Letter from Brevet Major General John B. Sanborn, Commissioner, to the Honorable James Harlan, U. S. Secretary of the Interior - January 5, 1866
Submitted by Joseph Mustipher thru Marquetta Goodwine
Hd. Qrs. Commission for regulating relations between Freedmen in the Indian Territory and their former masters.
Ft. Smith, Ark. Jany. 5th, 1866
Hon. James Harlan
Secty. Of the Interior
I have the honor to report that pursuant to instructions from you of date Nov. 30, 1865, I have visited the following tribes of Indians in the Indian Territory which formerly held slaves, viz: Seminoles, Creeks, Cherokees and the loyal portion of the Chickasaws under Lewis Johnson, and my report is made out and forwarded at this time, before visiting the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations for the reason that, as the condition of the Freedmen in those nations requires the immediate action of the Government, there should be no delay on account of any failure of mine to make an early report. The Freedmen are the most industrious, economical, and in many respects the more intelligent portion of the population of the Indian Territory. They all desire to remain in the territory on lands set apart for their own exclusive use. The Indians who are willing that the Freedmen should remain in the territory at all, also prefer that they should be located upon a tract of country by themselves. This question has been canvassed much by the Freedmen and the Indians and the Freedmen have come to the conclusion that they are soon to be moved upon some tract of country set apart for their exclusive uses, and hence are not inclined to make any improvements where they are, or do any more work than is absolutely necessary for their immediate wants.
The Spring or warm season commences early in this country and farmers & planters ordinarily commence ploughing and planting as early as the 1st of March. Hence you will see that it is of the most vital importance if lands are to be set apart for this population, it should be done at once, and if not, they should be so advised immediately, so that they will be induced to make other arrangements. Most of the Freedmen have Ox teams and among them are blacksmiths, carpenters, wheelwrights, &c.
The sentiments, prejudices &c on the part of the Indian Nations toward the Freedmen at present are as follows, viz:
The Creek Nation look upon the Freedmen as their equals in rights and have or are in favor of incorporating them into their tribe with all the rights and privileges of native Indians.
The Seminole entertain the same or nearly the same sentiments and feelings as the Creeks.
The Cherokee are divided in sentiment; a portion and not a very small portion, think the Govt. Should move the negroes from this country, as it has freed them; while a portion, including the principal Chief, Downing, are in favor of having them retained in the Nation, and located upon some tract of land set apart for their exclusive use; and Col. Downing says, that this policy will obtain in the nation; and that civil rights will be accorded to the Freedmen before a great while.
The Choctaw Nation is divided in sentiment but the preponderance of sentiment is strongly against the Freedmen, and a violent prejudice exists against them in that nation which time alone will overcome. The public men and council acknowledge a change in the relation of the former masters & slaves, while a large portion of the people do not admit any change in these relations, and their action and treatment toward them is much the same as formerly except in instances where the Freedmen are driven away from their former homes by their masters. One Freedman has been killed at Boggy Depot by his former master and there are rumors of several other cases, and no action has been taken by the Government to punish the party guilty. As indices to the feeling in the Choctaw Nation, I enclose copies of laws, passed by the National Council in October last marked "Exhibit A" and a letter of date Jan. 1, 1866 from N. Falsom one of their prominent men marked "Exhibit B." My own conclusion is that the public sentiment of this nation in regard to the Freedmen is radically wrong at the present time.
The Chickasaw Nation is still holding most of their negroes in slavery and entertain a bitter prejudice against them all. They have provided by law for the gradual emancipation of their slaves and exclude all from the nation who left it during the war. In other words, all negroes who left the country and joined the Federal Army are prohibited from returning.
This is also true in the Choctaw Nation. It is reported to me by the Chief, Lewis Johnson, that Governor Colbert stated to many people and publicly before leaving for Washington that they should hold the slaves until they could determine at Washington whether or not they could get pay for them and if they could not then they would strip them naked and drive them either south to Texas or north to Fort Gibson. So bitter is the feeling against the return of the negroes that have been in the Federal Army, that Maj. Coleman and myself have concluded that it is not safe or advisable for Lewis Johnson and party to return until troops are stationed at Arbunkle. At the request of the Indians I enclose paper marked "Exhibit C" showing what terms the loyal Indians demand of the disloyal before living with them again. Many Negroes have been shot down by their masters in this Nation and the Govt. taken no steps to punish the guilty.
My conclusion is that nothing can be done to ameliorate the condition of the Freedmen in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations until there is a proper military force stationed at Boggy Depot, Fort Towson, Washita & Arbunkle, and that my advent there at the present time to carry into effect your instructions, would be the cause of much excitement while nothing would be accomplished and insults and disgrace be likely to follow. The first step towards the accomplishment of anything for the Freedmen of those nations, or even towards enabling the loyal Indians to return with the Freedmen associated with them, is the garrisoning of the military posts. It is possible that much more might have been done to change and correct the public sentiment of those nations, if all the Federal officers brought in contact with them, had been decided in their own ideas that these classes were free, and endeavored to impress this view upon the Indians. But with the public sentiment and law of these nations as it is, and the most prominent of the public men absent, I am certain that nothing can e accomplished more than to commence the correction of public sentiment which I have endeavored to do by circulars herewith enclosed marked "Exhibit D" and which the agents will circulate and explain throughout their respective tribes.
The condition of public sentiment in the two nations is no cause for delay on the part of the Government to make provision at once for the Freedmen of all the tribes to go upon tracts of country set apart for their own exclusive use, which is so much desired by the Freedmen and all loyal Indians. There are two practicable methods of doing this: the first and most desirable is by treaty stipulations with the respective nations in the treaties about to be concluded at Washington. The second is by Congressional enactment carried into effect as Congress shall provide.
There should be set apart a tract large enough to give a square mile to every four persons as there is much waste land in the nation. The tract or tracts should be the most fertile in the territory as the Freedmen are the principal producers, and should in all cases touch either the Arkansas or Red River, so that the crops could be run out on flat boats. Reference should be made to timber and prairies, as well as bottom and upland. Persons not Freedmen living now upon lands so set apart should be allowed the option of remaining, or having the improvements appraised by three disinterested parties, and receive the appraised value of the same from the Govt. Sixty days from the passage of the act, or approval of the Treaty, should be allowed such party to signify his choice to the proper officer. Provision should be made for the survey of such tracts at the earliest time practicable into sections &c and the Freedmen over 18 years of age allowed to enter 320 acres of the same under the Homestead Law or by script provided for the purpose without power of alienation during the life of the party entering the same or for a definite term of years.
When the tribes know that this policy and course is determined upon by the Govt. they will in my judgement submit to it without any open resistance, perhaps without a murmur, and the Freedmen will rejoice that at last they have a prospect of a permanent home for themselves and their children.
The Freedmen of the Seminole & Creek tribes believe that the National laws and customs of their tribes are sufficient for their protection, while the Freedmen of the other tribes all feel and say that they know that there is no security or protection for them either in person or property without some power or government superior and above that of the Indian Nations to which they belong. These views of the Freedmen are in my judgement correct, and the Territory should either be organized into a Military District with martial law in full force and fully enforced, with a good executive commander who would supervise everything, or a Territorial Government should be organized to execute the laws. All the Indian tribes are unanimously opposed to a Territorial Government but such a Govt. or a Military Govt. is imperatively required by the situation. It cannot be expected that any Govt. would leave ten or twelve thousand of its citizens as the Freedmen of the Indian Territory now are, while within its own borders without any Govt., or without the full protection and benefits of its own laws and institutions. To hand them over to the laws and customs of the Indian tribes would be extraordinary & anomalous.
All lands set apart for the Freedmen should whenever practicable be located east of the 97th degree of longitude as the drought is usually so severe west of that as to render the maturity of the crops very uncertain.
With lands set apart for the Freedmen of the Indian Nation, and the Freedmen located upon them, and a Govt., Military or Civil organized and executed for their protection, they will beyond doubt soon become an industrious, intelligent and happy population.
All which is respectfully submitted.
I have the honor to be
Very Respy. Your Obt. Servant
(sgd.) John B. Sanborn
Bvt. Maj. General and Commissioner