Six Sioux Chiefs in the Jail Yard
Part Three: The Darlington Agency in Oklahoma
From the early days of recorded American history, white children have been taught about how the Quakers gently made peace with the Native Americans. Since converting the Indians to Christianity was the cornerstone of President Ulysses S Grant’s “Peace Policy,” the appointment of Quakers to leadership roles on the reservations was a logical decision. Unfortunately, the two situations had little in common.
In 1869, the government had established the Darlington Agency near Fort Reno, Oklahoma in Indian Territory. Brinton Darlington, a well respected Quaker living in Ohio served as its first agent. The Darlington agency was located northwest of present day Oklahoma City. Darlington had been tasked with gently coercing the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in Oklahoma towards Christianity, farming, and ranching; in President Grant’s opinion: Civilization. After three years with the Indians in Oklahoma, Darlington died. During Darlington’s time in Oklahoma with the Indians, he made great strides with he people, and he was well liked by most of them. He was well respected, and after his death, he was outwardly mourned by his charges at his funeral. His replacement was another prominent Quaker, John D Miles.
John D. Miles had served as the agent for a much smaller agency, and he was known for having a fair, but strong hand. He was energetic and practical. With John H. Seger running the schools, the girls on the reservation were learning household and domestic arts and the boys were learning all about farming, building, and repair. With Seger’s guidance, the students invested the money they earned from selling the produce they grew into cattle, and ultimately had a rather large herd. The Southern Cheyenne began to see the successes the Arapaho children were having, and they started to follow suit. After initially clashing over the manner in which rations were distributed (Miles wanted to distribute to the heads of family, the chiefs wanted rations distributed to them for distribution to their people), they had come to a relatively happy medium. Miles requested additional rations for the reservation, but the government kept stalling and denying—bureaucracy and red tape continuously blocking agency finding. With the status quo, the Southern Cheyenne and the Arapaho on the reservation learned to make do with the situation at hand.
When troubles did arise, Miles reported that without the ability to enforce the laws, the laws couldn’t be upheld. He believed that there needed to be strict and equal law enforcement for whites and Indians. If white men weren’t punished for infractions, then the Indians saw no reason they should either. After the Army sent in troops to help and punishments were doled out to white horse and cattle thieves, order became commonplace. Miles was also adamant about keeping whiskey salesmen and bootleggers off the reservation. Their presence was unwelcome and only caused problems. Intoxicants were strictly forbidden on his reservation.
In 1877 Agent Miles was informed that he would be receiving nearly a thousand new charges at Darlington. The Northern Cheyenne were being forcibly sent south, and he needed to be prepared. He immediately requested additional supplies, rations, and staff, but none were granted. Miles knew that the current numbers couldn’t adequately feed that many additional people— they were hardly adequate to feed those who were already there. Miles knew there was trouble on the horizon.
The Northern Cheyenne Arrive at Darlington
The party of approximately 1,000 Northern Cheyenne arrived nearly three weeks early. After a 70-day trek, they were tired, hungry, and irritable. The new residents were checked in and rations distributed.
In the first days, things weren’t too bad. There were family reunions, renewed friendships, and new introductions. But, the novelty of the new situation wore off quickly, and things declined rapidly. The Northern and Southern Cheyenne had separated decades earlier, and the people had evolved into two very different tribes. They didn’t have much in common anymore. The Northern Cheyenne felt belittled by the Southern Cheyenne. The Southern Cheyenne felt threatened by the Northern Cheyenne. And the Northern Cheyenne didn’t particularly like Agent Miles or the way he did things. They blamed him for the decisions that were being made in Washington DC that were making their new lives so miserable.
It was an impossible situation. Vast cultural differences, language barriers, disease, inadequate and undependable food rations, lack of medicine and medical care, depleted hunting grounds, and unrealistic expectations made assimilation impossible. The game was lost before it even began. The Northern Cheyenne felt helpless.
As hostilities boiled over, the Northern Cheyenne moved to a spot twelve miles north of the agency to a spot on the Canadian River. Unfamiliar warm-weather insects were overwhelming. The heat and humidity were stifling. The change in climate was a shock to their systems and they began to get sick. Fever, ague, chills, rashes, ticks, mosquito-born illness like malaria— they had no natural antibodies built up to any of it. They were miserable in every way it’s possible for a human being to be miserable. And they were so homesick.
After three months in Oklahoma, Dull Knife’s malnourished people began coming down measles and malaria. The people were literally starving to death. The single agency doctor wouldn’t see all of the sick because no medicine was sent and he was unable to treat them. Adequate food supplies never arrived on time, and when they did show up, there was never enough to feed everyone. The Northern Cheyenne were meat-eaters, and they were being given rations consisting of corn and flour, and less than half of the meat they had been accustomed to. When they were allowed to hunt, rustlers stole their horses— which made the hunting trips even worse since the wild game had been wiped out anyway. The circumstances were never going to get better, and everyone knew it.
But the whole situation was worse than they initially thought. The one thing that kept them going was that they believed that after a year, they could go home if they were still unhappy. So, when their year was up, they asked for permission to go home. Miles could see the Northern Cheyenne were suffering, but his hands were tied by Washington bureaucrats. Permission was denied. They had to stay in Oklahoma indefinitely. He felt for the people, but there was nothing he could do. Dull Knife and Little Wolf tried to negotiate, but Agent Miles didn’t have the power to give them permission to leave.
Heartsick, homesick, and starving, Dull Knife and Little Wolf made their decision. They were done trying to make the best of a bad situation. They were going to take charge and leave—permission or not, they were done. They began to lead their people Northward.
© Julie Dirkes Phelps; Photographer, Author, Researcher, Archivist, and Storyteller. © Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, reposting, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission. Be cool, don’t plagiarize. If you want to use something, just ask me. I try to make sure to attribute all images to the appropriate sources, but sometimes I inadvertently post an image from an incorrect source (or the image is incorrectly cited from my source), get images mixed up, or accidentally leave something out. Please email me at email@example.com with any corrections or concerns. Thanks.
Image Credits: Agent Brinton Darlington, Find a Grave; The Darlington Agency, c. 1878, the National Archives; Agent John D Miles; The Mission School, c. 1878; Distribution of rations at the Darlington Agency c.1871; Cheyenne Camp near the Canadian River, c.1877 Photo: Pinterest; Cheyenne Village, Pinterest; El Reno today, US weather service. (Pinterest images I couldn’t track down the original source)