Charles C. Painter
The Life of an Indian Reform Advocate
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
Born in Virginia, Painter spent most of his life in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, commuting to New York City and Washington, D.C., initially as an agent of the American Missionary Association (AMA), later as an appointed member of the Board of Indian Commissions (BIC), and, most significant, as the Indian Rights Association’s D.C. agent. In these capacities he lobbied presidents and Congress for reform, conducted extensive investigations on reservations, and shaped deliberations in such reform bodies as the BIC and the influential Lake Mohonk conferences.
Mining an extraordinary wealth of archival material, Valerie Sherer Mathes crafts a compelling account of Painter as a skilled negotiator with Indians and policymakers and as a tireless investigator who traveled to far-flung reservations, corresponded with countless Indian agents, and drafted scrupulously researched reports on his findings. Recounted in detail, his many adventures and behind-the-scenes activities—promoting education, striving to prevent the removal of the Southern Utes from Colorado, investigating reservation fraud, working to save the Piegans of Montana from starvation—afford a clear picture of Painter’s importance to the overall reform effort to incorporate Native Americans into the fabric of American life.
No other book so effectively captures the day-to-day and exhausting work of a single individual on the front lines of reform. Like most of his fellow advocates, Painter was an unapologetic assimilationist, a man of his times whose story is a key chapter in the history of the Indian reform movement.
“Mathes does not fall into a classic trap of biography and romanticize Painter. To the contrary, she explains that he was an unapologetic assimilationist as well as “a reformer who devoted his life work to doing what he thought was best for America’s Indian population and doing it with élan” (x). There is no question that Painter was both productive and consequential. This fine-grained study of the work of reform in the 1880s and 1890s makes an important contribution to the scholarly literature and anyone interested in the subject matter should read this book carefully.”---Nebraska History
“Valerie Sherer Mathes’s Charles C. Painter offers a fine-grained and meticulously chronicled biography of one of the most important Indian reformers of the post-Civil War period. Mathes’s detailed and readable study succeeds in acknowledging the work and legacy of an important and often overlooked advocate for Native American rights.”— Montana the Magazine of Western History