Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Treaty of Fort Bridger

The official title of the Treaty of Fort Bridger (1868) is "Treaty between the United States of America and the Eastern Band of Shoshones and the Bannack Tribe of Indians." Concluded on July 3, 1868, at Fort Bridger, Wyoming (then Utah Territory), and proclaimed on February 24, 1869, this treaty remains the basis for the sovereign relations between the United States and both the Eastern Shoshone Tribe of the Wind River Reservation (Wyoming) and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation (Idaho). The treaty declared continued peaceful relations between the parties, established the Wind River Reservation, provided for a Bannock Reservation in Idaho, provided for extensive off-reservation resource rights, allowed individual Natives to take up tracts of land in severalty, and included assistance for agricultural development and education.

The various bands of Shoshone and Bannock had maintained generally peaceful relations with the United States during the overland migration and had been parties to previous treaties both ratified and unratified. Washakie, the principal chief of the Eastern Shoshone, was renowned for his friendship with the United States as well as his influence among his own people. He was a signatory of the ratified Treaty of Fort Bridger (1863). The most influential Bannock leader, Taghee, had approved the Soda Springs treaty of October 1863 (part of the same series of treaties negotiated by James Duane Doty), but a legal technicality prevented its ratification. The treaties in 1863 included no land cessions, nor did they designate reservations.

The Fort Bridger treaty of 1868 was the final treaty negotiated by the Indian Peace Commission of 1867–1868. Conceived of as an all-encompassing solution to the "Indian problem" in the American West, the peace commission negotiated treaties with the tribes of the northern and southern plains and the Navajo as well as the Shoshone and Bannock. The commission consisted of four civilians and four generals, including Gen. William T. Sherman and Commissioner of Indian Affairs Nathaniel G. Taylor. Gen. Christopher C. Augur was the sole member of the commission present at Fort Bridger. Washakie spoke for the Eastern Shoshone, while Taghee represented the Bannock (in fact, his followers were a mixed band of Shoshone and Bannock).

Article II of the treaty established the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation and provided for the creation of a "Bannack Reservation." Washakie claimed "all the country lying between the meridian of Salt Lake City and the line of the North Platte River to the mouth of the Sweetwater," and wanted "the valley of the Wind River and lands on its tributaries as far east as the Popo-agie" for his reservation. The original dimensions of the Wind River Reservation were reduced by agreements in 1872 and 1898.

Gen. Augur sought to consolidate all the bands on a single reservation, but Taghee refused and demanded a separate reservation that would include the Fort Hall area and the Great Camas Prairie of south central Idaho. Augur relented, but as he was "not sufficiently acquainted" with Idaho's geography, he did not specify the reservation's exact boundaries. Augur was also apparently unaware that the Fort Hall Reservation had already been created by executive order in June 1867. Instead, Article II provided that, at a future date, the president might set apart the reservation which was to include "reasonable portions of the 'Port neuf' [Fort Hall] and 'Kansas [sic] Prairie' countries." The clerk's obvious misspelling of Kamas gave later interlopers a specious claim to that area. The federal government never fulfilled its promise to reserve a portion of the Great Camas Prairie. A subsequent executive order designated the Fort Hall Reservation as the Bannock Reservation under the terms of the Fort Bridger treaty. The original dimensions of the reservation were reduced by agreements in 1880, 1881, 1887, and 1900.

The off-reservation provisions of the Fort Bridger treaty are especially noteworthy. Article IV of the treaty reserved to the Shoshone and Bannock "the right to hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United States so long as game my be found thereon, and so long as peace subsists among the whites and Indians on the borders of the hunting districts."

Gregory E. Smoak


Further Reading
Prucha, Francis Paul. American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994; Augur, C. C. "C. C. Augur to President of the Indian Peace Commission, Omaha, Nebraska, 4 October 1868." Bureau of Indian Affairs, Irregular Sized Papers. Washington, DC: Record Group 75, U.S. National Archives, 1868; Deloria, Vine, Jr., and Raymond J. DeMallie. "Introduction," in Proceedings of the Great Peace Commission of 1867–1869. Washington, DC: The Institute for the Development of Indian Law, 1975; St. Germain, Jill. Indian Treaty Making Policy in the United States and Canada, 1867–1877. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
 

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