October 9: The New York American and the Arikara
On this date in 1823, the New York American published a scorching editorial critical of a United States military expedition to punish the Arikara for ambushing fur traders. It said in part, “... our reflections … lead to the conclusion that the wrongs of this quarrel are on our side; that we were the original aggressors; and that in affecting to avenge what has been called an unprovoked outrage upon American citizens, we have only followed up more systematically the first aggression.
“Let us see how the facts are. General Ashley, with a party armed and equipped for war, and not in the guise of mere traders, invades (that is the true expression) the territories of independent Indian nations, for so, by making, time to time, treaties with them, we acknowledge them to be, for the purpose of trapping beaver, and taking generally other wild animals. No permission is asked of the Indians; on the contrary, they are known to be opposed to, and alarmed at, these forcible intrusions of the whites upon their hunting grounds; and it was because they were understood to be thus hostiles that all of the precautions of war were taken by General Ashley and his party against surprize or open hostility. The Indians were, therefore, authorized to repel the approaches of such a party – they did so – and in the contest, unfortunately, very many of our countrymen fell.
“Then arises the question, whether the occurrence of hostilities between a party of Americans, engaged in a private speculation, and a party of Indians, repelling an unlawful intrusion upon their soil, be such a case as to warrant, in the first place, the interposition of the nation to avenge by war the blood of its citizens; and in the second place, if it be so, whether the President of the United States be competent of himself, and without consent of Congress, to declare such war.”
This editorial annoyed the Monroe administration. The administration's semi-official mouthpiece, the National Intelligencer, wasted little time in denouncing the American's assessment a week later. The American's remarks did not go over well among fur traders either. William Henry Ashley remarked, “More errors I have never seen comprised in as few words.”
Yet, despite the publication’s many critics, congressmen were known to listen to the New York American.
Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel
- “The Rickaree War,” New York American, 9 October 1823, page 2, columns 2-3.
- A special thanks goes to the staff of the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room at the Library of Congress. Their assistance was invaluable for finding this reference.
- “THE RICKAREE AFFAIR” (reprint from a National Intelligencer article from October 15, 1823); Pittsfield Sun (Pittsfield, MA); 6 November 1823; page 1, column 4; page 2, column 1.
- “The Rickaree Affair” (reprint from a National Intelligencer article from October 15, 1823); National Gazette and Literary Register (Philadelphia); 23 October 1823; page 1, column 6; page 2, column 1.
- William E. Ames, “A history of the National intelligencer” (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), 376 pages.
- Wm. H. Ashley, “To the Editors of the Enquirer”, St. Louis Enquirer, 17 November 1823, page 3, columns 1-2.
- William R. Nester, “The Arikara War” (Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2001), page 189.
- An expression of just how much congressmen listened to the New York American is how the House of Representatives passed the following resolution on December 30, 1823: “Resolved, That the Committee on Indian Affairs be instructed to inquire into the practicability and expediency of adopting measures which shall more effectually restrain either citizens of the United States or foreigners from hunting or trapping on lands to which the Indian title has not been extinguished, and exclude foreigners from a participation in the Indian trade.”
- “TRADE WITH THE INDIANS”, 30 December 1823, Annals of Congress, 18th Congress, pages 896-897.