Wallace and Wallace — part 6(a)


Canadian artist Paul Kane’s painting titled “Half-Breeds Running Buffalo” (1846) (1)

I want to spend a few words, now, on the subject of the extensive and varied cheating that surrounded Sioux half-breed scrip.  Securing a better appreciation of the great scope and depth of this cheating will, I believe, add much needed context and understanding to the evaluation of Col. Wallace’s anguished plea that he’d been cheated out of his just land claim.

The ultimate demonstration of that cheating’s prevalence — the proof in the pudding, as it were — was the fact, as alluded to in MNOPEDIA‘s article on half-breed scrip, that very little of the great wealth generated by the scrip over the course of the second half of the 19th century ultimately ended up in the hands of persons of Indian heritage.   

Cheating, fraud, swindling, sharp dealing, and even coercion came in many, many forms. The vulnerable economic position of full-blooded and mixed-heritage Sioux surely prepared the soil for the corruption that plagued the scrip.  Many mixed-heritage Sioux found themselves in straitened circumstances in the late 1850s and especially after the Sioux uprising of 1862.  Among other hardships, the fur trade that had sustained both full-blooded Indian groups and mixed-heritage traders had dried up as a result of years of over-harvesting. The more Indianized segments of the mixed-heritage population were often illiterate and may have had no full appreciation of the value vested in the scrip certificates the government had awarded them.  Small tracts of privately owned land, as Brohough (1906, p. 55)(2) pointed out, may have represented only limited usefulness to mixed-breeds who’s tribal history and cultural background embraced a wide-ranging, hunting-oriented nomadism over a vast area of the Midwestern plains. Settling down on small farming tracts represented a great deal more than a mere real estate transaction for more Indianized mixed-breeds.  It represented, as well, acculturation to white ways and the marginal abandonment of traditional culture and bonds — that is, it was a big step on the road from defining oneself as a “blanket” Indian” to re-defining oneself as a “cut-hair” or “non-blanket” Indian. (3)

According to the “Jones Commission” report of 1872 (4) concerning cheating with regard to Chippewa half-breed scrip, land-hungry white speculators used every trick in the book to secure scrip.  Persons whose names or backgrounds might have been passed off as scrip-eligible were recruited and paid for signing scrip applications or allowing scrip applications to be filed ostensibly on their behalves.  In some instances, the same person was induced to apply for multiple allotments of scrip — say, by merely adding a middle initial to a previously submitted name.  Names of dead mixed-breeds, full-blooded Indians, or even fictitious persons were submitted.  The question of who was and who was not a qualified half-breed was often difficult to resolve, either in theory or in practice.  Supporting documentation and witness oaths that accompanied scrip applications were cavalierly faked.  Necessary powers of attorney documents — which allowed for the subsequent sale of scrip pieces — were routinely “executed in blank,” allowing any purchaser to fill in his or her name post-sale.  Sometimes government agents themselves — those responsible for insuring that scrip was distributed strictly according to the rules — were party to fraudulent practices.  One case described in the 1872 report is perhaps particularly of note.  The investigators wrote (p. 247):

Again we invite your attention to five pieces of scrip issued to Andrew,
Francis, John, Augustus, and Margaret Chenguay. These were issued
by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, without any applications being filed,oand without any knowledge upon his part of the real claims of the
parties, and only upon the personal application of Agent Webb. These
parties are all full-blooded Indians, without any admixture of white
blood, as the affidavit herewith tiled of Augustus, Francis, and John
Baptiste Chenguay affirms, and is also well known to all the people of
Bayfield and vicinity.

Post-sale slippery transactions were also common.  Both Brohough (1906) and Folwell (1922)(5), for instance, noted the prevalence of a practice termed “floating scrip.”  Specifically in relation to Sioux half-breed scrip, Folwell (p. 484) wrote:

It could be located on forest as well as on agricultural lands, and no small proportion was so used. In instances notably numerous it happened that, soon after a “piece” of scrip had been located on a promising tract of pine land, the timber would be cut and removed. Thereupon the locator would go to the land office, allege some error in selection, and demand the privilege of abandoning the land thus devastated and of making a relocation for his deserving principal. What is remarkable is that the same thing would recur after no long interval, through the indulgence, not to say the connivance, of the land officers. It became chronic and general, and the operation came to be known as “the floating of scrip.”

The practice was so common, apparently, that some timbermen mistakenly regarded it as permissible government policy.  ‘One day a man walked into the Commissioner’s office at Washington,’ relayed Brohough (1906, p. 56), ‘and applied for “movable” scrip.  He said they were very convenient and wanted to buy some.  This was the first knowledge the Government had of this interesting and valuable western commodity.’

What we have before us, I would suggest, is a veritable salt sea of corrupt practices —  a sea into which Col. Wallace had dipped his ladle and then plaintively objected that the water was too salty to drink.  And yet we have not yet touched upon arguably the most egregious and objectionable misconduct engaged upon in order to separate beleaguered Sioux half-breeds from their valuable scrip.  This especially striking case of cheating misconduct occurred at Fort Snelling, Minnesota in the aftermath of the 1862 Sioux uprising.

And I’ll take a look at that part of the story in part 6(b).


(1) This photo was borrowed from Wikimedia Commons, where the following further description of it was offered:  “Métis buffalo hunt on the prairies of Dakota in June 1846. The man lying on the ground is Kane himself. Compare the clothing with that on Kane Prairie.jpg, and Kane reported in his travel account that he fell from the horse and got nearly run over by the buffalos, but was saved from that fate by one of the Métis who chased the animals around him and shielded him from the herd. Despite this incident, Kane managed to kill two bisons himself. The scene obviously is from the Métis buffalo hunt in June 1846 as they run the buffalos by horse on the open prairie; the later buffalo hunts Kane witnessed were either a Cree pound hunt (between Ft. Carlton and Ft. Edmonton on the north side of the North Saskatchewan River), or hunts with HBC people, but these occurred in winter 1847/48 at Ft. Edmonton.”

(2) Brohough, Gustav O., Sioux and Chippewa Half-Breed Scrip and its Application to the Minnesota Pine Lands, Master’s Thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1906 — available for download at Google Books, here.

(3) Gary Clayton Anderson’s Kinsman of Another Kind: Dakota-White Relations in the Upper Mississippi Valley 1650-1862 (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1984/1997) is a superb book that helped enlighten me a little on the complex and meaning-laden cultural and kinship-based networks that both linked and divided Dakota Sioux, mixed-bloods, and whites.

(4) Annual Report of the Commission of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1871, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1872 — accessed at https://archive.org/details/annualreportofco187100unitrich.  (For the commission report on abuses of Chippewa half-breed scrip, see Appendix D, pp. 240-257.)

(5) Folwell, William Watts, A History of Minnesota, Vol. 1, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1922 — available for download at Google Books, here.

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