1891 Annual Report of Major General Miles – Part 1

Shortly after the Pine Ridge Campaign concluded in late January 1891, the Commanding General of the Division of the Missouri, Major General Nelson A. Miles, began compiling details for his annual report to Secretary of War Redfield Proctor.  His report places the tragic events of the previous winter into context, providing a narrative of the conditions that existed on the Lakota reservations in 1890, the emergence of the Ghost Dance religion, and details of his campaign to prevent the outbreak from escalating into a disastrous conflict.  Hundreds of authors over the past century have written hundreds of thousands of words concerning Wounded Knee, but few have managed to provide a more concise and thorough explanation of the events of November 1890 to January 1891.  Following is part one of General Miles’s annual report, which will be presented in four parts.

Headquarters Department Of The Missouri,
Chicago, III.,
September 14, 1891.
Gen. Nelson A. Miles viewing hostile Indian camp near Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota.- Cropped from photograph by John C. H. Grabill, January 16, 1891.

Gen. Nelson A. Miles viewing hostile Indian camp near Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota.- Cropped from photograph by John C. H. Grabill, January 16, 1891.

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following annual report of military events and recommendations.

On the 1st day of September, 1890, in accordance with the provisions of General Orders, No. 84, Headquarters of the Army, 1890, conveying the President’s orders, I relinquished command of the Division of the Pacific to assume the command of the Division of the Missouri, with headquarters at Chicago, Ill., which was done on the 15th day of September, 1890. The division, by the changes incident to the general order above mentioned, was limited to the Departments of the Platte and Dakota. This was again changed by executive order, contained in General Orders, No. 57, dated Headquarters of the Army, July 3, 1891, abolishing the divisions and assigning me to the command of the Department of the Missouri, which embraces the States of Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and the Indian Territories, with headquarters at Chicago, Ill.

The military events and changes have been so important and unusual since assuming command of the Division of the Missouri that a review of them is herewith submitted. Before arriving in the division I was apprised of the communications going on between the different tribes of Indians in the Western States and Territories, embracing those tribes as far south as the Indian Territory, and west as far as western Nevada, and was also made aware of the threatening condition of affairs then existing.

Condition Of The Cheyenne Indians In Montana.

While en route to the division headquarters at Chicago I received information at Fort Keogh, Mont., from Cheyenne Indians I had known for many years, of the distressed condition they were in, particularly the tribe of Northern Cheyennes; their suffering for want of food, their being compelled to kill cattle belonging to the white people to sustain life, and the disaffection then existing, as well as the alarm prevailing among the citizens of that State.

To relieve their immediate wants I sent a telegram to the Adjutant General at Washington stating that the principal trouble with the Cheyenne Indians, whose reservation was south of Fort Keogh, was the result of the Government’s failure to provide sufficient food and the means to render them self-supporting; saying when I left there, ten years previous, they had a herd of cattle and were at the time largely self-supporting; that they had been obliged to kill their cattle for food; that they had been on the verge of starvation and were at that time very little better; that when without food, or the means of providing for it, they had been obliged to kill cattle belonging to white men; that there was not the least difficulty in controlling them, but ample means should be appropriated at once to supply them with food and the means to render them self-supporting. At the same time I recommended that funds should also be appropriated to reimburse the white citizens who had been obliged to supply them with food. This telegram resulted in their being granted an additional appropriation of twenty-five thousand dollars, and reasonable appropriations for their necessities.

Cause Of Indian Disaffection.

The causes that led to the serious disturbance of the peace in the Northwest last autumn and winter were so remarkable that an explanation of them is necessary in order to comprehend the seriousness of the situation. The Indians assuming the most threatening attitude of hostility were the Cheyennes and Sioux. Their condition may be stated as follows: For several years following their subjugation in 1877, 1878, and 1879 the most dangerous element of the Cheyennes and the Sioux were under military control. Many of them were disarmed and dismounted; their war ponies were sold and the proceeds returned to them in domestic stock, farming utensils, wagons, etc. Many of the Cheyennes, under the charge of military officers, were located on land in accordance with the laws of Congress, but after they were turned over to civil agents, and the vast herds of buffalo and large game had been destroyed, their supplies were insufficient and they were forced to kill cattle belonging to white people to sustain life.

Insufficient Food.

The fact that they had not received sufficient food is admitted by the agents and the officers of the Government who have had opportunities of knowing. The majority of the Sioux were under the charge of civil agents, frequently changed and often inexperienced. Many of the tribes became rearmed and remounted. They claimed that the Government had not fulfilled its treaties and had failed to make large enough appropriations for their support; that they had suffered for want of food, and the evidence of this is beyond question and sufficient to satisfy any unprejudiced, intelligent mind. The statements of officers, inspectors, both of the military and the Interior Departments, of agents, of missionaries, and civilians familiar with their condition, leave no room for reasonable doubt that this was one of the principal causes. While statements may be made as to the amount of money that has been expended by the Government to feed the different tribes, the manner of distributing those appropriations will furnish one reason for the deficit.

Failure Of Crops.

The unfortunate failure of the crops in the plains country during the years of 1880 and 1890 added to the distress and suffering of the Indians, and it was possible for them to raise but very little from the ground for self support; in fact, white settlers have been most unfortunate, and their losses have been serious and universal throughout a large section of that country. They have struggled on from year to year; occasionally they would raise good crops, which they were compelled to sell at low prices, while in the season of drought their labor was almost entirely lost. So serious have been their misfortunes that thousands have left that country within the last few years, passing over the mountains to the Pacific slope or returning to the east of the Missouri and the Mississippi.

The Indians, however, could not migrate from one part of the United States to another; neither could they obtain employment as readily as white people, either upon or beyond the Indian reservations. They must remain in comparative idleness and accept the results of the drought—an insufficient supply of food. This created a feeling of discontent even among the loyal and well-disposed and added to the feeling of hostility of the element opposed to every process of civilization.

Disaffection At Standing: Rock Agency.

Reports forwarded by Brig. Gen. Ruger, commanding Department of Dakota, contain the following:

“The commanding officer at Fort Yates, S. Dak., under date of December 7, 1890, at the time the Messiah delusion was approaching a climax says, in reference to the disaffection of the Sioux Indians at Standing Rock Agency, that it is due to the following causes:”

“(1) Failure of the Government to establish an equitable southern boundary for the Standing Rock Agency Reservation.
“(2) Failure of the Government to expend a just proportion of the money received from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad Company for right of way privileges, for the benefit of the Indians of said agency.  Official notice was received October 18, 1881, by the Indian Agent at the Standing Rock Agency, that the said railroad company had paid the Government, under its agreement with the Sioux Indians, for right of way privileges, the sum of $13,911. What additional payments, if any, have been made, by the said railroad company, and what payments have been made by the Dakota Central Railroad Company, the records of the agency do not show. In 1883, and again in 1885, the agent, upon complaints made by the Indians, wrote the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, making certain recommendations as regards the expenditure of the money received from the said railroad company, but was in each instance informed that until Congress took action with respect to the funds referred to nothing could be done. No portion of the money had been expended up to that time (December, 1890) for the benefit of the Indians of the agency, and frequent complaints had been made to the agent by the Indians because they had received no benefits from their concessions to the said railroad companies.
“(3) Failure of the Government to issue the certificates of title to allotments, as required by Article 6 of the treaty of 1868.
“4) Failure of the Government to provide the full allowance of seeds and agricultural implements to Indians engaged in farming, as required in Article 8, treaty of 1868.
“(5) Failure of the Government to issue to such Indians the full number of cows and oxen provided in Article 10, treaty of 1868.
“(6) Failure of the Government to provide comfortable dwelling houses for the Indians, as required in Article 6, treaty of 1876.
“(7) Failure of the Government to issue to the Indians the full ration stipulated in Article 5, treaty of 1876. (For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1890, the following shortage in the rations were found to exist: 485,275 pounds of beef [gross], 761,212 pounds of corn, 11,937 pounds of coffee, 281,712 pounds of flour, 26,234 pounds of sugar, and 39,852 pounds of beans. Although the obligations of the Government extend no further than furnishing so much of the ration prescribed in Article 5 as may be necessary for the support of the Indians, it would seem that, owing to the almost total failure of crops upon the Standing Rock Reservation for the past four years and the absence of game, the necessity for the issue of the full ration to the Indians here was never greater than at the present time, December, 1890.)
“(8) Failure of the Government to issue to the Indians the full amount of annuity supplies to which they are entitled under the provisions of article 10, treaty of 1868.
“(9) Failure of the Government to have the clothing and other annuity supplies ready for issue on the first day of August of each year. Such supplies have not been ready for issue to the Indians, as a rule, until the winter season is well advanced. (After careful examination at this agency, the commanding officer is convinced that not more than two-thirds of the supplies, provided in Article 10 have been issued there, and the Government has never complied with that provision of Article 10 which requires the supplies enumerated in paragraphs 2, 3, and 4 of said article to be delivered on or before the first day of August of each year. Such supplies for the present fiscal year, beginning July 1, 1890, had not yet reached (December, 1890) the nearest railway station, about 60 miles distant, from which point they must, at this season of the year, be freighted to this agency in wagons. It is now certain that the winter will be well advanced before the Indians at this agency receive their annual allowance of clothing and other annuity supplies.)
“(10) Failure of the Government to appropriate money for the payment of the Indians for the ponies taken from them, by the authority of the Government, in 1876.”

In conclusion, the commanding officer says:

“It, however, appears from the foregoing that the Government has failed to fulfill its obligations, and in order to render the Indians law-abiding, peaceful, contented, and prosperous it is strongly recommended that the treaties be promptly and fully carried out, and that the promises made by the Commission in 1889 be faithfully kept.”

Disaffection At Pine Ridge Agency.

Under date of November 30, 1890, Gen. John R. Brooke, commanding Department of the Platte, after having investigated the cause of disaffection among the Indians, says of those at the Pine Ridge Agency that—

“The act of Congress approved February 28, 1877, provides for a ration whose proportion of different articles of food are fixed for these Indians, and the act directs that such ration shall be continued to them, or so much of said ration as may be necessary, until the Indians are able to support themselves. In 1888 the annual beef issue authorized by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was 5,000,000 pounds. In 1889 the issue was 4,000,000 pounds. There was no decrease in the number of Indians in that one year to account for this reduction of 1,000,000 pounds of beef. The attention of the Sioux Commission was called to this fact by the agent here, and they promised him to reestablish the amount of 5,000,000 pounds. On the strength of this promise the agent issued on the basis of 5,000,000 pounds. The promise was not redeemed, and the inevitable deficiency resulted.
“In a letter of April 12, 1890, of Mr. Gallager, agent here, to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, He states that the monthly issue of beef at that time is 205,000 pounds, whereas by the treaty the ration would be 470,400 pounds, a deficiency per month of 265,400 pounds in that called for by the treaty, or a reduction of more than one-half the proper treaty allowance. The following is an extract from the reply to this letter, which is dated April 21, 1890: ‘It is better to issue half rations all the time than to give them three-fourths or full rations during two months and none for the balance of the year.’ The Commissioner further states in the same letter that the Interior Department is able to furnish such articles as shoes, shawls, blankets, ticking, gingham, etc., as are equivalent, in lieu of subsistence, or in lieu of parts of the ration as fixed by the treaty referred to. The act of Congress fixing the rations says, “and for every 100 rations 4 pounds of coffee. 8 pounds sugar, and 15 pounds of beans, or in lieu of said articles, the equivalent thereof, in the discretion of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, such rations, or so much thereof as may be necessary, shall be continued.” It is thought that when the Commissioner interprets the words (when the ration only is spoken of) or in lieu of said articles the equivalent thereof, to mean shoes, shawls, blankets, etc., that the Commissioner is in error, and that the resultant reduction in food is in violation of the act of Congress. The enormous reduction in the beef issue at this agency, which is the principal supply of food, is shown by the following figures:
“In the year 1886 the annual authorized issue was 8,125,000 pounds; in 1889 it was 4,000,000 pounds, a reduction of 4,125,000 in three years, or an average annual reduction of 1,378,333 pounds; or in other words, in that space of time, the beef issue has been reduced largely over one-half, and it is known that there has been no such corresponding reduction in the number of Indians, or advancement in their ability to support themselves, as the land in the vicinity of this agency and adjacent to it is not sufficiently good for agricultural purposes, except by irrigation. I do not consider, however, that these reductions in subsistence are sufficient grounds for the attitude recently assumed by large numbers of these Indians. A part of them who are subject to the same conditions in this respect are not in anywise disaffected, though they deplore the inadequacy of the food supply. The disaffected are those who are under the influence of Kicking Bear and his supporters. The ghost dance appears to be a means to an end, viz, to draw under the influence of Kicking Bear and his lieutenants such of the young men as can be won over by means of the excitement of this dance.”

In regard to complaints of broken promises, Gen. Brooke invites attention to the following statement of American Horse, speaking for himself and voicing the sentiment of four other chiefs present, as embodied in a letter of Indian Agent Royer to the Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs, dated November 17, 1890, in which the Indian says:

“I was speaker for the whole tribe. In a general council I signed the bill (the late Sioux bill) and 580 signed with me, the other members of my band drew out, and ever since these two parties have been divided. The non-progressive started the ghost dance to draw from us. We were made many promises, but have never heard of them since. The Great Father says if we do what he directs it will be to our benefit, but instead of this they are every year cutting down our rations and we do not get enough to keep us from suffering. …After we signed the bill they took our land and cut down our allowances of food. The commissioners made us believe that we would get full sacks if we signed the bill, but instead of that our sacks are empty. Our chickens were all stolen; our cattle, some of them were killed. Our crops were entirely lost by being here with the Sioux Commission, and we have never been benefited one bit by the bill, and, in fact, we are worse off than we were before we signed the bill.
“We are told if we do as white men we will be better off, but we are getting worse off every year. The commissioners promised the Indians living on Black Pipe and Pass creeks, that if they signed the bill they could remain where they were and draw their rations at this agency, showing them on the map the line, and our people want them here, but they have been ordered to move back to Rosebud Agency. This is one of the broken promises. The Commission promised to survey the boundary line and appropriate funds for the purpose, but it has not been done. When we were at Washington, the President, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Commissioner, all promised us that we would get the million pounds of beef taken from us, and I heard the bill appropriating the money passed Congress but we never got the beef. The Commissioner refused to give it to us. American Horse, Fast Thunder, and Spotted Horse, were all promised a spring wagon each, but they have never heard anything of it; this is another broken promise.”

In reference to the above remarks by American Horse, Gen. Brooke says: “If these promises were made, and I have no reason to doubt it, there are reasonable grounds for complaint,” and—

“It is a notable feature that in the division of these Indians into well-disposed and disaffected, the former are those called ‘progressive’ and favored the Sioux bill, and the latter are ‘nonprogressive’ and were the opponents of the bill. It is impracticable to reduce the complaints of the Indians to details at this time. The records of the Indian Bureau, I believe, from what I hear at this agency, must contain all this matter; more frequent issues, however, should be made, as too long a time elapses from issue to issue, and an Indian does not, or will not, understand the necessity for care in the use of his food; he always eats up his two weeks’ supply in ten days or less, and, as a consequence, goes hungry the rest of the time, and it should be noted that by irrigation it is always possible to raise a crop in this section, whereas without irrigation it is almost an impossibility.
“In addition to disarming the Indians, I would recommend that the broken or deferred promises be made good, that the food of those living in regions where the white man’s crops have failed, with its consequent impoverishment, be increased, that this may in time render the Indians ‘law abiding and peaceable’ and ultimately, I hope, ‘contented and prosperous.’ These general remarks apply equally to the Indians of the Rosebud Agency. It must be borne in mind that the Interior Department in making its issue of beef makes no allowance for loss in weight, an animal weighing 1,000 pounds at date of purchase, is issued at that weight, regardless of the actual weight, no estimated or actual loss is considered. During the winter months there is a large shrinkage in the amount of meat which comes from the edible part of the animal.”

Disaffection At Rosebud Agency.

The officer, in compliance with instructions to report upon the status of the Indians at the Rosebud Agency, November 27,1890, stated that—

“Under treaty the United States Government agree to supply the Rosebud Indians with 3 pounds of fresh beef per day (gross weight) for each person. These cattle are usually delivered at the agency in the month of October, the season of the year when cattle are in the best condition. A calculation is then made, averaging the cattle for the year’s issue. The loss in weight in these cattle from October to February is about 35 per cent, or a beef weighing 1,000 pounds in October will weigh but 700 gross in February, and dress, possibly, 300 pounds. Two issues are made during the month of one beef to every thirty people, or about 10 ounces per man per day.
“In October last 3,499,810 pounds of beef were delivered at the agency with instruction that this supply must be made to last until June 30, 1891, whereas the actual quantity these Indians are entitled to for this period is 4,384,926 pounds. I have also learned there has been quite a heavy reduction in the allowance of sugar and coffee for the year. Up to the time of the taking of the census, 2,700 rations in excess of the actual number of Indians was delivered at the agency for issue, so it is presumed they were well fed up to that time. The total number of Indians belonging to the agency is 5,354. Two Strike, Crow Dog, White Horse, Short Bull, and Lance are the leaders of these Indians. They have always been more or less troublesome and in my opinion should be arrested and sent to some military post.”

The officer further said:

“I have obtained information from a reliable source that the Indians at Rosebud do not now, nor never have received the full treaty ration. The ration of beef issued early in the fall, just after the delivery of cattle, comes nearer the full ration than at any other season of the year The average ration of beef for the year will not exceed 8 ounces per capita.”

Another officer reports, under date of November 20, 1890, that the beef ration was cut down ten years ago, that it was again reduced last year, and the allowance has been reduced for the period from October 1, 1890, to June 30,1891, 900,000 pounds. He further says that Hollow-horn-bear (a prominent Indian) has stated it as his belief that the ghost dance, which is popular because it is a feast to which the hungry and starving Indians are attracted, and where they are fed, would cease if the people received sufficient rations to live upon. The Indian mentioned asserts, from experience under civil and military administrations at Indian agencies, that if an army officer was appointed agent at Rosebud and Pine Ridge agencies and supplied with the treaty allowances of food and goods, the trouble would end in a few days. The last Commission promised to see that these Indians were supplied with cows, that they themselves might go into the cattle business, but none have been furnished. Their crops have failed utterly; few receive any money with which to supply the deficiency in food; the cattle are poor and short in weight; the issue by weight is in some cases impracticable, for the camps are more or less remote; but an ingenious mind ought to devise a system by which, even in these cases, a sufficient allowance of beef could be secured in the winter months.

I believe in the canteen or cooperative system, and know of no reason why the Interior Department should not establish stores, supplies, etc., to be sold to the Indians at reasonable prices on an improved army commissary system. We know how even intelligent men allowed themselves to be imposed upon by post traders, and I know of cases where the imposition of Indian traders upon starving Indians was impossible of definition; i. e., where a trader charged and received one dollar in good and lawful money for one dozen “hard tack ” crackers. I find that cord wood here is bought from Indians at six dollars a cord, one by one as it happens to come in, but the Indian is paid on an order out of the trader’s store—at trader’s prices.

Disaffection At Cheyenne River Agency.

The commanding officer at Fort Bennet, S. Dak., reports two classes of Indians, one of which is opposed to everything civilized, giving vent to their grievances at every meeting of the Indians on ration day; the other class, comprising a large majority of the Indians of the reservation, have accepted the situation forced upon them, and have been for years bravely struggling in the effort to reconcile themselves to the ways of civilization and moral progress, with a gratifying degree of success. It is this class whose complaints and grievances demand considerate attention. They claim, in true Indian style, that they only have kept faith in all treaties made with them, and that somehow the treaties when they appeared in print were not in many respects the treaties which they signed.

They complain principally: (1) That the boundaries of the reservation in treaty of 1877 are not what they agreed to and thought they were signing on the paper, and they specially emphasize the point that the line of the western boundary should be a straight line at the Black Hills, instead of as it appears on the maps; (2) that they have never received full recompense for the ponies taken from them in 1876; (3) that the game has been destroyed and driven out of the country by the white people; (4) that their children are taken from them to Eastern schools and kept for years, instead of being educated among them; (5) that when these Eastern graduates return to them with civilized habits, education, and trades, there is no provision made on the reservation for their employment and improvement, to the benefit of themselves and their people; (6) that the agents and employes sent out to them have not all been “good men” and considerate of their (the Indians) interests and welfare; (7) that the issue of their annuity goods is delayed so late in the winter as to cause them much suffering; (8) that they are expected to plow the land and raise grain when the climate will not permit them to reap a crop. They think cattle should be issued to them for breeding purposes, instead of farming implements for useless labor; (9) that the rations issued to them are insufficient in quantity, and frequently (beef and flour) very poor in quality.

Complaints 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 are well founded and are justified by the facts in each case, No. 9 specially so, and this through no fault or negligence of the agent. The agent makes his annual estimate for sustenance in kind for the number of people borne on his rolls, based on the stipulated ration in treaty of 1877. This estimate is modified or cut down in the Indian Commissioner’s office to meet the requirements of a limited or reduced Congressional appropriation, and when it returns to the agent’s hands approved he finds that he has just so many pounds of beef and flour, etc., placed to his credit for the year, without regard to whether they constitute the full number of treaty rations or not. There is no allowance given him for loss by shrinkage, wastage, or other unavoidable loss, and with the very best efforts and care in the distribution throughout the year of this usually reduced allowance, there can not be issued to each Indian his treaty ration, nor enough to properly sustain life.

As a general thing the Indians of this reservation have been compelled to purchase food, according to their means, between ration issues; those having no means of purchase have suffered. The half pound of flour called for by the treaty ration could not be issued in full, and the half pound of corn required has never been issued, nor anything in lieu of it. In the item of beef but 1 pound was issued instead of the pound and a half called for in the treaty, and during the early spring months, when the cattle on the range are thin and poor, the pound of beef issued to the Indians is but a fraction of the pound issued to him on the agent’s return, and under the system of purchase in practice the present fiscal year must necessarily be so. The agent’s purchase of beef supply on the hoof for the year, under contract, is closed in the mouth of November, from which time he has to herd them the balance , of the year as best he can. He is responsible for the weight they show on the scale when fat and in prime condition, so that a steer weighing 1,200 pounds in the fall must represent 1,200 pounds in April, while in fact it may be but skin, horns, and bones, and weigh scarcely 600 pounds, while he has done his best to care for them during the severity of a Dakota winter. The Indians do not understand why they should be made to suffer all this shrinkage and loss, and it is a useless and humiliating attempt to explain. The agent is not to blame. The Department of Indian Affairs can do only the best it can with a limited and tardy appropriation.

The remedy in the matter of food supply seems to be a sufficient and early appropriation of funds. All contracts for the beef supply should call for delivery when required by the agent. The agent should be allowed a percentage of wastage to cover unavoidable loss in issue by shrinkage and wastage. The Government should bear the, loss and not the Indians. In conclusion, the commanding officer remarks that—

“This reservation is not agricultural land. The climate makes it a grazing country. The Indians now can raise cattle successfully and care for them in winter. All attempts at general farming must result in failure on account of climatic conditions.”

Disaffection Of Yanktonnais.

Under date of December 6, 1890, the commanding officer at Fort Randall, S. Dak., reports that he witnessed the issue of rations at the Yanktonnais Indian Agency, and that it has been gradually reduced, forcing the Indians to become self-sustaining to some extent. He said they suffered very much the past season on account of drought, failure of crops, etc., and if something is not speedily done these Indians will perish from famine.

The rations issued for seven days were barely enough for two days, and within his knowledge, during eight years service at the post, Indians have been saved from suffering by eating refuse from soldiers’ tables. They can get but little from this source now, as there is but one company at the post. The Indians claim that funds received for right of way of crossing at Pipestone ($17,000) have not been divided, and that balance of pay due Sully’s scouts has not been paid; that the flour mill at the agency has not been used for two years, being out of repair. Gen. Ruger, in forwarding this report, says that suffering will befall these Indians unless increase of allowance is provided, and states that these Indians are most worthy.

The commanding officer at Fort Washakie, Wyo., under date of November 28, 1890, states that the rations given the Shoshones is insufficient, it consisting only of a half pound, of flour, about 14 ounces of beef, yeast powder, salt, and a small quantity of soap.

Reports Of Indian Inspectors.

An Indian inspector, in reporting to the Secretary of the Interior, under date of April 7,1890, gives it as his opinion that it is a bad plan and a great injustice to receive beef in October at its full weight and issue it on that basis in January following, the Indians thereby losing over one-third, for which their money has been paid. He calls attention to the fact that the whites are now occupying Sioux lands secured under treaty made by the commissioners of 1889, and that the Indians do not get as much as they did before the land was taken.

Under date of November 2, 1890, Special United States Indian Agent E. B. Reynolds calls attention of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the extremely disaffected and troublesome state of a portion of the Indians on the Rosebud and other Sioux agencies. He says:

“The coming now order of things, as preached to this people during the past seven months, is the return to earth of their forefathers, the buffalo, elk, and all other game, the complete restoration of their ancient habits, customs, and power, and the annihilation of the white man. This movement, which some three weeks ago it was supposed had been completely abandoned, while not so openly indulged in, is continually gaining new adherents, and they are daily becoming more threatening and defiant of the authorities. This latter phase of the case may in a measure be attributed to the scant supply of rations, to which my attention has been almost daily called by the Indians and especially to the reduction in the quantity of beef, as compared to the issues of former years. They kill cows and oxen issued to them for breeding and working purposes, making no secret of doing so, and openly defy arrest. They said that the cattle were issued to them by the “Great Father,” and that it is their right to do as they please with them. This evil is increasing daily, and if not cheeked there will be but very few of this class of stock left on the reservation by spring.
“During the past week it was reported to me that two Indians in the Red Leaf camp, on Black Pipe Creek, had killed their cows for a feast at the ghost dance. I sent policemen to bring them in; they refused to come. The following day I sent two officers and eight policemen and they returned without the men, reporting that after they arrived at the camp they were surrounded by seventy-five or more Indians, well armed and with plenty of ammunition, and they unanimously agreed that an attempt to arrest the offenders would have resulted in death to the entire posse. On Friday I sent the chief of police, with an interpreter, to explain matters and endeavor to bring the men in. They positively refused to come, and the chief of police reports that the matter is beyond the control of the police. This is one case, which could be repeated indefinitely by attempting the arrest of parties guilty of the same offense.
“The religious excitement, aggravated by almost starvation, is bearing fruits in this state of insubordination. Indians say they had better die fighting than to die a slow death of starvation, and as the new religion promises their return to earth, at the coming of the millennial, they have no great fear of death. To one not accustomed to Indians it is a hard matter to believe the confident assurance with which they look forward to the fulfillment of the prophet’s promises. The time first set for the inauguration of the new era was next spring, but I am reliably informed that it has since, and only lately, been advanced to the new moon after the next one, or about December 11. The indications are unmistakable; these Indians have within the past three weeks traded horses and everything else they could trade for arms and ammunition, and all the cash they become possessed of is spent in the same way. One of the traders here reports that Indians within the last two days, have come into his store and offered to sell receipts for wood delivered at the agency, and for which no funds are on hand to pay them, for one-third of their value in cash. When asked what urgent necessity there was for such sacrifice of receipts for less than their face value, they answered that they wanted the cash to buy ammunition.
“These are some of the signs of the times, and strongly indicate the working of the Indian mind. To me there appears to be but one remedy (and all here agree with me) unless the old order of things (the Indians controlling the agency) is to be reestablished, and that is a sufficient force of troops to prevent the outbreak which is imminent, and which any one of a dozen unforeseen causes may precipitate.”

Source: United States War Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of War, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), 132-140.

About Sam Russell

I am a fifth-generation retired Army officer with twenty-nine years of commissioned service. I have been researching the frontier Army for over eighteen years and am interested in documenting the lives of the soldiers that participated in the battle of Wounded Knee using primarily official reports, diaries, letters, newspaper articles and other primary source documents. My interest in Wounded Knee stems from my kinship to one of the principal participants. I am the great-great-grandson of Samuel M. Whitside, who was a major and battalion commander at the battle. I welcome and encourage comments on posts and pages and am always interested in any new primary sources. If you have copies of letters, diaries, etc, from participants and are willing to share, please contact me. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are strictly my own, and should in no way be construed as official Army or U.S. Government positons.
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1 Response to 1891 Annual Report of Major General Miles – Part 1

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