The following is a series of statements by General John E. Wool and his underlings in the 1850s, from their administrative moorings in Benecia, California, the offices of the Department of the Pacific. General Wool was in this time pacifying California for settlers, working on arrangements with Mexico following the Spanish-America War, and also dealing with the new territories on the west coast, Oregon, and Washington and Utah. In this territory there were innumerable tribes of Native peoples, and a huge number of American immigrants who flooded the territories in the tens of thousands causing numerous conflicts with the tribes. Its apparently that the military “department” is its own territory, what Wool calls a vast Empire. The military department tends to get a blanket treatment by the military regardless of territorial or state boundaries. Its also clear that Wool reacts to threats and conflicts in northern California and southern Oregon as if it is one large district rather than separating Oregon from California issues. When the Rogue River war erupts in 1855, Wool moves troops and makes numerous new assignments into the Northern California forts at the same time as movements are made in Oregon. This military district then is really another perspective of the colonization of the tribal lands, different from settlers, or Tribes, or even the states and territories themselves. Wool also does not seem to care much of the politics of expansionism because his mission is to keep the peace. He refused to act in civil matters until a military solution is necessary, shows restraint with the tribes who he knows are the victims of an invasion of immigrants, and even states on several occasions that it is the Whites who are the instigators.
Wool perspectives seems to have not made it into our history books. He was a U.S. General, in fact the leader of the U.S. forces who won the Spanish-American War and yet his many statements and letters about immigrants are Indians are missing from our histories. At least I never saw them, and please let me know if I am wrong.
The difficulty of preserving the peace of the country is daily increasing, owing to the increase of immigrants who are constantly encroaching upon the Indians and depriving them of their improvements. This produces collisions between the two races white and red which too frequently ends in bloodshed. To keep them quiet and to preserve peace a larger military force is indispensable. We have now less than one thousand men to guard and defend California, Oregon, Washington and Utah, altogether in size an Empire of itself. To guard this department and to defend it, with almost an innumerable number of Indian Tribes, requires at least one regiment of artillery, two of Dragoons, and three of Infantry. A force certainly small to preserve and keep quiet as extended a country. (General John E. Wool, March 31, 1854, Division and Department of the Pacific, Reel 2 pp 88-89)
Lieut. Beale [one of the 1851 Indian Agents for CA] who professes the confidence of the Administration has established a reserve for the location of the Indian tribes at the Tejon pass. This measure appears to meet the approbation of the Secretary of War, and from the success which Lieutenant Beale has met with, the happiest results are anticipated. He proposes to add to his present Reserves, two more, making four in all. If we can get the Indians to settle in these Reserves and to cultivate the soil, it will not only preserve these people who are fast disappearing by disease and other causes from the face of the land of their fathers, but relieve us of much trouble and great expense of maintaining military posts in the interior. So far as California is concerned, if the plan can be carried out, and I think it practicable, it would reduce the military posts in the Interior to two, at most three. Fort Miller, Reading, and Jones could be dispensed with, which are now kept up at a very heavy extra expense… Lieut. Beale thinks that within a very few years he will be able to concentrate [ note the root word for concentration camp] the greater part of the Indians in California at the Tejon Pass. (General John E. Wool, May 12, 1854, pp 120)
Wool’s letter above notes the disappearance of natives by disease, an appropriate comment and very much related to Beale’s final comment about concentrating the tribes in on reserve, likely because they are so fast dying that there will be less of them in a few years, so many less that they would fit on one reserve.
The commanding General directs me to say in reply that if you can use any influence with the Indians to induce them to comply voluntarily with the views of the Superintendent he certainly desires you to do so. You should be careful to make known to the Indians that the object in collecting them upon a Reserve is to locate them upon lands under control of the Government and from which lawless whites who might wish to injure them; can by law be excluded. That if they are removed from the vicinity of their salmon fisheries they will nevertheless by furnished with the means of subsistence and taught to raise their own food by agriculture. That in short, the motive of the Government in locating them on a reserve, is to protect and provide for them more efficiently. It is understood that the Superintendent does not desire to use compulsion, but wishes them to move voluntarily. The only circumstances under which you would be required to use your force in regard to the Indians, would be in case they were to commence hostilities upon the settlers; or if the superintendent should call upon you for military assistance in moving any tribe when it became a measure of necessity to preserve peace. It is especially desired that there shall be a harmonious co-operation with the authorized Indian Agents, and that in any intercourse you may have with the Indians you take care to impress upon them that they are to be guided by the views of the Agents. You will thus preserve the confidence which the Indians have in the Military powers, by not making yourself responsible for the promises made by others, and retain the useful ascendancy you now possess over the Indians. (E.D. Townsend, October 14, 1854 p 184)
Townsend’s orders passed on to him by Wool, clearly show how the military planned to support the Indian agents to remove the tribes. here does not seem to be an option to allow the tribes to remain on their lands, and there is no legal mechanism besides “open hostility” on the part of the tribe to allow the military to remove the tribe. They wanted them to volunteer to remove because the 1851 treaties were never ratified. I doubt this is how they convinced the tribes to remove but instead told them they must remove or face continued attacks from the whites.
... in relation to the capture and trial of Indian murderers… the United States troops can only act in matters of this kind as a sort of civil police under the proper civil officers. They must prevent acts of hostility if possible, and then necessary, chastise the Indian tribes guilty of them. When murders have been committed, it is for the civil authorities to confine and furnish the authors, though the military powers may arrest them or assist in their arrest. It there is no Indian Agent near you who can assure the control of the prisoners, and you find the civil authorities will not take charge of them, it is not competent for you to keep them prisoners. It would seem that the same court which would try an ordinary case of murder, if the proper one to try those prisoners- The US courts have nothing to do with it, since there is no Indian Territory proper recognized by the US in California. if upon a representation to the sheriff or proper civil officer, that you cannot hold these prisoners, they decline to receive them, you will have to discharge them, but the civil officers should be first informed that it will be done. (E.D. Townsend, November 1, 1854 p 191)
…letter of Mr. Ridley, Sub Indian Agent, asking that a command of Dragoons might be sent to collect a band of Indians and being them on the reserve. The commanding general direct me to say that he has no authority to order the troops upon such service. he supposes the residence of the Indians upon the reserves to be optional with them, and that the Government guarantees to them protection from aggression while they do reside there. The troops are stationed upon the Reserve to carry out this guaranty, and to prevent outbreaks or disorders which may suddenly occur among the Indians there collected. In case of such outbreak if a band of Indians leaves the reserve in a state of excitement which might lead to bloodshed or disturbance among the settlers, the troops may properly pursue them to prevent such difficulties, and may if possible bring them back to the Reserve. The troops may also be employed properly, in punishing Indians who have committed acts of hostility upon the whites and if these Indians have refused to avail themselves of the advantages of living upon the reserve after they have been offered to them they cannot expect that the troops will be employed to protect them against aggression from the whites. It is well known that the Indians are easily influenced by military authority, and it is expected that assistance will be given, by all proper means to the Indian Agents in carrying out the views of the Government, but as I believed, this assistance does not extend to collecting the Indians and keeping them against their will in the Reserves. The duty of placing and retaining Indians on the Reserves belongs to the Superintendents of Indian Affairs, or their agents, who it is supposed to possess the requisite qualifications to induce the Indians to accept the proffered boon of the government. (E.D. Townsend, July 28,1855, Reel 2 pp 293-294.)
Townsend above relates a finely threaded policy regarding Natives and the military responsibilities. The request apparently did not specify that the Indians leaving the reserves or those whom the agent though needed to be collected and removed, were violent enough to warrant military action. Townsend’s very complete and detailed response seems to suggest the exact reasons when the military would respond, which may be a primer for the Indian agent of California about how they need to word their requests in the future. If it was me, I could imagine taking the very large hint and next time wording my request to suggest that the Indians leaving the reserve have a high potential for bothering or having conflicts with the white settlers, which would then elicit a military response. But Townsend goes even further in his detailed response, showing us the differences in protection of settlers versus Indians if they are bothered by the other, whites would be protected from Indians, but Indians would not be protected from whites. Essentially when Indians leave the reserves they are on their own and really then subject to any treatment by whites, without any response from the military. The implication of this policy suggest that it is part of systemic policies of racism and differential treatment based on perceived race and citizenship status, because Indians are thought to be more violent and not citizens, as opposed to the whites who are citizens and clearly deserve to have land claims and thereafter live unmolested by Indians, regardless of previous claims by these same natives. We can imagine that many present systems of differential rights in the US grew out of policies like this.
I am informed of an outbreak among the Indians on the Klamath River, about eighteen miles from Yreka, in which a number of whites are reported to have been murdered. Captain Judah from Fort Jones and Bvt. Major Fitzgerald from Fort Lane moved promptly with detachments of troops, to the scene of difficulty. A report from Fort Jones Scotts Valley, dated the 2nd instant, states that the inhabitants of the Valley had assembled with the avowed purpose of exterminating the unoffending Indians known as the Shasta tribe, but some of the better disposed of the people, aiding the commanding officer of Fort Jones, about 100 Indians of all ages & sexes were collected at that post in the military reserve. The officers of the army in that quarter, acting under their standing instructions will do all in their power to suppress hostilities bring the offenders to punishment- if they be Indians- and protect the inoffensive savages from destruction. Nevertheless I must strongly concur in the suggestion of one of the officers commanding a post, that a special agent be sent there, as soon as practicable to provide for the sustenance and protection of the Indians of the military authorities to do. (John E. Wool, August 10, 1855, Reel 2 pp 298-300)
By August 1855, settlers learned what it would take to activate the military and appear to have faked a massacre of white people by Indians. They appear to have wanted the military to punished the Shasta Indians, but Wool was able to discern the truth, that there had been a planned attack on the Shastas who had escaped to the military camp to preserve themselves from extermination. It is remarkable how quickly events were unfolding in Northern California and how determined the whites were to exterminate the tribes.
Some hundred and fifty men, women, and children, mostly women and children whose husbands have been killed by the white inhabitants of California, are now on the Military reserve at Fort Jones, and fed by Captain Judah. I would again call your attention as superintendent of Indian affairs to this subject in order that some provision should be made for their subsistence. Can they not be received at the Reservation of Nome Lackee, or some other reserve which you may have selected? If you will receive them at the Nome Lackee Reserve, I will direct Captain Judah to send them down accordingly. It appears to me something ought to be done for these miserable creatures, who it appears were not in the wrong and whom the white inhabitants are determined to exterminate. (John E. Wool, September 5, 1855 reel 2 p 320)
The followup to the August 1855 letter about the Shasta Indians who escaped to the protection of the military reveals that the men of these people were massacred by the surrounding white settlers. Many of the concerns of the various government officials in the frontier was over resources and funding and here the military wants to turn the Indians over to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California due to the costs of their subsistence.
General Wool is revealed as someone open to protecting the tribes and not simply allowing the immigrants to have their way and destroy them under narrow circumstances. He is hampered by the limitations of the military and vows to not interfere in civil matters, But the tribes get no aid from civil authorities or the Indian agents and are then subjected to continual attacks wherever they live. Northern California is a hot-bed of violence wherein every report the violence is caused by actions of the whites who seek the extermination of the tribes. The policies governing the colonization of California and the West are part of a larger set of policy issues and historic events. Events and decisions and policies in California could absolutely have an impact throughout the other areas being settled including Oregon and Washington. Issues like troop movements, troop numbers, are part of larger issues of the U.S. deployments to the West, the policies regarding tribes which determined whether they lived or died, and the obvious privileging of right for the protection of the immigrants, versus the apparent lack of protection and safety of the Indians in many regions. Still, the military appeared to be the protectors of some tribes even if they would not arrest or take action against the settlers in any significant manner.
Historians have written histories of the West in innumerable books and articles for generations. I have noted that many of those histories ignored the abuses to the tribes in exchange for histories that assign a noble purpose to the immigrants. That nobility usually amounts to the benefits of civilizing the “savages” which really amounts to Christianizing Native peoples in a series of assimilation strategies. In support of my hypothesis, I am now constantly finding sources that are readily available and yet never appear to have been referenced in our history books. I am now of the opinion that historians had to have seen the same sources of information I am seeing but chose to not tell many of the Native American histories in full because of the extreme racism and discrimination practiced upon Native peoples by Americans. At one level historians cherry-picked what they would narrative about the treatment and disposing of the tribes, choosing less conflicted stories and leaving unsaid the documented mistreatment of Natives by American immigrants. As a somewhat new historian, I am continually shocked to find letters, reports, and statements by federal officials that support how horrible native peoples were being treated in publicly accessible records. Perhaps in part the access I enjoy today in the digital age to records is a factor, but still, I literally find records everywhere that relate stories of mistreatment, records more than one hundred years old, archived by the federal government, that had to be available in several forms of media besides paper since the 1950s.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.