Extermination Considered for Those in the Path of Progress

Extermination Considered for Those in the Path of Progress

Not only were the Southern Whites under attack, but as we all know the Americian Indian was also.

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)

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