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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Noble Teton Sioux

By Isaac Hill Bromley (1833–1898)

[Born in Norwich, Conn., 1833. Died there, 1898. The New-York Tribune. 1875.]

HOW beautiful the picture of the Red Man of the Forest walking westward with measured tread and sometimes tangled locomotion, sustained and soothed by the unfaltering arm of the Indian agent. Barbarism falls back slowly before the onward march of Progress and Civilization, but Philanthropy sends out at the nation’s expense a shining band of agents and traders, who smooth the Red Man’s pathway to the setting sun with whiskey of an inferior quality but tremendous power, and who see to it that when the noble savage reaches the goal of his earthly career and wraps the drapery of his couch about him, the drapery shall be such as has paid several hundred per cent. profit to the trader, with the privilege of reversion. No finer picture could be than of the Indian and the agent walking westward together; Government supplying the Indian, the Indian supplying the agent, and the agent making remittances East. Complete and harmonious circle of operations. Here is no complication of relations, no balance of trade, no delicate adjustments; nothing but a simple process of drawing from the Treasury in the name of the untutored savage, on behalf of the tutored agent. It is the refinement of simplicity as well as philanthropy….

Nothing in the annals of our country can equal the generosity with which the American People have treated the original owners of the soil. The amount of money that has been paid for the maintenance and support of each individual Indian in the country would, if ciphered out and tabulated, astonish the effete monarchies. It has always been the policy of the Government to do the handsome thing by the Indians. For years and years we have watched their retreating forms with unmixed sadness, have pursued them with our sympathies and emigrant trains, and for the sake of old associations in part and partly for agricultural purposes, have occupied the lands they abandoned. We have made large and frequent appropriations for their benefit, and some of the most brilliant and acute statesmen of this or any period have watched with constant interest the flow of money from the Treasury to the Red Man, and have amassed handsome fortunes by simply standing by and seeing that everything went right. We have made treaties with them as with independent nations, and at the same time maintained them as Government wards. We have sent them the agent and trader as examples in the process of Christianization, furnished them with rifles and ammunition to keep the peace, and promoted contentment and quiet with whiskey of the highest projectile force. We have tried various policies upon them in the determination to have them suited, and occasionally, to show there was nothing mean about us, have sent them a Major-General’s scalp. More than all this, we have sent a class of men to deal with them with whom in vigor and dash and grip for currency the bounty-jumpers of the late war bear no comparison….

And with all this the Indian is not happy.

He complains that there is not enough of him, and that he cannot repeat as he would. A noble Sioux, for instance, whose share of the appropriation, before it goes through the usual sweating process, is about sufficient to support a small family in Madison-avenue, finds that when the bounty which this great and glorious Government gives him for being red in color, and handy with hair, and wearing only one garment, reaches him, it will hardly buy a drink of the trader’s commonest whiskey. So he moves away and organizes another tribe. The Department of the Interior hears of his dissatisfaction and forthwith sends a commission out to meet him and negotiate with him. Discovered in the stage of intoxication, at which the imagination is most active and numbers are of small consequence, he answers mathematical conundrums in the large way of a lord of the soil. The Department recognizes him as a tribe and calls him, for instance, the Teton Sioux. He says there are 1,400 lodges of him. The Department at once estimates eight souls to a lodge and computes him at 11,200. What could the Department do then but ask for an appropriation of $500,000 for him? The amount was voted. Parties were sent out from the Department to find this Teton Sioux and present him, on behalf of the Government, with $500,000, less mileage and expenses of the commission. The expedition failed. The Teton Sioux, who was 11,200, had gone away, and the Committee, which comprised some of the best talent in the Department, could not find him. They found another one, however, who was reasonably sober, and was only about 6,000 Teton Sioux. They came back and made an appropriation of $200,000 to him, and sent it to him by the usual channels. Nothing has since been heard of him, but it is supposed that he got tired, as well of being so many as of waiting so long, and suffered absorption into some tribe, or perhaps a sea-change into something rich and strange. Nothing so kindles the enthusiasm of the Interior Department as the knowledge that a Teton Sioux is wandering through Montana or Dakota in a state of savage unrest. Immediately a committee from the Department goes for the Teton, finds him nomadic and discontented, says to him, “How many art thou, O Teton?” and conjures him by his expectation of a lodge in the happy hunting-grounds to enter into a treaty and consent to accept an appropriation from the Government. Having obtained his reluctant consent to receive aid from the oppressor, the Department gets an appropriation and divides it among deserving persons who support the Administration on account of its admirable Indian policy.

Who would not, under such circumstances, be an Indian—or at least an Indian agent? Who would not unite with the poet in the aspiration, “I want to be an Indian and with the Indians stand?” Let us mourn that the red men are disappearing from the whiskey shops of the frontier, but let us give the Interior Department the credit it deserves for making the most of them while they remain.