Wednesday, September 27, 2023

the last book I ever read (President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear, excerpt three)

from President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear:

Options dwindling, and feeling “bound to do all in my power to save these noble Indians from the mistake they will make if they refuse,” Garfield deliberately circumvented the opposition of the third chief, Charlo. He concluded Charlo would eventually decide to relocate his followers as more whites continued reaching the Bitterroot, anyway, and so wrote a letter advising Secretary of the Interior Delano to have the government proceed as if “all is now in a fair way for satisfactory settlement [in the Bitterroot].”

Despite admiring his counterparts’ “aristocracy of personal prowess,” Garfield assumed by thus disregarding their will he was nudging the Salish toward their best possible destiny in America—one of industry, safe distance from whites, and even suffrage (which he predicted would be Indians’ “salvation”). In practice, however, he was making a crucial contribution to their genocide.

The Department of the Interior would act in accordance with Garfield’s guidance to ignore Charlo’s refusal—even forging the chief’s name on its articles of agreement with the Salish. The subsequent publication of this forgery, per one Montanan official, “created the impression that all trouble was over… and a large white emigration poured into the Bitterroot.” The remaining Salish suffered greatly in the following years; Chief Charlo would understandably refuse to ever trust federal promises again. (“For your Great Father Garfield put my name next to a paper I never signed.”) And yet, it did not matter; an army escort forcibly removed the Bitterroot’s last Salish in 1891.

By that point, Garfield was dead and American history had already cast him as a heroic martyr. The Salish, however, would rightly immortalize him as a great villain of theirs.

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