"A School for Savages; or, Teaching the Young Idea not to Shoot"

January 16, 1869

Frank Bellew

"A School for Savages; or, Teaching the Young Idea not to Shoot"

American Indians; U.S. Military; Wars, American Indian Wars;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

American West;

Big Injun. "White man, hold on; we want to Big Talkee."

General Sheridan. "No, no. I'll Whip you first, then you can Big Talkee afterward."

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon by Frank Bellew criticizes the harsh treatment of Native Americans by General Philip Sheridan.

As Americans continued to settle the American West in the decades following the Civil War, the question of Indian policy remained controversial and hotly debated. Few white Americans argued for the Native Americans to retain their traditional customs and lands. Rather, on the one side were those who favored defeating the Indians militarily, even if it meant their extermination; on the other side were those who advocated peaceful relations through the transformation of the Native Americans into educated, Christian, land-owning farmers.

In 1866, Congress established a peace commission to end the hostility between whites and Native Americans, and to gather all Plains Indians onto reservations. In October 1868, the commission met at the same time that clashes between Cheyenne and white settlers erupted in Kansas. The hard-liners on the commission were therefore able to pass resolutions calling for the end to recognition of Indians as tribes (rendering treaty negotiations impossible) and urging the transfer of the Indian Bureau from the Interior Department to the War Department (which did not succeed). The peace commission would never meet again.

In response to the skirmishes in Kansas, General William Sherman ordered the new army commander in the region, General Philip Sheridan, to execute a military response. Sheridan’s winter campaign of 1868-1869 against the Cheyenne was reported extensively in newspapers across the country. The ruthless character of the army’s actions prompted opponents to coalesce into lobbying organizations. Many religious denominations, with missionary experience in the field, pleaded for a peaceful policy. Prominent Americans, such as Henry Ward Beecher and Peter Cooper, created the U.S. Indian Commission to push for “the protection and elevation of the Indians.”

Harper’s Weekly joined the rising chorus of opposition to the militaristic Indian policy of the federal government. This Harper’s Weekly cartoon, appearing in the final months of the administration of President Andrew Johnson, chastises Sheridan’s practice of attack first and talk later.

After his inauguration in March 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant transferred Sherman to Washington to assume command of the U.S. Army, and Sheridan assumed Sherman’s former command of the Great Plains region. Until his death in 1887, Sheridan relentlessly strove to conquer the Native Americans in the West. When a Comanche chief called himself a “good Indian,” the general replied that “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”

Robert C. Kennedy

"A School for Savages; or, Teaching the Young Idea not to Shoot"
July 14, 2024

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