Officers in administrative charge of Indian affairs, far removed from actual contact with the Indians, too often failed to realize that Indian treaties should be regarded with some deference to their observance. Promises were made concerning the payment of annuities which were long delayed in their fulfillment or never kept: to the Indian these promises seemed to be made only to be broken‐as happened in the treaty of Traverse des Sioux. According to second chieftain Cloudman, the Indians for five years following the making of this treaty remained quietly upon their reserve. At the expiration of that time, not having heard of or received any of the money promised, they began raiding the adjacent frontiers in an effort to produce action.
Lack of good faith in treaty matters often precipitated long periods of bad feeling, and occasionally blood was shed before the Indians could be convinced that faith was being kept or that agreements entered into were in turn to be kept by them. If treaties had been honestly and faithfully carried out in every instance it is not unlikely that the Sioux and other Indians might have been far readier to refrain from wrong‐doing than was often the case. Altogether the conditions on the frontier tended to create disaffection among the Indians and a loss of respect for government promises.
Not infrequently, as has been noted, the Indians were allotted lands that were wholly inadequate to supply their needs. The Sioux had outlived "the means of subsistence of the hunter state": they were unable longer to eke out an existence exclusively through the spoils of the chase. The buffalo and larger game were rapidly disappearing. But what was still worse, the Sioux often found upon going to the specified reserves that their coming had been anticipated by other hunters and the game was gone, if indeed any had ever been there. In the presence of such conditions it was useless to appeal to the garrison commanders‐to whom such complaints seemed absurd. On the other hand, the killing of intruders was nearly always resorted to as a warning against marauders. To live it was necessary to resist the encroachment of others not of their kind, for barbarism demands a wide range of untrammeled activity. Thus the Indians came to think that if they would have game to kill, they must kill men too.
A great deal of Indian discontent is traceable in the final analysis to another cause: the presence upon the Indian reserve, as well as on the white frontier, of a large number of undesirables, both red and white. As forerunners of white settlement, many adventurous characters found their way to the frontier posts and systematically preyed upon the Indian. Undesirable as elements of civilization, they were equally troublesome on the frontier. In civilized communities it was possible to restrain them, but along the borderland this power was either lacking or not organized. Oftentimes when these adventurers pushed matters to an extremity, the outraged feelings of the Indian would demand a settlement or make one. Unhappily, post commanders were often only too willing to take up the needless quarrels of these frontier disturbers and exact a severe and not always just settlement in their behalf. Later when the more peaceably disposed settlers‐the real pioneers‐ began to arrive the Indian refused to make any distinction between them and their more turbulent predecessors.
Again, the National government when settling the Indians upon their reserves took no account of the fact that there were both good and bad Indians‐ that there were Indian criminals as well as Indians willing to abide by the rules of tribal law. Both good and bad were settled indiscriminately upon the same reserve. The seditiously disposed were constantly creating trouble, and the Indian people as a whole incurred the blame and displeasure arising from the misdeeds of a few. These matters irritated those Indians who were well disposed and created an ever-ready excuse for an attack.
Such, in the main, had been the attitude of the government toward the Sioux as the last of the Indian races inhabiting the Iowa country. It had not been an altogether enlightened policy ; nor had it been one that was calculated to secure their good will. Instead, it had stirred the Indians to wreak vengeance at every convenient opportunity. However mistaken this policy toward the Indians had been, the attitude toward the frontier and its white inhabitants had been no wiser and at times scarcely as wise. Much Indian trouble and no few massacres resulted from the loose administration of frontier affairs ‐more specifically from the lack of control exercised over various commercial interests whose chief justification for existence seemed to have been that they might prey upon the near-by red inhabitants.
The government failed to appreciate the need for an adequate defense of the frontier.
Venders of whiskey and other intoxicants frequented the frontiers and Indian villages‐unmolested, oftentimes, in pushing their sales. It is true that laws had been enacted by Congress with a view to putting an end to the liquor nuisance among the Indians; but the effective enforcement of these measures had scarcely been attempted. If a more than usually zealous Indian agent forbade dealers to carry on their nefarious business within reserved grounds, they would erect their cabins upon the ceded lands immediately adjoining the reserves‐ places to which the Indians were at all times free to go. To make matters yet worse the agent was in some cases powerless to act even though he desired to do so. The Chippewa agent, for example, complained that the treaty of 1855 deprived him of assistants or force through which to punish or apprehend violators of departmental rules and regulations.
Thus was produced that state of affairs where the Indian was being robbed and debauched, while innocent settlers were threatened by Indian violence during the periods of his drunken orgies. Not infrequently the massacre of isolated settlers completed the tale of an Indian visitation to a near-by liquor dealer's establishment. Fortunate it was that the Sioux, "the Iroquois of the West", were slow to take up and make their own the vices of their white neighbors.
To the activities of another type of frontiersman, the trader, Indian wars were sometimes due. In many instances the trader was an individual who was unable to earn an honest living among his white neighbors further east: necessity had made of him an exile from civilization. These traders secured the confidence and good esteem of the Indians in various and devious ways, and the latter soon became indebted to them. In fact their deliberate aim in most cases was to secure upon the Indian a leverage of such a character as to render necessary the surrender of most of the Indian's profits from the chase or treaties. Because of the Indian's profligacy it was necessary that he should buy on credit if he bought at all. When government payments became due, traders were always on hand, and their books invariably showed Indian indebtedness enough to absorb a considerable portion if not all of the payment. The Indians kept no books as a matter of course; and not understanding those of the traders, they could not deny the debt. As a matter of fact, the Indians were always willing to anticipate the next payment in order to get credit. In the face of this situation "the poverty and misery of the Indian were continually growing". Again, the Indian could not sue in the courts if he had so desired. Out of such conditions trouble or bad feeling inevitably arose.
Owing to their long residence in the Indian country and their keen knowledge of Indian character, the traders had become "the power behind the throne". This was especially true in treaty-making. The Indian commissioners grew to realize the power of the traders in the securing of treaties and were not slow to request their services. It was to the financial interest of the traders that treaties should be made, for thus there was insured a steady supply of money with which the Indians could pay their debts. "The commissioners did not do much more than feed the Indians and indicate what they wanted; the traders did the rest. Due to their influence, the government habitually incorporated in treaties a clause providing for the compulsory payment of the Indian debts to the traders. These debts, in some cases, were in the aggregate equivalent to small fortunes.
To prevent abuses, the traders were to be paid out of the first cash annuities. It was not an uncommon thing to have these debts absorb even more than these first annuities. Hence, the Indian had to wait long for his first money. Concerning this plan the Indians were not always consulted, but the traders expressed their satisfaction.
In time matters grew so bad and the Indians became so rebellious that Congress, in March, 1843, stipulated by law that no payment of Indian debts to traders should henceforth be provided for in treaties. But the traders were ingenious and evaded the law. Matters came to a crisis in 1853 when the Indians rebelled, claiming that by misrepresentation in the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota in 1851 they had signed away their annuities to the traders to the amount of two hundred thousand dollars. Investigation proved nothing. As Superintendent Cullen remarked upon this act of fraud, "it is equally important to protect the Indians from the whites as the whites from the Indians." It is safe to say that if the traders had been curbed in their operations many a frontier horror might have been averted. It is no wonder that the Indian's "untutored mind was, now and then, driven to the distraction of savage vengeance."