Sunday, July 20, 2014

Extermination Considered for Those in the Path of Progress


The idea of exterminating Americans in the path of progress was not new in 1869 -- Parson Brownlow, later Reconstruction Governor of Tennessee, declared in New York in 1862:  "If I had the power, I would arm every wolf, panther, catamount and bear in the mountains of America, every crocodile in the swamps of Florida, every Negro in the South, every fiend in hell, clothe them all in the uniforms of the Federal army and turn them loose on the rebels of the South and exterminate every man, woman and child south of the Mason Dixon line.  I would like to see especially the Negro troops, marching under Ben Butler, crowd the last rebel into the Gulf of Mexico and drown them as the Devil did the hogs in the Sea of Galilee."

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"
Extermination Considered for Those in the Path of Progress

"After the close of the Civil War the Commissioner of Indian Affairs reported the number of Indians in these figures: civilized, 97,000; semi-civilized, 125,000; wholly barbarous, 78,000. The advancing fronts of [western white migration] suddenly became even more threatening as the Union Pacific Railroad cut across the middle of the Indian Territory in 1869 and as other lines pushed ahead of settlement into the northern plains and the southwest.

This critical change was noted in a telling passage of his 1869 report by [former Northern general and] Secretary of the Interior Jacob D. Cox:

"The completion of one of the great lines of railway to the Pacific coast has totally changed the conditions under which the civilized population of the country come[s] in contact with the wild tribes . . . the very center of the desert has been pierced.  Daily trains are carrying thousands of our citizens and untold values of merchandise across the continent, and must be protected from the danger of having hostile tribes on either side of the route.  The range of the buffalo is being rapidly restricted, and the chase is becoming an uncertain reliance to the Indian for the sustenance of his family . . . "

The situation of the Indian thus became more desperate and the years from 1865 to 1870 were filled with war and threats of war.  At the opening of Grant's administration it was obvious that Indian policy had to be reconsidered.  Three possibilities were discussed:  (1.) Extermination; (2.) compulsory location of the tribes on reservations; (3.)   eventual civilization, with full absorption into white culture.

The prevailing sentiment on the frontier was in favor of extermination.  The savage tribes were entitled, in this view, to no more consideration than dangerous wild beasts, and like them should be killed off to make way for civilization – and land.  Such sentiments were abhorred in the East and among the religious denominations.

Compulsory settlement . . . on reservations with government rations, clothing, and certain services was by far the dominant opinion . . . [Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano reported in 1873 that under government supervision that the Indian's] intellectual, moral and religious culture can be prosecuted, and thus it is hoped than humanity and kindness may take the place of barbarity and cruelty.

[Should any tribes refuse] then the policy contemplates the treatment of such tribe or band with all needed severity, to punish them for outrages according to their merits, thereby teaching them that it is better to follow the   advice of the Government, live upon reservations and become civilized, than to continue their native habits and practices."

(The Republican Era, 1869-1901, A Study in Administrative History, Leonard D. White, MacMillan Company, 1957, pp. 181-182)