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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 10, No. 3
September, 1932

By Martha Buntin

Page 369

By the late seventies the cattlemen of Texas were well aware of the great area of unused range on the Kiowa and Comanche reservation. While they could not lease this land, it was a simple matter to drive their cattle across the border and secure free pasture for a period of a few weeks or, if undetected, for several months. The Indian police force was insufficient in number, poor in equipment, and generally unable to cope with the situation. The details of troops sent out by the Commanding Officer at Fort Sill could and did collect the arms of the trespassers, they were able to apprehend, round up the cattle and drive them off the reservation. Both the police and military detail were required, by their instructions, to return the arms at the border, count the cattle, list the correct number under each brand, and report fully to Agent Hunt.1 Hunt was then required to make a full detailed report of the trespassing stock removed from the reservation to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs whose duty was to report to the Secretary of the Interior the facts provided by Hunt, and he in turn asked the Attorney General to collect damages under the law.2

On October 29, 1881, P. B. Hunt, United States Indian Agent for the Kiowa, Comanche, and Wichita tribes, informed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs of the situation in the following words:

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"In consequence of the unprecedent drouth and the general scearity3 of water and grass, especially in the cattle range of Texas, the Police force has been actively engaged in patrolling the Entire Southern and Western borders of the reservation, driving off all cattle and as far as possible, preventing the Texas cattlemen from pasturing their herds on Indian lands, it required unusual vigilance on the part of the force to prevent inroads along these two sides of the reservation so that for their better protection and that other duties might not be neglected, I found it necessary to increase the force to the maxium allowed an also to reorganize it, selecting those whose fitness for the duties to be preformed give promise of willing and faithful service." 4

Again on November 18, 1881 he commented on the situation in his monthly report to the Commissioner:

"The greater portion of the Police force were actively engaged along the western and southern border of the reservation guarding against the encroachment of cattlemen."5

As the range in Texas became poorer and poorer and more and more cattle were being driven into the reservation, the police, aided by details of troops from Fort Sill were unsuccessful in preventing all or nearly all the herds from crossing the borders. In January Hunt described the conditions in these words:

"The removing of cattle from the reservation and guarding the border against their entrance is rapidly becoming the principal business and indeed at the present time the force is entirely inadequate to the accomplishment of this purpose."6

In addition to the trouble caused by the trespassing of cattle on the Kiowa and Comanche reservation, Hunt had numerous other routine duties to perform, not the least of which was the providing subsistence for his 4,179 Indians.7

Page 371

Even the few who had attempted farming were without food other than that supplied by the government. He knew if the supplies were cut off or lessened, many of the Indians would leave the reservation and retrograde to their former roving lives to their injury and the detriment of the citizens of the surrounding settlements. Therefore, when he received a circular letter from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs advising him that his beef rations were to be but three-fourths of the usual amount, he set about to remedy the situation without the consent of the Commissioner, Secretary of Interior, or the Congress, who had decided to practice economy where it would least injure the desired results in the approaching elections. He, therefore, sent the letter from the Commissioner with the following comment to Col. C. V. Henry, Commanding Officer at Fort Sill:

I have directed Mr. J. Nestell, who will deliver this to you in person—to show you a letter I received by the last mail from the Hon. Commissioner of Indian Affairs in regard to the beef purchases for my Indians for the present fiscal year.
It will be seen that 261,000 pounds of beef or about 327 head of cattle will be needed to meet the full ration to July 1st.
Now instead of sending Mr. Clark, with the Indian Police down this week to go with such a detachment of troops as you might think sufficient to drive the cattlemen with their herds off the reservation,I send for quite a different purpose.
If the Messrs. Suggs and Wagoner will agree to give 300 head of beef cattle (150 head each) I will take the responsibility to let them remain until 1st of July with the herds they now hold.
I can get the consent of the Indians to such an agreement for they will see the necessity of having the beef.
Of course I can give no guarantee of protection but will do all I can to protect their cattle against depredations.
It is quite clear that they would lose a great many if I feed my Indians for the remainder of the fiscal year on ¾ rations.

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You will see at once the importance of something being done and as the beef must come from some quarter I will first make an effort to supply the deficiency in the way I suggest.
I will thank you to assist Mr. Nestell in making this arrangement and if these parties will not agree to do something at once toward feeding the Indians they must move out.
We can try the cattlemen west of North Fork after we see what can be done with the other parties and if any agreement is made I will ask you that the cattle be delivered at Fort Sill in the presence of someone you may name and I will agree in writing that they will not be driven out until July 1st.8

The idea, expressed in the above quoted letter, of obtaining a revenue from the large area of grass which was going to waste each year was not a new one with Hunt, as he had been advocating the necessity of securing some form of income for the Indians from these lands since the beginning of his administration. Hunt knew that the encroachment of the homesteaders on the free range along with the overstocking of the public and private ranges of Texas, made the Kiowa and Comanche reservation very valuable to the cattlemen. He was also rather certain that the majority of these ranchers would prefer to pay for the use of the land if they were assured of possession for a definite period with the privilege of renewing, if they so desired, at the end of the time. This theory was one of his favorite themes upon which he wrote often and at great length. The following letter is one of the shorter examples of these letters. It was written August 18, 1879, more than two and a half years prior to the difficulties of 1882:

I have the honor to state that I have been for some time trying to arrive at some conclusion as to how the great area of fine grazing land now unoccupied belonging to this Agency could be used advantageously to the Indians. There are tens of thousands of acres that are not touched any year out

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of which a nice income might be realized.
I had a conversation with Mr. R. D. Hunter, the present beef contractor, on the subject and he at once made the following offer, which I submit for your consideration; he agrees to put eight or ten thousand head of cattle, at some point designated by the Agent, and to pay for all sizes 10c per head per year for the privilege. This is one offer and I have no doubt he will do better, but as it is a matter for your decision, I would like to hear from you on this subject, I do not submit it as a finial proposition, but wish to know if such a thing would be allowed, and if so to ascertain the best that can be done, and it would make an income of $1000 which would purchase for the Indians 200 calves and be that much of a saving to the Government in the purchase of stock cattle. Or if you choose the grazing privilege might be paid in young cattle.
If the grass of the reserves can be converted into young cattle why not use it. To make these people self-supporting they must have herds of cattle and I am anxious to press the matter forward as fast as I can. The sooner they are supplied with cattle that much sooner will they be in that condition and I want to bring all the points to bear.
If the privilege is granted I would not favor guaranteeing protection against depredations so that claims could be made against the government.9

On March 20, 1882, Hunt addressed two letters to Nestell, one of which directed him to go to the West Fork of Red River for the purpose of locating Ikard and Company, to whom he was to explain the situation as Hunt had explained it to Col. Henry, and to discover what, if anything, these gentlemen would do; the other letter ordered him to locate Suggs and Wagoner and lay the proposition before them. He was instructed to make clear that the Indians were without sufficient beef rations which shortage Hunt expected the trespassing cattlemen to make up in return for

Page 374

permission to remain on the reservation with the cattle they held on March 20, 1882 until July first. If they refused to comply with the request of the Agent, the Commanding Officer, Col. Henry, would aid the Indian Police in removing the cattlemen and their herds.10

The matter of reducing the beef ration was of vital importance to Agent Miles of the Cheyenne and Arapaho adjoining the Kiowa and Comanche reservation on the north, as he too, had received instructions in regard to the rations being reduced for his Indians.11 Therefore on March 21, 1882, the day following the receipt of the letter from the Commissioner, Hunt sent this telegram to Agent Miles:

Have received order to reduce beef ration. No reduction can be made. I am now making an effort to have the trespassing cattlemen supply the deficiency by offering them permission to graze the North Fork until July 1st failing in this I shall inform the Department that the full issue must continue.12

Agent Miles replied at once that he did not know what to do, that he was attempting to secure a full ration for his Indians by informing the Department of the necessity, inquired if Hunt had wired a protest, and asked about the progress of his policy of collection the deficiency from the trespassers.13

Hunt replied by telegraph to the effect that he had written the Commissioner14 informing him that full rations were absolutely necessary, and that replies had not been received from the trespassers.15

On March 31, 1882, Hunt received this telegram from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs concerning the necessity of the continuation of full rations

Page 375

Congress has failed to appropriate sufficient to issue full rations and directions in my letter of fifteenth inst must be obeyed.16

In the meantime Nestell was in Texas visiting the various cattlemen who had herds trespassing on the reservation. The people whose ranches bordered on Red River had great numbers of cattle on the reservation, many of which had no doubt drifted onto the reservation by the simple method of crossing the river, finding grass, and grazing their way farther into the lands of Kiowa and Comanche reservation. Even if they had desired to do so, it is very doubtful if they could have prevented all their hungry cattle from drifting onto the Indian lands, however, they could and did drive great herds of stock to the fords of Red River and cross at night to prevent discovery.

Therefore, Nestell met the various cattlemen and presented the case by informing them of the reduction of the beef ration for the Indians. After they had discussed the probable effect of the drastic reduction, recalled the former raids, and advanced their various opinions on the possible results of the situation, Nestell, with excellent showmanship, presented Hunt's solution of the problem. It did not take long for them to fully understand that Hunt would permit them to remain on the reservation until July first if they would donate the cattle required to make up the deficiency. Each of of the cattlemen, with the exception of Suggs agreed to give the number required of him and to deliver them to the person at Fort Sill who was appointed to receive them, and to do this at the time specified by Hunt. Suggs said that he would wait until the others had agreed to the plan, in which case, he, too, would accept it. When Nestell reported the answer, Hunt, replied that Suggs would either comply at once or his cattle would be immediately removed from the reservation.17 Suggs agreed.

The cattlemen were more than willing to comply with the request of the Agent for a number of excellent reasons—their own range was bare—water was hard to find, while the

Page 376

range on the Kiowa and Comanche reservation was comparatively good. Their cattle were moreover, in a very poor condition and could not stand being driven off the range several times during the winter. There were also advantages of having riders on the reservation, who did not have to be careful not to be seen. It was very plain to the cattlemen that they were going to provide the beef for the Indians either with or without their consent. Their drifting cattle would be eaten by the Indians even if they did remove their herds, they therefore consented to contribute with alacrity and to select the cattle from their herds to be eaten by the wards of the government.

The plan to have the cattlemen supply willingly the cattle required to meet the deficiency was a success. No better co-operation could have been asked for; of the cattlemen, who provided the cattle, of the Commanding Officer, who received them, of the Indians, who approved of the plan, and of the Agent, who initiated it, as all were satisfied each believing that he had been the recipient of the best part of the bargain. The cattlemen had a good range for their cattle, the Commanding Officer's task of detailing troops to do cow-boy duty was greatly reduced, the Indians had enough beef to eat, and the Agent enjoyed peace, while the Agent on the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation was having difficulties with his hungry Indians.

By April 19, 1882 the various cattlemen had received a memorandum agreement to pasture their cattle on the reservation until July 1.19 In spite of the absolute lack of authority for these agreements, Hunt, displaying unquestionable honesty, demanded that these cattle be received in exactly the same manner as the animals were received for beef issues from the regular contractor. This was the reason for the delivery of the cattle at Fort Sill because there was no fund from which the expenses of the person named by the Commanding Officer, to examine the cattle could be paid.20

While Hunt was receiving the promised cattle from the trespassing cattlemen, Agent Miles, who had no way of

Page 377

securing cattle for his Indians, was receiving protests of a most serious nature which he believed were about to result in difficulties similar to those of 1874. Accordingly pressure was brought to bear and Congress belatedly appropriated the funds necessary to purchase the cattle required to make up full ration for the remainder of the fiscal year.21 Of this change, the Commissioner advised both Hunt and Miles by telegraph. In answer to the telegram Hunt wrote this letter:

I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your telegram authorizing full issue of beef just after I had completed arrangements with owners of cattle trespassing and grazing on this reservation and west of North Fork, to partially supply the deficiency created by carrying out your instructions of 15th ultmo.
I have heretofore reported to you the difficulty of protecting the southern and western border against the large number of cattle owned by persons in Texas, who have ranches near Indian Territory and that many of the cattle were from time to time trespassing on the reservation which with my present Police force, I was unable to remove or keep out at the very time your instructions were received, to reduce the beef issue, with an understanding previously had with Col. Henry, Comdng. Fort Sill, for troops to aid my Police in driving the cattle out and protecting the border by establishing camps for troops along the line if necessary. I was in the act of starting Mr. E. L. Clark in charge to represent me in carrying out this arrangement to drive out all trespassing cattle, but your instructions caused me to hesitate and if possible devise some way to feed my Indians, knowing that they could not be subsisted on reduced rations, as ordered by your letter, and that if it did not result in hostilities, would be attended by evils of sufficient magnitude to render the experiment a costly one to the government. Causing

Page 378

depredations on property and untold injury to themselves, which the military force now in Indian Territory could not prevent. I at once sent for the principal and most influential men of the several tribes, and informed them of the reduction to be made in the beef issue, the effect of which was even more serious than I had reason to expect.
I then proposed to them that I would do all I could to get the full issue allowed to them and that pending further action of the Department or Congress in this matter, as there were a number of cattle trespassing on the reservation belonging to persons living in Texas, if they were satisfied for these cattle to remain until July 1st, I would see the owners and if possible get them to furnish the deficiency in the beef issue in payment for permitting their cattle to remain during the time stated, and they very readily assented to this plan.
I have since consulted with many others and so far as I have been able to obtain an expression of an opinion there is a general satisfaction and a desire to have the plan cinsummated.22
After obtaining the consent of the principal men I immediately countermanded my orders to Mr. Clark and sent Mr. John Nestell to Texas with the necessary instructions and authority to act in my stead to see what could be done.
With commendable energy he visited the ranchers in the border country of Texas adjoining this reservation, where it was expected the owners of these cattle trespassing on the Indian land could be found all of whom were seen and after presenting the situation of affairs to each in turn, with two alternatives from which to choose, either to make up the deficiency in the beef issue or to remove their cattle from the reservation, the latter a difficult one and if accomplished it would be equally difficult to keep them from returning and knowing if they did cross the line and get within reach of the half fed Indians they would be slaughtered immediately, so that all

Page 379

the circumstances considered, feeding the Indians seemed to them to be the most favorable and to this end they agreed to furnish about 200 head to make up the deficiency23 on the condition that their cattle now on the reservation would be permitted to remain until July 1 and therefore request that my action be approved, and that now in view of the fact that you have authorized the contractor to furnish the full issue of beef I suggest that the cattle (cows will be furnished) to be delivered to me under the agreements with the parties referred to may be received and accounted for as stock cattle and issued to the Indians for breeding purposes.24

The Commissioner replied that Hunt had acted without authority and that his conduct was displeasing to his superiors, informed him of the fact that cattle not belonging to Indians had no right on an Indian reservation and to please explain his conduct to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs without delay.25 Hunt then decided that his letter explaining the situation had not been sufficiently clear so he continued his explanations in this letter:

I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 18th inst (F 71482) from the tenor of which, I am sure you misconstrued my letter of 10th inst. in regard to the arrangements I made with the cattlemen whose herds have been crossing the line from Texas and the Chickasaw Nation and grazing on the Kiowa and Comanche Reservation.
When I made the arrangement as stated in my letter I had been informed by you that the beef ration for more than three months must be reduced one-fourth.
I knew that this could not be done and the white employes remain at the Agency and believing that the emergency justified extraordinary measures, the remedy seemed to be in but one direction and I at once applied to these men and told them I would not

Page 380

disturb their cattle now on the reservation before July 1st if they would supply the deficiency in Beef.
I kept my Indians quiet by informing them that I was endeavoring to make the above arrangement, I made it and thereby prevented serious trouble that was had at the Cheyenne Agency over the reduction. I asked for beef instead of bayonets to keep my Indians quiet.
Now as Congress came to our relief I simply asked you to permit me to issue the cattle secured not as beef as first intended, but to Indians for breeding purposes. I have already 94 head of cows on hand and respectfully ask again that the request in my letter of 10th inst be granted.26

Even while Hunt was so busy explaining and justifying his conduct to his superior officer, the arrangements he had completed in March were being carried out. To the cattlemen from whom he was still to receive cattle, he requested breeding stock rather than beef.27 To this plan he eventually received the consent of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs after a series of letters had been exchanged and the gentleman in Washington had discovered that authorized or not, the land had been leased, cattle received in payment therefore, and that his consent had not been of great importance as the matter was about to be completed without it, therefore he graciously consented by telegraph to permit the cattle to be accepted and issued to the Indians for breeding purposes.28

The plan had been an unusual success, in fact it had surpassed the theory. Every one concerned, except possibly the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was very much pleased with the excellent business-like plan of the Agent to use "beef instead of bayonets" but as the first day of July approached, the question arose in the minds of both Hunt and Henry as to whether the cattlemen, so willing to enter the reservation, so ready to pay for the use of the grass with the type of animals Hunt desired, would fulfill the last part of

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their agreement—to remove themselves and their cattle by July 1. Lest they should fail to remember the date set, Hunt wrote to each of the men concerned, to remind him of the approach of the date set for the removal of the cattle. Nothing happened. Hunt rather expected difficulties in removing the herds from the reservation as is shown in his letter to Col. Henry, requesting assistance in the event the cattlemen had to be forced to remove their herds from the reservation.29

July fifth arrived and the herd of cattle were still peacefully grazing on the reservation. On this date, Hunt wrote to all the men whose cattle were grazing on the reservation. The following letter was addressed to Suggs Brothers, Gainesville, Texas:

You are notified to remove immediately and keep outside the limits of the Kiowa and Comanche reservation all cattle owned by you or over which you have control, now on the said reservation or which may trespass in the future thereon and failing in this within thirty days, I am required in pursuance to instruction to report the facts of the case to the Commissioner in order that proper legal action may be taken in the premises.
Please acknowledge receipt of this.30

No movement toward the Texas ranches by the herds of cattle on the reservation occurred. The cattle were on the reservation to remain until they were removed by force. After the thirty days had passed, Hunt on August 9, requested the assistance of Col. Henry, who furnished large details of troops.31 By the use of the Indian police and these troops, the cattle and their owners were almost all ejected by September 1.

While the cattle were removed, it could be but a temporary thing as the value of the great range on the Kiowa and Comanche reservation was a definitely established fact in the minds of the Texas cattlemen. A range of excellent quality and abundant quantity, when their own range was in the worst possible condition had to be secured for the use of their cattle, with or without the consent of the government, legal

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or otherwise, that range would be used from this time on by the Texas cattlemen. Thus in order to provide for the Indians, avoid trouble and to prevent the cattlemen securing the grazing privileges for nothing, Hunt established a precedent which lead directly to the leasing of the surplus pasture lands of Kiowa, Comanche, and Wichita, reservation for grazing purposes which aided in postponing the opening of that portion of Oklahoma for several years.

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