THE INDIAN AGENT
PROMINENT among the earliest problems of the new government under George Washington was that of establishing machinery to maintain a proper relationship between the United States and the Indian nations within its boundaries. Since the Indians constituted powerful warlike groups on the western borders and called for the intermittent attention of military men, the War Department was naturally given control of Indian relationships. Thus, if punishment was needed, it was meted out by the same hand that gave gifts or in other ways dealt with the sons of the forest.
Next in rank under the Secretary of War was the regional superintendent, who was usually the governor of a territory and carried the Indian work as one of his varied duties. This arrangement was weak and unsatisfactory from several angles. In the first place, with territories quickly becoming states, there were frequent changes and shifts in the headquarters and personnel of superintendencies. Territorial governors were often political appointees who formerly lived in the East and knew nothing about Indians. Once in a while there was a dash and misunderstanding as to whether a particular tribe was within the jurisdiction of one superintendent or another, since one tribe might inhabit two territories.
The next officer under a superintendent was an agent. Originally a subagent was appointed to assist the agent. In time the subagents were given stations of their own, and there was no difference in the two positions except the matter of rank and salary. Whereas the superintendent was in charge of a vast region with numerous tribes, the agent or subagent lived with a certain tribe or in a center