Indian affairs are conducted
under the administrative bureau in Washington by local Indian agents.
This agency system was gradually developed to meet the various
exigencies arising from the rapid displacement of Indian tribes by white
colonial period the spread of trade brought a large number of tribes in
contact with the French and the English, and each nation strove to make
allies among the natives. Their rivalry led to the French and Indian
war, and its effects were felt as late as the first half of the 19th
century. When the Revolution began the attitude of the Indians became a
matter of importance, and plans were speedily devised to secure their
friendship for the colonists and to thwart English influence. One of the
means employed was the appointment of agents to reside among the tribes
living near the settlements. These men were charged to watch the
movements of the Indians and through the maintenance of trade to secure
their good will toward the colonists. As the war went on the western
trading posts of the British became military camps, which drew the
colonial troops into a hitherto un-known country.
Conditions arose which
necessitated new methods for the control of Indians, and in 1786
Congress, to which the Articles of Confederation gave exclusive right
and power to manage Indian affairs, established two districts—a northern
district, to include all tribes north of Ohio river and west of Hudson
river, and a southern district, to include all tribes south of Ohio
river. A bonded superintendent was placed over each, and power was given
to him to appoint two bonded deputies. Every tribe within these
districts laid claim to a definite tract as its own territory, and these
tribal districts came to be recognized as tribal lands. The old trading
posts became in time industrial centers, and the Indians were called on
to cede the adjoining lands. The right of way from one post to another
was next acquired.
As settlers advanced more land was secured, and so
rapidly were the tribes constrained to move westward that it became
necessary to recast the districts established in 1786. The plan of
districting the country under bonded officers was continued, but on a
new basis, that of tribal holdings, or, as they came to be called,
reservations, which were grouped geographically into superintendencies,
each presided over by a lauded superintendent, who was directly
responsible to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington.
reservations were in charge of bonded agents. who reported to the
district superintendents. This plan continued in force until about the
middle of the 19th century, when the office of superintendent was
abolished and agents became directly responsible to the Commissioner.
For more than 80 years the office of agent had been almost exclusively
filled by civilians. The powers of the agents had expanded until both
life and property were subject to their dictum. While many men filled
the difficult position with honor and labored unselfishly for the
welfare of the Indians, others abused their trust and brought discredit
upon the service. President Grant, in 1868-69, sought to remedy this
evil by the appointment of army officers as Indian agents, but Congress,
in 1870, prohibited "the employment of army officers in any civil
capacity. "The President then appealed to the religious denominations to
suggest candidates for Indian agencies, and to facilitate this
arrangement the reservations were apportioned among the various
The plan led to the amelioration of the service through
the concentration of the attention of religious bodies upon particular
tribes, thus awakening an intelligent interest in their welfare. About
this time commissioners were appointed to visit and report on the
various tribes, and in this way many facts and conditions hitherto
unknown were brought to the knowledge of the Government authorities and
the public. As a result new forces were evoked in behalf of the natives.
Industrial schools were multiplied both on and off the reservations;
Indians became agency employees; lands were allotted in severalty; and
through citizenship legal rights were secured.
These radical changes,
brought about within the two decades following 1873, led up to the act
of Mar. 3, 1893, which permits the abolishment of agencies, where
conditions are suitable, giving to the bonded superintendent of the
reservation school the power to act as agent in the transaction of
business between the United States Government and the tribe.
The adoption of the Constitution in 1789 brought about changes in the
administration of Indian affairs at Washington. On the organization of
the War Department the management of the Indians passed front a standing
committee of Congress to the Secretary of War. By the act of Mar. 1,
1818, the president was authorized to appoint "temporary agents to
reside among the Indians." The act of Apr. 16, 1818, inaugurated the
present policy: the President nominates and the Senate approves the
appointment of all Indian agents. The office of Indian Commissioner was
created by the act of Congress of July 9, 1832, and by an act of June
30, 1834, the office of Indian Affairs was created. On the institution
of the Department of the Interior, in accordance with the act of Mar. 3,
1849, the office of Indian Affairs was transferred from the War
Department to the Interior Department, where it still remains.
Congress established the office of inspector by the act
of Feb. 14, 1873. There are 5 inspectors, nominated by the President and
confirmed by the Senate. They hold their office for 4 years and report
directly to the Secretary of the interior, They are charged with the
duty of visiting and reporting on agencies, and have power to suspend an
agent or employee and to enforce laws with the aid of the United States;
district attorney. The salary is $2,500, with necessary traveling
expenses. In 1879 Congress provided for special agents. These are
appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. Their duties are similar to
those of the inspectors, but they may be required to take charge of
agencies, and are bonded sufficiently for that purpose. They report
direct to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The salary is $2,000.
Special agents are also detailed by the Indian Bureau to investigate
special matters or to transact special business. Special allotting
agents, whose duties are to allot, on specified reservations, the land
in severalty to the Indians, are appointed by the President. The
inspectors and special agents are the in intermediaries between the
Indian Bureau at Washington and its field organization.
Indian agent holds his office for 4 years or until his successor is
appointed and qualified. He must give a bond with not fewer than two
sureties, and the several sums in which the sureties justify must
aggregate at least double the penalty of the bond. If required, an agent
shall perform the duties of two agencies for one salary, and he shall
not depart from the limits of his agency without permission (see I-. S.
Stat. xxii, 87; xviii, 147; iv, 736). Cessions of lands by the tribes to
the United States were always made for a consideration, to be paid to
the Indians in money or merchandise.
Most oft these payments extended
over a series of years, and the disbursing of them devolved on the
agent. He was also charged with the preservation of order on the
reservation, the removal from the Indian country of all persons found
therein contrary to law, the over-sight of employees, the protection of
the rights of the Indians in the matter of trade, the suppression of the
traffic in intoxicating liquors, the investigation of depredation
claims, the protection of the Indians on their land held in severalty,
the care of all Government property, the care of agency stock, the
proper receipt and distribution of all supplies received, the
disbursement of money received, and the supervision of schools (see U.
S. Stat. L., iv, 564, 732, 736, 738; x, 701; xi, 80, 169; xii, 427; xii,
29; xviii, 449; xix, 244, 293; xxiii, 94). In addition to the
correspondence and other clerical work incident to the current business
of his office, each agent is required to keep a book of itemized
expenditures of every kind, with a record of all contracts, together
with receipts of money from all sources, of which a true transcript is
to be forwarded quarterly to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (see U.
S. Stat. L., xviii, 451).
The salaries of Indian agents range from
$1,000 to $3,000 per annum. The employees under the agent are clerks,
interpreters, police, farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths, millers,
butchers, teamsters, herders, laborers, watchmen, engineers, and
physicians, besides the school employees. A large proportion of these
employees are provided in accordance with treaty stipulations. The
salaries range from $200 to $1,200 per annum.
of employees stood between the Indian and the white race, between the
tribe and the Government, and have exercised a far-reaching influence on
Indian affairs. The translations of these men were the sole means by
which the two races understood or misunderstood each other. Until
recently most interpreters picked up colloquial English from trappers,
traders, and other adventurers in the Indian country.
generally mixed-bloods whose knowledge of the language and the culture
of both the white and the Indian races was necessarily limited. It was
impossible for them, with the best intentions, to render the dignified
and thoughtful speech of the Indian into adequate English, and thus they
gravely prejudiced the reputation of the native's mental capacity. The
agency interpreter received his salary from the Government through the
agent, and, as was natural, he generally strove to make himself
acceptable to that officer. His position was a responsible and trying
one, since questions frequently arose between the Indians and the agent
which demanded courage, prudence, and unswerving honesty on the part of
the interpreter, who was the mouthpiece of both parties.
Of late years
the spread of English among the younger people through the medium of the
schools, while it has not done away with the official interpreter, has
lessened his difficulties and, at the same time, diminished the power he
force was authorized by act of Congress of May 27, 1878. Its duties are
to preserve order on the reservation, to prevent illegal liquor traffic
and arrest offenders in this matter, to act as guards when rations are
issued and annuities paid, to take charge of and protect at all times
Government property, to restore lost or stolen property to its rightful
owners, to drive out timber thieves and other trespassers, to return
truant pupils to school, and to make arrests for disorderly conduct and
other offenses. Such a force is organized at all the agencies, and the
faithfulness of the Indian police in the discharge of their duties is
well attested. The pay is from $10 to $15 a month, usually also with a
small house and extra rations.
the right of eminent domain over all territories of the United States is
vested in the Government, still the Indians' "right of occupancy" has
always been recognized. The indemnity paid by the United States to the
Indians when these made cessions of land was intended to extinguish this
right. These payments were made in money or merchandise, or both. The
entire amount to be paid to a tribe was placed to its credit in the
United States Treasury.
In some instances only the interest on this sum
was paid annually to the tribe; in other cases the principal was
extinguished by a stated annual payment. These annuities (annual
payments under treaty obligations) had to be voted each year by Congress
and were distinct from the sums appropriated as special gratuities to be
used for cases of peculiar need. During the early part of the 19th
century cash annuities were handed over by the agents to the chief, who
receipted for the money and distributed it among the tribe, but for the
last fifty years or more an enrolment of the tribe has been made by the
agent prior to each payment, and the money has been divided pro rata and
receipted for individually.
A large proportion of the payments made to Indians was
originally in merchandise. This mode of payment was abused, and inured
to the advantage of white manufacturers and traders, but was injurious
to the tribe, as it tended to kill all native industries and helped
toward the general demoralization of the Indian. Payments in goods are
now made only in cases where an isolated situation or other conditions
make this method suited to the interests of the Indians.
RATIONS. These were a part
of the merchandise payments. They were at first urged upon the tribes in
order to keep them confined within the reservations instead of wandering
in the pursuit of game. After the destruction of the buffalo herds the
beef ration became a necessity to the Plains Indians until they were
able to raise their own stock. Except in a few instances, where treaties
still require this method of payment, rations are not now issued unless
great poverty or some disaster makes it necessary.
A movement is now on foot for the division of all
tribal money held in the United States Treasury, an arrangement that
would do away with many disadvantages that are connected with payments
in annuities and rations.
Handbook of American Indians, Frederick W. Hodge,1906
BACK TO ARTICLE/CHAPTER LIST