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William Clark Papers

Indian PolicyClark orders reports in 1813
The United States Indian (Native American) policy during the 1800s included the disposition of Indian land; administrating Indian-related claims; providing a system for dealing with crimes by Indians and non-Indians alike; regulating Indian trade including liquor; and “civilizing” Native Americans.

The Military
The U.S. utilized its military to this end. Forts and posts were an integral part of this system. Since 1789, Indian affairs were the responsibility of the Secretary of War and the agency charged with implementing policy, the Indian Department, was within the War department. Based upon the British model, it assigned superintendents to deal with Indians.

After the War of 1812 lessened the Indian threat, a shift occurred where territorial governors exercised more powers to deal with Indians. The governors served as de facto superintendents of Indian affairs and appointed their own agents. In light of this and other influences, Secretary John C. Calhoun recognized a need to create an agency more adept at handling all Native American issues, and reorganized it in 1824.

The Bureau
Kansas Indians illness 1829 pg. 1 Kansas Indians illness 1829 pg. 2The department was officially called the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but generally became known as the Office of Indian Affairs. Its first superintendent was Thomas L. McKenney, whose staff in Washington were few, but the field service numbered nearly 100 in the 1820s. In 1849 the Bureau of Indian Affairs was transferred to the newly created Interior Department.

Initially, four superintendents existed. William Clark in St. Louis, William Cass in Detroit, William Duvall in Florida, and James Miller in Arkansas. The St. Louis Agency remained a distinct entity under William Clark even after Missouri statehood, instead of responsibility passing to the War Department or a neighboring territorial governor.

"Factories" Traders cheat Ioway Indians 1831 pg. 2Traders cheat Ioway Indians 1831 pg. 1
The U.S. government in the beginning relied upon “factories”, or government-owned trading houses, ran by the Purveyor of Public Supplies and later the Superintendent of Indian Trade. These factories ideally created harmony with Native American nations by spurring the fur trade, supplying quality goods at a reasonable price, and subverting foreign powers. “Factors”, the men who ran the factories, had to just and literate men with the welfare of the Indian in mind. In the early years agents and factors fulfilled the same role. Clark believed in the system, but it ultimately failed in 1822 under financial strain and private traders, such as the American Fur Company, took their place.

Agent Duties and ResponsibilitiesOne half-breed's struggle 1836
An agent, commonly former army officers, had a plethora of duties. He was an ambassador, implemented policy, wrote correspondence, handled accounting, generated reports, hired and supervised sub-agents and other labor required to provide obligatory services, and sought redress of grievances. He may have participated in treaty negotiations for the government, quelled intertribal disputes, prevented Indians from returning to ceded lands, and drove squatters off Indian lands. Agencies were usually located near military fortifications or on a standard square mile of land. These agencies drew people for obvious reasons.

Extreme power and a solemn duty rested on the shoulders of superintendents of Indian affairs. Besides wrestling with the inevitable intricacies of government service, they faced demands from their ever-increasing domestic dependent Native American nations. Their actions (or lack thereof) impacted greatly the development of the emerging country.

Who Were The St. Louis S.I.A.s?
St. Louis Superintendent of Indian Affairs include William Clark (1807-1838), George Maguire—acting after Clark’s death (1838-1839), Joshua Pilcher (1839-1841), David D. Mitchell (1841-1844, 1849-1853), Thomas H. Harvey (1844-1849), and Alfred Cumming (1853-1855). Of all, William Clark, known to the Indians as “Red Hair”, is easily the most famous and longest serving.

William Clark
His two and a half years in the Corps of Discovery and military service prepared him well. Clark held several offices at once. President Thomas Jefferson appointed Clark Brigadier General of Militia and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Louisiana Territory. In 1813 he was appointed first governor of the newly created Missouri Territory, and was reappointed three times, until Missouri achieved statehood in 1821. He also was surveyor general for Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas from 1824-25. His immense influence with Native American nations in the War of 1812 no doubt aided immensely and saved the upper Mississippi River territories for the United States. He died of illness on September 1, 1838 in St. Louis—an explorer, diplomat, advocate, businessman, collector and family man.