Tag Archives: Indian Rights Association

An Easy Way to Grab Land

Indian Inspector George Wright, courtesy Oklahoma State Digital Library

Indian Inspector George Wright, courtesy Oklahoma State Digital Library

Many whites wanted access to Indian lands, and there were plenty of politicians who were glad to help them. Guy P. Cobb was typical. He held a position as the Creek Revenue Inspector (appointed through the recommendation of Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Jones, 1897-1904) and had served under Indian Inspector George J. Wright.

While he was a revenue inspector, Cobb was also general manager of the Tribal Development Company, which Cobb said “helped” Indians manage their land. How? Cobb’s company negotiated rental agreements with Indians–with the option to buy their land as soon as any restrictions were removed. He further assisted them by helping them find “good” allotments. Additionally, (and, of course, quite usefully) Cobb was one of the directors of the Bank of the Chickasaw Nation.

Cobb was not the only politician involved in trust companies, and Samuel M. Brosius of the Indian Rights Association named names in his special report on the land speculation. Dawes commissioners Thomas Needles and C. R. Breckinridge, U.S. District Attorney E. Pliny Soper, assistant U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of the Indian Territory James Huckleberry, Indian Inspector Wright, and many other politicians and Indian Office employees were involved in various trust companies.

Clifton Rodes Breckenridge of the Dawes Commission, courtesy Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Clifton Rodes Breckenridge of the Dawes Commission, courtesy Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Indian Land Was Highly Desirable

Indian Land Was Highly Desirable

These companies typically induced Indians to rent their allotted lands for about five years, but then wouldn’t surrender the land after that period and/or refused to pay rent on it. Any heirs of the allottees were then manipulated into selling the land for little money. Even though allotted land was not actually vested in title for 25 years, the courts generally looked the other way at these dealings.

The losers in these arrangements were always the very people the Indian Office and Interior Department had been charged with protecting.

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No Consequences

Dr. Harry Hummer

Dr. Harry Hummer

Anyone following the inspections and various reports made on the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians might well feel amazed that Dr. Harry Hummer managed to continue as superintendent there. Several inspectors suggested outright that he be dismissed from the place, while others pointed out personality clashes and poor management practices that led to problems in the facility. However, it wasn’t until the very end of his career that Hummer expressed much concern about keeping his job. Why was he so self-assured?

For one thing, Hummer was often able to dismiss or explain criticisms in a way that convinced superiors that there wasn’t a real problem. Secondly, for many years no one with medical expertise inspected the asylum, and so Hummer’s treatment of patients never came into question. Issues with personnel or poor farming and so on, may have been legitimately of secondary concern to Hummer’s supervisors in Washington, DC. Finally, Hummer (reportedly) bragged to some of his acquaintances that he had friends in Washington who would protect him.

Robert Valentine, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Beginning June 1909

Robert Valentine, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Beginning June 1909

In a letter dated December 13, 1909 and written to the Indian Rights Association shortly after his resignation from the asylum, Dr. L. M. Hardin seems to confirm Hummer’s belief. “There has been nothing done by the [Indian] Office to date looking towards a correction of the existing conditions at the institution by the removal of Dr. Hummer as prayed for by the employees in their sworn charges,” Hardin wrote bitterly. He continued by saying that: “such a man whose inefficiency and incompetency is supported by one of his friends in the Office, viz, Walter Fry, 1st asst, to Mr. Dortch of the Div. of Education and who evidently is sidetracking the justice that should be met out to Dr. Hummer.”

Text of Speeches from the Annual Meeting of the Indian Rights Association, December 1909

Text of Speeches from the Annual Meeting of the Indian Rights Association, December 1909

Hardin urged a congressional inquiry into the situation at the Canton Asylum, but there seems to be no evidence that one was initiated.

 

 

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Indian Reform and Muckrackers

Sunset Magazine, which published muckraking articles

The Indian Rights Association was founded in 1882, and the organization lobbied to influence policy that would benefit Indian acculturation. It also monitored the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tried to keep tabs on Indian living conditions. In 1924, the organization began to issue a monthly publication called Indian Truth, and collaborated with the American Indian Defense Association on an expose of Indian exploitation in Oklahoma.

After that, article after article about the government’s mistreatment or exploitation of Indians appeared in magazines. Titles like “The Red Slaves of Oklahoma,” “The Deplorable State of Our Indians,” and “Red Tragedies” made it plain that their writers didn’t intend to let anybody off the hook. Though the Bureau of Indians Affairs largely ignored the articles–except to defend itself against their charges–the publicity helped bring the Indians’ grievances and substandard quality of life before the public.

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Who Wants to Help?

Sioux Delegation, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

Sioux Delegation, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

Herbert Welsh (1851 – 1941) is associated most closely with the Indian Rights Association (IRA). The first meeting of the organization was held in his home on December 15, 1882; he served as Executive Secretary for many years. 

Welsh was a prosperous Philadelphian who traveled to Dakota Territory to visit the Sioux reservation at Pine Ridge. He came home with a new understanding of the harsh life so many Native Americans faced as wards of the government. He and the other founding members of the IRA were committed to righting the wrongs done to Native Americans and publicizing their situation.

His intentions were good, but misguided. Welsh wrote in 1882, “When this work shall be completed the Indian will cease to exist as a man, apart from other men, a stumbling block in the pathway of civilization . . . the greater blessings which he or his friends could desire will be his, – an honorable absorption into the common life of the people of the United States.”

Council of Indians at Pine Ridge, January 17, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

Council of Indians at Pine Ridge, January 17, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

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Friends of Indians

Image of a Vanishing Life, courtesy Library of Congress

Image of a Vanishing Life, courtesy Library of Congress

Not everyone bore animosity toward Native Americans, and there were several groups who were willing to try to help them. An early group called the Indian Rights Association (IRA) was founded in 1882. Their mission was to “bring about the complete civilization of the Indians and their admission to citizenship.”

The problem with a group like this is that it assumed  Indians wanted to be “civilized” into the white culture in the first place, or that they wanted to be American citizens. What was worse was the group’s belief that the only way to effect this civilization was to destroy Indian culture. That meant erasing Native Americans’ religions and languages, and doing away with tribal ownership of land.

The group was founded  after a number of bloody confrontations between whites and Native Americans, and hoped to bring about needed reforms. Ultimately, it failed. The IRA supported the allotment process brought about by the Dawes Act, which stripped away most land from Indians and reduced many to poverty.

View of Farming Land, Mescalero Indian Reservation, courtesy Library of Congress

View of Farming Land, Mescalero Indian Reservation, courtesy Library of Congress

IRA Pamphlet, courtesy Library of Congress

IRA Pamphlet, courtesy Library of Congress

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