Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grant and the Indians

Thomas Jefferson wanted to relocate the Indians west of the Mississippi. Monroe wanted them to be removed somewhere even further west near the Rocky Mountains. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 to appropriate money for the removal of the Indians to parts of Louisiana Purchase where no one was living. President Jackson pursued Indian Removal with a vengeance. By 1845, at the end of President Tyler's term it looked like the Indian Problem was solved. Most of the Indians had been forcibly moved out west. Indians were west of a boundary line drawn from Lake Superior to the Red River on the Texas border. The Indians were promised this land in poetic treaty language that said, "as long as grass grows and water flows." Trouble was as white settlement kept pushing west, treaties were ignored and Indians had be moved again. Gold was discovered, railroads built, buffalo hunters, farmers and cattleman -all headed to the American Frontier and their rights trumped whatever rights the Indians thought they had. Indians who were losing their land and their way of life fought back. It was a losing battle. Some in the American government and army were looking for a reason to exterminate them. Those who did not want to kill them wanted to "protect" them on a reservation where they could be "civilised" according to the white man's ways. Two large reservations were planned - pretty much all of Oklahoma and South Dakota. Most of the Indians submitted to the plan. Trouble was Congress failed to appropriate the funds. There were more Indian uprisings mainly because they were starving. The former Union Civil War Generals Sherman and Sheridan (who said infamously, "the only good Indian is a dead Indian") were in charge of putting down rebellions. President US Grant took office in the midst of all this unrest (1869). He had commanded Sherman and Sheridan in the Civil War so he was able to control them to a certain extent. Had Grant not been the president during this time his biographer, Jean Edward Smith, wrote, "tens of thousands (Indians) would have perished, and ethnic cleansing would have been the order of the day." Almost singlehandedly Grant changed the direction of Indian affairs in the country. Few others in government shared his conciliatory approach to the Indian Problem. Grant's principal advisor on Indian affairs was Ely Parker who had been his aide during the Civil War. Parker was a Seneca chief and helped Grant administer Indian policy. It was a tumultuous four years as Grant battled those within and outside his government who advocated a much harsher Indian policy. It was finally Custer's Last Stand that almost did his policy in. In the aftermath of the slaughter at Little Big Horn, the public wanted Indian blood. Even though Grant had no regard for Custer, his death made him into a national hero. Government and public opinion was against Grant and his policies toward the Indians. Still all was not lost and after the outcry over the Custer debacle blew over, some of Grant's good work toward the Indian was left to stand. Custer was avenged and what was left of the Sioux were driven to the reservation. Sheridan gloried in his mission to rid the west of the Indian and make it safe for the farmer, prospector, and emigrant. All in all, Jean Smith, concluded "Grant changed the way the United States thought about Native Americans and his decision in 1869 to pursue peace, not war, helped to save the American Indian from extinction."