Thursday, September 15, 2011

Headline: United States Fails in Honest Attempt to Help New York Indians

Native American activists have made the claim that the United States intentionally pitted the Menominee Indians against the New York Indians that wanted to emigrate to their country in the 1820's. I can see that. But as more research has been done and the details are spelled out more clearly by historians, I think it is more accurate to say that the United States government was just too sloppy, unorganized, and maybe even too incompetent to properly broker a legal arrangement between the two parties.

James Duane Doty was the federal judge who served as legal counsel on behalf of the Menominees in the Council of Butte des Morts in August, 1827. At issue then were the negotiations that had been made between the various tribes in 1821 and 1822. Doty would later go on to be the second Governor of the Wisconsin Territory (1841-1844) and the fifth Governor of the Utah Territtory (1863-1865).

In my last two posts, I have already made the point that in order to make a proper treaty, the official leaders of the parties involved must be present. And although you'd think that was something more basic than Diplomacy 101, somehow, despite the fact that the Menominees didn't have an official leader, treaties were still produced and signed.

I've mentioned the treaties made in 1821 and 1822 before (see "Negotiations and Arrivals" and see "Ellis Describes More Negotiations"). Those documents, of course, gave the Brothertown, Oneida and Stockbridge Indians the opportunity to move to what is now the state of Wisconsin. However, for good reasons, the two treaties were never ratified by Congress. According to the Milwaukee Public Museum, the opposition to the treaties from both the Menominee and the Ho-Chunk (or "Winnebago") Indians was what prevented their ratification. Congress somehow sensed that something was wrong back then, and thanks to the work of Brad Jarvis, The Brothertown Nation of Indians, we know a lot more about it.

Jarvis' sixth chapter (pages 179-215) is about the negotiations between the Wisconsin Indians and the New York Indians. The chapter title is "A Tedious, Perplexing and Harassing Dispute," if you've already read my NY Indian Removal series of posts I think you'll be able to read it without finding it tedious or perplexing.

How was the United States sloppy or even incompetent in assisting the New York Indians in purchasing land from the Wisconsin Natives? This quote may give you a good idea:

The United States had sent Charles Trowbridge, a young government surveyor, with the 1821 New York Indian delegation in order to keep a report of the council. Trowbridge's report...illustrates much of the confusion in the negotiations. Upon arrival in Green Bay the contingent from New York found both the agent and the interpreter absent. Despite the fact that the lack of a translator would prove difficult in negotiating a land cession, the New York Indians decided to proceed anyway (Jarvis, pages 198-199).
And later, Charles Trowbridge "stepped outside of his role as an observer and tried to convince the Ho-Chunks to cede the Menominee lands in place of the Menominee." (That's right, Trowbridge asked the Ho-Chunks to give away something that wasn't theirs to give.)

To say the least, the negotiations started off on the wrong foot.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another Reason Why the Menominees had no Official Chief from 1818 to 1827

In my previous post I described a nine-year period in which the Menominees were without an official leader. The source I was using put an emphasis on how both Oshkosh and Josette were young and got along with each other and weren't in any hurry to take charge of the tribe for those reasons.

But after giving it some thought, I now suspect that both Oshkosh and Josette were deliberately avoiding the polical spotlight because it was in the best interests of the Menominee people at that time to be unorganized.

As you may recall, the old chief, Tomah, had been an ally of the British. Tomah's death in 1818 coincided with the time when the Menominees had to accept the reality that the British were no longer in the picture.

I may have to back up and explain how this was a problem. The western theater of the War of 1812 was Indian Country and it was the last of a number of wars the Menominee Indians were on the wrong side of. Of course their numbers had also been reduced by the usual onslaught of European diseases. With British troops finally out of the area, the United States ceasefire policy was to acquire Indian land via purchase. (Military force, it was decided, would cause too many hard feelings.) . So although there weren't enough Menominee warriors left to defend their large territory, they must have known that the biggest threat to their land would be to have an organized government with a central leader. In other words, both Oshkosh and Josette avoided their opportunity of coming to power, because they knew that by doing so, they would only speed up the process of making arrangements for much of their land to be sold to the United States.

In my next post, I'll discuss how the Menominees' "chieflessness" affected the New York Indians as they prepared to come to the "Green Bay" area of what was then known as Michigan Territory.