Imperialism and the Indian Removal Act

Written October 18, 2015

In a message to the Congress of the United States dated 8 December 1829 [President Andrew] Jackson declared of [Indian] removal: ‘This emigration should be voluntary, for it would be as cruel as unjust to compel the aborigines to abandon the graves of their father, and seek a home in a distant land.’ The president added that ‘our conduct toward these people’ would reflect on ‘our national character.’[1]

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 is associated with the height of the Native American genocide; it was American imperialism, and it was encouraged by our national character. There has never been a time in American history when America wasn’t an imperialist endeavor. Manifest destiny did not begin with its naming by John O’Sullivan in 1845[2]. The governance of this country, beginning with the British Empire and continuing with the United States, has consistently valued growth above human rights. The American Revolution did little but shift the title of ‘imperialist’ from the British monarchy to the American heads of state, and the acquisition of new territory continued. Throughout, growth via imperialistic means was pursued above all else. Of particular historical significance is why the influence of sincerely held moral disagreement with our policies never ultimately held sway over the implementation of our policy. Our government has behaved amorally, even while led by individuals of good moral character. It was unmitigated by the sincere ethical considerations of the influential men who raised their fears of what this Act would mean for American democracy.

The American population was divided about the genocide which was predicted would accompany the Indian Removal Act[3], yet Americans could not – or did not – resist genocide. This says something about the nature of imperialism that we as historians should talk about: imperialism is ultimately amoral when examined in aggregate. Imperialism is a process that, by definition, supports growth absent any other considerations, specifically in such a way that the growth of one civilization subjugates another. Growth is fed by the resources of the vanquished, leaving them bereft in almost every case. This precludes any role for moral values in actions taken. The weaker participants are always preyed upon, and despite moral ambiguity, depredations continue and contribute to the process. Growth is the centralizing purpose for all imperial action, moral or not.

The ideals expressed by our founding documents were apparently egalitarian but inherently elitist. This inconsistency is actually consistent with the culture of the founding fathers. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, often considered pinnacles of democratic canon, were written by men who were the first orchestrators of the Native American genocide. The First Continental Congress’ government “for the people, by the people,” even if understood as referring only to white males, still required that a man have enough wealth to own property in order to participate in that government[4].  In their conception and application, the liberties assured by our Constitution were accorded to landed white males only. In spite of our contemporary egalitarian interpretations of our founding documents, their nature stood as the structural foundation of our country’s institutional racism. The conspicuous moral incongruities regarding Native Americans between the documented policies and the real enactment of those policies give credit to the understanding that the authors of our founding documents were not primarily concerned with morality. Although their arguments against British rule called on ethical considerations, their arguments were less ideological and more expedient as justifications for the colonies’ rebellion.

From the earliest days of the American West, paternalism and presumptive ownership have shaped the underpinnings of ethical justifications for the cultural and racial domination of any residents of the West who were not of European descent. Simultaneously, political marketing strategies have been used to persuade the population to accept the least moral of our behaviors. Many white Americans of Jackson’s sociopolitical strata already viewed Native Americans as children, and had done so since at least the early 1800s when President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition. In a speech to Native Americans he encountered, Meriwether Lewis called the Native Americans “children,” admonishing them to look to their “Great Father” – the President of the United States – for the dispersal of goods and of punishments.[5] This infantilization of Native Americans wasn’t just a handy metaphor, it clarified the nature of the Jeffersonians’ appraisal of the Native Americans. In Less than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, John Livingstone Smith asserts that metaphors are linked to thoughts and judgements. Metaphors such as this one are tools of dehumanization. “It’s intended as a description rather than as an attack.”[6] It reflects their perception of Native Americans relative to the values of an imperial culture. Native American technological and infrastructure development were perceived as uniformly inferior, but potentially capable of acculturation – like children.

The “children” label for Native Americans was prevalent in the communications during the Indian Removal but the use of the label illuminated a new way of thinking in the populations involved. Jackson’s administration discarded the idea that Native Americans could be assimilated and was far more accepting of violence than Jefferson’s had been. In the year following the signing of the Indian Removal Act, one chief wrote a letter to President Jackson, whom he addressed as “Great Father.” The chief hoped that the President would enforce the law and protect the Native Americans from the abuses they were suffering. Cave notes that Jackson had no intention of doing so, and Jackson’s language has clearly departed from acknowledging any paternal responsibilities. His response to the Native Americans’ appeals to the paternal relationship Jefferson had worked to foster was to tell them it was not in their nature to be civilized, and thus they could not live within the bounds of any civilization.[7] For Jackson, the paternalism of his predecessors had ceased to be useful.[8] Factions of the population, including the Whigs, recoiled from even the potential for crimes against the Native Americans’ humanity.  Jeremiah Evarts’ 1829 prediction that the Indian Removal Act would be executed inhumanely and would cause extreme hardships for the Native Americans voiced the fears of those “moved by humane considerations.”[9]

With the electorate divided, compromises had to be made. Or, more accurately, the appearance of compromise had to be published. They say the first modern presidential campaign was a product of the Gilded Age, when J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller bought William McKinley’s 1896 election[10]. If that’s true, then the mechanisms of imperialism in the Antebellum West are the foundation of modern politics being laid. Jackson and his advisors knew that to get the Act passed, they would have to allow the verbiage to reflect a more paternalistic approach, which meant including some consideration for the human rights of the Native Americans by requiring voluntary treaties to precede removal, and allowing for the potential assimilation, should individual Native Americans choose to stay as American citizens. Jackson had no intention of enforcing or even tolerating either of those concessions. As Cave notes, “[t]he Jacksonians’ insistence on the voluntary nature of their removal program was a political ploy aimed at winning badly needed votes in the House of Representatives.”[11] The ploy worked, although public uproar over the Indian Removal Act and the atrocities of its execution continued to build throughout this era, especially as the execution ignored the restrictions of the Act. Ultimately, the public outcry was ineffective: Jackson successfully removed the Native Americans from his America.

The Jacksonian Democrats and the Whigs may have disagreed on the means of imperialistic acquisition, but they did not disagree on the fundamental moral authority that allowed for the process. When it came time to vote, the concessions Jackson had made to the method of removal made the Indian Removal Act palatable enough for Congress to pass the law. According to historian Patricia Limerick, “White Americans saw the acquisition of property as a cultural imperative, manifestly the right way to go about things. There was one appropriate way to treat land – divide it, distribute it, register it.”[12] Property wasn’t just land[13], but the audacious land-grab of Indian Removal Act won agricultural and mineral wealth[14] for the United States while displacing Native Americans and robbing them of life, liberty, and dignity.

The political divide in Congress and the longevity of the public uproar demonstrates that the nation was philosophically divided on this issue. Likewise, the execution of the removal demonstrates that ultimately imperialism was more powerful than the cause of human dignity and life. In this episode of American history, growth was pursued as both justification and means, and ethical consideration did not change the end result. The imperialist impulse, whether benign or nefarious. In the end morality did not sway events. Imperialism ultimately drove decisions of policy, and the aggregate effect was amoral.




Ambrose, Stephen. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. New York: Touchstone, 1996.

Cave, Alfred A. “Abuse of Power: Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act of 1830.” The Historian 65, no. 6 (December 2003): 1330-1353.

Cronon, William. Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987.

O’Sullivan, John. “Annexation.” The United States Magazine and Democratic Review 17 (July 1845). (accessed October 10, 2015).

Smith, David Livingstone. Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011.

The Men Who Built America, “When One Ends, Another Begins,” episode 4, November 11, 2012.

Zinn, Howard, and Rebecca Stefoff. A Young People’s History of the United States. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2009.



[1] Alfred A. Cave, “Abuse Of Power: Andrew Jackson And The Indian Removal Act Of 1830,” The Historian 65, no. 6 (December 2003): 1330-53.

[2] John O’Sullivan, “Annexation,” The United States Magazine and Democratic Review 17 (July 1845): 5–10, (accessed October 10, 2015).

[3] Cave, Abuse of Power, 1347; though truly, this was only a continuation of an ongoing genocide.

[4] Howard Zinn and Rebecca Stefoff, A Young People’s History of the United States (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2009), 57-88.

[5] Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 156.

[6] David Livingstone Smith, Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011), 25.

[7] Cave, Abuse of Power, 1340.

[8] His shift from paternalistic racism to a more violently oppressive racism partially explains the concurrent split of Jefferson’s Republican-Democratic party into Democrats and Republicans, the latter of which was absorbed by the Whig party. Cave, Abuse of Power, 1336, describes inconsistencies in partisanship concerning this bill. Cave, Abuse of Power, 1349, differentiates racism styles of the two parties.

[9] Cave, Abuse of Power, 1347.

[10] The Men Who Built America, “When One Ends, Another Begins,” episode 4, November 11, 2012.

[11] Cave, Abuse of Power, 1335.

[12] Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987), 55.

[13] The varying definitions of ‘property’ would cause great conflict and is one of the themes of westward expansion.  Limerick, Legacy of Conquest, 71-73; see also William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991), 27.

[14] Limerick, Legacy of Conquest, 67-68; The benefit of mineral and agricultural wealth, along with the profits to be made by land speculators, might help explain why politicians were split so nearly, even when the public outcry became formidable.

The Early Steps of the Political Incorporation of New Mexico into the United States

Written March 13, 2016


When Mexico gained its independence in 1821, Mexico’s northern frontier floundered in the vacuum left by the absence of Spanish troops, money, and governance. The Mexican frontier became a convenient and increasingly lucrative target for the expanding United States. The region was poorly defended, poorly managed, disenchanted with its federal government, and the site of the Santa Fe trade, as well as a potential land route to California’s profitable hide-and-tallow trade. It took twenty-five years for the United States to officially begin its conquest of Mexico’s Far North, with the Mexican-American War in 1846, but the process of incorporation began much earlier.

With Spain gone, the fledgling Mexican state had to maintain the army and the alliances they had worked for as a colony, but not previously paid for. The transition from Spanish colony to independent nation reduced region’s military coordination, supplies, and training. The new government could not actually afford to stand an army; the effort to do so resulted in an army which only the desperate or the coerced would enter. Historian David Weber notes that the military’s poor provisions led to a decline in “morale, dignity, and discipline,”[1] making military service a recourse only chosen by those who were already impoverished, or by convicts who were given no choice at all.[2] Weber further points out that “under these circumstances, soldiers drained the frontier economy rather than contributing to it.”[3] Of perhaps equal importance was that the poverty of the frontier’s military was highlighted by the relative high status of the Mexican army in “centers of power – Mexico City and Veracruz.”[4]  Frontier officials might have been somewhat less alienated by the federal government’s mishandling of military provisioning, had the impoverishment been evenly distributed; the difference only heightened the discontent of the frontier.

With their army weakened, Mexico – especially officials charged with the management of the frontier – might have leaned more on their alliances with some Native American tribes to defend their northern frontier from encroachment by Americans. Imperialism by the United States – a country which had already demonstrated a successful western expansion, right up to Mexico’s border – was certainly of some concern. However, many of those alliances had depended on the Spanish rationing system, in which the tribes were provided with certain quantities of rations – food, clothing, even ammunition – on a regular basis.[5] Independent Mexico could not afford to continue providing rations for their own troops,[6] much less for Native Americans who weren’t even considered Mexican citizens. When rations were no longer forthcoming, the tribes that had been allied through the rationing system fell away from the alliance. While some local officials were able to make alliances with some tribes, raiding by Apaches, Utes, and Comanches increased in the region as many tribes returned to raiding to make up for the economic difference left by the lack of rations.[7] The region destabilized, and seemed as removed from ‘civilization’ – and as indefensible – as ever.

Yet, Mexico’s Far North was still enticing real estate for those who had capital to invest. The Santa Fe trade in New Mexico and the Hide and Tallow trade in California made these areas, and the land route between them, economically valuable to the early industrial economy of the United States. And, American settlers had long since pushed their way into New Mexico. Mexican colonization of the region, however, was not well supported by the Mexican government, an issue that added to the alienation of the frontier from the central government both politically and logistically as Mexican colonists became immersed in American settlers. “The American frontier had literally spilled over onto the Mexican frontier and forged new economic, demographic, and cultural links to the United States.”[8]

Fear of raids by Native Americans didn’t deter either settlers or the US government. In fact, the raiding economy of the plains tribes, combined with the influx of settlers from the US, contributed to the destabilization of the Mexican frontier. While the new settlers increased the availability of guns and ammunition to the plains tribes, increasing these tribes’ ability to raid, the settlers also provided a new outlet for trade of stolen livestock, which increased the motivation to raid.[9] This effect also shifted the economy of the region, by dispersing economic events from a two-group model to a three-group model, one which included the Americans. Native Americans participating in the raiding economy weren’t the only benefactors of this shift; American settlers provided a new trade opportunity for Mexicans, too, reducing the importance of trade with the more populated, but progressively less popular, central Mexico.[10]

Trade in Mexico’s frontier was profitable for American merchants, too. William Becknell, the first American merchant to trade in Santa Fe wrote in his journal that he had returned from his first expedition to Santa Fe with more than 10,000 dollars, presumably in profit.[11] American trade was welcomed in the early days of Mexican independence from Spain, and the economic boon it represented likely accounts for the region’s positive feelings toward the United States by New Mexico’s frontier inhabitants.

Whether or not Mexicans wanted them, Americans were rushing the frontier, and to protect their profits, American merchants may have been willing to insert themselves into Mexico’s power vacuum. In 1837, unrest in the Far North became revolt. Persistent poverty and an out-of-touch central government meant that the region was perpetually “ripe for insurrection.”[12] The situation climaxed when President Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana reorganized the country into departments, each to be led by an administrator of the president’s choosing, and tasked the department administrators with collecting taxes. Colonel Albino Perez had the misfortune of being selected to govern New Mexico. He began his administration as an untrusted outsider to the region; his steady efforts to consolidate the federal government’s power – as he had been tasked to do by President Santa Ana – provided the evidence that served to solidify New Mexican’s idea of Perez as a threat to their autonomy. Perez’s administration’s enforcement of departmental taxation, and new regulations limiting trade by American merchants, threatened the strained economy as well as individual pocketbooks. The final straw was the wrongful imprisonment of a locally popular mayor, Juan Jose Esquivel. Acting in his purview, Esquivel had stood as judge for a local case. The case was reviewed by Ramon Abreu, a higher judge in Perez’s administration, who overturned Esquivel’s judgement. When Esquivel did not cooperate with Abreu’s judgement, Abreu had Esquivel arrested.[13]

The installation of an unfamiliar governor and a political reorganization by the federal government that restricted the locals’ autonomy while increasing locals’ tax burden, fomented unrest; the insult to an established mayor by the new regime – which was also an insult to the region’s autonomy – sparked the revolt.[14] To be clear, the rebels affirmed their loyalty to the federal government of Mexico[15]; their revolt targeted only the governor’s limited regional administration, protesting the reorganization that had decreased their autonomy while raising their taxes. Though the revolt was successful – the governor was killed and his administration defeated – it was short-lived.

Manuel Armijo, a member of the wealthy and politically powerful ‘rico’ class Mexican citizens on the frontier, rallied a militia and routed the rebel government. The whole affair lasted about two months. However, the militia still had to be financed; the federal government did not allocate sufficient funds to maintain a relevant military. In fact, it appears that the federal government was not involved in the rebellion or its quelling, aside from the appointment of Governor Perez and the departmental mandates that triggered it. Armijo and his militia were supported and funded at a regional level, but while it’s unclear exactly who did the funding – Mexican citizens or American merchants – it does seem clear that the federal Mexican government wasn’t involved.

Weber describes the Chimayo Rebellion, as the revolt came to be known, as “a domestic affair, with foreigners playing an inconsequential role.”[16] However, it is also true that in the midst of the rebellion, when the revolt threatened the Santa Fe trade, “Anglo-American residents of New Mexico had no difficulty in choosing sides, and some responded generously to Armijo’s request for donations to the cause of preserving order and protecting property.”[17] There is no further explanation of how much of militia’s cost was subsidized by American merchants, and Weber’s reader is left wondering whether it’s really fair to call the contribution made by American merchants “inconsequential” – after all, we don’t know whether or not the militia would have been possible without the financial support of those merchants, and without the militia, there would not have been victory for Armijo and the central government. What Weber does correctly surmise is that “America’s political incorporation of the Mexican frontier between 1845 and 1854 represented the culmination of a process as much as the inauguration of a new era.”[18]





Becknell, William, and Francis Asbury Sampson. “The Journals of Capt. Thomas Becknell from Boone’s Lick to Santa Fe and from Santa Cruz to Green River.” Missouri Historical Review 4, no. 2 (January 1910): 65-84.

Blythe, Lance R. Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwest Borderlands, 1680-1880. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

Dobyns, Henry F. Spanish Colonial Tucson: A Demographic History. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1976.

Reno, Philip. “Rebellion in New Mexico – 1837,” New Mexico Historical Review XL (July 1965): 197-213.

Sanchez, Joseph R. “It Happened in Old Santa Fe, The Death of Governor Albino Perez, 1835-1837.” In All Trails Lead to Santa Fe: An Anthology Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Santa Fe, New Mexico, 267-278. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press, 2010.

Weber, David J. The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest under Mexico. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.


[1] David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico (Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1982), 112.

[2] Ibid., 113-114.

[3] Ibid., 112.

[4] Weber indicates that the inequality of military provisioning between the two regions, central Mexico and the Mexican frontier, was rarely discussed in public formats such as newspapers, but asserts that the inequality did not go unnoticed by frontier inhabitants. Rather, the equity was a highly visible sore point for the frontiersmen (but it was invisible to those in charge, who were located in Veracruz and Mexico City). Ibid., 110.

[5] Henry F. Dobyns, Spanish Colonial Tucson: A Demographic History (Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1976), 98.

[6] Weber 1982, 110.

[7] Lance R. Blythe, Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwest Borderlands, 1680-1880 (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 97.

[8] Weber 1982, 276.

[9] Ibid., 95-101.

[10] Ibid., 105 & 276.

[11] William Becknell & Francis Asbury Sampson. “The journals of Capt. Thomas Becknell from Boone’s Lick to Santa Fe and from Santa Cruz to Green River” Missouri Historical Review 4(2) January 1910: 65.

[12] Josiah Gregg, as quoted in Philip Reno, “Rebellion in New Mexico – 1837,” New Mexico Historical Review XL (July 1965): 199.

[13] Joseph R. Sanchez, “It Happened in Old Santa Fe, The Death of Governor Albino Perez, 1835-1837,” in All Trails Lead to Santa Fe: An Anthology Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Santa Fe, New Mexico (Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press, 2010), 268-272.

[14] Reno 1965, 199.

[15] Weber 1982, 261.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Weber 1982, 263.

[18] Ibid., 276.

Rations and social control in Spanish New Mexico

Written February 29, 2016


The reentry of the Spaniards into New Mexico in the 1690s was violent and expensive, despite the Spaniards’ alliance with certain Puebloan groups.[1] A hundred years later, the Spanish colonization of the Apaches and Comanches began with violence, too, but after high death tolls, that violence gave way to a less costly means of securing peace: the rationing system. Gift-giving was hardly a new form of peace-making, but the rationing system established a routine of gift-giving: the gifts would come in predictable quantities, and on a schedule. Native American leaders could rely on the availability of certain goods, and use that information to their advantage. It was a twist in the colonial model that we don’t see other places. When the Spanish came to the American Southwest, many of their skirmishes with the native inhabitants revolved around the Puebloans’ inability to provide the Spaniards with demanded goods,[2] and while the circumstances were not the same in the rationing system, it is notable that the flow of goods shifted, in some circumstances, from a Native-to-Spanish model, to the reverse.

The Spanish government recognized the importance of alliances with Native Americans,[3] yet they couldn’t quite make it happen with the Plains Indians. The colony had been plagued by raids from Comanches and Apaches, who accepted Spanish gifts but did not reciprocate with peace.[4] Spanish attempts to annihilate, or even punish, the raiding Comanches and Apaches had failed entirely; New Spain had “thrown everything they had at the Comanches and their allies,”[5] and lost both lives and dignity. That changed in 1786, when New Mexican governor Don Juan Bautista de Anza, through brilliant military and diplomatic strategy, succeeded in making peace with and between the Comanches, Apaches, Utes, and Navajo.

In the case of the Comanches, this worked “in part because it was in the Comanches’ own best interests. New Mexico was a mother lode of trade, a place where they could sell their horses and captives.”[6] Trade was alluring, but it wasn’t the only thing the parties sought. The conditions of peace between the Comanches and the Spanish included Comanche settlements near Santa Fe, and an alliance against the Apaches.[7] Utes joined the Spanish-Comanche alliance with similar motivations; “Both [Comanches and Utes] could easily agree that Apaches to the south were their greatest problem, and they could extend their alliance with the Spanish to address the Apache threat.”[8] The Spanish, likewise, sought “Apache extermination,”[9] seeing no other way to halt Apache raids.

The war Spanish-Ute-Comanche war on the Apaches continued for some years. Wunder notes that “just when it seemed Apaches might cease to be a major factor in the Southwest, Spain switched its policy of all-out genocide on Apaches to making available establicimentos de paz (peace zones) for them.”[10] It was a complete change of policy, explained perhaps as a Spanish reaction to Apache behavior: bands of Apaches began coming to Spanish posts, suing for peace as early as 1786.[11] In response, Spanish commanders began providing rations and protection for those bands that settled near the Spanish posts in order to ensure the satisfaction of those bands with their decision to remain peaceful. Rations became the method of peace between Spanish officials and these Apache bands, and the “beef and sugar peace” lasted for as long as the Spanish officials were able to provide rations to the bands.[12]

Not all Apache bands sued for peace; raids and counter-raids continued between Apaches and Spanish forces, which included Spanish-allied Native American bands, but the overall effect of the rationing concept was strong. Expeditions in the early 1800s were laden with supplies that were intended only as gifts for the bands of Native Americans European explorers might encounter. The Spanish government “considered Indian allies to be the key element to establish effective control and eventual domination of a vast region.”[13] Gifts, and promises of rations either implicit or explicit, were a key strategy in that diplomatic objective. The imperialist exploitation of the American Southwest was an underlying strategic mission throughout Spanish contact with native North Americans. Efforts to control or annihilate the Indian people, while they varied in the intensity of their physical hostility, continually supported the strategic policy of expanding Spanish dominion over North American lands and people. Whether the Spanish were exterminating Apaches or exploiting them with gifts, they were exerting control over their frontier through its inhabitants. The rationing system was essentially an effective mechanism of social control, and was arguably less expensive than the attempted annihilation had been.

Rations were not evenly distributed among the Native Americans. Leaders were issued greater rations than non-leaders, and the leaders used their greater access to rations to bolster their status within the tribe.[14] This assured the continuation of the leadership of the same individuals who had made peace agreements with the Spaniards. For the individual leaders, the rations were an integral part of retaining their position. Rations were a source and a symbol of wealth, and were multiplied for those who were already wealthy. Comanches[15] and Apaches[16] were polygamous societies, and rations were granted according to the number of family members the head of household had.[17] So, men with multiple wives received more rations than those who were bachelors or had fewer wives, and their wealth was increased, which effectively solidified their status within their tribe. Stable leadership, along with the subsidization provided by the rationing system, meant that the tribes were less likely to vacillate in their agreements with the Spanish.

In January of 1818, the Spanish settlement of Janos provided rations of corn, salt, beef, and cigars for more than 400 Apaches,[18] but the rationing system of the Spanish colony was in its final days. By October of the same year, the rations from Janos consisted of nothing more than corn. The Spanish government was losing its hold on the region. When rations were reduced in the last years of Spanish control over the colony, Indian leaders who had used rations to support their position were weakened politically, and were forced to allow an increase in raiding in order to maintain their status.[19] Weakened by the lack of rations, tribes and their leaders became suspicious of each other,[20] and raids became necessary to supplement their diet.[21] In 1821, the newly independent Mexican government, unable to continue the Spanish rationing system, inherited the territory, but not the alliance of the territory’s Comanche and Apache inhabitants.

There was an economy behind the cycles of violence depicted in the histories of the Southwest. The Apaches’ culture of raiding was encouraged by scarcity long before the Spanish came to the Southwest, and was again after the rationing system ended. The change from Spanish extermination of Apaches to the controlled exploitation of the same was not really a change in policy, it was a change in tactics. Both strategies were exploitative, and differed only in the level of brutality manifested in the execution.





Blyth, Lance R. Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

Brooks, James. Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands. Chapel Hill, NC: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Dobyns, Henry F. Spanish Colonial Tucson: A Demographic History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1976.

Geronimo, and S. M. Barrett. Geronimo, My Life. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2005.

Gwynne, S. C. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. New York: Scribner, 2010.

Kessell, John L. Pueblos, Spaniards, and the Kingdom of New Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.

Oliva, Leo E. “Enemies and Friends: Montgomery Zebulon Pike and Facundo Melgares in the Competition for the Great Plains, 1806-1807.” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 29 (Spring 2006): 34-47.

Wunder, John R. “’That No Thorn Will Pierce Our Friendship’: The Ute-Comanche Treaty of 1786.” Western Historical Quarterly 42 (Spring 2011): 5-27.



[1] The first two years of resettlement were marked by violent battles between the Spanish forces and the resisting Puebloans. The Spanish soldiers were too few to have completed this task on their own, though; Puebloans made up more of the Spanish military forces than Spaniards did. John L. Kessell, Pueblos, Spaniards, and the Kingdom of New Mexico (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), 150-166.

[2] Ibid., 35.

[3] Leo E. Oliva, “Enemies and Friends: Zebulon Montgomery Pike and Facundo Melgares in the Competition for the Great Plains, 1806-1807,” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 29 (Spring 2006): 36.

[4] The acceptance of gifts even precipitated at least one attack, in the case of the ill-fated San Saba, where the Apaches lured the Spaniards into establishing a mission in Comanche territory, instigating the massacre of the missionaries by the Comanche. The war leader of the Comanche in that incident accepted gifts immediately before slaughtering the residents of the mission. S. C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History (New York, NY: Scribner, 2010), 66.

[5] Gwynne, Summer Moon, 69.

[6] Ibid., 71-72.

[7] John R. Wunder, “’That No Thorn Will Pierce Our Friendship’: The Ute-Comanche Treaty of 1786,” Western Historical Quarterly 42 (Spring 2011): 11.

[8] Ibid., 13.

[9] Ibid., 17.

[10] Ibid., 18.

[11] Henry F. Dobyns, Spanish Colonial Tucson: A Demographic History (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1976), 98.

[12] Ibid., 99.

[13] Alliances with the Native American tribes in the region were particularly valuable to the Spanish government because it was thought that the presence of armed bands of Native Americans would slow or halt the progress of an invasion by the United States – a real concern at the time, especially given the two countries’ disagreement over the validity of the United States’ Louisiana Purchase. Oliva, Enemies and Friends, 36.

[14] Lance R. Blythe, Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwest Borderlands, 1680-1880 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 97, 113.

[15] James Brooks, Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill, NC: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 178.

[16] Geronimo and S. M. Barrett, Geronimo: My Life (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2005), 40.

[17] Blythe, Chiricahua and Janos, 98.

[18] Ibid., 113.

[19] Blythe, Chiricahua and Janos, 116.

[20] Ibid., 87.

[21] Ibid., 116.