Extensive collection of Quaker Jesse Griest, Otoe Indian agent
Otoe Indian Agency Archive, 1873-1883. Consists of the
collection of Quaker Jesse Griest, appointed Indian agent of the
Otoe (and Missouria) reservation by President U. S. Grant in 1873
(appointment included). This broad collection tells the story of
the struggle over assimilation between the Otoe people and the U.S.
government (represented by Quaker reservation administrators) in
the years after the Civil War. The Otoe, a nomadic Plains-Indian
tribe which officially numbered only 454 in 1879, were slower than
others to adopt European-American culture, and the transition was
difficult for them. But the tribe also struggled with themselves:
during the 1870s, they split over a looming move to Indian
Territory- 25% wanted to go, while the remaining 75% preferred to
stay on their reservation, which consisted of 160,000 acres along
the Big Blue River straddling the Nebraska-Kansas border. This
archive illustrates these struggles by presenting over thirty
photographs; fifteen large envelopes containing numerous documents,
diaries, maps, and letters; three cylinders of large documents;
three pairs of Otoe moccasins; one Otoe garter pair; one Otoe bead
necklace; and more.
The collection conveys fascinating information about life on the Otoe reservation, including crimes committed by Indians; Otoe demographics; annual reservation reports; council meeting notes; and Indian labor information. Over thirty albumen photographs, circa 1875, feature individual Otoe Indians, as well as scenes from their reservation (many with photographers' imprints). Two are cabinet cards, one featuring Indian Agent Jesse Griest and the other his wife, Sibbilla Griest. Fifteen are stereoviews with images likely of the Otoe reservation along the Big Blue River featuring fields, farms, barns, creeks, houses, rivers, bridges, and Indians in native dress. Six were taken by photographer R. L. Newton from Beatrice, Nebraska (with imprints on versos); two were taken by photographer M. W. Newcombs of Marysville, Kansas (with imprints on versos); and one was taken by photographer George Nichols of Beatrice, Nebraska (with imprint on verso). Thirteen photographs are larger albumens (5.25" x 7.25") mounted on boards (11" x 14") featuring studio images of Otoe chiefs (such as Buffalo Chief, Medicine Horse, Munch-a-hum-cha, Pipe Stem, and Little Pipe), as well as others, such as Otoe interpreter Battiste Deroin wearing European-American dress. Most, however, are in traditional dress. Also included is an albumen (5.25" x 7.25") mounted on a board measuring 8" x 10" of Deroin in traditional dress. These are all nice, clear images with only minor soiling to some photographs and boards.
Highlights from the numerous documents, diaries, and letters include the following: U. S. Grant Appointment Signed (April 1, 1873); two printed maps of Indian reservations; Otoe census from 1874, 1877, 1878 with Indian names; eight diaries kept by Jesse and Sibbilla (his wife) Griest (1873-1880); six "Monthly [some "Weekly] Workmen Time Books" (1874-1879), listing names of Indian workers and times worked; Jesse Griest's correspondence books (5), containing official and personal letters (1873-1883); Griest's annual reservation reports (1873-1875, 1878-1879), reporting on the transition from hunting to farming, the disappearance of game, the loss of timber on the reservation, white squatters, the split among Indians (pro- and anti-removal groups), the agency's cattle herd, and the industrial school; hand-written transcriptions (nineteen pages) of council meetings between agents and Otoe leaders (circa 1875) concerning ending the Buffalo hunts, forcing the Otoe to become farmers, Indian obedience to the agent, removal of the tribe to Indian Territory, the construction of a missionary schoolhouse, and the industrial school; several penciled abstracts of the reservation school house plans; and several lists containing Otoe Indian names.
Interestingly, this archive also offers perspectives of the assimilation process from the Otoe themselves. Following are highlights from letters/documents written by or, in some cases, for Indians: George White (Otoe) ALS (1880) stating to Indian interpreter Battiste Deroin that the reason the Otoes are dying off is because they "drink too much"; statements by several Otoe favoring a move to Indian Territory (one reason given is that their agent "don't do much for tribe . . . [he] tried to make fortune), containing penciled drawings of Indians; "Otoe Sam" letter signed petitioning Agent Griest to restrain Otoes from removing to Indian Territory; "Copy" of an Indian letter to his son discussing their removal to Indian Territory (1879); a petition of chiefs requesting that the Indian commissioner allow them to visit Indian Territory to see if it would be suitable for them to relocate (n. d.); transcription of a petition written to President Rutherford B. Hayes by Otoe chiefs trying to have Griest removed as agent, accusing Griest of, among other things, nepotism and spending the Otoe's annual annuity on "all kinds of foolishness" (n. d.); petition of Otoe chiefs proposing that the U.S. government "construct a railroad across the reservation" (1879), signed by Indian interpreter Battiste Deroin with the marks of numerous chiefs; list of Otoe chiefs "recognized" by the agency with explanations about how they attained their positions (1878).
Also included are three pairs of Otoe-produced beaded hide moccasins, circa 1880. One pair is overlaid with red wool trade cloth, stitched with thread, and decorated with glass seed beads in floral/foliate designs. The other two pairs are stitched with thread and adorned with designs of glass seed beads, one with floral/foliate designs and the other with abstract designs. Also included is a pair of loom-woven garters with glass seed beads. The bead necklace is comprised of beads made of unknown material, containing smaller blue glass-seed beads between each larger bead. Also included is a large lock of braided dark brown hair labeled "Indian pigtails."
President Ulysses S. Grant's election in 1868 ushered in a new method of dealing with American Indians: he preferred to assimilate them rather than fight them. An important aspect of his plan was the use of religious groups to operate reservations, preferring Quakers - Grant's "Quaker Policy" - because of their emphasis on peace. Before the Civil War, Quakers had gained organizational experience by mobilizing themselves as abolitionists. When Grant called upon them during Reconstruction to help manage Indian reservations, they were prepared to use their energies and experiences on reservations which became, as professor and author Elliot West puts it, "factories of cultural transformation" (Elliot West, The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story, [Oxford University Press, 2009], 102). The resulting tension is obvious in this archive, as Quaker managers try to send Otoe children to the new reservation school while urging the adults to become farmers. Agent Jesse Griest played an important role in this arduous process, as exemplified in this archive, which proved much more difficult than expected. This collection has been well cared for and is worthy of further research.
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