From 1857-1860 Alexander Hamilton Redfield, my great great grandfather served as the Indian agent for the Sioux nation at a time of great change.
On July 4, 1858, Redfield celebrated the 82nd anniversary of the Nation’s independence at Fort Union. In the assembled group were some of the most famous members of the fur trade, and they listened to Redfield speak about the “bravery, greatness, wealth, and inluence of the Americans upon the entire world and about the importance of the American government by the people.”
On July 6, two mackinaw boats were loaded with fur company goods and government annuties for the Indians. They left Ft Union and on the 7th began the trip up the mouth of the Yellowstone River. One of the boats was commanded by Redfield and included Carl Wimar, the artist. Redfield noted that the trip was more difficult this time of year as the “large and rapid stream was at this time unusually full.”
On July 26, almost two weeks after they began, the boats halted somewhere below the mouth of the powder river. Thunderstorms and cold weather had plagued the trip from the start. Redfield was not well and his boat turned around and began the trip back to Ft. Union. Redfield increasing reported to his superiors that he was frustrated by the unchecked power of the fur companies.
In July 1858, hewrote:
“The rivalry between the fur companies is very sharp and bitter and has I know a very unfavorable effect upon the Indians. The influence and example and conduct of the employees of these companies is almost most pernicious – Liquor is being introduced into the country secretly I think by other parties. To detect or arrest these abusers the Agent has little opportunity or power and I wish the trade was stopped entirely and every man expelled from the country except the Indian agents. ”
On the first day of September, Redfield dispatched a letter asking for a leave of absence as he was sick. He wrote:
Upper Missouri Agency, Fort Union
September 1, 1858: My observation and inquiry during the two years in which I have been among the Indians of this Agency fully convince me:
1. That the Indian trade in buffalo robes annually decreases, and that it is not over one-half what it was ten or fifteen years ago, and consequently, that the buffalo in the whole country are decreasing at an alarming rate.
2. That the Indians, by war, insufficient food, and contagious and other diseases, are also fast decreasing. Their diseases are chiefly inflammation, rheumatism, consumption, small pox, and I regret to add, venereal diseases are now said to be quite frequent among them.
3. That they now, generally, almost entirely disregard their treaty obligations, are involved in continual predatory wars upon each other and that, indeed, they frequently steal from and rob, and not infrequently kill, white people also. . . .
4. That whiskey is being secretly and more introduced into the country.
To be continued in With the Sioux 5