Indian Peace Medal, 1862-dated Abraham Lincoln silver (J-IP-38) NGC AU58. A wonderful selection of numismatica and extremely rare, as there are only two of this size available to collectors, and six permanently impounded in the Smithsonian. Eight in all. We’ve seen the other medal and it has been polished to a high gloss and has a clasp attached to it (see image on red velvet).
Salathiel Ellis wanted to get the commission to create the Indian medals for Abraham Lincoln. It was on March 20, 1861, that he proposed to William P. Dole, the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to “Do all work on the medal from the modeling to the striking…furnish 100 copies of the large & the like number of the small…to contain as nearly as possible $1,250 worth of silver. The medals…[will] be of superior workmanship. I will do the whole for $3,250.” Ellis even offered to begin engraving the dies before Congressional funding was approved, but he planned to wait for the appropriation before buying any silver or producing any medals. Dole accepted this arrangement, agreeing to request funding from Congress, with the proviso that if no funding was forthcoming, then the artist would not be paid.
In January 1862 Dole wrote to Ellis, asking about the progress on the dies. It was after July 5, when Congress included $5,000 in the Indian appropriation act for “medallions of the President of the United States for distribution to Indian tribes,” that Ellis responded to Dole. On July 14, 1862, he said that his work on the dies was three-quarters completed, and he requested a $1,000 advance. A bond was required by Dole before any funds were sent; Ellis signed it and Ransom H. Gillet was co-signer. In order to get the medals produced quickly, Ellis wanted the have them struck at the Mint under his supervision, and the Secretary of the Interior arranged for that with the Mint Director. Ellis went to Philadelphia to continue work on the medals, reporting in late July that the Mint had provided all the assistance he had required, and that some of the medals would be finished “in the course of a week if no accident occurs.” After completing the dies and seeing that work had begun on their production, Ellis gave full responsibility for striking them to James Pollack, Director of the Mint. The small medals, which carried the same reverse design as the James Buchanan medals crafted by Joseph Willson, went smoothly, and all were ready on December 3, 1862. Creation of the large medal, however, was suspended after eight were struck because the reverse die broke. A few month later, all of the large medals were ready to be shipped.
Abraham Lincoln and the Indians
It was under Abraham Lincoln’s watch that the largest mass execution in US history took place. December 26, 1862, saw 38 Dakota warriors hanged in public after their conviction of war crimes. Charges were originally brought against 393 Dakotas, as a result of their attack upon farmers and villagers earlier that years in Minnesota. The one-month rebellion, called the Dakota Uprising or the Sioux War, took place after the Santee Sioux in Minnesota gave up their land to the US and agreed to settle on reservations. But as soon as the government focused its attention upon the Civil War, corrupt Indian agents neglected to give the Indians food, and white settlers stole wood and horses. Paul Finkelman, historian and professor at the University of Saskatchewan, wrote, “The Dakota were literally starving. They had no food and people who traded with them refused to give them any.”
Historical Context of the Indian Peace Medals
The use of Indian Peace medals extends well back into the period of American colonial history. The British, French, and Spanish governments all passed out these medals to the Indian leaders before the American revolution of 1776. Our use of these medals was simply the continuation of the policy begun by these other governments.
In general the medals had two specific functions to perform on the frontier. The first was to spread the influence of the mother country in the wilderness and to help bring the unruly tribes under control of the colonial authorities. The European powers were attempting, on a small scale, the system of client kingdoms, used since Roman days, to control lands beyond their own frontiers.
The other primary function was to serve as a settling influence within the tribal organization itself. Possession of an Indian piece medal served to put the stamp of colonial authority on the local leadership. In this way rivals were partially discouraged from rebelling against a Chiefs authority.
By 1801 the government had decided that, for reasons of national policy, we should produce our own metals in competition with the other nations and not be subject to the delays involved by having them struck abroad. To this end the president Thomas Jefferson Indian piece metal dies were engraved in 1801 in three sizes: 2 inches, 3 inches, and 4 inches. Those setting the sizes of the metals did not understand striking techniques in this lead to later difficulties. The first major use of the Jefferson metals was in connection with the Louis and Clark expedition of 1803 to 1806. The explorers passed out several of the three sizes of the Jefferson metal as well as some of the old Washington Seasons metals. Some of these metals have been on earth in the Pacific Northwest, almost certainly relics of the Lewis and Clark Europe. The 76mm size was restruck for the general public in 1861. According to various sources, several hundred were minted in all sizes but there are no exact mintage records.