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Tribal Historical Overview - Treaties

Intro | Migration | Contact | Treaties | Dakota Conflict |
Creation of Reservation | Federal Policy and Legislation |


The Treaty of Prairie du Chien

Lawrence Taliaferro was appointed as an agent for the Mississippi Sioux in 1819. By 1836, Taliaferro, believing the material and moral condition of the Sioux worsened with each passing year, proposed another treaty. By this time, many fur traders and missionaries lived among the Dakotas. Traders opposed this treaty because they wanted payment for uncollected debts owed them. Taliaferro, hoping a treaty would satisfy the traders, added a provision going directly to them. He further believed it would ease growing pressure to open the exploitation to timber resources.

As a result, in August of 1823, the first Prairie du Chien Treaty Conference was held. The purpose of the treaty conference was to negotiate a general settlement to end intertribal warfare. The treaty brought together the Dakota, Chippewa, Menominee, Winnebago, Sac and Fox, Iowa, Potawatomi, and Ottawa. Generally, the negotiators believed the treaty would bring about peace. Many Indians, however, warned them it would fail. The Dakota notion of land was different and they believed that the land could not be divided because it was “used” by everyone. (Meyer, 1993, p. 40)

Treaty of Prairie du Chien.
The Treaty of Prairie du Chien. A print of the Great Treaty held at Prairie
du Chien, September 1825. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

In the summer of 1837, Taliaferro was instructed to take a delegation of Sioux to Washington, D.C. The 26 Dakotas who went to Washington believed they were to negotiate a settlement between the Sacs and Foxes. However, the treaty called for a cession of the lands east of the Mississippi River. In return for the lands ceded, the United States promised to:

  • Invest $300,000 and pay to the chiefs and braves annually forever an income of not less than five per cent,
  • Apply one-third of the interest as the president saw fit,
  • Pay the rest in goods, $5,500 annually,
  • Provide relatives and friends of the tribe $100,000,
  • Provide traders $90,000 for the debts of the tribe,
  • Pay a $10,000 annual annuity in goods for 20 years, and
  • Provide a sum of $8,250 annually for medicines, agricultural equipment, a physician, etc.

It was not until October 1837 that the Dakota received the first annuities. What did arrive was insufficient in quantity and inferior in quality. Additionally, some of the funds allocated for “education” were being given to missionaries, a provision to which the Dakotas did not agree. The slow delivery of goods, compounded by traders who marked up the price of trade goods, angered the Dakota.

This treaty went largely unrecognized because the tribes continued to hunt on the lands and the boundaries established by the treaty. As the game dwindled in the Minnesota River area, the Dakotas became more dependent on annuities.

During this period, missionaries were disproportionately represented among the Dakotas. The agent, Taliaferro welcomed them, believing that before the Indians could be “Christianized,” they needed to be “civilized.” Early missionaries, such as Stephen Riggs and Pond, went about their task of “civilizing.” A part of their efforts included the development of a dictionary of the Dakota language, in anticipation that the text would be useful once the language had died out. (Riggs, 1834 in Meyer, 1993, p. 54)

The 1851 Treaty at Traverse Des Sioux

James Doty, Governor of the Wisconsin Territory in 1841, believed the Sioux needed their own territory. He believed that by providing a permanent Indian territory, continued conflicts among the Sioux, Chippewa, Sacs and Foxes, and with other migrating eastern tribes would be limited. Doty’s plan included proposing another treaty, employing traders as government employees, and placing Henry H. Sibley in charge. The date for treaty negotiations was set for July 31, 1841. (Meyer, p. 74) This treaty was designed to provide an Indian territory within which the Dakotas were to reside. Tracts of land were to be set aside for each band on the left bank of the Minnesota River and each provided a school, agent, blacksmith, gristmill, and sawmill. The initial treaty was negotiated with the Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Wahpekutes. In August, he negotiated with the Mdewakanton bands, but Red Wing and Wabasha, their chiefs, refused to sell.

Lawrence Taliaferro, former agent for the Sioux, denounced the treaties, believing them to be a plot for the traders to gain complete control over the Sioux. Alexander Ramsey, who became governor of the newly established Minnesota Territory in 1849, urged the passage of the 1841 Traverse Des Sioux Treaties. The Senate rejected the treaties in August of 1842.

In the summer of 1851, Luke Lea, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was sent to the Upper Mississippi Valley to help Alexander Ramsey negotiate the treaty. On July 18, at Traverse Des Sioux, the upper Sioux—the Sissetons and Wahpetons, were coerced into relinquishing all their claims in what is today Minnesota and a small portion of South Dakota. They were to receive $1,655,000 for which:

  • $275,000 was to be given for chiefs to settle traders’ debts, and the cost of removal and subsistence for the people for one year. The Mdewakantons refused to sign these trader papers.
  • $30,000 to establish schools, blacksmith shops, mills, and farms in the new area.
  • $1,360,000 was to bear interest at a rate of 5 percent per year for 50 years for annual cash annuities of $40,000, $10,000 for goods and provisions, $12,000 for general agricultural and civilization purposes, and $6,000 for education.

A similar treaty was negotiated a few days later with the Mdewakantons and Wahpekutes at Mendota. The 1851 treaties were termed a “monstrous conspiracy.” According to Meyer:

All the standard techniques were employed by
the commissioners. The carrot and the stick—and
at least once the mailed fist—were alternately
displayed, as the occasion seemed to demand. If
the Indians asked for time to consider the terms
offered them, they were chided for behaving like
women and children rather than men. If they asked
shrewd, businesslike questions, the commissioners
uttered cries of injured innocence; surely the
Indians did not think the Great Father would deceive
them! If they wanted certain provisions changed, they
were told that it was too late; the treaty had already
been written down. The Indians were flattered and
brow-beaten by turns, wheedled and shamed,
promised and threatened, praised for their wisdom
and ridiculed for their folly. In such fashion was
their “free consent” obtained. (Meyer, 1993, p. 77)

Sioux Reservation, 1859-1862
Sioux Reservation, 1859–1862.
Upper Sioux Reservation
Boundary Map. (Map by
Cassie Theurer, adapted
from Meyer, 1993)

The Sissetons and Wahpetons gave up all their remaining lands except a narrow reservation extending 10 miles on either side of the upper Minnesota River. This treaty opened farming areas of Minnesota to settlement, and by the summer of 1862 the new territory was filled with settlers.

When the treaty arrived, the Indians demanded the promised money, which amounted to nearly $500,000. Knowing the money had been pledged to the traders, Ramsey turned to the traders and mixed-bloods to assist him by getting the Indians to sign “receipts” to legitimize the diversion of most of the cash to the traders. The traders received virtually all the cash, their share amounting to about $350,000.

When the treaty was ratified, the U.S. Senate decided the Indians did not need any land at all and struck out an important article which provided for a reservation on the upper Minnesota, extending 10 miles either side of the river down to the Yellow Medicine River. (Meyer, 1993, p. 80)

Ramsey, then Governor of Minnesota, and Henry H. Sibley, territorial delegate, fearing the Sioux would not accept treaties that left them with no home, persuaded the president to authorize the occupation of the reservation for five years.

By 1854–1855 military officers at Fort Ridgely reported that most of the food promised to the Dakota as a result of the treaties, never made it beyond St. Paul. The food that did reach the agencies was unfit to eat. The Dakota became increasingly frustrated. They were unable to maintain a living by farming. They were starving and even angry at the government for not sending “annuities” as promised. It was the general sentiment of a majority of the Dakota that the Great Father [president] had cheated them out of their birthright, and failed to keep the government’s promise that the Indians would no longer suffer from hunger and need.

Treaty at Travers Des Sioux
Treaty at Traverse Des Sioux. (Oil painting by Francis D. Millet in the
Minnesota Capitol, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

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