Scarcely more than a century ago, the American Indians were seen as a dying people. The last gasp of Indian resistance, the "Ghost Dance" had been extinguished at the Wounded Knee Massacre. The Census report in 1890 showed a Native American population that had fallen to fewer than 250,000 and was still declining. Artists, photographers, and ethnologists, anticipating the complete demise of the Indians, had for a quarter century been capturing their images and preserving their artifacts for posterity. Poverty was almost universal among Indians who lived both on and off reservations. Diseases such as alcoholism and tuberculosis took a dreadful toll, as did infant mortality. The expansion of the mining and agricultural frontiers had eroded the Indian land base. In fact, with few exceptions, the reservations had been so severely reduced during the nineteenth century that they were inadequate to maintain the Native American population, even if the Indians had been willing or able to accept the economic activities that the government urged on them. Moreover, combinations of businessmen and government officials often linked up to exploit reservation resources to their own advantage.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, both scientific racism and racial prejudice also contributed to the deplorable condition of native peoples. Ironically, both the white friends and enemies of the Indians often proposed the same solution to the "Indian Problem." The Indians must be acculturated as quickly as possible and moved into the mainstream of American society. Their friends feared that without acculturation the Indian would perish; their enemies looked greedily upon the economic resources that still remained in Indian hands. The Dawes Act satisfied both interests. It called for breaking up reservations, allotting lands to individual Indians but placing such holdings in trust for a quarter of a century. Since not all reservation lands were allotted, the remaining portions were opened to white settlement. Thus, because of both good and bad intentions, the Indian land base was reduced even further. Small wonder that by 1900 respect for Native Americans and their culture was virtually at a nadir.
This is the historical past against which Donald Parman begins his study of Native Americans and governmental policy in the West during the twentieth century. His book is neither sentimental nor a jeremiad. The author looks hard at the relationships between economic interests and the government in dealing with the Indian. In many cases the players are clearly iden