'The Indians at Leech Lake had heard that the Government had sold all of their pine without their knowledge or consent. I was on a visitation in the southern part of the state, when I received a telegram from George Bonga, a negro of mixed blood, saying, 'The Indians at Leech Lake have killed the government cattle and stolen the government goods. I fear an outbreak.'
George Bonga had been educated in Montreal. He was a man of great intelligence and perfectly understood the Indian character. He had been my companion on many journeys through the Indian country. I could rely implicitly upon any information he gave me, and I repeated his telegram to Washington, adding, 'This man is trustworthy.' In a few hours Secretary Delano telegraphed me: 'The President requests you to go to Leech Lake and settle the difficulty. He will ratify whatever you do.'
It was in the dead of winter, the thermometer below zero and the snow deep. It was a journey of seventy-five miles through the forest, and it took us three days to reach Leech Lake. The Indians came to their council in paint and feathers, angry and turbulent. The chief, Flatmouth, arose and said: 'I suppose you came to find out who killed the government cattle. I did. You want to know who took the government goods. I did. I told my young men to do it. Perhaps you want to know why we did it. We have been robbed. We have been robbed again and again. We will bear it no longer. Our shadows rest on our graves.' He talked a long time, angry, exasperated, and using bitter invective and stinging sarcasm. Meanwhile, I tried to think of some way to stop him, knowing that if he could be silenced I might reach the others. I rose and said:
'Flatmouth, how long have you known me?'
'Twelve years,' he answered.
'Have I ever told you a lie?'
'No, you have not a forked tongue,' he replied.
'I shall not tell you a lie to-day,' I went on. 'I am not a servant of the Great Father; I am the servant of the Great Spirit. I shall tell you the truth. It will not be pleasant to my red brother. When you killed those cattle, you struck the Great Father in the face. When you stole those goods, you committed a crime. I am not here to tell you what the Great Father will do. He has not told me. If he does what he ought to do, he will arrest those who have committed this crime if it takes ten thousand men.'
As I expected, the chief was very angry, and, springing to his feet, began to talk violently. I folded my arms and sat down. When he paused I said quietly: 'Flatmouth, are you talking or am I talking? If you are talking, I will wait till you have finished; if I am talking you may wait till I have finished.' The Indians all shouted, 'Ho! ho!' Their chief had committed a great breach of courtesy toward me, their friend.
Overwhelmed with confusion, Flatmouth sat down, and I knew that the ground was mine. I then told them that when I heard of the pine sale I wrote to Washington and protested against it; that I went to the man who bought the pine and told him that I should oppose the sale and carry the matter into the courts. 'But,' I added, 'when I ask good men to help me, and they ask if the Indians, for whom I am pleading, are the ones who killed those cattle and stole those goods, what shall I say? You are not fools. You know that you put a gag into my mouth. Now you may talk this over amongst yourselves, and when you are ready, send for me. I shall be at the log house opposite.'
They remained in council for several hours and then sent for me. 'We have been foolish,' they said. 'You are wiser than we are. Tell us what to do and we will do it.' After promising to be peaceable, they asked me to express their sorrow to the Great Father. The sale was not confirmed.
At my next visit to Leech Lake Flatmouth asked me to go to his lodge. 'The first time I saw you,' he said, 'you wore something over your robes. I thought it was the badge of your office. I asked my wife to make one for you. Will you have it?' And he presented me a stole made of black glass beads with a cross of gold beads worked in the ends. 'I give you this,' he said, 'because you are the friend of my people.'
The argument which I made against the pine sale was this: England, Holland, France, and Spain have recognized the possessory right of the Indians to the soil, a right that can only be extinguished by treaty. The ordinance of 1787, which has the binding force of the Constitution, expressly declares that the Indians' property shall never be taken except by purchase, or in wars duly authorized by Congress. When Napoleon sold to the United States the country west of the Mississippi River, the rights of the Indians were reserved. The legislative, executive, and judicial departments of the Government have always recognized this right. The pine timber is a part of the realty. If the Secretary of the Interior has a right to sell the pine, he has also the right to sell the land. If he has the right to sell one reservation, he has the right to sell all reservations, and hence the Secretary can dispossess every Indian tribe in the United States of their homes.
The man who sold this pine was the Rev. E.P. Smith, a Congregational clergyman, who was the Indian agent. He sold it by the direction of the Department. For this he was denounced as dishonest.
There are conflicting feelings in the Indian's heart toward his white brother, for whom he has an inborn reverence; and there is an instinctive sense of what he should be to him; but his knowledge of what he has really been, and still is, clouds his mind so that he is swayed by a mingled sentiment of love and wrath toward him.
Travellers [sic] usually form their ideas of Indian character by the vagabonds of the border village or railway stations, who have lost manhood by contact with the worst elements of our own race. It would be as just for a foreigner to describe the character and habits of the American people from what he had seen in the slums of New York.
Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate Being Reminiscences and Recollections of the Right Reverend Henry Benjamin Whipple, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Minnesota, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1899. pp. 45-50