By Martha Buntin
The year 1865 found these United States again one nation. The soldiers of both armies having been mustered out they were now home-seekers. Again westward migration filled the new lands with long trains of covered wagons. These people were making homestead filings on the hunting grounds of the Plains Indians. The Indians felt the intrusion of the white settlers on their hunting ground, as detrimental to their way of life. The problem faced by the already harassed government was to protect its citizens. Since the beginning of the settlement on the North American continent they had constantly pushed the Indians back, back into the interior of the nation, into that land termed as the great American desert; but now this land was considered desirable for homestead settlement, and there was no place to remove the Indians except to the Indian Territory. But this territory was too limited to supply the game necessary for their subsistence, and the government would necessarily have to issue beef to them to supply the food to take the place of that they had always had as the result of the chase.
If this policy was to be placed into effect within the short time allowed for it an organization, already functioning, had to be given the work; thus the Army Commissary Department was pressed into service and a new department created for the feeding of the Indians. Even with the installation of the Quakers in 1869 under the peace policy of President Grant, this organization was forced to continue its work for it was not considered expedient that the Quakers take over this important function until 1870. Captain Seth Bonney was appointed to issue rations to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians who were then in the vicinity of Camp Supply in spite of the fact that their reservation was definitely established on Pond Creek. His first report was as follows:
I have the honor to report that I arrived here on the 13th inst. and receiving instructions on the 15th from Bvt. Maj. W. A. Elderkin, C. S. entered upon my duties on the 16th inst. and issued rations to thirteen hundred and thirty-five (1335) Arapahoe Indians and to one hundred and sixty five (165) Cheyennes upon ration returns approved by Bvt. Col. W. A. Nelson, the temporary superintendent of these tribes.
The remainder of the Cheyennes are expected soon to come for rations numbering about two hundred and forty lodges, averaging it is presumed about five souls to a lodge.
I find no agents here for either tribe. I received stores from Lieut. W. M. Williams 3rd Inftry. A. C. S. at this camp and am instructed by Maj. W. A. Elderkin and Col. Nelson to issue to Indians every five days.
It is estimated that there are at this camp sufficient stores to provide the Indians rations until Sept. 1, 1869 exclusive of what may be required for the troops This may not be a close estimate, as there may be more troops and more Indians to be rationed.
I respectfully call your attention to the fact that the store houses here are scarcely calculated to hold and protect from the weather the subsistence stores for Indians and request that thirty (30) new Paulins be sent me immediately for the covering and protection of stores which may arrive here before proper storehouses or shelter can be provided for them. The A. C. S. at this camp has no Paulins which are of any value not in use nor has the Quartermaster more than he uses.
I request the following articles immediately and have forwarded requisitions for them viz:
One (1) Platform Spate
One (1) Field Desk
To this rather long letter reporting the conditions of the Commissary supplies for Indians and requesting, urgently, that supplies be forwarded, he added the complaint of the Indians concerning the cutting of sugar and coffee from the rations issued were very bitter and, in his opinion, should be re-included.
It was not many hours service in the capacity of Subsistence Officer, before Captain Bonney found the position difficult and rather unique for it was not a part of the regular army subsistence department but was an appendage of that organization without any definite status. He found that he had to issue rations to more than three thousand Indians at a distance of seven or eight miles from the camp for they refused to come after them and even suggested that they should be brought more often than every five days. A complete record of every pound of salt, sugar, beef, etc., had to be kept for his reports. The Indians refused to co-operate in any way, work, they would not, as work would disgrace them in the eyes of their own tribesmen. Laborers were not to be found and the incoming supplies had to be unloaded on the prairie near Camp Supply.2
To assist him in carrying out these duties, he declared that he had to have the assistance of two clerks and that he needed at least six laborers But the Department of the Missouri was adamant in declaring that this was not necessary; however they were at last convinced that these employees were necessary and allowed them to remain.
General Morgan was most anxious to have the supplies properly protected and instructed Captain Bonney to "hurry up the storage". The poor Captain found his orders impossible to carry out and when he was ordered to hire Indians to yoke Texas steers to haul the timber for the store houses, he reported that the Indians
1Captain Seth Bonney to Bvt. Brig. General M. R. Morgan, July 20, 1869. Camp Supply, I. T. Letterbook p. 2-3. This letterbook is now in the Oklahoma Historical Society Building, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, having been removed from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency, Concho, Oklahoma under the Hastings Act of 1934. These letters used in this motif are found in this book.
would not work, only an expert could handle these wild cattle under the yoke.3 The matter was dropped:
Brinton Darlington, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian Agent, appointed by the Quakers, was serving as Indian Agent at Pond Creek, Indian Territory, as instructed by the United States Government. The Agent was there, the reservation was laid out, but the Indians were near Camp Supply and flatly refused to be dispatched to this reserve. Bonney commented upon this:
"The Indians are all quite well satisfied with the arrangement, but all the Cavalry in the Department cannot drive them to where Agent Darlington is (at Pond Creek) in my opinion, for they would scatter to the four winds, in the event of attempt to force them to this I believe.
Colonel Nelson still remains here much to his disgust. A Quaker delegation is expected today to look the interest of Brother of Darlington, who has yet to find his Indians."4
No supplies for the Indians arrived and Bonney was forced to continue his borrowing from the Army; the Indians were all hunting and did not come near enough to Camp Supply to have rations carried out to them; Captain Bonney repeatedly requested the immediate delivery of rations in order to facilitate the functioning of the governmental policy; and constantly, as the winter months drew near, he requested speedy construction of the storehouses.
The first shipment of supplies consisting of bacon and shelled corn arrived. Without store rooms there was no place to store these rations so they were unloaded on the prairie under the boiling hot August sun; the bacon began to melt; Bonney reported the difficulty and forwarded his receipt for twelve hundred pounds less than the shipping weights. Bonney protested the correctness of his weights and then laid the error to the melting on the hot prairie.5
He decided to erect store houses without more delay; arranged to have timbers cut by laborers secured from passing wagon
trains; and had the work well under way when he received unofficial notice of the letting of contracts for the erection of the buildings. He stopped all work on the buildings and wrote by the weekly mail for definite information.6
Before the arrival of the contractors to begin working on the buildings Brinton Darlington brought a letter to Bonney from Enoch Hoag, Superintendent of the Central Superintendency, concerning the proposed removal of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians to some other part of the Territory in the spring. Bonney notified his immediate superior, W. A. Elderkin, of the proposed removal of the Indians and the departure of Darlington with a delegation of Indians to locate a territory not otherwise appropriated, which might be satisfactory to the Indians.7 Due to the slowness of the mail service, the contractor arrived before a reply to the letter and Bonney requested him to delay until he had definite instructions from his superior since the immediate removal would make the store houses valueless to the Indians.8 He was instructed to allow the erection of the building to be continued as contracted for in order that they should be ready by November.9
Darlington and his Indians returned from their visit to other parts of the territory and Bonney reported:
"I have only time before the mail leaves to inform you that Indian Agent Darlington returned from his expedition in search of a suitable location for the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indian Agency on the 16th inst. and the most I can learn of him is that he found a spot about one hundred miles from here on the North Fork of the Canadian River of sufficient area to provide a farm of eighty acres for every male person over eighteen years of age of the two tribes of Arapahoe and Cheyenne Indians of good arable land with plenty of grass, water, wood and some building materials in the shape of stone with quite a quantity of Oak timber, much of it is bottom land though he thinks the rolling land there to be productive also. He did not fix the location to be acted on afterward, but he returns to make a report upon it,
so there is yet a long time to wait before it is definitely known whether the Agency will be removed before next spring.10
The Indians were not willing to be settled on any one place, nor were they very anxious to have the rather pitiful supplies provided for them by the government. The rations were not definitely defined by the treaty. Should the Indians be issued corn, flour, hard bread, sugar, coffee, beef? How much of each should be given? Various opinions, all conflicting, were held by the numerous persons interested. Since the Indians were to be restricted to a certain limited area, beef was of importance and the keeping of a beef herd near the agency was a constant chore for Captain Bonney. The contractor, Powers and Company, often failed to have the beef on hand when the Indians came near the post and often Captain Bonney was frightfully perturbed at times for he feared that the Indians would leave and not return at the appointed time if he failed to have supplies for delivery when they were ready to have them delivered.
Shortly after the return of Darlington to the vicinity of Camp Supply, General Morgan instructed Captain Bonney to turn over the necessary supplies to the Indian Agent for issue to the Indian. This resulted in more clerical work and caused friction for Darlington permitted the Indians to kill their own cattle and was unable to return the beef hides to the Commissary Department as required by the Department of Missouri. On this situation he reported to General Morgan:
". . . I have before alluded to the difficulty in obtaining the beef hides of the Indian Agent, who cannot get them of the Indians . . . and may say that the hides cannot be in good condition when the beeves are killed by the Indians. As the killing of beeves affords them too much ammusement (they not desiring to kill them at once, but to give them chase; they perforate the hides with arrows and bullet holes) to be sacrificed when required to kill their own cattle."11
The scales, ordered in the first request, arrived without the necssary lumber to set them up; constant requests for it failed to have it sent so that the supplies had to be weighed either on
small scales or at the point of transit and the beef animals had to be estimated by the officer's and the contractors. There was no assurance that the cattle would be ready for issue when they were needed even after they had been delivered within a few miles of the agency for:
"A fine herd of 128 beeves was brought here after being kept about a week suddenly disappeared and has not been recovered.
It was said to have stampeded to the bluffs one night, although there were six herders in charge of it. Its disappearance is unaccountable to me. I communicated officially with Joseph Penton, the agent of Powers and Co. reminding him of terms of contract, not having a sufficient supply of beef on hand and he has gone to procure more beef . . . . . "12
As the Department of the Missouri was in accord with Bonney as to the import of maintaining a sufficient herd of beef cattle about the agency to issue whenever the Indians were in the vicinity, it was decided that a number should be purchased by the government and held in readiness for issue. This seemed to be an excellent idea even though the expense of herders was added to the issue of rations. In October very cold weather set in and the cattle refused to graze. Bonney was forced to secure additional feed for the animals. He discovered that there was a shortage of hay in the vicinity of Camp Supply and was forced to purchase it at a cost of twenty dollars per ton. He reported on October 30 to General Morgan:
"I have purchased in Open Market fifty (50) tons of hay to be delivered between this date and November 15, 1869. At twenty dollars per ton. Major Elderkin was present and understands the necessity for the hay and also that I could not buy it cheaper. I was led to think a fortnight since, that I could purchase it four about 10 dollars from the contractor who is furnishing it for the Quartermasters Department. But extensive fires have prevailed since and frosts have injured the grass and I am even fortunate in getting it at that price now. Other parties holding hay at 22.50 per ton."13
With the setting in of the cold weather, the Indians found it much more simple to permit the Commissary Department to bring beef and other supplies to them rather than going after buffalo, and in this manner they greatly reduced the number of beef cattle held by Captain Bonney making the amount of hay purchased greatly in excess of the need for the herd held. He had not long to worry about the great quantity of hay for the D. W. Powers Company who were to supply cattle for the Indians were most anxious to relieve him of the additional hay for the grass for many miles about the camp had been burned and there was not enough feed in the country for the herds of cattle held under contract for the Indians and the fort. Bonney was most glad to report the possible disposition of the additional hay.
Nor was the beef the only great difficulty faced by the officer in charge of the feeding of these Indians, for there was a constant fear that the supplies would not arrive, he reported that the sugar received was very dark and damp but even inferior sugar was appreciated by the Indians who on the other hand disliked the corn ration, declaring that it hurt their teeth and Bonney recommended the expenditure of the funds spent for the corn be utilized in purchasing sugar and coffee which were really desired by the Indians.14
Flour, purchased by the Commissary Department from a sample was to be supplied for the Indians and each shipment to be carefully compared with the sample. For a few months the flour came in equal to the sample but in November, heavier and darker flour came in and Bonney was at a loss to know what to do; it made good bread, he reported, yet it was not equal to the sample, and flour he had to have without delay. Therefore, Bonney decided to reprimand the contractor and accept the flour unless the Department of Missouri should object.15
November 14, Bonney reported:
"The mechanics are delayed by want of lumber in completing storehouses No. 2. I can get nearly all of the stores into No. 1."16
By December the store houses were completed and Bonney received the remainder of the flour called for in the contract of Powers, Oten, Lowe and Company. He immediately forwarded a sample to General Morgan advising him of its inferiority to the other flour received, even to that which he had protested as being slightly inferior. The flour was rejected.17
General Morgan considered designated mixed vegetables desirable for issue to Indians, but Bonney was skeptical as to their usage of these supplies. He was willing to issue hardbread in lieu of flour for they liked such prepared food, but he was so certain as to the inadvisability of the vegetables that the matter was finally dropped.18
With the erection of the store houses, the arrangements for the delivery of beef, and the store houses filled with supplies for the winter, the greatest worries of the officer in charge were dispelled, but the constant monotonous reports had to be prepared, rations hauled to the camps which might remove a few miles without notice, and the constant minor differences between the regular army and the special officer make the post one not to be desired. Therefore Bonney was no doubt glad to be relieved of his post on January 7 and leave the problems of feeding the Indians in the care of Silas Pepoon, 2nd. Lieut. 10th Cavalry, who was in turn relieved by Captain H. I. Ripley, to whom the duty of issuing of rations to Indians of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes was given until this office was taken over by the Quaker Agent, Brinton Darlington, July 1, 1870.
Captain Ripley found the store houses prepared by Captain Bonney of little use for in the spring the removal of the Indians began and the rations had to be hauled great distances to reach his charges, who were constantly on the move and had as yet not definitely located themselves on the North Canadian.19