Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 14, No. 4
December, 1936
A FEDERAL EXPERIMENT IN SOUTHERN PLAINS INDIAN RELATIONS, 1835-1845

By C. C. Rister

Page 434

In 1802 the United States agreed to extinguish Indian titles to land within the prescribed boundaries of Georgia, "whenever it could be peaceably done on reasonable terms," and Georgia ceded to the federal government the present states of Alabama and Mississippi. The setting aside of an area beyond the frontier large enough to care for the needs of some sixty thousand Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes—Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles —was a problem of no mean proportions. Already the pioneers had broken across the Appalachian Mountains barrier and had begun the occupation of the wilderness, and it was quite apparent that within the near future 77,000,000 acres of land held by Indians east of the Mississippi River would be needed by them. Where beyond the frontier could be found reservation sites to which these Indians could be removed, even though they might be less than their present holdings? And how, particularly, was the problem of the Five Civilized Tribes to be solved? The fact is, when the Georgia promise was given there was little possibility of its fulfillment. The contract was evidence of a policy of opportunism ever afterwards to characterize the government's negotiations with its Indian wards.1


1According to the figures of contemporaries the removal program was quite expensive. In the light of De Toqueville's charge, that "the Americans obtain, at a very low price, whole provinces, which the richest sovereigns in Europe could not purchase," Senator Thomas Hart Benton replied that figures presented the Twenty-sixth Congress showed that the Eastern Indians from 1789 to 1840 were given $85,000,000 for their land cessions; and that the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws alone had been paid $56,000,000 for the 62,750,000 acres they had relinquished. President Martin Van Buren believed that this did not approximate the total expenditures. In a message to Congress in December, 1838, he stated: "For the Indians' title to 116,349,897 acres acquired since the 4th of March, 1829, the United States have paid $72,560,000 in permanent annuities, lands, reservations for Indians, expenses for subsistence, merchandise, mechanical and agricultural establishments, and implements." For the two statements, see T. H. Benton (ed.), Thirty Years View; a History of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years, From 1820 to 1850. Chiefly taken from the Congressional Debates, the Private Papers of General Jackson, and the Speeches of Ex-Senator Benton, with his Actual View of Men and Affairs; with Historical Notes and illustrations, and some Notices of Eminent Deceased Contemporaries; by A Senator of Thirty Years, I (New York, 1854), 692-693; and ——— ———, Abridgement of the Debates of Congress from 1789-1856, xiii (New York, 1861), 697.

Page 435

1. Removing the Eastern Tribes.

The purchase of Louisiana in 1803 by the United States made possible a solution of the Georgia problem. The Great Plains part of the new acquisition was believed to be too arid for occupation by white men, and, for that reason primarily, ideal for Indian tenure. As early as 1806 an American explorer, Zebulon Montgomery Pike, asserted that the plains might become as celebrated as the sandy deserts of Africa, "for," said he, "I saw in my route in various places tracts of many leagues where the wind had thrown up the sand in all the fanciful forms of the ocean's rolling wave, and on which not a speck of vegetable matter existed."2 As to the occupation of the region, he added: "Our, citizens . . . will, through necessity, be constrained to limit their extent on the west to the borders of the Missouri and Mississippi, while they leave the prairies incapable of cultivation to the wandering and uncivilized aborigines of the country."3 Edwin James, who accompanied the Major Stephen H. Long expedition across the Southern Plains thirteen years later, concurred in Pike's appraisal of the country; but he also believed that "viewed as a frontier, [it] may prove of infinite importance to the United States, inasmuch as it is calculated to serve as a barrier to prevent too great an extension of our population westward, and secure us against the machinations or incursions of an enemy."4 In years to follow this point of view was strengthened, as is evidenced on maps, and in atlases, geographies, guides, and histories pub-







Page 436

lished in the United States during the period before the Civil War.

Pike's theory of setting aside the Great Plains as a permanent home for the Indians was elaborated a short time later by John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War. In proposing his plan to President James Monroe, he claimed for it four advantages: first, by setting up Indian reservations in the West and by denying homesteaders entry thereon, the government would become the Indians' benefactor; second, the problem of conflicting racial interests, which had long existed in the East, would now be solved; third, there would be no more wars between the two races; and, fourth, commerce between the frontiersmen and the Indians would be regulated and greatly enhanced.5

Although Calhoun could not foresee many problems which would arise with such a comprehensive undertaking, he was impressed with its magnitude. Not counting small tribal elements in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana, he estimated that 92,664 Eastern Indians should be transferred to the West. To do this, he proposed to move those residing in Indiana, Illinois, the peninsula of Michigan, New York, and Ohio to the country west of Lake Michigan and north of the State of Illinois; and the remaining 78,814 (not including the 700 Quapaws who had already abandoned the Red River region) to the country west of the State of Missouri and the Territory of Arkansas. Of the latter group, 53,625 Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws still claimed 33,573,176 acres in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi; and some 5,000 Seminoles held a large part of Florida.6

As to securing sites for reservations, procedure of the government in handling the problem, and further details on removals, Calhoun said:





Page 437

"The next subject of consideration will be to acquire a sufficient tract west of the State of Missouri and the Territory of Arkansas, in order to establish permanent settlements in that quarter of the tribes which are proposed to be removed. The country between the Red river and the Arkansas has already been allotted to the Choctaws, under the treaty of the 18th of October, 1820. The country north of the river Arkansas, and immediately west of the State of Missouri, is held almost entirely by the Osages and the Kanzas; the principal settlements of the former being on the Osage river, not far west of the western boundary of Missouri; and of the latter, on the Missouri river, near Cow Island. There is a band of the Osages situated on the Verdigris, a branch of the Arkansas. Governor Clark has been already instructed to take measures to remove them from the Verdigris, to join the other bands on the Osage river. To carry this object into effect, and to extinguish the title of the Osages upon the Arkansas, and in the State of Missouri, and also to extinguish the title of the Kanzas to whatever tract of country may be necessary to effect the views of the Government, will be the first object of expenditure, and would require an appropriation, it is believed, of not less than $30,000. After this is effected, the next will be to allot a portion of the country to each of the tribes, and to commence the work of removal. The former could be effected by vesting in the President discretionary power and to make the location; and the latter, by commencing with the removal of the Cherokees, Pienkeshaws, Weas, Shawnees, Kickapoos, and Delawares, who now occupy different tracts of the country lying in the northwestern portion of the Arkansas Territory, and the southwestern portion of the State of Missouri. It is believed that the Cherokees, to whom has been allotted a country lying between the Arkansas and White rivers, will very readily agree to removing their eastern boundary further west, on the consideration that, for the lands thereby ceded, they may have assigned to them an equal quantity further west, as they have evinced a strong dispostion to prevent the settlement of the whites to the west of them. It is probable that this arrangement could be effected by an appropriation of a few thousand dollars, (say five thousand,) for the expense of holding the treaty."7



Page 438

President Monroe accepted the plan of the Secretary of War and transmitted it to the Senate with his recommendation, on January 27, 1825. He stated that he was deeply impressed with its "very high importance to our Union"; and that "to promote the interests and happiness of those tribes, the attention of the Government has been long drawn with great solicitude to that object.

The President's statement implied that Indian removal had been anticipated by other administrations. In fact, President Thomas Jefferson had advocated it during his first term of office. Also the initial steps in launching it had already been taken. Acting under instructions from the Secretary of War, on August 24, 1818, Superintendant William Clark and Auguste Chouteau negotiated a treaty with the Quapaws. whereby that tribe relinquished claims to lands between the Red River on the south and the Arkansas and Canadian rivers on the north; and by treaties of September 25, 1818, and June 2, 1825, the Osages ceded all their holdings in what is now Oklahama, and significantly to that region north of the Arkansas and Canadian rivers.8

The government was now ready to begin its stupendous task of moving the Five Civilized Tribes to what came to be known later as the Indian Territory. Already in 1817 a part of the Cherokees had been assigned a large reservation between the White and Arkansas rivers, in the present State of Arkansas; but since they were soon disturbed by incoming white settlers, in 1828 they exchanged their holdings, for some seven million acres north of the Arkansas in the Indian Territory. They were also allowed a strip sixty-eight miles wide reaching from their western boundary to the one hundredth meridian in order that they might have access to the buffalo plains. Later, under the terms of the treaty of New Echota, of December 29,



Page 439

1835, the remainder of the tribe residing in the East joined their western kinsmen.9

The first assignment of lands in Oklahoma, however, was to the Choctaws, by the treaty of Doak's Stand, on the Natchez Road, on October 18, 1820. But the Choctaws did not move to their new home until after the amendatory treaties of January 20, 1825, and September 27, 1830.10 By these agreements they were settled on the Quapaw cession north of the Red River. Even here they were allowed to remain but a short time in undisturbed possession. The Chickasaws, their former Eastern neighbors, by a series of four treaties (October 20, 1832; May 24, 1834; January 17, 1837; and June 22, 1855),11 were given more than 4,500,000 acres of their land. The eastern boundary of the ceded tract was the meridian of ninety-six degrees and thirty minutes; their northern boundary the South Canadian; and their western boundary the ninety-eighth meridian. Both tribes held in common the region between the western boundary of the Chickasaws and the one hundredth meridian.

This leaves two tribes—the Creeks and Seminoles—to be disposed of. In they Indian Territory, too, by a series of treaties (February 12, 1825; January 24, 1826; and March 24, 1832)12 the Creeks were finally located on a large reservation between the southern boundary of the Cherokee Outlet and the South Canadian, and largely west of the Arkansas. And like the Choctaws, they shared their reservation with another tribe, the Seminoles, who by three treaties (May 9, 1832; March 28, 1833; and August 7, 1856)13 were finally brought to the west and settled on most of the area lying between the two Canadians south of the Cherokee Outlet and east of the one hundredth meridian.











Page 440

The federal government encountered comparatively little trouble in removing the Choctaws and Chickasaws from their old homes, but with the other three tribes it met with many difficulties. Factional strife within each tribe complicated the problem; one party favoring acceptance of the government's program, the other opposing it. In the Cherokee Nation the John Ross faction, resisting removal, was arrayed against the Boudinot-Ridge-Watie group; and long after they were removed to the west their vindictive strife resulted in the death of many. Chief William McIntosh of the Creeks was slain by a band of his own tribesmen because he had signed the treaty of Indian Springs against the wishes of a majority of his people. The Seminoles, too, were torn with factional strife; and for many years after the treaty of 1833, Osceola and his followers prevented removal by hiding in the swamps and everglades of Florida, and by resisting federal troops sent out to force compliance.

2. The Prairie Indians.

It was while in the midst of all these difficulties and problems that the government was compelled to resort to an unusual experiment, about which this paper is devoted. Not long after the Quapaw and Osage cessions, the prairie tribes angrily protested the intrusion of Eastern Indians. What was the government to do? It had ignored their claims in making reservation assignments. Although some of the prairie bands were semi-sedentary, others were wild and nomadic and therefore quite unlike in manners and customs the Five Civilized Tribes. And this was a very important reason why the prairie bands would not relinquish any of their hunting grounds to the newcomers. So, here again little wisdom was evidenced by federal authorities in handling an Indian problem. But in order to understand better important angles of the new problem, it is now necessary to consider the range of the wild tribes, as well as the culture of the same.

Page 441

Approximately the western half of the lands assigned the Five Civilized Tribes was within the hunting grounds of the Comanches, Kiowas, Katakas, and Wichitas. Their range was the Southern Plains reaching from the Arkansas River to the Rio Grande.14 Its western boundary was the Rocky Mountains, and its eastern prairies were bordered by the Cross Timbers, an extraordinary forest of stunted oak, hackberry, and elm, from five to thirty miles in width, extending generally along the ninety-eighth meridian, from the Arkansas to the Colorado of Texas. Indeed, early treaties with the nomads defined their range as "west of the Cross Timbers." The area was a hunter's paradise: its perennial streams were few but fairly evenly spaced; its climate was salubrious; and its grassy plains were grazed by great herds of bison, elk, deer, and antelope.

At this time the prairie tribes numbered above fifty thousand. Only the semi-sedentary Wichitas, who lived about the Cross Timbers, both north and south of the Red River, cultivated small patches of corn, squash, and melons.15 The Comanches, Kiowas, and Katakas were nomadic, and followed the great herds of buffaloes from place to place over the prairies.16 The latter were much alike in manners and customs:






16An eminent American ethnologist, under the caption, "Popular fallacies," has made the following statement: "The term nomadic is not, in fact, properly applicable to any Indian tribe." Frederick W. Hodge (ed.), Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico (Washington, 1907), Part II, 283. The Handbook is not quite consistent in this statement for in Part I, 66 is found: "Being a nomadic people, the Apache practiced agriculture only to a limited extent"; and ibid., 328, "The Comanche were nomad buffalo hunters, constantly on the move." . . . Practically all government officials in the Indian country and visitors during this early period confirm the two latter statements. As an example, commissioners Stokes and Arbuckle wrote Secretary Cass on September 15, 1835: "The Comanches and Kiowas have no fixed or permanent villages and follow the herds of buffaloes with their moveable lodges." W. S., C. I. A. A few of the many early accounts agreeing with this statement are: R. B. Marcy, Thirty Years of Army Life on the Border (New York, 1866), 17-97; George Catlin, North American Indians. Being Letters and Notes on Their Manners, Customs, and Conditions, Written during Eight Years Travel Amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America, 1832,1839 (Edinburgh, 1926), II, 43, et sequor; E. House (ed.), A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Horn and Her Two Children with Mrs. Harris by the Comanche Indians, After they had Murdered their Husbands and Traveling Companions; with a Brief Account of the Manners and Customs of that Nation of Savages, of Whom so Little is Generally Known (St. Louis, 1839) , 54-61; and Thomas C. Battey, The Life and Adventures of a Quaker Among the Indians (Boston, 1875), 319-333.

Page 442

they lived in skin ti'pi's which could be put up or taken down quickly and transported by horse and travois poles to another camp site, as exigencies might require; they dressed in skins; and they subsisted partly on the spontaneous products of the country, and partly by stealing from their neighbors, both red and white. Although their culture was by no means as primitive as that of the miserable "Diggers" of California, it was far more so than that of their Eastern neighbors.

The buffalo and mustang (wild horse) contributed much to their nomadic habits. From the hide of the first the Indian made his ti'pi's, robe, clothing, lariat, shield, and bow string. He ate its flesh; he made spikes, and ornaments of its hoofs, horns, and bones; and in emergencies, he drank its blood and stomach juices.17 Since therefore he depended to such a large degree on the buffalo, he must follow the great herds in their wanderings in search of grass, or on their annual migrations, north and south.

The nomad also needed the horse, not only in his wanderings, but in his extended hunting expeditions, or in projecting his war forays. Mounted bands which normally ranged along the upper reaches of the Red, Brazos, and Colorado rivers, frequently made raids as far south as Saltillo and Chihuahua,18 and hunting expeditions as far west as Utah or as far north as Wyoming.

While engaged in such enterprises, the average nomad gloried in the chase, in taking scalps, in plundering hostile camps or caravans of white traders passing through his country, and in stealing horses wherever they could be found; con-





Page 443

sequently, raids and hunting excursions were matters of great importance. In short, the nomads were the scourges of neighboring sedentary bands, of the inhabitants of northern Mexico, and of the Anglo-American traders and travelers; and their strength was even greater than their numbers would indicate, since the average warrior was bold, fierce, expert in horsemanship, and amazingly proficient in using the bow and arrow.

The Comanches were the most numerous of the wandering tribes. P. L. Choutesu, who visited their hunting grounds in 1836, stated that be believed their warriors would number 4,500, although the Mexican government's estimate was 8,000. This would evidence a total population between 27,000 and 48,000.19 They were divided into several bands, the principal ones being the Yamparikas (root-eaters), ranging along the Arkansas; the Kotsotekas (buffalo eaters), occupying the Canadian Valley; the Kwahadies (antelope-eaters), living long the foothills and canyons of the Llano Estacado; the Penatekas (honey-eaters), camping along the upper waters of the Brazos and Colorado; and the Nokonies (wanderers), ranging north of the Penatekas.20

The Kiowas and Katakas, whose numbers ranged above ten thousand, according to Chouteau, had been close allies of the Comanches since the late years of the eighteenth century. Although they claimed a part of western Oklahoma and the Panhandle of Texas, they roamed at will over Comancheria; and not infrequently hunted, fought, and concluded treaties as allies of the Comanches.21

It was these Arabian-like wanderers and pillagers who gave to the Spaniards of New Mexico one of their most serious border problems. When the New Mexicans could not impress them by a display of military strength, as they attempted to do by sending expeditions into their country, in the early years of the nineteenth century, Captain Faciendo Melgares resorted







Page 444

to pageantry. He invited them to meet him in a great pow-wow. When the Comanches arrived, they were astonished to find Melgares and his officers mounted on black horses, and his five hundred soldiers on white ones. But the two thousand Indians, perhaps anticipating pageantry, also showed to good advantage; they rode mustangs of many colors, and were attired "in their gay robes, and displayed their various feats of chivalry."22

Since the prairie tribes would not cede any of their hunting range, and since federal treaties had already provided for the occupation of the western Oklahoma part of it by the Five Civilized Tribes, a problem of no mean consequence pressed for immediate settlement. Its solution was primarily contingent on the nomads' acceptance of the Eastern Indians as allies and their willingness to share with them their valuable hunting grounds. Indeed, having gone thus far in their program of treaty-making, government commissioners were forced to negotiate on this basis.

Prior to the period of removals, General James Wilkinson had already attempted to conclude a treaty with the Comanches. When he dispatched Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike on his well known southwestern expedition of 1806, in addition to the other objectives he was to undertake, he instructed him to conclude "a good understanding with the Ietans or Comanches."23 Pike did not accomplish this objective, however. He was arrested by Spanish troops on the headwaters of the Rio Grande, and finally sent under an escort to Louisiana, via Chihuahua and Texas. As already stated, Major Long, too, crossed the Canadian River part of the Comanche country, but he did not attempt to make a treaty with the Comanches. Thus, up until 1835 the powerful prairie tribes had not been brought under treaty restrictions.





Page 445

3. Treaties of 1835 and 1837.

Pending a final solution of the prairie Indian problem, the Secretary of War thought it wise to send a considerable military force into their country. In view of the fact that the nomads were pillaging caravans passing between Independence and Santa Fe', attacking travelers, journeying across their hunting grounds, and harassing the settlements of the north Mexican states, a demonstration of this kind might have a salutary effect.

On June 21, 1834, General Henry Leavenworth with eight companies of Dragoons left Camp Rendezvous, eighteen miles from Fort Gibson, for the prairies.24 By the time the expedition arrived on the banks of the Washita River, many of the men had been stricken with fever, including General Leavenworth. Their, plight, as described by George Catlin, an artist who accompanied the expedition, was desperate. It was now decided to leave the sick behind, and to, send forward the remainder of the Dragoons under the command of Colonel Henry Dodge. The expedition shortly thereafter arrived at a large Wichita camp near the Wichita, Mountains, where Colonel Dodge held a conference with the prairie bands. He told them that the United States desired to live in peace with them, and that a commission would shortly be sent to their country to propose terms. For a short time Little Mountain and his Kiowa warriors were quite incensed because the Dragoons were accompanied by a band of Osages with whom they were at war, but, their distrust and anger were allayed when Colonel Dodge restored to them a Kiowa girl whom the Osages had captured during the preceding summer. The Indians on their part gave up a captive boy, Matthew Martin.25





Page 446

By the time Dodge was ready to start on his return journey to Fort Gibson, he had persuaded a delegation of the prairie bands, consisting of fifteen Kiowas, eight Comanches, and three Wacoes, to return with him for a conference. The Comanches, however, would go no farther than the Cross Timbers. When the Dragoons arrived with the remaining delegations, runners were sent to invite the chiefs and head men of the Osages, Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws to meet with them. At the conference which followed, Colonel Dodge told the prairie Indians that he did not have authority to negotiate a treaty, but he again assured them that soon federal commissioners would come to their country for this purpose. As an evidence of the friendship of the United States, however, he distributed medals and flags among them.26 Viewing the expedition and the Fort Gibson conference in the large, it may be said that they paved the way for the treaty soon to follow, and acted as an immediately restraining influence on the hostile bands.

In the meantime the Secretary of War appointed a peace commission, consisting of Montfort Stokes, former governor of North Carolina, Major F. W. Armstrong, and General Matthew Arbuckle. Although Major Armstrong died before the prairie tribes could be met in conference, the other two commissioners finally completed their work. In accordance with their instructions, they invited the tribes to send delegations to Fort Gibson for a second parley, but the prairie bands declined on the ground that Colonel Dodge had promised to send commissioners out to their country. In refusing to come to Fort Gibson the Indians were not following an arbitrary course; they were motivated by fear of the white man's magic, or of the frowning guns of his fort. During the period of early contacts, on more than one occasion, before presenting themselves at a fort or treaty site, they sent forward an astute warrior to



Page 447

make observations. This suspicious tendency explains why the Comanches who had started from the Wichita camp with Colonel Dodge did not go on to Fort Gibson. They sought to explain why they would go no farther by saying that they did not like to travel through the Cross Timbers, —and particularly, since one of the squaws was sick. Indeed, in this connection, it is not without its significance that neither the treaty of 1835 with the Comanches nor that of 1837 with the Kiowas, Katakas, and Tawakonies was possible until traders—Holland Coffee in the first instance, and A. P. and P. L. Chouteau in the second27—had persuaded the Indians that they had nothing to fear from meeting the commissioners, and that a treaty was desirable.

Even after the commissioners decided to journey to the edge of the prairies to meet the Indians, they encountered delay; they were told that a large Comanche war party was away on an expedition against the Mexicans, and that the others were scattered over the prairies hunting buffaloes; consequently, a conference at this time was impossible.28 Again the nomads were not intentionally avoiding the commissioners; they were carrying out their usual summer routine. They seldom returned to the vicinity of the Wichita Mountains, east of which the commissioners hoped to meet them, until the corn of the Pawnee Picts was ripe, at which time they were accustomed to feast on the fruits of their allies' labors.29 Under the circumstances, therefore, there was nothing for the white men to do but wait on the pleasure of the haughty red men.

While waiting, the commissioners made all preliminary arrangements for the conference. On May 18, Major Richard B. Mason was sent with a detachment of dragoons to establish a camp at a suitable site on Little River. But instead he tra-







Page 448

veled for about one hundred fifty miles in a southwesterly direction until he arrived on the banks of a small creek (later known as Chouteau Creek) which emptied into the South Canadian. Here about three miles north of the present town of Lexington, Oklahoma, he established Camp Mason. Then on June 16, Lieutenant A. F. Seaton with thirty men of infantry was sent out from Fort Gibson to cut a wagon road through to Mason's camp, and to convey thereto provisions, for the soldiers. By July 19 this was accomplished and all was in readiness.

The prairie Indians began to arrive by the first of July, and after three or four weeks they were present in such large numbers as to alarm Major Mason, who requested of General Arbuckle additional troops. Two infantry companies were sent from Fort Gibson, which raised Mason's strength to two hundred fifty men; but it was still inconsiderable in comparison with that of the Indians.30

However, the Kiowas did not remain until the commissioners arrived. The latter were told that some Osages had unduly alarmed them, but it was later believed that they left the treaty grounds to engage in a buffalo hunt.31

Late in July Governor Stokes and General Arbuckle arrived at Camp Mason, accompanied by delegations of Creeks, Osages, Senecas, and Quapaws; and shortly thereafter they were followed by other representatives from the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Delawares.32

There was never held on the prairies a more significant and imposing Indian assemblage. The chiefs and head men of the Eastern Indians represented more than fifty thousand souls, and those of the West perhaps a third more. The names of







Page 449

only the important delegates affixed to the agreement filled more than four pages of foolscap33; and it is estimated that seven thousand Indians were camped about the treaty ground. Half-clad savages, dressed only in breech-clout, leggings, and wearing wampum and ornaments of brass and silver about their necks and wrists, met Eastern Indians garbed in part as were the nomads, and in part as the federal commissioners. Interpreters and traders wearing buckskin were also present to lend advice and faithfully to translate the speech of the Indians.

The signed document of agreement now on file in our Indian Bureau reveals all the verbal clap-trap of the average early Indian treaty—stilted phrases, involved sentences, and meaningless clauses, such as "Every injury or act of hostility by one or either of the contracting parties on the other, shall be mutually forgiven and forever forgot."34 By the general terms of the treaty the Comanches and Wichitas, and their associated bands, were to allow travelers and traders to pass through their country without molestation, to refrain from depredating the Santa Fe' trade, to accept the Eastern Indians as their friends and allies and to allow them—as well as other tribes south of the Missouri River and west of the State of Missouri—to hunt on the prairies west of the Cross Timbers,35 to make restitution for stolen property, to do no injury to the establishments of traders within their country, and to remain in peace with the Republic of Mexico.

Before Stokes and Arbuckle had come to the treaty ground, they had been much concerned about presents for the nomads. Both realized the very great importance of satisfying them in this respect, for in a letter to the Secretary of War they stated that greed for the white man's goods had caused the Indians to pillage the Santa Fe' caravans. Addressing Lewis Cass, Secretary of War, as early as May 14, 1835, Governor Stokes,







Page 450

writing for the commission, said: "a considerable supply of old flour and pork, which if not consumed in this way, will be nearly a total loss . . . may be properly issued to the Indians making the treaty, without being paid out of the fund appropriated."36 In the light of this statement, Article VIII of the treaty is interesting. The commissioners unctuously promised that since "the Comanche and Wichita Nations and their associated Bands or Tribes of Indians, having freely and willingly entered into this Treaty, and it being the first they have made with the United States or any of the contracting parties, that they shall receive presents immediately after signing, as a donation from the United States; nothing being asked from these Nations or Tribes in return except to remain at peace with the parties hereto, which their own good and that of their posterity require." Nothing in return, indeed! Had not the Eastern Indians abandoned their 77,000,000 acres beyond the Mississippi on the condition that homes in the West be given them? And was not the fulfillment of this promise in part contingent on the successful conclusion of the Camp Holmes treaty? How well were the prairie bands compensated for the concession they made to incoming Indians to share with them their hunting grounds? Was the distribution of worm-eaten meat and weavel-infested flour, in addition to some three hundred dollars worth of powder, lead, blankets, knives, and gaudy ornaments, a just reward for their liberality? The nomads themselves were to answer all these questions shortly after the agreement by persistent complaints, angry threats, thefts, and depredations.

Not long after the commissioners had returned to Fort Gibson, a Kiowa warrior, accompanied by a Wichita chief, visited them to ascertain whether it would be safe for his tribe to send a delegation to the post.37 The commissioners gave him some presents and sent him back to his people bearing an urgent invitation to a conference. Stokes and Arbuckle were





Page 451

soon notified, however, that an early assemblage would be impossible, since a large number of the warriors, led by their important chiefs, were either away raiding the north Mexican states, or hunting the buffaloes.38

In their later communications to they Secretary of War, the commissioners were frank to admit that the services of P. L. and A. P. Chouteau made possible the treaty of May 26, 1837.39 The first for making contacts with the Kiowas, Katakas, and Tawakonies in their own country, and then after protracted negotiations, leading them to Fort. Gibson. The second for substituting for General Arbuckle as a commissioner, and for his adroit handling of the Indians in the conference. In view of the fact that the Comanche-Wichita treaty needed amending, it is surprising that the Kiowas, Katakas, and Tawakonies were given the same terms.

4. Failure of the Experiment.

As previously stated, the federal experiment revolved about the theory that the sedentary and wild Indians could pool their tribal differences to such an extent that they would not only live side by side as friendly neighbors, but also that the former range of the nomads would now become a common hunting ground. The fallacy of this program was soon apparent. As early as December, 1835, a Mr. A. R. Rains, who had just come from the prairies, informed the commissioners that the Comanches were dissatisfied with the treaty.40 They complained that presents given them were inadequate and that they were







Page 452

unfairly distributed; and, moreover, that they could not tolerate other Indians on their hunting grounds. A short time later, Traveling Wolf (Es-a-ko-nee) was reported to have torn up his copy of the treaty, and to have threatened war on the whites and their Eastern Indian allies.

The next two years were accompanied by even more uncertainty and trouble. On April 19, 1836, P. L. Chouteau wrote the commissioners of thefts, of murders, and of threatened war by the prairie bands because of friction between them and the Eastern Indians.41 Superintendent William Armstrong also noticed the growing irritation between the rival tribes, and warned the government of possible consequences.42 That the danger was not of passing importance is thus shown in a letter which he wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, C. A. Harris: "There are now such a number of Indians that meet upon the prairie as a common hunting ground, which has been until lately, generally occupied by the Comanches and other wild tribes, that depredations upon the property of each other will take place, which must soon lead to collision."43

Moreover, Superintendent Armstrong found impossible the enforcement of treaty obligations. When he would accuse Tabaquena or Little Mountain, influential chiefs of the Comanches and Kiowas, of molesting travelers passing through their country, or of attacking hunting parties of friendly tribes, they would naively reply that these hostile acts had been committed by Texas bands of their tribes; or, when he would seek to hold Clermont, Osage chief, responsible for the horse-stealing of his warriors, that worthy would state that his young braves, who refused to listen to the counsels of their elders, were guilty.44 Armstrong believed that there was much truth in these rejoinders. 8o long as a large part of Comancheria









Page 453

was under the control of the Republic of Texas, the Comanche, Kiowa, and Wichita, bands residing there would regard lightly the treaties which their northern brothers had signed; and until additional troops were sent to strengthen the border posts and establish new ones, even the warriors of the treaty bands would refuse to accept restrictions.

As disturbing as were these developments, clashes between the Eastern Indians and the nomads were less frequent from 1838 to 1845. Mutual fear drove the two groups apart. The Eastern tribes, fearing the plains warriors as much as did the white settlers of Texas, seldom ranged beyond the Cross Timbers; and the Comanches and Kiowas on their part chose to confine their wanderings to the prairies farther west. As early as February, 1837, Superintendent Armstrong noticed that the Creeks did not range west of Camp Mason; and in order that their southern friendly neighbors might be similarly discreet, he thus instructed P. L. Chouteau: "If you should see any Choctaws out of their country hunting say to them to return forthwith."45 That the Choctaws little needed this admonition, even though they had a treaty right to hunt west of the Cross Timbers and plant settlements there, is revealed in a statement made by Commissioner T. Hartley Crawford in his annual report of 1841. In referring to the attacks of hostile Texas Indians on the Chickasaws and Choctaws, and other frontier disturbances, he concluded: "For these reasons, the Indian owners of the district have not made as extensive settlements in the west as they otherwise would have done."46

As a result of these new developments along the nomad-Eastern Indian frontier, therefore, war was averted—and not because of measures taken by federal officials when weaknesses of the treaties of 1835 and 1837 were revealed. Undoubtedly, as Crawford complained,47 much of the trouble he encountered







Page 454

in attempting to enforce treaty regulations was because of the hostile acts of the Texas prairie bands; but the fact remains, as has been indicated, that the federal experiment had in part failed. Eastern and nomadic prairie tribes could not and did not live on contiguous ranges as friendly allies, particularly when the favored hunting grounds of one would become the range of all. The Eastern Indians had traveled too far on the white man's road to meet the prairie tribes on a plane of common understanding; and the latter clung tenaciously, for many years yet to come, to their wandering habits and refused to countenance innovations. As was often true in federal Indian relations, the commissioners had sought to subordinate the Indians' welfare to the immediate needs of our rapidly expanding frontier. The admission of Texas to the Union in 1845 necessitated a reorientation of the Southern Plains Indian program which finally extinguished the nomads' claim to western Oklahoma. Here, too, the rapidly advancing frontiersmen demanded an elimination of the Indian claims and other experiments were tried; but it was not until the nomads were placed on reservations more than two and one half decades later and guarded by federal troops that they finally became amenable to federal control and a new social order.


EDITORIAL NOTE

Under orders of Gen. Leavenworth, Lieut. T. H. Holmes and his company of the Seventh Infantry constructed a fortification on Little River near its junction with the Canadian; this was done in the spring and summer of 1834. This establishment was called Camp Canadian, then Fort Holmes for the officer in charge of the work. Later some old maps show it as Old Fort Holmes. The location is southeast of Holdenville.

The next year Major R. B. Mason commanded a detachment that went from Fort Gibson to the vicinity of Lexington where he prepared accommodations for the big treaty conference that was held later in the year with the prairie Indians. This place, probably 50 miles west of Fort Holmes, was at first appropriately called Fort Mason in honor of the officer in

Page 455

command of the detachment that first occupied the place. After the treaty conference Col. A. P. Chouteau set up a trading post here and from that time the place bore the additional name of Chouteau's Trading Post; they may not have been identical, but they were at least close together.

Afterward for some unaccountable reason cartographers and others got to calling the place Fort Holmes; it was clearly a misnomer applied to it without the slightest foundation of reason by people who had no first hand information of the place and its history.

So that properly speaking, Fort or Camp Mason and Fort Holmes were two separate and distinct military establishments at least fifty miles apart. They were probably confused by carelessness and ignorance so that the names were associated with the latter place (in point of time).—G. F.

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site