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Kansas Historical Collections - School Lands on the Osage Indian Reservation

From Kansas Historical Collections, Volume V, pp.69-71

An address delivered by Dr. Peter McVicar, president of Washburn College, before the State Historical Society, at the annual meeting January 19, 1892. Doctor McVicar was state superintendent of public instruction at the time these lands were secured to the state. This paper contains many interesting facts not before made known to the general public.

Many years prior to the opening of the territory of Kansas for settlement, it had been the policy of the government, in treating with the Indian tribes in the more-settled sections of the country, to give the Indians the privilege of selecting for themselves reservations in the uninhabited portions of the West. As a result of this policy, a number of Indian tribes in quest of new homes, with fair hunting grounds, and soil capable of producing maize with scarcely any labor, were induced to cross the Missouri and fix their abode in what became known as the Indian Territory, a portion of which is now Kansas, a land of genial climate and undulating surface, where the buffalo roamed in countless herds, and the deer, the wild turkey, the prairie-chicken and the quail were always within reach of the hunter's arrow. These immigrant Indians were given land carved out of the domain which the government had acquired by purchase from the Osage and the Kansas or Kaw tribes, who were the primitive occupants of all the Kansas region, there being still left large areas to the Osages and the Kaws.

Among the tribes thus transferred west of the Missouri were the Iowas, the Kickapoos, the Delawares, the Cherokees, the Pottawatomies, the Sacs and Foxes, the Ottawas, the Shawnees, the Wyandottes, and the Miamis. The reservation selected embraced the choicest portions of the territory, abounding in fertile valleys and timber lands, which the Indian, as if by instinct, always selected as the site for his wigwam.

On the opening of Kansas to settlement by white people, in May, 1854, a floodtide of immigration poured in from the north and the south, on the one hand to make Kansas a free state, and the other to extend and perpetuate the domain of American slavery. Owing to this fierce political conflict, the territory became settled more rapidly than had ever been experienced before in the settlement of unoccupied lands on the frontiers of the West. On the admission of the state, in January, 1861, nearly every Indian reservation within the limits of Kansas was surrounded by white settlers. The necessity therefore arose for further negotiations with the Indian tribes, one by one to induce them to exchange their reservations in Kansas for lands in the Indian territory. Gradually the Kansas reservations were alienated, and the Indians, tribe after tribe, receded to the south, beyond the boundaries of the state.

Among the last to part with their lands were the Osages. The area of the lands which they had reserved from their sale to the government far exceeded any other Indian reservation in Kansas. It extended 50 miles north and south, to the south line of the state, and from what is now the west line of Crawford and Cherokee counties about 260 miles to the west, embracing 1,300 square miles, or 9,320,000 acres.

In May, 1868, Col. N.G. Taylor was sent from Washington at the head of a commission to hold a council with the Osages, and if possible effect a treaty with the tribe, subject to approval by the president and ratification by the United States senate.

In the ceding of Indian reservations in Kansas, prior to 1868, no provision had been incorporated by which the sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections should inure to the benefit of common schools, as provided for in the act of admission. The Delaware lands, between Lawrence and Leavenworth, one of the finest tracts in the state, was ceded to a railway corporation, and not an acre reserved for a common schools. The Cherokee lands, comprising all of what now constitutes Crawford and Cherokee counties, was ceded to James F. Joy, then the president of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf railway , with no stipulation in the interest of common schools.

In view of these facts, the department of public instruction of the state determined to put forth every appropriate effort for securing, in these pending negotiations with the Osages, a recognition of the right of the state to the sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections for common-school purposes. The point was urged that Indian reservations, so soon as treated for by the government, became to all intents and purposes public lands, and subject to the statutes and laws of congress affecting public lands. Colonel Taylor, the commissioner from Washington, accompanied by William Sturgis, Esq., of Chicago, president of the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston railway, and others, halted for a day or two at Humboldt, where the United States land-office was then located. At that point the state superintendent of public instruction held an interview with Colonel Taylor and also with Mr. Sturgis, in reference to the reservation of the sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections for the schools of the state, in case a treaty were effected. Both Colonel Taylor and Mr. Sturgis conceded the equity of such a claim, and expressed a readiness to grant it, and to so provide in the contemplated negotiations. The commission pushed on and encamped on the banks of Drum creek, about 65 miles southwest of Humboldt, and not far from where Independence is now located. Assured that the negotiations, whatever they might be, would conserve the interests of the common-schools of the state, the superintendent of public instruction visited Fort Scott and Osage Mission. In a few days he crossed over in his own conveyance, a distance 50 or 60 miles, from Osage Mission to the place of the council. It was a beautiful spot, a grove of young and thrifty forest trees, with an outlook on a most fertile valley, forming an oasis of luxuriant grasses and wild prairie flowers. There were gathered the chiefs of the Osages, with a retinue of interested followers, Col. N.G. Taylor, William Sturgis, representing the railway company above named; the late Isaac S. Kalloch, the late Thomas Murphy, and other leading men, residents of Kansas. Day after day the interviews were held, and interests pro and con discussed, the white advocates claiming that two-thirds of the reservation on the western portion was virtually a desert, and the Indian chiefs expressing a willingness to accept the stipulated amount offered, provided the white man would leave for the indian that two-thirds of "useless desert." While the discussions were going on, one thing was very patent, that the view of William Sturgis, Esq., were rapidly changing as to the right of the schools to any part of the Osage lands. In conversation with the superintendent of public instruction at the headquarters of the council, Mr. Sturgis naively remarked that he thought that Kansas had then more school lands than she knew what to do with. A treaty was finally effected. Over 8,000,000 acres were to be ceded to the Leavenworth,Lawrence & Galveston Railway Company at 18 cents per acre, and no lands reserved for schools.

No sooner were the people informed of the purport of the treaty, than indignation meetings were held in different parts of the state, to remonstrate with the United States senate and the president against the ratification of the treaty. The state officers held a special meeting, and requested the attorney-general of the state, the late Col. George H. Hoyt, to proceed to Washington forthwith, and endeavor to prevent, if possible, the ratification of the treaty. A number of circular letters, in the form of remonstrances, were addressed to senators and representatives in congress, setting forth the obnoxious features of the treaty, in attempting to secure to one man, representing one railway company, nearly one-fourth the available soil of Kansas, and that for the pittance of 18 cents per acre, and on conditions simply of building 100 miles of road, at the rate of 20 miles a year, without a single acre reserved for the schools of the state, and with no recognition of the rights of the people to such an immense area of the public domain. To aid in defeating the ratification, the superintendent of public instruction also went to Washington. In an interview with a number of prominent gentlemen, Mr. Sturgis remarked: "The treaty would have gone through as slick as a pin if it were not for those confounded schoolmen in Kansas." Suffice it to say, that the ratification of the treaty was defeated.

Prior to the admission of Kansas into the union, the policy of the government in the extinguishment of Indian titles had been to purchase the Indian reservations outright. In that case, the reservation reverted directly to the government, and the law governing public lands obtained. But later, companies and combinations, by urging their measures day and night in the lobbies of congress, ostensibly on the plea of public interests, but really through motives of personal gain, managed to secure for themselves, and on their own terms, nearly all the Indian reservations and trust lands in Kansas, and in some of the other newer states. Only a few in congress, and those chiefly from the frontier West, were aware of the vast public interests thus alienated in executive session of the senate, and often by a simple vote of a mere quorum. The opposition to the ratification of the Osage treaty was the first note of alarm, and the facts involved needed only to be stated to incur a general condemnation.

On April 10, 1869, less than one year from that noted meeting in council at Drum creek, congress passed a joint resolution, of the nature of a law, opening the Osage lands to settlement, and provided "that the sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections in each township of said lands shall be reserved for state school purposes, in accordance with the provisions of the 'act of admission of the state of Kansas.'" Thus, after a long and severe conflict, nearly 8,000,000 acres were opened directly to the people for settlement, and 500,000 acres, or over $2,000,000 were saved to the common-school fund of the state.