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Timeline - 1650s–1868

1650s–1868 | 1870–Present



Dakotas live in the north woods area of Minnesota.


First contact of white men with Dakotas at their home near the Minnesota River.


Probable date for acquisition of the horse among the Dakotas.


Yankton (Middle Sioux) settle along the eastern side of the Missouri River. They pursue buffalo and acquire horses and tepees. Eventually some bands begin to farm and live in earthlodges.

The Chippewa expel the Dakotas from their traditional homelands around Mille Lacs Lakes in Minnesota.


Jonathan Carver, early explorer, identifies the organization and bands of the Dakota.


July 13—The Continental Congress passes the Northwest Ordinance, stating that “the utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property rights and liberty, they never shall be invaded or disturbed.”

September 17—The U.S. Constitution is adopted. Article I, Section 8, grants Congress the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indians tribes.” This establishes a government-to-government relationship with tribes. Consequently the federal government, rather than states, is involved in Indian affairs.


Congress gives the War Department authority over Indian affairs.


The U.S. Congress appropriates $10,000 to $15,000 annually to “promote civilization among the Indians.” This money goes to missionary organizations working to convert Indians to Christianity.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Northwest makes first American contact with many northern tribes.


September 25—Dakotas sign their first treaty with the U.S. government at the urging of Zebulon Pike. Dakotas cede 100,000 acres of land worth $200,000 in return for which they receive $2,000 and some gifts.


Many Dakota ally with the English in the War of 1812.


Congress appropriates money for the “Civilization Fund,” the first federal Indian education program. Christian missionary societies receive this money to establish schools among Indian people.


The first Prairie du Chien Treaty. The Dakota, Chippewa, Menominee, Winnebago, Sac and Fox, Iowa, Potawatomi, and Ottawa are brought together to sign a peace treaty.


The secretary of war creates the Bureau of Indians Affairs within the War Department.


Largely unsuccessful, a second Prairie du Chien Treaty is entered into among all the tribes to cease intertribal warfare and establish boundaries of each tribe.


Smallpox epidemic kills more than 15,000 Indians in the Upper Missouri River area, including over 400 Yankton.


First Traverse des Sioux Treaty is negotiated, but not ratified.


Bureau of Indian Affairs is transferred from the War Department to the newly created Department of the Interior.


Dakotas negotiate Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and Treaty of Mendota with U.S. They cede over 21 million acres of their Minnesota homeland to the U.S. in return for annual cash annuities totaling $40,000 payable over 50 years. Four Dakota tribes are left with a reservation 150 miles long and 20 miles wide across the Minnesota River.

September 25—United States holds Fort Laramie (Wyoming Territory) Treat Council with plains and mountain tribes, the results of which open the central plains for transportation routes through Kansas and Nebraska. Yankton are omitted from the treaty because their traditional areas were far removed from the overland route to the Pacific Coast, which the treaty aimed to safeguard.


Winter—Smallpox epidemic among the Dakota bands.


Dakotas negotiate treaty with the U.S. and their reservation as established in 1851. The reservation land base is cut in half.


Dakota Territory is established. Yanktonai occupy areas on the east bank of the Missouri River. Gold is discovered on the headwaters of the Missouri River.


August 25—Unresolved grievances and dissatisfaction with the 1851 Treaty lead to the Dakota Conflict in Minnesota. Traders and agents defraud Indians of annuity monies, government annuities are late and are not distributed once they arrive.

October 12—General Alfred Sully’s army captures and put in chains 400 Dakota men. Settlers demand protection.

November 7—1,700 Dakota women, children, and men are marched to an internment camp at Fort Snelling in Minnesota.

December 26—38 Dakota are hanged at Mankato, Minnesota for their part in the Dakota Conflict. The hanging is the largest mass execution in American history.


January 1st—Dakota Territory opens for homesteading.

April/May—1,318 Dakota are exiled by boat to St. Louis and removed to the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota.

September 3rd—Soldiers under General Alfred Sully attack the Yanktonai hunting camp at Whitestone Hill, Dakota Territory (near present-day Kulm, North Dakota). At least 300 Indians killed.


Surviving 1,000 Dakota are moved from the largely uninhabitable Crow Creek Reservation to the present day Santee Reservation in Nebraska.


A military fort is established at Devils Lake and named Fort Totten in honor of Brevet Major General Joseph Gilbert Totten, chief engineer of the U.S. Army.

February 19—Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation is established by treaty. Provisions include agricultural and mechanical labor, and support for local and manual-labor schools.

February 19—Dakotas negotiate a treaty between the United States and the Sisseton and Wahpeton Bands of Dakota. The treaty recognizes the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe and establishes the Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation.


The United States signs the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 with Lakotas, Dakotas, Arapaho, and Cheyenne. This treaty confirms a permanent reservation for the Dakota in all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. The Indians in turn release all lands east of the Missouri River except the Crow Creek, Sisseton, and Yankton Reservations.

March 15—The Sisseton-Wahpeton Treaty is ratified by the U.S. Senate. The original treaty is amended to read as it reads today.

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