The Documents

Vincent Colyer’s Report (1872)

American policy towards Indian peoples in the latter half of the nineteenth century exhibited a peculiar mix of benevolence and hostility.  Following the end of the Civil War, many former abolitionists began to focus their attention on the nation’s Native Americans, leading to the creation in 1869 to the creation of a Board of Indian Commissioners.  Made up of a number of well-known humanitarians, the board was designed to circumvent the corruption that had earlier bedeviled Indian affairs by placing Indian policy in the hands of Christian ministers.  This approach came to be known as the “Peace Policy” after a remark that President Ulysses S. Grant supposedly made to a delegation from the Society of Friends not long after his election.  “If you can make Quakers out of the Indians it will take the fight out of them.  Let us have peace.” 

Despite its professed pacificism, the “Peace Policy” countenanced deep cultural intrusions into Native American life.  Its advocates favored a program of confining Indian peoples to reservations, where they were to be remade into Christian, capitalistic citizens of the United States.  Those Indians unwilling to move to reservations and submit to this new regimen found themselves liable to be attacked by the U.S. Army as "hostiles."

After the Camp Grant Massacre, the Board of Indian Commissioners persuaded President Grant to dispatch its secretary, Vincent Colyer, to investigate conditions among the Apache.  Despite facing deep hostility from many in the borderlands for his supposed tolerance of Apache raids (the Arizona Miner labeled him an “egregious ass”), Colyer traveled widely, interviewing numerous U.S. Army officers and Indians, and creating several reservations for the borderland’s Indian peoples.