… of great importance, is the establishment of a strong front on our Western boundary, the Missisipi, securing us on that side, as our front on the Atlantic does towards the East. our proceedings with the Indians should tend systematically to that object … the Indians being once closed in between strong settled countries on the Missisipi & Atlantic, will, for want of game, be forced to agriculture, will find that small portions of land well improved, will be worth more to them than extensive forests unemployed, and will be continually parting with portions of them, for money to buy stock, utensils & necessaries for their farms & families.
Memorandum for Henry Dearborn on Indian Policy, December 29, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even a leader’s clear vision is no guarantee of success.
Dearborn was Jefferson’s Secretary of War. The President wisely wanted to secure America’s western boundary, the Mississippi River in 1802. Part of that strategy was to extinguish Indian claims on western lands they had hunted for centuries and encourage farmers to settle there. Hemmed in by settlements on the east and west, with the natural decrease in game for hunting, Indians would have no choice but to become farmers themselves.
Small farms “well-improved” would yield much more for the Indians than vast forests “unemployed.” In time, they would gladly part with those forests, bit by bit, for money to outfit their families and farms.
Jefferson greatly overestimated natives’ interest in becoming farmers. While some were assimilated, many resisted that change and were later relocated, sometimes by force, west of the Mississippi and later further west.