A Century of Dishonor
Helen Hunt Jackson
After living in the West for 20 years, Helen Hunt Jackson became interested in the government’s treatment
of Native Americans. After completing extensive research, she wrote A Century of Dishonor in 1881, and
sent a copy to every member of Congress. An excerpt follows.
As you read, consider the following questions:
• How were Native Americans affected by the United States denying them citizenship?
• How were they affected by the United States denying them ownership of property?
There is not among these three hundred bands of Indians [in the United States] one which has not suffered
cruelly at the hands either of the Government or of white settlers. The poorer, the more insignificant, the
more helpless the band, the more certain the cruelty and outrage to which they have been subjected. This is
especially true of the bands on the Pacific slopes. These Indians found themselves of a sudden surrounded
by and caught up in the great influx of gold-seeking settlers, as helpless creatures on a shore are caught
up in a tidal wave. There was not time for the Government to make treaties; not even time for communities
to make laws. The tale of the wrongs, the oppressions, the murders of the Pacific-slope Indians in the last
thirty years would be a volume by itself, and is too monstrous to be believed.
It makes little difference, however, where one opens the record of the history of the Indians; every page and
every year has its dark stain. The story of one tribe is the story of all, varied only by differences of time and
place; but neither time nor place makes any difference in the main facts. Colorado is as greedy and unjust
in 1880 as was Georgia in 1830, and Ohio in 1795; and the United States Government breaks promises now
as deftly as then, and with added ingenuity from long practice. . . .
In 1869 President Grant appointed a commission of nine men, representing the influence and philanthropy
of six leading States, to visit the different Indian reservations, and to "examine all matters appertaining to
In the report of this commission are such paragraphs as the following: "To assert that ’the Indian will not
work’ is as true as it would be to say that the white man will not work.
’Why should the Indian be expected to plant corn, fence lands, build houses, or do anything but get food
from day to day, when experience has taught him that the product of his labor will be seized by the white
man tomorrow? The most industrious white man would become a drone under similar circumstances.
Nevertheless, many of the Indians" (the commissioners might more forcibly have said 130,000 of the
Indians) "are already at work, and furnish ample refutation of the assertion that ’the Indian will not work.’
There is no escape from the inexorable logic of facts.
"The history of the Government connections with the Indians is a shameful record of broken treaties and