in Wisconsin History
Treaty Councils, from Prairie du Chien to Madeline Island
During August 1825, thousands of Indians representing all the Wisconsin tribes gathered in Prairie du Chien. Territorial governors William Clark of Missouri and Lewis Cass of Michigan facilitated discussions that produced a general treaty of peace among all the tribes. Henry Schoolcraft left a long account of this seminal event in chapter 23 of his memoirs (see below), and painter J.O. Lewis captured the scene and dozens of Indian leaders in color (all included here).
Although it granted no land to the United States, the Prairie du Chien treaty of 1825 opened the door for talks with individual tribes that were intended to do just that. Between 1829 and 1833 the first four of these transferred U.S. title to all lands south of the Fox-Wisconsin waterway, and in five more councils over the next fifteen years the tribes ceded nearly all the rest of Wisconsin to the U.S. government. In a single generation, under the pressure of overwhelming military force, people who had lived here for centuries or millennia lost their rights to their native lands.
More than seventy treaties were negotiated with Wisconsin Indians between 1804 and 1854. Though compensation was always granted for ceded territory, it was often minimal as white negotiators took advantage of their Indian counterparts. "We are ignorant of the way you measure land," says a Menominee chief in one of the documents given here. "We do not know what you mean by the acres you speak of. What is it?" U.S. negotiators could be equally ignorant: they negotiated and signed more than one treaty with Indians who lacked authority to speak for their nation. In addition to ignorance, factors such as misplaced benevolence, romantic paternalism, simple racism, malice, and plain human greed all played roles in the legal dispossession of Wisconsin's first peoples.
For a complete list of all treaties and their texts, see Kappler's Indian affairs: laws and treaties (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1904-1979). The major treaties negotiated between Indian nations and the U.S. government that resulted in land cessions in Wisconsin are listed here:
1829 (July 29-Aug. 1) at Prairie du Chien with the Potawatomie, Ojibwe, and Ottawa (July 29) and the Ho-Chunk (Aug. 1). The tribes ceded the lead mining region of southwestern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Kappler vol. II, pp. 297-303
1831 (Feb. 8) at Washington, D.C. with the Menominee, who ceded the area from Milwaukee to Green Bay to Fox River, and settled the N.Y. Indians. Kappler vol. II, pp. 319-323
1832 (Sept. 15-21) at Fort Armstrong, Ill., on Rock Island, with the Ho-Chunk (Sept. 15) and the Sauk and Fox (Sept. 21). The Ho-Chunk ceded all their remaining territory south of the Wisconsin River; the Sauk & Fox ceded the Iowa shore of the Mississippi. Kappler vol. II, pp. 345-351
1833 (Sept. 26) at Chicago with the Potawatomie, Ojibwe, and Ottawa, who ceded all their remaining lands east of Mississippi; the Potawatomie agreed to leave Wisconsin for lands west of Mississippi. Kappler vol. II, pp. 402-415
1836 (Sept. 3) at Cedar Point, Wis., with the Menominee, who ceded lands in northeast Wisconsin roughly from Green Bay to the Wolf River. Kappler vol. II, pp. 463-466
1837 (Nov. 1) at Washington, D.C., with the Ho-Chunk, who ceded all their remaining lands east of Mississippi and agreed to western removal. Kappler vol. II, pp. 498-500
1837 (July 29) at St. Peters, Minn. (Fort Snelling) with the Ojibwe, who ceded the northern lands whose drainage flowed southwest toward the Mississippi, but retained fishing and hunting rights on it. Kappler vol. II, pp. 491-492
1842 (Oct. 4) at LaPointe, Wis. (Madeline Island), with the Ojibwe, who ceded all their remaining lands in Wisconsin and Michigan. Kappler vol. II, pp. 542-545
1848 (October 18) at Lake Poygan, Wis., with the Menominee, who ceded all their remaining lands. Kappler vol. II, pp. 572-574
1854 (Sept. 30) at LaPointe, Wis. (Madeline Island), with the Ojibwe; established the Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Red Cliff, and Lac du Flambeau reservations. Kappler vol. II, pp. 648-652
[Sources: Wyman, Mark. The Wisconsin Frontier (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, c1998). The History of Wisconsin: volume 1, From Exploration to Statehood by Alice E. Smith. (Madison, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1973)]