This Day in History, July 29, 1837: First major swindle of Ojibwe, Dakota lands in what would become Minnesota

On this day in history, July 29, 1837, the Ojibwe and Dakota signed the first treaties ceding significant amounts of their land to the U.S. government in what would become the state of Minnesota. White businessmen got the better end of the deals.

The following account comes from the Why Treaties Matter website.

These two 1837 treaties “coincided with the collapse of the fur trade,” White fur traders were now cash short and needed new ways to make money.

Ramsay Crooks, Henry Sibley and Hercules Dousman … and other traders changed their business strategy from trading for furs to making treaties. They used powerful connections in the U.S. political system to ensure that when Dakota and Ojibwe people received compensation for ceded land, much of the cash would be used to pay fur trade debts.

Fort Snelling, 1844, seven years after Ojibwe leaders signed the White Pines Treaty. View from Mendota, where the treaty was signed. Image: John Casper Wild painting, Wikimedia Commons.

The Ojibwe treaty was signed in Mendota.

The Ojibwe received $24,000 in cash, goods and services, retaining rights to use the land for hunting, fishing and other purposes. Their mixed-blood relatives (including men who signed treaties on behalf of the U.S.) received $100,000; and fur traders received $70,000.

This treaty also was called the “White Pines Treaty,” because of the white business leaders connived to transfer millions of acres of timber to the United States.

The cession of pine forests led to abuses of Ojibwe timber rights for a century, as treaty signers … as well as many other powerful political figures – suddenly widened their business interests from the fur trade to timber. Ojibwe negotiators made it clear, however, that they were retaining rights to deciduous trees in the region (among other rights), going so far as to lay an oak leaf in front of U.S. negotiator Henry Dodge to clarify their point. In fact, extensive evidence indicates that the Ojibwe believed they were merely leasing use of the pine forests, and many refused to leave the ceded territory, preferring to stay and exercise the rights to land use that they retained in the treaty.

According to the chapter on Chippewa Treaty Rights published by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters:

Officials in the administration of President Martin Van Buren sought land cession not to accommodate white settlers — whites were not demanding Chippewa lands — but to enable lumbering on a large scale along the eastern tributaries of the Mississippi River. Demand for cheap pine grew rapidly among the new towns of the Mississippi River Valley as the cost of lumber from western New York and Pennsylvania reached prohibitive levels.

Henry Sibley’s portrait in the Minnesota State Capitol. Before becoming Minnesota’s first Governor, he made lots of money off of treaty signing..

The U.S. treaty signers included Henry Sibley, a fur trader and land speculator, according to Why Treaties Matter.

Later, he would sign the 1851 treaty with the Dakota, a lucrative deal for him and disastrous for the Dakota. Sibley would become Minnesota’s first Governor. (As we rethink who deserves statues or portraits of honor in our public spaces, Ramsey needs to be in the mix for reinterpretation or removal.)

The 1837 treaty with the Dakota was signed in Washington D.C.

[The Dakota] received $16,000 in cash and goods up front, and promises of up to $40,000 per year for years to come. Their “relatives and friends” received $110,000, and fur traders received $90,000 in debt payments.

As an historical footnote, Lawrence Taliaferro, the Indian agent at Fort Snelling, signed both the treaty with the Dakota and the treaty with the Ojibwe. As a slaveholder, Taliaferro “owned” Harriet Robinson, and officiated at Harriet’s marriage to Dred Scott. Dred Scott, in turn, was enslaved by John Emerson and John F. A. Sanford, who were Taliaferros’ brothers in law.

Scott Campbell, Taliaferro’s interpreter, also signed both treaties. Campbell was the son of a British fur trader and a Dakota woman. His relatives made a lot of money off these treaties. Yet two of Cambell’s sons ended up being hung for participating in the Dakota-U.S War of 1862: “Baptiste, by the U.S. military in Mankato; and John, by a lynch mob.”

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