Who Was Right? When white men crossed the boundary of the Missouri River, it upset the balance between the pioneers and the red men. Obviously the red men were not happy and lashed out against their white oppressors. Many just saw savages, but much of the American army saw courage and honor. Was it right for members of the army who had just maintained the union of their own society, to dismember the culture of the Native Americans? I believe it was. First of all, the army did not enjoy having to push the Indians back from the lands that the white people wanted, but then they also had to try and convert them to Christianity. The Indians retaliated against the army, but it was the United States government itself that broke the treaties that promised the Indians land and then expected the army to keep the peace through mutual trust. Military action appeared to be the only way to keep white civilians from complaining about Indian attacks on the white man’s newly acquired land.
An Army official named Sheridan received reports each week about the horrendous acts of violence caused by the red man. It was then that famous phrase was created the only good Indians I ever saw were dead. There were many men like Sheridan who hated the Indians and looked down upon their senseless acts of violence. However, men like William Tecumseh Sherman had a deep respect and admiration for the enemy and his fighting skill. In fact, both Sheridan and Sherman confessed to pity and compassion for the Native Americans they had set out to destroy. Even men like General Nelson A.
Miles who had personal reasons for revenge against the enemy showed a deep respect, almost reverence, for the red man. Colonel John Gibbon proclaimed that the record of white hostility and treachery would force any man to fight. Gibbon raised more questions about his own culture than he answered about his enemies. To many soldiers who had the same ideals as Gibbon, the courage and bearing of the red man suggested a purer way of life before the coming of the white men. Some men like General George Crook became more of an Indian than some Apaches. Crook’s argument about the Indian violence was that their nature is responsive to treatment which assures him that it is based upon justice, truth, honesty, and common sense.
Because he respected their spirit, Crook hesitated to condemn even the most ferocious Apaches. He argued barbarism torments the body; civilization torments the soul. I agree with Crook. White men were just as vile for taking the land as the Indians were for killing them. The idea of noble resistance created by Colonel Carrington overlooked the Indian massacres, but frowned upon the white man’s retaliation.
This idea was foolish. Murder is murder, it is wrong no matter who commits it. Although there were many who applauded the Indian’s actions, their efforts did not deter the whites. The army, for reasons both good and bad, wanted to take control of the administration of Indian Affairs that had previously been held by civilians. This was thought to diminish the American complaining.
This mixture of feelings towards the Indians is very curious and interesting. It can be explained by saying that anger and frustration can give rise to these contrasting emotions. The Indians tactics seemed horrible, yet ingenious. Their culture was repellent, but also alluring for its integrity. Charles Wood reveals that respect and compassion for another culture are very unsure checks on violence. The bottom line is that the army had just come out of a civil war and was not ready to risk its own society against that of the Indians. In short, the majority of the American people wanted the red man dead.