Vegetation is starting and they want to plant, hoping thereby to procure bread next year, and they eagerly inquire as to their probable protection. Their rebel foes, partly Indians, but led by whites, are on the Red River, where three brigades under Cooper were reported. Beyond Cooper's forces the rebel army is in winter quarters. The Sac and Fox Indians have sold, and with the refugees about them desire to go to their new lands south. The people of Kansas, too, are very anxious they shall go, but in view of such a plan, which I understand the honorable the Commissioner proposes and everybody favors, two matters are especially presented:
First. The necessity of a large depot of provision at or near Fort Smith. As such a depot will invite rebel raids, it becomes necessary for me to look to the location of such depot and its defensive arrangement. Either Fort Gibson or Van Buren, on the north side of the Arkansas, would be safest, as I have written to the War Department.
Second. The requisite number of troops to defend the Indians and the depot. The Indians are and will be in this department, but as the department orders are construed the troops are in another department. Just as you advance the Indians and their supplies farther south more force is needed to defend them, and Your Excellency will perceive the magnitude of the difficulty by noticing the fact that we have only about 2,500 very irregular Indian home guards, while all the aggregate Indians and negroes must amount to 15,000 or 20,000, who at least for the coming year want protection and will produce very little.
Keokuk, the head chief of the Sac and Fox tribes, told me his people do not wish to move till the rebels are conquered, but I suppose if we have a strong force on the Arkansas below, or on the Red River, he would be willing to move down on the Verdigris, where the Osages are collected.
In view of all these circumstances, Your Excellency will see the importance of regulating the Indian movement so as to conform to military power in this department, and either strengthen the latter or delay the former; for at present there is not adequate force in this command to insure safety to the whites and the Indians, congregated as they are in the safest positions. I have written Major-General Halleck and the honorable the Secretary of War concerning arms, fortifications, and forces necessary to defend the people in this department, and I hope Your Excellency will feel an interest and exert an influence in the premises.
I well remember at the commencement of this war Your Excellency went with me to the War Department and personally directed supplies of guns to be furnished as I requested, and I trust your zeal has not lessened or my experience diminished my qualification to urge the application of means to proper military purposes, hoping, Mr. President, that in the great army movements which you have to consider you will indulge me in anxious petitions in favor of your devoted but much-neglected friends in this department. I have heard much of the troubles of Kansas, but my personal observations during the past four weeks have brought to my notice more of the havoc of war, and savage cruelty, and infamous barbarity on the part of rebel foes than human imagination can compass. I have returned to headquarters after 800 miles of travel a wiser but a sadder soldier in your devoted service.
I have the honor to be, Mr. President, your very obedient servant,
S. R. CURTIS,