Make War on Peyote

by C.M. Sarchet


Ponca City, April 16—There are some Indian tribes in the United States, alleged believers in Christianity, who, in performing the baptismal rite, do so in the name of the “Father, the Son and ‘peyote,’” instead of the prescribed and always followed trinity of “Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” according to Dr. E.E. Higley of Chicago, who is in charge of all Methodist missionary work among the Indians, head of the Indian missionary department of all Protestant churches in America, and also a member of the Indian Rights association. The tribes that follow this custom are those chiefly that have become addicts to use of the mescal bean or peyote, the latter being the common name used by the majority of Indians.

Doctor Higley was in Ponca City recently on an investigation tour preparing a report to be made next month at a national convention in Cincinnati. During the past seven years a close study of peyote and the intoxicating affects it has on Indians has been made by the allied missionary council, representing 17 different denominations, according to Doctor Higley, and the findings are astounding and alarming, he says. This announcement from Doctor Higley is very important to Oklahomans because of the general use of the peyote among the so-called blanket tribes, and particularly in this section of the state since, according to federal Indian department representatives, Ponca City is the greatest peyote distributing point this side of El Paso, Texas.

The mescal bean comes from Mexico. Eating it, which the Indians claim to do as a religious rite, produces a period of dreamland, perhaps much like that produced by opium, during which the users of the bean see many beautiful and entrancing visions, being supremely happy. During such periods, too, they claim they are able to get in touch with the supernatural.

Whites Are Not Addicts

Asked if white persons ever become addicts to the use of peyote, Doctor Higley answered that in his opinion they do not. The investigation of the missionary societies made did not reveal that whites ever used the bean unless perhaps “in the case of some one always closely allied with tribes for years,” explained Doctor Higley.

“The habitual users of the bean are always less responsive to moral educational training. It is impossible almost to do any great good among peyote tribes. Cold-bloodly speaking it is almost a waste of money to invest it in missionary work among the Indians that use peyote, to say nothing of the efforts put forth otherwise. This same money invested in work among the tribes who do not use peyote brings such greater and more satisfactory results that there is really no comparison.”

Among Northwest Indians

“The northwest Indian tribes do not use the peyote; seemingly they do not know anything about it, and among these the missionaries accomplish wonderful results. A far less amount of effort and money spent among such tribes brings far more satisfaction than do the attempts made among the peyote users. The latter become thoroughly irresponsible and it is difficult to work among them.”

Doctor Higley’s solution of the problem is to prevent the use of peyote by congressional action, just the same as national prohibition law forbids liquor and intoxicants. Such a bill was before congress several years ago, but it was defeated. The Indians maintained a strong lobby in Washington while the bill was pending and many political leaders worked in their favor.

Claim It Is Religious

In answer to the question “Why congress has not acted,” Doctor Higley said:

“Because the Indians always maintain that the use of the peyote is a religious rite, and they claim exemption from any law because it would violate that provision of the national constitution which provides for religious freedom. They claim that congress enactment would interfere with their religious opinions.”

It was this connection that Doctor Higley explained that some of the tribes baptize in the name of “peyote” instead of the “Holy Ghost.” Doctor Higley contends that peyote deadens the mentality of conscience of the habitual user.

Continued effort is to be made by the missionary organizations to get congress to forbid the use of the bean or its introduction into the United States. Doctor Higley maintains they are far more prepared than ever before to fight for such a bill, for the reason that they have the result of their several years’ investigation to place before congress. In all probability such a bill will be introduced early in the next session.

Doctor Higley was here principally to investigate the feasibility of re-establishing the Methodist mission among the Ponca Indians at Whiteagle, five miles south of here. The allied missionary effort of the Protestant churches is in co-operation with the Indian Right associations, composed entirely of eastern millionaires, who have the welfare of the Indians heart.

For some time the Ponca City chamber of commerce has been asking the Indian department at Washington for a health clean up among the Indians of this section of the state, and Doctor Higley is now taking this matter up with the Indian Rights association in hope of such a campaign being brought about.

Appeared in This Land: Summer 2015.