Oral History Interview with
Director, War Relocation Authority, 1942-46; Commissioner, Federal Public Housing Administration, 1946-47; president, Institute of Inter-American Affairs, 1947-50; Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1950-53.
Dillon S. Myer
July 7, 1970
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office (Helen S. Pryor interviewer)
Chapters IX through XIII
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Dillon S. Myer Chapters]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview donated to the Harry S. Truman Library. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word, although some editing was done.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate
the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between the Regents of the University of California and Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer, dated July 7, 1970. The manuscript is thereby made available for research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer until January 1, 1980. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of the Bancroft Library of the University of California.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, and should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal agreement with Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer requires that they be notified of the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.
Opened July, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Dillon S. Myer Chapters]
Oral History Interview with
Dillon S. Myer
July 7, 1970
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office (Helen S. Pryor interviewer)
Chapters IX through XIII
THE MOVE FROM AGRICULTURE TO THE WAR RELOCATION AUTHORITY IN 1942
DSM: After serving as Acting Administrator of the Agriculture Conservation and Adjustment Administration, which Secretary Wickard had established in December of 1941, I was asked to take on the job as Director of the War Relocation Authority in June of 1942. The WRA was an independent agency established by Executive Order on March 19, 1942.
We were having a party at our house on a Saturday evening June 13th, and among others present was Milton Eisenhower and Helen, his very wonderful wife (later deceased). Milton had taken on the job as Director of the WRA in March of 1942 much against his will. It so happened that during the afternoon before they came to our party he received a request from Elmer Davis to become his deputy in the new agency known as the Office of War Information. It was quite obvious to me that he was all hepped up about it. He talked about it on our porch and I could hear bits of the conversation.
About nine o clock Milton went into our dining room where we kept our piano, sat down and started to play. When the party was over Milton and Helen were the last ones to leave and as we walked out together I said "Milton you are going to take the job at OWI, aren’t you?" He said "Yes I am." I said "You decided that at nine o clock tonight just before you went in to play the piano," and he said "That’s right." Then he turned to me and he said "Will you take on the job as Director of WRA?" I said "Well, this is a bit of a shock but let s talk about it." So we set up a date for Monday evening.
Jenness and I went down to the Eisenhower's and we spent a couple of hours going over the whole situation and finally I said to Milton "Do you think I should take this job?" He said "Dillon, if you can
sleep and still carry on the job my answer would be yes. I can’t sleep and do this job. I had to get out of it." So I told him that I would take on the job. This was on Monday evening and Wednesday afternoon on June 17th I took over the chair which he had vacated.
Fortunately I had had some part in the selection of the key personnel in Washington or at least most of them. Milton Eisenhower and I rode in the same car pool. We had been working together for years and I don’t think he made any appointments, at least from among those people that we had worked with in Agriculture, that he didn’t discuss with me. So except for two or three people among the top staff, they were all people that had worked for me or with me within the Department of Agriculture. I found out later that before Milton finally made a recommendation that I take on the job he checked it with the staff and they had approved the idea which of course pleased me very much.
When Milton said that he couldn’t sleep he meant literally that because he was very disturbed about the whole WRA concept. He found the situation that he was facing most difficult, with the antagonisms on the part of much of the American public against the Japanese because we were at war with Japan and many people did not differentiate between the Japanese Americans and the Japanese with whom we were at war. At the same time the problems of moving people from assembly centers on the West Coast into temporary relocation centers I’m sure got on his nerves very badly, and he was practically ill.
HP: You are just as sensitive to this and to the injustices involved as he was. How do you explain that you were able to take it more tranquilly then he was?
DSM: Well, I think first of all Milton had been in public relations work most of his life. He was a public relations man first, last and all the time and he did not like to get in between the rock and the hard place. He certainly was in between on this job because the pressures on both sides were very, very heavy and this upset him very much.
In my own case even though I think I am quite sensitive and I had some emotional spots during the four years that I was Director of the WRA I never have been bothered when it comes to carrying on a job that I feel that I am responsible for. As a consequence I didn’t worry myself too much about the pressures from the racists and from the people who were trying to beat us into the ground all of the time.
I was able to take it in stride and fortunately I have always been a good sleeper and I still am. Consequently I did the job as I felt that it should be done and with a very few exceptions I went to bed at night and slept soundly until time to get up the next morning.
HP: I take it you were no more in sympathy with the philosophy in back of the evacuation than Milton was, but that you felt that there was a job to be done and it might as well be done as well as possible.
DSM: That’s right. The war was on and I was requested to take on a special war-time job with a Presidential appointment and unless you have a very good reason you don’t turn down a Presidential request during wartime.
The Evacuation Authorization and Initiation
DSM: I, of course, was not sympathetic to the evacuation and the move that was made by General DeWitt. The truth of the matter however is that when I first took over I had very little information about the Japanese people on the West Coast and I had very little clear information about the basic reasons that were given for the evacuation and whether the reasons were sound or whether they weren’t. I found out very quickly after I became Director that most of the reasons were phony and many of the rumors which were used to justify the evacuation which came out of the attack on Hawaii were proven to be completely untrue as were many other things
that were put forth by the people who were pressuring for the evacuation previous to the time when General DeWitt had made the final decision in February 1942. The evacuation didn’t actually take place until March but he made his recommendations to the War Department on February 13 in which he did an all out job of trying to justify the move that he had proposed to make if given the authority to do so. He got that authority on February 19 and announcements were made that there would be an evacuation.
In the beginning he allowed people to move out from the California and the West Coast on a voluntary basis but after a short time it was quite obvious that these people were running into trouble because the people in the hinterland where they were trying to settle didn’t quite understand who they were. They were fearful and they thought that they were having a Japanese invasion in some cases. Milton Eisenhower, who was still Director, recommended that the voluntary evacuation be stopped and that plans be made for carrying out the evacuation on a step-by-step basis.
The history which led up to the evacuation is a bit complex and I’ll not try to cover it here except to say at that time Earl Warren was Attorney General of California but looking forward to being candidate for governor in the fall of 1942 which he was and he favored the evacuation. General DeWitt had brought onto his staff on the West Coast Colonel Carl Bendetsen who was in charge of his civilian affairs and while some people feel that Bendetsen had little responsibility for recommending the evacuation I do not agree. I think that he was a prime mover in recommending to General DeWitt that he carry out the evacuation. As a matter of fact after the evacuation order was issued here on the mainland he tried for weeks to get a large group of people evacuated from Hawaii with the idea I am sure of justifying their West Coast evacuation. One of the people who touched off the campaign for the evacuation was a radio commentator by the name of John B. Hughes who recommended in late January that an evacuation be carried out.
Much to the surprise of many of us when we checked the history we learned that Walter Lippmann went out
to the coast and spent several days in early February and he was evidently taken in by General DeWitt. He recommended evacuation. He repeated some of the same phony philosophy as to the reasons for the evacuation in one of his columns. The major thing that he ended up with was the fact that General DeWitt had said and he repeated this "the fact that there had been no problem up till then was the best indication in the world that there would be because they were just waiting for the right time."
So on February 19, 1942 the President issued an Executive Order which authorized Secretary of War Stimson or any commander designated by him to establish military areas and to exclude there from any and all persons who they felt might be inimical to the war effort. Following this Executive Order the first proclamation that was issued by General DeWitt under this authority was on March 2, 1942. On March 11, 1942 he established the WCCA which was the civilian affairs unit of his organization that I have already mentioned under Colonel Carl Bendetsen and on June 2 proclamation number six announced no further voluntary movement from California and plans for eventual total evacuation was announced. This was just two weeks before I took over the job on June 17th.
Agricultural Labor - The First Relocation Move
DSM: During the month of May the pressures for agricultural labor were so heavy that authorization was provided both by the Western Defense Command and by the WRA for the recruiting of labor in the centers under certain very strict conditions. These rules provided that they had to have the statements by the Governors of the various states and by the law enforcement officials that they would enforce the law and see that there were no problems in the way of retribution against people of Japanese ancestry and a number of other very closely written restrictions which had to
do with their staying within certain limited area.
Student Relocation Committee
DSM: Along about the same time there were a number of students in the universities on the West Coast who wanted to continue their studies so Milton Eisenhower asked Clarence Pickett of the American Friends Service Committee to form a committee to propose and initiate plans for a student relocation program.
The committee was appointed and when I arrived on the scene on June 17th there already were plans under way for checking with colleges outside of the evacuated zone to see which among the various colleges and universities were in position to accept students and at the same time for making a survey, on the West Coast, of the students who were in college there to see who among those wished to relocate into other institutions. This work was carried out largely through the summer of 1942 and a very excellent job was done.
The main handicap that the committee had was the fact that many of the universities had defense contracts and they were fearful that the Defense Department would object to their taking evacuee students at that time so that there were some of the institutions who didn’t go along with the plan who otherwise might have done so.
First Steps Toward A General Relocation Policy
DSM: During the first week of my incumbency we held our first staff conference and I met the people among
our key staff whom I had not met previously. Among others was Tom Holland who had just returned from a trip to the West Coast and who had visited some of the Army’s assembly centers and one or two of the new relocation centers that had been established. When I called on him for a report on his trip he made one of the most articulate and most moving statements that I think I have ever heard made in a staff meeting, He strongly favored a policy of relocation and the doing away with centers altogether as quickly as possible. I was very much struck by his presentation and by his arguments.
Almost immediately after this meeting was over I started on a trip to the West Coast with three or four of the key staff members at which time I visited the Tule Lake and Posten Relocation Centers and the area office in San Francisco. When I came back I announced to the staff that I was in full agreement with Tom Holland’s recommendations. I wanted immediately to proceed with plans for a relocation program. So plans were written up, very cautious ones I might say, to allow relocation outside of the centers under certain conditions.
Among other things the plan was limited to Nisei. Kibei (who were Nisei who had spent a good deal of their time in Japan and had most of their education there) were not included in the group who could relocate. Issei were not included in this first statement.
HP: This was relocation from the centers?
DSM: That’s right. This involved relocation from the relocation centers into the hinterland to accept jobs wherever they could be found. This policy became effective July 20, 1942.
Following this we immediately went to work on a more comprehensive program and regulations for which we were able to issue in late September and it became effective October 1, 1942. It made provision for relocation from the relocation centers into the normal communities outside of the evacuated area. I have mentioned the terms Issei, Nisei and Kibei. Nisei are
first-generation Japanese Americans who are American citizens because they were born on American soil. Kibei were also born on American soil but these were Nisei who had gone back to Japan for much of their education and as a consequence some of them were really more Japanese in their culture than they were American. The Issei were the first generation folks who immigrated from Japan to the United States and who were the parents of the Nisei and the Kibei. They were aliens and continued to be aliens until the 1950’s because the laws up until that time did not allow naturalization of Orientals. The only exception to that was a few cases where Issei had participated in World War I and were later given their citizenship by a special act of Congress.
In 1954 the immigration laws were revamped so that it set up a quota, not only for Japanese but for the so called Asiatic triangle and authorized the naturalization of people from that area and which opened the way for the Issei who had been in this country throughout many years to apply for American citizenship. Many of them had lived here since 1900 or 1910 both here and in Hawaii. The majority of them did apply except for those who were so old that they didn’t feel that it was worth going to the trouble.
The Army Assembly Centers
DSM: After General DeWitt issued his proclamation which provided for no further voluntary evacuations and set up a general schedule for the evacuation of the rest of the territory, the evacuees were moved into army assembly centers which were hastily provided. These were mostly in racetracks up and down the West Coast. Many of these people lived in these temporary assembly centers run by the Army throughout the summer and fall of 1942 while relocation centers were being constructed by the army engineers.
HP: Did they use tents?
DSM: No, they used the barns, put in partitions and they used the grandstand. Kitchens and other service facilities were underneath the grandstand. The Nisei still talk about the smell of horse manure that they lived with during those months.
The Move To Relocation Centers
DSM: The first relocation center was Manzanar which was originally an assembly center which was constructed by the Army. It was turned over to WRA on June 1, 1942. The other center which was in the early stages of construction and use was the one at Posten near Parker, Arizona, which was constructed on an Indian reservation. Posten turned out to be the largest center we had with three different units Posten I, II and III. The other centers were brought into use as they were partially or wholly completed. The last of the evacuees were moved into the Rhower center in Arkansas in November 1942.
We had real problems during this period of movement from the assembly centers because once the army set up dates for movement which was carried out through the use of trains and buses they moved on the scheduled dates in spite of hell or high water, regardless of whether or not the centers were ready for the evacuees. As a consequence we had very many situations where centers were not complete and where there was a great deal of misery and inconvenience as a result of having not been able to complete the centers in time to receive the people as they should have been received.
HP: How many people were involved in this?
DSM: 110,000 people were moved to begin with. During the four year period we dealt with a total of 120,000
people. Some of them came in from other parts of the country where they had voluntarily relocated and added to our group who were evacuated in the first instance and then a lot of babies were born during the four years of the relocation centers; it happened that the births outstripped the deaths during that period. Our good health facilities in the centers helped many people to extend their life span. I am sure they might not have lived so long if they had not had the kind of medical service that we were able to provide.
The Policy Conference And Its Importance
DSM: Up until August of 1942 no general policy had been issued regarding the operation of centers. On August 13th we convened the directors of centers who had already been selected and our key staff members from some of these centers plus our key staff members from Washington at a meeting in San Francisco which was known as a policy session. During the several days following August 13th we hammered out policy after policy affecting the operations of relocation centers. This was essential because we had absolutely no precedent on which to operate.
These policies concerned the various phases of life in the centers. The matter of food and mess halls and how they would be operated, and type of food and the costs and so on had to be spelled out. The areas of education, policing, religious worship, the matter of whether or not we were going to have farming operations to provide food wherever it was feasible and so on. It went into all phases of life in the center at that time.
As fast as these policies were shaped up they were issued one by one over a period from about the 20th of August through the middle of September. This was a very important matter. The reason being that by the time we had arrived at this stage much to our
surprise the people on the West Coast who had helped to pressure General DeWitt and others into carrying out an evacuation were again on the prowl and they were out sniping at everything that was going on in the centers. They were claiming that the evacuees were getting better meats than the men in the Army were getting and all kinds of crazy stories were being put out in the Hearst press and in other ways to harass the evacuees and WRA.
The Dies Committee Moved In
DSM: It wasn’t long after the policies were formulated that the Dies Committee of the U.S. Congress set up a sub-committee headed by John Costello. They sent investigators, so called, into five or six of the centers to check on our policies and I requested the Directors to be sure to take a transcript of all of the testimony that was given to them so that I could see what was happening.
You can imagine my relief when I found that the Directors had learned their lesson and that they all told the same story; they had read the policy statements and they just clicked right down the line. I heaved a great big sigh of relief and said "Thank God we have the policies and have the people who had the good sense to know that it was important to follow the policies" because had they found that we were not consistent and playing it by ear we would have been in more trouble than we were. We were in trouble enough as it was.
The Posten And Manzanar Troubles
DSM: Our first real trouble spot developed in Camp I of the Posten Relocation Center on November 14, 1942 when we had a community-wide strike and demonstration, which was called by the Hearst press and others a riot which it wasn’t. This came about because the F.B.I. had come into the center and had arrested two or three people and they were put into jail and the community got up in arms and demanded that they be released and when they weren’t released immediately they went on strike and consequently nothing was done for about a week or ten days except to provide the basic food and essential services required by the evacuees.
This had hardly settled down when we had a incident at Manzanar on December 6, 1942 and this was known pretty much as the Kibei rebellion. A group of Kibei and a group of people who were running the kitchens were involved. The chefs who had organized themselves into a kitchen workers union began to demand things. Here again this incident came about because there some arrests were made in the center and these people who were arrested were taken out to Independence or one of the nearby towns.
This group demanded that they be brought back to the center and that they be released to the people in the center. As a result of discussions that Ralph Merritt, the director of the project, had had with the leaders of the group he thought they had arrived at a meeting of the minds and a compromise but he found out an hour or two later that the leader had simply announced another meeting later in the day. When he found that they had broken their word and were meeting again he called in the Army which he had authority to do. Unfortunately, after the Army came in some youngster climbed into a car and released the brakes and ran it right down toward the soldiers and some trigger-happy boy started shooting. Some people were wounded and three people ultimately died as a result of the shooting.
This was a period of my greatest anxiety. The month of December was a horrendous month. I didn’t know what was going to happen in the other centers and whether this was a pattern that was going to develop in center after center which some people were predicting. Furthermore we had not followed the recommendations of the Army when they turned the evacuees over to us to hire forty to fifty police at each of the centers from the outside because we did not feel that it was necessary.
We had adopted the policy of having one police chief who we appointed and then the rest of the policing was done by the evacuees themselves who were hired to do a job, just as they were hired to do other jobs in the center. So we didn’t know at this stage whether we had been wrong. This is the one period when I remember quite clearly that I didn’t sleep every night as I had promised Milton Eisenhower to do.
Finally I came down to the office one morning and decided that we were going to do something although I didn’t know what! I asked Elmer Rowalt to fill his pocket up with cigars which he liked to smoke and to come into my office and close the door that we would probably spend the morning together and we were going to talk the whole thing over and through and come out with some decisions.
A Second Policy Conference
DSM: We decided that the first thing that we would do would be to call a meeting in early January 1943 of all the project directors and the key personnel again and review our policies which had already been issued and see whether any changes should be made. We made practically no changes as a result of this but it was something to be done and we did it.
We did authorize the hiring of not more than two additional assistants to the police chief in each of the centers. Some of them hired them and some of them didn’t. We decided to approve the election of Issei to the centers councils. Even though this action doesn’t seem to be very much, we did review our other policies and decided that they were sound and that we would sit tight.
In November of 1942 we decided to eliminate the three regional offices that had been established and to move the responsibilities that they had carried into the Washington office except for some liaison people in one or two operations including an evacuee property office on the West Coast. This was done between November 15, 1942 and the first of January 1943.
Relocation Field Offices Established
DSM: About the same time we decided to go all out on a relocation program outside of the relocation centers. On January 4, 1943 the first two relocation field offices, called area field offices, were established to assist in helping people to relocate outside of the centers through finding jobs, housing and assuring them the opportunity to live peaceably and to carry on as other civilians would carry on.
From this start we established field offices in key cities all over the United States. Before 1943 was out we had seven other offices making a total of nine by the time we had completed that earlier setup.
A Senate Sub-Committee Holds Hearings
DSM: On January 20, 1943 Senator A. B. Chandler, who had been named Chairman of a sub-committee of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, started hearings on a bill which was introduced by Senator Mon Wallgren of Washington to transfer the W.R.A. functions to the War Department. This bill had been proposed some weeks earlier by the American Legion, who were poorly informed. They claimed that we were relocating people out of the centers in which they were supposed to be kept throughout the war period, and that it was likely that we were introducing saboteurs all over the country.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team Was Launched
DSM: Fortunately on January 28, 1943 before the hearings were ended, Secretary Stimson announced that a regimental combat team composed of volunteers of Japanese Americans from the mainland and Hawaii was to be organized. I had been pressing for this during all the months that I had been in office as director, and it happened to come at a very opportune time from the standpoint of the hearings that we were having on Capitol Hill.
Following this, beginning on February 8, 1943, we started in cooperation with the Army a registration of all people who were eligible for army enlistment and we also added provisions for leave clearance from the centers for all people over fifteen years of age including the Issei.
This led to some difficulties because some of the questions were poorly worded. The worst one for example was "Do you swear to be a loyal citizen of the United States, etc.?" Of course the Issei could
not be citizens of the United States, never had been, and were not allowed to be. They couldn’t answer this question. So after this was pointed out the question was changed so that all except a very small percentage were able to answer it because it simply said "Will you do nothing to interfere with the war effort of the United States?" I don’t remember the exact details but that was the essence of the question.
HP: Getting back to the allegation by the American Legion that some of the people released from the centers to take jobs elsewhere were guilty of sabotage. Was there ever an established case that a person from a relocation center had become a saboteur?
DSM: No, there never was an established case of sabotage. Not only as regards the people who had been in relocation centers who had lived on the West Coast but it also included Hawaii, which had more people of Japanese ancestry then we had in the United States mainland. There were lots of rumors about sabotage but none of them proved to be true. It took a long time to eliminate those rumors. Many people were still quoting them weeks and weeks after they had been knocked down by J. Edgar Hoover and others who had made the investigation.
I had one rather embarrassing situation in my own home. One Sunday afternoon we had some friends who had dropped by and among them was an Admiral of the Navy who had been a neighbor of ours for years and during the course of the conversation they got onto the question of the evacuees and the Admiral said, "Well, you know that one of the Japanese who was shot down during the attack on Pearl Harbor—a member of the Japanese Air Force—was wearing a high school ring from Hawaii." I said "Yes, I know about that" and then I hesitated because here I was
host to a whole room full of people but I finally said "George, I do know about that and we have checked that out thoroughly and it isn’t true. Our source of information on this is the Office of Naval Intelligence." He said "Well of course they should know." I said "Yes. I think they probably are better informed than most anybody," and we passed over it. Fortunately we continued to be good friends but it was a very tough spot to be in. This was typical of what was going on in those days.
Our Letter To Secretary Stimson Recommending A Change In The Exclusion Order
DSM: On March 11, 1943 we sent a long detailed letter to Secretary Stimson of the War Department recommending immediate relaxation of the West Coast exclusion orders. This was just about one year from the time that the evacuation orders were issued. In view of the fact that it was quite obvious that there was very little danger, if any, of invasion of the West Coast, we thought there was no justification for continuing the exclusion order. We proposed two alternate plans. One of them was all-out lifting of the exclusion order to allow people to return to their West Coast homes; the other was a step-by-step proposal whereby people who had been in the Army and their immediate relatives might be allowed to go back. We presented a long list of reasons.
On May 10th, two months later, we received a reply to this letter rejecting our proposals and urging a segregation program to separate the so-called pro-Japanese from the people who were in support of the American effort in the relocation centers and to set up a special center for those who wanted to be Japanese and wanted to return to Japan. As a matter of fact this had been urged by General DeWitt from the beginning. We had hardly taken over the first centers before he began to argue for this. We pointed
out to Secretary Stimson that had this been a feasible move and was as easy as suggested by General DeWitt it should have been done during the assembly center period and we should never have had the problem to face later, but this didn’t stop them. They kept right on pressuring for the segregation program.
As a matter of fact Assistant Secretary McCloy went before the Chandler sub-committee and made recommendations urging the separating of the so-called disloyal from the others residents of the center. The pressure finally got so heavy that we decided that we had to go ahead with the segregation program.
So on the last of May 1943 we made a decision to use the Tule Lake center as the place to which to move people who wanted to be pro-Japanese and others who we felt should be separated. As a consequence we offered the opportunity for people who wanted to move out of Tule Lake to go to other centers previous to moving people in. This process took all summer and most of the fall. It was terrific job and led to real difficulties which I shall mention later.
Mrs. Roosevelt’s Visit To Gila River And A Luncheon
DSM: In the meantime on May 6, 1943 Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona at the request of the President. I met Mrs. Roosevelt in Phoenix and escorted her to the center. We spent the day at the Center and she with her wonderful energy, covered everything in the center of any importance including all the wards in the hospitals, the schools, and all phases of the service activities so that she could report back to the President. On the way back to Phoenix we were discussing some of our problems and I decided that I would try a bold stroke so I told her that I would like to talk to the President about some of our problems that we were facing at the time. She said "I think you should and I shall arrange it," and she did arrange it.
On May 23, 1943 Mrs. Myer and I were invited to the White House for luncheon. It was one of those beautiful bright spring days and they decided to have the luncheon on the lawn where small tables were set up. We spent a hour and a half at lunch. At our table in addition to Mrs. Myer and myself was the President and the President’s daughter Anna Roosevelt Boettenger from the state of Washington, who with her husband, was running one of the Hearst papers at that time. At another table was Harry Hopkins and his wife, Mrs. Roosevelt and John Boettenger. They were far enough away that they didn’t interfere with our discussions.
The President and I had an excellent discussion about the problems and when I told the President about the "Happy" Chandler committee and the fact that I felt that they were doing things that were not very helpful He said "I think I can help you with this." I didn’t know for some time just how he had done it but I found out later that he had gotten in touch with Senator Joseph 0’Mahoney who was a good supporter of the administration. I later learned that Joe 0’Mahoney called "Happy" Chandler into his office and dressed him down and told him that he should lay off and quit harassing the W.R.A. He did. As a result we got quite a satisfactory report out of his committee. It was very much in line with what we had proposed to do anyhow in the way of segregation and other problems.
In the meantime, also during the month of May, the Dies Committee, which I have mentioned earlier, started their investigators to work in the various centers. On May 12 they arrived at Manzanar unannounced and they visited four or five other centers in sequence. This is the group that I mentioned in dealing with whom we had asked the directors of the centers to take transcripts of the answers to their questions. Our directors knew their stuff and knew what the policies were and they all gave the same basic answers in their replies. This showed how important these policy statements were and how important it was that they were being followed.
The Dies Sub-Committee At Work
DSM: The Costello sub-committee of the Dies Committee was appointed on June 3, 1943 and they became a real harassing element over the period from May until July 6th. They held so-called hearings in Los Angeles, to which we were not invited. One or two of the people from Posten were invited but the people who were testifying out there were mostly people whom we had fired because of the fact that they had either not been loyal to the service or who had left the center during the Posten incident.
In one case a chap by the name of Townsend who testified had left the center in a government car because he was scared to death, and was gone for a week. When he came back fortunately the director of the center had had enough experience that he sat him down and interviewed him with a stenographic transcript of the interview and of course fired him.
This ex-employee told all kinds of wild stories at the time of the Los Angeles hearings which were fed out to the newspapers across the land and we had no chance for rebuttal at that time. I never shall forget that during those weeks from May through until July morning after morning after morning my information staff John Baker and Morrill Tozier and I met to review what had been in the papers the day before. Day after day one of us would get so mad by the time we were through reviewing that we were recommending that we go out to kill the Dies Committee! Usually the other two kept calm enough so that they had good enough sense that we finally settled down and decided that we would document every bit of misinformation and information that was put out by the committee in such a way that we would have it on paper.
We did just that so that by the time we got our hearing in Washington on July 6, 1943 which was an open hearing with the press present we had stacks of mimeographed documents which we carried up by the arm load and piled up on the table.
Every time a question came up we gave a handout to the press, and during this particular hearing we made the statement that Mr. Townsend, whom I mentioned earlier had left the center in a government car and was gone for a week and who had told so many wild stories, had told forty-two lies or had made forty-two misstatements during his hearing in Los Angeles. This was during the morning session.
When the afternoon session opened John Costello the committee chairman leaned forward and said "Mr. Myer, we have reviewed the Townsend statement during the noon hour and we can only find thirty-nine misstatements." I got up and bowed and said "Mr. Chairman we accept thirty-nine," and of course we got a real laugh out of the newsmen and a real break out of it.
As a result of those hearings which lasted three days we got some real support from the good people around the United States who began really to roll up their sleeves and go to work to help us in our relocation program and in our program generally. The church people and many others who had representatives sitting in on the hearing sent out the word and informed people about .it so that it turned out, this committee did us a favor rather than doing us harm in the long run.
Their harassment of W.R.A. made the good people around the country mad enough that they decided to really go to work and do something about it.
While all of this was happening during the early part of 1943 we were intensifying our program to do a relocation job outside of the centers. We were getting our area offices established, as well as local district offices, and by the end of 1943 our program of relocation was very well under way.
On October 11, 1943 the last group of evacuees, from other centers who were being moved to the Tule Lake Center as so-called "segregatees" except those at Manzanar, had been transferred to Tule Lake. The transfer of people out of Tule Lake who had been willing to move to other centers had also been completed.
The Tule Lake Incident And Resulting Turmoil
DSM: In late October Tule Lake workers were going out to the farm on a truck; and the truck had upset. As a result one of the workers was killed in the accident. This led to a farm strike and turmoil really began to develop in the Tule Lake Center on November 1.
I visited the center at which time a demonstration was staged for the benefit of the National Director. I arrived on the morning of November 1 and Ray Best, who was the project director, had arranged to meet with some of the evacuee committee on the following day but they had decided that they would meet the day of my arrival. During the noon hour I had eaten in one of the mess halls and Ray had eaten dinner at his own home. He came down to where I was after lunch and said that he had just received word that an announcement had been made in all of the mess halls that there was to be a meeting at the administration building and that everybody was to gather there.
So he and I immediately got into his car and drove all over the center to see what was happening and we realized that those in charge at that time, among the evacuees, had not only urged everybody to come but that they were putting pressure on them to come, and we saw people going all across the center in their best bib and tucker, elderly ladies and elderly men, people with youngsters by the hand and so on. We discussed the situation and we agreed that there was not anything very serious going to happen except talk, in view of the fact that they would not have had all of these women and youngsters in the crowd if there was anything that they planned to do other than talk.. So when we got back to the office here was the committee and they asked for a meeting and we agreed to have one.
The meeting went on for two hours and a half and they made the same requests of me as they had made to Ray Best earlier, including the firing of the project director, four or five of the other key people on the staff and a number of other things which I shall not
try to relate at this stage. I told them that I would not make any promises under pressure of this type and it wasn’t the way we planned to do business and as soon as the people from Manzanar arrived at the center later we had planned to arrange for a meeting of the evacuees where they could select their own representatives. I told them that I had some question whether the people in the room at that time were really representatives of the people as a whole.
After we had met for a couple of hours the chairman of the group asked if I would speak to the crowd and I said I would be very happy too. So I very briefly told the crowd what I had told the committee. The chairman then made a speech in Japanese and the crowd broke up.
In the meantime during the meeting there was a report that came to us that the doctor in charge of the hospital had been assaulted and that there had been a fight between the doctor and some of the evacuees. We sent the police chief over to check on it. He came back and said that it was true, that they had assaulted the head of the hospital.
HP: The doctor was non-Nisei?
DSM: Not a Nisei. He was a doctor that we had hired from the outside and who was a bit crusty. They didn’t particularly like him and some of the boys who had a grudge used this opportunity, when every one was occupied, to do their job. The doctor had gotten skinned up a bit but nothing very serious so we went ahead with our meeting.
HP: How many people were assembled?
DSM: I would guess that there were must have been maybe 10,000 or 15,000 people gathered around the administration building because everybody was asked to come or they were pressured into coming. They were herded in there by some stooges of the committee who were acting as strong arm men to get everybody in.
HP: Where there amplifiers in those days?
DSM: Yes. They had set up an amplifier on the roof of the building. Somebody had a loud speaker outfit and they set it up which we didn’t object to.
HP: Did you feel that your life was in danger?
DSM: Not at all. At no stage in the game did I feel that I was in danger.
HP: You might have been, you know.
DSM: Oh, I suppose, but there was no indication of that. My experience with the Japanese people generally was that even though they had some hard boiled people in this group they were under pretty good control.
As we came out of the office after the meeting had been adjourned I looked up at the flag pole and said "Old Glory still flies." I mention this because one of the Hearst reporters among other things had said that they had torn down the American flag and tramped on it, which of course was not true. As a result of this affair many of the people on the staff left the center and people who were in the center as service people who had come in to bring in supplies and so on had left the center and told some very wild stories about what was going on.
Telephone communication with the outside was very poor. It was through the Tule Lake exchange which was a small town and we tried to get our San Francisco office and couldn’t reach them and we tried to get some of the newsmen who had arranged for me to meet with the press club group in San Francisco the night before and I wasn’t able to reach the chairman of that group who had been my host.
We did our best to get the word out and to deny the wild stories put out by the Hearst press and some of the others. One paper reported that plans were made for setting fires all over the center along with other bits of misinformation.
Unfortunately, the reports officer at Tule Lake had resigned before I arrived which I did not know. While he was still on the project he did absolutely
nothing to gather the information which he had normally been responsible for. He was the chap who should have had all the facts about what had gone on and should have been calling the newspapers to report it. Instead of that we had to do our own reporting. Robert Cozzens was with me and we did our best to get in contact with news people but it was impossible to reach many of them. As a consequence most of these fables which were passed out by people who left the center went unanswered until the 14th of November which was nearly two weeks later. I left the project after my second day there and went on about my business including a trip to Portland and to Seattle.
I learned three days later while I was in route back to Washington by train that I was supposed to call the project, which I did en route. I found that on the night of November 4th there was an outbreak of violence at Tule Lake because of an attempt to stop the movement of trucks which were taking food out to the farm laborers who had come in from the other centers to help harvest the crops. The civilian police that we had at the center tried to break up the group but it ended up in quite a melee. So Ray Best finally called in the military and they took over which was in line with our agreement that if they were brought in they were to be in control. They were there until January 1944.
In view of the fact that all of these fantastic stories and charges had been fed out and published in the newspapers we felt it highly important that they be cleared up as fast as possible, but after the military took over on the night of November 4th they allowed no newspaper men into the center and gave no interviews. As a consequence some of my very good friends among the reporters felt that we were holding out on them. They did not understand the arrangement. It led to a very, very bad situation.
When I got back to Washington on about November 6th or 7th, I learned that our head information man Morrill Tozier and Leland Barrows, who was acting in charge, were seriously worried because of the fact that they couldn’t get any report either out of Tule Lake or from me. Of course the problem was that there
had been so many charges, so many things misstated that it took days to get the facts together. Finally on November 14, ten days after the incident on November 4 we were able to put out a release. We had a meeting at the Office of the War Information and the release issued was based upon very careful checking on all the things that were said and done. This however did not allay the criticism. It continued because the Tule Lake incident was just the kind of thing that the American Legion and the Hearst Press and all of the people who had been harassing the evacuees and the WRA were looking for in order to keep things stirred up.
As a result of this incident and all of the misinformation that flowed out from Tule Lake, the period from November 1, 1943 to January 20, 1944 marked the lowest point in our public relations, especially on the West Coast.
A Date With The American Legion
DSM: Fortunately during November I had a date set up to meet with the state commanders and the state adjutants of the American Legion at Indianapolis. This came at a very good time because the American Legion was one of our real problems. Homer Chaillaux who was head of the Americanism Committee had been practically forced into arranging this meeting. As a result I had an opportunity to meet with a group of people who needed to hear the facts straight. This was a very rewarding meeting for me because I was able to get some of the facts on the record and get them straight and we had a very tough question and answer period with the representative of the California Legion leading the way and being very snide. We got through the session in good order.
It happened that we were meeting in a hall with a hallway along the side so that there were several
doors out to this hallway. When the meeting broke up I started for the men’s room; it had been a long session; Dick Russell, the senator from Georgia, had been the speaker after I was on. It took me about twenty minutes to reach my destination for the reason that people were popping out of each one of those doors and grabbing me by the hand and shaking my hand and saying "By God mister you did a good job." I got back to the men’s room and as I opened the door and some chap just stepped out of a booth, saw me come in and said "By God mister I was glad to see you give it to those sons of bitches." Everybody in the men’s room said "It was wonderful."
I might add that after this meeting Mr. Chailloux was much more calm about the W.R.A. and the evacuees then he had been beforehand. I think that I may have already mentioned that one of our men in the information division of W.R.A. had been chairman of the Americanism Committee some years before and he knew some of the people who were on the committee. He was the one that had gone up to New England to meet with a chap by the name of Jimmy O’Neal to get this meeting set up. This was a very fortunate circumstance.
In the meantime, hearings were held again by the Senate Military Affairs Committee of which "Happy" Chandler was sub-committee chairman, and the Costello sub-committee of the Dies Committee in the House. These hearings on the Tule Lake affair were calm as compared with the earlier hearings that these people had carried out but they felt that they had to get on the record. I do remember that after we completed the hearings for two or three days on Tule Lake, Mr. Stripling, the Executive Secretary of the Dies Committee, came up to me and shook hands and said "We’ll see you after the next blowup in the centers." This is the kind of snide guy that he was. I just said "There ain’t going to be no more" and walked out.
I have already mentioned that we had the poorest public relations at that time that we had ever had. I had a real job to clean up the situation particularly in San Francisco.
A Follow Up Of The Tule Lake Incident
DSM: We made a trip in December or early January particularly with Tule Lake in mind and visited the representative of the New York Times who was the chap who had arranged for me to meet with the press club in San Francisco the night before I went to Tule Lake and who felt very let down because I didn’t reach him personally at the time of the Tule Lake crisis to report on what happened. Of course I had tried, but wasn’t able to get through. So I had lunch with him and after an hour and a half I at least got him to believe me. He was still feeling low, but we got to be very good friends again after that.
The San Francisco Chronicle had been the most fair of any of the larger West Coast papers, but after this happened they really turned against us. One of the editorial writers wrote an editorial in which he called us stupid, ignorant bureaucrats and all of the names that he could think of that he thought were derogatory.
In the meantime we had arranged for Allen Markley, one of our staff of Washington information men, to go to Tule Lake and to take over the information job. We introduced him to the news people including the Chronicle and some of the other papers and said that he had been instructed to provide any information which the papers requested, to allow them into the center anytime they wished, and to report to them any incident that he thought might be news worthy. This started us back on the right track but it took some weeks to get the job done.
Reinstitution Of The Draft Of Nisei
DSM: Fortunately on the 20th of January, 1944 Secretary Stimson of the War Department announced the
reinstitution of the draft for Japanese Americans. This had been set aside shortly after the evacuation order had been issued. We had been pressing for some time to get it reestablished because we felt that it was in the interest of the Japanese American group to have their boys drafted like everybody else. The excellent record which was achieved by the 100th battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team between early 1943 and early 1944 helped us to get the War Department to change the orders on the matter of draftees.
A Change In Status - The Move To The Department Of The Interior
DSM: As a result of the Tule Lake affair and all the hubbub that grew up following it and the criticism that continued out on the coast, the Attorney General Biddle wrote a memorandum to President Roosevelt and recommended that we be transferred as an agency to the Department of Interior. The first two years of the life of W.R.A. had been one in which we had been responsible to nobody except the President of the United States and I had seen him only once.
Fortunately we had the opportunity to develop our own policies and to defend our own policies without any interference from any source whatsoever, but Attorney General Biddle felt that it was time we had some cover. He felt that Harold Ickes was the man to provide it. When I learned that they expected to transfer us to Interior, I visited Harold Smith of the Budget Bureau, who had sent my name to the President in the first instance, and told him I didn’t like it. I thought I would rather go to the Justice Department and gave all the arguments as to why. I might say my real reason was that I thought I could handle Biddle better than I could Harold Ickes. Harold Smith told me to go see Biddle which I did and Biddle told me what he had done and as a matter of fact I think he
showed me a copy of the memorandum. When I went back to Harold Smith and He said "If you want to see some one in the White House you better see Jimmy Byrnes." Well, I saw Jimmy Byrnes and Jimmy Byrnes listened to my story and when I got through he said "I think you had better go to Interior," which we did.
On February 16, 1944, the President issued an executive order transferring the WRA to the Department of Interior. In spite of our reservations it turned out to be a very good move.
The European Refugees
DSM: In early June 1944 the President announced plans to bring in one thousand European refugees to the United States outside of the immigration quotas and to quarter them in an emergency refugee shelter at Oswego, New York, to be administered by WRA. This was something else that came as a surprise to us because we didn’t know until they were ready to announce it to the press that we were to be asked to take care of these refugees.
HP: Who were these refugees?
DSM: These were European refugees that had been gathered up from all over Europe and were in Italy at the time that this was announced.
Evidently the announcement that we were bringing over one thousand was made with the idea of doing something that would be considered at least a token toward doing our share of taking care of refugees because there was pressure on other countries to take care of them.
Out of nine hundred sixty-three of the refugees that came, nine hundred sixteen of them were of Jewish
descent and they came from all across Europe Belgium, France, Germany of course, and several other countries. Several of them came from Yugoslavia. Some of them didn’t speak anything except Serb or Croat and we had to have a translator or a interpreter that could not only speak German but Serb and Croat and practically all of the other languages of Europe.
The European refugees were sent to Oswego, New York, where we took over an old army post which had been in existence throughout the years. It was one of the posts that helped to provide defenses along the Great Lakes and it hadn’t been in use for quite some time but it served our purpose quite satisfactorily, because there was room to provide a hospital and ample room for nine hundred sixty-three refugees, plus provision for staff and for mess halls and other facilities. These people were quite unhappy about being placed in a camp and I couldn’t blame them for that. We recommended, very strongly when we heard that they were coming that they be absorbed into the population immediately rather than being placed in a camp. But evidently the President and his staff felt that there would be a great deal of criticism if this was done in view of the fact that they were being brought in outside of the immigration laws.
Most of the refugees were people who had never done any kind of physical labor. They were literary people, writers, doctors, professional people of various types, a highly intelligent group of people. They had had to be in order to escape the places they came from and to get by with being refugees as long as they had, because this was 1944 when we got them.
They were an interesting group of people, but they weren’t always easy to deal with; they knew how to argue and they would argue at length. They decided, for example, that they were not going to do any menial work such as unloading coal to keep themselves warm. During the summer no problem came up but as fall came on and it began to get chilly we needed heat and it had been our general policy throughout, and we had made this stick with the other centers, that the evacuees whoever they were would have to unload the coal and see to it that it was delivered to the proper places
and to organize groups to do it. Well they weren’t going to do it. So they went on strike and the director of the camp called me up and wanted to know what to do about it and I said "Well, if they want to be cold, why we will have to let them be cold. This is awfully hard hearted and I can understand something of the reaction of these people, but I am sure that after a day or two they will unload the coal," which they did. They decided to divide it up and to take turns and to organize different crews to take different weeks to get the job done. We had no more trouble after that as far as the coal and other scut work was concerned.
We had a number of problems off and on all through the months between 1944 until December 1945. This is the period in which the refugees were in camp with no opportunity to get out except that they were free to go into the town of Oswego. The farmers thereabouts wanted some help and some of the refugees were willing to go out to pick fruit and that sort of thing. Generally speaking, however, they stayed within the general environment of the camp.
In Washington throughout all the weeks and months that they were in camp, we were busy trying to get an order which would allow us to help these people integrate into the pattern of the United States generally and to leave the camp.
HP: Was there much illness from their years of deprivation?
DSM: Very little. The health problem was quite easily handled because we sent one of our doctors that had been in the centers up there as head physician. He had enough skilled help among this group to handle the problem very well so we had very little health problem except the normal sort of thing that you will get in any population this size. It was very well taken care of.
HP: What was done about schooling?
DSM: Fortunately the schools of Oswego allowed the children to come into their schools. Many of them, of course,
didn’t speak English well but fortunately the schools had a good superintendent and a good principal who got into the spirit of the thing. These youngsters really proved to be an interesting group of people among the other youngsters because of their experiences. They had had good schooling, and during the several months that they were there the refugee kids had a wonderful opportunity in their association with these other kids to learn English which they did.
HP: Was it dormitory life for the families?
DSM: For the most part, yes. Although it was a little different than it was in the other centers because there was much more room. We could allot much more space and they could work out their apartment space much better because we did have more room.
HP: Did it ever increase from the nine hundred sixty-three?
DSM: No. This was it, and we didn’t receive any more.
HP: What became of them? Did they return to Europe?
DSM: Well, finally President Truman decided that it was time to do something about it and on December 22, 1945 he issued an order allowing them admission into the United States. What we had to do was to arrange for them to go to Canada and come back in in order to have status. I believe that only about seventy-five or eighty went back to Europe, most of them to Yugoslavia. The rest of them were relocated by the Jewish agencies which were so helpful to us during this time. All we had to do was to take them to the gate and they saw to it that they got to Canada and back to the United States. The Jewish agencies then found places for them to live in the United States.
After the people from Oswego were allowed to go to Canada and come in and apply for American citizenship, we had very little contact with most of them. We did get reports from time to time as to how they were adjusting. Many of them went to New York City because they had friends there or because of the fact that there was a large Jewish population and they felt
more at home. Some of them went to Minneapolis and to a number of other cities throughout the country where arrangements had been made by the organizations for them to be accepted. They integrated very well, having little difficulty as far as being accepted in the United States and I think most of them were happier here than they would have been if they had gone back to Europe.
A young man, Freddie Baum, who served as our interpreter and whom I have kept in touch with off and on throughout the years, has been most successful. He offered his services and they were accepted by the Army for a time as interpreter and he spent some time in Europe, but he is now in New York and quite well situated.
Back To The Problem Of Japanese Americans
DSM: Back now to the main stream of the W.R.A. program, the handling of the Japanese Americans who were located in relocation centers and those who had relocated throughout the country.
One of the worse pieces of legislation ever passed by the United States Congress was passed on June 30th of 1944. This provided that American citizens could renounce their American citizenship while on American soil if the renunciation was approved by the Attorney General. This bill was slipped over as far as W.R.A. was concerned. We weren’t even called for a hearing when the bill was up. I learned later that the Attorney General was misled. Edward Ennis who was our very good friend and was in charge of the Alien Division in the Department of Justice unfortunately was preoccupied with some question that somebody had whispered to him when the chairman of the committee asked the Attorney General if he favored the bill and a chap by the name of M'Grannery who had been a Congressman and
who had been moved down to the Justice Department because he had lost his election and was serving as Congressional contact man leaned over and urged the Attorney General Biddle to say yes and he did. The bill was passed. The President signed it on July 1, 1944 and this is the bill that led some five thousand four hundred evacuees to renounce their American citizenship, frequently under pressure. Most of them were at Tule Lake but fortunately only a few hundred of them returned to Japan. The rest in a series of court tests over a period of years regained their American citizenship. I think only about four hundred did not and some of that group went to Japan. The great majority of them did regain their American citizenship. Some of them by court action and later I think by the action of the Attorney General in 1959 which cleaned up the whole mess. It was a mess and it was most unfortunate.
The First Closing Of A Relocation Center
DSM: On June 30, 1944 we announced the closing of the first of the relocation centers at Jerome, Arkansas. This was one of our smaller centers and one of the last ones to be opened. Our program had gone well enough that we felt that we could distribute the people in Jerome quite satisfactorily into other centers and get along without this particular center.
We had recommended in March 1943 that the War Department either lift the evacuation order and allow people to go back to the West Coast or at least to do it in part, but we were unsuccessful in getting the order lifted during 1943 and early 1944. We did get some relaxation during the summer of 1944 when families of veterans of the 442nd and some other were allowed quietly to go back to the West Coast without any announcement.
The Lifting Of The Exclusion Orders
DSM: Finally on December 17, 1944 the War Department after a long battle of more than twenty months announced the revocation of the West Coast mass exclusion order to be effective January 2, 1945.
HP: Yet the war was still on. How did it happen that these people were acceptable to the West Coast?
DSM: Well, we knew that these people would be generally acceptable on the part of the population on the West Coast. Our big problem was with certain people in the military who I suppose had a problem of saving face. Even after the announcement was made on December 17, General Wilbur who was in charge of civilian activities on the West Coast held up about ten thousand evacuees whom they said they had to check out very carefully before they would allow them to return. This interfered with our general relocation program.
It is true that the Japanese war was not over and wasn’t ended until August and as a matter of fact the peace wasn’t signed until early September of 1945. We had pressed very hard over the twenty months that I have mentioned from March 1943 until the time when the evacuation order was finally lifted to get the opportunity for these people to return before the war was over because we felt that the competition for housing and jobs as well as the competition in many other things would be very difficult when the war was over and soldiers began to come back in very large numbers. As it worked out it happened that we were already a bit late because the biggest battle we had in getting people relocated on the coast who wanted to go back was to find housing for them.
Final Relocation Problems
DSM: Rex Lee, my relocation officer out of the Washington office spent weeks and months on the West Coast and the biggest part of his job was digging up temporary housing and finding arrangements where people could live until they could find housing of their own, simply because many of the soldiers families and others had begun to flock into California toward the end of the war. California had a boom period at the end of World War II. It started before the war was over and has continued ever since.
Some of the evacuees had money and could take care of themselves. We helped some to get jobs. We transferred money to the Social Security Board and they arranged with the California State Welfare people to take care of people who actually had no funds or jobs. So that we had no problem in that respect. The problem was to find places for them to stay. I remember that we had one case that the Los Angeles Times reporters dug up where there was a family of twelve youngsters and because of the State Welfare Department they were paying them at a rate of six thousand dollars a year and they tried to make a big incident out of it because it was coming out of W.R.A. funds. Even at that late stage there was still sniping.
Fortunately we were able to get the evacuees reestablished at home while the war was still on. Another problem was that many of the older people, that is the Issei, among the evacuees, were somewhat fearful about going home, with some good reason because there was still some sniping and some shooting into houses up and down the Central Valley. In any case they claimed that they had been promised that they would be allowed to remain in relocation centers as long as the war was on and there was still a war on with Japan. So it was difficult to get them to move out from the centers.
When the Japanese peace treaty was signed in early September we began to have a big movement and
we were able to keep our schedule for closing centers.
As soon as the announcement came that the order had been lifted we had announced immediately that the relocation centers would all be closed within a year from the time the evacuation order went into effect. We were able to keep that schedule because we set up a schedule in June of 1945 for final closing of all of the centers excepting Tule Lake which was delayed a bit because of the renunciants.
We closed the first ones in September and the last ones were supposed to close by December 1st but we beat the dead line a bit because we finished up two weeks ahead of time. There were some difficulties other than housing and I’ll touch on them again a little bit later.
Supreme Court Decisions
DSM: Very interestingly on the same date that the Army announced that the evacuation order would be lifted on January 2, 1945 the Supreme Court issued a ruling that the evacuation order had been constitutional in the Koromatsu case. In the "Endo" case, which was a case of a young Nisei girl who had asked that she go freely from the centers without signing up of forms or anything of the sort, which we wanted heard long before it was heard, much to our pleasure they, the Supreme Court, held, that a loyal American citizen should not be held under any circumstances. This was a ruling that we had been hoping for for months.
The reason why we didn’t get it before the Court sooner was because the solicitor General Charles Fahey had a record that he didn’t want to break. He had won every case that he had argued before the Supreme Court and he was sure that he was going to lose this one. We argued with him time and time again and he
finally agreed to take it to the court but the ruling came out the very day the Army lifted their restrictions. Solicitor General Fahey asked us several times to mute the case, but we wanted the backing of the Supreme Court to permit the evacuees to go where they wanted to go at anytime.
More Final Relocation Problems
DSM: I have mentioned the fact that there were some dastardly things perpetrated to keep people from coming back. On January 8 an attempt was made to dynamite and burn a fruit packing shed owned by a returning evacuee in Placer County, California. This was the first of about thirty incidents involving violence. Most of these consisted of shooting into the homes of returned evacuees between January 8 and about mid-June. They weren’t shooting at people. They were using long range rifles, shooting into corners of houses hoping to scare people out and to discourage their return.
HP: Who do you suppose was doing this?
DSM: The people who were doing it were for the most part young farmer lads and others up and down the Central Valley who had either taken over some of the rented land that they didn’t want to give up or who didn’t want the competition. We pretty well knew who was doing it in some cases.
As a matter of fact, we had one case come up before a Justice of the Peace and he released the boys on probation and Secretary Ickes let out a blast at him that practically blew him out of his job. This was one of the good things that Secretary Ickes did and could do better than anybody else in the world. It helped to calm things a bit.
Between January 10 and January 20, 1945 we established key relocation offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, and many district offices were established throughout the three states of Washington, Oregon and California to assist returning evacuees in becoming reestablished wherever they wished to go. Most of them went back to their old homes or to their old areas, but not all of them.
All out opposition developed on the part of many evacuees in centers, and many former friends of goodwill who had supported us throughout the years who objected to closing centers because they were fearful that people were not going to be accepted. They feared that the violence was going to continue and they insisted that we keep at least two or three centers for welfare cases and others.
As a consequence many of these good people joined the race baiters to urge the evacuees to stay put rather than to face the gunfire and the violence plus possible unemployment. However, we had made well established plans for the welfare cases to be taken care of. We had arranged also with the employment services so we had little difficulty in finding employment for people who were not immediately able to get back into their regular line of work. There wasn’t much argument about lack of employment because there was still plenty of employment. This was one of the reasons why we wanted to get people back before the war ended. I think I mentioned that in June or July a definite schedule of closing of centers was announced that would take place between September 15 and December 15. The last center was closed out except Tule Lake on December 1.
One of the very wonderful things that happened during the battle to get people accepted back on the
Coast was the fact that Captain George Grandstaff who was a Californian and who had fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team went home on leave during this period and he became so incensed about what was happening that he wrote the War Department and asked them to allow him to go on speaking tour on behalf of the Japanese Americans throughout California and he did just that.
He not only went on speaking tour and talked to Rotarians and Kiwanis Clubs, but he would also visit the sheriff, and the local officers of places like Placerville and other places where violence had occurred. The tour worked out so well that before it was all over we had about five other young officers who volunteered and we covered the whole state of California with meetings telling of the fine record of Nisei soldiers.
Finally we had the help of a Colonel from the Asiatic front who had been involved with the boys who had gone to language school and who had served as the eyes and ears of the various divisions throughout the battles with the Japanese. When this colonel came and listed some of the wonderful services he cleaned up the opposition pretty fast. He cleared most of the kind of misinformation and the kind of rumors that had been spread around.
After V.J. Day, August 15, 1945, when the Japanese decided to surrender, the Western Defense Command finally issued a proclamation (September 4, 1945) revoking all individual exclusion orders from the evacuated area. This gave us the opportunity to help anyone who wanted to go back to that area to go.
On December 22, 1944  President Truman issued the order which provided the admission of the European refugees to the United States with the prospect of their becoming citizens. As a result of the President’s order relating to the refugees at Oswego we were able to close the Oswego center. On February 4, 1946 and on February 23, 1946 the last group of re-patriots who were going back to Japan, four hundred thirty-two in number, sailed to Japan from Long Beach, California.
Tule Lake was finally closed on March 20, 1946 after we had arranged for the Justice Department to take some of the evacuees who were aliens and their families into their detention centers. These were people who had not yet been allowed to return to the Coast or who had not yet decided whether they wanted to return to Japan. This gave us the opportunity to
finish the official life of WRA by June 30.
An Award For Work Well Done
DSM: On May 8 the Director of WRA received the Medal for Merit because of the work that the WRA staff had done throughout the war. It hangs on my wall today as something to remind me of the pride we had in doing the best possible job under difficult circumstances.
The Wind Up Of WRA In 1946
DSM: On May 15 the last of our field offices were closed. We were able to arrange with local committees throughout the west Coast and other parts of the country where they were needed to help carry on any assistance to the evacuees that they might need and on June 30 we closed our doors as an official agency and called it quits.
One thing that we did was to arrange for a small group mainly of administrative people to continue on for another year to clean up all of the bills and all of the paper work that had to be completed. We also arranged for Robert Gullum, who had been one of our good relocation officers to continue for a year to spend his time getting about and learning how evacuees were getting on and how they were making out in their resettlement areas. He was able to issue a report at the end of the year as a printed report of this phase of the operation.
A PERIOD OF CHANGE
More About My Good Boss Secretary Ickes
DSM: In view of the fact that I have already stated that I was reluctant to go to the Interior Department I think that I should now state that it was a very fortunate thing that the President did decide that we should move to the Interior Department because Secretary Ickes was probably one of the best bosses that I have ever had and I have had several throughout my lifetime.
He wrote a newspaper column after he left the job as Secretary of Interior in which he stated that he had examined the policies of the WRA and found them good, and that he didn’t interfere except to let his fists fly occasionally when we needed some help of that type. That was literally true. He supported me on every issue that came up.
Abe Fortas, who was the Under Secretary and who I reported to for the most part, was very helpful although there were certain things that we did not agree upon. Some of the men in the Justice Department felt that Tule Lake should be transferred to them at a stage when we felt that we could handle it better and I had to argue against this and the Secretary fortunately supported my position in the matter. We stuck it out and were able to finish the job better I think than they could have done because they didn’t have the background.
Under Secretary Fortas also worried because of the pressures on the part of the goodwill people about
closing out centers, and many of them, as I have already said, would have liked us to have kept on two or three centers to take care of many of the older people who they thought couldn’t readjust easily. This finally went to the secretary. When we were ready to announce our schedule of closing centers the secretary said "Well, we will hold this question in abeyance until September and if you are still on schedule where you plan to be at that time I think you can go ahead and if not we will review it at that time." Well, when we reviewed the matter around September 1st I think we were only just less than fifty people off the schedule that we had said that we would have relocated by that time and the Secretary said "Go ahead." We had no further trouble about that.
Nevertheless I have appreciated very much the aid and the help that I received from Abe Fortas and from Harold Ickes in particular of all people who I wasn’t sure would give us this kind of support.
I had come out of the Department of Agriculture and of course Henry Wallace as Secretary of Agriculture and Harold Ickes had been fighting over the Forest Service and many other things and he wasn’t too happy with Agriculture. About the time we were to finish up our job he called me in one day and offered me another job as head of the division of Insular Possessions and in doing so he said "I don’t know if you know it or not but when you were transferred over here I was skeptical about you." I grinned at him and said "Mr. Secretary, it was mutual I assure you," and he laughed and we went on about our business.
I turned that job down because I told him that it was too early for me to leave W.R.A. We had gone through the worst of it. We were now ready to finish off and I wanted to see the job through and he understood that.
HP: I wonder how many jobs offers you have had in your career?
DSM: I counted up one time and I had, as I remember it, thirteen or fourteen job offers as I was leaving W.R.A.
HP: It would be interesting to know how many you had during your entire career.
DSM: I don’t think I could remember all of them.
After WRA I was offered the job as Chief of the Missouri Valley Reclamation Program, the regional program. Mike Strauss was intent on my taking it but I told them that I didn’t believe I wanted to move out of Washington at that stage of the game. So instead the Secretary offered me a job as Assistant Secretary of Interior and my name went to the White House but before it got to Capitol Hill Secretary Ickes went to the Hill and opposed the appointment of Ed Pauley as Secretary of the Navy and did it so violently that the President asked for his resignation and got it. As a consequence my name was not sent to the Hill as Assistant Secretary and I missed the opportunity to be in the junior cabinet.
The Offer Of A Governorship Of Puerto Rico
DSM: Finally before I had completely made my decision about what I was going to do I was offered the job of Governor of Puerto Rico and I turned it down. Secretary of Interior Krug had talked to President Truman about it and the President said "Let me talk to him."
So I made a date and went over to see the President and he told me that what they needed down there was an administrator and he hoped that I would take the job. In the meantime I knew that he had lying on his desk a recommendation from Wilson Wyatt that I become the Commissioner of the Public Housing Administration. This was a job which I decided that I would like to take because I found out something about the kind of housing that people had to live in when I was visiting evacuees in Chicago and other places in the slummy parts of these cities. Phil
Klutznick who had been the former commissioner had made the recommendation that I take on the job.
I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to handle the kind of social functions and extra curricular activities that the Governor of Puerto Rico would have to carry out in the way of entertaining and related activities so I turned it down. My wife and family have never been quite happy about this because they thought I should have taken it but I took the housing job instead.
Before going on to other jobs, I want to revert for just a moment to W.R.A. Shortly after the Tule Lake incident I had an invitation to appear before one of the luncheon clubs called the Downtown Club or some such name in Los Angeles and when I arrived on the scene I found a minister who was leading a group of racists and who were sitting right up in the front rows waiting to heckle me, I was sure. I made my speech and of course I told them among other things about the Tule Lake incident and what had happened and some of the reasons why it had happened. During the question and answer period a gentleman got up back in the middle of the room and said "Mr. Director, if the sort of thing that happened at Tule Lake had happened in Japan what do you think the Japanese would have done with the instigators?" I said "They would have shot them, but fortunately we live in a country where we don’t believe in shooting people for what we think they are thinking." Well, there were no more questions of that type. From there on we went on an even keel and I as usual enjoyed the meeting. I had had enough heckling in my lifetime that I didn’t mind heckling.
An Interim Interlude
DSM: After we completed the W.R.A. program on July 1, 1946 there was an interim that needed to be filled in
before I took over the Housing job including getting my name to the Hill and getting it acted on by the Senate. Oscar Chapman had asked me to come over to Interior in the meantime and to hold intra-departmental budget hearings and to make recommendations for the departmental planning program. So on July 1 Philip Glick, Edwin Ferguson, and I along with a representative of the Government Organization Division of the Bureau of the Budget went to work on the budgetary problems of the department and upon recommendations for a departmental planning unit.
This group spent six weeks on these two jobs. I am not sure just how much contribution we made on the budgetary problems but the department did adopt our recommendations for a departmental planning unit which was staffed and I believe is still functioning at the departmental level.
A Battle Over Senate Confirmation
DSM: In the meantime Senator Taft of Ohio, which is my home state, became irked presumably because my name was presented to the committee for the job of Commissioner of the Federal Public Housing Authority while he was away in Ohio making a speech. He happened to be a member of the committee before which I was to appear. Consequently Senator Wagner who was chairman proceeded with the hearing one afternoon, reported my name out and by the time Senator Taft got back it was an accepted thing as far as the committee was concerned. Taft was quite obviously sore.
I did get a date to go up and see him but I didn’t make much impression on him. He had made up his mind that Truman had tried to slip over something and he was very unhappy. So he objected to my confirmation during that particular session and the Congress adjoined without my being confirmed. So I started an interim appointment on August 16, 1946,
until the following session when my name was presented again to the committee in 1947. In the meantime Harry P. Cain, who was a new Senator from the state of Washington, was elected to the senate and Joseph R. McCarthy from Wisconsin was also a new Senator. Both of them were members of the committee before which I was to appear. These two were the only two on the committee who voted against my confirmation.
Before the committee finally acted I received a call from Senator Tobey who became chairman of the committee in the Eightieth Congress. He asked that I come up immediately if possible and when I arrived Senator Harry Cain was talking and Senator Tobey interrupted him to tell me that I had been charged with bad faith because of a previous statement regarding the policy relating to the sale of war housing. As a result Senator Cain and I had a real tough go-round for about a half hour or an hour and following this episode the committee voted to recommend my confirmation without the vote of Cain and McCarthy who voted no.
A MOVE TO HOUSING AS COMMISSIONER OF F.P.H.A.
DSM: It was only after starting on the job as Commissioner of Public Housing that I learned that the House Appropriations Committee had assigned Robert E. Lee, now a member of the Federal Communication Commission, as an assistant to investigate the F.P.H.A. This was an important development because this was the first year of the infamous Eightieth Congress which made the kind of record on which President Truman based his campaign in 1948. As it developed I found it necessary to devote much of my time during my year and a half incumbency in the job as Commissioner in defense of the agency and its record during the war years.
By the end of 1946 the appropriations sub-committee on government corporations was beginning to leak bits of the so-called investigative material to the press and finally one of the New York newspapers carried nearly a column and a half of scurrilous trumped up information which had been presumably gleaned by Robert E. Lee and his partner who had been assigned to investigate the housing program.
At that time Congressman Ben Jensen of Iowa was the chairman of the appropriations sub-committee that handled our appropriations hearing and he promised me from time to time that we could see the investigative report when available but he couldn’t deliver so we never saw it. The sub-committee was dominated by Walter Ploeser from Missouri, Fredrick Coudert of New York and Jamie Whitten of Mississippi and there never was any question but what this trio and others
were out to kill Public Housing.
The Public Housing Agency had the responsibility during the war for the building of all of the temporary, semi-permanent and permanent war housing that was built; for the management of that housing during the
war period; and the continued management and sale of the housing that was supposed to be sold after the war. This gave a great deal of opportunity for sniping and the opportunity was not overlooked.
I had much to learn about the F.P.H.A. organization, the authority of the agency, procedures and policies, before hearings on confirmation and before having hearings before the appropriations committee. There was also many hearings before the Banking and Currency Committee of the House in particular and some before the Finance Committee of the senate. The House committee on Banking and Currency was headed by Congressman Jesse Wolcott of Michigan. On one or two occasions there were joint hearings before the Banking and Currency Committee and the Appropriations Corporation Sub-committee on housing policies, especially policies in regard to the disposal of war housing. We adopted the procedure of getting a full report from our field staff on every item appearing in the press so that we would be prepared to answer properly when appearing before the committees.
In spite of the many many sniping charges we were able to identify the source and the charges and to fill in the story before testifying and we were correct in our assumptions in all cases with one exception. I missed it in regard to something that had happened in Texas and the committee had a smile about this but the rest of the time we hit the problem directly on the head and I think they were somewhat surprised in view of the fact that we had not seen the investigative report and didn’t always know where the investigative report came from.
The leaders of the opposition to Public Housing in the House acted upon the theory that iteration and reiteration of a story made the story true in the minds of most people. So the Corporation Sub-committee replayed the material that had been leaked to the New York paper earlier by putting out their own press release. Then after a very short period of a few weeks they passed it on to Congressman John Taber who was chairman of the whole appropriation committee who played the same material in a press release put out by himself and then they passed on the material to
the Banking and Currency Committee and Congressman Jesse Wolcott and his cohorts after a short time replayed the same material in a press release.
It developed that the Corporation Sub-Committee made the investigative report available to members of the press by simply laying it out on the table and allowing them to come in and look at it and to glean from it any tidbits that they thought might be useful in their own local areas. When we realized what had happened I called Ben Jensen and reminded him of his promise to see that we got a chance to see the investigative report in case anybody saw it. He hemmed and hawed about it and I realized that he was under orders from the stronger members of the sub-committee not to allow it to happen.
Finally at a Corporation Sub-committee hearing in the middle of 1947, Congressman Ploeser and Jamie Whitten in my presence discussed with the sub-committee members the question of whether the investigative report by Robert E. Lee and his aide should be published by the committee for general distribution. Since we had never seen the report I interrupted to tell the sub-committee that we felt that since we had not had an opportunity to reply to the report it would be unfair to the agency and to the American people unless we had the opportunity to reply to such a publication.
Congressman Ploeser who had taken over the chairmanship of the subcommittee in the meantime from Congressman Jensen informed me in no uncertain terms that the subcommittee would decide what to do with the report without the need of advice from me. I granted that I knew that this would be possible and a probability but it would still be unfair to the American public and to the agency. I might add that the report as such was never published.
HP: This must have been a trying time for you.
DSM: Yes, it was.
The Corporation Sub-committee retaliated by cutting our budget for staff and administrative purposes drastically so we found it necessary to reduce staff
both in Washington and in the field. We combined the Seattle and San Francisco Regional Offices, made drastic adjustments in other field offices and in Washington and by the time this adjustment was required Raymond Foley, former Commissioner of the Federal Housing Authority, had replaced Wilson Wyatt as head of the Housing and Home Finance Agency. I presented our plans for making our adjustments in personnel and in cuts required on two or three occasions to Raymond Foley and his staff and I thought that I had his approval to go ahead with our plan. So I called a meeting of our regional people and key representatives of our Washington office to outline our plan.
On the very morning about fifteen minutes before I was expected to go into the meeting to make the announcement Frank Waters, who was then serving as the Administrative Officer for Raymond Foley and the Housing Agency, appeared on the scene and said that Ray Foley had asked him to come over and tell us that he didn’t want to go ahead with any personnel changes at that time and that we should hold up action. I, of course, was baffled and incensed. I called Ray Foley on the phone and explained that we had reviewed the proposals thoroughly and I felt that I had his approval and that I could not understand the switch. I explained that it would be most embarrassing to everyone concerned including him and myself and the agency. He finally said grudgingly "Go ahead" but that we might have to take another look at it later. So we went ahead.
I am sure that Ray Foley at that stage wanted my resignation and he thought that this move might bring it. Later in the Congressional session of 1947 the Congress passed a Housing Reorganization Act which established the Housing and Home Finance Agency which included under its charter the Public Housing Administration, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Home Loan Bank Board. The passage of this legislation required the reconfirmation by the senate of all the incumbent heads of all of these sub-agencies who were Presidential Appointees.
This meant that my name as Commissioner of the Public Housing Administration would need to be presented
again to the senate. Not long after this legislation had passed and had been signed, John Steelman who at that time was serving as President Truman’s right-hand man and trouble-shooter, called me and said the President wanted me to join the White House staff as one of the anonymous Presidential assistants. He made no explanation as to why. After trying for two or three weeks to get Steelman to tell my why the proposed change of jobs I finally asked to see the President. I had no trouble getting an appointment with President Truman and when I entered his office I found him busy looking over a stack of telegrams regarding a speech which he had made a few days before relating to his argument with Senator Taft regarding the continuation of OPA.
He explained what he was doing and when I asked him how they were running He said "Mostly favorable." Then he handed me one from an undertaker somewhere in Arizona and after I read it he said "That son of a bitch wants an answer from me for advertising purposes but he ain’t going to get it."
Then I told the President about my dilemma, and told him I wished to know if he was unhappy with my administration of P H. A. He said "There isn’t anyone I would rather have on the job as Commissioner of P.H.A. than yourself, but Bob Taft has told us that he will oppose your reconfirmation, and since he comes from your home state we don’t think we can get the job done in view of his opposition." I thanked the President and told him that I appreciated both his confidence and his frankness. I then said that I appreciated his offer to be a member of his immediate staff as an assistant to the President but if he had no objections I would like to explore the field before making a decision. He said that would be perfectly all right with him.
I was offered two different jobs at this time. One was the job as Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs which I was interested in but after exploration with people on the Hill who handled appropriations and Indian legislation, I found that the administrative budget was so tight and with very little chance of getting it changed in the Eightieth Congress,
which was anti-administration, I didn’t feel that it would be possible to make the adjustments that I felt were going to be necessary to get the job done that I wanted to do. I felt that I wouldn’t have the elbow room administratively to do an adequate job. So I turned it down.
The other job was that of President of the Institute of Inter-American Affairs. More about that a little later.
In the meantime I notified Ray Foley that I would be moving to the new job as of January 1 and that during the two or three weeks interim I planned to take some vacation. So I went gaily off to Florida for a rest that I felt that I very badly needed after battling over the housing program.
During the time that I was gone I designated Philip Glick, the PHA counsel, as acting Commissioner in my stead. But upon my return I found that Ray Foley had asked that I be transferred immediately, and as a consequence they had had to ask the State Department to put me on their payroll by the use of a special fund of some type until the decks could be cleared on January 1 by the resignation of the former President of the Institute.
In the meantime Ray Foley designated John Egan head of the Management Division as the Acting Commissioner. This was the second sleazy trick that Ray Foley had pulled and it wasn’t very much appreciated.
The year and one half as Commissioner of the Federal Public Housing Authority was spent in large part learning what I needed to know about the program, the laws and the established policies and in fighting off the wolves in the National Real Estate Board and in the Congress who were attempting to kill the public housing program.
The biggest job otherwise had to do with the problems of management, sale and reconstruction of wartime housing which had been the major job of the agency during the war years and following. Because of the tremendous demand for veterans housing much of the
so-called temporary housing was either used in place or moved and reconstructed for veterans use especially in urban centers like New York and many other centers throughout the country. Pressures for the sale of semi-permanent and permanent housing were heavy and many projects were sold.
Some of it was sold and moved by the purchasers where it was possible to move it. The largest sale that we made during this period including Fairlington, a large apartment building which had been constructed in Fairfax County, Virginia, and the McLean Gardens Apartments in Washington, D.C. These two were sold as one package and I as Commissioner received the biggest check that I have ever had in my hands as a down payment on this package deal. It was in the neighborhood of four million dollars.
One of the major battles developed over the sale of housing to veterans cooperatives. Jesse Wolcott and Ben Jensen as chairman of the Banking and Currency Committee and the Corporation Sub-committee respectively, held a hearing on the policy relating to credit and then put out a press release in which they demanded that we sell for cash on the barrel head. We followed this action by addressing a carefully worded letter to the two chairmen pointing out that such a policy would mean that only the large and rich real estate operators could buy under the policy which they had laid down and which I was sure was their intent and the veterans groups generally would be unable to purchase.
Drew Pearson’s office heard of the hassle. They called me to ask about our response and I told them that we had sent a letter. They asked if they might have a copy and I said of course. It was public business and I supplied a copy to them and they published the gist of our reply and it really stirred up the dogs. Veterans wrote in to Jensen and Wolcott. Jensen particularly was very upset and as a result however they did provide authority for the use of federally guaranteed loans which served the purpose which we had in mind in any case.
Ben Jensen was very angry at me, for he thought that I had initiated the action by contacting Drew
Pearson, which of course I had not done. It took years to calm him down and to get back to a reasonably friendly basis with him. This was of some importance because he was still a member of the appropriation sub-committee that handled our appropriations for Indian Affairs later.
There was very little activity in starting new public housing projects during 1946 and 1947 but additional housing units were added in some areas by the transfer of war housing to the Public Housing local agencies handling public housing.
A Visit From The Mayor Of Minneapolis
DSM: One visitor that I had while I was Commissioner was the Mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert H. Humphrey. He came in to get more information about public housing and housing legislation. There were two things of some importance to me that grew out of that visit. Hubert Humphrey went back to Minnesota and pushed a bill through the Minnesota legislature authorizing a public housing program for the state of Minnesota at a time when this seemed like an impossible task in view of the fact that everything seemed to be running against public housing.
The other matter of importance was that I became a great admirer of Hubert Humphrey beginning with that visit and my admiration has grown throughout the twenty years of acquaintance.
My Last Days In Housing
DSM: Had I realized what was to happen in the public housing area during the period when I was to take over the job I probably would have accepted the offer to become the last appointed Governor of Puerto Rico in spite of my antipathy to the social and protocol requirements of that office which led to my non-acceptance. The Public Housing milieu was a strange environment for a farm boy who had spent the first fifty years of his life on the farm or in agricultural work. The atmosphere in housing was almost one hundred percent urban and I am sure that many of the city reared staff and supporters never quite understood the actions of a farm reared lad.
Perhaps it was just not a matter of being farm reared. I could not accustom myself to the ease with which many of the people in the housing field were able to adjust their sights in order to meet the political needs of the moment, and also their willingness in some cases to overlook regulations and to do things which I had been brought up to avoid because it was either dishonest or it was disloyal or for some other ethical reason. Most of the people that I worked with were efficient and highly ethical. But there were people on the staff or in local housing authorities who I felt did not hold the type of ethical standards that I felt should be maintained.
When the word got around that I was leaving housing I had two jobs offered to me. One of them was the job of Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. After spending a week or two investigating the possibility of additional funds for the administrative area where I felt that I needed some elbow room, I gave that up because I didn’t think we had a chance during the Eightieth Congress to secure the appropriations necessary to make the adjustments that I thought needed to be made.
A DECISION TO MOVE TO THE INSTITUTE OF INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS AS PRESIDENT
DSM: The other job was the Presidency of the Institute of Inter-American Affairs. John Drier, who was an old friend of mine and a former employee in the Soil Conservation Service was a member of the Department of State. He had recommended that I take on the Institute job. After being interviewed by Norman Armour and other members of the board of trustees I agreed to take on the job as of January 1, 1948.
This agency included segments of the program which was organized and supervised by Nelson Rockefeller as Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs which had had its beginnings in 1939 and was greatly expanded during World War II. After World War II it was drastically reduced again. Nelson Rockefeller had established a series of corporations chartered under Delaware laws and those that still existed after the war were brought together under the Government Corporation Act as a federal government corporation.
This corporation was named the Institute of Inter-American Affairs and there were three major divisions responsible for the supervision of projects in Latin America. The largest division or activity was the health and sanitation program, which had projects in eighteen of the twenty-two Latin American countries. There was an educational division which ranked second in number of projects. They limited their activities to vocational educational projects in twelve countries. The third division supervised the agricultural programs in four countries at the time that I took over. The program had been under study in 1945 to determine whether it should be continued. Two representatives of the State Department visited Latin America at different times to appraise the work of the Institute. Louis Halle who now lives in Switzerland and has written many articles and books and a former member of
the State Department, was one of those and Andy Corey, who is now the Ambassador to Ceylon, both made trips to Latin America, separately. They both came back most enthusiastic about the programs and their testimony before the Congressional Committees had a most important bearing on the issuance of a new charter.
In 1948 only about three and a half million dollars were appropriated for the work carried forward by the U.S. Government under the three divisions and the administrative fund was so drastically reduced that we found it necessary to eliminate the field auditors, and this led us into a battle with the General Accounting Office at a later date.
A head of the division of GAO resented the fact that as a government corporation we were not subject to the same field audit procedure by the GAO as were non-corporate agencies. So he dug up many incidents of what he claimed were improper expenditures that went all the way back to 1940. All of these alleged discrepancies happened before my time but they presented their case before the House Committee on Government Expenditures of which Porter Hardy of Virginia was chairman. This meant that we were called upon to dig back through the records to check every case presented in order to be prepared to defend the agency. This we did and after several days of hearings we came out on top. This is the first and only time that I won an argument with the General Accounting Office. However, the GAO representative retaliated by charging that I was opposed to auditors and to audits because we had found it necessary to drop our field audit staff in order to maintain adequate finance staff.
The Institute projects were carried on in cooperation with the various Latin American governments by means of a unique device called a "Servicio." A "Servicio" was established as a separate entity of the Latin American governments and was usually headed by the Institute Party Chief but jointly financed, and the joint contributions constituted a "Servicio" fund which served to provide finances for personnel, and for other costs such as materials and local labor. The field party members were hired and financed by the Institute.
This constituted a very happy working arrangement in most countries and the "Servicio" carried on even after changes in regimes in all cases with one exception. The "Servicio" provided stability and avoided political manipulation to a large extent and we were also assured that the funds were being properly looked after which was not always true in the Latin American governments.
The one project which was dropped during my regime was in Guatemala where the Communists were moving in and wanted full control of all the educational activities. The pressure became so heavy that the educational program was dropped during that period. The expenditures of the various "Servicio" programs were at least three times as much as we contributed from the Institute budget because appropriations were made by the local government to these various projects which were generally quite popular.
A Try For A New Charter
DSM: Before approaching Congress for a bill for a new charter it was necessary first of all to get the support of our board of directors, all of whom were key members of the State Department staff; the Secretary of State; and then the Bureau of the Budget.
I had decided in the meantime that we should start at least a year ahead of time in order to be sure to have the chapter extended which was to run only until 1950. Norman Armour was Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs and the Chairman for the Institute Board of Trustees at the time of my arrival on the scene but unfortunately he had retired soon after, and Paul C. Daniels, an old State Department hand was made Acting Assistant Secretary and he unfortunately like several of the old time foreign service officers were opposed to the work of the Institute. They felt that it simply messed up
their so-called diplomatic functions. As a result of this change my proposal for a new charter was held up for many weeks because the Acting Assistant Secretary and Chairman of the Board did not approve.
I finally asked for a meeting with the Acting Secretary of State at a time when Secretary George Marshall was away. Robert A. Lovett was Acting Secretary. I presented my case to him in quick summary in about ten minutes and he approved our approach so we were on our way again. We had no trouble in getting the approval from the Bureau of the Budget.
The next problem was to get the right sponsorship in the Congress. Congressman John Key from West Virginia was chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs and at the time was ill and in the hospital. When I went to see the Acting Chairman, James P. Richards of South Carolina, he told me that he was favorable but he felt that he should clear with Representative Key before acting. This he did and in our next meeting he was so friendly that he said that he would name a sub-committee to hold hearings and asked who I would like as chairman of the sub-committee. I immediately told him that Mike Mansfield of Montana would be my choice. He then told me who he would appoint as the other members of the sub-committee and he particularly advised me to see Robert B. Chiperfield of Illinois who was the ranking Republican on the committee and also on the sub-committee. I visited Representative Chiperfield and found that he favored action in the Latin American countries but was opposed to foreign aid in other parts of the world. The result was that we had a very friendly sub-committee and our bill went to the House and was passed in good time.
I found that our "friendly enemy" in the General Accounting Office had not given up however because he had convinced Mike Mansfield and Porter Hardy that we should have some field auditors. So before the bill went before the full committee and to the House I agreed to hire at least three auditors if the bill was passed. This is the kind of compromise you sometimes have to make under pressures of this type.
Senator Tom Connelly of Texas who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senator Arthur Vandenberg was the ranking Republican member. We were asked to make some compromises upon the suggestions of Senator Vandenberg. I felt strongly that we should stand by our bill but the State Department counsel took it upon himself to agree with the change from the ten years to five as to the length of the charter and also to a limitation on funds which was somewhat lower than I had hoped for.
Another Offer To Head The Bureau Of Indian Affairs
DSM: The bill was finally passed in good order but not before President Truman called me at home after his reelection in 1948 and asked me to take over the job as Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This was the second time I had been asked to take this job. I told the President that we had some problems that needed my attention and he said to make a date with Matt Connelly, his appointments officer, and come in to see him. So I called Matt and the appointment was set up.
During our visit I told the President that we had just gotten under way with what I felt was an important proposed piece of legislation to extend the charter of the Institute and I felt that I should see it through to final passage for I was fearful that anyone new would have problems unless he could have several months to prepare himself as I had had. The President said "well, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has gone along for quite some time without any Commissioner and maybe two or three months more would not make too much difference."
A Successful Appeal For More Funds
DSM: I then took the bull by the horns and said "Mr. President, I have another problem." He said "What’s that." I replied "We are asking for an increase in funds for the next fiscal year for the Institute and I was fearful that we might not get it and it was badly needed." He pulled a pad over to him and he then said "How much do you need?" I said "Five million dollars," which was about one and one half million dollars more than the budget at that time. It was the only time in my lengthy career in government that I ever had the chance to appeal to a President for funds. We got our funds approved by the Bureau of the Budget.
Some months later a friend, Mel Spector, told me that he had been seated next to Fred Lawton, Director of the Bureau of the Budget, at an administrative organization meeting. After a time he asked Fred Lawton if he knew Dillon Myer and Lawton began to laugh and said "Yes, 1 know Dillon Myer. I have a funny story to tell you." He then told Mel that when he was Director of the Bureau of the Budget he had taken the proposed annual budget over to President Truman for his review and approval and in the midst of their discussion the President said "By the way I want you
to give Dillon Myer what he requesting - Five million dollars." I then said "Why Mr. President?", and President Truman said "I have a shitty ass job that I want him to do." He of course was referring to the Bureau of Indian Affairs job.
I have always considered that my major contribution to the Institute of Inter-American Affairs was securing the passage of the bill that extended to charter to 1955 and the increased budget which the President helped with. As a matter of fact if he had not said to give it to us we probably would not have had it.
The Institute was rather a quiet spot after W RA and Public Housing Administration because there was very little Congressional interest except by the Committees on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations.
There were few if any Congressmen who had constituents in Latin America. Consequently the calls from Congressmen and Senators were few and far between but it was an interesting and worthwhile job. I visited a number of Latin American countries during two major field trips. We had a good staff in Washington and good field staff members for the most part and much good work was accomplished.
I think that I should mention that I got in touch with Nelson Rockefeller to tell him about our legislation for a new charter and asked his aid especially with Senator Vandenberg and the Republican members of the senate. He was delighted that the program was going forward and he cheerfully agreed to contact the key people in the Senate.
I think that I should mention also that during the time that we were at the Institute Philip Glick, my solicitor, my secretary and I took a course in Spanish at the Foreign Service Institute over a period of a year’s time. We met three times a week. We never became very proficient in the Spanish language but we did get so that we could read the Spanish newspapers.
A Middle East Interlude
DSM: During my last year in the Institute during the summer of 1949 Roswell Barnes of the Federal Council of Churches called me from New York and said that he had talked to Clarence Pickett who was then Executive Director of the Friends Service Committee and that they had agreed that I should be recommended for the Directorship of the Arab Refugee Program in the Middle East. A little later Clarence Pickett urged me to consider it also. Soon after that they must have sold George McGee on the idea. George, at that time, was Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle Eastern Affairs because he began a campaign to get me to agree to take the job. George McGee was one of the board of trustees for the Institute of Inter-American Affairs
so I saw him regularly and he pressed me several times about the job. He even sent Paul Porter over to see me to try to talk me into the job. Paul was a long time friend going back to the early days of my Washington tour in the Department of Agriculture. Paul had been in Geneva for several weeks in an attempt to mediate between the Arabs and the Jews following the battles of 1948.
Along about August of 1949 it was announced that a United Nations mission was to go to the Middle East to make a study of the refugee and related problems. The mission head who had been selected to go to the Middle East was Gordon Clapp of the T.V.A. and this was to be a two months study of the Arab and the Jewish situation and what might be done about it. I learned about this and when I was pressed again by George McGee to take over the Directorship of the Arab Refugee program I said to him "Why don’t you attach me to the mission for the next two months to give me a chance to study the refugee problem and if after a look see as a member of the mission I then feel that something constructive can be done about it I will be interested in taking on the job." George McGee agreed and I also asked that Rex Lee was assigned to work with me. After a conference with Andrew Cordier, Deputy to the United Nations Director, I was assigned and sworn in.
Up until early September I had never met Gordon Clapp. He and most of the mission members who were assigned reported directly to Beirut while Mrs. Myer, Rex Lee and I went to Beirut by way of Geneva, Switzerland for three and a half days in order to be briefed by the refugee director’s office which maintained headquarters in Geneva at that time. Ambassador Griffith was serving in a dual capacity. He was Ambassador to Egypt and Arab Refugee Director.
After Geneva we went to Beirut by United Nations plane and upon arrival I was full of questions and ideas about what was to be done. I went in for a chat with Gordon Clapp, and I received one of the neatest brushoffs that I have ever received in my life. He quite obviously did not want any suggestions and he practically told me in a very tactful and firm manner that everything was under control and that I need not
worry about it. He didn’t say it in those words but that was the feeling that I got.
The heads of the mission represented four countries. Gordon Clapp of course represented the U.S.A. as chairman, Great Britain, France, and Turkey were also represented, and these were the people who were presumably overseeing the job. Since my services were apparently not needed or generally accepted, Rex Lee and the crew who was assigned to us went on a number of field trips to visit refugee centers in Trans-Jordan and such places as Jericho, the ruins across from the hotel in Aman, the old Roman ruins which was full of people and other points throughout the Jordanian area.
Molly Flynn, Nora Powell, both good folks were assigned to me. Nora was a statistician and was very helpful on statistics. Herbert Kounde from U.S.A. was also assigned along with a Britisher whose name doesn’t come back to me at the moment. During the various trips we covered most of western Syria from Aleppo to the Trans-Jordan line. Also Nablus in Palestine and the Arab portion of Jerusalem. We covered Israel from the Lebanon boundary to the Negev including the Dead Sea area. We visited Acre, Nazareth, Galilee, Tel Aviv, Joffa, and the Jewish portion of Jerusalem. We also visited the Gaza strip which was in Egyptian hands and which had more than seventy thousand refugees in this small strip of about twenty-five miles long and only about five miles wide. Those people were packed in there on top of the residents who were already there making up a total around one hundred thousand people in this little spot.
We went on to Cairo for a couple of days trip to take care of some business with some of the agencies who had headquarters there. We also covered Lebanon from Tripoli to the Israel border as well as the territory between Beirut and Damascus, Syria. We visited many refugee camps as well as areas left behind by the refugees.
We prepared carefully documented reports on the visits and made checks and samplings of the size of the refugee population in the various areas and
finally worked out a figure to our satisfaction as to the number of refugees; which incidentally did not agree with the British representative who insisted that many of these people who were in camps now had gathered in after they had evacuated Israel. Perhaps a few had but not many. After the most extensive field work done by any of the mission staff we were completely ignored when it came to preparing the final report.
We were on a field trip during the time that the report was prepared and did not know that it was to be prepared at that time. When we got back I found that the report had been completed and typed. We got back on late Saturday and on Sunday morning I went to the office and went to Gordon Clapp’s secretary and insisted on seeing a copy. She quite obviously had been told not to give me a copy but I got one just the same. I had to pour the pressure on pretty hard.
I read the report and disagreed with it in many aspects. I made my comments, sent them forward to Gordon Clapp and he sent them back with notations on the side in response to my comments which he didn’t want in his files. I took them back to his secretary and said "I think you will want to file this. This is my comments on the final report." I don’t think it was ever filed but nevertheless I had the satisfaction of taking it back. I had turned the report over to Rex Lee to read, as soon as I had read it, and he wasn’t half way through when Clapp’s good man Friday who he brought with him from T.V.A. came in and gathered it up and wouldn’t let him finish it. So what I did was to prepare a minority report which was not distributed generally but I did prepare a report for Andy Cordier who was the Deputy Director of the United Nations whom I had talked with before I came over, for Clarence Pickett who was largely responsible for my being over there and for George McGee of the State Department who had recommended that I be taken along. These were the only copies that I distributed to anybody.
When we finished our work Mrs. Myer, Rex Lee and I took the plane from Damascus back to Brussels
where we spent a day and then Mrs. Myer and I spent two weeks in Paris with a three day interim visit in London where we went with the Ambassador’s plane. At that time Averill Harriman was in charge of the Mutual Security program.
While I was in Paris Andy Cordier from the United Nations called me by phone and asked me if I could come on back to New York sooner than I had planned for the reason that Mr. Clapp and other key people were not planning to be in New York at a time when the General Assembly was to meet and he was anxious that they have somebody there at the time that the report was presented to discuss it and to answer questions. I told Andy Cordier that I didn’t believe that he would want me to come back and he said "Why not?" I said "Well, I had no part in writing this report. I do not agree with much of the report. I would not be able to cover up my feelings about it if I came back to meet with the General Assembly; and as a matter of fact I have written a minority report which is for your hands and for the hands of George McGee and Clarence Pickett only, which will give you some idea as to what my feelings are about the situation. "
He listened and asked a few questions and finally heaved a sigh of relief or disgust, I have never been quite sure which, and said he agreed that I should not come back. So I didn’t come back to report to the United Nations.
This was one of the worst fiascos that I think I have ever been involved in. I felt sure by the time we left there that for some reason or other Gordon Clapp had agreed to write the program pretty much as the British representative dictated and I wasn’t absolutely certain but several years later when Arthur Gardner who had been McGee’s assistant was in Viet Nam working with Leland Barrows, the subject came up and he admitted to Leland Barrows that the whole pattern was agreed to before they ever started work and this was in line with what I was pretty sure had happened but this was confirmation.
On my way back to Washington I stopped in New York. Ambassador Griffith who had been in Egypt, as
I have already indicated, who was planning to go on to Argentina as Ambassador at that time, came out to the airport to spend some time with me to try to convince me further that I should take the job as Refugee Director because he was trying to find a replacement. I had found things in such a shape that I didn’t feel that there was a chance to do a job so when I returned to Washington I told George McGee that I didn’t believe that I was interested in taking the job. So I went to work again at the Institute in early December of 1949 and continued there until May 8, 1950 when I finally accepted the bid from Oscar Chapman, who had become Secretary of the Interior while I was abroad in 1949 and who was determined that I become Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Dillon S. Myer, Commissioner of the Federal Public Housing Authority. 1947.
Chief of a Chippewa Indian Group in Wisconsin initiating Dillon Myer, Commissioner
of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as a member of the tribe. The feather head dress was symbol of the occasion. 1952.
Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman with Staff members from the Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in consultation with Indians representing twelve different tribal groups. Commissioner Dillon S. Myer standing in back row to Secretary Chapman s left. 1952. Seated left to right: Albert Yava- Hopi, Thomas Segundo- Papago, Maxwell Yazzie- Navajo, George Adams- Skokomish, Charles Reevis- Blackfeet, Secretary Chapman, Floyd Maytubby- Chickasaw, Frank George- Colville, Henry Vicente - Jicarilla-Apache, Norton Edwards, Office of the Secretary. Standing left to right: Warren Spaulding- BIA, Ervin Utz-BIA, Asst. Sec. McKinney, Asst. Sec. Wolfsohn, Peter Grant-Blackfeet, Ed Wilson- Chippewa, Indian Commissioner Myer, Jasper Long- Crow, Alfred Chalepah-Kiowa-Apache , Richard La Roche- Lower Brule-Sioux.
ANOTHER MOVE TO THE DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR AS COMMISSIONER OF THE BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS
DSM: I was surprised at the offer of the job as Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the spring of 1950 even from Oscar Chapman who was such a good backer and a good friend, because John Nichols of New Mexico had been appointed Commissioner less than two years before. I didn’t think that they would make a change because of his having come from New Mexico. I had assumed that he had been recommended by Senator Clinton Anderson, a very important member of the Senate Interior Committee. I found that he had evidently agreed to it because as soon as my name was announced Clint called me up and I went up and talked with him and he told me things that he thought that I ought to know about what the bureau staff did to John Nichols and not to let them do it to me. But in any case before accepting the job I posed a series of questions and requests to Secretary Chapman and he gave satisfactory answers to most of them.
One of them was a request that I report directly to him as the Secretary rather than through an Assistant Secretary. Bill Warne was the Assistant Secretary at the time and I am sure that he never told Bill that this was what was happening but as long as Bill was Assistant Secretary I did report to Oscar Chapman and Bill would call me up occasionally and make suggestions and I would listen very tactfully and very carefully and thank him very much.
In any case along about two or three months after I. became Commissioner he appointed Dale Doty, who long had been one of his assistants, as Assistant Secretary and I did report through him most of the time, although I always had access to the Secretary whenever I felt that I needed it or whenever I had an argument with the Assistant Secretary.
Probably the most important agreement that was made at the time I was asked to take over the job was that Rex Lee who was then Assistant Director of the division of Territories Islands and Possessions was to become Associate Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He moved over the day that I reported for the job.
William Zimmerman had been Assistant Commissioner throughout many many years and had been acting Commissioner frequently during that time because the Commissioner during the 1940’s was ill with tuberculosis much of the time. Bill Zimmerman was moved over to Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Land Management and Rex Lee took over the spot as my key assistant.
In addition to Rex Lee, Erwin Utz who had worked with me throughout many years in different jobs, became Assistant Commissioner in charge of lands and resources and John Province from my W.R.A. staff was already Assistant Commissioner in charge of the area which involved health, education and the social services.
It was necessary that my name be presented to the Senate for confirmation, which had been required throughout the years because the job of Commissioner of Indian Affairs was one of only two bureau chief jobs in the government that was still a Presidential appointive job. That and the Chief of the Forest Service were the only two. Usually bureau chiefs are appointed by a particular Secretary in charge of the department but that was not true of Indian Affairs.
Rex Lee, who had been very close to the Congressional committees during the four years or so when he was in the division of Territory and Insular Affairs, sensed that there might be some real opposition to my appointment so he went up to see Senator Butler on the morning after it was announced.
Senator Butler was from Nebraska and was the ranking minority member on the Interior Committee. Rex was well acquainted with the secretary in the front office, and when he walked in and asked if the
Senator was available she nodded her head toward the Senator’s inner office and said "Indians". Rex stuck around until he got into the Senator’s office and he found that the Senator had his desk piled full of documents from the Dies Committee and from all the committees that had ever had me on the pan throughout the years and was trying to find something that was derogatory because Fulton Lewis Jr., a muck-raking radio commentator, had called him and asked him to dig up some information which he could use in opposition to my appointment on that evening’s broadcast. So Senator Butler was working on this task.
He said "I hear that this man Myer is a Communist", and Rex said "Well, Senator I am afraid you are mistaken. He is just a farm boy like you and me." He said "Farm boy?" Rex said "Yes, he grew up on a farm in Ohio and he is no more Communist than either you or I or anyone else who has grown up under such circumstances." So they chatted awhile and he sent the files back and decided that he was not going to be quoted.
However Fulton Lewis Jr. did find somebody that he could quote because Ben Jensen in the House, who was from Iowa and who had been very mad at me during the housing period because he thought I had leaked some material to Drew Pearson and never had gotten over it, was perfectly willing to allow his name to be used. So on Fulton Lewis Jr.’s broadcast that night he took out after me and among other things he said and I quote "This man Myer has been in Government a long long time and he has had job after job after job and every time he fails in one the President finds
another one for him.”
In spite of Fulton Lewis Jr. and his broadcast and certain other opposition that flared up the Interior Committee endorsed my appointment and recommended me unanimously for the job and I was approved by the senate. There were a few old timers from among the Indian politicos who were there to make a speech including Bob Yellowtail who had at one time been Indian agent for his tribe the Crows. Bob was still bitter because he had gotten fired back in the days when he didn’t think he should have been so he was
out to attack anybody. This didn’t have much effect because the committee knew him quite well. I reported for duty on May 8, 1950. I had no more than seated myself in the Commissioner’s chair than I had a clipping from the New York Times laid on my desk. It was a letter which John Collier, former Commissioner for many years, had written to the New York Times telling them about this man Myer and what a terrible guy he was and explained in some detail just what Myer was going to do about the Indians.
John Collier had gotten very upset at me back in the days of W.R.A. because the Posten Relocation Center which was on the Colorado Indian Reservation was operated for awhile by the Bureau of Indian Affairs under a contract which was arranged before I became Director of W.R.A.. In the fall of 1942 in less than six months after I took over the job, I visited Posten and made a speech in which I made it clear that our major policy was going to be to help people relocate into the rest of the United States rather than to continue to live in the Posten center. It was only after I made this speech that I learned that John Collier had been there just two or three weeks before and had painted pretty pictures about how they would probably be there for forty years or more and they would develop land and they would be able to have a fine brand new community, etc., etc. This, of course, was entirely opposite from what John had said and he never quite forgave me, and I might say his blast at the beginning of my regime was not his last attack because he kept it up throughout my nearly three years of tenure and if he wasn’t able to do it directly he did it through a stooge or two who was in the Department of Interior and who tried to bring pressure to bear on the Secretary not to approve some of the things that I tried to do.
Joel Wolfson was our worst problem in that respect. He had been in Interior for a long time and had worked closely with Collier previously. Joel was always very affable when I saw him, but I was sure he was cutting my throat regularly.
Resistance To Change In An Old Government Bureau
DSM: The Bureau of Indian Affairs had been reorganized about two years before I became Commissioner. Area offices were established throughout the western part of the United States and presumably most of the line administrative activities were to be delegated to the area director and his staff. This meant an important change to the Washington staff who had been carrying out the line operations throughout the years with the agents in the various reservations as the people who put them into effect. The Washington staff now became staff officers rather than line officers and some of them didn’t care much for the switch. Old habits are hard to break and many authorities which were supposed to be delegated to the field were still retained by the Washington staff heads. So we proceeded very soon after I arrived on the scene to start work on a new manual.
We brought over Ted Taylor from the Territories and Island Possessions to handle our processing of administrative procedures and during the first few months we were involved in preparing a thorough-going manual which delegated the proper line jobs to the field and outlined the jobs and the responsibilities of the staff officers in Washington.
The installation of the revised procedures, as might be expected, brought about some repercussions; one of which was the resignation of Willard Beatty who for years had been head of the educational division of the bureau and who had run that division with no questions asked. Willard came to see me after we proposed to put the change into effect and said that he didn’t want to operate as a staff man. He wanted to operate the schools as he had been doing. I said that I was awfully sorry but I thought the plans had been laid some time before and I thought it was time to put them into effect. Well the upshot was that he resigned and went to UNESCO. Some of the other folks didn’t like it much better than Willard did but there were no further resignations.
I found that there were certain other problems which were hard to overcome. One of them was that some of our division chiefs had been there through a number of changes in Commissioners and they had been in the habit of trying to figure out what the Commissioner wanted and tried to provide him with the answers that he wanted. I never did like Yes men. I didn’t want them to guess what I wanted done. Our worst case of this kind was the chief of the Land Management Division and throughout the nearly three years that I was Commissioner I tried my best to break him of the habit but the disease was so firmly set that I never did change him. I had to listen and decide that he was telling me in most cases just what he thought that I should know but rather what he thought I wanted to hear.
DSM: The Bureau of Indian Affairs throughout the years had carried out services to the Indians which had been expanded many times. Some of the early treaties had provided for fairly simple services to be provided at the reservation level: services such as providing a blacksmith, a doctor, and maybe a schoolteacher or two, and services of this type. In some cases they even had agreed to provide so many yards of calico each year.
One group in New York state who were no longer in a federal reservation had a treaty which provided that they should get a certain number of yards of calico each year under the treaty and in spite of the fact that their population had increased and that each one would only get a quarter of a yard of calico apiece they insisted upon having the calico doled out each year to each member of the tribe! I presume this was important to them as a indication that the treaty was still in effect and that any other phase of the treaty should not be abandoned. So they weren’t willing to
abandon even this one. There were many other items that were holdovers. I am sure, from the early
days and from early treaties.
For the Navajo reservation, for example, there was a provision at the time that they came back from Texas where they had been placed during the Civil War that they would have one schoolteacher for each thirty-five pupils and the schools would be provided for all of the Navajo youngsters. There were about eight thousand of them at that time. The Government attempted time and time again throughout the years to fulfill this agreement but it was not accomplished until after World War II. I will comment on this a little more later but there were things of various types that the Government had promised that they weren’t able to carry out, in some cases because of lack of cooperation on the part of the Indians themselves.
There were certain functions which had grown up throughout the years either by law or by tradition. They may be summarized as follows—there were about fifteen of them.
Education was a very important one as far as the Federal Government was concerned and as far as many Indians were concerned and up until a few years before the educational work had been carried largely by Indian schools, many of them boarding schools.
The health program which had been expanded throughout the years was another of the very important functions.
Welfare, which meant providing for people who did not have enough food or weren’t able to take care of themselves was another function which was handled directly by the Federal Government.
Agriculture Extension Service was established in the 1920’s or the early 1930’s.
Shortly before I became Commissioner a relocation and placement program had been started in connection with the Navajos who were interested in going to boarding schools outside the reservation and in
receiving placement in jobs but very little work was being done of this type except in Los Angeles. We expanded this function greatly during our regime. We provided a training program and a relocation placement program and we established offices in a number of places in the United States including Denver, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and other major areas where the opportunities for employment were good.
HP: Do you know whether they still exist?
DSM: Oh yes. They not only still exist but they finally adopted a program which we had recommended before I left the Bureau of providing vocational training for up to two years for Indians who wanted to take vocational training as a basis for relocation. We stunned the sub-committee on one of our trips to the Hill with an appropriation bill in which we asked for eight million dollars for this type of work. We didn’t get it at that particular time but about two years later they did get it, and this work has been carried forward. Many young Indians have received the kind of training that they wanted to take and were able to locate themselves in jobs off the reservation.
Law and Order was another function that was carried out by the Federal Government and this of course was important in many areas because there was no local government in many of the areas where reservations were located.
Roads in the reservations were the responsibility of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, especially in those areas where there was no established local government.
Credit, which had been provided many years before as a basis for helping Indians get under way in ranching or farming in particular.
Supervision of trust lands, both tribal and individual lands, was the responsibility of the agency.
Handling individual Indian moneys who still required trustees to look after their affairs.
Division of Soil and Moisture Conservation had been established back in the late 1930’s when it was transferred from the Soil Conservation Service.
Forest and Range Management was an important part of the work of the resources division.
Irrigation program, utilization of utilities including communications and power and the supervision and development of tribal enterprises such as saw mills and other types of enterprises that were important to encourage the development of the resources of the agencies.
The problems of handling forestry for example in view of the responsibilities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for their trusteeship was an entirely different problem than handling forestry in the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture. As a matter of fact one of the agencies that made a study of the Bureau raised the question why forestry and range work could not be transferred to the Forest Service. At that time I happened to know the Forester very well who was in charge of the work in Agriculture and I talked to him about it and he said "Oh, Dillon, we don’t want it. It is entirely out of our line. This isn’t the type of thing that we do or that we know anything about because it had to do with dealing with the tribes, dealing with individuals, and so on, instead of looking after Federal lands as we do in the Forest Service." There were certain other things that could be handled by local and state governments and even by certain other Federal government agencies which will develop as we proceed.
As noted, the Bureau was responsible for most of the services provided in almost any city or community plus some that were unique because of the trust responsibility. Much progress had been made in contracting with local school districts following the passage of the Johnson-O’Malley act in the 1930’s which provided authority to contract for services with local and state government agencies.
Schooling For Indians
DSM: There were areas however, large ones as a matter of fact, where there were no local school facilities or local governments to deal with. For example, the Navajo reservation which is about the size of the state of West Virginia, had no local government within the reservation area so all of the services including schools had to be provided by the Federal Government because there was nobody to contract with. I’ll point out a little later that we did arrange to have many of these youngsters go to school in other areas in order to get them out of the reservation complex and milieu. But this was an entirely different thing than contracting with local governments.
We proceeded throughout my nearly three years as Commissioner to get as many of the public schools which had not already taken over to take over the educational function of the Bureau. Most of this had already been done where it was feasible up to this time. It was a good thing and one of the best integrative processes that we could work out.
Some of the older boarding schools which had been utilized throughout the years particularly in Oklahoma, California and certain other areas were available for use since we had already contracted for school services with local governments in those areas. So as a result of having these available we did arrange to have Navajo youngsters and the Papagos in southern Arizona, sent to California, to Oklahoma and other places to boarding schools where they could be provided with services without providing new boarding school buildings and at the same time get them into areas where they had some contact with the outside public.
This provided also an opportunity particularly for the older youngsters of high school age, many of whom had never been to school, to get intensive training for five or six years and then to be provided with opportunities for employment in the areas where they had gone to school. This was one of the
first types of relocation that was initiated. During my regime they completed the rehabilitation of an army installation in Utah where about five hundred Navajo youngsters were provided for. This school was planned particularly for youngsters between twelve and eighteen who had not had schooling and where they could have intensive courses in English, and basic elementary training plus some vocational training and could be established then in jobs if they were interested in so doing in that or other areas by the time they had finished school.
HP: What kinds of jobs?
DSM: Many kinds of vocational types of training jobs were provided. Use of machines of various types, I can’t recall at the moment just what types of training we did provide.
HP: Was it for girls also?
DSM: Yes, they had some girls. More boys than girls but they had some girls.
While we are on the Navajo and while we are talking about education I think I should go a little further in my discussion about the problem that we had there. The Navajos after they came back to the reservation in northern Arizona, New Mexico and Utah became sheepherders and as a consequence many of them were nomads. In other words they moved with their flocks depending upon the season into the mountain country and into other areas, and as a consequence they weren’t always available at any one place for school. Furthermore most of the older Navajos didn’t want their youngsters to go to school because they didn’t want them to stray away from the particular culture and the family controls. So the government was unable even though they tried very hard throughout the years following the Civil war to carry out their responsibilities which they had agreed to under the treaty to set up schools with one teacher for each thirty-five youngsters or less because the youngsters didn’t go to school. This pattern was not broken until after World War II.
During World War II many of the Navajo boys were inducted into the service and rendered good service, in fact a unique service because of their ability to speak Navajo and nobody else in the world could. They were able to serve in intelligence units and to communicate among themselves across the lines and to confound the enemy and provide information for their own units. A great many of them that did go into the Army received the kind of training that the Army gave including courses in the English language, learning to read and write and many other things which they hadn’t learned up to that time. When these boys came back to the reservation after the war they began to put the pressure on to have schools established and for people to go to school.
So by the time I became Commissioner in early 1950 the most important political campaign issue on the part of tribal council members and people who were running for tribal council was to back the idea of providing schools for every Navajo youngster.
This grew out of the fact that these young lads had come back after seeing some of the rest of the world and had recognized what their problems were. So the pressure was on. It was impossible over the short period of four or five years to provide enough schools and enough teachers to fill in the gaps that had been missing because of the fact that people wouldn’t go to school earlier. It was only with the help of the boarding schools outside, plus building new schools which took time that we could fulfill this desire which had finally developed on the part of the Navajos for education for their children. At that time about eighty percent of the Navajos population could not speak English so the first job of the schools for the first year or two was to teach the youngsters English so that they could proceed to teach other things which they only knew how to teach in English because the teachers unfortunately didn’t know the Navajo language.
It was during this period when I was Commissioner that I suggested the idea of developing some trailer schools for youngsters who were following their herds with their families as a way of providing an opportunity
for them to learn the English language and to learn the other things that they needed to learn in elementary school. This was not adopted during my time because I wasn’t able to get it across fast enough but it was adopted in the regime which followed and I was very happy to see it adopted because if you were going to reach all of the Navajo youngsters you had to provide facilities where they were. You couldn’t remove them entirely from their jobs as shepherds so you had to move in where they were. Trailers were used to some extent.
Finally I think along about four or five years after I left the job as Commissioner they caught up with the backlog and were able to provide schools for every Navajo youngster who wanted to go to school or whose parents would allow him to go to school. This was highly important because it is very difficult to help to decrease a much over-populated area through placement and relocation unless the people could speak the language of the country, handle simple figures, and had some kind of ability in the way of skills such as carpentry, or other similar training which could be useful in relocation. I mentioned, that when the Navajos came back from Texas following the Civil War there were only eight thousand people. At the time I was Commissioner there were about eighty thousand Navajos and they were still increasing,
The Navajo reservation was not the only one that required that all the services be Federal services because of lack of local government. I have mentioned Papago, and the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota is another area where there was no local government. There were not even any counties organized, at least up until very recent years and they were not yet organized when I was Commissioner in the area where the large Oglala Sioux reservation was in South Dakota, so that provision did have to be made either in the way of local one or two room schools or boarding schools which were much more common for these areas.
Health And Sanitation
DSM: Health and sanitation problems were very real problems. The problem of maintaining sixty hospitals which were under the auspices of the Bureau and of providing a reasonable approach to training in sanitary and related measures was very real. The problem of recruitment of doctors and nurses for out-of-the-way places in reservations areas was most difficult. Fortunately we did have some help from the Public Health Service but even they were not in a position to assign people who were needed someplace else so we very often got people who weren’t too well adapted to reservation life.
In spite of that we were doing a pretty fair job particularly in the hospitals which were developed throughout the years, some of them large and some of them small. They had a large reservation hospital in the Navajo country because they had a very large population, but even there under the Johnson-O’Malley Act the Bureau had been able to contract with local hospitals in some areas and we continued to push for that kind of a program throughout the years when I was Commissioner. A big hospital was constructed down in the Albuquerque area to help provide services for the Pueblo people. This was constructed partly out of Bureau of Indian Affairs funds, partly out of local funds and some out of the Federal funds that were provided for hospitals generally under the bill which authorized contributions for hospital construction and this was one of the largest of its type.
The big problem other than hospitals had to do with sanitation which was very often a missing item. Indians like many poor and indigent people lived under crowded circumstances. The Navajos lived in hogans. Other tribes lived in small houses, and the Apaches still lived in skin type tepees, up in the northern Apache country. As a consequence tuberculosis was a very difficult disease to control, with lack of sanitation, crowding and inability to segregate people who had become infected. This was also true of many other types of diseases.
Hospitals could be used for people who had become quite ill but the matter of providing sanitary measures by moving people into hospitals was something else again. I talked to the doctor in charge, who had been assigned by the Public Health Service, about this and he said "There ought to be the kind of sanitary training, inspection and supervision that exists in other local governments, but there are no funds for it." I said "Well, if I can get the funds do you think you can do the job?" I got the funds and I got more money than he could spend because he couldn’t find the people to do the job. It was ironic that when I managed to do what he had been pressuring me to do, and which I was delighted to do, when I got him a couple of hundred thousand dollars he couldn’t use all of it because he couldn’t find enough people to move into areas of this type to help get the job done.
This was one of the important problems and one of the things that we were nearly always able to get additional money for if we needed it. But it wasn’t just a matter of getting additional money. It was a matter of getting additional personnel of the proper type that was important. I might as well add here that before leaving the job as Commissioner I made the recommendation that the health and sanitation services be transferred to the Public Health Service. I was somewhat reluctant to do this because of certain problems that I thought would be involved but I did it, and shortly after I left the service it was transferred. Since then the health and sanitation service has been greatly expanded.
Public Health Service has taken the job very seriously in fact maybe they are overdoing it a bit nowadays but nevertheless who am I to criticize when it was so badly undermanned back in the early days.
DSM: The welfare program was also a very real problem because lack of employment opportunities in many of the reservation areas was one of the very difficult problems. Excepting for about twenty or twenty-five reservations throughout the United States the Indians who were put into reservations were pushed off into some of the worst scab land and bad lands and some of the poorest agriculture lands that you could find any place in the country.
As a consequence of that plus the fact that they weren’t farmers in the first place there was a real problem of finding employment in a rural community where there was no industry to amount to anything near by so about the only employment that could be found was transitory work such as harvesting of sugar beets, and other crops during the harvest season. As a consequence many of these people worked for three or four or five months, lived on the money that they earned in doing this kind of migrant work during the crop season until it was used up and then they went on welfare until the time came again to earn some more money as migrants.
We estimated for example in one of the North Dakota reservations there weren’t opportunities for employment for more than about two or three percent of the people on the reservation as far as full time employment was concerned. This is one of the reasons, by the way, that I felt very strongly about the need for training, relocation and placement in jobs outside of the reservations. So welfare was an important item and it had to be handled in such a way if possible to avoid making full time wards out of the people.
I remember telling one of my old bosses at the University of Kentucky while I was Commissioner about this particular problem. He said "In other words what you have is a lot of very much enlarged poor houses." I said "That is just about right. They are similar to the old time poor houses as far as many people are concerned.”
Much progress was made in transferring the job of agriculture extension work to the state extension services during the time that I was on the job. Both Rex Lee my associate and I had been extension agents at one time and we knew something about this particular approach and we felt very deeply that it ought to be handled in the normal manner. We were able in areas where the extension service functioned with other local and county governments to get them to take over the Bureau of Indian Affairs work under contract from us and the Indians became part of the program such as Four H-Club work and other things that the extension service was generally responsible for.
DSM: Roads in the reservation was another part of the responsibility of the Bureau. We did our best in areas where there were local governments and where it was possible to do so, to work out an agreement to bring the roads up to the standard that the local governments required. Then we were able to turn them over to them for maintenance. We did much of this in California, Montana and a number of other places where this was feasible.
It was not feasible in the Navajo and many of the other large reservations where there was no local government to take over.
DSM: It is important that I comment further on the problems of relocation and placement outside the reservation.
Because populations have increased drastically throughout the years on the reservations, most of the reservations were over-populated by the time I came on the job. I have already mentioned the Navajo but it was also true of many others and especially in areas where there was no local industry close by where people could work. So in establishing our area and district offices to assist people in relocating we provided a number of services.
First it was necessary to provide funds for travel to where they were being relocated and funds for them to live on during the first month or six weeks after they arrived until they began to get pay checks. Our relocation officers made contact with the social agencies, welfare agencies and others, to be sure that they understood the particular problems these relocatees faced. It was necessary that they work with personnel officers in industrial plants and others to get them to understand the problem.
Without extra help we anticipated that most of these young people and they were mostly young people who were willing to relocate would go back to their home communities or to the reservations very quickly. We knew they would be lonesome, it would be the first time away from the area, they had no associates or friends, so the tendency to go out on a binge was very great.
I was gratified over the fact that our Chicago office in working with one of the industrial plants there had found that certain young chaps after three or four weeks did go out on a binge and wouldn’t show up for work. Well, our office had prepared the way so that one of the people from our office along with a personnel representative of the plant would go out and find these boys, get them sobered up and encourage them to come back onto the job. They came back to work and stayed on the job but had that not been done they were either off to skid row or back to the reservation.
I understood the importance of having somebody help these kids over this first hump because I was a country boy and when I went to college even though only
thirty miles from home the boy who was going with me as my roommate wasn’t able to go at the last minute and consequently I was among strangers and I have never been so lonesome in my life as I was that first three or four weeks. The Hocking Valley railroad which ran through the edge of Columbus used to whistle in every night about five o clock and I can remember the mournful sound and as a matter of fact after about three or four weeks I went home with the idea of not going back to college because I didn’t think I could take it.
I was never sure until after Christmas that I was going to stick it out. When I thought about my experience I thought about these Indian boys and what they were up against in the way of strange situations. I knew that we had to do a real all-out job to get every body we could to help get the job done. Fortunately it did work because the relocation has gone ahead and I’m delighted about it.
Summing Up The Indian Program
DSM: Under date of March 20, 1953, which was my last day in office, I addressed a memorandum to the Secretary of the Interior which summarizes what seemed to me to be the major problems then facing the bureau and the Indians. I believe the best way for me to tell this story is to quote from this particular memorandum.
"The number one problem is the problem of poverty, increasing populations and the relationship of population to resources and services in the Indian country. After visiting every Indian agency in the United States mainland and the territory of Alaska, with the exception of the Seminole agency in Florida, I find that I am more deeply concerned about these problems of poverty and increasing population in the Indian country and on Indian reservations than I am about any other problems. The problem has grown out of a number
of basic facts which need to be understood by the Indians themselves and by those who administer the program and by the public generally. Many reasons which lie behind the problem of poverty and over population at the many reservations today are too numerous to discuss here. Needless to say, some of the more obvious ones are the destruction or limitation of the Indians primitive economy by the white man; the limitation of Indians over a period of many years to reservation life; the development throughout the years of the health program which has decreased the mortality rate especially of infants; the lack of migration from rural Indian country to industrial areas as compared with migration that has taken place in regard to all other rural people. Over fifty percent of the people in the United States in 1900 lived on farms while today less than fifteen percent live on farms. It is quite evident that the migration from Indian areas has not kept pace with the migration from other areas. For example, eight thousand Navajos were transferred from Fort Sumter to the Navajo reservation in 1868, and today there are approximately seventy to eighty thousand Navajo people living on the reservation or adjacent thereto.
"We have encouraged Indians to continue to live in areas where they can not possibly make a living by the provision of good schools, free health services, welfare payments and other means, rather than encouraging these populations to move into industrial or other areas where they could make an adequate living. The situation varies, of course, in the various reservations and tribes throughout the country. Some of the worst examples of poverty resulting from over population and limited sub marginal land resources are to be noted in such areas as the cutover country in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, Turtle Mountain, Fort Totten and Sissiton Reservations in North and South Dakota, and the drastically over populated arid lands of Navajo and Papago country in the southwest.
“I have two specific recommendations regarding these problems: (1) I recommend that you ask Congress to increase appropriations for the placement and relocation program which this Bureau has demonstrated over the past two years is feasible and which will
decrease the cost to the government in two ways if carried forward. It will decrease the necessity for services in the way of schools, hospitals and other services now being provided mainly on the reservations. It will provide an opportunity for many Indians who cannot at present pay income taxes to make enough money so that they may pay income taxes and more than reimburse the government through the payment of such taxes for any cost involved in their relocation. Three years ago the Congress passed a bill which would authorize an eighty-eight million dollar rehabilitation program for the Navajo-Hopi tribe. Some twenty million dollars has already been appropriated to carry out the intent of this legislation and after studying the problem quite thoroughly I am deeply concerned about whether more schools and hospitals in the out of the way places on the Navajo reservation and in other areas are justified as against an all-out attempt to assist poverty stricken people to relocate in areas where they will have a chance to make a living. It would be my recommendation that you find someone, or perhaps two or three people of real ability and standing in the United States and make a restudy of the Navajo problem in terms of the possible effect of the long range program which is now getting under way. This group, in my opinion, should reconsider the question as to how many people can actually make a living on economic units, and use the range on the Navajo reservation and the question as to whether or not we will be building up a larger problem for the Navajo people and for the government twenty-five or thirty years from now if we continue to provide facilities, and free services to limited groups of people in out-of-the-way places instead of offering them opportunities in other areas. I am recommending someone from the outside to make this study because there is a great deal of emotion involved in this question and understandably so and therefore the problem should be considered by someone who can do it as objectively as possible.
The second area where we have problems has to do with the supervision of individual trust-allotted lands. This problem is a most serious one. The problem of supervision of individually owned trust-allotted lands
has become progressively worse since the Allotment Act of 1887 and there are now around sixteen or seventeen million acres of trust-allotted lands for which the Bureau of Indian Affairs has the responsibility. Some 5,067,000 or 3,068,000 million acres of this land is fractionated through deaths of original allottees and their heirs so that now six or more heirs have an interest in each of the 23,462 tracts that are involved in this acreage.
"Proposed legislation was sent to the Department (of Interior) last year but was not sent to the Congress. Similar legislation is now under review in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and should be followed up carefully and presented to the Congress at the earliest possible date in order to clean up this problem before it becomes completely impossible.
"Another acute problem in connection with the administration of individually allotted trust land is the fact that many of these lands are owned by highly competent Indians who insist on maintaining their lands in trusts. This insistence stems from the advantage they have in being free from property taxes and because under the policies and procedures that have been in existence throughout many years they have certain advantages such as: priorities in the purchase of other Indian lands; borrowing of tribal and Indian loan funds; and using other tribal resources without adequate payment. These privileges have been a valuable asset to these individuals. We have taken steps to correct part of this problem through the issuance of a new procedure under the date of February 29, 1952, a copy of which is attached which required a review in Washington of all proposed negotiated sales between tribal officers or people who had fee patents previously who were proposing to purchase lands from other Indians on a negotiated basis. The same procedure also required an appraisal within three months if negotiated sales were to be executed in any case. This procedure had been drastically criticized by some of the people who were affected by it.
"A comparatively few Indians of this type who were more competent in handling of real estate matters than most other people have taken up a great deal of the
time of our staff who deal with trust property. Some of these people are capable of making the Bureau of Indian Affairs appear as a group of paternalistic bureaucrats who will not allow them to handle their own affairs. At the same time however these same people refuse to accept trust free patents to all of their property when such an offer is made to them. The problem as to how to eliminate the trust in such cases is one which we have been exploring for some months and on which we still have not found the answer. Part of the answer probably lies in the review of treaties and in the length of the trust period in regard to these properties at present. It may require new legislation to help solve the problem. One thing that I am sure of is that the present competence bill before the Congress will not solve this particular problem, as it only deals with those Indians who voluntarily apply for patents. This will not bring under control those people who want to maintain their trust status.
"The third major areas in which problems occur has to do with the type of charter organization and business management required to safeguard the interest of the Indians and their tribal resources when the Bureau of Indian Affairs relinquishes its trusteeship responsibility. There is a wide variation among the two hundred or more groups, bands or tribes of Indians as to the kind or amount of tribal resources which they possess. There are perhaps twenty or twenty-five tribes that have enough resources to justify the establishment of a business management akin to a corporate structure and the hiring of a business manager or a managerial staff to supervise the continued operation of those assets. This problem is one of the most difficult problems that the department faces as it looks to the time of withdrawal of services by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"Many very important problems must be considered in working out a transfer of responsibility to the Indians themselves: The relationship of taxes, state and national and other taxes to the problem is an important one; the type of services now being rendered and how they can be continued if they are essential services without encouraging additional poverty and
increased population at the various reservations; the problem of land leasing as against assignments and many other complex problems which differ depending upon the treaties made in the past; legislation now in existence and the kind of resources, whether they are tribal lands or allotted lands or both. On several reservations a comparatively small number of tribal members are using the total resources of the reservation for the grazing of livestock or for other purposes and are not paying anything into the tribal treasury for the use of these resources. Consequently, the rest of the tribal members are not getting any direct return whatsoever from resources which belong to the tribe as a whole. This small number of tribal members would like to maintain the status quo because of the big advantage that they have. As a result they oppose any plan or program which would provide for the proper leasing of tribal lands and establishment of a corporation which would require a distribution of returns of resources for everyone and the withdrawal of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"I am attaching a copy of a proposed report on Senate 1014, a bill which would authorize a $1500 per capita payment to each member of the Menominee tribe. This report attempts to set forward some of the items that should be considered soon before additional capital surpluses have been dissipated.
"We have hoped over the past several months to work out arrangements whereby we could get a special study of this problem with some outstanding people outside of the Department who might take six or eight sample areas and make an analysis of the problems involved. If such a study could be made with alternative recommendations as to how these problems can be met it would be helpful so that we might have a variety of patterns which might be applied under various conditions. We need these patterns as a basis for the type of organization, method of making distribution of dividends and many other questions that need to be answered.
"The fourth area that involves major problems has to do with the administration of the health program as it relates to Indians. The Bureau is now operating
some sixty hospitals and a number of clinics in addition. It is operating in the field of Public Health, preventive medicine in various communities where services are not otherwise available. It is quite clear to me that the Bureau should get out of the business of operating hospitals just as quickly as possible. It should transfer, if possible, all the public health functions to the states or communities involved. This is not easy because many of the states and counties are not equipped at the present time to do this type of work. Some progress has been made in closing out of hospitals and in transferring our responsibilities in this field to other agencies or community organizations. Additional progress can be made if a firm position is taken in the matter and if action is insisted upon.
"I am attaching a copy of a letter which was sent to certain field offices on February 18, 1953. Responses have been received and the information is available within the Bureau. I am also attaching a copy of a proposed report which has gone forward to your office on House Resolution 303 which provides for the transfer of all health services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the Public Health Service. I do not believe that this is an ideal solution because I do not believe that any Federal agency should have the continued responsibility over a long period of time for providing direct hospital services to Indians. However, I think the responsibility should be worked out so that Indians can get services of the same kind in community hospitals which serve the general population. Alternatively in areas where this is not feasible I would recommend that hospitals and facilities be transferred to states, counties or the territory of Alaska along with what ever Federal funds are necessary to assist in providing services to those Indians that need help.
"We have tried during this fiscal year to transfer our responsibility in the field of preventive medicine and public health work to states with the exception of one or two and have been unsuccessful because of the unwillingness on the part of the state or county officials to take over such responsibility or because of their feelings that they are not able to handle the responsibility properly.
"The fifth major area which has real problems involved has to do with education. A great deal of progress has been made over the past fifteen years in the transfer of responsibility for education to public schools in various states and to the territory of Alaska by entering into contracts under the Johnson-O’Malley Act. There are now fifty-two thousand Indian youngsters enrolled in public schools and about thirty-six thousand Indian youngsters enrolled in schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs of which twenty thousand are in boarding schools. I am attaching copies of two memoranda which were sent to all area directors. One dated March 21, 1952 and one dated February 19, 1955 which pretty well states the policy which we have been following over the past three years and to make some suggestions for further action. They provide the means for bringing together additional information needed in order to measure progress already made and to determine needed action. It is my recommendation that the Department continue to press toward the transfer of its responsibilities for direct educational operations to the local school districts or the state departments of education and also to encourage further use of boarding schools wherever this is feasible. I would also recommend transfer of these responsibilities to the local school districts or states in cases where boarding schools can not be eliminated. Progress in this field has been limited recently because of the unwillingness on the part of many of the school districts to take on the responsibility and because of the inability either legally or otherwise of the state departments of education to assume the responsibility. And finally because of the objection of Indian groups themselves to the transfer of this responsibility.
"The sixth problem area of importance has to do with maintenance of law and order. The Federal government throughout the years has had general responsibility for maintaining law and order in areas of Indian trust lands and has discharged this responsibility in cooperation with the Indian tribes themselves. Steps have been taken during the past three years looking to the transfer of this responsibility to the states in areas where agreement could be reached between the Indians, local or state officials, and the Bureau. Legislation is now pending which
would transfer both criminal and civil jurisdiction to the states in California, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Some exceptions have been provided for in these bills because a few groups of Indians were not ready. Nevertheless, the Bureau came to the conclusion that the bill should go forward even with the exceptions and submitted them with the hope that amendments could be provided for at a later date.
"It is my recommendation that these bills be pressed and that further exploration be made in a number of other states immediately. In this latter category I would include Nevada where studies are already being made and in any other states where such a move would appear to be feasible. The matter of jurisdiction, of course, is closely related to land pattern, schools, credit programs and any other problems. It has been our judgment that more progress could be made by taking steps in those states where the Indians were ready and thus gaining some experience in problems involved in the transfer of such jurisdiction than could be made if we proposed an overall transfer in all of the states at one time.
"The seventh area where major problems exist has to do with the handling of the general supervision of lawyers who mislead Indians, well meaning organizations and the general public for their own personal gain. Over the past nearly three years we have learned first of all that there is nothing simple about the problem of Indians and Indian affairs. There are certain lawyers who learned this long before we did and have very effectively capitalized on the fact by getting themselves placed in positions where they could use certain organizations as their front. By use of propaganda, either directly or indirectly, the organizations have misled and confused both the public and the Indians involved. To be specific, James E. Curry has served as council for the National Congress for American Indians and through this relationship and other contacts has secured many Indian contracts as indicated in Senate Report No. 8. He has indulged in many practices including the dissemination of misinformation which has been harmful both to the Indians and to the public of the
United States, Mr. Felix Cohen four years before he left the Department served as a member of the board of directors of the Association of American Indians Affairs, which had headquarters in New York, and since 1948 he has served as its legal counsel. In my judgment he has used this organization as his front. He has either directly or indirectly put out falsehoods, distorted information and misrepresentation of the worst type while posing as an idealistic lawyer whose main interest lies in helping the Indian people. Actually Mr. Cohen has a very substantial personal financial stake in the Indian law business both in terms of direct representation of the Indian tribes for a fee and through his consultant fees from the joint efforts groups.
"Without discussing this problem at length I would refer you again to Senate Report No. 8 of the Eighty-second Congress and to a document which is attached containing extracts from an article which Mr. Cohen succeeded in having published in the Yale Law Review together with our comments. The document is voluminous necessarily so because of the fact that Mr. Cohen knows how to take complex questions and misstate them in such a way that it is difficult to explain to you or to the general public what the real facts are without rather extended and detailed analysis of the sequence of event that were involved in the various incidents to which he refers. It is quite apparent that Mr. Cohen because of his knowledge of the laws, regulations and procedures of the department, most of which he helped to formulate, is able to capitalize on any weak points in the laws, regulations, procedures to embarrass and discredit the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He has done so on numerous occasions. One of his techniques is to encourage so-called tribal leaders to ask for authority to expend their tribal funds and utilize their resources as they see fit without having the trusteeship responsibility removed from the shoulders of the Secretary of Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. It has been evident that Mr. Cohen is very successful in aiding and abetting a group of alleged tribal leaders with a modicum of Indian blood, some of whom have exploited other tribal members who are less competent then they are, through shady real estate deals or utilization
of tribal funds to maintain themselves in power. He has also assisted them in bringing pressure on the Secretary of Interior and Congress to do things which are to their particular interest but not actually of interest to the tribal members as a whole. It is quite clear, from the information that we have developed, that Mr. Cohen is one of the prime movers, if not the prime mover, in the organization which Mr. Curry calls the Cohen Syndicate and which we call the "Joint Efforts Group" of lawyers who have twenty or more Indian claims contracts. This group is discussed in Senate Report No. 8 and further investigation of the group’s activities is therein recommended. You will note that this joint efforts agreement approach by the department produced some of the least favorable contracts from the Indian standpoint and all the claim contracts and agreements have been negotiated with the help of Mr. Cohen prior to my appointment as Commissioner. I might add that Mr. Cohen, at the time of my status as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was receiving around $20,000 a year as consultant for this particular group of lawyers even though presumably he didn’t have contracts of this type himself. I am sure that he had an interest in these contracts in addition to getting his consultant fees.
"The eighth area that I would like to talk briefly about has to do with the reorganization proposals in relation to the Bureau. A few months before I became Commissioner of Indian Affairs the Bureau under went a major reorganization. Area offices had just been established and the Bureau was starting to try to straighten out its lines of authority. Some Indian groups and many people who make a living out of deploring the plight of the poor Indian immediately asked me after my appointment to reorganize the Bureau again. I personally made a quick survey of the situation and although I was not completely sold on every aspect of the previous reorganization I decided not to make any further drastic changes. I reached this decision partly because the Bureau had had many previous reorganizations and the morale of the personnel was very poor but even more importantly because the Indians and our personnel were confused on lines of authority and responsibility. Shortly after I decided that it would not be desirable to undertake any major
reorganization a private management firm, the Booz-Allen Hamilton Management group, which had been hired by the Secretary to make management studies within the Department of Interior reported on our organization. Their report indicated the desirability of maintaining the present type of area set up with some minor changes most of which have been made subsequently. There continues to be a great deal of criticism against the area offices and much of this is inherent in the problem itself. We have attempted to delegate the maximum amount of the Commissioner’s authority to the area offices for final decision in most problems affecting the daily life of the Indians. The area offices are the ones that have to say no to the many pressure groups that are attempting to defraud or mislead the Indians. Previously the NO had to come from the Washington office with many many months of delay and duplication of effort. I strongly recommend that before making any major reorganization which would eliminate the area office set-up, that you make a thorough study of the situation. It has taken almost three years to complete the realignment of delegations and to secure a clear-cut line of command and to prepare a manual of procedures that is a clear-cut procedural operative manual. Any major disturbance in this line of command would cause great confusion both to the Indians and to the Bureau and to the Department personnel for a period of at least two years.
"Area nine that has some problems involved that should be considered has to do with proposed legislation. Several weeks ago I discussed with you the question as to how we should handle the so-called California-Western Oregon Withdrawal Bills which were introduced in the last session of Congress by Senators Watkins and Anderson. The Oregon Bill was Senate 3004 and the California Bill was Senate 3005. These bills were prepared within the department and one or two revisions need to be made in the California bill. They have not been introduced in this session of Congress. In accordance with our recent conversation, the Oregon bill was discussed with Senator Cordon and it was indicated that he wished to study the matter to see whether he would introduce it. This matter is still in his hands. The California bill was discussed with Senator Knowland’s office and we have had no report as to
whether he desires to introduce this bill. This matter should be followed up closely and presented in this Congress if possible in order that the withdrawal program can proceed on schedule in these states. Certain other withdrawal proposals with regard to four or five other tribes, bands or groups of Indians will probably be ready within the next thirty to sixty days that should be considered and sent forward to Congress for action.
"Area ten has to do with some general comments that I would like to make before leaving the office of Commissioner. I was asked to take the job as Commissioner of Indian Affairs three different years beginning in the fall of 1947, again in 1948 and finally in the spring of 1950. I did not accept the job on the first two occasions because I knew something about the complexities of the problems involved and had some doubt as to whether I could do an adequate job with the tools at hand and when it was offered to me in the spring of 1950 I made it quite clear to the Secretary that I felt very strongly that the Bureau of Indian Affairs should get out of business as quickly as possible but that the job must be done with honor. I secured agreement before accepting the job on many points which I thought were essential if we were to get the job done. I believe for example that we should proceed with intensive programming operations with the Indian tribes. I have found during my term as Commissioner that a great majority of the Indians are opposed to having the Bureau get out of business. This is particularly true of those Indians who are profiting through the exploitation of their less competent neighbors. There are also many older Indians who feel insecure about the matter. I was a bit surprised to find that the feeling was so nearly unanimous and that there were only a few groups so far who have been willing to agree with the government on immediate withdrawal, or for that matter on discussing a definite plan for withdrawal at some time in the future. One of them is the Grand Ronde Siletz, a group in Oregon which you know about. In addition there are a number of groups and individuals ordinarily identified as friends of the Indians who are definitely opposed to any withdrawal action. Foremost are the lawyers such as James E. Curry, and Felix Cohen
and the Association on American Indian Affairs and the National Congress on American Indians.
"In addition to the lawyers whom I have mentioned serving as legal counsel for the Association of American Indian Affairs and the National Congress for American Indians, there are some other people in groups many of whom are very good people who do not understand the complexities of this problem and have thus opposed action in relation to withdrawal. This has been evidenced by the fact that a strong attack was made on this office following the issuance of a memorandum of August 5, 1952, a copy of which is attached.
"Also attached is a copy of a letter sent out to all tribes by Mr. Frank George, the executive director of the National Congress for American Indians, and copies of our letter and memorandum sent out as follow up to Mr. George’s letter and a copy of the statement released by Mr. John Collier. I believe these documents will give you some understanding of what you face if you consider them along with the documentation that we have prepared with reference to the recent article presented by Felix Cohen and which is also attached to this memorandum. I think my record will bear out the fact that I believe very strongly that time is past due when many Indians should be released from all types of Federal supervision. While I have pointed out that many Indians do not wish this, I strongly feel that the trusteeship and other special forms of government services to the Indians are holding the Indians back politically, socially, and economically. The Bureau is ready to prepare proposals or has proposals in process in regard to many tribes similar to those that have been prepared on California and the Grande Ronde Siletz in Oregon. In order to implement these proposals and for the benefit of the Indians a strong hand will have to be taken both by the Department and Congress. There are many other bits of evidence which I could supply but this memorandum is already too long. I am sorry I had to present this problem in this manner but I am sure that you will understand that I am trying to be helpful in giving you some of the experience that we have gained over the past nearly three years which I hope will be of some help to you and my successor."
Lack Of Public Understanding Of The Indian Problem
DSM: During the past few years there has been approximately half of the states of the United States with an Indian population for which the Bureau of Indian Affairs had some responsibility. This, of course, includes the state of Alaska which has come in as a state in recent years and which was not only responsible for the Indians there but for native people such as Eskimos, Aleuts, etc. Most of these states, of course, lie west of the Mississippi River mainly because the eastern Indians were moved west by the Federal Government many, many years ago and established in Oklahoma in the then Indian territory.
If they didn’t move, they stayed on and hid out in certain other areas such as Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, North and South Carolina. The Eastern Seaboard states and the Northeastern states of the United States probably have seventy-five thousand or one hundred thousand people of Indian blood most of whom are not under the supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Agreements were reached between the state of New York and the Federal Government many years ago, and the same is true of the state of Maine, whereby the states took over the supervision of the Indian lands and the Indian reservations so that the responsibility no longer lies with the Federal Government in those areas. Most of the Indians in the other Eastern States are part of the general population and do not live on lands that formerly belonged to the Indians, but are integrated into the population generally.
We had a great deal of pressure during my regime to accept a group in South Carolina back into the
Federal fold because some of the goodwill people felt that they weren’t being properly treated and that they needed protection. We did not feel that this was the way to give them the kind of protection they should have, so we opposed the bringing them in again.
The American Indian is often thought of by many people in the United States as a rural person and as a
consequence they consider American Indians to be farmers. This was not generally true. The only Indians who did extensive farming were the Pueblo and Hopi Indians in the New Mexico-Arizona area, who had received their grants of land from the Spanish conquistadors many many years ago and who were able to carry on undisturbed for a great many years in their farming operations. These people really knew how to do dry land farming as well as irrigated farming. Outside of these however the forest Indians of the East and North and the Plains Indians of the Midwest and the fishing Indians of the Northwest did practically no farming; and any farming that was done by these Indian groups was done by squaws, who simply raised patches of squash to dry, corn which could be used as meal, and used as a part of their pemmican which was made from buffalo meat, berries and many other things which they packed together into a kind of a combination of meat, grain and fruit that they could slice down all winter long. So it was a misconception that Indians could be set up on a reservation; provided with horses, wagons and a blacksmith; plows and a few other tools and that they could make their own way. They had no idea how to go about it.
Finally an agriculture extension service was established to assist the Indians in carrying out their operations, and there are today some pretty good Indian farmers. Most of them are ranchers instead of farmers. They do pretty well at taking care of cattle and looking after the ranching phases of the program. As a matter of fact one of the problems on many of the reservations is that a few smart Indians have bought cattle and turned them loose. They have herded them and looked after them without paying any range fees and as a consequence the poorer tribe members are not getting out of it what they should.
Many Indians Are Still Primitive
DSM: Most Indians, of course, were primitive people who lived by hunting, fishing and by use of small tracts of land for production of corn and squash and that type of food. They lived the life of the nomad, because they moved from place to place and many of the tribes lived in part by poaching on the richer tribes and stealing their produce. The Navajos, for example, before the Civil War, got most of their food by waiting until the Pueblos had harvested their crops and then they moved in and stole them. The Apaches did much of the same thing in the southwest. So there were many, many tribal wars that went on throughout the years before they were put on reservations. They fought for various causes: trying to take over each others land, trying to take over each others women, trying to take over anything else of value. They were quite primitive.
It was only in the late 1880’s that the Indian Wars between the troops of the United States and the Indians came to an end. Some of the latter wars were the Sioux wars in which Custer and his army were killed off, and the Apache wars in the southwest. The Apaches were finally taken to Oklahoma and put into compounds and practically ruined because they were supplied beef and other things and had absolutely nothing to do. They had been a very active people, of course, who poached on other Indians and who poached on white people but they were put behind bars, not exactly bars, but fences and guarded. They spent years there and became about as low in their living habits as anybody can possibly imagine. So up until sometime after the turn of the century there wasn’t very much interest on the part of the American people generally in trying to bring the Indian into the civilized life of the so-called whites, or I should say maybe the so-called civilized whites, because most of the whites who had an interest in Indians were interested in exploiting them, taking over their lands, pushing them off of their lands, or some other type of exploitation. Even in some areas they were used as slaves, back in the old days.
It was only after about 1920 that a much more humane attitude began to develop, so it has been only over the last forty or fifty years at the outside that much has been done about: 1, stopping the exploitation; 2, providing sound educational facilities; and 3, encouraging Indians with ability not only to learn the ways of the white man but to enter into professional types of activities which have been the normal development of people in rural communities generally.
One of the problems had been that Indians were put on reservations and weren’t even allowed to vote until the late 1940’s. I must add that Felix Cohen helped to carry the battle on that on the right side of the fence and did help to get the vote for American Indians for which he should be given credit, in contrast to his negative contribution to the Indian problem.
There has not been much outstanding contribution made by Indian individuals in terms of what we think of today as statesmanship, professional activities, or business activities. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any highly intelligent Indians because there are, but unfortunately because of the fact that they, most of them, do live on reservations that are under the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the smart Indians have learned to vie with each other in handling tribal business and being the Indian politicos and many of them who are interested in this kind of activity exploit their poorer neighbors. It hasn’t been a very pretty story.
There have been people, of course, among the Indian tribes even before they were moved out of the south, among the so-called civilized tribes, who were very erudite and well educated people. One of the Cherokee Indians who was moved to Oklahoma, for example, developed a written language for the Cherokees which they had never had. This was an important contribution, and there were many similar contributions of this type. American history is full of information about some of the great old chiefs who knew how to lead their warriors and to deal with the whites but not in the modern way.
The Future For American Indians
DSM: At present time I’m most hopeful that over the next hundred years, seventy-five years, fifty years and even twenty-five years in many respects there will be Indians who will be emerging as active people in politics, as lawyers and doctors and professional people of various types, because nowadays many of them are going to the same schools as white people are, and they are getting the opportunity to go to college. We do have one Indian who is a Congressman from the Dakotas and perhaps we will have others moving up within the foreseeable future.
As I look back over the problems involved in working with the Indians, in my job as Chief of the Bureau of Indian Affairs there are a number of different areas that need to be discussed.
First of all, many of the problems, if not most of the problems, stem from things that had happened in past history. There has been a tendency, for example, for people who lived in the eastern part of the United States to think that all Indians were farmers when it just wasn’t true. The only Indians who were farmers were the Hopis and the Pueblos in the southwest who were pretty good farmers and to try to adapt the program on the various reservations, once the Indians were placed on reservations, to the kind of a program that the white man had been carrying out in the way of an economic program was not only a difficult task but an impossible task from the standpoint of getting acceptance on the part of most of the Indians.
I have already mentioned my visit to the Sissiton area in North and South Dakota where the land had been allotted to both Indians and whites following the passage of the Allotment Act in 1887. The white people had the good sense to come in and pick the kind of land they were accustomed to farming, while the Indians, having had the kind of economy that was based upon hunting, fishing and the forest type of existence, picked the Hill lands and the scrub lands. As a result they have nothing left today because the game is
all gone, the fish is all gone, the population has increased, and consequently there is nothing but a big poor-house type of area in that particular territory. That is true in a number of reservations. Unfortunately, when Indians were placed on reservations they were generally placed in areas where the white man didn’t want to farm, didn’t want to live. They were put on scab lands and rough lands or in some cases forested lands. In some cases this turned out to be fortunate for the Indians, because there are two or three reservations that I can’t think of that have excellent forests which nowadays are providing a good income to the Indians. The Monoamines of Wisconsin, the Klamath Indians of Oregon and some of the Indians in other parts of the country still have some pretty fair forest lands because at the time that they were placed on these lands forests were available rather generally and the white man wasn’t so interested in virgin timber in the areas where Indians lived.
Eastern Indians had a basic economy based upon water, forest, and game; the Midwestern Indians economy was based largely upon the buffalo and the picking of berries and other fruits that were found to supplement the food and clothing that they got from the buffalo; the Northwest Indians were fishermen and the Pueblos, as already mentioned, were farmers. We the people of the United States throughout the years pulled the rug out from under all the Indians, except the Pueblos, by destroying their economy through cutting down forests, eliminating game, killing off the buffalo or building dams so that the Northwest fishermen had great difficulty in finding the kind of fishing spots that they once enjoyed.
The Indian owned the whole land in the sense that they had occupied the land, with no white man on the continent, until Columbus arrived. The reservations were set aside for their use and in some cases a much larger area was set aside than they now have. For example in western South Dakota where a very large area was set aside for the use of the Sioux gold was discovered in the area where the Indians had been relocated and the white man found a way to beat the Indians out of the land on which there was gold, or
it was suspected there was gold. The Indians were moved into more and more limited areas.
This sort of thing went on, and the thing that is most difficult today is the fact that the Indians generally who are under the trusteeship arrangement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs have lived chiefly on reservations and as a consequence they are insecure when they move into any other area.
In the case of the Indian, because he is used to associating with his own kind, he has had very little association with the outside world, and when he moves out of the reservation very often he wants to go back fairly soon because he feels quite insecure otherwise. So one of the biggest problems facing the Government is to assist the Indian in moving into the main stream of American life and breaking that pattern of isolation. Reservation life leads to a continuation of certain old ways of life and nowadays leads to a welfare type of state for the simple reason that there is not enough work available in many of the reservation areas. So poverty, problems of relocation, problems of education, problems of health and sanitation all go more or less hand in hand.
Poverty basically is a very great problem to which we in the United States have contributed through out the years and like many people who are living in the slums of the cities the educational facilities may be there but they are not utilized as well as in certain other areas.
Sanitation also becomes a very real problem—in fact there is a whole complex of problems which have grown out of the fact that people who have not yet moved into what we think of as the civilized world are at the same time expected to do the things which they have not learned to do in their early environment.
As a result of all this, they have been exploited not only by the white man in taking over the more valuable lands, lands that had developed oil and gold, but they have also been exploited in more recent years by their own Indian politicos. Every tribe that I had
any experience with had some smart, sharp Indians who lived pretty largely off of the exploitation of poorer Indian neighbors. Unfortunately the Indian politicos have learned all of the bad tricks of their compatriot politicians and not too many of the good tricks, so nowadays the control of Indians by other Indians is a very real problem.
DSM: The Indian lawyer problem is very closely associated with the problem of the Indian politicos, because the lawyers very often worked with the politicos and give them every break possible in order to have their support in order to maintain their legal business, whether it was claims work or some other more general type of legal activity. This has been one of the very real problems throughout the years and certainly throughout the recent years, when Indian claims are being presented to the Indian Claims Commission.
During the 1940’s an Indian Claims Bill was passed. It was presented by the then Senator O’Mahoney from Wyoming who said he wanted to get away from the individual claims that were coming up from time to time and having to face them individually so he prepared a bill and the bill was passed which set up a Indian Claims Commission of three people who were expected to receive applications for claims and to have the hearings held and claims settled by the early 1950 s. As a matter of fact the Indian Claims Commission is still in existence; three new members were recently appointed, as of December 1967. At the time of these appointments it was stated that they hoped to complete all the claims by 1972; it goes on and on.
Many of the Indians have already gotten settlements of millions of dollars in claims which is generally divided among the tribesmen, sometimes the
money doesn’t last long when that happens.
The problem of planning for the withdrawal of the services of the Bureau was one of the very real problems that we tackled during my regime. There was strong opposition from the so-called Indian Associations and also from the Indian politicos, because frankly they have a good thing going. As a consequence we got very little cooperation on the part of the tribal leaders and others to try to work out plans which would look toward the final independence of the Indians if they did want to live on the reservations, handle their own business or have it put under some other kind of a trust; or to move out and move into other areas into professional and skilled jobs.
Are The Indians A Dying Race?
DSM: The question is "Are the Indians on the way out as a people?" or "Will they continue to be Indians in the sense of recognized type of people?" This is the American Indian that we are talking about. I think the Indians are on the way out as a separate or isolated people, but it may take hundreds of years. I feel quite strongly that integration is already in process. It will increase as communications between Indians and the outside public increases and it will speed up, I think, from here on out.
The old rites that were practiced by the Indians in initiating young men into the tribe are going out of existence pretty fast. I remember of talking to some of the old people among the Pueblos who were bemoaning the fact that many of their youngsters were not going through the process of earning their right to be accepted members of the tribe way back in 1950 or 1951 when I was Commissioner. I am sure that this problem of loss of interest on the part of the young people and maintaining the old rites is going to be a factor in the integration process. Some of them
have gone out as various types of workers in Pueblo country. It is one of the few places where the economy was not wrecked by the white man for the reason that the Spanish conquistadors when they came in made peace with the Indians and assigned large tracts of land which were the lands that they had been using for their continued use and they still have them.
The problem today, however, is that during the last twenty-five years or fifty years with better health facilities, with the decrease in the death rate among babies and youngsters, the population in these areas as the population in most other parts of the country has increased so much that there is not enough land for these people to maintain their tribal units without having some of the people go outside to work. This going outside to work is a factor. Many of the Pueblo Indians; go out now as younger people, work outside for some years and when they retire they come back to live in the Pueblo or near the Pueblo where they can be near their family and friends.
The economy of the Pueblos was the only that had not been wrecked and even it is changing drastically now mainly because of the fact that there are just too many people to live on the limited areas assigned to them years ago.
Incidentally, I think that there is no Pueblo with the possible exception of the Hopi, whose youngsters are not going into the public schools under contract nowadays, rather than having separate schools, which of course is a factor in the integration process.
When I was asked during the time that I was Commissioner how long I thought it would be before the Indian Bureau could withdraw and get out of business I always refused to give an answer, because there were too many factors to consider to make an estimate. For example, getting out of the Navajo reservation where there are now probably about eighty thousand people who have been living a life of nomads and sheep herders and who until recently at least eighty percent of then did not speak the English
language is an entirely different problem than the problem of the Pueblos. Each tribal situation is different.
In Oklahoma for example where reservations were eliminated many years ago there are still two area offices rendering services to Indians in Oklahoma, yet they are not on reservations but on their own private lands, some of them communal, but most of them individually owned. It is well known that some of the Oklahoma Indians are rich because of the oil strikes in the oil country of Oklahoma.
Five Hundred Years Hence
DSM: I have said many times that five hundred years from now we probably will not have an Indian problem in the sense of having a separate group of people. Many of the Indians who have not lived in reservations throughout many many years now in the eastern part of the United States are pretty well integrated. In addition to other types of integration there is a great deal of intermarriage between whites and Indians and in the Carolina countries there has been considerable intermarriage between Negroes and Indians so that many of the Cherokees from that area have both Indian and Negro blood. It is obvious that this process of gradual absorption into the general pattern of the country will inevitably continue, although it is slow due to isolation at the reservation level, problems of fear and insecurity when they move off the reservation. This is being changed by the fact that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is now trying to provide assistance to young people in particular who do move off, to see that they get the kind of help they need and the kind of association that will keep them reasonably happy and secure.
Looking Back At The Indian Affairs Assignment
DSM: In spite of all of the battles that we waged with the associations who are presumably working in behalf of the Indians, with Indian lawyers, and with a former Commissioner, my service as Commissioner of Indian Affairs was a most interesting one. I visited all of the agencies with one exception. The agency in Florida I didn’t visit because I didn’t want to go down during the wintertime and be charged with traveling on government funds to get a Florida vacation! However I have visited the Seminoles in Florida as a private individual. The Seminoles are scattered around the state now, having hidden out for a great many years in order to keep from being moved from that area into the Indian territory in Oklahoma where most of the Seminoles and the five other so-called civilized tribes were moved.
There are still Cherokees in North Carolina, and some other tribes in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana and a fairly large group of Seminoles in Florida. I didn’t realize until after I became Commissioner that most of the Seminoles had been moved and there are a large group of Seminoles in Oklahoma along with the other tribes that were moved out there.
One of the big battles that we had continuously during the time that I was Commissioner was the battle to keep the record straight as far as the officers of the Indian Associations were concerned. The Association of American Indian Affairs sent out their executive officer every summer to visit many of the reservations in the West and to cook up stories of neglect, of ineptness on the part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and any kind of stories that would touch the hearts of people, in order to raise money. We recognized very quickly after the first round of these that these stories appeared in the newspapers under the name of Oliver LaFarge who was President of the Association.
He didn’t go out to pick up the stories but he could write well and after the information was provided to him the papers published his material because
he was a well known writer. We began to rebut these statements and when people wrote in to ask us about the truth of the matter we took the time and went to the effort to get all of the information available on the question and mailed it out to them. I remember one case of an individual out in Denver who had been subscribing twenty-five dollars or fifty dollars a year to the American Association of Indian Affairs for some time who wrote in and we wrote him fully, a three or four page letter, in response to one of these articles that had appeared. We got a letter back from him in which he said that he had sent his last money. He had believed what they had said and he had never heard the other side of the story and he was delighted to have it. Naturally this kind of thing didn’t make us friends of the people who were trying to raise money and of the people who were doing it by using the Bureau as a whipping boy for their money raising operation.
One other incident that I remember, the Congress of American Indians was one of those that was always picking at the Bureau and was finding ways and means to dig up so called dirt and spread it around. They also tried to have a hand in running the operations of the Bureau to suit themselves, and I remember quite distinctly attending a meeting in Philadelphia of a group of people from the Association of American Indian Affairs, the Congress of American Indians and two or three other smaller organizations. The question was raised as whether or not we had decided to continue to have an advisory council to advise with the Commissioner. I knew something of the history of the past advisory council and I hadn’t made up my mind whether I was going to continue it and I had made this statement when Ruth Musrat Bronson, who was one of the most active of the Congress of American Indians group, spoke up and she was supported by the Association of American Indian Affairs executive officer in which he said "We think you should have a council and furthermore we don’t think you should make any policy decisions without consultation with the council."
I immediately said, "Well I can give you an answer to that one. Policy decisions often need to be made four or five times a week. The council would not be
available I am sure when these decisions had to be made and I don’t intend to handicap my job as Commissioner and to tie down my responsibilities in such a way that I turn it over to somebody else to make my decisions.” Well, this didn’t make me very popular, but nevertheless it was the kind of thing that we had to deal with. By the way, one of the old time Commissioners, one of the Quakers who was Commissioner back in the late 1920s, was at that meeting and he nearly nodded his head off when I gave this answer and he stood up immediately and told the group that he thought I was right ; that nobody could run the show if he was expected to call somebody in every time he made a decision. This was typical of the kind of thing that we had to buck.
These interest groups have been carried on throughout the years because a lot of well-to-do people have salved their consciences by contributing money to Indian work. There is a rather large group of Quakers who are interested because the Quakers at one time operated many of the reservations and did it practically free of charge because they were interested in seeing that these people got the right kind of treatment. Unfortunately the Quaker organization that now exists, or did when I was Commissioner, have fallen for the same sort of pattern that developed several years ago of insisting that no Indian lands be sold or disposed of.
One of the men who came in from Oklahoma to work with the Interior Department in the area of oil was a Vice President of the Phillips Oil Company. He happened to be chairman of one of the Oklahoma tribes. He was perhaps one-sixteenth Indian, but any Indian blood will qualify you as an Indian in Oklahoma, and there is nobody in Oklahoma that I know of who isn’t proud to have some Indian blood. He had told me that he didn’t think any Indian lands should be sold, so I invited him to come down and spend an hour with me sometime when he had time, which he did.
I pointed out to him that the Indian lands that I had seen in Oklahoma were the poorest farm lands in Oklahoma and that to insist that they hold on to those lands and try to make a living off them was not in the
interest of the Indians and if they thought Indians should be farming and if Indians wanted to farm they should be given the type of credit and the type of support which they needed to go out and buy good farm lands, as most other farmers would do, and not be required to hold on to the old post oak, or scrub oak lands which they were trying to operate as farms in eastern Oklahoma and in other parts of the United States. Well, I went through the whole process. I told him about the Sissiton experience which I have mentioned where the Indians when they had a chance to take allotments had selected land that was poor farming land because it had game and fish and now had none. I convinced him. I found out later however, that the pressures were so great on him that he reversed himself again but at the time I convinced him.
This idea of not selling Indian lands goes back to the days when the Indians did lose lands that white men wanted because it had oil or it had gold or it had something else that was really valuable or it was good farming land. There was exploitation, there is no question about it, but that exploitation has been pretty well over for quite some time because the Bureau of Indian Affairs has set up provisions for helping to protect the Indian trust lands. The matter of holding onto lands just because they are Indian lands is one that has developed into a real problem.
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