured on the lands of the Cherokee Outlet under an arrangement made between the cattlemen and the Cherokee Indians, and those that were in the Territory without any right whatever. He said that trail drivers frequently turned aside for days and weeks at a time or lingered along the trail itself, fattening their cattle as they slowly advanced, and that the three classes of cattle were so hopelessly mixed that he deemed it impossible to separate them. He declared that he did not think the military should be called upon to do this work and while if ordered to remove trespassing cattle he should try to obey yet he had scant hope of success unless he had a much larger force at his disposal.12 He closed his letter with the statement that in his opinion all permits to graze cattle in the Indian Territory or to pass through it with herds should be revoked, the trails closed, and the drovers forced to go around the Indian country with their herds.13 Pope’s letter was indorsed by General Sheridan with the statement that he entirely agreed with these views. Among the other enclosures were a number of letters from subordinate officers in the field all commenting upon the unsatisfactory nature of their experience in trying to do this work.

While the whole matter of grazing upon the lands of the Indian Territory was in this condition Agent Miles of the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation found himself facing a most embarrassing situation. The supply of beef for these Indians had been reduced by an order from Washington and they were hungry and began to threaten trouble. Miles accordingly wired the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the effect that the Indians had assembled in council and requested that he be permitted to locate a few herds of cattle upon remote parts of the reservation and collect a grazing tax in order to make good this beef deficiency as they could not subsist upon the present issue of 80,000 pounds a week.14 This telegram was followed

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by a letter in which Miles explained that he had met and talked with a number of cattlemen and that the latter had assured him they would be glad to make up the deficiency in consideration of grazing privileges and that this could be done without interfering in any way with the Indians or encroaching upon the range of their own small herds of cattle and ponies. Miles said that it would require at least 126,000 pounds of beef a week to supply the Indians and that this much must be furnished regularly or there would surely be hunger, discontent and acts of lawlessness.15 To this request of Miles, however, Commissioner Price returned a curt and peremptory refusal.16

Apparently both Miles and the Indians were much disappointed at this refusal and the latter became so restive as to cause the military commander at Fort Reno only two or three miles from the agency great uneasiness. That officer accordingly telegraphed General Pope that trouble was threatening, and if the Commissioner of Indian Affairs would heed Agent Miles’ recommendation and allow grazing on the reservation, the beef deficiency could readily be made up and the Indians satisfied. He said that if such trouble did occur because of reduced rations the Indian Bureau should be held entirely responsible.17 General Pope transmitted this communication to his division commander with the indorsement that he saw no possible objection to permitting grazing on the lands of the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation in consideration of the payment of a fair price and that he hoped the Commissioner of Indian Affairs would reconsider his action. He said that in this case it would cure a trouble that might soon be past dealing with except by war and urged that enough grazing be permitted to allow the Indians their full supply of beef.18 The Division Commander, General Sheridan, forwarded these communications to the Secretary of War and they eventually found their way to the Department of the Interior.

Commissioner Price was furious when these documents reached him and indignantly asserted that he took his orders from the Department of the Interior and not the Department of War. He declared that he did not propose to change his

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policy because of threats and unfavorable comments of others and said that if war had been averted thus far it had not been due to the payment of money for grazing since none had been paid.19 He clearly resented deeply what he felt was an unwarranted attempt of the military to influence his policy.

Fortunately the threatened trouble did not come. It seems probable, however, that a part of the beef deficiency was made up by trespassing cattlemen on the reservation either with the knowledge and consent of Agent Miles or with his tacit approval and that the Indians made up the remainder for themselves by preying upon any cattle within reach or by levying tribute upon herds on the trail. Miles reported that he had asked the troops at Fort Reno to remove trespassing cattle after August 19 but since there was only an imaginary line separating the reservation lands from Texas or the Cherokee Outlet they no doubt soon came drifting back again. Also herds belonging to owners that claimed to be taking them to various points in Kansas crossed the reservation in many places in spite of notices posted by the agent warning all drovers to keep to the authorized trails.20 It is certain that a number of men were occupying ranges on this reservation during the summer and fall of 1882 and that they were little disturbed though doubtless many of them had some kind of private arrangement with the Indians.21

One firm so occupying these lands with cattle was the Standard Cattle Company whose President was G. R. Blanchard, Vice-President of the Erie Railroad.22 Among its prominent stockholders were N. K. Fairbank, Samuel Johnston, Stephen F. Gale, William T. Baker, and Edson Keith.23 This

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company occupied a range in the Cheyenne-Arapaho country early in June 1882 by making arrangements to pay the Indians for the grass. Late in that year they grew afraid that they might be disturbed and sent their general manager, A. T. Babbett, to Washington to interview the Secretary of the Interior. In this mission Babbett had the good offices of no less person than Robert T. Lincoln, Secretary of War. Lincoln wrote him a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Interior requesting the latter to give Babbett his attention as he was the representative of some gentlemen in Chicago who were old friends of Lincoln’s.24

Apparently the fears of the Standard Cattle Company were well founded for the fame of Indian Territory as a grazing region was spreading and many people were eager to secure ranges there. The pressure became so great at last that Agent Miles evidently decided to proceed as he thought best and then consult his superior officers as to what had already been done rather than court refusal by asking permission to grant grazing privileges as he had done the previous summer. He accordingly sought, in December 1882, to bring to a culmination plans he had made to lease a large part of the reservation under his jurisdiction to a group of cattlemen for a long term of years.

December 12, 1882, the chiefs and warriors of the Cheyenne-Arapaho met in council and filed a written request to be permitted to lease some two million four hundred thousand acres of their lands to ranchmen for grazing purposes at a price of not less than two cents an acre. One half of the money should be used in buying young cattle for the Indians. The lessees were to be allowed to fence the land and might cut timber for that purpose from the reservation but all such fences were to become the property of the Indians when the lease had expired. This request was signed by sixteen Cheyenne and nine Arapaho chiefs.25

This request, which was evidently put in form by Miles or some of the agency employees under his direction, was forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, but without awaiting the action of that official a second council of chiefs and headmen met on January 8th, 1883 and authorized Miles

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to make arrangements to lease all or any part of the lands mentioned in the request of December 12.26

Leases were immediately signed with seven cattlemen who had evidently helped Miles in planning the entire transaction. These men were Edward Fenlon of Leavenworth, Kansas;William E. Malaley of Caldwell, Kansas; Hampton B. Denman of Washington, D.C.; Jesse S. Morrison of Darlington, Indian Territory; Lewis M. Briggs of Muscotah, Kansas; and Albert G. Evans and Robert D. Hunter of St. Louis..27 The leases aggregated a little over three million acres and the documents granting them were all exactly alike. Fenlon, Malaley, and Denman each were to have about 570,000 acres, Hunter 500,000; Evans about 457,000; Briggs 318,000 and Morrison a little less than 140,000.28 The term of the leaseswas ten years, the rate two cents an acre payable semi-annually in advance, and the Indians might take all or any partof any payment in cattle. In such case the value of the cattlewas to be determined by two commissioners, one appointed bythe Indian agent and one by the ranchman making the payment or in case of a disagreement these two might appoint a third. The provisions in regard to fencing were included and it was made the duty of the Indians and the Indian Bureau to see that the lessee had exclusive use of the land during the term of his lease.29

The lessees took copies of all these leases and placed them in the hands of one of their number who was instructed by Miles to proceed to Washington and secure the approval of the Secretary of the Interior. The documents, however, were never presented to the Indian Bureau probably because the ranchmen felt it was better to await a more favorable time. There was some indication that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was considering modifying his attitude with respect to grazing on the lands of the Indian Territory as in January 1883 he sent to the Secretary of the Interior eight or nine letters of inquiry with respect to grazing privileges in that region and asked for instructions with the statement that he would take no action with regard to these or any other appli-

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cations that might be received until the pleasure of the Secretary was made known.30

In the meantime the action of Agent Miles had brought forth a storm of protest from certain cattlemen pasturing herds on his reservation who had not been included in the group making the so-called leases. B. H. Campbell, who had been pasturing a large number of cattle on the reservation for some time, had written Miles just before the first Indian council had been held offering $50,000 for a lease for fifteen years of all that portion of the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation lying west of a line drawn north and south approximately 18 miles west of the agency. Campbell said that if the area mentioned was regarded as too large he would take a smaller area at a proportional figure. He asked that a council of the Indians be called to consider his proposition and that the matter be referred to Washington with such indorsements as would insure a speedy answer.31 Miles forwarded this letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs but stated later that the tract in question included some land that the Indians wished to reserve for themselves and made the recommendation that when leases were made about four tracts should be leased in order to give abundant grass and water to each lessee.32 When Miles made the leases about a month after the receipt of Campbell’s letter leaving the latter entirely out, Campbell was naturally indignant and sought the aid of powerful friends in presenting his case to the Department of the Interior.33 An explanation was sought of the agent but Miles defended himself by saying that Campbell wanted some land which the Indians wished to retain for their own use and that he had asked for a fifteen year lease while the other men had been content with ten. He said that so far as Campbell’s claim to priority was concerned other applications had been on file for years and numerous men were insisting that they should have been considered. He disclaimed any intention of dealing unfairly with Campbell but said that the Indians had a right

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to lease to whom they pleased and that they would stand by the agreement made. He sent the Commissioner a list of the lessees and spoke in glowing terms of the benefits that must accrue to the Indians from the arrangement made.34 It is clear that Campbell had an excellent claim for consideration but it was not heeded though he fought hard and protested bitterly against what he plainly intimated was a corrupt bargain between Agent Miles and a “ring of cattlemen.”35

No evidence can be found, however, that Miles was corrupt or that he was not entirely conscientious in what he did, though it is quite evident that he and the group of cattlemen who secured the leases planned the entire enterprise together and that he favored them to the exclusion of others. This is apparent when we study the background and early history of the men who received the leases. Malaley was a former employee of the agency and apparently somewhat of a protege of Miles. The latter had formerly sent him with parties of Indians going westward to the plains to hunt buffalo to watch over the hunting party and see that it did not turn its attention to raiding and horse stealing in Texas. Morrison had lived on the reservation for some years where he had married an Indian woman who bore him two children. She had died before 1882, however, and the children were in an Indian school. Briggs was a resident of Muscotah, Kansas, the town in which Miles had formerly lived when he was agent for the Kickapoo tribe that was located nearby. Hunter and Evans had been partners for some time. They were formerly beef contractors who supplied beef to these Indians and other tribes in the western part of Indian Territory so were of course well known to Miles. Fenlon had also been a beef contractor and freighter and the agent had known him for years. The last of the lessees, Denman, was a resident of Washington D. C., and it may be assumed that he was thought to have influence in the Capital City and so might be able to prevent interference by the Department of the Interior.36

The action of Agent Miles brought the matter of grazing upon the lands of the Indian Territory to an issue and resulted in the formation of a policy by the Department of the In-

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terior with respect to the whole question of pasturing cattle upon Indian reservations. The intruding cattlemen who had not been included among the lessees did not remove their herds, so early in April 1883 Edward Fenlon made a trip to Washington to take the matter up with the Secretary of the Interior. To this official Fenlon stated that part of the land leased was still occupied by the cattle of men who had ranches in Texas or elsewhere and he asked that the agent be directed to remove these men and put him in possession of his lease. He also asked instructions as to when and how the moneyshould be paid to the Indians.37

To this the Secretary replied in a letter which laid down the future policy of the Department with respect to grazing upon Indian lands. He stated that it was not the policy of the Department to recognize affirmatively any leases or agreements of the character mentioned, but that he saw no objection to allowing the Indians to grant permission to parties desiring to graze cattle upon their lands on fair and reasonable terms subject to such supervision as the Department might think was necessary in order to prevent the Indians being imposed upon. Such permission he said must be granted by proper authority and the benefits participated in by the whole tribe and not merely a favored few. Indian herders should be employed as far as possible. The Department would see to it that no permanent improvements were erected and no disreputable persons permitted to enter the reservation. The ranchmen and their employees must conform strictly to the law and the rules of the Department as to the introduction of firearms and ammunition or liquor. Payment should be made so far as possible in cattle. The letter closed with the following statement of policy:

“While the Department will not recognize the agreement or lease you mention, nor any other of like character, to the extent of approving the same, nor to the extent of assuming to settle controversies that may arise between the different parties holding such agreements, yet the Department will endeavor to see that parties having no agreement are not allowed to interfere with those who have. Whenever there shall appear just cause for dissatisfaction on the part of the Indians,

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or when it shall appear that improper persons, under the cover of such lease or agreement are allowed in the Territory, by the parties holding such agreements, or for any reason the Department shall consider it desirable for the public interest to do so, it will exercise its right of supervision to the extent of removing all occupants from the Territory without reference to such lease or agreement, on such notice as shall be right and proper under the circumstances under which the parties have entered such Territory and have complied with the terms of the agreement and the instructions of the Department. All parties accepting such agreements should accept the same subject to all conditions herein and subject to any future action of Congress and this department as herein stated in relation to occupants of such Territory. Instructions will be issued to the agents in accordance with this letter.”38

The Department of the Interior had at last formulated a policy but such a policy as it was! It left the cattlemen without any assurance of tenure or protection whatever except the Department would “endeavor to see to it that parties having no agreement are not allowed to interfere with those who have.” On such uncertain tenure the Cheyenne-Arapaho lessees were expected to pay more than sixty thousand dollars a year for grazing privileges and to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in cattle for the stocking of their ranges.

Such a system could hardly fail to provoke trouble. It placed a premium upon graft and corruption. Instead of putting the matter of grazing in the hands of some competent central authority, each case was left to the Indians of the reservation concerned who were nearly always more or less divided in opinion. This meant that it was often left to the agent but even so his hands were often tied and his actions embarrassed by factions and differences of opinion within the tribe. Cattlemen would be certain to offer to pay handsomely for favors and would come among the Indians and endeavor by gifts and flattery to secure their friendship and goodwill. A system was inaugurated analogous to the securing of “spheres of influence” by European nations among the tribesmen of Africa. Moreover, it was certain that men without agreements would be slow to remove and the Department of

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the Interior would meet with embarrassment in asking the military to remove them since these agreements had not been recognized. Such a system placed rival ranchmen in the position where they must intrigue to secure the favor of savage tribesmen and plot and scheme to get the ear of the agent and other government employees who might be expected to have influence with the Indians. It forced every man who sought to occupy Indian lands to resort to diplomacy and made every chief, half-breed or worthless squawman a person to be courted, flattered and if possible bribed in order to secure his favor.

In defense of the Secretary of the Interior it must be stated that he evidently considered that he had no authority in law to approve such leases or agreements. No opinion had been handed down to that effect at this time but such opinion was given about two years later by Attorney General Garland to whom the matter was referred by the Department of the Interior.39 The Secretary was merely seeking to do by extra-legal means what he felt he could not do legally though it is difficult to understand why he did not realize the endless trouble that was certain to follow the adoption of any policy so absurd as was this.

Copies of the Fenlon letter were sent to the various agents for their guidance in the matter of grazing and the seeds of discord and strife thus planted quickly grew and bore fruit. The lessees on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation paid, on July 1, their first semi-annual installment of lease money. The amount was more than $30,000 and as the Indians demanded silver Fenlon acted as paymaster and brought four pack horse loads of silver dollars to the agency to make the payment.40 Arrangements were made for fencing and stocking their ranges but troubles came thick and fast. “Barbecue Campbell” after a hard fight apparently despaired of success and removed his cattle temporarily to the “Oklahoma Lands” after receiving assurances from the Secretary of the Interior that he would not be disturbed so long as he did not attempt a permanent occupation of that region.41

There were a number of other men on the reservation, however, and some of them began to make trouble. Prominent

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among these were Dickey Brothers, previously mentioned, who had a large range in the northern part of the reservation and the southern part of the Cherokee Outlet on which they were holding a herd of 22,500 head.42 They had occupied this range about three years before under an arrangement made with a small band of Indians living in that vicinity to whom they made irregular payments in the form of beef and money.43 As a result these Indians were quite friendly and did not wish to see Dickeys remove since the latter paid them more in beef and money than their share of the lease money would be. Two or three half-breeds and squaw men associated with this band made the difficulty infinitely worse from the standpoint of Agent Miles, and the lessees. This band of Indians refused to take their share of the lease money and no doubt, encouraged by Dickey Brothers and other trespassing cowmen, began to cause trouble.

In July an official of the agency accompanied by forty Indian police visited the ranch of Dickey Brothers and demanded that they remove, theatening serious consequences if they failed to comply with the order. They promptly refused and appealed to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs stating that their herds could not be removed at this time without entailing heavy loss and that they would submit to any terms if only they might be permitted to remain for a time at least.44

The Commissioner at once notified Agent Miles that he interpreted that part of the Secretary’s letter referring to “parties having no agreements with the Indians” as meaning trespassers pure and simple who placed cattle upon Indian lands without consent and who paid no compensation whatever whereas Dickey Brothers had an arrangement with some of the Indians, paid valuable consideration, and had apparently been allowed by Miles to remain for three years and to greatly increase their herds. It would therefore be unjust to require them to remove at once since they plainly had rights that could not be safely ignored. Miles was therefore ordered to allow them to remain for the present or until a careful in-

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vestigation could be made and the results reported to the Department of the Interior and its decision rendered.45

Such an interpretation of the Secretary’s letter made the situation even more impossible than before since it apparently meant that agreements did not have to be approved by the agent in charge of the reservation concerned. Under such an interpretation any ranchman might give a few Indians a little money or some beeves and claim to have paid valuable consideration and to have secured the consent of a part of the tribe to his occupation of Indian lands with cattle.

One paragraph of Dickey Brothers’ letter to the Commissioner is significant. After asking that the lessees of the Cheyenne-Arapaho lands be prohibited from causing them the loss of their herd or great sacrifice by being obliged to sell it at that time they stated that: “unless aided by the Department they cannot injure us and we therefore make this appeal.” Evidently Dickey Brothers felt quite competent to take care of themselves unless interfered with by the United States Government. In such fashion did range wars between rival cattlemen often begin.

When these men received from the Commissioner notice of the instructions sent to Agent Miles they evidently felt that they had won the first round of their battle and were so encouraged to keep up the struggle. Aided no doubt by other cattlemen who had not been included in the leases made they continued to intrigue with their Indian friends with the result that a party of these led by two or three squaw men left the reservation and hastened to Fort Supply in the Cherokee Outlet. To the commanding officer of that post, Colonel J. H. Potter, they complained bitterly of Agent Miles and said they had not signed the lease and had not wished to lease their land for a long term of years but that the agent had told them they must do so or he would refuse to issue their rations. They concluded by asking permission to go to Washington to present their grievances to the Secretary of the Interior.46

Potter reported the presence of these Indians at Fort

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Supply to General Pope who at once transmitted the report to the Secretary of War with the request that the matter be laid before the proper authorities as it was plain that some misunderstanding existed which might at any moment result in serious trouble.47

Miles, upon learning that these Indians had left the reservation, telegraphed the commanding officer at Fort Supply to order them to return and to arrest them and any men with them in case they refused.48 He also wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs explaining the difficulty and declaring that the Indians had no reason to complain and asking if they reached Washington that they be returned to the reservation at once.49 Later, he wrote other letters replying to the request of the Commissioner for a complete report. In these letters he declared that the whole trouble was due to the fact that Dickey Brothers and other trespassing cattlemen had tampered with the Indians and that if more serious trouble occurred it would be due entirely to their work. He admitted that this band of Indians had refused to take their share of the lease money but said they had been present at the council when it was unanimously decided to lease the lands and had made no objection but that some cattlemen had later told them that the lease was in reality a sale of their lands. He denied that rations had been withheld from these Indians and protested bitterly against Dickey Brothers being permitted to remain on the reservations since he asserted that they could remove their herd without suffering great loss and that the money they claimed to have paid the Indians had nearly all gone to Wells and Chapman and in any case was no great amount.50 Fortunately, the Indians agreed to return to the reservation when ordered to do so by Colonel Potter but they remained sullen and discontented while Dickey Brothers and other ranchment without leases no doubt stirred them up and kept them ready for further mischief.

While these difficulties on the northern part of the reservation were still unsettled fresh trouble broke out in the southern and eastern part. The boundary line between the Chey-

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enne-Arapaho and the Kiowa-Comanche and Wichita reservations was in dispute and when the lessees began to fence their land as a matter of convenience to aid them in caring for their cattle as well as for protection against trespass, the Kiowas and Wichitas commenced to protest and claimed that the ranchmen were fencing lands that belonged to them. Inspector Townsend of the Indian Bureau visited this region and made a report on the boundaries but the Wichita were influenced by an attorney in New York by the name of Luther H. Pike, who visited these Indians, since he claimed to be attorney for them, and aroused them by stating that Townsend was dishonest and that he had made a dishonest report.51

Early in November a delegation of Wichitas and Caddoes came to Agent Hunt at Anadarko and in a most insolent manner declared that the fencing of these lands must be stopped and that if Hunt refused to stop it they would do it themselves. Hunt at once notified Miles that these Indians meant mischief and that Miles had best be prepared to meet it if he could.52

Hunt and Miles accordingly directed a joint letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs asking that the boundary between the reservations be re-surveyed as nothing else would satisfy the Indians.53 Funds for this work were not available, however, and though the ranchmen offered to pay for having it done the Secretary refused to accept their offer on the ground that the matter was too important to permit of its being paid for by private parties.54

The lessees had formed themselves into an association called the Cheyenne-Arapaho Live Stock Association and in the spring of 1884 made an earnest appeal to the Commissioner to survey the boundary as they said that Indians were daily passing north of what they believed was the line and driving off or killing their cattle as well as animals belonging to the Cheyenne-Arapaho. They said that the Kiowa were committing these depredations under the pretense that they were still

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on their own land and that these cattle were trespassing. They said that they would gladly meet the entire cost of the survey for until the line was definitely determined they felt sure there would always be trouble.55 This letter was referred to the Secretary of the Interior but that official replied that he was “not prepared to allow this survey to be done by the parties named, nor under their direction nor at their expense.”56

From the viewpoint of the cowmen it was very unfortunate that the active and resourceful Miles resigned on April 1, 1884 and was replaced by D. B. Dyer, former agent of the Quapaw reservation.

Whatever may have been the truth of the allegations as to Miles’s relations with “a ring of cattlemen” he was a man of rare ability and tact in dealing with Indians. For ten years and more he had held the position of agent of these wild tribes and had governed them with consummate skill. He had seen war on his reservation and the ringleaders arrested and taken away in irons. He had taken charge of these Indians when they subsisted mainly by hunting buffalo, had seen the disappearance of these animals, and issued tens of millions of pounds of beef to his charges. Through it all he had shown rare courage and ability.

The man who came to succeed him was a different type. Clearly he had neither the resourcefulness nor tact of his predecessor. His previous experience had not fitted him for the difficult task he must now assume. Much pleased at first over this appointment which he semed to regard as a great promotion his joy was soon changed to grief and misgivings. Unequal as Dyer was to the task confronting him it must be admitted, in justice to him, that it is doubtful if any man could have stayed the coming storm and brought order out of the chaos that had developed on the reservation, mainly as a result of the ineptitude and short-sighted policy of the Department of the Interior.

The last official act of Agent Miles before his resignation had been to ask for troops to eject the Kiowas from the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation and to restrain their depredations which were of course mainly directed against the cattle of the

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lessees.57 His request had been made to Major Thomas B. Dewees, the commanding officer at Fort Reno. That officer forwarded this request to Brigadier General C. C. Augur who had succeeded Pope as commander of the Department of the Missouri and that officer forwarded it to his division commander with the statement that since the Interior Department had refused to commit itself to these leases by recognizing or approving them he had ordered Major Dewees not to send troops until the views of the War Department could be ascertained in the matter.58

This communication was forwarded to the Secretary of War and was by him transmitted to the Department of the Interior.59 The Secretary of the Interior replied that the difficulty doubtless arose because of a difference of opinion with respect to the boundary and said that he thought there was no occasion for military interference. He stated further that it was “not the intention of the Department to attempt to protect the parties having permits for grazing privileges from the Indians, in their possessions, except in so far as may become necessary to protect the Indians in the right to grant such permission as is given them by the provisions of section 2117 of the Revised Statutes.”60

This statement of the Secretary of the Interior was most significant. If it meant anything at all it meant that men having permission to graze cattle on Indian lands had no protection from the Indians whatever except what might be afforded them by the agent or in so far as they might be able to protect themselves. It was a virtual loosing of the Indians to prey upon the lessees’ herds without let or hindrance so far as the Interior Department was concerned.

Naturally disorder grew and depredations increased. Agent Dyer in a panic sent call after call for troops. No less than six such requests were made by him between May 1 and

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the latter part of August, but all of these, incredible as it may seem, were entirely disregarded.61

The Cheyenne-Arapaho, no doubt encouraged by the failure to restrain the Kiowa grew daily more insolent and troublesome and their depredations also steadily increased. Early in May war seemed actually at hand when one of the Cheyenne chiefs, Running Buffalo, attempted to levy toll on a herd of horses that a white man named Horton was conveying along the trail across the reservation and was shot and killed by the white man. In this case troops were actually sent out from Fort Reno to protect Horton but the Indians seized half the horses as indemnity and the drovers in charge of the remainder were protected by Indian police until they were off the reservation with the remainder of their herd.62

This was but one example of numerous acts of lawlessness. Dyer reported that certain bands of Indians stopped all persons crossing the reservation and demanded tribute. A white herder who came upon an Indian skinning a stolen beef was murdered. Some of the Indians lived ninety miles away from the agency and the agent could exercise but little supervision over them. Dyer reported that they wished to establish their camps at remote places where they could more easily depredate upon cattle without interference from the agency.63

Agent Dyer’s first annual report made under the date of August 9, 1884, was extravagantly pessimistic. He reported his Indians as numbering 6,271 though a later count showed the number to be less than 4,000. Dyer said that it was impossible to control them; that the cattlemen must have lost $100,000 the past year by depredations and that this loss added to the grass payment made the cattle business on the reservation anything but profitable. He said that the loss the preceding winter from starvation had also been heavy and that skeletons dotted the prairie everywhere about the agency.

In the late summer of 1884 Inspector Robert S. Gardiner was sent to the Indian Territory to investigate conditions. He reported that Agent Dyer was quite right in his recommendations since there were over 6,000 Indians on the reservation

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and only 268 soldiers at Fort Reno which was a force entirely inadequate to restrain the Indians, should the latter actually go to war. By this time additional leases had been made so that there were now nearly 4,600,000 acres under lease at an annual rental of over $76,000.64

Early in December 1884 Agent Dyer went to Washington to present in person his request to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for aid. He reported that conditions were now worse than ever before and that the daily threats, and constant depredations upon Government cattle as well as those of lessees, trail drivers, and beef contractors, could only be checked by a strong military force.65

Apparently his arguments were convincing for the Secretary of the Interior now called upon the War Department for a strong force to be sent to the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation to restore order.65 In the meantime, however, the ranching business in the Indian Territory had attracted the attention of many members of Congress and when that body met in December Senator Vest of Missouri had presented a resolution asking for a senate investigation of leases in the Indian Territory.

The result was a long and tedious Congressional investigation. This was just beginning when Secretary Teller made his request for troops. Also it was mid-winter and so difficult for troops to be placed in the field. All this tended to delay action. No force was sent and in the meantime the change of administration on March 4, 1885, further helped to delay definite action. In the meantime the situation on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation grew still worse and by June was so bad that the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Atkins, requested the Secretary of the Interior to ask the War Department to put enough troops on the reservation to preserve peace. He also asked that the Indians be disarmed, Agent Dyer relieved and a new agent put in his place, and that all leases be declared annulled and the ranchmen and their herds removed from the reservation.66

The Secretary promptly made the request and the War Department concentrated all troops in the West available for this purpose and sent them to the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation. On July 10 the President himself asked Lieutenant Gen-

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eral Sheridan to go to the agency and take charge of the situation.67 Upon his arrival at Fort Reno with a strong force, Sheridan reported that a part of the Cheyenne tribe numbering about 1200 was much disaffected in regard to the leasing of their lands for grazing. Yet, he said that all employees of the agency favored these leases, that all the proceedings in regard to them had taken place at the agency and that the name of Agent Miles appeared in all of them in his official capacity as agent. He stated that there were about 210,000 head of cattle on the reservation and that each of the leases had been fenced. He declared that the ranchmen had complied with their agreement and paid the lease money promptly and regularly and that the Indians had caused much loss and annoyance by killing the lessees’ cattle at any time rations happened to be short. He said, however, that through no fault of the lessees their camps and ranches had become the headquarters of a roving, restless set of adventurers whose influence upon the Indians was bad. He closed his report with the statement that the agent had lost the confidence of the Indians and recommended that he be removed and the reservation placed in charge of an army officer.67

Even before the receipt of Sheridan’s report President Cleveland had issued a proclamation in which he declared all leases on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation void, that the persons on these lands were there unlawfully and that they must remove within forty days taking all cattle, horses, and other property with them.68 At the same time the President ordered Captain Jesse M. Lee to proceed to the reservation and relieve Agent Dyer.69

Captain Lee reached the agency late in July. He reported that the cattlemen removed in good faith but that only one or two of them were able to get out within the time specified. Though the removal was accomplished with little friction Lee asserted that the ranchmen had suffered heavy losses as a result but that he thought it a good thing to stop leasing and compel the Indians to go to work.70

With the removal of all cattle from the Cheyenne-Arapa-

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ho reservation the ranching industry there came to an abrupt termination for a time at least. The cattlemen later asserted that Cleveland by his action compelling immediate removal from the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation struck the ranch cattle interests of the United States a blow from which they never recovered. This seems a broad statement and yet it doubtless contains at least an element of truth. Not only were the 210,000 head removed from the Cheyenne-Arapaho lands but it seems probable that the agitation and presence of soldiers caused the removal of numerous other cattle from the western part of the Indian Territory. It was too late in the season to attempt to drive these cattle to northern ranges and when thrown upon the already overstocked pasture lands nearby in Texas, the Cherokee Outlet, or Southern Kansas, they still further depleted those ranges and so were doubtless a great factor in causing the frightful losses in this region during the winter of 1885-1886.71

At any rate the summer of 1885 seems to have marked a turning point in the history of the ranch cattle industry. Two weeks after the proclamation ordering all cattlemen to remove from the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation President Cleveland issued a second proclamation ordering the removal of all wire fences from lands of the public domain and calling upon United States officials everywhere to aid in the execution of this order.72 This order coupled with the enforced removal of herds from the Cheyenne-Arapaho lands was a crushing blow to the ranching interests. From this time on the ranch cattle industry declined as rapidly as it had formerly risen, constantly assailed by hostile public opinion, depressed by a steady decline in prices, and above all by the terrible losses of the winter of 1886-87 which left almost every cattlemen on the Northern Plains flat broke.73 The removal of the cattlemen from the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation seems to have marked the beginning of that decline. It was the first step in the downward trend of an industry whose spectacular rise forms the theme of one of the most remarkable chapters in the economic history of the United States.

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Sorry as was the state of affairs that had developed upon the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation and which required for its final adjustment the strong arm of the military the blame for it rested not upon the cattlemen but upon the departments of government that failed to adopt some definite policy for dealing with grazing upon Indian lands. The ranchmen, unable to obtain ranges in the Indian Territory by legal means, were forced to secure indirectly and by ways that were devious and mysterious what they would gladly have secured at a fair price by open negotiation. It was ever so with the men, who pastured herds along the far-flung frontier of American civilization. When they sought aid and protection from their government they met in many cases only suspicion and in some cases open hostility. No industry has been more maligned, misunderstood, and villified than has the range cattle industry. Fortunately, history has at last begun to do justice to the brave men who risked their lives and fortunes on the broad plains of the “cow country” and to recognize that they were in truth “heralds of empire” and advance agents of civilization who builded better than they, or anyone else, could at that time know.


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