Halfbreed Scrip

Chippewa Halfbreed Scrip
  William Watts Folwell, in A History of Minnesota
, Appendix 9, pp. 470 - 478

As usual in Indian treaties of the period, a gratification was provided in the Chippewa treaty of 1854 for mixed-bloods of the bands, to secure their desirable assistance in gaining the consent of the Indians to the treaty, or at least to prevent their possible opposition.  The provision in this treaty was in the following clause of the second article: "Each head of a family or single person over twenty-one years of age at the present time of the mixed bloods, belonging to the Chippewas of Lake Superior, shall be entitled to eighty acres of land, to be selected by them under the direction of the President, and which shall be secured to them by patent in the usual form."  The treaty was proclaimed on January 29, 1855.  Early in that year Henry C. Gilbert, the agent of the Lake Superior band, was instructed to report the number of persons entitled to claim land under it.  On November 21, he reported 278 names and stated that the number could not be "very materially increased."  In a letter of February 17l 1856, Agent Gilbert offered a suggestion that "certificates" be issued to the persons entitled, for their convenience in locating the lands.  This suggestion met with the approval of the Indian office, but the commissioner of the general land office filed an emphatic objection.  Patents, he held, "should issue to the rreservees themselves, and not to asignees."  The secretary of the interior put a brief indorsement ... suggesting that "memorandums be given Indians" with a clause forbidding "transfer, mortgage &c," and declaring that patents should be issued to Indians only, so that no benefit would ... to any other persons.  The commissioner of Indian Affairs ... interpreted this indorsement as authorizing what he preferred to call "certificates" and accordingly he submitted a form for the secretary's sanction.  This was given.  The form contained a clause declaring that no certificate nor any right under it could be sold, transferred, mortgaged, assigned, or pledged; and that a patent would be issued directly to the person named.  By the close of the year 1856 Agent Gilbert, instructed to act with liberality reported that he had issued certificates to substantially all the beneficiaries, in number 312.  It would naturally be supposed that this part of the treaty was fulfilled.[6]
     Eight years later there were issued two pieces of scrip to members of the well-known Borup family of St. Paul, who, though connected with the Chippewas of Lake Superior, had not resided among them either at the time of the treaty of La Pointe or thereafter.  These claims had been filed on September 3, 1857, by Henry M. Rice, and had been rejected by both the Indian office and the department of the interior.  On March 19, 1863, Rice renewed the applications before a new commissioner of Indian affairs, of an accommodating temper, who ruled that it was a forced construction that required residence on the ceded land.  The secretary of the interior sustained this ruling and the Borup scrip was issued on January 29, 1864.
     Immediately there was a remarkable access of persons proud and happy to be known as mixed-bloods of the Chippewa of Lake Superior.  The practice of the Indian office operated to swell the number of applicants.  On the ground that all Chippewa were related, it was held that all were Chippewa of Lake Superior and that all half-breed Chippewa were proper beneficiaries of the treaty.  At once there was a great industry in discovering widely scattered Chippewa half-breeds and in making known to them their good fortune.  A "factory" was established by the United States Indian Agent at La Pointe, Wisconsin, aided by willing or subsidized applicants, at which over two hundred applications, some of them sheer forgeries, were manufactured.  On the basis of these applications, 199 pieces of scrip were issued.  A cooperative mill in St. Paul ground out 756 applications, of which apparently some 261 were approved.  But the search for mixed-bloods "entitled" was not confined to Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  In the spring of 1865 an enterprising notary in the employ of the best-known trader at Pembina, after exhausting the vicinity, traveled down the Red River as far as Fort Garry, now Winnipeg.  His diligence was rewarded with about 415 applications, part or all of which were sent to Washington, and on them the commissioner of Indian Affairs issued 105 pieces of scrip.  Probably not one of those whose names were signed to these applications had any real right under the treaty.[8]
     At this point it is in order to explain the remarkable activity displayed in the search for mixed-bloods of the Chippewa of Lake Superior, who were heads of families or persons twenty-one years old or more in 1854.  By the time of the issue of the Borup scrip in 1964, the certificates had become a desirable vehicle for the location of pine timber lands in unsurveyed districts.  A standard procedure was soon developed.  Notwithstanding the plain declaration on the face of each certificate that it could not be sold, transferred, mortgaged, assigned, or pledged, astute attorneys soon devised a scheme to circumvent the benevolent safeguards of the government.  A mixed-blood having been discovered or imagined, he was induced, for a trifling consideration paid or promised, to sign an "application" to the Indian office for scrip.  At the same time he executed two powers of attorney in blank, one to receive and locate his scrip, the other to sell the land when located.  A single touch of the pen is said to have sufficed for all the papers.  The scrip or certificate was then obtained from the department of the interior; and, equipped with it and the powers of attorney, the dealer in timber lands was free to locate according to his knowledge and judgment.  He naturally chose the finest pine timber he could find not already in private hands.  Whether such blank powers of attorney were legally valid was a question not raised in the limited circle of persons engaged in the business.  That at least one commissioner of Indian affairs received "a considerable portion of scrip," and that he refused issues when a division was not accorded, is a matter of record.[9]
      This game went merrily on and in the sixteen months following the issue of the Borup scrip 564 pieces were issued.  Then came a discouraging intermission.  James Harlan became secretary of the interior under Lincoln's second administration in 1965.  On June 9 of that year he sent back to the Indian office the application of Antoine Roy with a statement that the treaty of La Pointe in 1854 did not "contemplate the issuing of 'scrip,' but patents, for the land ... when selected and described."  The commissioner was directed to instruct his agents that no more scrip would be issued to Chippewa half-breeds.[10]  This firm and just decision remained in effect for three years, one month, and two days, during which no issues were made.  It is conceivable that some insignificant number of mixed-bloods entitled had been balked of their right by negligence.  it is certain that a clique of operators who had acquired applications were hoping for some turn of affairs which might enable them to recover their expenses and add to their fortunes.  Whatever influence they commanded as brought to bear at Washington.  Early in October, 1867, the junior United States senator from Minnesota requested the secretary of the interior to inform him as to the "proper method" by which an honest claimant under the treaty might obtain his rights.  The matter was referred to the Indian office, which responded in a long communication on the twenty-fifth of the same month.  It contained a recommendation that to mixed-bloods who should prove their claims, certificates be furnished entitling them to select eighty acres of land from any of the vacant public lands, whether surveyed or unsurveyed.  The claimant fortunate enough to obtain one of these was authorized to present it at a local land office, to select his land, and to receive a patent for it.  The new certificate as as convenient for the employment of blank powers of attorney as those issued in 1864 and 1865.[11]
      No time was lost in getting the new machinery into operation.  A man long resident in Minnesota, but then domiciled at Georgetown, in the District of Columbia, promptly laid before the Indian office 111 applications for scrip.  They were examined so expeditiously that on August 15 they were forwarded to the secretary with a recommendation that certificates be issued.  On the twenty-seventh such order was made.  On the thirty-first the full number of certificates was issued to the attorney of the "scrippees."  On the day following the same industrious agent filed 202 applications.  Action was delayed while consideration was given to a request submitted soon after by the same person that mixed-bloods entitled to land should be be required to select their tracts from the areas ceded by the treaty, but might be permitted to make their locations "upon any of the territory acquired from their own people."  Obviously the scrip earing this generous construction would be better property for the deserving mixed-blood or his assignee.  The secretary of the interior became convinced that it would be equitable to concede that privilege, and in communications to the Indian office on October 28 and 2i he directed that certificates thereafter issued should bear such privilege.  On December 17, the man from Georgetown received 196 more pieces.  The two issues, aggregating over three hundred pieces, were Red River applications of 1865 which remained in the hands of the operators after the bars were put up by Secretary Harlan.[12]  Another batch of 122 applications, filed by the same attorney, did not receive the same dispatch, however.
     Under the new construction and orders, the search for Chippewa mixed-bloods who might be entitled to claim land under the treaty was renewed with great ardor.  As the lists of applications swelled, the authorities at Washington evidently became apprehensive that some of them, at least, might not be meritorious.  Suspicious deepened into conviction, and on August 11, 1869, the secretary of the interior informed the general land office that no more Chippewa half-breed scrip would be issued under the treaty of 1854, but that parties entitled could make their selections in person at land offices from surveyed lands.  This ruling did not dishearten the diligent searches for "half-breeds entitled."  In the three years following large numbers of applications were accumulated and those of former years not granted were carefully preserved.  The attorneys for the holders were active and demanding relief.  The representative n Congress from the third district of Minnesota on June 15, 1870, represented to the secretary of the interior that the hardships of half-breeds who had to travel 250 miles to a local and office to locate their tracts, and recommended the issue of scrip or certificates which could be located in person or by attorney.  The Indian office approved this recommendation but the secretary did not act upon it.
      In the year following, under the ruling of August 11, 1969, which permitted locations in person, a notable variation of procedure took place.  In the spring of 1870 Red River caravans, composed with few exceptions of mixed-bloods, came down from Pembina and points below for the usual trade.  One, and perhaps another, bivouacked at St. Cloud.  The members of the party were taken in gangs to the land office in that place, where they signed applications for patents for lands previously selected for them by benevolent persons.  They also signed individual powers of attorney for the sale of their selections.  Each received from the friendly citizens who had made known to him his goof fortune a sum of money ranging from fifteen to forty dollars.  The register of the land office later certified that the applicants were mixed-bloods of the Chippewa nation, that the witnesses were in most cases known to him to be reliable, and that he believed the applicants to be entirely accordant with the rulings of the department of the interior.[14]
     Doubtless in the hope that the government as in previous years would relax the rigor of its rulings and instructions on behalf of the deserving half-breeds, the operators continued to accumulate applications; and the Indian office was bombarded with demands for relief.  On July 20, 1870, the commissioner of Indian affairs recommended to the secretary of the interior the appointment of a special agent to investigate claims, to take evidence in the several cases, and to prepare a roll of those found by him to be entitled to land under the treaty.  The commissioner further proposed the name of a citizen of St. Paul as a competent person to perform the service.  The secretary approved the nomination and elaborate instructions were prepared for the guidance of the special agent.  On March 11, 1871, the agent submitted a report of progress.  He had been well received by the mixed-bloods.  The were almost universally solicitous to obtain scrip free from embarrassing restrictions.  A large number of them had gone on their winter hunts and were to be found with difficulty, if at all.  He had rejected a large number of applications, was holding others for further investigation or instructions, and thought that four or six months more time would be required to complete the work.  Still, the agent was able to show for his time and compensation a list of 135 claimants whose proofs of identity, with a single exception, he had found to be "regular."[15]
     The report was not satisfactory to Columbus Delano, the new secretary of the interior, to whom complaints had been made of frauds practiced and contemplated.  He decided to appoint a special commission to be composed of men, well informed on Indian affairs, whom he could trust.  At the head he put his fellow citizen of Ohio, Henry S. Neal.  The other members were the two agents of the Minnesota Chippewa and the late special agent.  On September 4, 1871, the commission filed its report, the essential points of which may be briefly cataloged:[16]
     (1) Of the 321 certificates issued in 1855, known as the "Gilbert scrip," 282 were unquestionably valid.
     (2) The 199 pieces obtained by the agent at La Point were based on fraudulent or forged applications.
     (3) The applications collected by the St. Paul attorneys, upon which 261 pieces had been issued, were involved in a fraud, and as a rule the mixed-bloods had received little or nothing for their claims.
     (4) The applications on which the Pembina trader had received 105 pieces were all fraudulent and in many cases the half-breeds had received nothing for their signatures.
     (5) Of the 310 applications for whom "certificates of identity" were issued to the resident of Georgetown, "probably not one ... had any claims under the treaty."
     (6) The locations, 116, in number, made in person at St. Cloud were every one fraudulent.
     (7) Of the applications approved by the late special agent, but one was found valid.
     (8) There remained for investigation some hundreds of applications, mostly accumulated after the ruling of August 11, 1868, submitted by attorneys few of whom cared to assist the commission in its investigations.  Out of 495 entries but eleven are noted as approved.
     (9) Twenty-seven applicatns appared in person before the commission, five of whom were found entitled to land.
     In the various lists of applicants the commission found numerous departures from the provisions of the treaty restricting the grants of land to mixed-bloods of Lake Superior who were heads of families or single persons twenty-one yers old or upwards.  White person had pretended to be mixed-bloods, duplicate aplications had been made by the same perosns by the use of different middle initials, husbands and wives had been treated as being each the head of the same family, persons who had received Sioux scrip had applied, many considerably under age had appeared as claimants, and the names of several who were dead at the dates of applications had been included in the lists.  The commission recommended that all outstanding illegal scrip be cancelled, that no new certificates be issued except by special act of Congress, that persons who had been guilty of perjury, forgery, and embezzlement should not go unpunished, and especially that no government officer should be allowed to enjoy the furits of crime at the expense of his wards.
     The revelations of the Neal commission evidently suspended the issue of patents for land which ahdbeen lcoated with Chippewa half-breed scrip.  This was embarassing to persons who had paid good money for it.  As innocent purchasers they felt themselves entitled to relief at the hands of a government which had tolerated, if not invited, trading in this scrip.  A body of holders actuated by a common interest sought such relief.  They had the good fortune to secure the itnervention of the senior United States senator from Minnesota, the more cheerfully rendered, perhaps, because he had acquired an interest in some locations, and the more effective because he was at the time the chairman of the Senate committee on public lands.  Upon his initiative, Congress on June 8, 1872, passed an act entitled, "An Act to perfect certain Land-titles therein described."  The rapidity with which the bill was expedited to passage is noteworthy.  The essentail part of the act was that innocent persons who had acquired locations made in good faith by claimants under the treaty of 1854 might complete their entries and perfect their titles by paying such a price as the secretary of the interior might deem equitable, but not less than one dollar and a quarter per acre
     On July 15, 1872, the commissioner of Indina affairs, under superior direction, appointed the Honorable Thomas C. JPOnes of Ohio and two others as a commission to investigate the claims which mght be made under the act.  They were instructed (1) to ascertain what persons were entitled to the benefits of the act and (2) to advise the secretary what would be an equitable "and proper" price.  It found thirteen individuals, firms, or corporations entitled to relief as innocent purchasers in good faith of scrip notoriously fraudulent, and approved 262 entries of eighty acres each, nearly all of "the best quality of Government pine-land to be found in Minnesota."  The Jones commission also concurred with the Neal commission of the previous year that all the so-called scrip except the Gilbert scrip and forty-five other pieces were so tainted with actual and clearly established fraud as to be of no value or validity.  It found the prsons whose cliams it approved to be in no way implicated in the frauds.  "Indeed, the testimony tends to show that these parties had very little knowledge, and made no inquiry on that subject."  Those who had got up the scheme had managed it with such wonderful prudence and caution as to conceal its fraudulent features from these very capable men of affairs.  They were, therefore, innocent purchasers in good faith, entitled under the act of June 8, 1872, to purchase directly from the United States the tracts designated by their worthless certificates.  According to the testimony taken the value of the lands ranged from five to ten dollars an acre and was increasing at a rate of twelve per cent a year.  The commission, however, advised the secretary that a prcie fo two dollars and a half an acre would be "equitable and proper" for the resason that the government would never get more at a public sale.  At any such sale, "a combination of bidders" would hold the price to that limit."[18]
     Although the commission was constrained to recommend relief to those innocent purchasers of fraudulent scrip, it declared that the testitmony taken revealed "a reckless carelessness in making large purchases, and ... on the part of many claimants, guilty participation in an ingenious device to evade the orders of the Government, made under the law."  Every piece issued bore on its face the statement that it was unassignable.  The remarkable thing about this last phase of the business is that no more experienced or astute dealers in pine lands have been known in Minnesota than these "innocent purchasers."  It is no pleasure to tell this story.

6. Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 2-4, 33-34-35-36-37-38 (42 Congress, 2 session, House Executive Documents, no. 193 - serial 1513).  In the original issues of the scrip, the clause designed to protect the poor Indians against the speculators read as follows: "It is expressly understood and declared that any sale, transfer, mortgage, assignment, or pledge of this certificate or any rights accruing under it, will not be recognized as valid by the United States; and that the patent for lands located by virtue therof shall be issued directly to the above-named reservee, or his heirs, and shall in nowise inure to the benefit of any other person or persons."
7. Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 4, 38, 40.  Rice's argument was that, as the Indians concerned had had no reservations and consequently no homes from 1842 to 1854, mixed-bloods could not reside with them.
8. Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 12-13-14, 55-62, 66-79, 110-133.
9. Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 59-62.  On March 11, 1870, William P. Dole, United States commissioner of Indian affairs, sued Joseph P. Wilson of St. Cloud, Minnesota, to recover the sum of $6,720 for twenty-eight pieces of scrip sold by him to Wilson.  To the complaint answer was made that twenty-four pieces had been delivered, but that they were of no value, because the commissioner had received them for services in issuing like worthless certificates from parties not entitled to them, in violation of his duty as commissioner and with the intent to defraud.  The investigating commission reported that it was "well advised that the averments of Mr. Wilson's answer are correct and true."
10. Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 5, 40.
11Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 6-7-8-9, 40-41-42-43-44-45; L. Gordon to the author, June 8, 1904, Folwell Papers.
12. Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 9, 45, 62.  See also page 33 for forms of the certificates used.  One of the certificate issued on December 17, 1868, on behalf of François Jondron, is in the Gordon Papers.
13.   Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 10, 47.
14. Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 14, 64, 134-143.  In some of the cases the locations were sold by the operators before the applications were obtained. 43 Congress, 1 session, Senate Executive Documents, no 33, p. 48 (serial 1580).
15Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 11, 47-48-49-50-51-52, 155.
16. Chippewa Half-Breeds of Lake Superior, 12-13-14-15, 48.  The report occupies pages 53 to 157 of this report.
17. Statutes at Large, 17:340; 42 Congress, 2 session, Senate Journal, 564, 904, 979 (serial 1477); House Journal, 1073 (serial 1501).
18.  42 Congress, 1 session, Senate Executive Documents, no. 33 (serial 1580).  The report of the commission (pp. 9-19) is followed by a minority report (pp. 18-24), the testimony taken by the commission (pp. 25-65), and a schedule of the approved claims with the names of the "innocent holders." (pp. 69-75).