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  • Distinctions That Must Be PreservedOn the Civil War, American Indians, and the West
  • Khal Schneider (bio)

A brief tour in 1858 was enough to convince Interior Department clerk Godard Bailey that California’s new reservations had failed to live up to the promise of their inspiration. In the preceding six years, after California’s congressional delegation blocked the government’s eighteen treaties with California Indians, the federal government had improvised a reservation system based on a model with more local support: “the stately missions” where Indians were “taught under a system of discipline at once mild, firm, and paternal.”1 Bailey accepted the missions as an example of “patriarchal rule” but found that the reservations disappointed in that regard. The mission fathers improved “their own property” as they “improved the Indians”; they “grew rich” while the Indians “labored cheerfully.” The reservations, by contrast, were simply “government alms-houses.” He came to the point: at the missions, “Indians were very nearly in the condition of the slaves upon a plantation in one of the cotton-growing states.” Bailey meant it as praise. And when he wrote that it was “not in the nature of things that one should work for another as he would for himself,” he was not thinking of Indian (or African American) laborers, but the white men who oversaw their labor. “It was not to be expected,” the clerk insisted, “that a salaried supervisor of a [End Page 36] farm should manage it as profitably as the owner of it.” Luckily, the market was already providing a solution. “The only really prosperous and happy [Indians] I saw in California” were the ones laboring on certain private farms and ranches in northern California. There, Indian “feudatories” “secure the means of clothing themselves and their families,” and the owners of the farms found their “advantage in thus protecting, encouraging, and aiding” the Indians. “Can the government vicariously establish such relations with Indians?” Bailey was sure it could not. The next year Congress cut California’s Indian appropriation by 75 percent and the commissioner of Indian affairs agreed that “almost any change would be better than the present system.”2

Godard Bailey’s career in federal service and his vision of Indian Country died almost simultaneously. Early in the secession winter, he confessed to removing nearly a million dollars’ worth of Indian trust fund bonds from his safe in the Office of Indian Affairs and, at the behest of Secretary of War John B. Floyd (a relative of his), delivering them to a War Department contractor who borrowed against the value of the bonds on Wall Street.3 All escaped prosecution in the briefly famous “Great Defalcation,” but scandal followed Bailey when he returned home to South Carolina. After he threatened to shoot a man in Columbia in 1862 in answer to his insulting mention of the affair of the bonds, the man’s wife told the wartime diarist Mary Chestnut, “Everybody knew Mr. Bailey came into the Confederacy under a cloud.”4 Bailey’s was evidently not the right kind of conspiracy to subvert the federal government.

However much they disdained him, Bailey shared the outlook of his southern countrymen. If Bailey’s Indian policy recommendation seems outlandish, it is because we understand the “Great Father” in Indian affairs to be a metonym for the paternalist federal government. After the Civil War, Indian policy reformers, with an eye to the experience of African American freed-people (especially freedmen) argued that here, too, a strong state could raise a downtrodden race to competent liberal citizenship.5 As Bailey’s career [End Page 37] suggests, real distinctions existed between the paternalistic policy that unfolded after the war and what Bailey approvingly called “patriarchal rule.” These distinctions should be of interest to both Civil War–era specialists trying to integrate western history into the story of the war and western historians seeking to tell the story of a longer, more expansive Civil War. This is because scholars, whether experts in the Civil War or in western history, have tended to accept the West as a field of federal administration, if not federal domination, where imperial architects built a state that comported...


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