Making Treaties: Good Faith or Deception ?

Treaties Pertaining to Illinois and Missouri

"What do we know of the laws and customs of the White people ? They might buy our bodies for dissection, and we would touch the goose quill to confirm it, without knowing what we are doing.  This was the case with myself and people in touching the goose quill the first time."

--Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak (Black Sparrow Hawk, alias, "Black Hawk")

Painting at left by Charles Bird King, Washington, 1837. The original portrait was destroyed in a 1865 fire at the Smithsonian Institution.


The original policies of the United States on making treaties with American Indian tribes were of the highest intentions of good faith.  For example, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 read as following: "The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent, and in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made, for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them." 

Or President Thomas Jefferson's original "Policy of Civilization and Assimilation" (1803):

"...In truth, the ultimate point of rest and happiness for them [Indians] is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people....Incorporating themselves with us as citizens of the United States, this is what the natural progress of things will, of course, bring on, and it will be better to promote than to retard it. Surely it will be better for them to be identified with us, and preserved in the occupation of their lands, than be exposed to the many casualties which may endanger them while a separate people..."

However good the above words are, the geo-political situation changed abruptly once the unexpected acquisition of Louisiana territory was made in 1804. Citizenship and mixing white settlements with Indians would be now out of the question. The new focus changed to the removal of the Indian tribes from the East and move them west of the Mississippi. Jefferson went so far as to propose the removal of whites and slaves from Louisiana Territory to be resettled east of the Mississippi. Of course, the citizens of St. Louis and other communities strongly opposed such a concept. Jefferson's proposed this shifting of populations in a Constitutional Amendment but Congress killed it. 

Secret Agenda: Depopulation of White Settlements and the Transfer of Indian Tribes in the West

Even after Congress voted down Jefferson's plans for Louisiana Territory,  it became unwritten policy that his administration and later administrations followed to some degree (i.e. Indian removal from the East). To demonstrate that Jefferson was undeterred, correspondence between him and Gov. James Wilkinson, Governor of Louisiana, provides the evidence. 

For example, James Wilkinson reported to President Jefferson in a November, 1805 letter that two of his objectives were: depopulation of white settlements from the territory and the transfer of Indians into the territory. For the depopulation of white settlements he suggested that this could be accomplished by "discouragements" and "allurements". Wilkinson states that discouraging Statehood within the territory as proposed by "high official Characters" would be necessary in depopulation. Wilkinson alludes to unspecified actions towards settlers "By not preparing Beds of down that we are able to get rid of unwelcome Guests". In transferring eastern Indian tribes, Gov. Wilkinson planned to obtain Osage and tribal land through treaties, partition and redistribute land, offer tribal annuities, offering bribes ("bounties to great Warriors" and "pensions to leading Chiefs").

At some early date the Jefferson administration or successive administration came to realize that they were unable to stop the flow of white settlers into Louisiana Territory. Depopulation was not obtainable. The object of transfer Indian tribes was obtainable and going very well. No longer simply to get the tribes west of the Mississippi, but to remove them beyond the fertile agricultural land that white settlers would want for themselves. 

Jefferson's Strategy For Confiscation of Indian Lands

 The success of transferring Eastern tribes was not because the government was writing treaties in mutual good faith but by capitalizing on an effective strategy. 

 First, using trading posts run the Indians in huge debt. So much debt that it will be necessary for the tribe to sell off land. Second, send influential representatives of the tribe to Washington to be psychologically overwhelmed by the power and might of United States. Thirdly, offer bribes and personal land allotments to potential "Chiefs" in return for signing away tribal land. (it does not matter if the "Chief" has actual authority to give away tribal land) Fourth, Offer to educate the Indians in American-style agriculture and supply them with tools to farm, that is, if they are willing to sign away their agriculturally fertile lands in the East for arid reservation lands in the West. Fifth, if all else fails, propose to shut down trading posts and even threaten hostile military action.  Sixth, Make discrepancies between the written and spoken words. Allow the signers to not necessarily understand what they are signing. Allude to the document as an agreement  for the "good will" of future relations. 

In order to make military intervention a "just and lawful" cause of action: 1) Allow illegal white exploration or squatter settlement on Indian lands. 2) Encourage illegal whites to file trumped-up charges of Indian thefts or atrocities. 3) Threaten or initiate military invasion. 4) As an arrangement for peace or condition of surrender, require cession of tribal land. 

Although the above procedure was very successful, it did not always go well. Sometimes the Indians did not cooperate and military action had to be made even if it was not "just and lawful".


(This is not a complete listing of treaties just the primary ones covering tribes that lived in Illinois and Missouri.)

Ft. Harmar Treaty of 1789 (signed at Marietta, Ohio)

This treaty ceded most of the Indian land in most in the southern and eastern part of the present State of Ohio. Not surprisingly no one signing the treaty had the authority to sign away the land. In addition, some tribes did not have any representation at the meeting. Complicating matters, not only did white squatters had settled much of the area, but the United States had already begun selling off the land and settlements were rapidly being established. The Chippewas, Delawares,  Kaskaskias, Kickapoos, Miamis, Ottawas, Potawatomies, Shawnees, Weas, and Wyandots refused to accept the treaty and organized into a "Western Confederacy".  

 The next step of the government was to send in 700 mounted Kentucky militia into the Northwest territory. They successfully destroyed Wea villages on the upper Wabash. Next Gen. St. Clair took 2,000 men up the Miami River. They were ambushed by Miami warriors and almost half the force was killed or wounded with the rest routed in panic. The United States now had a black eye and offered to forget about the Ft. Harmar Treaty with the exception of land in southern Ohio. The Western Confederacy rejected this and suggested that the U.S. government use the $50,000 offered to them under the treaty be instead awarded to poor white settlers that must leave Indian land. Instead the U.S. sent a larger military force under Gen. Anthony Wayne who was able to achieve victory at the Battle of Falling Timbers. Even though the Northwest Ordnance was completely disobeyed by the Ft. Harmar Treaty, the U.S. Government took the land anyway.

1803 Treaty at Vincennes (Illini Indians)

This treaty was for the cession of Illini lands in the Illinois country. It was signed 13 Aug, 1803. The government gave the Indians an annuity of $1000, 350 acres of land near Kaskaskia, Illinois and another 1,280 acres parcel to be selected by the tribes at a later date. The government also promised to build a Catholic Church and pay the salary for a Priest. A special entitlement (bribe) of  a house with 100 fenced in acres was for alloted for Chief du Coigne of the Kaskaskias. Ceded to the government was all the land 200 miles north of the Ohio River. It did not include Sauk-Fox land north of the Illinois River. Once a strong nation, the Illini by this time had very few people. Most of the tribe were already living in Missouri by the time this treaty was signed.

1804 Treaty at Vincennes (Delaware and Piankeshaw)

This treaty was signed 18 Aug 1804. It gave away Delaware/Piankeshaw land in southern Indiana. A year later the tribes denounced the treaty as fraudulent. The chiefs present at the signing did not have the right to sell the land. Furthermore it was claimed that Gov. Henry Harrison "tricked" the chiefs into signing it by saying it was it was merely a testament of "good will". Other tribes of the Western Confederacy protested the treaty, including the famous Miami war Chief, Little Turtle. The U.S. government denied any wrong doing and directed any Chiefs who believed they were "tricked" would be "severely reprimanded". Chief Little Turtle was hushed up by giving him an annuity of $50 and even going so far as purchasing him a negro slave. Thus in 1805 the lands of the Miamis and Weas were also ceded in addition to that of the Delaware and Piankeshaw lands. Of course many of the Indians were not happy about this land giveaway. Some of the Indians involved were executed or burned at the stake at the order of the Shawnee Prophet.

1804 Treaty with the Sauk-Fox

Gov. Harrison arranged for a delegation of five Sauk representatives to sign away all the tribal land north and south of the Illinois River. This delegation came to St. Louis, not authorized to sell land, but were merely to transferring a Sauk wanted for murder. White settlers were murdered for trespassing on tribal hunting grounds along the Cuivre River in Missouri.  Harrison threatened war if the Sauk delegation did not sign an agreement to the following: 1) Sauk-Fox were to be allies of the  United States 2) The United States would guarantee the security of Sauk-Fox land 3) Future complaints between the tribe and the United States would be settled with justice in an orderly manner. 4) Trade would be provided on a regular basis 5) Peace would be arranged with the Osage nation. 6) Sauk tribal land in Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri would be ceded over to the United States. 7) Payment for this land would be $2,234.50 plus a $1000 annuity. 8) The Sauk murderer would be pardoned.

Black Hawk's band of the Sauk were not content on living on the west side of the Mississippi River (in Iowa) and desired to move to their settlement on the Rock River of Illinois. There was a general belief that only the lands south of the Rock River were ceded by the 1804 treaty. Quashquame, the last living signer of the 1804 treaty, testified that this was the belief among the signers.  He claimed they never intended to sign anything that would have given away their town, Saukenuk, which was located north of the Rock River. Even the Sauk women had an argument over the ceded land. For instance, approaching Gen. Edmund Gaines (who was sent to remove Black Hawk's band), an unidentified Sauk woman appealed stating that the Sauk men had no right to sell any Sauk land. She stated the cornfields belonged to the women, who were the ones who worked the fields in their tribe. Of course, all the arguments were in vain. The U.S. Army forcefully removed Black Hawk's band in 1832.

Sauk-Fox Treaty of 1815-1816

This treaty not only being a peace treaty for the War of 1812 when the Sauk-Fox sided with the British, but also was a confirmation of the Treaty of 1804. It was signed by the Fox tribe and the Missouri Sauks in 1815. The Rock River Sauks (including Black Hawk) signed this treaty at William Clark's home in St. Louis on May 13, 1816. Black Hawk contended that they were unaware they were signing away their tribal land at Saukenuk and if they would have known that they would never have signed the treaty.

"Black Hawk Purchase" Sauk-Fox Treaty Sept 19, 1832

The U.S. government used the Black Hawk war as an excuse to take more Sauk land than had earlier been agreed upon. It did not matter that Black Hawk's band was a minority within the tribe and most of the tribe sided with the U.S. during the crisis.  Since they failed to stop Black Hawk from initiating "an unjust war upon the unoffending white settlers...the whole confederacy had forfeited as much of their territory as the conquerors might choose as an indemnity.", as stated by Gen. Winfield Scott. This statement is quite biased and unjust but that is the way the government laid it out to the Sauk in 1832. The only one present giving an dissenting opinion was Joshua Pilcher, the Sauk-Fox agent. 

The "Black Hawk Purchase" area was approximately a 50 mile stretch of prime farmland extending from Missouri to northern Iowa. Roughly 6 million acres with the government getting it for under 10 cents an acre. Correspondence at the time indicates that the government recognized this land as being worth seven millions of dollars in the next thirty years. 

Post-1832 Sauk-Fox Land Cessations 

Following the "Black Hawk Purchase" of 1832, the Sauk-Fox retained a 400 square mile reserve in Iowa. Keokuk, the tribal spokesman (not a chief but a powerful figure nonetheless) was a big proponent to selling off tribal land. He controlled the finances of the tribe and was quite materialistic.

 In 28 September an agreement was signed to sell 256,000 acres on the Iowa River. The government negotiators would only give 75 cents an acre, although settlers would pay as much as $3.00 an acre. The remaining larger section of tribal land was not sold until October 1842 for $258,566.34 payment toward the tribal debt and a guarantee of 5% yearly interest on $800,000. They would have to depart the eastern half of the land by 1 May 1843 and from the western half in three years. After that time the tribe would be given a reservation in the Missouri River drainage area (in 1846 they were given 435,200 acres on the headwaters of the Osage River in Kansas where they resided for 23 years). The land was sandy and much poorer farmland than what they had in Iowa. They also had to share the reservation with the Kansas, Chippewa, and Ottawas. In 1867, the Sauk-Fox signed away their Kansas reservation for another in Oklahoma. The tribe did not depart until December of 1869, and even then not everyone went along. Many of the conservatives (against selling their land) remained in Kansas, while others returned to Iowa and Missouri. 

1808-1809 Treaty with the Osage

On September 14, 1808 Osage chiefs met with William Clark and signed at treaty that gave all their land from the Arkansas River to the Missouri River to the government. South of the Missouri they were left with a narrow sliver west of a line that ran from the site of a new fort at Fire Prairie. Also according to this treaty the Osage retained the land north of the Missouri. But very soon after the signing of this treaty, Osage tribal representatives appeared in St. Louis greatly displeased with the arrangement. They stated that the signers lacked the authority of the tribal council that was responsible for handling important matters such as this. Furthermore, the signers believed they were signing away hunting rights, not selling their land.  Clark, although displeased, agreed to redraft the treaty with the help of Pierre Chouteau and Gov. Meriwether Lewis.

At Fire Prairie Pierre Chouteau presented the new treaty to the tribe on Nov. 10, 1808, which they signed. Amazingly the new treaty sold away more land than the original treaty. Although they were still left with a narrow strip south of the Missouri River, they now would sell "all lands northwardly of the river Missouri", as well as "a tract of two leagues square to embrace Fort Clark."  Osage tribal members living in Arkansas signed the treaty on Aug 31, 1809. The payment was considerably more but there is some doubt if the Osage realized they were giving up all rights, not just hunting rights.  George Sibley, an agent at Ft. Osage, accused Chouteau of using high pressure tactics and threats in order to get the Osage to sign the treaty. Certainly this was true and as the years passed the Osage would grow resentful, especially when they witnessed eastern tribes being given reservations on traditional Osage land.

In payment for their land the Osage received:


--Scott K. Williams, Florissant, Missouri, Jan 1, 2006 (showmemule "at"


Recommended Reading:

Jefferson and the Gun-Men: How the West Was Almost Lost, by M. R. Montgomery, Three Rivers Press, New York, NY. 2000. ISBN: 0-609-80710-2

Jefferson and the Indians, The Tragic Fate of the First Americans, by Anthony F. C. Wallace, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 1999. ISBN 0-674-00548-1

The First Chouteaus, River Barons of Early St. Louis, by William E. Foley and C. David Rice, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, IL; 2000. ISBN: 0-252-06897-1

Life of Black Hawk, by Black Hawk, Edited by Milo Quaife, Dover Publications; Reprint edition (July, 1994), (originally published 1833). ISBN: 0486281051

The Many Hands of My Relations, French and Indians On the Lower Missouri, by Tanis C. Thorne; University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO; 1996. ISBN: 0-8262-1083-X

The Osage in Missouri, by Kristie C. Wolferman, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Mo. 1997, ISBN: 0-8262-1122-4

Prelude to disaster : the course of Indian-White relations which led to the Black Hawk War of 1832, by Anthony F. C. Wallace, Illinois State Historical Library; 1970

Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan, and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi, by David I. Bushnell, Jr.; Government Printing Office; Washington DC; 1922.


  William Clark And The Black Hawk War 

American Indian History

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