If we look back at the history of the American west, the popular
view is that the Army was brutal and wanted to exterminate Indians.
This is a view made popular by a progression of novels, movies and
There was brutality, but not every Army officer in the West was
bloodthirsty. Many were sympathetic with the plight of Indians and
opposed policies of the government that seemed intent on moving
all Indians to Indian Territory.
As late as 1871, Gen. Crook had written to President Grant and
officially expressed his opposition to aspects of government Indian
policy. But his feelings never became public because Crook decided
it would be inappropriate for him to take a public stand. After
taking command of the Department of the Platte, he came to the conclusion
that his official reports were not very productive.
However, by 1879, he became much more vocal in his criticism of federal Indian
General Crook interviewed Standing Bear and several of his tribesmen
on March 31, 1879, at Fort Omaha. Journalist Thomas Tibbles was
invited by Crook to attend the meeting. General Crook asked Standing
Bear why he had left the Indian Territory, and Standing Bear replied,
"At last I had only one son left; then he sickened.
When he was dying, he asked me to promise him one thing. He begged
me to take him, when he was dead, back to our old burying ground
by the Swift running Waters, the Niobrara. I promised. When he died,
I, and those with me, put his body into a box and then in a wagon,
and we started North."
After Standing Bear had spoken, Crook expressed his sympathy with
the Ponca, but stated that he had a direct order and would have
to obey it. "It is . . . a very disagreeable duty."
The plight of the Ponca convinced General Crook that he had to
become more aggressive in expressing his views. Crook’s position
brought him into open conflict with government policies, but it
also brought him into a closer alliance with the group of civilian
reformers he had earlier mistrusted. Thomas Tibbles quotes Crook
as saying he would resign his commission if he thought it would
help keep the government from forcing the Ponca to return to Indian
Territory. He also was quoted as saying he would appeal directly
to Washington, except that the government typically issued orders
that were the exact opposite of what he recommended.