1883 Reports of the Commissioner Affairs and Indian Agent Reports
"Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs," pp. 3-376. In U.S. House. 48th Congress, 1st Session. Report of the Secretary of the Interior, 1883 (H.Ex.Doc.1, Pt. 5, Vol.2). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883. (Serial Set 2191).


Court of Indian Offenses.

On the 10th of April last you gave your official approval to certain rules governing the "court of Indian offenses," prepared in this office in accordance with instructions contained in your letter of December 2 last. These rules prohibit the sun-dance, scalp-dance and war-dance, polygamy, theft, &c., and provide for the organization at each agency of a tribunal composed of Indians empowered to try all cases of infraction of the rules. Printed copies of the rules have been sent to the various United States Indian agencies (except the agency for the five civilized tribes), with instructions to agents to nominate the judges provided for therein. Many of the agents have as yet been unable to organize the court; some asking for further time, others reporting their inability to secure the services of proper men to fill the positions, the larger proportion, however, assigning as a reason for the delay that their Indians positively refuse to accept a position as judge unless their services in that capacity are paid for by the Government. If this latter objection were removed, and an appropriation made for the payment of a stated salary for the judges, say $20 per month, I am of the opinion that the "court of Indian offenses," with some few modifications, could be placed in successful operation at the various agencies, and thereby many of the barbarous customs now existing among the Indians would be entirely abolished. . . . (pp. 10-11)

Allotment of Lands in Severalty, and Patents

. . . At the last session of Congress a bill was submitted increasing the allotments to the Nez Percés in Idaho, and the Willamette Indians on the Grande Ronde Reservation, from twenty acres as provided for in the treaty with the Nez Percés, and from the graduated quantity provided for in the treaty with the Willamette Indians, to one hundred and sixty acres for each Indian entitled to an allotment under the treaties. No action was taken by Congress. As the quantity of land in each of these reservations is more than sufficient to give the amount recommended, and the Indians are desirous of having the quantity increased, the bill will be again submitted to you for transmission to Congress at its next session. (pp. 11-12)

From: Report of Charles E. Monteith,, United States Indian Agent, Nez Percé Agency, pp. 114-117.

. . . There is but one tribe located upon this reserve, namely, the Nez Percés, numbering as near as I am able to ascertain, 1,250 souls. They are a thrifty, progressive, and industrious people. With the exception of the agricultural implements issued them by the Government, they can be justly termed self-supporting. Their means of support are agricultural pursuits and stock-raising.


The progress made during the year past by this people is but a reaching out in agricultural pursuits over their condition of a year ago. . . . [T]here is an increased cultivated acreage of 550 acres over that of last year. This increase is occasioned by 28 Indians having entered upon civilized pursuits. These have broken new land, averaging 10 acres to each Indian. The balance (270 acres) is but the enlargement of farms on part of Indians heretofore engaged in agriculture.

I cannot say that this people has reached a higher state of civilization, morally or otherwise. I think they have reached a state of civilization where they will neither retrograde or advance until some very important change takes place in the Indian policy, such as breaking up the present reservation system and allowing the Indian to take lands in severalty, and throwing the balance of the reserve open to settlement. Upon this subject I will dwell at length further on. Until some such move is made certain old tribal ideas and desires will remain in the minds of even the more advanced in civilization, one of which I will mention, "head-chieftainship." To this some hold with wonderful tenacity, and show the influence they are able to exert over their followers. It was this influence I had to contend with during the general council of last April. . . .

It gives me much pleasure to state that the honorable Commissioner has dealt "head-chieftainship" on this reserve a severe blow in allowing the agent to exercise discretionary powers, and approving recommendations in many instances, instead of submitting matters to the Indians in council. His idea of dealing with the Indians as individuals is correct.


On account of its being so late in the season when the new machinery and supplies for repairs of the Kamiah mills were delivered at that place all work had to be suspended until last spring. I commenced said repairs as early as the weather would permit and mechanics were available. I was instructed by the Department, in response to recommendations, to call upon the Kamiah Indians to perform certain work, and on account of a lack of interest in their own welfare they failed to respond to the wishes of the Department to such an extent as to render the completion of said repairs impossible by the 1st of July, in consequence of which their mills at present are useless. About the middle of June I gave them notice to send a team to the agency to haul up some supplies needed to complete the repairs on the engine and for the boiler, which when put in place would complete the grist-mill so that it would be ready to grind their wheat. They refused to comply with my request, and as yet no effort has been made on their part to haul the supplies in question to Kamiah, although I offered the use of an agency wagon.

A porch has been constructed the full length and across both ends of the large boarding-school at this agency, as a means of escape in case of fire. It adds greatly to the looks of the building, as also the convenience of employés and scholars. A porch has been built on both sides of the "L" of said building, which embraces the kitchen and pantries; these will prove to be very convenient also.

A woodshed 16 by 50 feet is completed, and a chicken-house constructed, all of which are steps taken, under authority from the Department, looking to the conversion of this school into a thorough-going "industrial school." There is yet to be erected a cow-stable 20 by 60 feet, with a hay-mow above. This building is under way, and I am now awaiting authority to complete it. All materials for the same are on hand, also for the building of a new fence about the school lot, and about 100 rods of other fence, which will be put up by school boys when school opens, supervised by the industrial teacher.


As a rule the Nez Percé children are intelligent, displaying a wonderful aptitude in all kinds of farm and garden work, and advancing nearly as rapidly in their school-room studies as average white children. But in their acquisition of the English language they are very slow, for the reason that they never speak it except when required at school by their teachers. When they do try to use English in the presence of older Indians their attempts are sure to meet with ridicule, and as they are very sensitive, this effectually suppresses all desire to acquire the language. This is the reason why education of Indian youth is more successfully carried on in schools removed from reservations and from the detrimental influences of tribal associations.

During the past term about 75 scholars received instructions in the various branches of industry and book knowledge taught at this school. Twenty-seven of the brightest of these were transferred to the Forest Grove training-school this spring, and last month 7 more were taken to that place by myself; also 9 of the children brought here from the Indian Territory by James Reubens.

The boarding and industrial school at Kamiah was closed May 1, 1883, under instructions from the honorable Commissioner. As this school is situated about 65 miles from the agency, where it cannot be personally supervised by the agent, as it is absolutely isolated during five months in the year, owing to the depth of snow in the mountains; as the agent must necessarily trust to a teacher’s report as to its efficacy, and as the Lapwai boarding and industrial school has a capacity sufficient to accommodate as many scholars as ever attended both schools at one time during last term, the views of the agent coincide with those of the honorable Commissioner in the matter of closing said school.

Heretofore the agent has had no means whereby he could compel the attendance of the children; thus many of the brighter children were kept out of school by their parents; but the late policy of the Department in withholding Government aid from those who refuse to send their children when called upon by the agent will, I think, prove a satisfactory measure with these Indians.

The school garden, which has been taken care of by the boys, under the supervision of the industrial teacher, presents a very fine appearance, and from present indications I infer that the products will be sufficient for school use during the whole term.


There has been a disposition to enact local laws applicable to minor offenses, as also to have our civil code extended to the Indians of this reserve. In the council last April . . . a unanimous vote was had, requesting that the necessary action be had on part of the Government extending the civil as well as the criminal code to this tribe. Prior to the convening of said council local laws were enacted punishing drunkenness by a fine of from five to twenty dollars, according to the enormity of the offense. Other laws were enacted punishing by fines. The following is a list of such offenses and fines imposed and collected:




Cases of drunkenness



Cases of theft



Attempt at rapt



Interference in school matters









    Total 260.00

On account of the enactment of these local laws cases of drunkenness have been reduced about two-thirds. Said laws were adopted by the Indians in council, at my suggestion, and the result is very satisfactory. Referring to "rules governing the court of Indian offices," . . . I would say that as yet I have not been able to prevail upon any three Indians to accept the appointments as judges without compensation.


Under the head of progress, &c., I alluded to the matter of allowing the Indians to take lands in severalty and opening reservations to settlement. I would favor such action only upon certain considerations, which in brief are as follows:

Proper legislation covering the following points:

Allow every Indian, male and female, including all children, to locate 160 acres of land within the boundaries of the reserve, giving them patents for the same, non-transferable under twenty years. Throw the balance of the reserve open to settlement, the Government purchasing such lands and issuing bonds in the amount of the purchase-price, and use the interest on said bonds in sustaining and operating thorough industrial schools, embracing agriculture and mechanics for the males and housekeeping and dairy work for females.

Extend our civil and criminal laws to the Indians; but instead of jury trials in cases as between Indians and whites allow the district judge to preside, and decide the case according to law; and if the decision is not satisfactory allow an appeal to be taken to the supreme court of the State or Territory, as the case may be. In my opinion the Indian would not receive justice in a jury trial in four cases out of five, on account of the strong prejudice that exists against him, particularly in the Territories.

Appoint an agent, as is done under the present policy, and pay a salary that will command ability, said agent’s duties to be to manage the affairs of the schools and attend to the welfare of the Indians generally.


. . . I would suggest that in the matter of correspondence with Indians on part of the Department such correspondence pass through an agent’s hands. By this I mean allow the agent to read the letters and then deliver them to the Indians addressed, taking their receipts therefor, which receipts should be forwarded to the Indian Office by the agent. Said receipts should be witnessed by the interpreter and one or more employés. My object for so recommending is that Indians receive letters from the Indian Office containing information which they cannot understand, but pretend to, and interpret it to their friends as they see fit, and in many instances cause unpleasant feelings between the agent and his Indians until the letters are correctly interpreted to them. But one instance of this kind has occurred at this agency during my administration, nevertheless I think the suggestion would be supported by all agents in the service. In this connection I desire to return sincere thanks to the honorable Commissioner for having forwarded me the original of a letter supposed to have been written by a certain Indian at this agency. Said letter contained serious complaints and charges against the agent and some employés. On account of having the original in my possession I was able to ascertain that said letter was a forgery, and to succeed in finding out beyond a doubt who committed the forgery. The Indian whose name was attached to the letter made affidavit to the effect that he neither authorized the writing of said letter nor knew anything of its existence. I think if the originals of that character of correspondence were always sent to agents, instead of copies, a great deal of annoyance would be obviated.

On the 12th day of September last this agency was visited by Col. R. S. Gardner, United States Indian inspector. He came very unexpectedly, and his coming was like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky. He came to ascertain the truthfulness of certain outrageous statements embraced in an anonymous correspondence, to which it pleased the honorable Secretary of the Interior to give the dignified title of "charges preferred against Agent Monteith," which statements made Agent Monteith to appear in the rôle of a first-class villain and fraud. Said charges were examined by Colonel Gardner, and I do not think anyone could institute a more searching investigation than did he. I stated to the inspector that I preferred not to be present during the examination of any witnesses, as I had no desire to embarrass a witness by my presence. I have never seen the inspector’s report, but have learned indirectly that not a single statement was substantiated. . . .

In attending to my duties as agent I have had little or no time to inform myself as to the work of the missionary, Rev. George L. Deffenbaugh. I can only say that apparently he has been busily engaged in his noble work, and may God prosper him therein. . . .

From: Report of Lewellyn E. Woodin, United States Indian Agent, Ponca Agency, Indian Territory, pp. 133-137.


There is but little change to note in the condition or progress of these Indians during the past year. They are a quiet, peaceable, and fairly industrious people, and the better element among them is rapidly becoming civilized. All labor more or less toward their support, and, besides what they realize from agricultural pursuits and the produce of their gardens, have obtained a large amount in cash from the manufacture and sale of Indian curiosities and trinkets, such as bows and arrows, moccasins, gloves, &c., which they make in a tasteful manner.

The number of acres cultivated by the Indians during the year was slightly less than for the preceding year, but the net result of their labor will show well, amounting to 254 bushels of wheat, 1,455 bushels of corn, 200 bushels of potatoes and onions, and 8,500 melons.

The day school, under the charge of James Reubens, was carried on with its usual success until the end of May, when Mr. Reubens dismissed the scholars, closed the school, and, by permission of the Department, started for Idaho with 29 Nez Percés, mostly the widows and orphans of those who were killed during their war. The school will be reopened on September 1, under charge of a white teacher, and I anticipate good results for the coming year, as these children are eager and quick to learn and of more than the average intelligence. The matter of building a new school-house is now before the Department, and as the foundation is already laid and much of the required material on the ground but little additional expense will be incurred in its construction. The services in the Presbyterian Church, under charge of Rev. Archie Lawyer, a Nez Percé, are well attended by the Indians. . . .