European Adaptation and Trades With Indians
The different European powers started their original dealings with the Indians in various ways. The French used diplomacy which allowed them to build a large empire even if it did not have much of a population. The Spanish did not learn the importance of diplomacy until after the Pueblo War of Independence in 1680. Before this time the Spanish focused on conquest and forced conversions of the Indians to Christianity. The British used diplomacy and the focus was on making treaties that surrounded their dealings with the Indians in a veneer of respectability and the law.
The Indian protocols that needed to be followed by colonists included smoking the peace pipe, the presentation of wampum belts, gift giving and lengthy speeches. While there might be different protocols required by the different tribes the basic protocols remain the same. The colonists who took the time to accomplish these rituals were rewarded through the increased cooperation and increased trade goods and the settlers who felt that they were unnecessary faced problems that ranged from inability to trade to open conflict.
The European colonists continued to use force and coercion on the Indians until they realized that having them as allies could provide the best and cheapest defense of their new lands from their enemies. In other words it was more economical to have them as friends who would help protect them rather than enemies who had the power to harm or destroy their settlements. The French focus on the fur trade required them to develop diplomacy into a science. Their observation of all the Indian customs resulted in the increased quality of goods received and the protection of their citizens. When the customers were not observed the Indians believed that an act of war had been committed resulting in the deaths of French citizens.
The Spanish required allies to help protect their garrisons. While they had many garrisons spread over their land the numbers of individuals stationed at each one was small. By increasing their diplomatic abilities when dealing with the Indians they were able to gain Pueblo and Pima allies who helped them defend the territory. They also had to deal with the Comanche, Utes and Apaches to prevent them from destroying the Spanish presence. Should those tribes have joined forces their numbers would have been overpowering and devastating for the Spaniards in order to prevent that situation the Spanish were willing to negotiate with the tribes who could provide an economic benefit.
While diplomacy worked the majority of the time for the Spaniards and the Comanche there were occasional instances of hostilities which lasted until 1779 when a Comanche chief was killed. Additional peace talks and negotiations occurred until 1786 when the same governor created peace between New Mexico and the Comanche’s.
The British had a reputation for being more concerned with how much land they could gain power over which affected their dealings with the Indians. The treaties that were signed with the Indians allowed them the legal fiction in their conquest they were filled with passages that allowed the English to defraud the Indians of their natural rights. One of the common complaints that the Indians had with the treaties was that the language used in the document did not seem to match what was said during negotiations. The English established the treaty as the main means of legitimizing the take over of Indian lands through they were used in an illegal manner.
During the 1700’s the Iroquois had been decimated through starvation, disease and warfare. At that time the Iroquois sent diplomats to Montreal, Albany and Great Britain in an effort to make peace with France, Britain and their Indian allies. This allowed them to combine diplomacy with their military strength to create a course of neutrality among the different powers. Due to the efforts of the Iroquois tribe the British government created a new department known as the British Indian Department. Individuals who worked for this department generally married into various Indian societies learning their customs which allowed them to act as intermediates between the tribes and the British Empire.
The Indians learned that with the lack of unification of the European countries they could work that lack to their own advantage. The larger tribes such as the Iroquois in New York and the Choctaws in the Mississippi valley were able to maintain their independence while engaging in trade with both the British and the French. Smaller tribes were able to engage in similar techniques on a more local level. The Indians knew that when the Europeans came to negotiate the Europeans only wanted several things: land, young men for the militia or some type other type of resource. When the Indians were brought to the negotiation table they weighed what they were offered with what they would have to give up. The ability of being able to work one side against the other allowed some of the tribes to maintain their independence while increasing the problems between the various colonies.
This system worked well until the French were driven out of America and the balance of power shifted toward the British. Once the British had full control of North America many of them believed that the Indians were a conquered nation and stopped the policy of giving gifts to reduce the drain their treasuries. At this time the Indian nations lost the ability to play the two powers off of each other in an attempt to retain their independence.