The Governor’s Land Deals, Part Two

George Manypenny

George Manypenny

Andrew Reeder had some nineteenth century trash talk for “vile and unscrupulous slanderer” George Manypenny. The governor believed that he acted entirely properly in his land speculations and that the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs condemned. As Manypenny had dragged Reeder’s name through the mud, the governor resolved to return the favor. Unlike Manypenny, Reeder averred, he would have proof.

But Reeder set pen to paper to do more than rant at Manypenny, even if he couldn’t resist speculating as to whether Manypenny opposed his land deal out of stupidity instead of malice. Yes, Reeder served as governor of Kansas. Yes, Reeder conducted business on the side. But everyone did that and the mere fact of his office should not raise suspicion against him:

no sensible man will deny, that an individual, by accepting a public office, does not forfeit his right to buy lands and make a profit off them if he can, provided the vendor is fully competent to manage his own affairs and make his own bargains, and no fraud, deceit or misrepresentation is practiced upon him.

And if said man disagreed, Reeder wrote him off. He didn’t see it as his job “supply his deficiencies of common sense.”

The standards for corruption in the nineteenth century could fall well short of what we hope, though rarely see, in our own time. But even now presidents transact private business during their term in office, most conspicuously the now-standard book deal. I think most of us would look askance at them dabbling in real estate too, but the simple fact of it wouldn’t necessarily raise concerns about corruption.

Furthermore, Manypenny’s accusations rested on Reeder taking advantage of “wild, untutored savages”. His job was to protect Indians from swindling white men, unless Manypenny himself did the swindling. He arranged many of the treaties that ceded reservation land for white settlement in advance of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, after all. Reeder declared the men he dealt with

as competent to manage their own affairs as your or I. Louis Papin is a white man-a shrewd and intelligent Frenchman, who speaks the French and English well, is quite at home in all the ordinary transactions of life, and so far from being an Indian that he has not the slightest admixture of Indian blood, and cannot speak the language. Aubrey is precisely the same, and no more of an Indian than yourself. Their wives are daughters of Louis Gondil, a French trader, and his Indian wife-quite as intelligent, as their parentage and station would indicate, and with whom the French is their daily and domestic language.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

They speak English and French. Neither has a drop of Indian blood. Their education and whiteness assured, one can presume them as competent as anybody else. They may have married half-Indian women, but one couldn’t hold that against them. Without Indian blood did the men even fall under Manypenny’s authority?

Joseph James is the son of a white father and Indian mother, and, with his brother, the United States interpreter, is among the most intelligent of his tribe. He (as well as Papin, Belmard, and Aubrey) follows, on a moderate scale, farming and raising stock, buying and selling, when necessary; speaks English, Indian, and I think some French, and is quite as keen and shrewd in his bargains as though he were a full-blooded white man, instead of a half-breed.

Living in Kansas and dealing with the men directly, one imagines that if Reeder cared in the slightest he could very well have given the Indian tongue its proper name. He can’t be bothered. He can, however, point out just how James lives and acts like a white man. That has to count for something, right?

The other man, a Frenchman named Belmard, also married an Indian woman:

His wife, Adele, is a half-breed daughter of Clement Lasette, a French trader; has all the manners and habits of a white, is acute and intelligent, and converses well in probably two more languages than yourself. Indeed, if I were allowed to venture an opinion, I should say that Mr. and Mrs. Belmard are quite as competent to superintend your bargains as you or your agent are to superintend theirs.

Reeder had to admit that he dealt with Indians, but stood firm on how they had white men vouching for them and lived like whites in every way. They, by implication, displayed none of the ignorance, savagery, or childlike innocence that white America variously ascribed to the continent’s original immigrants.

If that did not suffice to shut Manypenny up, and silence his critics, then Reeder had a trump card. In objecting, Manypenny made himself a hypocrite:

The prices fixed by all of them [the sellers] were simply accepted by us, and are four- and five-fold the amount which, in your treaty with the Shawnees, you had just before agreed to pay for better lands; and I have yet to learn that code of morality which considers the Indian fairly paid for choice lands at 60 cents an acre, by the commissioner of Indian affairs, and is shocked at the injury inflicted on a white man with half-breed wife, when an individual pays him $3.

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