As a nation, our Indian policy is to be blamed because of the weakness it displayed, because of its shortsightedness and its occasional leaning to the policy of the sentimental humanitarians; and we have often promised what was impossible to perform; but there has been little willful wrongdoing. Our government almost always tries to act fairly by the tribes; the governmental agents (some of whom have been dishonest and others foolish, but who as a class have been greatly traduced) in their reports are far more apt to be unjust to the whites than to the reds; and the federal authorities, though unable to prevent much of the injustice, still did check and control the white borderers very much more effectually than the Indian sachems and war chiefs controlled their young braves.
The tribes were warlike and bloodthirsty, jealous of each other and of the whites; they claimed the land for their hunting grounds, but their claims all conflicted with one another; their knowledge of their own boundaries was so indefinite that they were always willing, for inadequate compensation, to sell land to which they had merely the vaguest title; and yet, when once they had received the goods, were generally reluctant to make over even what they could; they coveted the goods and scalps of the whites, and the young warriors were always on the alert to commit outrages when they could do it with impunity.
On the other hand, the evil-disposed whites regarded the Indians as fair game for robbery and violence of any kind; and the far larger number of well-disposed men, who would not willingly wrong any Indian, were themselves maddened by the memories of hideous injuries received. They bitterly resented the action of the government which, in their eyes, failed to properly protect them, and yet sought to keep them out of waste, uncultivated lands which they did not regard as being any more the property of the Indians than of their own hunters. With the best intentions, it was wholly impossible for any government to evolve order out of such chaos without resort to the ultimate arbitrator--the sword.