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On Lincoln`s Mind: A plea for help from the frontier

on Donnerstag, 19 September 2013. Posted in General Autograph News

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Posted Sep 19, 2013 @ 01:01 AM

Editor’s note: With Nov. 19 marking the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln will feature letters to or by Lincoln, written between the end of Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, and his famous speech. 

Each letter represents one of the many issues he had to face as chief executive of the nation during its greatest crisis. This feature will appear every Thursday through Nov. 14.

Another potential powder-keg for Lincoln was growing tension between the federal government and Native Americans on the frontier. The federal government paid relatively close attention to its relations with Native Americans before the war, but the rebellion in the South drew Lincoln's attention away from the West.

As a result, the often-corrupt federal Indian Agents were free to abuse their power even more than during peacetime, while the Native Americans they were supposedly assisting grew increasingly frustrated.

Placed in federally-supervised reservations, many of these tribes depended on the government for food and supplies. Any dip in this support could cause serious repercussions.

This tension showed itself most notably in the Dakota rebellion of 1862, which resulted in the largest mass execution in American history. However, resentments simmered in tribes all over the frontier.

In the petition below, several leaders of the Kaw Tribe in Kansas sought compensation from Lincoln for items stolen from or promised to them by the federal government. Typically, such calls went unanswered during the war, as Lincoln simply did not have time to address them thoroughly.


(See the hand-written copy of this letter in .pdf.)

July 17, 1863
Kansas Agency.
Council Grove July 17th 1863.

My Great Father.

I wanted to go to Washington to see you, but you did not want me to come, and now as you told me, I ask my agent to write you a letter.

My Father! I am very poor and I want you to help me. I want to have two payments each year, and about $20. For each person. I have a big debt to pay and want some money left after paying it.

Agent Montgomery stole $2,000 of our money. I want it. I send you the papers proving it one year ago, and want you to examine them and pay me the money. You owe us 300 cattle, 400 hogs, 400 chickens, 300 hoes, and 300 axes. We got carts once, and you owe us six more. We dont want any of these things, but there value in money. Major Harvey promised us some work horses. Our Great Father told us we were the richest of all the Indians; now we are poor. Major Harey told us we should have $12,000 as long as grass grows and the Kaw river runs; now we get only $8,000.

We have had 150 horses stolen by your white children which by the Treaty of 1825, you ought to pay us for.

My Great Father! White men tell us that you are going to drive us off to another place. We dont want to go. We want our children to have this place when we are dead. My Great Father! Your White children have killed seven of my children, but I have listened to you and done them no harm. I suppose we have got some land on the Big Blue in Missouri. Which I think is worth a great deal of money, which I want. I hear this money has been taken to pay for our stone houses, and I want to know if there is any left. I don’t like the land the commissioner gave to my Half Breed children, which is scattered all over the Reserve; but I want it altogether on Rock Creek. I don’t like my trader, I want my first trader, Choteau, and another besides. We have some log-houses which need repairing very much.

The former Agent promised me a good house to live in besides the kitchen which I now have. I have seen the houses of the Head Chiefs of other tribes, and I am ashamed of my house. You owe us six medles which you promised me more than a year ago, and I have not received them yet. My braves would like to have nine small ones.

I need more cattle and farming tools.

I want a Blacksmith and a Carpenter.

The white man’s mill takes half my corn and wheat; I want my own mill to grind for me.

Some of my men have no fields, and they want them. I have heard that our last Agent took some of our money, I want you to write me if this is so. and if it has been paid back.

You promised to listen to my requests just as if I came to Washington and talked to you; and now my Great Father, I want you to attend to this and answer me very soon. I am very poor and hope you will do all you can for me and my people.

About 70 of my boys are fighting in the army of my Great Father, and I rejoice to hear of his success
Signed in the presence of,

H. W. Farnsworth U.S. In Ag’t,
Joseph James U.S. Interpreter
his X mark
Joseph Dunlap
Strong Sargent
A Reeve
Is tata, his X mark
Nopa wi, his X mark
Kah hega, his X mark
Wah Shun Gah, his X mark
E. be sun ga, his X mark
Pah hus ka lun ga, his X mark
Aloga wah ho, his X mark
Kuh he gu shun ga, his X mark
Net he ya wah ches so, his X mark
Wah hah na sun, his X mark
Kah he gate she, his X mark
Wah pat juh, his X mark
Wah ti an gah,  his X mark
Shen ga wah Sa, his X mark
Ona Sha, his X mark
Mah she tum wa, his X mark
Pah hah na gah le, his X mark
No bah gah ho, his X mark
Pah du hol le, his X mark
Che hah she na ti en guh, his X mark

As the Kaw petitioners indicate, seventy of their tribesmen had enlisted in the Union army. Nevertheless, this call for assistance appears to have gone unanswered. Shortly after the Civil War, the federal government had to allocate emergency funds to stave off starvation among the Kaws. In 1872, the government removed the tribe to Oklahoma to make room for white settlement on their lands in Kansas.

To see one of only five copies of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s hand and receive a free booklet titled “On Lincoln’s Mind: Leading the Nation to the Gettysburg Address,” containing this and other document stories, please visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum between Nov. 18 and 24.

Illustration 3.jpg

Illustration 2.jpg
From Right: Wah ti an gah, Kah hega watiangah, and Alega wah ho. (Public Domain)

Illustration 1.jpg
Wah Shun Gah. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

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