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Federal Agents Offer Solutions for "Solving the Sioux Problem"

Native American warriors in the 19th century attacked the various people and institutions that threatened their way of life on the Great Plains. As these reports from various federal agents, including the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and General Custer, show, white leaders agreed with Native Americans on two points: the railroads would destroy Native American communities and Plains Indians could not survive independently without buffalo.

The progress of two years more, if not another summer, on the Northern Pacific Railroad will of itself completely solve the great Sioux problem, and leave ninety thousand Indians ranging between two transcontinental lines as incapable of resisting the Government as are the Indians of New York or Massachusetts.  Columns [of soldiers] moving north from the Union Pacific and south from the Northern Pacific, would crush the Sioux and their confederates as between the upper and nether millstone.

--Francis A. Walker, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1872

The experience of the past, particularly that of recent years, shows that no one measure so quickly and effectually frees a country from the horrors and devastations of Indian wars and Indian depredations generally as the building and successful operation of a railroad through the region overrun...  So earnest is my belief in [its] civilizing and peace giving influence...  [A] railroad established and kept in operation [in Indian Country] would have forever preserved peace with the vast majority of tribes infesting [the Great Plains].

--General George Custer, shortly before the Battle of Little Big Horn, 1876

The buffalo are disappearing rapidly, but not faster than I desire.  I regard the destruction of such facilitating the policy of the government, of destroying [the Indians'] hunting habits, coercing them on reservations, and compelling them to adopt the habits of civilization.  

--Columbus Delano, President Grant's Secretary of the Interior, 1874

Source | Quoted in American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, "The Iron Horse vs. the Buffalo: Indian-Settler Conflict on the Great Plains: 1869-90," (Teacher's Handbook).
Creator | Various
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Various, “Federal Agents Offer Solutions for "Solving the Sioux Problem",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 7, 2023,

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