Dr. McGillycuddy was a controversial pioneer of the effort to build a sustainable relationship between the United States and the Native American Indian people. He traveled to Washington to protest inhumane treatment of the Indians at Camp Robinson, the Red Cloud Agency, and blow the whistle on Indian agents and military that were exploiting Indians on western reservations. His sincerity and constructive ideas for dealing with the native people so impressed authorities he was offered the Indian Agent post at Pine Ridge, the nation’s largest reservation, a challenging assignment for a 30-year-old.
Once at Pine Ridge, Chief Red Cloud did not make his job any easier. The chief was opposed to the suggestion that Indian men begin farming and ranching.
“Father, the Great Spirit did not make us to work. He made us to hunt and fish. The white man can work if he wants to, but the Great Spirit did not make us to work. The white man owes us a living for the lands he has taken from us.”
Despite Red Cloud’s continuing opposition, Agent McGillycuddy fought vigorously to ensure that Washington kept its promise of food and rations to those on the reservation. He organized an Indian police force, imposed the rule of law on whites and Indians alike, set up a clean, modern boarding school for the education of Indian children and, in general, maintained a peaceful, progressive agency.
Backed by underhanded politicians who were swindling both the government and the Indians, Red Cloud made more than a dozen trips to Washington to complain about the Pine Ridge agent. McGillycuddy may have been dictatorial, but no one could prove he was anything but conscientiously honest in his attempts to improve reservation life.
When Grover Cleveland’s Democratic administration took over the White House and ordered the Pine Ridge agent to replace his efficient Republican clerk with a Democratic appointee, McGillycuddy refused to comply and was dismissed, despite protests from both races that attested to his “effective, intelligent and just administration.”
The Doctor was fed up with “government buncombe and red tape,” He had fallen victim of Washington politics, and was escorted off of the reservation with his wife and their pair of pet buffalo.
Valentine and Fanny McGillycuddy moved to Rapid City and built a mansion of multicolored sandstone in 1888. He was elected to the state Constitutional Convention in 1890, and was appointed South Dakota’s Surgeon General.