The Western American Indian: Case Studies in Tribal History

By Richard N. Ellis | Go to book overview

General Pope and the Old "Hand-to-Mouth Way"

RICHARD N. ELLIS

The Indian campaign of 1874 did not settle the Indian problem on the southern plains although it did teach the Kiowa, Comanche, and Southern Cheyenne respect for the power of the government. The defeat of the three warlike southern tribes brought peace to the region, but Pope feared that hostilities might begin again. During the remainder of his tour of duty in the Department of the Missouri, be did his utmost to keep the peace and in so doing once again found himself embroiled in a major controversy with the officials of the Indian Bureau.

Even before the conclusion of the military campaign, Pope began to criticize the Indian Bureau. In October 1874 while military operations were at their height, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Edward P. Smith gave permission to 400 Pawnee to hunt buffalo in Indian Territory. Pope protested immediately. To send unsuspecting Indians into an area where troops were under orders to attack all Indians who were not at the agencies was unthinkable. "When it is considered," he wrote, "that the Indian Territory is everywhere now the theatre of active hostilities, and that troops, as well as hostile bands of Indians, are to be met anywhere, this action of the Indian Department seems most extraordinary." It was "extraordinary," but as time passed, such decisions no longer surprised the protesting general.

With the arrival of winter Pope became increasingly concerned about the conditions at the Indian agencies at Fort Sill and Darlington. The peaceful Indians were nearly starving, and when Pope met with Sheridan in December to discuss the military campaign, he discussed their condition and raised the question of treatment of the friendly Indians. Sheridan was appalled. "The peaceful Indians have behaved so admirably," he wrote, "that they should not be allowed to suffer."

The friendly Indians did suffer because the Indian Bureau was unable to care for them, a situation not limited to the agencies at Fort Sill and Darlington. All across the West the Bureau was

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