Lincoln Canes, Part 2

Governor Zia Pueblo with two canes. 1936

Governor Zia Pueblo with two canes. 1936

A cane, as an official symbol of office, was familiar to the Pueblo people. New MexicoTerritory had previously been part of Mexico. And Spain owned Mexico. Since 1620, the King of Spain had required each Pueblo to choose, at the end of every calendar year, a governor, lieutenant governor, and other officers. Election was by popular vote. Neither Spanish officials nor Catholic church officials could interfere in the elections.
          Each Pueblo had received a silver-headed cane, a vara (meaning “rod” or “pole,” an old Spanish unit of length), as symbol of office. It was passed from one governor to the next in a ceremony held during the first week of every new year.
           The northern territory of Mexico became part of the United States in 1848, after the Mexican American War. Governors of the nineteen Pueblos asked help from Michael Steck, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for New Mexico Territory, in getting United States government patents (titles) to prove that they owned their land. When Steck returned from a trip to Washington City in March 1864, he brought the first batch of completed patents plus new canes as symbols of the Pueblos’ official standing with the government.  
          Despite some stories, President Lincoln did not come to New Mexico Territory to present the canes and the governors did not travel to Washington City to receive them from him in person.

Symbolism and Significance of the Lincoln Canes for the Pueblos of New Mexico, 1994, by Martha LaCroix Daily, available at href=””

Story of the canes: href=””

Photo Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Published in: on September 2, 2013 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lincoln Canes, Part 1

Ouray with Lincoln Cane presented to him as leader of a Ute Delegation, 1863

In 1863, Ouray led the first Ute delegation to visit Washington City. During their stay in the nation’s capital city, the delegation met with President Abraham Lincoln. It was the President’s habit to present an ebony cane to the leader of each Indian delegation that visited him.
          That same year, nineteen special canes were presented to a group of Indians who did not travel to Washington City.
          In 1846, the United States Army had taken control of what became New Mexico Territory after the Mexican American War. The Pueblo Indians of that territory came forward in peace and did not oppose the invasion. They continued their peaceful stance as the U.S. government pursued nomadic tribes to bring them under control. Similarly, when Civil War activity spilled into the territory, the Pueblos refused to become involved.
          On January 22, 1864, Congress approved appointment of Dr. Michael Steck as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for New Mexico Territory. Steck had been an Indian agent in the territory for the past ten years. He promoted the idea of recognizing the Pueblo people for their peaceful support. While in Washington on government business, he gained Lincoln’s approval for delivering a cane to each Pueblo.
          On February 15, 1864, Steck ordered nineteen canes from John Dold of Philadelphia. Each cane would be inscribed with the name of the Pueblo, the year 1863, and the signature of “A. Lincoln.” The silver-topped ebony canes cost $5.50 each at that time.
          Steck returned to New Mexico on March 27, 1864 with the special gifts, which he presented, on behalf of the President, to the Governor of each Pueblo. Recipients were the Pueblos of Taos, Picuris, San Juan, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Pojoaque, Nambe, Tesuque, Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, Jemez, Zia, Santa Ana, Sandia, Isleta, Laguna, Acoma and Zuni.


Symbolism and Significance of the Lincoln Canes for the Pueblos of New Mexico, 1994, by Martha LaCroix Daily, available at href=”

Story of the canes:  href=”

Photo Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Published in: on August 26, 2013 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Surveying Pueblos 1859

Zuni Pueblo 1879 by John K. Hillers

J.L. Collins, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for New Mexico Territory, wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1859:

          “I advised you some time ago that the surveyor general had commenced the survey of the Pueblo land grants…I was advised yesterday by the surveyor general that the survey of the Pueblos…had been suspended on account of some disagreement about the lines, which will make it necessary for him and myself to visit the Pueblos to settle and arrange the matter in dispute.
          “The Indians of several of the Pueblos have met with heavy losses by the Navajos, of whom they very justly complain. In other respects they are quiet and contented. The internal government of these Pueblos is left entirely to themselves.
          “The officers are elected annually, by a vote of the people. In these elections, party divisions not unfrequently (sic) create much excitement among the Indians, and questions arise that have to be referred to this office for settlement. They are always submissive, and acquiesce without further trouble.”
          Collins proposed establishing schools for the Pueblos. “A moderate education would make the Indians of these Pueblos useful and obedient citizens. They are very good farmers, posses excellent land for cultivation, and now raise a surplus which could be greatly increased under proper instruction.”

Photo courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

Text from Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1859

Published in: on September 26, 2011 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Surveying Public Land 1859

Survey crew at work near Arbourville, Chaffee County, Colorado - photo by William Henry Jackson about 1879

After the Revolutionary War, the United States government wanted to reward soldiers for their service by giving them land in the areas west of the thirteen colonies. First, the government had to identify the specific piece of land each soldier would receive. 
          The General Land Office sent teams of surveyors out to map available land. The Public Land Survey System, proposed by Thomas Jefferson and defined by law in 1785, was used.
          In addition to offering land for war service, the government was eager to sell land. Between July 1, 1859 and June 30, 1860, land sales in 14 states and 5 territories generated $1,776,493 for the United States Treasury (Source:
          The surveys sometimes generated complaints, particularly in Indian country. In an 1859 letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, J.L. Collins, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for New Mexico Territory, expressed concerns about government land surveys being conducted in Indian territory:

          “I mentioned, in a letter to you…my doubt about the propriety of pushing the surveys of the public lands so far into the Indian country. I am now still more strongly convinced of its impropriety. These surveys have been extended very nearly to the Texas line, on our eastern limits, and lands have been surveyed in that section that will not sell in the next half century; and, among them, were those that were being surveyed by Colonel Clements at the time he was driven in by the Indians. If it is, indeed, proper that the fund of the government shall be thus used, let it be done where there is less exposure. The country may not be so beautiful and open in other places for ‘running lines’ [surveyor’s measurements], but localities can certainly be found that will be much more likely to sell, and where there will be no risk of bringing on a collision with the Indians.”

Photo Courtesy Denver Public Libary, Western History Collection

Quoted text from Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1859

Protecting Citizens in Indian Country 1859

J. L. Collins, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for New Mexico Territory, believed in punishing Indians for crimes against settlers. He also thought settlers needed to protect themselves.
          “It is not practicable,” he wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1859, “to have [military] troops in every neighborhood, and it seldom occurs, when a depredation [crime by an Indian] is committed, that a notice can reach the troops in time to enable them to effect anything.”  
          “How were the frontiers of Kentucky and Tennessee defended in the first settlement of those States? …[hearing] an alarm of Indians aroused every [male] citizen; they shouldered their rifles, and rallied to the rescue, leaving their noble wives and daughters to defend their homes and firesides, while [the men] followed the enemy…”
          Collins had little patience with people who complained that the military did not do enough to protect settlers in the vast New Mexico Territory. “…Now, we expect the government to do everything. In place of fighting to defend our own interest, we spend our time writing letters and newspaper editorials, condemning a policy that has been approved by the wisdom of each successive administration for the last thirty years.”

Map by M.A. Leonard

Text from the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1859

Dangerous Roads West 1859

In his 1859 report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Superintendent J.L. Collins of New Mexico Territory defended the Indians against public outcries over Indian raids on the Santa Fe Trail. 

          “How often has the mail stage been stopped on the route from Independence to Santa Fe? During a term of nearly two years, there was hardly a stage passed that was not stopped by the Indians. It became so common an occurrence, that the conductors, every trip, carried an extra amount of provisions to meet the demand. This, I admit, should not be allowed; but would hungry Americans do less?”
          “What has been the conduct of our own citizens on the route from Pike’s Peak to Kansas City the past summer? Trains were robbed by them [citizens], homes broken into and robbed, and in some instances, the jewels were torn from the persons of respectable ladies: such, at any rate, was the newspaper account given at the time.”
          “If our own citizens, men who receive a Christian education, do those things, what ought we to expect from savages?”

Published in: on March 21, 2011 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ute Indians and Gold Seekers 1859

From his office in Santa Fe, J.L. Collins,  Superintendent of Indian Affairs for New Mexico Territory, wrote about the conflicts between the Ute Indians and the gold seekers who were invading their territory.

September 17, 1859

To: Hon. A.B. Greenwood
Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Washington city, D.C.

          A difficulty lately occurred between the miners operating about Pike’s Peak and the Tobawaches [Tabeguache Utes]. Several miners are reported to have been killed, and also some eight or nine Indians…
          …my position has always been that all Indians should be taught to respect an American wherever they meet one; but, on the other hand, it must be admitted that our countrymen often act with great imprudence in reference to the Indians. Two or three men will often venture into the Indian country, placing themselves entirely beyond the reach of protection, and at the mercy of the Indians…
          Men who are strangers to Indians, entirely unaccustomed to their habits and characters, are very apt, when they meet one, in place of showing him some act of kindness, to insult him by driving or, perhaps, kicking him out of camp. This is done without reflecting that they are surrounded by hundreds of Indians by whom they could be overpowered at half an hour’s notice.

Collins noted that gold seekers scattered throughout the mountains would be at great risk of trouble with the Tabeguache Utes. He recommended “that a treaty be at once negotiated with these Indians, and that an agent be placed in charge of them, to reside at Fort Garland or some one of the new settlements near Pike’s Peak.”

From the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the year 1859, New Mexico superintendency, pages 334-362

Taking the Census: Letters from the Territories

Census records give us some perspective on early day Colorado, but only if we understand “Colorado” at that time.
          Colorado did not yet exist when the 1860 census count was taken. Parts of the future Colorado Territory lay in the Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico Territories. The individuals recorded in the “Colorado” census were found in the Nebraska Territory communities of Boulder, Boulder Creek, Denver, Gold Hill, Platte River and Miraville. 
          A unique look at those pre-Territorial days through letters, postmarks and stamps is found at  conference logo
          One of my favorite entries on this site is the November 30, 1858 postcard with the return address “Montana, K.T. ,  Cherry Creek Gold Mines.”  Montana City was an early mining settlement located “where present West Evans Avenue crosses the Platte River in Denver.” K.T. stood for Kansas Territory. The writer tells his family back home in Michigan, “There is quite a rush here to the mines, as there are within a few miles of this place over 500 persons. There were only about 30 or 40 when we arrived.”