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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 3, 2004 - Issue 110


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The Indian Priest
Father Philip B. Gordon
Chapter 9 - Indian Allotments

by Paula Delfeld
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

William Gordon, through his work as policeman, was thoroughly familiar with every spot on the reservation. Consequently, when the time came for Philip to receive his allotment, his father selected the most beautiful timbered stand of pine that remained. Many other Indians were not so fortunate, and Philip later helped in the fight to reclaim some of their losses.

Legally, the income from the timber cut on the land was his, but he was not allowed to spend it without the consent of government agent on the reservation.

There was much confusion in regard to allotments and the use of the money. Contracts between the lumber companies and the Indian agencies were supposedly to insure that the funds derived from the sale of timber would come into the hands of the official representative of the government rather than into the possession of the chiefs who might be neglectful as to the distribution of the money among the members of the tribe or fail to use it for the benefit of the tribe.

Terms of the contracts were so loose and indefinites as to the amount of timber sold that it was impossible to protect the interest of the Indians adequately.

The treaty of 1854 had provided for the establishment of a residence upon the land of each person to who an assignment was given in the hope that they would become self-supporting. But many problems and disputes arose, especially with the realization of the value of the pine timber on Indian reservations.

After inquires from the Mississippi River Logging Company and Angus Cameron, an attorney at La Crosse, Wisconsin, Secretary Henry M. Teller, on September 20, 1882, wired Cameron as follows: "If the Indians have patents they may sell the timber, subject to the approval of the Department, and the Department will approve contracts honorably and justly made."

On September 25, 1882, Mr. Cameron wrote: "The Indians are suspicious, and it is believed that few of them will sell or sign any contract of sale unless they are paid the whole consideration at the time of the signing the contract."

Charges and investigations continued for years. On April 16, 1886, Special Agent H. Heth submitted a voluminous report, stating among other things. "… These Indians are well-clad and some of them have purchased good teams and have small farms … The cash balances paid the Indians individually by the contractor, have been used, in some instances greatly to their benefit, but in many instances, as you would find among whites, has been squandered in the most useless geegaws, worthless trinkets, whiskey, and gambling with cards, which appears to be a favorite pastime with lazy and worthless Indians."

It was not difficult for unscrupulous loggers to make arrangements with some of these Indians for the sale of timber without government supervision, as they felt it was their right to dispose of the timber on the reservation lands for their own benefit and may rebelled at the claims of the government to supervise all sales.

On July 1, 1898, Samuel W. Campbell, a veteran of the Civil War, became Indian agent at Ashland in charge of the La Pointe Agency. Two months lather he wrote the Indian Office in Washington suggesting changes in payment of allotments, giving cash payments of $10.00 to $15.00 per month instead of $25.00 and $30.00 they had been paying.

Campbell wrote: "… I find many able-bodied Indians idle; neither working in the mills nor improving their allotments; but sitting idly down, folding their hands, eating and drinking up their allotments; and when it is all gone they will be much worse off than if they never had an allotment. "

"Some of them have already spent every cent of their allotments and scores of others have their money almost gone, and in most of the cases they have nothing to show for their money. Thousands of dollars worth of orders have been issued against allotments not yet out, for teams and many other useless things which they did not need, and many of the teams have been starved, many disposed of for whatever they could get for them after the novelty had worn off…"

"In view of the above facts, and to better enable me to aid in saving the remnants of different allotments of the three reservations, I would recommend that you instruct me to no pay out any money on allotments to any able-bodied Indian who is able to work and earn his living, except for permanent improvements on their allotments; and to encourage them to improve their allotments, I would advise that for every acre they improve and clean up and cultivate, we pay them $10.00 or $15.00 of their money, and if they wish to make any other improvements, such as buildings, etc., to have it done through the Farmer and have him make estimates, thoroughly familiarize himself with each application so he can give full information in detail, and see that everything goes for what the application calls…"

Campbell went on in length, making allowances for the aged, widows, and minors, but cutting off indiscriminate payments to those able to work.

After five months deliberation, during which time Campbell had again written urging approval of his plan, the Indian Office notified him the plan would be given a trial, but was noncommittal and placed upon the agent most of the responsibility.

Agent Campbell became confused by later contradictory statements and inconsistencies in instructions, which continued for years. As usual, investigations and controversies followed: finally, supervision of cutting was placed under the Bureau of Forestry. Later, criticism of this bureau by Assistant Government Farmer Norbert Sero in 1908 claimed that "representatives of the Bureau of Forestry, who marked trees, selected the very largest and choicest white pine, contrary to the rules and regulations."

As Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Major Campbell became embroiled in almost continuous controversy and was accused of being obsessed with the idea that the Indians would almost invariably spend unwisely every dollar that came into their possession. Eventually, in 1912, he was dismissed when his administration was bitterly attacked by certain Indians through a Washington attorney. Many felt that great injustice was done him.

In view of all this contention, it is no wonder Philip Gordon felt a sense of futility when he approached Major Campbell. He realized Campbell, white and non-Catholic, undoubtedly would not grant his request to use the money he received for sale of timber to continue his studies for the priesthood.

In spite of accusations against him, Campbell's concern was the welfare of the Indians. Philip need not have worried for the agent readily gave his consent. He well knew the great need among the Indians for moral and spiritual help from someone who knew them.

Campbell was even helpful in cutting and marketing the timber on Philip's land and obtained $10,000 for the timber. The two became friends and later, when Major Campbell retired to his home at Hudson, Wisconsin, Gordon frequently visited him.

Philip was at St. Paul Seminary in September 1908, when forest fires burned over large areas on the Bad River Reservation. The fires temporarily showed by rains but with drought conditions and accompanying high winds in the middle of October, the fires burned out of control again.

The amount of timber within the reservation injured by fire was estimated at from 50,000,000 to 100,000,000 board feet. More than 15,000,000 of this was on unallotted lands where no contract existed and the timber could be cut only under authority of the government. This was another subject of controversy for which Father Gordon later fought vigorously.

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