Motives at Lake Mohonk | Mahpíya Lúta Red Cloud

“The early leaders of the Indian Rights Association (IRA) had a twofold purpose: to protect the interests and general welfare for the Indians, and to initiate, support, or oppose government legislation and policies designed to ‘civilize’ the American Indian.  By the term ‘civilize,’ the IRA in 1882 meant measures designed to educate, Christianize, make economically independent, and absorb the Indians as individuals into American society.” (Indian Rights Association Papers: A Guide to the Microfilm Edition 1864-1973, 1975, page 1.)

By Lara Trace (still doing historical research) (my Lakota name is Winyan Ohmanisa Waste La ke)

Motives. I do wonder about that.  If I give you something, what will you give me or expect in return.

The Indian Rights Association had a motive.  A big one.  Indians had no right to exist as they had for thousands of years.  Indians were in the way, an impediment to progress and westward expansion.  Back then Indians were supposed to just blend in and disappear.  How convenient.

President Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, December 29, 1813
“This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate.”

In 1851, the United States paid out more than $1 million in bounties for Indian scalps. (You’d be dead Indians then.)

Dark History…

But the violence didn’t stop with the assassination of tribal chiefs.

“In southern what is now Ohio, (Mohicans) set up an ideal Mohican community near the Pennsylvania border. These people had their own frame houses, picket fences, cattle herds, school houses in their language,” he said. “A hundred miles away, the frontiersmen in a Pennsylvania village decided the Mohicans were hostile.

“Now, these (Mohicans) were fundamentalist Christians, they were Moravian pacifists. The frontiersmen came in upon them suddenly and seized 96 of them and put them in a big barn. And while the Indians sang Christian hymns in their language and prayed for the souls of their captors, they were taken one by one to a blacksmith’s anvil and the Americans smashed their heads in with a maul. All 96 of them,” Wrone said.

For many years I wondered how “they” (presidents and others) came to decide what to do with the Indians, other than collecting scalps of dead Indians or smashing their heads, or massacres, of which there were many.  By the way, the IRA were not friends of the Indians, not even close.

Lake Mohonk, upstate NY where they met

The Lake Mohonk Conference is often where they came up with their plans:

The Lake Mohonk Conference 1883-1916

Wealthy people often feel that they know what is best for poor people.  From 1883 through 1916, a small group of wealthy philanthropists, who referred to themselves as Friends of the Indian, met annually to discuss American Indian policies.  As wealthy men, they had access to Congress, to the President, and to high ranking members of the government.  This meant that their recommendations carried more weight than that of the Indian leaders.**

The idea of having an annual meeting to discuss Indian affairs and then make recommendations to the government was initially the idea of Albert K. Smiley, a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners and a part owner of the Lake Mohonk Lodge (in upstate New York).  The annual meeting took the name of its meeting place and was called the Lake Mohonk Conference.

In general, the conferences envisioned the transformation of Indians from savages to citizens by three means: (1) breaking up the reservations, (2) making Indians citizens and subject to the laws of the states, and (3) education of the young to make them self-reliant.

The men who gathered each year tended to be well educated, financially secure (most were considered wealthy) and had been born into the upper classes of eastern U.S. society.  They often viewed their participation in the conference as a part of their larger Christian obligation to bestow the blessings of Christianity upon all of the under-developed people of the world.  While these reformers were genuinely concerned about justice for Native Americans, they were unremittingly ethnocentric.  To them, the Indian cultures-the tribal languages, values, religion, social models, communal ownership of the land, the aboriginal lifestyle-was an anathema to modern civilization.

The eastern philanthropists who met at Lake Mohonk had rather mystical faith in the value of private ownership.  They felt that private ownership of property had the power to transform the Indians into people more like themselves.  Believing in the sanctity of the private ownership of land, they had little understanding of Indian culture and little concern for the actual living conditions of Indians.

In their 1884 meeting, the Lake Mohonk Conference recommended that Indian education must teach the English language; that it must provide practical industrial training; and that it must be a Christian education.

The following year, Lyman Abbot, a well-known Congregational clergyman, called for the end to the reservation system.  He told the Lake Mohonk Conference:

“It is sometimes said that the Indians occupied this country and that we took it away from them; that the country belonged to them.  This is not true. The Indians did not occupy this land.  A people do not occupy a country simply because they roam over it.”

Like most Americans at this time, he was apparently unaware that Indians had been farmers and had developed their land long before the arrival of the Europeans.

Speaking at the Lake Mohonk Conference in 1886, Philip C. Garret, a member of the executive committee of the Indian Rights Association, called for the destruction of the distinctions between Indians and non-Indians.  This destruction is stopped by treaties and he asked that the treaties be set aside:

“If an act of emancipation will buy them life, manhood, civilization, and Christianity, at the sacrifice of a few chieftain’s feathers, a few worthless bits of parchment, the cohesion of the tribal relation, and the traditions of their races; then, in the name of all that is really worth having, let us shed the few tears necessary to embalm these relics of the past, and have done with them; and, with fraternal cordiality, let us welcome to the bosom of the nation this brother whom we have wronged long enough.”

In 1890, a group of Indian policemen had gone to arrest the Sioux Sitting Bull because of rumors that he had intended to attend the Ghost Dance at the Pine Ridge Reservation.  After a short skirmish, Sitting Bull was killed by Little Eagle (on December 15, 1890).  At the next Lake Mohonk Conference it was reported that all of the policemen were Christian and Sitting Bull was pagan.  According to the Conference:

It was the supreme struggle of Paganism against Christianity, and Paganism went down.  That is the second reason why there is this wonderful progress in this religious movement.

The 1896 Lake Mohonk Conference called for the abolition of the tribal system and for Indians to become citizens.  At this time, many Indians were not citizens and the only way that they could become citizens was to accept an allotment of land and to be eventually deemed “competent” by the Indian agent.

Occasionally, the Friends of the Indians did more than just talk about Indian issues.  In 1902, the Mohonk Lodge was opened in Oklahoma to stimulate the art of the women in the surrounding tribes – primarily Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache.  The store, first proposed by Christian missionaries at the Lake Mohonk Conference, provided the women with hides, beads, paints, and other materials at cost.  When the items were completed, they were sold back to the store to provide the women with cash.  In addition to new art items, some family heirlooms, such as cradles, were also sold to the Mohonk Lodge.

At their 1903 conference at Lake Mohonk in New York, they discussed: (1) the abolition of the Indian Bureau and all Indian agencies; (2) the extinction of all Indian tribal governments; and (3) the division of communal tribal land holdings among individual Indians.

While the philanthropists who met at Lake Mohonk strongly believed in the breaking up of the reservations through the allotment of the tribal lands to individual Indians, most Indians actively opposed allotment.  In 1906, for example, the White River Ute expressed their displeasure with allotment by attempting to leave the reservation.  The army made a strong show of force and “persuaded” them to return to the reservation under military escort.  Speaking about the Ute situation at the Lake Mohonk Conference, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs recommended not feeding them:

“It was not the government’s fault that they took the course they did in order to get into a place where they could live in idleness and eat the bread of charity. If they persist in that course they will be made to understand what the word ‘must’ means.”

His words were met with a round of applause…

Toward the end of its existence, the Lake Mohonk Conference began to turn its attention to the Indian situation in Oklahoma. With allotment and statehood, the tribal governments were now powerless and the utopia envisioned as coming about through privatization had not materialized. Instead, the non-Indians’ greed had no limits.  In 1914, Indian reformer Kate Barnard spoke to the group.  As a result both the Lake Mohonk Conference and the Board of Indian Commissioners began to work for increased federal protection for the Oklahoma tribes.

At the same time, the Lake Mohonk Conference embarked upon an anti-peyote campaign.  They suggested that the federal prohibition of intoxicating liquors be expanded to include peyote.  In this way more sanctions could be brought against the new Indian religious movement without the appearance of suppressing religion.

The last annual meeting of the Lake Mohonk Conference of the Friends of the Indian was held in 1916.  The conference organizer and resort owner, Albert Smiley, had died in 1912.  SOURCE

[[[Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the United States began to break up Indian reservations and open them up for non-Indian settlement. This was formalized with 1887 General Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act).  The idea of holding land in common was seen as uncivilized, un-Christian, and a barrier to civilization.  Indians were first encouraged and then required to obtain individual ownership of land.  The idea of owning land in severalty became almost an obsession of the late nineteenth century Christian reformers (such as the IRA).  They were convinced that such a policy would force the Indians to become more American.  Historian Clifford Trafzer, in his introduction to American Indians/American Presidents: A History, reports:  “By dividing tribal reservation lands into small parcels for individual Indians, reformers believed that allotment would imbue Native people with respect for private—rather the tribal—property, and help Indians assimilate into mainstream American culture.”  The result of this policy was to force American Indians into poverty and to create wealth for non-Indians. American capitalists and large corporations acquired Indian resources. LINK]]]

Thomas and Cora Bland with Red Cloud and interpreter named Randall***UPDATE:

I am still working on the paper about (my blood relative/distant cousin) Dr. Thomas Augustus Bland who published the COUNCIL FIRE and ARBITRATOR newsletter for Indians; his subscribers included Sitting Bull and Red Cloud, and other supporters of the Indian cause.  Drs. Thomas and Cora Bland, Alfred B. Meacham and others disagreed strongly with the IRA motives and instead created the National Indian Defense Association (NIDA) formed in 1885.  

Under the Blands guidance, The Council Fire became a much more radical publication meant for Indian people themselves.  Alfred B. Meacham and the Bland’s held to a radical minority position that was essentially in accord with the proposals brought to President Grant in 1869.   

The IRA approach to assimilation was grounded in the ideal of making good citizens of the so-called “undesirable” or “savage” class.  To these “friends of the indians” as a writer for The Council Fire sarcastically called them, “. . . the Indian was an obstacle . . . he must be got out of the way.” [1]

[1] George Manypenny, “How the Delawares Were Disinherited,” The Council Fire 9 (June 1886).

By way of a miracle, back in 2006 I had posted on rootsweb that I was doing research on Dr. Thomas A. Bland, and (SHOCK) on June 11, 2016 (ten years later) I was contacted by Daniel G., who lives in California, who sent me this stunning photo of Cora Bland (back left), Randall, the interpreter (back right), and seated Dr. Thomas Augustus Bland with Oglala Chief Red Cloud.  It is a BIG miracle because Dr. Charles Bland and I had never seen this photo before!

I knew it had to exist and viola, here it is! Dr. Bland did take Red Cloud to meet the Presidents of the United States! (Thank you Daniel)


Lakota chief Red Cloud was an important figure in the 19th century land battle between Native Americans and the U.S. government. He successfully resisted developments of the Bozeman trail through Montana territory, and led the opposition against the development of a road through Wyoming and Montana for two years—a period that came to be known as Red Cloud’s War.  Red Cloud died in South Dakota in 1909.
Born in 1822 in what is now north-central Nebraska, Red Cloud (known in Lakota as Mahpíya Lúta) was an important Native American leader who fought to save his people’s lands.  His parents named him after an unusual weather event.  His mother, Walks as She Thinks, was a member of the Oglala Sioux and his father, Lone Man, was Brule Sioux. When he was around 5 years old, Red Cloud lost his father. Following his father’s death, Red Cloud was raised by his mother’s uncle, an Oglala Sioux leader named Smoke.  At a young age, Red Cloud sought to distinguish himself as a warrior. He demonstrated great bravery in the Oglalas’ battles with other tribes, including the Pawnees….Keep Reading

(Fancy Lake Mohonk Lodge) Finding more common ground with educators and religious leaders, Bishop Whipple lectured at national meetings, especially the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the American Indian in upstate New York, where he met with leaders in the “Indian movement”.  Beginning in 1883, this annual meeting drew together philanthropists, educators, politicians, and others interested in the welfare of American Indians. Decisions made by conferees, who favored the assimilation of American Indians into mainstream society, influenced government policy, shaped the attitudes of many Americans, and drastically effected American Indian communities. New Paltz, NY, 19th Century Voices

(HA– these FRIENDS OF THE INDIANS really? They more like destroyed Indian culture, eroded sovereignty, wrote treaties they broke, created poverty culture, started the residential boarding schools where children died in the thousands, and created Third World death camps called Indian Reservations. With friends like that, who needs enemies?)

As soon as we get our paper done, I’ll post a link… xoxox

In my neck of the woods: Abenaki Captivity Narrative I found interesting here






  1. Isn’t it amazing how the perpetrator always blames his heinous crimes on the victim? “They brought this on themselves, we were just trying to help them!” (as we raped, pillaged and mass murdered them and their land.)

    If there were a “just god”, then this government and all NATO governments would have been vaporized a long time ago!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel that way too Jay. Ten years and a photo appeared of Thomas. He is unusual for his time period. I can only hope to find more about him and his work.


  2. This is a long but important historical essay. I have always felt sad for the loss of country, home, reservations and heritage taken by people who had no right to do so. . . Thank you for sharing! ~Robin

    Liked by 1 person

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