The late fearful massacre has brought sorrow to all our hearts. To see our beautiful state desolated, our homes broken up, and our entire border stained with blood, is a calamity which may well appal us. No wonder that deep indignation has been aroused and that our people cry vengeance. But if that vengeance is to be more than a savage thirst for blood, we must examine the causes which have brought this bloodshed, that our condemnation may fall on the guilty. No outbursts of passion, no temporary expediency, no deed of revenge can excuse us from the stern duties which such days of sorrow thrust upon us. . . .
In all our relations with the Indians we have persistently carried out the idea that they were a sovereign people. If it is true that a nation cannot exist within a nation, that these heathen were to send no ambassadors to us and we none to them, that they had no power to compel us to observe it for themselves, then our first step was a fatal step. They did not possess a single element of sovereignty; and had they possessed it, we could not, in justice to ourselves, have permitted them to exercise it in the duties necessary to a nation's self-existence.
The second most fatal error was a natural inference from the first. Because we had treated with them as an independent nation, we left them without government. Their own rude patriarchal government was always weakened and often destroyed by the new treaty relations. The chiefs lost all independence of action, and sooner or later became the pliant tools of traders and agents, powerful for mischief, but powerless for good. Nothing was given to supply the place of this defective tribal government. The only being in America who has no law to punish the guilty or protect the innocent, is the treaty Indian. . . .
These evils have been increased by bad influences, and even fostered by the careless unconcern of the Government. We have taken no steps to restrain savage warfare among tribes at variance. They have murdered each other in our streets, fought beside our villages, even shaken gory scalps in our faces, and we did not know that we were nursing passions to break out in violence and blood. There was no mark of condemnation upon their pagan customs, for even high officials have paid them to hold heathen dances to amuse a crowd.
The Government, instead of compelling these men to live by honest labor, has fostered idleness, encouraged savage life by payment of money, by purchases of scalping knives and trinkets, and has really given the weight of influence on the side of heathen life.
The sale of fire-water has been almost unblushing, when it was known that while it made drunkards of white men, it made devils of red men.
The system of trade was ruinous to honest traders and pernicious to the Indian. It prevented all efforts for personal independence and acquisition of property. The debts of shiftless and indolent were paid out of the sale of the patrimony of the tribe. . . .
Such a mistaken policy would be bad enough in the hands of the wisest and best men, but it is made a hundred-fold worse by making the office of an Indian agent one of reward for political services. It has been sought, not because it was one of the noblest trusts ever committed to men to try and redeem, . . . but because, upon a pittance of salary, a fortune could be realized in a few years.
The voice of this whole nation has declared that the Indian Department is the most corrupt in the Government. Citizens, editors, legislators, heads of the departments, and President alike agree that it has been characterized by inefficiency and fraud. The nation, knowing this, has winked at it. We have lacked the moral courage to stand up in the fear of God and demand a reform. More than all, it was not our money. It was a sacred trust confided to us by helpless men, where common manliness should have blushed for shame at the theft. . . .
It hardly needed any act of wrong to incite savage natures to murderous cruelty. But such instances were not wanting. Four years ago the Sioux sold the Government part of their reservation, the plea for the sale being the need of funds to aid them in civilization. . . . Of ninety-six thousand dollars due to the Lower Sioux not one cent has ever been received. All has been absorbed in claims except eight hundred and eighty dollars and fifty-eight cents, which is to their credit on the books at Washington. Of the portion belonging to the other Sioux, eighty-eight thousand, three hundred and fifty one dollars and twelve cents were also taken for claims. . . . For two years the Indians had demanded to know what had become of their money, and had again and again threatened revenge unless they were satisfied. Early last spring the traders informed the Indians that the next payment would be only half the usual amount, because the Indian debts had been paid at Washington. They were in some instances refused credit on this account.
It caused deep and widespread discontent. The agent was alarmed, and as early as May he wrote me that this new fraud must bring a harvest of woe, saying "God only knows what will be the result." In June, at the time fixed by custom, they came together for the payment. The agent could give no satisfactory reason for the delay. There was none to give. The Indians waited at the Agencies for two months, dissatisfied, turbulent, hungry, and then came the outbreak. . . . The money reached Fort Ripley the day after the outbreak. A part of the annuity had been taken for claims and at the eleventh hour, as the warrant on the treasury shows, as made up from other funds to save an Indian war. It was too late! Who is guilty of the causes which desolated our border? At whose door is the blood of these innocent victims? I believe that God will hold the nation guilty.
Our white race would not be proof against the corrupt influences which have clustered round these heathen. It would make a Sodom of any civilized community under heaven. . . .
There is no man who does not feel that the savages who have committed these deeds of violence must meet their doom. The law of God and man alike require it; the stern necessities of self-protection demand it.
But while we execute justice, our consciousness of wrong should lead us to the strictest scrutiny, lest we punish the innocent. Punishment loses its lesson when it is the vengeance of a mob. The mistaken cry, "Take law into our own hands!" is the essence of rebellion itself.
As citizens, we have the clear right to ask our rulers to punish the guilty. The state has the right to arraign these men in her Courts, but anything like mob violence is subversion of all law. It is a question for the judges to weigh calmly, how far any man, who was driven into this by savage leaders, and who committed no violence nor murder himself, shall be deemed guilty; and whatever that decision is, we ought to bow before the majesty of the law. There are others who, like Taopi, Good Thunder, Anagmani, and Wabasha, have a peculiar claim to our protection. Conscious of wrongs suffered, they resisted the outbreak, and to the last refused to join it. It was due to them that the captives were rescued and the guilty delivered up. In the face of death they were the white man's friend. Are we to reward their fidelity by a cry of extermination? . . .
Bishop of Minnesota