Ray Stannard Baker
Century Magazine/September, 1903
In earlier days, when the flood of immigration was beginning to come in tortuous streams across the West, thin and wayward yet persistent, the land-covetous Anglo-Saxon was pleased to set apart for the previous owners of the property certain places where they might dwell in peace as long as the winds blow and the waters run. Out of the desert he chose certain valleys and mountains, set them off four-square, placed armed men to guard the untracked boundaries, and there in broad reservations lived the Indian.
“They take our hunting-lands,” said the Bannock; “ they give us shirts.”
Shirts they gave and beeves, and they set the half-wild children to reading in books. The Indians roamed on their millions of acres, and ate, and were for the most part content. But it is the fate of the Anglo-Saxon that he go forever forward without resting; he stands for civilization, improved lands, roads, and cities, and he rose like a flood over all the West until the reservations were barren islands in the sea of his progress. The Anglo-Saxon looked across these untilled spots and fretted because they were there. How much better the wide Indian plains would look parceled off in green fields of alfalfa and wheat! And the mountains—who could say what treasures of gold and silver and copper might lie hidden there?
Then happened the inevitable! The fit may no more resist the law than the unfit escape it. Years ago the Anglo-Saxon began to break over the boundaries which he himself had set, and to take up the Indian lands, meting his own justice to the weak. He gave money, which the Indian was a hundredfold better off without; clothes, which brought new sources of swift death; and food, which the Indian ate, and was hungry again. With at least a complexion of honesty, he gave all he could give; the Indian was a willing party to a losing bargain, and the Anglo-Saxon, as always and forever, got more land.
So the opening of the Indian reservation, the sign of the consuming civilization of the white man, has been one of the dramatic and familiar episodes of western development. Hardly a year passes without some rush to Indian lands; one after another, reservations or parts of reservations have been opened to settlement, are being opened today. The whole Territory of Oklahoma, soon to be a State, was thus taken from the Indians.
A particular vineyard of Naboth lay in the southeastern corner of Idaho, and it was a desert. Thirty-five years ago, by solemn treaty between the warring tribes of the Shoshones and Bannocks and the Great White Father of the East, it was set aside as a dwelling-place for the Indians and their children forever. It was nearly square, forty miles each way, except for one corner, across which ran the Snake River. It was given the name Fort Hall Indian Reservation. From time immemorial the Bannocks and their neighbors the Shoshones, both proud nations, even today among the finest types of Indians, had roamed all the great country along the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, hunting the elk and the buffalo. The white man came, and in a day the buffalo were slain and the elk driven to high pastures. The white man said: “This is my land ; I will give you a piece of it”; and from a hunting-ground eight hundred miles long he set aside a reservation forty miles square. Here the proud Bannocks agreed to stay, and when, by mistake or intention, they crossed the invisible boundaries—the white man’s “paper lines,”—soldiers drove them back again. It was a barren forty miles: gray sand, gray sage, gray hills, and endless sunshine and dust; so that the white man never dreamed that any but Indians would ever live within the region. It was then a far outpost, farther away from the East in days’ travel than Europe. From the streams that flowed through the reservation the Indians irrigated a few ineffectual acres, raised cattle and cayuses, hunted the hills and fished the rivers, dwelling in skin tepees and log huts; and so for years dwelt in comparative content.
But the white man was tramping westward, inevitable, implacable. He drove a railroad across the reservation on his way to the Pacific Ocean. He might have gone around, but time would have been lost; and what were a few Indians anyway? “Nothing shall hinder my progress,” he said. Having a railroad, he needed a town, and needing it, he got room for it—one of the best spots, naturally, in the entire reservation. The camel now had its head within the tent. So Pocatello sprang up and grew, and presently it was made a junction-point, and a railroad was built through the reservation in another direction. Settlers crowded in everywhere, even across the “paper lines,” squatting on reservation lands; and the soldiers who had kept the Indians within boundary so effectually failed to keep the white man out. Also, wandering prospectors, who had no business on Indian lands, pecked holes in the hills, inflaming their desires with evident signs of copper and gold. The Bannock says: “White man take gold, leave meat.” The whisper grew to a shout: “Gold in the hills! Gold! Gold!”
What can the Indian do with mines? What indeed ? He doesn’t want copper and gold. He won’t work. Therefore we should have the land. And if by any chance it should prove that there is no mineral wealth, we can farm the river-bottoms better than the Indians, make more money out of them, support more people. Give us the land! It was ever the logic of the Anglo-Saxon, and, as ever, its conclusions were the prompt precursors of action. Pleas went up to Washington. The political representatives of the people asserted that the wheels of progress must not be clogged. The Indians had been given their day to improve the land: they had not done it; therefore they should be cast out. Give us the land. The Great Father is a busy father, consumed with many and vital interests; and finally, for their much speaking, he looked out across the smiling western reaches of his land, watered with sweet waters, green with fields, populated with happy people, to this small gray spot in the wilderness. He owned millions of acres of free land in a dozen nearby states, but it seemed that his people most wanted these bare hills and sandy bottoms which he had bestowed upon the Indians and their children forever. And he knew, too—none better than he—that until he gave it there would be no rest from the cries of the covetous.
All this time the Indians had gone on impassively, providing for the day in hand and taking no thought for the morrow. To them came, finally, certain commissioners from the East.
“The white man wants your land,” they said.
“We ourselves will keep it,” replied the Indians.
“The white man will pay you much money for your land, or give you other land in exchange,” they said. “We will keep our own land,” responded the Indians. “It is our home: we will keep our home.”
But the white man never gives over a purpose. Persistently he argued and urged. I shall not here set down his manifold reasons; they were as sufficient and as conclusive as ever a strong race used with a weak, and, as ever, they prevailed. Indian Joe, with the instinct that eats today and leaves the starving for tomorrow, finally agreed to take money in hand and sell the south three quarters of his land, crowding his people into a little strip at the north a few miles wide. It was like a grown grocer driving a bargain with a boy. The Great Father had insisted that everything be done with legal decorum. Justice must be meted out with mercy and generosity, and, above all, everything must be legal. The commissioners drew up the papers beginning with “Whereases” and ending with red wax, very formidable and important, and the Indians, seeing dimly as through a fog, gathered their people together. And up came Jim Ballard (his mark) and Pocatello Tom (his mark) and Kunecke Johnson (his mark), and each awkwardly with pen in hand made the white man’s cabalistic and strangely significant cross. They “and two hundred and forty-seven others,” a majority of the tribal warriors (the wisest sitting silent in their tents), signed away the larger part of their empire, all in due form, before solemn witnesses, with seals and certifications, on the fifth day of February in the year of our Lord 1898.
Good bargain, indeed! The land at last was ours, and the money a bagatelle from the public treasury: a total of $600,000 in all, with a provision for expending $75,000 for a school-house, which no Indian wanted. The remainder, it was agreed, should be paid, share and share alike, to each man, woman, and child belonging on the reservation—$100,000 down in cash, and the remainder in installments thereafter for nine years. And so riches have come to the Shoshones and Bannocks. For nine years will they not work ; for nine years the white storekeepers will grow rich; for nine years there will be gambling and the canned food of the white man. And after that?
The American is also by instinct a business man; he has grown great and powerful as a result of his business acumen. The fear of him is upon the whole world. With difficulty, we have seen, was he brought to this Indian bargain. But the sale being completed, the deeds signed and delivered, the land his own, he bethought himself that here was a chance to turn a penny. With his own helpless ward had he driven a sharp bargain, but he seemed to feel that he was right in making his profits, if he could. He had paid something less than $1.45 an acre for the land—418,000 acres in all. To the white men who had been clamoring to get it he now offered it for sale at $10 or more an acre (as bid) for all land within five miles of the city of Pocatello (over 60,000 acres in all); at $2.50 an acre for nearly 100,000 acres of agricultural land which could be irrigated; and at $1.25 an acre for the remainder, the shaggy mountain-sides and sandy plateaus, which are available only for grazing purposes.
To sum up, he pays $600,000 for the land, though the Indians receive only $525,000, the remainder going for the unwanted school-house.
He receives for the $10 land $600,000 (or more, as bid), for the $2.50 land $250,000, for the $1.25 land (some 258,000 acres) $322,000—rough estimates all. His total receipts will be, therefore, $1,172,000; he pays out $600,000: his gross profits are $572,000.
Good business, surely! Nearly one hundred per cent, gross profit. Charge out expenses of management, make them fat and full, as becomes a guardian in chancery, and then the profit is far more flattering than even a trust could expect. No; the lands are not all sold yet—will not be sold for years, perhaps; but sooner or later they will all go at the prices named or higher, and the white man can wait with comfort: he pays no taxes. So everyone is satisfied; the white settler and miner gets his coveted lands—cheap, too; you and I get our profits; the Indian merrily spends his $50,000 a year; and all the country-side smiles with prosperity and satisfaction.
So now we come to the day of the opening: the great day, long looked forward to, much desired. The treaty was made away back in February, 1898, and it is now the morning of June 18, 1902. Four years have been devoted to the slow processes of legislation, the red tape of affairs and formalities. But now the notices have all been given, and the appetite of the miner and farmer has been whetted to the keen edge of eagerness. A great gambling is at hand, a chance to pay in a little and take out much, a fortune for a song. Copper and gold seen bursting from the hazy Bannock hills and the far Port Neufs, it is sinful that water should not already have inspired the sage waste of the valley to alfalfa. But we shall remedy all this: we shall rush in and take up the land, tear open the old hills, build houses and barns, dig ditches; in short, we shall civilize an Indian waste.
It is hot in Pocatello; the sun rides in a brazen sky, the air palpitates with fine dust, blowing in from the desert by way of the new roundhouses and out to the desert again by the brewery. But Pocatello minds neither dust nor heat, for is not this the dawn of her greatest day?
All week the trains have been dropping their passengers in the shade of the red railroad hotel; all week desert-schooners, each with its wake of white dust, have been plying hitherward, to find anchor in the sand of some vacant lot. Overnight tents have sprung up along the Port Neuf River.
From Butte and Boise and Salt Lake, and even as far as Cheyenne, have they come: prospectors looking for mines, cattle-men for cattle chances, lawyers expecting to make their wits do the work of legs, aimless young men scenting from afar the savor of excitement and adventure— all come to attend the great gambling. Here they are this morning, swarming the white-hot streets of Pocatello, handling unfamiliar documents, holding whispered conferences, conjecturing, planning, preparing. They come dashing in on their horses with gusty importance, dismount, remount, and go dashing gustily away again. Here are men who have just come in from Thunder Mountain—“Thunder” they call it in Idaho—cheerful in spite of their failure to strike gold, and ready for the next turn of the wheel. Here are veterans of the runs in Oklahoma, wisely giving their advice. Here are old prospectors, who have seen excitement before in their day, sure now that their hands are within reach of certain wealth. One of them lays his finger on his nose—good old custom forgotten by a degenerate age—and tells you that his treasure lies “where the old sage-hen scratches.” Another, old and bent, whose pick has resounded in every new find from Alaska to Arizona, expects now to “take the world by the tail.” Smoke rises from the Pocatello assay office, and the young men within are red and sweaty with work. No one has been allowed within the boundary of the reservation, and yet somehow specimens of ore have detached themselves from the hills, have come here to these young men, and are now being assayed. You see the anxious prospector awaiting the decision of retort and crucible. No one has been allowed on the reservation; but these Mormons, bearded, hardhanded, shrewd, are discussing with surprising familiarity the various lands along Marsh Creek and the forks of the Port Neuf.
A whisper goes about that there is to be shooting, and, directly, that there has been shooting. A deputation climbs the stairs beside the First National Bank to see the mayor. Presently they come clumping down again, disappointed. There has been no shooting, but there may be. You believe it readily, for you see that more than one coat-tail covers the crook of a revolver. A one-legged horseman, McLaughlin, cow-boy, is cavorting in the street, crutch under arm, furnishing an instant’s diversion. He can ride as well with one leg, he asserts, as most men with two; but the town is too much preoccupied to disagree with him.
And the red man, where is he during all this excitement of preparation, this vendue of his property? Forgotten, as usual; there, but not there—of no consideration, not even a subject of pity. He, too, rides in the street, impassive, slow, dignified, uncomprehending, incomprehensible. He wears some of the trappings of the cow-boy, he rides a good horse, but when he thinks he still thinks Indian. And his squaws are there too, blanketed, legginged, papoose on back, walking in the middle of the street. Indian, what do you say to this excitement of scrambling white men? Does it please your dignity? Does it matter that they crowd into your longowned land, that they toss you scraps of their civilization while they dig in your hills?
“You can’t get nothin’ out of an Injun,” volunteers the one-legged cow-boy.
But here they go: the streets are thinning out; the stores are closing up; the ubiquitous saloon has not, fortunately, been open. The rules of the game are well understood, plans are laid. It is all simple enough, as simple as the turn of a card; but the game is greater. You are not to go on the reservation until twelve o’clock noon. Anywhere on the outer boundaries or anywhere on the boundaries of the town of Pocatello you may take your stand, and exactly at noon you may run for the land you covet, post up your notice of possession, and then run back again, by horse or bicycle or railroad-train, to the United States land office at Blackfoot, twenty-four miles north of Pocatello, or, if you are on the south line of the reservation, forty or fifty miles away. If you are first to file your claim for a certain quarter section, you have won the chance of paying for it at government prices. If it is a choice piece of land, you know that many others will run for it, and the swiftest runner will win—would win if the game were fair; but be assured, man on the bareback horse, that there will be “sooners,” who have gone out in the dark and are now away and running while you wait at the line with honest patience for the stroke of noon. Even now there are sooners in the sage-brush stealing their chance, cards up their sleeves. Are there not guards to drive them in? Are they not forbidden on the reservation? Thirty-five Indian police to protect 418,000 acres of land—650 square miles! Thirty-five mounted Indians to patrol and guard from determined white men one hundred miles of reservation boundary! Yet the United States government is conducting this game, seeing that it is honestly played! And here is a sooner for every sageclump. No wonder they talk of shooting; no wonder the lawyers have flocked to Blackfoot.
Yet who shall change the Western spirit? Who shall prevent the Westerner playing his game, though he knows the dice are loaded? Perhaps some chance may turn the winning figures up; and the chance is not to be neglected. So here we are on the line, a blazing sun overhead, blistering sand underfoot. Here we are, all of us, honest runners waiting for the sound of the twelve-o’clock whistle.
We have come down through the dust from Pocatello, past the lumber-yard, past the brewery, the top of which is already swarming with spectators, even beyond the cemetery; and we have brought with us everyone in town and all the vehicles. They climb the Red Butte on our left, killing rattlesnakes as they go, and up the distant Brown Butte on our right. Here we are, cheerful, much excited, with the gray desert before us waiting the rush of our feet and the tramp of our horses. Some of us have taken off our shoes and sit our horses bareback, that we may go light; others are in buggies, others on bicycles. We talk about it or are silent, in accord with our mood. We whisper with our friends and take advice good-humoredly. A thin man runs out, camera on shoulder, and with misshapen, black-covered head points our way. We rail and shout at him, to relieve our nervousness, so that he comes running in again, fearful that we are serious. We even talk at the Indians who come here, too, and sit silent with imperturbable dignity, watching all this unaccustomed turmoil. For the twentieth time we examine our watches; we look up at the sun; we wonder if, after all, we can hear the roundhouse whistle when it blows. We adjust our belts; we pull out nervously our “Notice of Discovery,” our “Notice of Entry,” our “Homestead Notice,” finger them, and put them back again, sure that they are safe.
And so at last, at the end of interminable seconds, out blares the roundhouse whistle. They are off, neck and heel, driving home their spurs, doubled over their saddles, leaping sage-brush, all together, all confusion —riders, buggies, bicycles. At first, as we saw it from the end, the line held straight, with monstrous clouds of dust rising behind—a great cavalry charge. Then here and there riders sprang forward from the moving line, the distinction of the strong and the swift. But we are thrilled in vain. Up rises the dust, filling all the valley from Red Butte to Brown until nothing is left but a glimpse here and there of the moving gray phantom of a straggler. Behind, hopelessly and yet with boundless hope, trail two reeling white-topped wagons, their drivers leaning out in front, lashing their horses into dusty obscurity. And the last of the honest runners has gone.
Such was the outward rush to the land; soon they would be coming back for the sterner race to the distant land office, and we should hear the tensely expected news of brawls with sooners, and of the wild race through the dust where no man saw his nearest neighbor.
Here enters the railroad to complicate the situation, for the line runs through the reservation from the southern boundary at McCammon, whence many of the runners have started, by way of Pocatello to Blackfoot, where the land office is located. To some wily land-seeker has occurred the idea of employing steam against horseflesh. Why not hire a locomotive and have it ready to take him through the moment he has posted his notices? No one, surely, would have the slightest chance against steam and steel! But when he proposes it to the company, he learns that there are already applications from other wily ones for all the locomotives on the division. So the company has decided to put on a special train and take every one who wishes to come, leave McCammon at half-past one o’clock, giving an hour and a half there for the runners to return from their land, stop two minutes at Pocatello, and rush on to Blackfoot before three o’clock.
Here was a new problem, much mooted, of vital importance. The train is an invincible leveler; it gives no opportunity for wit or grit. Weak and strong it carries together, and everything depends on being first off the cars at Blackfoot, through window or door, and the short foot-race across the street to the land office.
Such is not business for the Westerner. His better place is on the back of a horse. He has no confidence in his ability to jump out of car-windows; and as for running afoot, it is contrary to every instinct of the plains. So said Hillman of McCammon, Cottrell, Marler, Joe Neeser, riders all, besides many another runner who claimed land nearer Blackfoot. Here it is, they said, plain as print, fifty miles more or less, according to the location of the land, from the McCammon country to Blackfoot. The train will not arrive at the land office until three o’clock. We can ride it—fifty miles after twelve o’clock noon, say eighteen or twenty miles an hour— and beat the train. Truly a proposition of the West, where they know horse-flesh!
“Who would not try it?” argues Hillman. “For here is the old Smith ranch, worth at the start three thousand dollars. Who would not ride fifty miles in a hurry for three thousand dollars?”
Who would not, indeed? But be sure, Hillman of McCammon, whose fame as a rider may yet go down in the annals of Idaho, that there are other riders who have their eye on the fertile meadows of the Belle Marsh, and, though they say nothing, are yet looking to cinch and snaffle and spur. And there are those, also, who place their confidence in steam, respectable ones whose legs have never crossed a saddle, who will post up their notices, and quietly take the train. Look out for them, Hillman of McCammon. It is steel and steam against a reeking horse and an open road—dust too, and heat, and the long dry miles.
News has come of the doings of these riders of McCammon, and of the others from Pocatello, nearer by miles to the land office, and more certain of beating the train. It is known that the man who gets in ahead of the railroad runners has the world his own way except for the sooners. And so there is excitement in the public road. We understand now why these men wait with ready-saddled horses in ones and twos and threes along the fifty miles of winding road between McCammon and Blackfoot. Hillman has no fewer than fifteen relays, averaging some three miles apart, and a friend at the bridle of each. He plans to ride three miles under bloody spur, then off the first horse and on to the second, and so to the end; and the train roaring behind. Neeser has seven relays; Cottrell, so he says, has seventeen; and no one knows how many more there are on the road; but horse-flesh, in a week, has gone to unheard-of prices. Cayuse or racer, they are all on the desert road.
Hillman is ready; confident of victory, he has tied ribbons of red and green around his hat and at his knees and elbows, that all the world may know him running, may certify that Hillman of McCammon was actually on the land before he started, and that he rode honestly and painfully to Blackfoot. Hillman is of racing size, lean, light, wiry. Born a Westerner in Utah, he has lived for twenty-one years in Idaho.
While we wait in impatience the coming of the train at Pocatello, the riders of McCammon are already on their way. Pocatello has filled again with crowds; they swarm about the depot, those who are not going watching those who are. Gusts of excitement stir us. Here comes galloping one of the runners, his horse lathered, himself as white as a miller with dust, leaps from his mount and inquires if the train has come. Shore he went on the land and stuck up his notices; shore he’s going to get it. No; no shooting that he has seen.
Here is another rider, and another, and here, by their stars, are Indian police, and three sooners afoot, prominent citizens, too, who have lain out on the hills all night to get an early start in the morning. Two policemen have stumbled upon them, have brought them in, ignominiously, under arrest. They did not shoot, and were not shot at. Somehow, try as we will, we cannot hear of bloodshed, except one man who was thrown in the rush and broke his leg, an accident of no account. We have had our minds made up for shooting, nothing less. Here comes, plodding, a prospector, a ruddy-faced young chap with pick and powder-can, blankets and bacon. He is on his way out to the hills. We shout at him that the reservation’s open, the rush started two hours ago, that he better wake up or someone will jump his claim; but he, not a whit abashed, talks back. He’s going out to find a mine; he don’t want none of yer claims. When he finds a real mine, he’ll buy it; none o’ yer rock patches fer him at ten dollars an acre. Success to you, hearty prospector: if you can keep cool in this crowd, you should certainly be able to find a mine.
And so at last, comes the train, heads out of fifty windows. We make a rush, helter-skelter, for there may not be room for stragglers. Those who are already aboard seek to hold places on the platform, where they can jump off most easily when the train reaches Blackfoot. We go at them joyfully with our shoulders, glad at last for an outlet to our pent-up energy; we swarm inside, and then swarm out again, trying for places on the platform. Outside the crowd is still running and shouting. Some have climbed on top of the cars, and some have stretched out on the brake-beams underneath, a perilous, suffocating place. The trainmen come and drive them off, but they are back again immediately. Let them be! They are risking their own necks!
And so we are off, with much tooting and shouting, much bustle and confusion.
As we roll out into the open country we see along the public roads the spent relay horses of the men from McCammon who have chosen to risk horse-flesh against steam. All the riders have gone on ahead; their friends wave their hats as we rush past. And so we go, twenty, thirty, forty miles an hour. The engineer is on his mettle. Look out, Hillman and Marler; we are on your heels. Ride now, Jim Cottrell, as you never rode before, for the glory of McCammon. We pass Ross Fork, and the gray old buildings of the Indian agency, and the Indian store with squaws in front, looking on impassively—always impassive, while the white man goes rushing onward with his strange civilization and his unquenchable passion for land.
Now we crowd to the car-side, leaning out, dust in our eyes, to watch for the relay-riders. We are beginning to overtake them. One rides, bent over, without looking around. His friend with the relay rushes out to the road, holds stirrup and bridle. We see him leap from his panting horse before it has fairly stopped running, and with a spring he is on his fresh mount and away. Useless spurring, for we have already given him our dust. Our whistle shrieks back at him derisively, but he still rides grimly onward. Five minutes later we pass another rider, then another and another. The engineer is trying his speed: we are going fifty miles an hour. Where now is Hillman of McCammon? In the distance we can see already the green masses of Cottonwood which mark the site of Blackfoot. Our passengers are girding themselves for the final race, windows are opened, there are impassable crowds at the doorways. For we must jump even before the train stops.
Far ahead in the road a lone horseman, spurring his horse! A moment, and we see the ribbons fluttering behind as he rides—the ribbons that were to mark a triumph. Hillman is spurring grimly to win. The town is in view; he is riding his last horse. We overhaul him as though he were walking; we pass him. But still he comes on. He hopes to cross the track behind us, and beat the crowd to the line.
A vision of a broad sandy street thronged with people; a row of fine tall cottonwood trees with buildings behind, and a dense crowd thronging in front of one of them. We have stopped.
Who shall describe the unloading, the humorous haste and yet the grim seriousness of it? Men flying through the air, coat-tails spread, from car-top and window, rolling dustily from brake-beam and bumper, struggling from the vestibules, plunging down the steps, scattering across the sandy street, all noise and confusion. Some land on their heads on the platform, and go first to the doctor; but most of the throng add themselves swiftly to the line which now reaches, close-packed, sinuous, from the doorway of the land office down the street.
Every man is in place when Hillman rides in on his spent horse, his ribbons still fluttering jauntily, his face gaunt and sweat-streaked, his clothing white with dust. We shout for Hillman—we can’t help it. We wish he had won, but we give him a place at the end of the line, the reward of the gallant but beaten. Also we present him with a lemon to suck and a beer-bottle to sit on.
As soon as Hillman gets his breath he will tell you about it, the epic of his run, every horse a canto. Fifty-six miles he made in two hours and forty-nine minutes; and such stretches of sand, such heat and dust, such thirst! Once he lost the road and went jumping sage-brush to find it again; once a stirrup broke; once a pinto pony, hard ridden in sand, gave out and dropped with a gasp, so that the rider ran three hundred yards to his next mount. And all for nothing!
Within the land office everything is cool and orderly: a large room of white-plastered barrenness, a deal desk in front, a row of sober law-books, maps on the wall, a long, high stovepipe, a safe in the corner; clerks good-humored and busy; gigantic deputy in a helmet holding back the crowd at the door. Walk up, men of Idaho, and exercise your prerogatives as citizens! The land you have clamored for is now open to settlement. You may pay in your money and get a farm for a song. It is true that the sooners, by hook or crook, by wit rather than heels, have filed on every choice parcel of property: but walk up, honest farmers; file your protests and fight it out in the courts.
Here, too, are the victims of mistaken leniency come to the rush, the white “squatters” who settled on lands within the reservation years ago and were not driven out by the soldiers. They have come to offer battle for their homes and their improvements. There are anxious women among them, one a grandmother of eighty-three years, all in black, standing there sweltering in the line among the men, anxious, already beaten, for nimble young men have long ago claimed all her property. Here is Meyers Cohen, come with his face done up. He landed head first from the train. For twenty-six years has he been a squatter on Indian lands. He has fifty-three miles of fences and ditches. The land is now worth ten dollars an acre, he tells you, and it is gone, already claimed and reclaimed, while he went for the doctor. He will fight in the courts. They will all fight. The lawyers and the courts will yet see busy times over this rush. You will pay at last, men of Idaho, much more dearly than you think for these coveted Indian lands.
In all this day, however, you hear of no personal violence, none of the shooting you expected, no brawling, hardly a harsh word. Can this be the West? “This ain’t like the old rushes,” regrets a veteran. “It shore ain’t.”
And so, with much discussion, much heartburn and disappointment, much running back and forth to the attorneys’ offices, which, appropriately, flank the land office on each side, much protesting wherein there are trifling gleams of triumph, the line works its patient way through the land office. That day and all of the next it took before the last runner had filed his claim. A month later the mining-lands were sold at auction, and the disappointed runners, Western-like, had already forgotten the past, and were even now looking cheerfully for a new chance to rush, another opportunity to get a good deal for a little. To-day the land is firmly under the white man’s busy hand, in the full tide of development. The Indian, withdrawn to his smaller domain, goes his way exactly as before, looking on imperturbably, eating, sleeping, idling, with no more thought of the future than a white man’s child.
(Source: UNZ.org, http://unz.org/Pub/Century-1903sep-00643)
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