American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center

American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center

Ponca Account [a machine-readable transcription]

Ponca Account

By Lorrie Montiero

Table of Contents

Ponca Account

Edited by Lorrie Montiero

White Eagle edited by Lorrie Montiero


Indian Territory, May 20, 1879

The following statement was made to me by White Eagle, the head chief of the Ponca tribe. I translated it into English for him and give it just as he gave it to me. My father and I had been sent by Mr. T.H. Tibbles to the Ponca Reserve to find out the condition of the tribe, and gather all the information we could. They told us of many things of which we could not tell the half, and White Eagle asked me to write this statement for him so that it could be read by all the white people.

BRIGHT EYES [Susette La Flesche].

White Eagle's Statement

In the spring of 1877 we were all living quietly on our farms and at work. We have been working on our farms for the last three years, and we had laid plans to work harder than ever during the year of 1877, when suddenly there came to our reserve a white man who professed to have come from the President. His name was Kimble. He called us all to the church, and we went. We had seen this man before, and he had appeared to be a good friend of ours. He said to us: "The President has sent me with a message to you. He has sent me to tell you that you must pack up and move to Indian Territory." I answered him by saying, "Friend, I thought that when the President desired to transact business with people he usually consulted with them first, and then transacted his business with them afterward. This is the first that I have heard of his desire to remove us. Here are some men from the Yankton, Santee, and Omaha tribes, and here are also some soldiers who are friends of ours; I ask them if they have heard of this before. They have not. This has come on us suddenly. Give us time to think about it. Although I am an Indian, I want to tell God all about this before I do anything more. I want to know and see for myself what I had better do. I want to ask God to help me to decide."

I continued, "Now friends, if what you have told us from the President is true, raise your hands." Kemble, the leading man, refused to raise his hands. Hinman, who was with him, raised his hand, not up towards God, but low down toward the ground. Kemble then jumped to his feet and said, "The President told me to take you to the Indian Territory, and I have both hands full of the money which it will require to move you down there. When the President says anything it must be done. Everything is settled, and it is just the same as though you were there already." I answered, "I have never broken any of my treaties with the government. What does the President want to take my land away from me for? The President told me to work, and I have done it. He told me to not go on the warpath, even if the white men took away my horses and cattle, or killed my people. I promised I would not, and I have performed my promise. Although other people often move from place to place, yet I have always staid on our land. It is ours. My people have lived and died on this land as far back as we can remember. I have sown wheat and planted corn and have performed all my promises to the President. I have raised enough on my farm to support myself, and now it seems just as though the government were trying to drown me when he takes my land away from me. We have always been peaceful. The land is our own. We do not want to part with it. I have broken no treaties, and the President has no right to take it from me."

Kemble arose and said, "Stop your talking; don't say any more. The President told me to remove you as soon as I got here. The President is going to send all the Indians to the Indian Territory. He intends you to move first, so that you can have your choice of the best lands there. You can do nothing. What the President has said will be done. I do not want to say any more on this subject. The President says you must move; get ready." I answered, "When people want to do anything, they think about it first, talk about it with others, and then, after deliberation, they decide. I want to think about it. I want to see the President and talk the whole matter over with him, and then I will do what I think best. I know it will not be to give up our land. You have no right to move us in this way without our consent or will." Kemble then said, "You must go right away. The President intends to the Santees and Yanktons also, and I shall start tomorrow to tell them so."

The next day he started for the Sioux and returned. I again talked with him. I said, "It will cost a great deal of money to remove us. Let the President keep his money. We do not want it. It might hurt him to part with it. Take the money, which you said you brought, back to him. We do not want to use it, and we do not want to part with our land."

Kemble said, "The President has plenty of money and he will not miss it." I said, "God made me and He also made you. Perhaps He made you long before He did me, and that may be the reason that you, as a nation, are more enterprising and powerful than we are. But God made me. I was born here. He gave me this land, and it is mine. When your people first came here and asked for our land our forefathers sold you some. When our fathers sold you this land they made a treaty with your government, which I now hold in my hand, and it is stated here how much was sold to you and how much remained to us; and it is also stated here that the land that we did not sell was ours. It belongs to none but us until we choose to sell it. The government has no right to it. It is ours and we do not wish to part with it.

Kemble answered by saying, "The President says that the treaty is worthless. It will not do you any good. The President does not count it as anything. When you get to the new country the President will give you a new treaty, and you shall have a good title to your land there. As you do not believe the President's message I will send a telegram to him." The next day he brought the return telegram, and said, "I will read it to you. You will see for yourselves whether what I have told you is true or not. The President says in this telegram that he wants ten of your chiefs to go to Washington, but he wants me first to take you to the Indian Territory and see for yourselves, so that you may select a piece of land there, and then go on to Washington afterwards to talk it over." I answered, "We will go with you. If we are satisfied with the land we will tell the President so, but if we are not satisfied we will say so also."

He then took us ten chiefs down there, and left us in Indian Territory without money, pass, or interpreter, in a strange country, among a strange people, because we would not select a piece of land. He wished us to sign a paper saying that we would take that piece of land, and because we would not, and asked to be taken to Washington as he had promised, he left us to find our way back alone on foot. We could not believe that he had been authorized to treat us with such indignity, and we could not believe that the white people of the country would let such a wrong done in their name pass unnoticed; so, on our return to the Omaha Reserve, after enduring great hardship on the way, we made a statement of all the facts, requesting a friend to see that it was published in a paper. We also sent a telegram to the President, asking him if he has authorized these men to treat us in this manner; but we never received any answer.

After we had left the Omaha Reserve and had nearly reached home, we found Kemble and some soldiers already there. They had frightened our people and forced them to move in our absence, and they were just starting from the reserve. When we met our people we said to them, "Stop. Do not go on. When a man owns anything it is his until he gives it or sells it. This land is ours. We have not given or sold it to the President. He has no right to it. When we were left in the Indian Territory we believed that the government had left us alone for good; and now we find that this man has come back here, bringing the soldiers, and forcing you to move in our absence. Do not go any further." They obeyed us.

Two days after our return home Kemble sent for us again. When we reached the place we found the soldiers there, all armed, and Kemble sitting by the side of an officer. I gave the treaty to the officer to examine. I said to him, "I have never done anything wrong against the white people. I have never broken any treaties. Now what have I done that your soldiers stand here all armed against me? I have been working on my land. I have done that which I thought my duty. I believed that your soldiers were stationed here to protect me against all wrong and injury. Now show me what I have done that you stand here with your soldiers in arms against me? I have helped your soldiers. I have helped the white people who live around here. I have always been peaceful. When the Sioux carried off your cattle and horses and property, I have had it returned to you when in my power. I thought that you, at least, would help me in my time of trouble. Why do I find you here now armed against me? We had always believed that your government had ordered your soldiers to protect those who were peaceful and doing their duty, and to punish and bear arms only against those who had committed crimes. A short time ago I was here at work on my land. I was taken and left in the Indian Territory to find my way back alone. I thought that after being treated in the manner we were by this man, that when I came home I would find a protection from my enemy in you. And now, instead, I find you armed against me." I then turned to Kemble and said, "You profess to be a Christian, and to love God; and yet you would love to see blood shed. Have you no pity on the tears of these helpless women and children? We would rather die here on our land than be forced to go. Kill us all here on our land now, so that in the future when men will ask, 'Why have these died?' it shall be answered, 'They died rather than be forced to leave their land. They died to maintain their rights. And perhaps there will be found some who will pity us and say, 'They only did what was right."

Kemble answered, "If blood is shed you only will be in fault. You only will be the cause. You have exceeded the time in which the President gave you to move by a good many days."

White Swan, or Frank La Flesche, then spoke to Kemble, and said, "You have been here several times before. You professed to be a great Christian and one of the chief ministers among your people. You preached to us and told us about God. You told me to give myself to him and join his people. I was willing and you baptized my family and myself. You held me by the hand and said you were my friend, and I looked on you as such. I never thought that you would ever try to lead me into the great fire, the hell of your people. You told me that God loved us all; that he had made laws which he wanted us to keep, and I promised that I would try to keep them. When you asked me to keep these laws, I said to myself, 'He is a good friend; he tells me good things, and wants me to do right and to walk the god road.' I did not think then that you would ever try to lead me into a bad road. You told me that God saw everything we did. If so, He has seen the wrong and wickedness in this matter. When I was baptized, and promised God that I would do as He wanted me to, I meant it, and now (raising his hand to heaven) I call on God to witness that I have tried to keep my promise; but you have lied to him. He is the judge that I speak the truth. When you left us in Indian Territory I thought that you had gone to tell the President that we refused to give up our land; and now I come home to find that you have not. You said you wanted to save my soul from hell when I should die; but now I find that you wish to send my soul to hell while I am yet living, and I wish to keep out of it. You professed to be our friend. Could you not so much as have said to the President, 'These people do not want to part with their land. You are powerful and they are weak. Have mercy on them and do not make them go.' Could you not have done this much after all your professions of friendship? I would like to see you go to a white man yonder, who is living on his farm, and say to him, 'Get off from here, the President wants this land and you must move on and go somewhere else.' What do you suppose he would answer? The President has no more right to take our land from us than he has that of the white man."

Kemble answered, "What you have said about God is all right; but this business I have come to tend to has nothing to do with God or anything of the kind. It is another subject altogether. You had better not say that I want to lead you into hell. I want to lead you into the good road. It is you who want to take the bad road. You ought to be on the road to the Indian Territory by this time. The President will get out of patience; so I want you to start tomorrow. The President wanted me to do this errand as soon as I got here, but you have kept me waiting this long. The President has sent me word that if you refuse to go I must push you out. Your head-chief, White Eagle, has talked of the shedding of blood rather than go. I did not want you to let God hear you say such a thing, but he has heard you. This is all I have to say, and now I give you in charge of this officer and his soldiers."

Then the Indian chief of the police arose and said: "Our chiefs here have appointed me captain of our police, but they did not appoint me to bear arms against the weak and innocent, but that I might help and protect them. Your officer has brought his soldiers armed against my tribe. I shall not resist him. If he chooses to kill us, unarmed as we are, he can do it. You say your President has sent the money by you which is to take us to the Indian Territory. Take it back to your President. We will not leave our land, and we are afraid of the land in the Indian Territory. Take your money home. When you took our chiefs to the Indian Territory, you took some money to pay for their fare there. If the money belonged to the President, we want you to give it back to him from our own fund. This fund is the money which we received in payment for our land which we sold." The man who made this speech was one of the first to die when we reached the Indian Territory.

The next morning after this council the soldiers, some on horses and some in wagons, went around to the houses, and where they found the doors locked (for some of the people had shut up their houses and fled to the woods), kicked or broke them open, and put their household goods, such as could be carried with ease, into the wagons. In this way Kemble started off with a party composed of about ten families, while the soldiers remained behind with the rest of us. After this first party had been carried off, I took an interpreter with me to Niobrara City, and there found a lawyer, to whom I stated all these facts, and telling him that I thought the whole thing had been done unlawfully; asked him to help us maintain our rights. I wanted him to send a telegram to the President, asking him whether he knew of what had been done in his name. The lawyer said, "I will do so if you give me the money to pay for it." I answered that I had no money, but that I had a horse which I could sell to pay for the telegram. The lawyer sent a telegram, but he never received an answer.

Meanwhile the first party, which Kemble had taken, had been left by him on the other side of Niobrara, while he himself went to Washington. I then collected those of us who were yet on the reserve together and, gathering thirty four of our horses, we sold them to pay the lawyer's expenses to Washington. When the lawyer got to Washington and went to see the President, he found Kemble sitting and talking with him. While we were awaiting the lawyer's return, we almost starved, as Campbell had taken the provisions which belonged to us and carried them away with the first party. After some time, the lawyer sent a telegram saying that he had been unable to do anything for us, except to keep them from fulfilling threat of starving and treating us with indignity on the way down because of our refusal to go.

Before the lawyer had time to return, a new agent by the name of Howard was sent to take us down. He remained on the other side of the river and sent for us to come down, but we refused to go. He sent again, and went to him. The place where we met him was in a wild place by the river side. He spoke kindly to us, and was the first and only who did so of those who had been sent from Washington. He said: "Friends, although I am white and you are Indians, I am a man just as you are, and have a heart just the same as yours. I know you have been treated unjustly, and I feel sorry for you; but I cannot help you. The President has sent me to take you down. I will do all in my power to make the journey comfortable for you so that you may not suffer." I said to him, "Friend, it is good when men meet as friends and talk kindly to each other. You have spoken the first kind word we have heard for a long time. We had made up our minds to resist and die on our own land rather than go to a strange one to die; but, now you have come, we do not know what we will do."

We then separated, and calling all the men of our tribe together, I said to them, "My people, we, your chiefs, have worked hard to save you from this. We have resisted until we are worn out, and now we know not what more we can do. We leave the matter into your hands to decide. If you say that we fight and die on our lands, so be it." There was utter silence. Not a word was spoken. We all arose and started for our homes, and there we found that in our absence the soldiers had collected all our women and children together, and were standing guard over them. The soldiers got on their horses, went to all the houses, broke open the doors, took our household utensils, put them in their wagons, and pointing their bayonets at our people, ordered them to move. They took all our plows, mowers, hay-forks, grindstones, farming implements of all kind, and everything too heavy to be taken on a journey, and locked them up in a large house. We never knew what became of them afterwards. Many of these things of which we were robbed we had bought with money earned by the work of our hands. They promised us more when we should get down here, but we have never received anything in place of them.

We left in our land two hundred and thirty six houses, which we had built with our own hands. We cut the logs, hauled them, and built them ourselves. We have now in place of them six little shanties, built for us by the government. They are one story high, with two doors and two windows. They are full of holes and cracks, and let in the wind and rain. We hear that our houses which we left in Dakota have all been pulled down. To show how much the tribe had been robbed of, we will count the household possessions of a single one of our families in Dakota before we came down. Two stoves, one a kitchen-stove and the other a parlor-stove, with all the accompanying utensils; two bedsteads, two plows, and one double-plow; one harrow, one spade, two hay-forks, one hand-saw, and one large two-handed saw; one grind-stone, one hay-rake, a cupboard, and four chairs. We have now no stoves, chairs, or bedsteads. We have nothing but our tents and their contents, composed mostly of clothing. The tribe owned two reapers, eight mowers, a flour and saw mill. They are gone from us also. We brought with us thirty-five yoke of oxen. They all died when we got here, partly from the effects of the toilsome journey, and partly by disease. We have not.

Author: Montiero, Lorrie.
American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center