1852 Indian Agent Report


HOUSE DOCUMENT 1./ December 7, 1852

The following is part of a letter written by an Indian agent in Washington State in the 19th century. In the document the author identifies a number of characteristics of the Native Americans. His text is also filled with the type of racist attitudes towards Native Americans which were so common in 19th century America. He also discusses some of the provisions which should be included in any treaty with the Indians of Washington state.

HOUSE DOCUMENT 1./ December 7, 1852

The character of all these Indians is similar as a general thing. They all depend upon fish, berries, and roots for their main subsistence; and all possess a desire to copy after the whites. The pride they take in dressing, in cloth, and of being taught to have dropped their savageness, and to have approached, however distantly, to the manners and likeness of the whites, forms a most marked difference between them and the Indians formerly inhabiting the eastern part of the United States. They are excessively indolent and selfish, having no gratitude or affection, seemingly, beyond themselves. The numerous varieties of fish which abound in the salt and fresh water, together with the roots and berries that grow in abundance through the woods and prairies, give them an easy livelihood wherever they may stray. In their canoes they float through life, wandering in the different seasons to the places abounding most in the different kinds of food. The climate is mild and healthy; a blanket and shirt, as far as clothing is concerned, make them comfortable throughout the year. They are all passionately fond of gambling, frequently gambling away everything they possess – even their women and slaves. Slavery exists among all the tribes, and with every individual who is rich enough to own slaves. Their indolence and food render them cowardly and averse to difficulties where their opponents are anything like equal in strength. They are seldom pugnacious. They are thievish, and will steal nearly anything; if they cannot steal, they will beg; and if the article is not given to them, they will work for it. I have never seen cupidity predominate to the same degree with any other people. It is excited only, however, when they are with the whites. Among themselves they are profusely extravagant, frequently giving away the last thing they have when it will make an impression. Position and authority, with them depend on the number of slaves, blankets, &c., they possess or have given away. There is a chief of the Ska-git tribe who, some time since, gave away over two hundred blankets; and another of the Sklal-lum tribe is about preparing a fete, at which there is to be a general collection of Indians, to whom he is to give a quantity of articles; all to enhance his importance. Many of them however, notwithstanding their general indolence, thievishness, and filthiness, who have been living with or near the whites, and are taught by example and punishment, are comparatively industrious, honest, and neat, and are very useful. There are, too, among all the tribes, more or less exceptions, who are industrious and honest to a degree one would hardly expect to see among untutored savages. There is a great deal of liquor consumed by the Indians in this district, and I have been disappointed in my hopes of entirely stopping its consumption. Government having granted lands upon certain conditions to actual settlers, without reference to the extinction of the Indian title, settlers are scattered over this part of Oregon in every direction. They all of course claim the privilege of American citizens, and say, with much truth, that government having induced them to emigrate, it did not intend to inflict them with all the penalties of the law regulating trade and intercourse with the Indians; for there is a special clause in that law prohibiting persons other than Indians from residing in an Indian country. They contend, therefore, that they have a right to keep liquor for their own use, and to sell to whites, provided they do not sell or give it to Indians. Vessels coming into the sound contend, on the same grounds, that they have a right to bring in liquor to trade with American citizens. If this is the case, where there is a large population of Indians, they will get it, notwithstanding the destruction of liquor and the indictment of a few, against whom there is testimony, fortunately, of their having sold or given Indians liquor.

There is much complaint among American settlers and traders that Indians on this side of the line dividing the possessions of the United States from those of Great Britain are not prohibited from bringing blankets and other articles from the British side to this. I suppose there is no doubt but that this should be stopped; but to do it, would require a vessel to cruise in the sound for the purpose. Besides, I think it would be injudicious to attempt to restrict them in such a manner before treaties are make with them. A clause inserted in each treaty, as one of its requirements, making them agree to abstain from such trade, would, I think, in a measure, be effectual. I would recommend that, when treaties are made with these tribes, their future homes all be included in one reservation, fishing-grounds be granted them; and over the reservation, that the law regulating trade and any other laws relating thereto, be extended with full force. I think, situated in this way, much good might be done them, by at least an attempt to educate and teach them the various arts. They all, more or less, cultivate the potato, and are very fond of them, and in many other things they seem to imbibe the regiments of civilization, and to improve by what is taught them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *