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George Webster's signature from flyleaf of Alleged Frauds of Certain Indian Soldiers [photo by Ilya Dines]

New Acquisition: 1872 House Report of the Committee on Indian Affairs

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Recently, the Law Library acquired a copy of the 1872 House Report of the Committee on Indian Affairs titled Alleged Frauds Against Certain Indian Soldiers. In 1862, in the middle of the Civil War, Indigenous people living in the Midwest who volunteered for service were organized into regiments in the Union Army and were designated as the First, Second, and Third Regiments of the Indian Home Guard (Report, p. 2). Members of the Mvskoke, Seminole, Delaware, Kickapoo, Quapaw, Seneca, Shawnee, Osage, and Cherokee tribes made up the three regiments. They mainly fought in battles in Indian Territory and Kansas.

After the war ended, on June 18, 1866, Congress passed A Resolution to Provide for the Bounties of Certain Indian Regiments (17 Stat. 360). The resolution authorized the Secretary of War to pay “to the enlisted men of the first, second and third Indian regiments the bounty of one hundred dollars”, the same as other volunteers in the U.S. Army.

The Secretary of the Department of the Interior, James Harlan, wrote to attorney James W. Wright. Harlan’s note said that he heard that Wright was representing some of the Mvskoke and Cherokee and asked if Wright would pay bounties and claims to volunteers of the regiments on behalf of the Department of the Interior. The letter sent to Wright stipulated what was to be done with funds when he was unable to find and pay claimants, and what compensation Wright could expect.

A subsequent investigation by special agents of the Pension Office, George Webster, and F. E. Foster, assigned to the case by the Attorney General, revealed that Wright had kept $420,754.40 in payments to himself at the time of the report, and possibly more.  “Judging from the documents herewith transmitted, and the manner in which claims were prepared and payments made, it is fair to presume that a very large portion of that amount of money has never reached the persons for whom it was intended. How much of it has been misappropriated can only be ascertained, if at all, by examining each claimant, which is practically impossible” (Report, 3-4).

  George E. Webster’s signature from the Law Library’s copy of Alleged Frauds of Certain Indian Soldiers [photo by Dr. Ilya Dines]

The case was referred to the Department of Justice. The report’s summary on the first page recommends that “…eventually Congress may be called upon to make good losses sustained by the Indian soldiers through the wrongful acts of the said Wright” (Report, p. 1). Our copy is signed by George Webster, the lead investigator in the case, and annotated by him on the first page where he scratched out the incorrect name of the investigator (printed as Williamson) and wrote his name above it in the text. The report is interesting for its depiction of the role of Indigenous people in the Civil War, their treatment, and their entitlement to benefits afterward. It is also representative of early white-collar fraud investigations by the government.

[Private Lewis Downing of 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles (Confederate) and 3rd Regiment of Indian Home Guards (Union) in uniform] / photographed by Wenderoth & Taylor, late Broadbent & Co., 912, 914 & 916 Chestnut St.; published by McAllister & Bro., No. 728 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. (Note: a Lewis Downing is mentioned on page 11 of the report)


KF32.I45 1872  United States. Congress. House. Committee on Indian Affairs. Alleged frauds against certain Indian soldiers. Report of the Committee on Indian Affairs, to whom were referred the sundry papers, documents, and memoranda appertaining to certain transactions of John W. Wright and others with members of the First, Second, and Third Regiments Indian Home Guards, submitted to Congress by the Secretary of the Interior, with his letter of April 30, 1872 …

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  1. Will those funds now be paid to descendants of those tribes and/or persons identified as descendants?

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