June 11, 2012

Treaty payments in The Mentalist

A recent episode of The Mentalist included a Native reference. Titled So Long, and Thanks for All the Red Snapper (airdate: 5/3/12), the story was about the murder of a surfer. Turns out he was searching for sunken treasure and had a falling out with his partner.

Patrick Jane, the mentalist, learns of the treasure when he interviews an old salt in a bar. The key exchange goes like this:JANE: The Fremont was a treasure ship, the most famous in Santa Marta history.

OLD SALT: Yes, she went down in 1906. She was carrying all the annual treaty payments for the Indian tribes up north.

JANE: Crates of gold coins, and bullion. Sixty million dollars' worth, today's value.
Huh? What's that, you say? Treaty payments from the US to tribes? In 1906? Consisting of solid gold?

No gold for Indians

I posted the following on Facebook for my Native friends:

Native history question: The US government sometimes bought Indian land via treaties. My impression is that the government paid for the land with goods and services. Do you know of any case where the government paid cold hard cash for land? You know, like chests full of Treasury bills or gold coins?

Somehow, I don't envision the government giving, or Indians getting, piles of money. What would the Indians do with it: hide it under their blankets? Open a savings account at a local Indian-friendly bank?

Instead, I imagine the government gave the Indians goods and services because it would be easier to cheat them that way. I.e., to provide inferior goods and skimp on the services.

This led to the following discussion with various people:I think Chief Richardville was the only one who recieved money in payment and then kept it to himself. He was the richest Indian ever in Miami territory, Indiana.

No, when a treaty called for a money payment, they would usually put money on account in the Treasury for the tribe's use. The government would tend the money and make the purchases the tribe requested.
That sounds right. With an occasional exception such as Chief Richardville, if that story is correct.

I ask because the sunken treasure in last week's Mentalist was supposedly gold being shipped for Indian treaty rights in 1906. Every part of that claim sounded false. Gold paid directly to Indians in the 20th century, after the treaty era ended? I don't think so.Not!In fact, that has to be one of the least likely uses of gold currency in 1906. Almost anything the writers could've come up with would've been more plausible.Nope, didn't happen.

Sounds fishy to me also.
Now I wonder if the Indians ever received money. As in cash in the hand, not in a ledger somewhere. Maybe in the early days when it was only hundreds or thousands of dollars?

No one had an answer for that.

Conclusion: Once again, The Mentalist includes Native culture or history (good) and does a mediocre job of it (bad). Oh, well.

For more on The Mentalist, see Maya Artifacts in The Mentalist and Aingavite Baa in The Mentalist.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's just *puts sunglasses on* Auful! YEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHH!

Wait, what do you mean, it's not CSI?