As you read this, keep in mind this is not a polemic saying these United States were in the right in all their dealings with the American Indian. What I am saying is that when looking at history, one needs to do so in full, and not in part.
“Kill every buffalo you can,” he said; “every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” ~ Colonel Richard Irving Dodge (1827 – June 16, 1895), United States Army.
I came across the above quote that got me thinking — due to the source… a left leaning website — that the quote was connected to a more complicated history than just simply “genocide” against Native-Americans (N-A from now on). Which the website was implying the quote meant. (BTW, if you are like my wife and can do without all my pomp-and-circumstance and want the bottom line ~ read this quote.) The original hat-tip came from a conservative website Gateway Pundit, referencing a call for Buffalo [New York] to change it’s racist name. (I know, EVERYTHING is racist nowadays.)
See other attempts to remove names from other things:
One of the graphics Gateway used in his story was this one, note the quote by Col. Dodge:
As I continued my search… this quote from Col. Dodge showed up quite a bit. So I did a Google book search, found some promising books that would lead to the origins of the quote. I subsequently ordered used versions (pictured below).
In these four resources as well as previous posts, I will unravel a fuller picture of the history/ethos behind such a statement. FIRST, however, here is the fuller quote as remembered by Gen. Butler:
At North Platte we found a distinguished officer of the army in command, Colonel Dodge, one of the foremost frontier men of his time, and the descendant of officers who had prepared the road for the army of settlement in the West. He was a mighty hunter too, and had killed every variety of big game from the Rocky Mountains to the Missouri. We told him of the week’s hunting we had had on the Platte prairies. More than thirty buffalo bulls had been shot by us, and I could not but feel some qualms of conscience at the thought of the destruction of so much animal life ; but Colonel Dodge held different views. “Kill every buffalo you can,” he said; “every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” It sounded hard then, and it seems hard now ; but seven years after this time I crossed by railway from California to New York, and looking out at this same Platte valley I saw it a-smilin’ plain of farms, waving crops, and neat homesteads. The hungry crowd from overcharged Europe had surged into settlement over the old buffalo pastures of the Platte. ‘ Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ It was right. These Crows, Cheyennes, Sioux, and Blackfeet Indians were no doubt splendid hunters, and fierce raiders, and crafty foemen, but no man could say they were meek.
[Lieut. General The Rt. Hon, G.G.B.] Sir W. F. Butler, Sir William Butler: An Autobiography (London, England: Constable And Company Ltd., 1911), 97.
When I read this fuller quote something stood out: “splendid hunters,”“fierce raiders,”“crafty foemen” [an enemy in war], and “‘not’ meek.” This brought to mind a previous discussion with a person on Facebook about the same issue. Daniel made a similar point that was one-sided… as if the American Indians were angels. I made the following historical point:
One of the most brutal raids of the American Revolution, a Loyalist-Iroquois coalition massacred more than 200 unsuspecting Patriot militiamen. Having raided and scorched dozens of frontier towns in upstate New York and Pennsylvania, the British arrived in Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, on July 3rd. The Patriots, inexperienced and outnumbered, were ambushed and subsequently routed following a forty-five minute close combat battle. As the Patriot line crumbled, the Iroquois began brutally hunting down survivors. Only sixty Americans survived to see another day, and only five were taken prisoner. Fleeing soldiers who had surrendered, were tortured to death by Loyalists and Iroquois. It was reported that 227 Patriot scalps were collected. Dozens of bodies were found on the line of retreat, which were all buried in a common grave. In retaliation, the Sullivan Expedition, commissioned by General George Washington, systematically destroyed at least forty Iroquois villages throughout upstate New York, in 1779. Another gruesome massacre would take place against the Continental Army at Cherry Valley.
This is an important distinction coming up, and is worthy to note. There were massacres from both sides… this is the most basic understanding of this period (“boiling” it down). Now, reports of the massacres of prisoners at Wyoming and atrocities at Cherry Valley enraged the American public.
Did you catch that Daniel? Were the Iroquois ever “enraged” over it’s own actions? Were the French? Understanding history and the ethical foundations of the people involved is key to grasping these very complicated things well.
Another point I pushed with Daniel in this discussion was that after the War of Independence, the Revolutionary War that is, the relationship between the people in this fledgling nation and the American Indian changed dramatically. You see, the Big Five (Five Nation League), the biggest Indian nations, ALLsided with the British.
CHEROKEES and CREEKS (among other TRIBES) in the southern interior and most IROQUOIS nations in the northern interior provided crucial support to the British war effort. With remarkably few exceptions, N-A support for the British was close to universal.
The MOHAWK chief THAYENDANEGEA (known to Anglo-Americans as JOSEPH BRANT) was the most important Iroquois leader in the Revolutionary Era. He convinced four of the six Iroquois nations to join him in an alliance with the British and was instrumental in leading combined Indian, British, and Loyalist forces on punishing raids in western New York and Pennsylvania in 1778 and 1779. These were countered by a devastating Patriot campaign into Iroquois country that was explicitly directed by General Washington to both engage warriors in battle and to destroy all Indian towns and crops so as to limit the military threat posed by the Indian-British alliance.
When British General John Burgoyne marched from Canada to Albany,
some of the Native American warriors he enlisted began killing settlers.
When the news of Jane McCrea’s murder reached major cities,
many young Americans enlisted to fight.
In spite of significant Native American aid to the British, the European treaty negotiations that concluded the war in 1783 had no native representatives. Although Ohio and Iroquois Indians had not surrendered nor suffered a final military defeat, the United States claimed that its victory over the British meant a victory over Indians as well. Not surprisingly, due to their lack of representation during treaty negotiations, Native Americans received very poor treatment in the diplomatic arrangements. The British retained their North American holdings north and west of the Great Lakes, but granted the new American republic all land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. In fact, this region was largely unsettled by whites and mostly inhabited by Native Americans. As a Wea Indian complained about the failed military alliance with the British, “In endeavoring to assist you it seems we have wrought our own ruin.” Even groups like the ONEIDA, one of the Iroquois nations that allied with the Americans, were forced to give up TRADITIONAL LANDS with other native groups.
This was an interesting dynamic when we beat the British and the Big Five. While the British warriors were sent-a-packin’, the American Indian combatants stayed. This was a tough situation, to say the least. History is tough.
Similarly, the near extinction of the Buffalo had many reasons and participants from both sides. In Settler and the N-A side participated in their demise. These American Indians were NOT angels. When trading routes and goods started to be established, we find that greed and power are a universal trait in all people of the world. The Beaver Wars exemplified just how non-angelic these American Indians were:
When the Mohawks attacked Metacomet instead of supporting him, they were motivated by self-interest. Casting themselves in the role of powerful intermediaries between neighboring Indians and the English colonies, the Mohawks and the other tribes of the Five Nation League of the Iroquois sought to place themselves in a dominant position.
European trade goods first began to reach the peoples of the Five Nations through indirect means as early as the mid-fifteenth century. In many Iroquois graves dating to that period archaeologists find brass, iron, and glass items. Their first direct access to these valuable goods came when Dutch traders established posts along the Hudson River in the 1610s. But the Iroquois had a problem. The best source of beaver pelts came from colder climes to the north. To supply themselves with the means to trade, the Mohawks, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Senecas thus began to raid their northern neighbors, plundering their stores of furs and bringing the pelts south to trade with the Dutch. These raids began a long series of seventeenth-century conflicts known as the Beaver Wars in which warriors of the Five Nations attacked other Indian peoples as far west as the Illinois country, making themselves into the most powerful Indian confederacy on the North American continent.
But the Beaver Wars were spurred by another factor besides economics. Imported European diseases had hit the Iroquois hard. By the 1640s the population of the Five Nations had been cut nearly in half. Warfare against their neighbors not only gave the Iroquois access to the great fur grounds of the northern Great Lakes but offered the opportunity to take captives.
The Iroquois directed their most furious attacks against the Hurons, allies of the French. [The Hurons were one of the more peaceful tribes] … unlike “So far as I can divine,” one Jesuit missionary wrote, “it is the design of the Iroquois to capture all the Hurons, if it is possible; to put the chiefs and great part of the nation to death, and with the rest to form one nation and one country.” In 1647 and 1648 the Mohawks and Senecas massed a brutal attack against the Hurons, destroying both Indian towns and Jesuit missionary stations. The Iroquois suffered enormous losses, but they inflicted even greater ones on the Hurons, and they so demoralized their enemies that those who were not killed or captured dispersed and fled westward. Hundreds of Hurons were marched south to the Seneca and Mohawk towns and were adopted into the villages.
Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faracher, The American West: A New Interpretive History (New Haven, CT, 2000), 67-69.
Choctaws, Chicasaws, Cherokee, Creeks, Mohawks, Iroquois, and Seminoles to name just a few that were in states of war with each-other in some fashion before-and-after the white-man every step foot on the continent.
Now, however, as the Beaver Wars exemplified… there was a larger “monetary” benefit to these raids, land grabs, and the like.
To wit, *JUST LIKE* with the buffalo.
Here is what I mean.
While there was a concerted effort to get American Indians to become less nomadic (and thus less liable to be: “fierce raiders,” “crafty foemen” [an enemy in war], and “‘not’ meek”), the Indians THEMSELVES played a large roll in this “de-nomaditisation”! American Indians THEMSELVES sought to make a buck off of these new techniques of leather making (see especially the second large quote below):
Until 1871 the fur buffalo robe was the main marketable item, the leather being a far more limited commodity. Leather was used by the British Army in the Crimean War (1854-1856), but only after 1871 did an English firm provide a mass market for the buffalo hides. Previously, when the robes were the main item of value, commercial hunting was confined mainly to the winter when the fur was thick, but with leather as the mass product, the buffalo hunter could kill with profit all year round (Vestal, 1952, 40). The railroads, too, were glad to have the business. Their progress westward had been stopped by the long depression of the 1870s; with almost no traffic, carrying buffalo meat, hides, and bones to eastern markets was a valued business opportunity. Merchants and freighters welcomed the business that came from buffalo hunting (Vestal, 1952, 38).
Hardly had the market for buffalo hides become widely known than the panic of 1873 began which lasted for five years. During those years most of the buffalo on the southern plains were destroyed [Vestal, 1952, 451]. In 1871 the buffalo were estimated in the millions. Many of the hunters entered the profession expecting it to prove a life work and despaired of killing off more than the annual increase of the herd. Hunters encamped by water holes and rivers where the animals came to drink, built watch fires at night so that the slaughter could go on for twenty-four hours a day [Vestal, 1952, 46].
For maximum efficiency some hunters used the Big Fifty, a gun produced by Sharps to the hunter’s specifications, made to load and fire eight times a minute (Sandoz, 1954, 97; Vestal, 1952, 41). “In a brief two years (1873-1875), where there had been myriads of buffalo, there were only myriads of rotting carcasses. The air was filled with the sickening stench of death. . . .” [Vestal, 1952, 46].
The meat rotted, the bones remained, and then they, too, became a source of commercial profit. They were used in making fertilizer or in making bone china. They brought good prices. A man driving to town to trade would fill his wagon bed with bones and sell them on Front Street, Dodge City (Kansas). There were bones piled up as high as a man’s head, extending all along the track for many yards awaiting shipment. Many of the settlers managed to keep going by selling bones when drought and depression again struck the plains and destroyed their corn crop (Vestal, 1952, 50), before wheat had become a major crop of the area. One bone-buying firm estimated that over seven years (1884-1891) they bought the bones of approximately 5,950,000 buffalo skeletons. This firm was only one of many (Sandoz, 1954, 358).
Eleanor Burke Leacock and Nancy Oestreich Lurie, North American Indians In Historical Perspective (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1971), 219-220.
Supply-and-demand. This doesn’t make the near extinction an ideal goal… but it opened up the Plains for a large movement of settlers. AS WELL AS pointing out that the real push for Buffalo hides was profit during a slow times after the Civil War; not “genocide. Nor was the goal “death” of N-A’s, directly. Indirectly, anything subsidized writ-large is known to cause death in greater numbers. In similar fashion, authors Hine and Faracher make the same historical statement:
Plains Indians had long hunted the buffalo, and the level of their hunting greatly increased with the development of the equestrian Indian tradition in the eighteenth century. From a peak of perhaps thirty million, the number of buffalo had declined to perhaps ten million by the mid-nineteenth century, partly as a result of commercial over-hunting by Indians, but also because of environmental competition from growing herds of wild horses and the spread of bovine diseases introduced by cattle crossing with settlers on the Overland Trail. By overgrazing, cutting timber, and fouling water sources, overland migrants also contributed significantly to the degeneration of habitats crucial for the health and survival of the buffalo. The confluence of these factors created a crisis for buffalo-hunting Indians by the 1860s. Tribal spokesmen protested the practice of hunters who killed for robes, leaving the meat to rot on the plains. “Has the white man become a child,” the Comanche chief Santana complained to an army officer in 1867, “that he should recklessly kill and not eat?” But it was less a case of childish whim than cynical guile. “Kill every buffalo you can!” Colonel Richard Dodge urged a sport hunter in 1867. “Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”
The extension of railroad lines onto the Great Plains and the development in 1870 of a technique for converting buffalo hide into commercial leather sealed the buffalo’s fate. Lured by the profits to be made in hides, swarms of hunters invaded western Kansas. Using a high-powered rifle, a skilled hunter could kill dozens of animals in an afternoon. And unlike the hunter of buffalo robes, who was limited to taking his catch in the winter when the coat was thick, hide hunting was a year-round business. General Philip Sheridan applauded their work. “They are destroying the Indians’ commissary,” he declared. “Let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are ex terminated.” As the buffalo hunters did their work,Indians also accelerated their kills, attempting to capture their share of the market. At the Santa Fe depot in Dodge City mountainous stacks of buffalo hides awaited shipment to eastern tanneries. Historians estimate that in the five years between 1870 and 1875 five or six million buffalo died on the southern plains, wiping out the southern herds. The war on the animals then shifted to the northern plains, following the advancing tracks of the Northern Pacific. “If I could learn that every Buffalo in the northern herd were killed I would be glad,” Sheridan declared in 1881. “Since the destruction of the southern herd . . . the Indians in that section have given us no trouble.” His hopes were soon fulfilled. “It was in the summer of my twentieth year (1883),” the Sioux holy man Black Elk later testified, that “the last of the bison herds was slaughtered by the Wa-sichus,” the Lakota term for white men. With the exception of a small wild herd in northern Alberta and a few remnant individuals preserved by sentimental ranch-men like Charlie Goodnight, the North American buffalo had been destroyed. “The Wasichus did not kill them to eat,” said Black Elk incredulously. “They killed them for the metal that makes them crazy, and they took only the hides to sell. . . . And when there was nothing left but heaps of bones, the Wasichus came and gathered up even the bones and sold them.” This shameful campaign of extinction remains unmatched in the American annals of nature’s conquest.
Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faracher, The American West: A New Interpretive History (New Haven, CT, 2000), 317-318.
One needs to also keep in historical perspective that yes, these buffalo killed were done so primarily for their skin. And a lot of waste was involved. But even the Plains Indians are no angels in “waste.”
For instance, I wrote a response to an in-class assignment to my sons elementary class lesson about HOW the Settlers treated the New World versus how the Indians treated it. Here is a quote from that post:
From James Fenimore Cooper to Dances with Wolves and Disney’s Pocahontas, American Indians have been mythologized as noble beings with a “spiritual, sacred attitude towards land and animals, not a practical utilitarian one.” Small children are taught that the Plains Indians never wasted any part of the buffalo. They grow up certain that the Indians lived as one with nature, and that white European settlers were the rapists who destroyed it.
In The Ecological Indian: Myth and History, Shepard Krech III, an anthropologist at Brown University, strips away the myth to show that American Indians behaved pretty much like everyone else. When times were bad they used the whole buffalo. When times were good, “whole herds” of buffalo might be killed only for their tongues or their fetuses. Although American Indians adapted to their environment and were intimately familiar with it, they had no qualms about shaping it to their needs.
Indians set fires to promote the growth of grasses and make land more productive for the game and plants that they preferred. Sometimes fire was used carefully. Sometimes it was not. Along with the evidence that Indians used fire to improve habitat are abundant descriptions of carelessly started fires that destroyed all plant life and entire buffalo herds.
Nor were American Indians particularly interested in conserving resources for the future. In the East, they practiced slash and burn agriculture. When soils became infertile, wood for fuel was exhausted, and game depleted, whole villages moved. The Cherokee, along with the other Indians who participated in the Southern deerskin trade, helped decimate white-tailed deer populations. Cherokee mythology believed that deer that were killed in a hunt were reanimated.
In all, contemporary accounts suggest that many Indians treated game as an inexhaustible resource. Despite vague hints in the historical records that some Crees may have tried to conserve beaver populations by allocating hunting territories and sparing young animals, Krech concludes that it was “market forces in combination with the Hudchild’s Bay Company policies [which actively promoted conservation]” that “led to the eventual recovery of beaver populations.”
Those who blame European settlers for genocide because they introduced microbes that ravaged native populations might as well call the Mongols genocidal for creating the plague reservoirs that led to the Black Death in Europe. Microbes travel with their hosts. Trade, desired by Indians as well as whites, created the pathways for disease.
Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History, W.W. Norton & Company; New York: NY (1999), p. 22.
 Ibid., p. 135.
 Ibid., p. 119.
 Ibid., p. 76.
 Ibid., p. 171.
 Ibid., p. 188.
 For a discussion of the effect of the Mongol invasions and their effect on European epidemiology see, William H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, Doubleday; New York, NY (1977)
You see… when history is looked at in total and not in isolation, a theme comes out. Man is fallen. All men. Indians, Aborigines, Africans, Native-Americans, etc, etc. For history to be twisted, it needs to be viewed in isolation from other parts. History is not pretty, and the good things that come from it should be lauded… because they are rare. And this is not a polemic saying these United States were in the right in all their dealings with N-As. Reading through pages 176-184 in The American West book is heartbreaking. Moving whole groups of people by force has awful consequences, period. In this graphic from page 179 of the aforementioned book shows the undertaking started in this respect ~ even keeping in mind most fought against us in the Revolution. It doesn’t mean innocent men, women, and children were affected:
Alternatively, it is tough to argue that genocide or racism was involved as well. For instance, Colonel Dodge could be said to hate the Buffalo more than Indians. An insightful quote is this one, and, can be argued to be “speciesism” more strongly if Indian genocide is argued from his earlier solitary quote, via the official Journal of the Western History Association:
Lieutenant Colonel Dodge, who fancied himself a bona fide sportsman, regarded buffalo as “the most unwieldy, sluggish, and stupid of all plains animals.” To the hunter on foot, buffalo were by no means difficult to kill in large numbers. “If not alarmed at sight or smell of a foe,” wrote Dodge, “he will stand stupidly gazing at his companions in their death throes until the whole herd is shot down.” To be sure, Dodge regarded buffalo hunting on horseback as exciting and dangerous. But though chasing buffalo was thrilling to the novice, Dodge thought that “frequent repetition is like eating quail on toast every day for a month–monotonous.”
As Christians we look at all history as providential, run by a “higher hand.” In doing research for this subject something stood out to me.
And it is the idea that God works to make Good out of horrible.
Referring back to the quote above with the Iroquois would battle other tribes for dominance and control, those they didn’t kill and scalp, they would “adopt. Makes slaves, but these slaves would become part of their new found tribe. I will pick up where I left off in that quote:
Hundreds of Hurons were marched south to the Seneca and Mohawk towns and were adopted into the villages. Many of these Hurons were Christians, and they were the first to introduce European religion among the Five Nations. So dependent were the Iroquois on keeping their adoptees happy that eventually they were forced to invite Jesuits into their homeland to minister to these Christian Hurons, thus giving the missionaries an opportunity to work among the Five Nations. Experiencing the same disruption and cultural trauma that had made the Hurons vulnerable to the Jesuit appeal, many Iroquois converted to Catholicism. Rates of conversion were especially high among the Mohawks—the people most directly affected by their contact with European traders on the Hudson River. By the 1660s there were strong factions of pro-French Christians in all the Iroquois towns of the Five Nations.
WOW! God is good. I also wish to note an early “Republican” American Indian I came across in that 1911 autobiography of In General Butler where he recalls one Native American being pressured by the Canadian government to go live on a reserve as saying this… and note, this Indian sounds like a Tea Partier!
“Why should I go into one place?” he used to ask the Hudson Bay officer and Mr. Dickens. “Do I not see all the Indians who go into one place die off faster than ever they died by the guns and knives of the Blackfeet! Are they not all starving?” They would tell him then that he was old, and that that was the reason why the Canadian Government wished him to be easy and comfortable on a reserve. To which Big Bear would reply, “It is true that I am old, but I have fed myself for seventy years. I can still hunt and feed myself, and I will stay in the open country till I die; then, when I am dead, you can put me into some one place if you like.”
[Lieut. General The Rt. Hon, G.G.B.] Sir W. F. Butler, Sir William Butler: An Autobiography (London, England: Constable And Company Ltd., 1911), 258. [back]
He understood what many years later C.S. Lewis and then The Gipper stated:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” ~ C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock, p. 292.
Some previous posts on the Native-American mantras:
(Editor’s note: A recent federal bill memorializing as a National Historic Trail what has come to be known as the Cherokee Indian Trail of Tears is based on false history, argues William R. Higginbotham. In this article, the Texas-based writer delves into the historic record and concludes that about 840 Indians not the 4,000 figure commonly accepted died in the 1837-38 trek west; that the government-financed march was conducted by the Indians themselves; and that the phrase “Trail of Tears” was a label that was added 70 years later under questionable circumstances.) The problem with some of our accounts of history is that they have been manipulated to fit conclusions not borne out by facts. Nothing could be more intellectually dishonest. This is about a vivid case in point.
Also, it must be kept in mind that Republicans rejected the bills and legislation leading to the Trail of Tears. The Democrats were the one’s who put forward legislation to remove by force Native Americans from their land and move them to Federal land for subsistence off the State. Here is a smaller excerpt for a great chapter via D’Souza:
…Back to our story. Eventually the Jackson Democrats found a small faction of Cherokee who were willing, in exchange for bribes, to sign a removal agreement. This was called the Treaty of New Echota. The leaders of this group were the true Uncle Toms. They were not the recognized leaders of the Cherokee, and more than fifteen thousand Cherokee—led by Ross—signed a petition of protest. Ignoring their pleas, the U.S. government gave the Cherokee two years to migrate voluntarily.
The deadline of 1838 came and went, and most Cherokee had not moved. The Democrats at this point did not hesitate to use force. Those who refused to move were compelled. “The soldiers cleared out one farm at a time, one valley at a time,” Inskeep writes. “Approaching a house, the troops would surround it so that no one would escape, then order out the occupants with no more than they could carry.”
Native Indians unable to travel were rounded up in internment camps, a policy reminiscent of the Japanese internments that a later Democratic administration would enforce during World War II. Reports differ about how bad conditions in the camps were; what no one disputes is that around four thousand Indians died from malnourishment and disease. The Trail of Tears has gone down in American history as cruel and infamous. It certainly was, although its actual perpetrator was not “America” but rather the Jackson Democrats.
The Trail of Tears occurred after Jackson had left the presidency. He was by this time back at his plantation, the Hermitage. His handpicked successor, Martin Van Buren, was president. Yet Van Buren was only continuing the policies of his mentor. From a safe distance, Jackson approvingly watched his Democratic Party carry out his handiwork.
For Jackson, the Trail of Tears represented the culmination of his lifelong efforts. Far from being a disaster, this ugly chapter in U.S. history was one of the original “achievements” of the newly formed Democratic Party. Moreover, the way the Jackson Democrats treated the Indians was not an aberration. Rather, it was only the beginning of a long subsequent Democratic Party history of dispossession, cruelty, bigotry, and theft.
Dinesh D’Souza, Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2016), 63-64.