Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Judge William G. Langford and the Nez Perce Indians

I had already posted information about Judge Langford and his brief participation in the Indian wars. He interrupted his legal training to fight as a young man. I think we tend to forget the level of hostility that existed at times. I did some more research and found two more times when his professional career involved American Indians.

In April of 1879, while he was practicing law in San Francisco, he wrote the following letter from the Presidio to Brigadier General O. O. Howard, who was located at Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory. Since Vancouver was a place of his previous residence, it may be that he knew the General.

"William G. Langford writes in the interest of Timothy and his band of Indians who are settled on the Alpewa (sic) and requests in their behalf that they be protected in the treaty rights to land upon which they are settled."

The General forwarded this message with his message:

"Respectfully forward to the Adjutant General of the Army, Headquarters Military Division of the Pacific with request that this paper be referred to the Indian Bureau.
I am personally cognizant of the facts within stated and believe that prompt measures should be taken for the protection of these Indians, for any new injustice makes weight for a future war."

Apparently Timothy and his band had cooperated with the Army in some way that deserved consideration.

Judge Langford's biggest case involved the Nez Perce Indians in Idaho. It went all the way to the United States Supreme Court and ended in an Act of Congress, which did not occur until after his death in 1893.
On June 9, 1863 the United States entered a treaty with the Nez Perce Indians determining the land "reserved" for the use of the Indians within the state of Idaho. It was very specific however no surveyors were enlisted and, later, when lands went unsettled, claims were made by Langford and others that the Indians had abandoned various tracts and he attached a claim. His claim was made in the 1870s.This became a huge case for everyone involved as it was all new law.
After a series of legal skirmishes, the Indians agreed to give up the land to the government of the United States for settlement. Langford's heirs were paid $20,000 for their interest. The US also agreed to purchase two sawmills for use by the Nez Perce at a cost of $10,000 each. Surveyors were hired to determine specific boundaries of all the land in question. The Nez Perce Indians were given one million dollars to be placed to the credit of "the Nez Perce Indians of Idaho" in the Treasury of the United States, and were paid interest at five percent per annum. The total cost of this transaction was $1,668,622. And perhaps more important than anything achieved by money was the definition to the Indian land rights which no doubt was a model for future interactions with other tribes.

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