Some Americans tried to remove Native Americans from their land, but others wanted to help “civilize” them. One group founded to accomplish this, the Friends of the Indian, opened schools to educate and Europeanize the Indians. As you read these documents, think about whether members of the group were truly “friends” to the Indians they helped. Were they well-intentioned? Did their work make the Indians better off?
Diaries of Alice Fletcher
Source: Alice Fletcher was an ethnologist (someone who studies and compares the language, religion, customs, and culture of groups of people). In the 1880s she lived among a number of Native American tribes to learn about their customs. She became a founder of the “Friends of the Indians.” In the diary entries below, she writes about her experiences on the Sioux Reservation in 1881.
October 5, 1881
Wednesday A.M. Rainy again and we can't get on. Buffalo-chip is a Medicine man, has little positive humor, rather sober and dignified. A queer childish consciousness. He wears the scalp lock. This morning he took a stick and with queer mumblings, he raised it to and fro. This was to gain better weather. It is a strange thing to sit opposite and witness veritable, heathen performances. One realizes the power and gift of spiritual life by the blessed Lord. I needed to see all this to realize the verity of “I am the way, the truth and the life”. The darkness and paucity of their mental life is pitiful. Wajapa who is free and blithe in comparison.
This A.M. I have been teaching Wajapa more arithmetic, addition by object lessons in plums, trying to make the figures a verity to him. One feels so sorry for them, so longs to broaden and deepen and brighten their life.
October 15, 1881
An old Indian sat there and when we came in, said, “How you do?” and extended his hand. Quite polite to give his sole English.
White Thunder was on the bed. He was not very cordial toward me, I thought. We all sat on chairs. He brought out his papers, the Treaty concerning the Ponca Band, the list of articles to be issued at the Rosebud Agency for 1881 and 1882. I copied this in Book II - Several other Indians there, two young men and an old man. Swift Bear came in and stayed.
While we sat there, White Thunder’s wife began to cook. She made bread and baked it, wretched stuff, heavy and poor. Coffee and some sort of stripped and dried meat boiled with pork. A cloth was put on the floor between White Thunder’s bed and the stove and the meal served on china plates and cups and saucers. At the back of the chief’s bed was a bed spread on the floor, back of this was stored the various packs all covered with beads, I think four or five of them. There were trunks and valises and bags.
The girl wore a blanket most of the time. The mother wore the usual dress, calico, red. She was painted, bright red cheeks, her hair part being red. A young comely girl came in, brought in meat and looked bright and pleasing. This was the wife’s younger sister, had been at Carlisle school. She is about eighteen years old.
I understand that White Thunder wants to marry this girl as his second wife. She declines. It is rather startling and unpleasant to contemplate this woman’s future. I hope she will hold out. After the meal, White Thunder began his speech. It seemed to me that the speech lacked in cordiality. He wanted to know what we were here for, why Mr. T. &c. Mr. T. said he heard they had been to Washington and signed a paper and that he feared there would be trouble, and he had come to see about it, &c.
He constantly said there were women by the sea who had the interest of the Indians at heart and one had come here, this woman, my friend.
White Thunder made no acknowledgement. Mr. T. made long speech, all he had done, &c. &c. After all had talked, Swift Bear made a most courteous speech. I ventured to speak and plainly set forth their need. I said that I wanted to say something because I had their good at heart. I had heard that this summer many of the children were coming home from the eastern schools. These children can all speak English and understand figures. Now what I propose may seem very strange and hard and it will be difficult, it is, that the chiefs and the leading men, will spend a part of every day with some of the children and learn the meaning and use of figures and master as much English as possible. If they can learn but little, that little will help them to protect themselves against the white men who wish to cheat them,
Swift Bear received this with interest. White Thunder did not say a word. This visit was rather uninteresting. I felt the influence of the man to be less single and noble, in some ways.
October 27, 1881
There are two parties, one old chiefs, one to adopt civilization. Sitting Bull has thrown away the old ways and desires to make his way toward civilization. He knows how he came from the [ ? ] and took root from the [ ? ] Wants for the sake of the women, to turn away. The game gone, wants to walk in the way of work. For themselves, they can’t change but for their children and the future they want to change their life.
Sourcing: Who wrote this doucment? What is her perspective? Who is the audience?
Contextualization: How does Alice Fletcher see the world? What was happening to Native Americans at this time?
- Do you trust the document? Why or why not?
“School Days of an Indian Girl” – Zitkala-Sa
Source: The excerpt below was written by Zitkala-Sa, or Red Bird, a Sioux from a reservation in South Dakota. (Her English name was Gertrude Simmons Bonnin). She describes her experiences at age 8 in a school for Native Americans. She ultimately attended college and then began a lifetime of work to improve the lives of Native Americans. The excerpt below was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1900.
....Late in the morning, my friend Judewin gave me a terrible warning. Judewin knew a few words of English, and she had overheard the paleface woman talk about cutting our long, heavy hair. Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy. Among our people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards!
We discussed our fate some moments, and when Judewin said, “We have to submit, because they are strong,” I rebelled.
“No, I will not submit! I will struggle first!” I answered.
I watched my chance, and when no one noticed I disappeared. I crept up the stairs as quietly as I could in my squeaking shoes, -- my moccasins had been exchanged for shoes. Along the hall I passed, without knowing whither I was going. Turning aside to an open door, I found a large room with three white beds in it. The windows were covered with dark green curtains, which made the room very dim. Thankful that no one was there, I directed my steps toward the corner farthest from the door. On my hands and knees I crawled under the bed, and cuddled myself in the dark corner.
From my hiding place I peered out, shuddering with fear whenever I heard footsteps near by. Though in the hall loud voices were calling my name, and I knew that even Judewin was searching for me, I did not open my mouth to answer. Then the steps were quickened and the voices became excited. The sounds came nearer and nearer. Women and girls entered the room. I held my breath, and watched them open closet doors and peep behind large trunks. Some one threw up the curtains, and the room was filled with sudden light. What caused them to stoop and look under the bed I do not know. I remember being dragged out, though I resisted by kicking and scratching wildly. In spite of myself, I was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair.
I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. Since the day I was taken from my mother I had suffered extreme indignities. People had stared at me. I had been tossed about in the air like a wooden puppet. And now my long hair was shingled like a coward's! In my anguish I moaned for my mother, but no one came to comfort me. Not a soul reasoned quietly with me, as my own mother used to do; for now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.
Sourcing: Who wrote this document? What was their audience? How trustworthy is it?
- Based on both documents, were the Friends of the Indian well-intentioned? Were they truly “friends of the Indian?”