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69. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis to Lincoln on conditions of Indian tribes in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas


69. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis to Lincoln on conditions of Indian tribes in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas


Letter from General Samuel R. Curtis to Abraham Lincoln reporting on a reconnaissance of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Fox, Sac, and Osage Indian territories in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas. Curtis emphasizes severe dislocations caused by Confederate force occupations and the need for adequate troops and supplies to protect refugees and provide for their eventual return home. February 28, 1864. Copy.




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Head Quarters[,] Department of Kansas[,] Fort Leavenworth February 28th 1864 A[.] Lincoln[,] His Excellency[,] President of the United States: When in 1861 I had penetrated Western Arkansas so as to command the Indian Country on my flank you telegraphed me to give such protection to the loyal portion as I could. Knowing the attitude taken soon after my movement by [pro-Union Cherokee Chief] John Ross and the Pinn Society I carefully avoided entering the Indian Country because I knew my troops were exasperated after some barbarities committed by the Indians at Pea Ridge, and because I could not remain and protect them for want of supplies which I soon exhausted in the country. But I have always born your injunction in memory and in subsequent movements of troops through this Indian Country and beyond favored by every means in my power the wisdom and humanity of your prescribed policy. In a recent recoinnaissance [sic] which I have made to ascertain the position of foes and the resource of my command, I have traversed a large portion of the Indian Country and personally inspected the Indian troop and the refugee camps of negroes and indians [sic] that are gathered arround [sic] our commands, and knowing their interests are still pressed upon you. I present to your Excellency[']s such crude ideas as seem important to them and my command. The route traversed by me was from Fort Gibson down the Arkansas river to Van Buren, back to Fort Scott and from there west to Humboldt north to Topeka. I thus traversed and skirted most of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Osage, Sax and Fox teritories [sic]. All the country abounds in rich prairie lands, well timbered, watered and generally rolling meadows. Fine coal and great salt springs abound. Cattle and hogs run wild and my troops kill them for our subsistence and the meat was fat and good at this season of a closing hard winter. But the Indians have entirely abandoned their widely scattered farms and there is no other food in the country. From the limit of white settlements about 15 miles below Fort Scott to Fort Gibson, 150 miles not a human being was found and hardly a track; and everywhere, except close by our posts, or in an adjoyning [sic] white settlement, the Indians have deserted their homes. They are therefore amassed as refugees about Fort Scott, Fort Gibson, and in the Sax and Fox nations, about 40 miles south of Topeka. The Indian Department is furnishing bread stuff to a considerable extent but down on the Arkansas I found them at their meals generally eating only meat. These refugees have miserable hovels made of bark, old tents and sometimes hides. Many told me that they had left comfortable homes and cultivated farms to which they are exceedingly anxious to return. Vegetation is starting and they want to plant hoping thereby to procure bread next year and they eagerly inquire as to their probible [sic] protection. Their rebel foes partly Indians but fully whites are on the Red river where there [sic] Brigades under [Confederate General Douglas] Cooper were reported. Beyond Cooper's forces the Rebel Army is in winter quarters. The Sax and Fox Indians have sold, and with the refugees about them desire to go their new lands South. The people of Kansas, too, are very anxious they shall go but in view of such a plan which I understand the Hon. the Commissioner proposes and badly favors two matters are spetially [sic] presented. 1st. The necessity of a large depot at or near Fort Smith. As such a depot will invite rebel raids it becomes necessary for me to look to the location of such depots and its defensive arrangements. Either Fort Gibson or Van Buren, on the north sid[e] of the Arkansas would be safer; as I have written to the War Department. 2nd. The requisite number of troops to defend the Indians and the depot. The Indians are and will be in the Department, but as Department orders are construed the troops are in another Department. Just as you advance the Indians and their supplies further south more force is needed to defend them and your Excellency will perceive the magnitude of the difficulty by noticing the fact that we have only about 2500 irregular Indian Home Guards while at the aggregate Indians and Negroes must amount to fifteen or twenty thousand who at least for the coming year want protection and will be pactnce [patient?] very little. Keokuk, the head of the Sax and Fox tribes told me his people do not wish to move till the rebels are conquered; but I suppose if we have a strong force on the Arkansas below, or on the Red River, he would be willing to move down on the Verdigris [River] where the Osages are collected. In view of all these circumstances your Excellency will see the importance of regulating the Indian movement so as to conform to military power in this Department, and to either strengthen the latter or delay the former for at present there is not adequate force in this command to insure safety to the whites, and the Indians, congregated as they are, in the safest position. I have writen [sic] Major Gen[.] Halleck and the Hon[.] the Sec[retar]y of War concerning arms fortifications and forces necessary to defend the people in this Department and I hope your Excellency will [sic] an interest and exert an influence in the premisis [premise?]. I well remember at the commencement of the war, your Excellency went with me to the War Department and personally directed supplies of guns to be furnished as I directed; and I trust your zeal has not lessoned [sic] or my experience diminished my qualification to urge the application of means to proper military purposes. Hoping Mr. President that in the great army movements which you have to consider, you will indulge me in anxious petitions in favor of your devoted but much neglected friends in this Department. I have heard much of the troubles of Kansas but my personal observations during the past four weeks have brought to my notice more of the havock [sic] of war and savage cruelty, and infamous barbarity on the part of rebel foes than human imagination can compass. I have returned to Headquarters after 800 miles of travel a wiser but sadder soldier in your devoted service. I have the honor to be Mr[.] President Your very obediant [sic] Servant[,] S[amuel] R[.] Curtis[,] Major General (signed)