Date of this Version
The present study focuses upon a significant, but neglected, aspect of Indian history — the inter-relation between the War and Interior departments and Indian policy. Some analysts have briefly mentioned the difficulty entailed in not having a clear understanding of which branch of government should act upon the tribes. “A cardinal error of the government," one prominent historian observes, "lay in tolerating a vague division of authority over the Indians between the war and interior department." Those primarily concerned with the Army's campaigns against hostile tribes have also mentioned the interdepartmental problem. "The Indian Bureau," one author states with obvious bias, "... hamstrung the Army right and left when it had the chance. Others more interested in the Indians' side of the story have cited the same difficulty, arraigning the Army for vindictiveness and interference. Still others, with greater objectivity, have summarized the contest between the departments over control of the Indian Bureau. By examining the question of Indian management during the generation after the Civil War in some detail, the author has endeavored to demonstrate the nature and significance of this dual system and its implications for the nation and its wards.
The period which has been chosen for analysis, 1865 to 1887, was decisive in the history of Indian-white relations, for it was in these years that westward expansion rapidly closed the frontier and increased inter-racial contacts. Prom the point of view of the red man, it was an era of social and cultural crisis and the last stage of white exploitation. For the government, it was a time of decision, because it was no longer possible to temporize with the Indian question. The passage of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, which established a general system of private land-ownership and citizenship for most Indians and which has been taken as the concluding point for this investigation, has commonly been interpreted as a turning point in Indian history.