When the United States was formed, Indian nations were viewed as sovereign nations, but rather than dealing with them through the State Department, an Indian Department was created within the War Department. In 1821, the United States continued to deal with Indian nations as potential enemies which needed to be subdued.
Despite the fact that most of the Indian nations within the United States has farming traditions which predated the European invasion and had agricultural surpluses which had supported the first European colonist, the government viewed Indians as a hunting people with no ties to the land and no civilization. Government policies at this time were primarily oriented towards: (1) removing Indians from their homelands and resettling them west of the Mississippi River so that non-Indians could acquire their traditional farmlands; (2) “civilizing” Indians by forcing them to become English-speaking Christians; and (3) teaching them how to farm in the European fashion.
Visiting Washington, DC
In order to impress Indian leaders with the greatness of the United States, it was a common practice to bring Indian delegations to Washington, D.C. where they could meet with American bureaucrats and see the splendors of the city.
In Washington, D.C. Benjamin O’Fallon introduced a group of 17 Indian leaders to President James Monroe. The President told them that he hoped that they would want the comforts of civilized life and that he was prepared to send them missionaries to teach their people agriculture and Christianity. Pawnee leader Sharitarish replied:
“We have everything we want—we have plenty of land, if you will keep your people off it.”
A delegation of Oto visited Washington, D.C. Shaumonekusse brought his 14-year-old wife, Eagle Delight, with him. Eagle Delight became the darling of Washington society.
Superintendent of Indian Affairs
In the bureaucracy of the War Department, superintendents were responsible for Indians in a large geographic area. At times, this might be an entire Territory. According to William Roche, in his University of Montana M.A. thesis The Territorial Governor as Ex-Officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs and the Decline of American-Indian Relations:
“All Indian superintendents, whether their status was ex-officio or full-time, were not only required to oversee the Indians under their jurisdiction, but also required to supervise and to regulate those traders who conducted business with the Indians.”
In Missouri, William Clark was appointed United States Superintendent of Indian Affairs. According to Landon Jones, in his book William Clark and the Shaping of the West:
“Reporting only to the President and the Secretary of War, Clark was charged with issuing licenses and passports to all traders and travelers in Indian county, calling on the U.S. Army to arrest lawbreakers, negotiating treaties, establishing tribal boundaries, arbitrating disputes, and managing fifteen agencies and ten subagencies and a field force of agents, interpreters, blacksmiths, and clerks.”
In Florida, the United States takes possession of Florida and assumed guardianship for an estimated 5,000 Seminoles. While the Americans viewed the Seminoles as a single tribe, in actuality they are an assortment of bands with different traditions and languages. The Americans began making plans to relocate the Seminole who were living near the American settlements. The American governor viewed the area between the Suwanee River and Alachua, the area in which most of the Seminole lived, as the richest and most valuable in the territory. The Americans assumed that this land should be given to American settlers for development and the Seminole should be moved to Alabama or to west of the Mississippi River. According to historian John Mahon, in his chapter in the Handbook of North American Indians:
“As far as the new owner of the land was concerned the Seminoles were an unwelcome appendage to the soil, clearly without any right of permanent ownership in it.”
American policy called for the “making of chiefs,” that is, the American government preferred to appoint the chief for each tribe. The United States decreed that Neamathla was the chief of the Seminole in Florida. In actuality, Neamathla was an eneah, an advisor to the village chief. As a Hitchiti (one of the tribes considered to be Seminole by the Europeans), Neamathla was determined to retain his culture and economic way of life.
Missouri was given statehood and the new state’s senators, both of whom served on the Committee on Indian Affairs, demanded that American settlers and fur traders be protected from possible Indian violence. They asked for more military forts to better control the Indians.
The Potawatomi are an Algonquian-speaking people whose homelands at the time of first contact with the Europeans was centered in the lower peninsula of Michigan. They are also known as the Fire Nation and at one time were a part of the Ojibwa and Ottawa people.
In Chicago, the Potawatomi signed a treaty ceding to the United States a large tract of land in southwestern Michigan as well as land in Illinois and Indiana.
A Protestant missionary visited the Potawatomi and described the greeting ceremony:
“Business was opened by my throwing my tobacco in a heap on the ground, in the midst of the company, followed by a round of smoking. Next came our talk.”
In Arkansas, the Secretary of War appointed an official surveyor to survey the new boundaries for the Choctaw removal from Mississippi. He then hired a second surveyor to run an altered boundary line in Arkansas, one that was unofficial, that would give the Choctaw the same amount of land without upsetting the status quo of the American settlers.
The Oneida, whose homelands were in New York, were one of the five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.
In Wisconsin, the Oneida from New York purchased a small tract of land near the Fox River from the Menominee.
In South Dakota, a Lakota winter count recorded “Star passed by with loud noise,” The record refers to an exploding meteor.
In Kansas, the United Foreign Mission Society established the Harmony Mission on the Osage River for the Osage bands. The missionaries attempted to transform the Osage into Christian farmers—that is, farmers where the men would do the farming in a labor-intensive fashion. The Osage, who had been farming long before the Europeans arrived on the continent, continued to farm in their traditional way and let the crops take care of themselves while they went off on their annual summer hunt.
Indian people had been mining metals—primarily copper and lead—for many centuries prior to the European invasion. In Wisconsin, American miners began to invade the lead mines which had traditionally been worked by the Sauk, Fox, and Winnebago.
The Seneca are the westernmost nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. In New York, the Seneca tribal council convicted Kauquatou of sorcery. Acting on behalf of the tribal council Chief Tommy-Jemmy cut her throat. In response, the state of New York prosecuted Tommy-Jemmy for murder. Red Jacket and Tommy-Jemmy’s court-appointed attorneys argued that the death of Kauquatou was not murder under New York law because it was a legal execution under Seneca law, on Seneca land, by the sovereign Seneca people. The circuit court referred the case to the New York State Supreme Court which noted that no law extended state murder jurisdiction over the Iroquois.
Twice each week, this series presents American Indian stories. More nineteenth-century histories from this series—
Indians 101: The Cherokee Indians 200 years ago, 1821
Indians 101: Mexico and American Indians 200 years ago, 1821
Indians 101: The fur trade in 1821
Indians 101: Indian Removal 200 years ago, 1820
Indians 101: Indian treaties 200 years ago, 1820
Indians 101: The Lame Cow War
Indians 101: The Ojibwa, Copper, and Millard Fillmore
Indians 101: The 1837 Winnebago Treaty