Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee negotiated the terms of surrender for the Confederacy at the McLean Court House in Appomattox. Ely S. Parker wrote the final draft of the Confederate surrender terms.

The Story of Donehogawa, First Indian Commissioner of Indian Affairs

Barry Babcock

Prior to and leading up to the Dakota Treaty of 1868, Red Cloud’s Dakota warriors had won a war with the whites. The second greatest defeat to any American army came at the hands of Dakota and Cheyenne’s at Fort Kearney where they wiped out an entire unit of 81 men led by Captain Fetterman. Crazy Horse had led and designed the ambush. The Indians burned the Powder River forts along the Bozeman trail and Red Cloud signed a treaty in which he was told that he and his people could stay and hunt the Powder River country rather than move to a reservation far to the east on the Missouri River where game was scarce. The whites said they’d stay out of the Dakota lands and let them be at peace.

Red Cloud began to hear rumors that he’d have to go the Missouri River to trade and that eventually they too would have to permanently move.

Parker knew that war would break out again if he did not act. He sent word to Red Cloud that he wished him to come to Washington. There was no demand, only a suggestion to Red Cloud, which proved a very sagacious manner in which Parker handled the situation. A special military escort was provided for the several dozen Indians making the trip. When in Washington, Parker did not act, as someone telling the Indians what was to be; rather he asked to hear what they had to say of themselves.

After a tour of Washington and all its extraordinary sites, Parker asked them to pose for the famous photographer, Matthew Brady. He recognized that the Indians were uncomfortable in the white man’s clothing they were wearing and suggested that they put on their native dress for both the photo session and dinner at the White House with President Grant.

Parker was in an extremely tough spot, between representing the desires of Red Cloud and his people and a bunch of politicians who firmly believe in Manifest Destiny—the notion that white people and their way of life were ordained by God to take all the Red Man’s land, and that the Indian was doomed to extinction. He knew that Red Cloud had been deceived. He knew that the Fort Laramie treaty that Red Cloud had signed had not been fully read or explained to Red Cloud.

Parker met with the President that night and came up with a partial solution for the Dakota. Although the treaty stated that the hunting grounds were outside the reservation, and the reservation was where they had to reside, Parker and Grant conceded that Red Cloud and his people could live and hunt on their beloved Powder River country. This gave the Dakota a much greater land area where they could continue their traditional lifestyle. Red Cloud had won again, but this time instead of Crazy Horse or another Dakota warrior at his side; it was an Iroquois warrior, Donehogawa.

While in New York, Red Cloud spoke to a large audience at the Cooper Institute and got a rousing ovation. For the first time he had an opportunity to talk to the people instead of government officials. Red Cloud said: “We want to keep peace. Will you help us? In 1868 men came out and brought papers. We could not read them, and they did not tell us truly what was in them. We thought the treaty was to remove the forts, and that we should cease from fighting. But they wanted to send us traders on the Missouri. We did not want to go to the Missouri, but wanted traders where we were. When I reached Washington the Great Father explained to me what the treaty was, and showed me that the interpreters had deceived me. All I want is right and just. I have tried to get from the Great Father what is right and just. I have not altogether succeeded.”

When Red Cloud returned home with a partial victory he found that things had not changed in the west. The same developers, ranchers, and land seekers were vigorously opposing the Dakota occupation on these rich and desirable lands that had been promised to him by well intentioned people such as Donehogawa.

Things for Parker took a turn for the worse after Red Cloud’s departure. Mining interests turned on him for his opposition to a mining venture known as the Bighorn Mining Expedition. In the Cheyenne (Wyoming) Daily Leader, March 3, 1870 the Big Horn Mining Association which was formed in Cheyenne was behind this “manifest destiny” verbiage: “The rich and beautiful valleys of Wyoming are destined for the occupancy and sustenance of the Anglo-Saxon race. The wealth that for untold ages has lain hidden beneath the snow-capped summits of our mountains has been placed there by Providence to reward the brave spirits whose lot it is to compose the advance guard of civilization. The Indians must stand aside or be overwhelmed by the ever advancing and ever increasing tide of immigration. The destiny of the aborigines is written in characters not to be mistaken. The same inscrutable Arbiter that decreed the downfall of Rome has pronounced the doom of extinction upon the red men of America.”

So, as today, with the projected pipelines of big oil and other corporate mining ventures, corporate America and their greed for profits from our treasured lands demonstrates that they are not done with taking what’s left to Indian land and culture.

Donehogawa’s enemies tried to embarrass him by delaying annuity and food payments to Indians. When the danger of starvation loomed, Donehogawa purchased the food supplies with credit in order to prevent starvation among the Dakota. But his political enemies among the so-called “Indian Ring,” those who had for decades used the Office of Indian Affairs as a cash cow to line their pockets, and the mining interests in the west, were becoming too much for Donehogawa. Plus, an unexpected and supposed ally joined in the attack.

William Welsh was the first President of the Board of Indian Commissioners, an Episcopalian close to Bishop Whipple, and a wealthy Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist. Welsh wrote in several Washington newspapers charging Donehogawa with “fraud and improvidence in the conduct of Indian affairs” and blamed President Grant for putting into office a man “who is but a remove from barbarism.” When Welsh found that Donehogawa was tolerant of traditional Indian religion, Welsh took a powerful dislike of the “heathen” Indian Commissioner. Welsh, like so many other well-meaning and so-called friends of the Indian, believed that the only way to save the Indian was to Christianize him and any toleration of their culture and religion was absolutely out of the question. Like Whipple, he believed the solution to the plight of the Indian was civilize him with farming, being Christianized, and allotment on reservations.

Welsh’s charges were seized upon by Donehogawa’s enemies and an investigation into the thirteen charges against him was conducted. He was exonerated on all, but the whole affair was agonizing to him, especially the charge by Welsh that he, as an Indian, was “but a remove from barbarism” and not fit to serve as Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

On July 18, 1871, Donehogawa tendered his resignation to his good friend, President Grant, stating that “the effect of Congressional legislation, had since I have had the honor to be Commissioner of Indian Affairs, has been to almost wholly divest the Indian Bureau of all its original importance, duties, and proper responsibilities. Under present arraignments the Commissioner of Indian Affairs is nearly a supernumerary officer of the government, his principle duties being simply that of a clerk to a Board of Indian Commissioners, operating wholly outside of and almost independently of the Indian Bureau…”

The seemingly too good to be true course for Indians, was just that. “The whites told only one side. Told it to please themselves. Told much that is not true. Only his own best deeds, only the worst deeds of the Indians, has the white man told,” said Yellow Wolf of the Nez Perce.

To read more about Parker, check out the sources the author used:

“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown

“To Appomattox” by Burke Davis

Letters from the Minnesota Historical Society Files of Rev. H. B. Whipple


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