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Special Message

September 01, 1841

To the Senate of the United States:

I submit to the Senate, for its consideration and constitutional action, a treaty concluded at Oeyoowasha, on Minnesota (or St. Peters) River, in the Territory of Iowa, on the 31st day of July last, between James Duane Doty, commissioner on the part of the United States, and the Seeseeahto, Wofpato, and Wofpakoota bands of the Dakota (or Sioux) Nation of Indians.

The accompanying communication from the Secretary of War fully sets forth the considerations which have called for the negotiation of this treaty, and which have induced me to recommend its confirmation, with such exceptions and modifications as the Senate may advise.


DEPARTMENT OF WAR, August 31, 1841.


SIR: I transmit herewith a treaty concluded with certain bands of the Dahcota Nation of Indians, commonly called Sioux, which has been received at this Department from His Excellency James D. Dory, governor of Wisconsin, who was appointed a commissioner on the part of the United States for the purpose of negotiating the treaty; and I desire to submit the following facts and opinions inducing me to request its favorable consideration:

It was known on my entering upon the duties of the Department of War that some provision must speedily be made for the Winnebago Indians in the Northwest. By the treaty with those Indians in 1837 it was provided that they should move temporarily upon a narrow strip of country west of the Mississippi River, called the neutral ground, from the object of its purchase in 1830. That strip of country is only 40 miles in width, 20 miles of it having been purchased from the Sac and Fox Indians and 20 miles from the Sioux, the object of the purchase having been to place a barrier between those tribes, which had been for many years at war and parties of which were continually meeting and destroying each other upon or adjacent to the country purchased.

When the delegation of Winnebago chiefs was in Washington negotiating a sale of all their lands east of the Mississippi River, in 1837, a permanent location for those Indians was not fixed upon, and a temporary expedient was adopted, and acceded to by the Indians, by which they agreed, within eight months from the ratification of the treaty, to move upon and occupy a portion of the neutral ground until they should select a permanent home.

Owing to the small extent of country thus temporarily assigned to the Winnebagoes, utterly destitute of all preparation for the reception of them, slenderly supplied with game, and, above all, the circumstance that the Sac and Fox Indians were continually at war with the Sioux, the object of the purchase having utterly failed, the neutral ground, so called, proving literally the fighting ground of the hostile tribes--owing to all these circumstances the Winnebagoes were extremely reluctant to comply with the treaty. It was in part a dictate of humanity to give them more time for removal than that allotted in the treaty, in the hope of effecting their permanent removal beyond the Missouri or elsewhere; but as no steps were taken to select their future home, and as the white settlers in Wisconsin were fast crowding upon the Indians, overrunning the country, as usual, in search of town sites, water privileges, and farming districts, it became absolutely necessary to make some efforts toward carrying the treaty into effect. Owing to the excited state of the Indians and the apprehension of disturbance, the Eighth Regiment of Infantry, in 1840, more than two years, instead of eight months, after the ratification of the treaty, was ordered upon the Winnebago frontier, the greater part of the Fifth Regiment being already there, and in the presence of that force the Indians were required to comply with the treaty. They reluctantly removed from the banks of the Wisconsin River and crossed the Mississippi, but did not go to that portion of the neutral ground agreed upon, which commenced 20 miles from the river, but instead of it they spread themselves along the bank of the Mississippi, some of them recrossing that river and ascending the Chippewa and Black rivers. Only a small portion of the tribe has yet removed to the portion of the neutral ground assigned to them, and it is perhaps fortunate that local attachments have not been formed, since, from the position of the country, it was not and never could have been intended as their permanent home.

After a careful examination of the country in the Northwest the importance of providing for the Winnebago Indians, though immediate, became secondary in a more national and wider prospect of benefits in future years by arrangements which presented themselves to my mind as not only practicable, but of easy accomplishment.

A glance at the map and at the efforts hitherto made in emigration will show an extensive body of Indians accumulated upon the Southwestern frontier, and, looking to the numbers yet to be emigrated from within the circle of territory soon to become States of the American Union, it will appear upon very many considerations to be of the utmost importance to separate the Indians and to interpose a barrier between the masses which are destined to be placed upon the western frontier, instead of accumulating them within limits enabling them to unite and in concert spread desolation over the States of Missouri and Arkansas to, perhaps, the banks of the Mississippi.

Entertaining these views, it was determined to open negotiations with the Sioux Indians north and northwest of the purchase of 1830, the neutral ground, so called, with the purpose of purchasing sufficient territory beyond the reasonable limits of Iowa to provide a resting place for the Winnebagoes, intending to treat also with the Sac and Fox Indians and with the Potawatamies north of the State of Missouri, and thus enable our citizens to expand west of the Missouri River north of the State.

It is difficult to state in a condensed report all the reasons now imperatively urging the adoption of these measures. Besides the absolute necessity of providing a home for the Winnebagoes, the citizens of Iowa and of Missouri are crowding upon the territory of the Sac and Fox lndians and already producing those irritations which in former times have led to bloody wars. It is not to be for a moment concealed that our enterprising and hardy population must and will occupy the territory adjacent to that purchased in 1837 from the Sacs and Foxes, and the only possible mode of its being done in peace is by another purchase from those Indians. But the position of the Potawatamies will then become relatively what that of the Sac and Fox Indians now is, with the difference that access to their country by the Missouri River will hasten its occupancy by our people. The only mode of guarding against future collision, near at hand if not provided against, is by emigrating not only the Sac and Fox Indians, but also the Potawatamies.

Great efforts have been made to induce those Indians, as also the Winnebagoes, to move south of the Missouri, but without effect, their opposition to it being apparently insurmountable, the Potawatamies expressing the most decided aversion to it on being urged to join other bands of Potawatamies on the Marais de Cygne, declaring that they would rather at once go to California, being determined not to unite with those bands, but to maintain an independence of them. By the purchase from the Sioux no doubt is entertained that their prejudices may be advantageously accommodated, for among the objects in contemplation before adverted to it is to my mind of primary importance so to dispose of those Indians as to enable this Government to interpose a State between the Northern and Southern Indians along the Missouri River, and thus, by dividing the Indians on the frontier and separating the divisions, prevent a combination and concert of action which future progress in civilization might otherwise enable them to effect in the prosecution of revenge for real or imagined grievances.

Great importance is attached to this view of the subject, but scarcely less to the means provided by the treaty for inducing the remnants of other Northern tribes to remove to a climate congenial to their habits and disposition.

From the earliest efforts at emigration certain Northern Indians have strenuously objected to a removal south of the Missouri on account of the climate; and where tribes have been induced to dispose of all fight to live east of the Mississippi within the United States, many individuals, dreading their southern destination, have wandered to the north and are now living in Canada, annually in the receipt of presents from the British Government, and will be ready without doubt to side with that power in any future conflict with this Government. In this manner considerable numbers of the Delawares and Shawnees and other Indians have disappeared from our settlements--a fact of great importance, and which I apprehend has not been heretofore sufficiently considered. There are many Potawatamies and Ottawas, as also Winnebagoes and Menomonees, who may be easily induced to move into Canada by seductive bribes, in the use of which the British Government has always displayed a remarkable foresight.

Of the Chippewas and Ottawas now in the northern part of Michigan it is believed there are over 5,000 under treaty obligations to remove to the Southwest the greater portion of whom openly declared their determination to cross the line into Canada and put themselves under the protection of the British Government in preference to a removal to that country. These Indians may be accommodated by the arrangements in contemplation, not only to their own satisfaction, but under circumstances promising the greatest permanent advantages to the United States, and separating them from all inducements and even the possibility of entering the British service. I am not without hope, also, that through this treaty some suitable and acceptable arrangement may be made with the New York Indians by which they may be removed with safety to themselves and benefit to the people of that State. The very peculiar situation of these Indians is well known; that while they are under treaty obligation to remove, the treaty being by the Constitution the supreme law of the land and perfecting in this instance the title of the land they occupy in a private land company, there is yet every reason to sympathize with them and the highest moral inducements for extending every possible relief to them within the legitimate powers of the Government. I have been assured from sources entitled to my fullest confidence that although these Indians have hitherto expressed the most decided aversion to a removal south of the Missouri, there will probably be no difficulty in persuading them to occupy a more northern region in the West. I have every reason for believing that a benevolent interest in their behalf among a portion of our own people, which, it is supposed, has heretofore presented an obstacle to their emigration, will be exerted to effect their removal if a portion of the Sioux country can be appropriated to them.

It will be perceived, therefore, that a multitude of objects thus rest upon the success of this one treaty, now submitted for examination and approbation.

Of the Sioux Indians I will but remark that they occupy an immense country spreading from the Mississippi north of the neutral ground west and northwest, crossing the Missouri River more than 1,200 miles above the city of St. Louis. They are divided into bands, which have various names, the generic name for the whole being the Dahcota Nation. These bands, though speaking a common language, are independent in their occupancy of portions of country, and separate treaties may be made with them. Treaties are already subsisting with some of the bands both on the Mississippi and Missouri. The treaty now submitted is believed to be advantageous, and from its provisions contemplates the reduction of those wandering Indians from their nomadic habits to those of an agricultural people.

If some of the provisions seem not such as might be desired, it will be recollected that many interests have to be accommodated in framing an Indian treaty which can only be fully known to the commissioner, who derives his information directly from the Indians in the country which is the object of the purchase.

It is proper to add that I had instructed the commissioner expressly not to take into consideration what are called traders' claims, in the hope of correcting a practice which, it is believed, has been attended with mischievous consequences; but the commissioner has by a letter of explanations fully satisfied me that in this instance it was absolutely necessary to accommodate those claims as an indispensable means of obtaining the assent of the Indians to the treaty. This results, doubtless, from their dependence upon the traders for articles, in a measure necessaries, which are for the most part furnished without competition, and of the proper value of which the Indians are ignorant.

To compensate in some degree for the article in this treaty providing for the payment of traders' claims, very judicious guards are introduced into the treaty, calculated effectually to exclude that source of interest adverse to the Government in all future time within the purchase under this treaty.

There are other articles in the treaty which I have not been able fully to realize as judicious or necessary, but for reasons already stated they deserve respectful consideration.

Notwithstanding the article stipulating that a rejection of any of the provisions of the treaty should render the whole null and void, I would respectfully recommend such modified acceptance of the treaty as in the wisdom of the Senate may seem just and proper, conditioned upon the assent of the Indians subsequently to be obtained, the Senate making provision for its reference back to the Indians if necessary.

It will be seen that the treaty provides for a power of regulation in the Indian Territory by the United States Government under circumstances not hitherto attempted, presenting an opportunity for an experiment well worthy of mature consideration.

I ought not to dismiss this subject without adverting to one other important consideration connected with the integrity of our Northwest Indians and Territory. The Sioux treaty will effectually withdraw from British influence all those who are a party to it by making them stipendiaries of the United States and by operating a change in their wandering habits and establishing them at known and fixed points under the observation of Government agents, and as the British can only have access to that region by the way of Fond du Lac, one or two small military posts in a direction west and south from that point, it is believed, will completely control all intercourse with the Indians in that section of country.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


John Tyler, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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