Colorado City among areas with 1800s depredation claims, professor reports
Beyond such long-debated subjects as Manifest Destiny and the ethics of the American conquest of the West is the experience of settlers who were often innocent
victims of the Indian War of the late 1800s.
In a presentation at the Old Colorado City History Center Aug. 25, Jeff Broome, an Arapahoe Community College philosophy professor, shared his research into more than 10,000 formal claims of Indian depredations filed by Western settlers during that era.
Although his research is continuing, Broome said he has yet to find a single case where the US government paid money on a claim - even though a federal program had been specifically created for that purpose. Claims cited by Broome described destruction of houses, livestock and/or crops. Injury, torture and death (including women and children) were also frequent by-products of Indian raids, but the Indian Depredation Claims program (part of the Education and Civilization Act of 1796) did not offer compensation for such misfortunes.
Particularly poignant about the settlers' plight was that the government had created incentives for them to go West, but at the same time was arming the Indians with guns and rifles (generally Colt revolvers and Spencer carbines). The government justification was that the tribes needed the weapons for hunting, but “the Indians never used guns for hunting,” Broome said. As a result, during a span chiefly from the 1860s to 1880s, American settlers were often out-numbered and in a situation where “Indians had better arms,” he explained. “The settlers mostly had muzzle-loaders.”
Broome emphasized that not all Indians took part in attacks on settlers. He compared it to the Muslims of today, in that just “a small portion of them made war.” He also noted that it was a very difficult time for the American Indians of the Great Plains. With the steady incursion of Western settlers, the buffalo that had been so key to their lives was disappearing; also, treaties were shrinking their lands.
But Broome has a problem with historians who downplay what the militant Indians did to the settlers. As an example, he mentioned “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” by Dee Brown, a popular 1970 book focusing on atrocities against Indians (but not settlers), which Broome alleged is “the worst book to understand the history of this time that you could read.”
In response to a question from a listener who charged that the Indians were simply reacting to “hateful” actions stemming from the Manifest Destiny principle (the idea that America had a right to expand to the Pacific Ocean), Broome responded, “I do not believe the settlers were evil,” and that he supports Manifest Destiny. “We wouldn't be here if the we didn't have it,” he said.
The Colorado City area was part of the Western area involved in the Indian wars. Broome referenced “Memories of a Lifetime in the Pikes Peak Region,” a 1925 book by early Colorado City Indian fighter and community leader Irving Howbert, for factual support of two of this region's depredation claims. He cited point-by- point agreement between Howbert's account and the claims that were filed as a result of the deadly raids (and an ensuing gun battle) involving the Teachout and Dieterman families in 1868.
The government had strict rules about who could fill out depredation claims (they had to be American citizens), their formal nature (sworn affidavits), accurate content (full listing of losses and their corresponding values) and corroboration from witnesses.
An estimated 80 percent of those who could have filed claims never did, Broome pointed out. He had no certain reason why few (if any) claims ever were paid, but suggested that the reason was “political pressure” from certain politicians of those times who were more offended at how the Indian tribes were being subjugated.
Westside Pioneer article