What to do about the Native American “threat” to Americans was a great source of contention for the people who had already pushed these indigenous peoples far from their ancestral homes, killing millions in the process. Ulysses S. Grant ascended to the presidency in 1869 and recognized immediately that there were no standardized processes in place concerning how to approach the Native Americans.
At the time, there were hundreds of thousands of Native Americans living on lands that had been assimilated by the United States. Those peoples were bound by nearly 400 different treaties. It’s not an exaggeration to say things were confusing, and only getting worse with time.
Grant did a few things at the very beginning of his arrival in office. He appointed a Seneca man named Ely S. Parker to become Commissioner of Indian Affairs, then establishing a Board of Indian Commissioners, and finally enacting a “Peace” policy toward Native American peoples. It failed spectacularly.
Two years later in 1871, Grant managed to change the status of Native American tribes to make them wards of the United States federal government. Unfortunately, Parker resigned that same year, which put the fate of new programs in jeopardy. Despite this setback, peaceful negotiations were scaled up during Grant’s first term.
The second term is another story entirely. During a peace conference that was put together to end the bloody Modoc War, Major General Edward Canby was murdered by the Modoc leader, who was subsequently captured, convicted of murder, and hanged. The rest of the tribe was relocated shortly thereafter.
In news sure to stun present-day environmentalists, Grant vetoed a bill that would have protected bison because he knew that the “lack” of bison would force Native Americans to abandon a nomadic lifestyle. They did. But now we’re without bison. See how that works?
These obstacles resulted in the Great Sioux War, during which General George Armstrong Custer was famously killed.