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October 13: The Rickaree Affair

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This week in 1823, the National Intelligencer published a letter rebutting a New-York American editorial that had criticized the Monroe administration's policy of punishing Arikaras for attacking fur traders.

This letter said:

“If we are to judge of our relation to the Indian tribes residing within our limits by our own laws and the whole system of our Indian intercourse, growing out of them, nothing would seem more clear than that they are not independent people in the same sense as we would apply the term to the English, French, or any other nation not residing within our limits. We exercise over them many and important acts of sovereignty, without consulting or asking their consent. We claim their very territory, inhibiting them from selling to any but ourselves, or holding, without our consent, intercourse with any other people, either politically or commercially, except our citizens. Farther, our Constitution gives the right to Congress of regulating trade with the Indian tribes within our limits; and under this authority, that body has determined who shall and who shall not enter the Indian country, in what mode they shall enter, how they shall demean themselves while there; and undertakes to punish those that violate the prescribed rules, and protect those who comply with them. All this, and much more is done by Congress, without treaty, or consulting or asking the consent of the Indians...

“Error begets error. Going on the supposition, that the Indian tribes are a people entirely independent, and to be consequently proceeded against like any other independent nation, the Editors of the American deny that the Executive had any right to adopt the measures which have been pursued for their chastisement. They consider the movement of [Colonel] Leavenworth as an act of war, and assert that the power of making war, under the constitution, belongs not to the Executive, but to Congress. Such no doubt, is the provision of the Constitution: but who, I would ask, ever heard of Congress declaring war against any Indian tribe residing within our limits? We have had many and bloody contests with them, beginning with those under the administration of General Washington, but not in any one instance, has war been declared against them.”

These remarks, probably written by someone on the Monroe administration's staff, reflect the prevailing ideological orthodoxy underpinning federal Indian policy during the nineteenth century.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel


  • “The Rickaree Affair”, Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), 18 October 1823, page 2, columns 1-2.
    • The publication date was October 18, 2023. The date which letter was sent from Washington to the editors of the National Intelligencer was October 15, 1823. It is for this reason that this letter is dated “October 15, 1823” in later reprints and future book footnotes.
  • “THE RICKAREE AFFAIR” (reprint); Pittsfield Sun (Pittsfield, MA); 6 November 1823; page 1, column 4; page 2, column 1.
  • “The Rickaree Affair” (reprint); National Gazette and Literary Register (Philadelphia); 23 October 1823; page 1, column 6; page 2, column 1.
  • William R. Nester, “The Arikara War” (Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2001), pages 189, 230.
  • “The Rickaree War”, New-York American, 9 October 1823, page 2, columns 2-3.
  • William E. Ames, “A history of the National intelligencer” (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), 376 pages.
    • “A history of the National intelligencer” is an excellent resource for understanding this newspaper's role as an unofficial mouthpiece of the Monroe administration.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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