The Case for Breaking up the Reservations

"These Indian reservations afford a resistance to which

on-marching civilization and utilization should not be subjected."

"Open the Reservations," The Morning Review, January 23, 1889, page 2.


These are the basic arguments used by white settlers in the Inland Northwest in support of breaking up -- or at least reducing in size -- the local Indian reservations. (The numbers following each entry refer to the article in which each quotation can be found.)


1. The characteristics of European American pioneers:

  • hiers to a "magnificent wave" of civilization (1)
  • represent "everything that is progressive and useful to mankind" (1)
  • make the land valuable by virtue of their "thrift and industry" (1)

2. The characteristics of the Indians:

  • a "vanishing race" (1)
  • idle, "hang around the borders between the reservation and the settlements and derive a precarious existence by drawing government rations, hunting and fishing and begging from whites" (1)
  • "stand as a barrier against everything that is progressive and useful" (1)

3. What the Indians do with the land:

  • "They do not cultivate any of the land" (1)
  • They "hold the land in idleness." (1)

4. What the whites do with the land:

  • "The masses have toiled to make the Indian lands valuable." (1)
  • make the region "a land of pastures and fields, of mining and lumbering camps" (1)
  • On negotiations to buy back some of the Colville reservation: "The event is one of great importance to all Eastern Washington, to the entire state in fact, for it gives us a wide area of new territory that is capable of supporting a large and flourishing population, and that will supply trade of magnificent proportions." (2)

5. Why it is fair to take the land:

  • Indian land is already more valuable thanks to white industry. (1)
  • The Indians will receive some land "in severalty," will be made "comparatively wealthy" by the sale of other lands, and idle land not useful to Indians anyway. (1)
  • On the Colvilles ceding some of their lands: "The treaty is certainly a fair one to the Indians. They receive a large sum of money. They can keep their homes if they so desire, or they can go into the land yet reserved, which is of ample extent and resource to maintain them in comfort." (2)
  • "Indians will share in the general development and prosperity." (1)


(1) "The Colville Reserve," Spokane Falls Review, July 12, 1890

(2) "1,500,000 Acres," Spokane Review, May 26, 1891, page 1