The Struggle for Self-Determination: History of the Menominee Indians since 1854

By David R. M. Beck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The 1905 Blowdown
and Its Aftermath

During the years after the passage of the 1890 logging bill, Menominees proved themselves to be successful and skilled lumbermen. They developed an annual pattern of contracting, logging, and selling the timber that brought some stability to the tribe and began to build capital in their federal treasury account. They also tried to use their newly gained economic foundation to leverage some political control over reservation governance. They wrote a new constitution in 1904 through which they created a Business Committee precisely to gain that control over their own economic affairs and over the annual logging of the twenty million feet of timber permitted under the 1890 law.

The Menominee wrote the constitution as an instrument to create a method for the tribe to “better secure the blessings of civilization to ourselves and our posterity.” This implied a denunciation of the old system of tribal government and a declaration of the need for tribal governance to enter the modern era. The preamble stated that “the government of the Menominee tribe of Indians is not organized according to civilized principles, but is an old form of government which has existed from the earliest ages, in which the ruling power has been under the control of hereditary chiefs, and handed down from generation to generation from time immemorial to the present time.” But now that the tribe was “far enough advanced in civilization” to make the old form of government obsolete, it reputedly needed a new form.1

Agency Superintendent Shepard Freeman worked closely with the Business Committee. The tribe could not approve the constitution without a General Council meeting, over which Freeman presided.2 He probably wholeheartedly approved the plan of “modernization,” if he did not have a hand in writing it. Just as the Menominee had accepted farming under Superintendent Huebschmann in the 1850s as a method to gain control of their economy and thus of their future, they apparently embraced a corporate oversight of the forest as the new method touted by the federal government to achieve “civilization.”

A new class of tribal leaders, which included membership from both old

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