LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF DULUTH (MN) JOURNAL
Father Genin, 1888
To the Editor of the Journal:
It is now too late that I may have time to look for the official report I had to make in June, 1888, about the deplorable state of affairs and the intolerable suffering of the Turtle Mountain Indians, and send it to you.
Yet, reading in your columns the statements of a United States marshal to the effect that he had to pay out of his own pocket funds to the amount of $1,000 for arresting alive, or without killing outright, nine persons—two Indians and seven half-breeds—destitute and starved almost unto death, and that too, with such a terrific posse of assistants as he mentions he had spread about, cautioning them carefully, like old Granny McDonald used to caution her grandchildren, not to go too near the fire, for it was hot and their flesh tender. I cannot refrain from stating that the actual condition of the Turtle Mountain Indian people is about the same today as it was in the spring of 1888.
In the winter of 1887 to 1888 there were counted 151 persons, big and small, who died there of starvation. I buried a number of them myself, taking three, the mother and two grown children out of one single family. The Sisters of Mercy, who support there a large number of orphans and destitute boys and girls, deprived their house of all they could in order to help me to carry pork, flour, sugar, tea, bread, etc., to all those we could reach. There were lots of young mothers who, after giving birth to their children, had to wait patiently for a meal until their husbands would return home from the hunt with a gopher or two, nothing else being found.
I state facts, remember. I do not put up stories.
You will ask: Why did not the lazy creatures provide themselves with provisions by cultivating the land? Why did not they?
In the first place they had no seed of any kind: and where the United States government was made to believe so many bushels of wheat, corn and potatoes had been distributed. If you had been there you might have found that so many things never reached the unfortunate; or, if any at all was obtained, it was only by a few favorites, while the others were rebuked and sent to do for themselves. One of the pleas was that so many Indians did not belong to that reservation, but had come from Manitoba and the northwest. It is no wonder that the starving people would not consider the magical cage line, called the international boundary, but would look for fish, game, etc., even if they had to cross that great line. I have seen in some instances, and have handled myself, hoes and other handmade wooden instruments of agriculture the natives were using so they could plant something, being refused assistance at the agency. I will cite one instance especially, that of old Joseph Wallet, over 80 years of age, who, unable to get as much as a hoe at the agency, made himself one of oak wood, with which, before my eyes, he planted a garden with his children, having procured some garden seed from a humane disposed storekeeper in the neighborhood, thus showing his earnest desire to work to help himself, if there was any way to do so.
Are the people better today? No, no. Why, then, did not our heroic marshal go forth with his mighty posse to distribute that $1,000 of his to the poor, suffering creatures, who, alas! were trying to save their starving children from the jaws of death. The marshal's action would be blessed today, and he would appear a much greater and nobler citizen of a Christian country.
The lands of the Turtle mountains are yet unceded, and while the poor Indians are so long waiting for the good pleasure of our government officials to settle the affairs of the cession of their property, is it a wonder that they would try to keep themselves by cutting and selling some of the timber? We believe it to be a true maxim that necessity has no law. In this, their extremity, the Indians had hardly a chance to hesitate; and who will blame them?
We read now the report that the marshal's life was in danger; that Red Thunder was hot. Should not Red Thunder be at least as hot as our marshal? It is good enough for the marshal that Thunder was alone and that there was no lightning. I do hope the marshal and his men will see to it that the children of their captives are not let die of hunger, while the law will take its course and a faithful investigation justify the marshal's victims.