Col. Wynkoop Before the American Geographical and Statistical Society.
Col. Wynkoop Before the American
Geographical and Statistical Society.



    In response to the request of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, ex-Indian Agent Col. E. W. Wynkoop delivered an address last evening before the Society, in their rooms at the Cooper Institute, on the Indian troubles. Benjamin Satham, esq., presided, who requested the Secretary to read the letter addressed to Col. Wynkoop, which was done. The following letter, from the Rev. H. B. Whipple, Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, was also read by the Secretary:

Faribault, Minn., Dec. 8, 1868.
    My Dear Friend: I did not think it would be necessary to write you so soon again on behalf of the poor Indians. I beg you, as you pity God's poor killed creatures, to ask the Executive Committee of your Indian Commission, to employ some competent fearless person to investigate the recent events connected with our Indian war. I have not the proof, or I would appeal over my own signature, to the people of America, to stop this system of iniquity. You cannot cure by wrong; you cannot atone for robbery by murder. It is my firm belief that every provision of the treaty made with the Indians by the Peace Commission was violated and they left to destitution last Spring, and that, by failure of Congress to make early appropriations, were compelled they to leave their reservation and go to the Buffalo ranges to escape death.
    Second: That our refusal to give them either food, or the means (arms, &c.) to kill game, was regarded as a violation of the treaty.
    Third: That as early as August or September, officers of the United States so far forgot every principle of humanity and fear of God, as to issue an order that no mercy should be shown to women and children, and that expeditions should be fitted out to strike a blow on the families of Indians.
    Fourth: That it will be found that at least a portion of the Indians killed recently, Black Kettle and his party were friendly Indians.
    Fifth: That even if there had been several acts of hostility committed by individual Indians of peaceable bands, and by hostile bands, this shameless disregard of justice has been the most foolhardy course we could have pursued.
    I need not go on. You know and the whole world knows the sin of the original cause of strife is at our door. We are guilty before God of winking at robbery; we know it, Congress knows it, the people know it. Will we escape the sure retribution of God's eternal justice by seeking to murder every Indian?
    I said you must have a fearless man to examine and plead for the Indian. You will come in contact and conflict with men who are honored by the whole people. Congress will whitewash it all over; the press and people and army will act on the principle: "Dead men tell no tales." Human kind like to throw mud on people they have wronged.
    Nothing could show as plainly as recent events that the reform of the Indian Bureau will not come through the army.
    When distributing goods recently at Fort Wadswerth, the Chiefs asked me to take the names of certain squaws from their lists because wives of officers and soldiers justified their shame by example. Dear brothers, time is short, eternity is long, God is just. We must be up and doing, and God will help us. Your friend and brother,
    The Chairman then introduced Col. Wynkoop, who spoke as follows:


In reference to your first question as to what induced me to resign the office I held as agent of the Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians, I would state, that the causes have already been set forth in my official communication to the Department of the Interior, to which publicity has been given, but I have no objection to recapitulate. After hostilities had been existing for a short time with the Indians of the Upper Arkansas, and particularly with those of my agency, I received an order from the office of the Indian Bureau to proceed to Fort Cobb on the Wachita River, or to that vicinity, and congregate at the point I might select, such Indians as were disposed to be friendly, to subsist and take care of the same, to act in cooperation with Gen. Hazen, who was detailed by the War Department on special duty of a like character. While en route to Fort Cobb I learned that the different columns of troops who were in the field were making that locality their objective point; that a volunteer regiment from Kansas was marching in the same direction, with the expressed determination to kill all Indians they might meet, under any circumstances. Knowing, if I fulfilled my instruction, I was only acting as a decoy to induce these Indians to present themselves in a locality where they were liable to be fallen upon at any moment and murdered, I had nothing left me but to resign the commission I held, or else, by following my instructions, become an accessory to the crime, which I knew must be the inevitable consequence, under the state of affairs that then existed, of congregating the Indians at the point mentioned.
    In regard to the causes of the Indian war which has existed, at intervals, since 1863, speaking alone from my own personal knowledge, I would say, without hesitation; that the initiative has in every instance been taken by our own people. Ten years ago I was one of a party of 17 adventurers who started from the Territory of Kansas to seek their fortunes in the region of the Rocky Mountains that was then known as the Pike's Peak country, now the Territory of Colorado. During our journey thither we passed through numerous bands of Indians, viz.: Kiowas, Comanches, Arapahos, Cheyennes, and Apaches. Thousands of them were camped along the Arkansas River, all the way to the Rocky Mountains. We were treated hospitably by them and with the utmost kindness; we were the van-guard of an army of emigrants, who were soon to take possession of their hunting grounds, and it would have been but a simple effort for them to have crushed us at that time; had they felt so disposed. But, on the contrary when the nucleus which we formed had gathered together hundreds of gold seekers at the mouth of Cherry Creek where now stands the city of Denver and the Indians knew that the supposed treasures of these mountains would attract thousands who must necessarily encroach upon their rights. Still their intercourse was of the most pacific character, and as the emigration continued to flow in during the years '58, '59, '60, '61 and '62, I know of no instance in which the friendly relations, existing between the Indian and the white man were interrupted. But during the year 1863 that country was cursed with the presence of a man in power, the commander of a military District, in which was included the Territory of Colorado, whose position gave him absolute sway, and whose name is synonymous with infamy. Col. J. M. Chivington. Having had his command reduced by frequent calls of troops to take the field against those who were endeavoring to dissever our Union, found that it was necessary to do something to retain him in the most exalted position he had ever held--that of a commander of a military district where troops were not really required. He, therefore, thought it was politic to inaugurate an Indian war. Finding a good opportunity, on the pretense that a certain hunting party of Cheyenne Indians had run off some stock which they had found on the prairie, and at the time were driving toward a ranche to return to their lawful owners, he ordered a detachment of his troops to make an attack upon them. They naturally defended themselves, and the consequence was a skirmish, in which some lives were lost; and from that arose the cry of an Indian war. Under the orders of this monster, the troops then took the field to kill all Indians that they might meet. The Indians, in retaliation for the wrongs had been imposed upon them, naturally committed depredations whenever they had an opportunity; but after this state of affairs had existed for a couple of months, under the influence of the older and wiser heads of their race, retired from the highways and the vicinity of the settlements, and sued for peace. An armistice existed for a short time, and then came the fearful massacre of Sand Creek, with the details of which almost every one is familiar, where Indian women and children were murdered in cold blood by United States troops and their bodies mutilated in the most horrible manner. I will pass from this sickening reminiscence to the time when the Government first awoke to the realization of the state of Indian affairs--which attention had before been distracted by our intestine warfare--and the matter appeared of such moment that a Committee of United States Senators was appointed to investigate. The Committee consisted of Senators Foster and Doolittle and Representative Ross, and their report, to which publicity has been given, not only shows that these poor Indians were the aggrieved but that the white man was rapacious in his cruelty. As a result of the report of the said Committee a Peace Commission was appointed to treat with these wronged Indians, which Commission, numbering among its members such honored names as Gens. Harney, Sanborn, and Kit Carson, met and held council at the mouth of the Little Arkansas, in Kansas, in the month of October, 1865, made such a treaty as was perfectly satisfactory to the Indians, and which the Government should have sustained; but when the said treaty was submitted to the United States Senate there were such amendments made prior to its ratification, as entirely changed the face of the document; not withstanding their knowledge that the Government had not fulfilled its promises, the Indian bore bravely up under their wrongs, and remained in amity with their white brothers. From the date of the treaty, in October, 1865, up to the Spring of 1867, there was no overt act committed by them as a people; but in April, 1867, Major-Gen. Hancock made an expedition into the Indian country, and, without just cause, destroyed by fire a village of 300 lodges of Cheyennes and Sioux, with all the property they contained, leaving their women and children destitute, in a starving condition, and without shelter on the open prairie; in consequence of which the hand most injured became hostile, and good reason had they in my opinion to follow the war-path.
    A Commission was again appointed to make a treaty with these Indians, which took place in October, 1867, on Medicine Lodge Creek, 80 miles south of the Arkansas River. The treaty then made was a good one, did honor to the gentlemen of the Commission, and was satisfactory to the Indians. But here again was the Government to blame for not immediately fulfilling their portion of the requirements of the treaty. The Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indians Affairs unceasingly urged Congress to take some action in regard to the said document, but no attention was paid to their solicitations, and the Indian became wearied and heart-sick in waiting, and finally, when the annuities reached him, he was denied what he most coveted, arms and ammunition. Some of the wilder spirits, incensed at treatment which they supposed to be most unjust, started on the war-path against the whites, but they were the outlaws of their tribe, and were so declared by those chiefs whom I saw after they had committed their depredations. Their whole race should not have been made responsible for the evil doings of a few, for the head men of their tribe, with whom I held council, considered that these outlaws had done more injury to their own people than to mine, and were willing and anxious to deliver them up to us to be handed over to justice; but the troops were in the field and the Indians in flight before the same could be consummated.
    In answer to your question of how the late troubles might have been avoided, I would state that notwithstanding the wrongs the Indians had suffered at the hands of Col. Chivington in the massacre of their women and children, and also in the destruction of their village by Gen. Hancock, had Congress made the appropriation that was asked by the Department of the Interior, to be used in subsisting these Indians, the war that is now existing would have been prevented. The withholding of arms and ammunition disabling them from procuring game for subsisting their families, which game was becoming more scarce every day, and the neglect to supply them with the absolute necessaries of life, drove some to desperation.
    In reply to your questions as to my views of the remedy, to me it is a very simple one. Let us, when we make pledges to these untaught savages who, like children, judge of good faith by performance, redeem those pledges, never fail to fulfill our contracts, and the cure will be complete. It matters but little in which Department the Indian Bureau may be. As it exists at present I do not know how it can be bettered. I have failed to see, so far, how the Department of the Interior or the office of the Indian Bureau has been to blame for any of our Indian troubles; let the sympathies of the people of this great country be aroused for the Indian as they have been for the African, and, irrespective of Indian Bureaus or Congress, there will be such a radical change in the condition of the Indian as will be of incredible benefit to him in the future, and consequently to our whole country. Your noble Commission is taking the proper steps to secure this, and, if you continue, success is certain. In connection I would call the attention of your honorable body to the fact that there has never been among the Indians with whom I have been connected, viz., the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, Comanches, and Apaches, any missionary or instructor whatever.
    To conclude by answering your question in regard to my knowledge of Black Kettle, who has recently been killed in the attack upon his village on the Wachita River, I would state that Black Kettle was 56 years of age at the time of his death. He was the son of High Back Wolf, once a powerful chief of the Cheyenne nation, and the particular friend of Gen. Harney, who many years ago took considerable interest in the boy Black Kettle. Upon the death of High Back Wolf, his son Black Kettle succeeded him, and soon, by means of his administrative ability and wisdom rather than by deeds of prowess in the field, became a great chieftain. He was not only regarded as the ruling spirit of his tribe, but was also looked upon by all the nomadic tribes of the plains as a superior, one whose word was law, whose advice was to be heeded. His innate dignity and lofty bearing, combined with his sagacity and intelligence, had that moral effect which placed him in the position of a potentate. The whole force of his nature was concentrated in the one idea of how best to act for the good of his race. He knew the power of the white man, and was aware thence might spring most of the evils that could befall his people, and consequently the whole of his powers were directed towards conciliating the whites, and his utmost endeavors used to preserve peace and friendship between his race and their oppressors. After the Indian war commenced in the Spring of 1864, which war had been inaugurated by the infamous Chivington, Black Kettle endeavored to restrain the just resentment of his young warriors, and finally succeeded in gathering all of his people together upon the headwaters of the Smoky Hill River, far removed from the settlements and highways, and from that locality endeavored to communicate with some commanding officer, for the purpose of sueing for peace, and letting the whites know that his people had never desired to be at war; after many failures, his messengers invariably being fired upon when approaching a United States post, he at last succeeded in communicating with myself, then commanding Fort Lyon in Colorado; immediately after, he delivered up to me four white captives that he had purchased from other Indians for that purpose, and offered himself and his brother, White Antelope, as hostages for the good faith of his people should we give them peace. An armistice was declared for the time-being, and Black Kettle, by my instructions, brought in his lodges, his women, and his children, located them near Fort Lyon, with the understanding that he was under the protection of the United States flag; then occurred the Chivington massacre; at that time White Antelope, the brother of Black Kettle, was murdered, and nearly all his relatives killed, his wife receiving ten wounds; with folded arms, exposed to the fire of the troops, he stood until carried by main force off of the field by his young men; from confiding too much in the faith of white men, he was blamed by his people; who came near putting him to death as being too good a friend to the whites; from that time he lost caste, and fell from the position of a Sovereign to that of a subject, but he still continued to strive for peace, and gradually regained his former influence, until he succeeded in bringing his young men off of the war-path, where they had been terribly avenging the murder of their women and children; and finally brought them into the treaty made in October, 1865, at the mouth of the Little Arkansas. After hostilities were again created by the action of Gen. Hancock, Black Kettle was once more the bearer of the olive branch, and brought his people to meet the Commissioners at Medicine Lodge Creek in October, 1867. After the war that is now existing had broken out, and the country was filled with troops, Black Kettle sought a refuge for his family and a few of his individual band where he had been led to believe was the point of safety for those Indians who desired to remain at peace, only to meet his death at the hands of white men, in whom he had too often fatally trusted, and who triumphantly report the fact of having his scalp in their possession.


    Gen. Cullom of Dakota, late Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Minnesota, was the next speaker, who said that the subject was one in which he was deeply interested. His experience among Indians had been extensive during a period of 10 or 12 years, and in that time he had traveled a great deal in the Indian country, and so had become intimately acquainted with their habits. The Indian is a simple-minded race of people; as easy to govern as any people in the world, if they are only treated right. We need only refer to the success with which Penn met, in his labors among them, to show how true this is; and the speaker believed if we could only interest the Quakers of the present day in such a mission, they would be equally successful. One great cause of our difficulty with the Indians is the manner in which treaties are made and fulfilled with them. The Indian comes to Washington, is an object of curiosity there for five or six weeks; then he becomes homesick and is ready to sign any treaty that is presented to him, so that he may return to his family. Our Commissioner makes as good a treaty as he can for the Government, and when the Indian goes to his home he is met by his dissatisfied and injured people. This has been the cause of many of our Indian wars. The speaker then referred to the deterioration that civilization had upon the Indians, referring to his experience among them at Lake Superior, where, he said, 10 or 12 years ago they were a happy and prosperous people; well-dressed, plenty of furs, and plenty to eat. Lately he had visited the same people and he found only poor, miserable creatures. Whisky and civilization had done their work. Gen. Callom in this connection referred to a treaty which had been made with the Indians of Lake Superior, which had cost the Government $75,000, and had resulted in great injury to the Indians.


    Peter Cooper, esq., next addressed the Society and said; When, my friends, we listen to such a revelation of horrors as we have heard to-night, for one, I feel like using the language of the poet who said that "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn." Some number of years ago I had occasion to look up some records of the first settling of this island on which we live, and in those records of a time shortly after the settling of the island I found an account of horrors equal to anything that you have heard to-night. It seems that when Hudson first landed here he was rowed to the shore by an Indian chief, who took him to his cabin and treated him with the greatest kindness. Shortly afterward a Governor by the name of Kieft called together a number of his friends and colleagues, and proposed to them that they should sally out in the night and kill as many Indians as they could. They prepared themselves, and did sally out, and killed between 90 and 100 Indians and that massacre brought upon the people an Indian war which came very near exterminating the whole white population. Such was the beginning of these troubles, and it has gone on from that day to this. One party after another has shoved the poor Indian until he has been driven into the wilds of the country. Even there he is hunted, persecuted, and cheated. Another instance of great cruelty happened in New Orleans, which can hardly be described fittingly in language. It seems that in the early settlement of New Orleans a difficulty occurred between the settlers and the Indians, and the settlers, with their better provision for carrying on war than the savages had, took quite a number of prisoners. They took those prisoners and sold them for slaves at Jamaica. That horrible cruelty lived in the memories of their descendants, and finally resulted in the well-nigh total extermination of the white people there. In conclusion Mr. Cooper said that the only remedy for these troubles was to give the Indian an equal chance with the white man, in all that pertains to American citizenship. Let him send representatives to Congress and his wrongs will speedily disappear.
    Mr. Tatham was the last speaker, and said that he was glad to see so many representatives of the press present. The object was to do good to the Indians and to the country. He referred to an editorial in The N.Y. Times, which he said did great injustice to those gentlemen who were moving in this matter. Mr. Tatham concluded his remarks by reading a letter which he had received relative to emigrant travel on the Plains, and the writer's experience among the Indians.


Unknown, "Our Indian Difficulties," New-York Daily Tribune, Thursday, 24 December 1868, Page 1, Cols. 3-4.

Notes and Acknowledgement.

    I would like to thank Susan Woodworth,, of Summit, New Jersey, for copying this article from the New-York Daily Tribune for me. I've been after it for some time now and Sue made it all possible. Thank you so much Sue, I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

    All my best,


Created April 9, 2003; Revised January 16, 2004
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