By Adrian Jawort
Isenberg said, “Some Army officers in the Great Plains in the late 1860s and 1870s, including William Sherman and Richard Dodge, as well as the Secretary of the Interior in the 1870s, Columbus Delano, foresaw that if the bison were extinct, the Indians in the Great Plains would have to surrender to the reservation system.” Colonel Dodge said in 1867, “Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone,” and Delano wrote in his 1872 annual report, “The rapid disappearance of game from the former hunting-grounds must operate largely in favor of our efforts to confine the Indians to smaller areas, and compel them to abandon their nomadic customs.”
“As a policy statement, I think that’s pretty clear,” Isenberg said. The Army had already used a similar strategy—In its 1863-1864 campaign against the Navajos, led by Colonel Kit Carson, the Army destroyed tens of thousands of sheep in a successful effort to subdue the Navajos.
There was one tactical flaw with this strategy: too many buffalo. But while it wasn’t feasible for the U.S. Army to kill tens of millions of bison, it was feasible for the Army to let hunters use their forts as bases of operation and stand by as they slaughtered the animals in staggering numbers. Another key strategy here was that the Army made no effort to enforce all those treaty obligations forbidding whites to hunt on Indian lands. Whites could needlessly kill a bison for “sport” but when an Indian killed cattle for food for his family because of the growing scarcity of bison, he was severely reprimanded.
Hence we say that America's policies were genocidal even if no document stated a goal of eliminating the Indians. This goal was implicit, not explicit.
For more on the genocide against Indians, see The South American Genocide and Reagan Aided Atrocities Against Indians.
Below: "A pile of hides in Dodge City, Kansas, ready to be shipped back to the East Coast."