Black Bob: tormenting the palefaces
In a few places in
Though he had died thirty years earlier, Black Bob was remembered in 1893 Kansas City for the unresolved land case associated with his name; it had remained unresolved “to torment his pale-faced successors in the courts to the end of time,” the Star reckoned, due to one leader’s unyielding resistance to the plans of white Americans for his people.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the
Reduced to a few thousand, mainly by the effects of diseases that arrived with Europeans, the once powerful Shawnee were forced in an 1854 treaty to cede most of this land to the U.S. government, as white settlers entered Kansas and demanded Indians be removed.
Of the 200,000 acres left to the
During the Civil War, Black Bob’s people, along with most of
But the settlers were stymied by an unscrupulous cabal of
speculators, led by J.B. Abbott, who had been the Indian Agent for the
Clarke, Taylor, and Abbot were, said Scott, “withholding the patents from the Indians, even keeping them in ignorance of their existence, and refusing to deliver them to the Indians or return them to the Department, while they were procuring the execution of deeds under them, for the conveyance of the lands to themselves or others.” The “others” were not necessarily the settlers who’d been occupying and improving the land for years, so the ownership of Black Bob land was in contention between the government, the Black Bob Shawnee, land speculators, squatters and wealthy, influential investors.
An Indian Affairs investigation found that undue influence
had been exerted upon the
In the same year, 1870, Sidney Clarke, who had built his
political constituency on support for the claims of the settlers, had a
celebration of his triumph in federal elections disrupted by a crowd of
A quarter century later, in 1893, the issue still hadn’t
been entirely settled. In 1884 the title to about 20,000 acres of the land had
gone to settlers, by suit in United States Circuit Court, with all parties –
In 1893 the suit finally appeared in court, dealing now with about 8,000 acres, though they were among the best farming acres in Kansas, much of them titled to a judge, W.R. Wagstaff, and to Thomas Carney, a former Kansas governor, although the government claimed that Carney had not paid the Shawnee enough for the land.
The Kansas City Star reminded readers of the time twenty years earlier when the Black Bob lands “had much to do with the elevation of one set of politicians and the downfall of another,” and still remained a legal issue. Commented the editors, with scant sympathy:
The poor Indian, driven from his hunting grounds and the graves of his fathers by the rapacity of the white man, has furnished material for many a pathetic portrayal in prose and verse, but no orator or versifier has ever noted that the poor Indian is also avenged. His ‘original title’ remains behind to torment his pale-faced successors in the courts to the end of time.
It would be another fifteen years before claims to Black Bob’s lands were finally settled after the widow of a man who’d sold 22,000 acres to settlers failed to prove in court in 1908 that her signature on the deeds was not a forgery.
From an issue of defending Shawnee culture against encroaching Europeans, to a political issue which determined the careers of politicians, to a legal matter of fraud, forgery, and coercion, it had taken half a century for Black Bob lands to fall finally into the hands of white farmers and, in due time, to a new breed of speculators: the builders of housing developments and shopping malls.
For the Kansas City Times, in a 1969 story about the expansion of Johnson County, Black Bob and his people had “carelessly lost about 200,000 acres of lush Kansas prairie land […] between 1854 and 1868.” It was a carelessly inaccurate statement: the band had never controlled 200,000 acres, and it took a lot longer than fifteen years for the land to be finally “lost, ” if it ever was. Even today some original Shawnee land remains in Shawnee hands. The Times insisted on degrading the power of the determination of Black Bob’s people, telling of “One thirsty brave [who] signed his over for a jug of whiskey. Some got nothing at all.” Nothing is said about the “69 patents” and the fraudulence of their acquisition.
Chief Black Bob was anything but “careless” with his people’s land, nor did he lack “land sense,” as the paper suggests. Years after his death his people were still standing up for the principle of communal land ownership. As Oglala Lakota chief Red Cloud is quoted as saying:
They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: they promised to take our land and they took it. It was not hard to see that the white people coveted every inch of land on which we lived. […] It was land - it has ever been land - for which the White man oppresses the Indian and to gain possession of which he commits any crime. Treaties that have been made are vain attempts to save a little of the fatherland, treaties holy to us by the smoke of the pipe - but nothing is holy to the white man. Little by little, with greed and cruelty unsurpassed by the animal, he has taken all. The loaf is gone and now the white man wants the crumbs.