When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, the newly formed Confederate States actively began to seek Native American allies. The Confederacy was especially interested in the Indian Territory, which could serve as a buffer between Union Kansas and Confederate Texas, and with the mineral-rich New Mexico and Arizona territories. Albert Pike, whose complete title was commissioner of the Confederate States to Native Americans west of Arkansas, negotiated nine treaties with 21 Native nations, at four different locations. All of the tribes with which Pike negotiated with were located at the time in the Indian Territory.
The first Confederate treaties were negotiated with the Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw in North Fork Town on the Canadian River in the Creek Nation. The Creek treaty, although concluded on July 10, 1861, nevertheless referred to the Seminole treaty of August 7 of the same year in order to clarify the exact boundaries and jurisdictions of both nations. A supplementary article was added to the convention to address the claims of the Apalachicola band. Under two previous treaties with the United States, the Apalachicola still had reserves of land in Florida. The Confederacy acknowledged their claims and agreed to pay for the claims and the property the Apalachicola lost in their removal to the Indian Territory. Remnants of the Apalachicola still living in Florida would be encouraged to move west and reunite with their people as part of the larger Creek Nation. In the same supplement, the Seminole were guaranteed payments for their lost property and land in Florida "in consequence of their hurried removal west."
The Choctaw and Chickasaw signed a single treaty with the Confederacy. Concluded on July 12, the treaty was lengthy and detailed. It contained more than 60 articles, many of which focused on clearing up the financial arrangements of land sales and annuities. The Confederate government in Richmond essentially took on the United States' debt to, and assumed the federal trust responsibility for, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw. Moreover, the Confederacy agreed to pay the Chickasaw close to $700,000 as reimbursement for funds invested by the United States in the state bonds of Maryland, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, and Arkansas and in stocks issued by the Richmond and Danville railroad and the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad.
The Seminole treaty was agreed to in August at the Seminole Council House, and the Confederate Cherokee convention was concluded in October at Park Hill, Cherokee Nation. The Confederacy had thus made binding agreements with all of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes, establishing itself as the protector of the American Indian nations. All these treaties offered the Native nations a good deal more than the Union promised. Native soldiers, who were to be equipped by the South, would not have to fight except in defense of their own territory. The Confederacy would assume all of the Union's debts and annuity payments, in addition to a permanent allocation to pay for certain services, such as schools, insane asylums, health care, and orphanages. The Native nations were also given the option of sending delegates to the Confederate House of Representatives. Most importantly, perhaps, was that the Confederacy pledged its protection from invasion and affirmed each nation's title to its lands in fee simple (land held in common).
The negotiations at Park Hill produced Confederate treaties with the Osage, confederated Seneca and Shawnee, and Quapaw Nations. Like the treaties made with the Five Tribes, these agreements were somewhat formulaic. The treaties guaranteed annuities, the services of teachers, blacksmiths, and landholdings. The Confederacy also agreed to supply the tribes with arms to be used in their self-protection. The same kinds of guarantees were given in treaties to a number of Native groups in the western Indian Territory, including the Comanche, Wichita, Caddo, Waco, Tawakoni, Anadarko, Tonkawa, and western Shawnee and Delaware. Confederate agents obtained an agreement with the Comanche of the Staked Plains to offer a treaty of friendship with the Kiowa, in order to stop completely raids into Texas.
On the surface, the Confederate treaties promised a remarkably peaceful settlement for most of the Native nations living in or near what is now Oklahoma. The Confederate treaties not only established friendship between the nations and the Confederacy but also between all the Native treaty signatories. Each treaty contained an oath of "perpetual peace and brotherhood" with all the Native nations that made treaties with the Confederacy. The Comanche swore not to raid other Native nations; the Cherokee and the Osage pledged to end long years of animosity; the Wichita promised to live in peace and forgive those tribes that had threatened them in the past. The Confederacy presumably obtained the safety of its largest state, Texas, and opened the rest of the Southwest for Confederate expansion.
The Confederate-initiated peace in the Indian Territory, however, was not to be. Creek and Seminole loyal to the Union attempted to escape to Kansas, and numerous Cherokee began to doubt the wisdom of allying themselves with the South. Eventually, fighting erupted between loyal and Confederate Native Americans all over the territory. All-Native regiments were raised for both the Union and the Confederacy. These military units were even to go into combat outside the territorial limits of the Native nations. The promise that the nations would not have to fight unless in defense of their own country was quickly made moot. Union and Confederate invasions from Kansas, Arkansas, and Texas left the Indian Territory devastated. And the fighting continued there even after the surrender at Appomattox Court House.
Predictably, war fever engulfed the western territories and states and led to the inflicting of atrocities on the Native nations. War broke out in Minnesota between whites and the Santee Sioux. Instead of attempting to use diplomacy, which perhaps could have averted the Santee war, whites treated genuine Santee complaints as acts of rebellion, eventually trying and convicting many of the Santee men in a military court. California militia troops stormed into Arizona and New Mexico seeking rebels, only to set off a lengthy war with the Apache and Navajo. The scout Kit Carson was enlisted to carry on a roundup of the Navajo, which led to their imprisonment at Fort Sumner. In 1864, the Colorado Volunteers attacked and slaughtered the Cheyenne at Sand Creek, notwithstanding the fact that the Cheyenne were peacefully living on the lands guaranteed to them in their 1861 treaty with the United States. The horror of the Sand Creek Massacre produced a period of general conflict between the Native nations of the Great Plains and the Union.
From a certain perspective, agents of the United States were indeed attempting to ease the tensions with several Native nations during the war and trying to deal with them diplomatically. The federal government negotiated and ratified 18 treaties during the war. Between March 1862 and March 1865, exactly three years, treaties were concluded with the Kansa, Ottawa, Chippewa, Nez Percé, Shoshone, Ute, Klamath, Modoc, Omaha, Winnebago, and Ponca. All these agreements included land cessions and further diminished the territories of the tribes involved. Several established "permanent" reservations or removed the nations to smaller concentrations of landholdings. Despite its focus on winning the Civil War, the United States was nevertheless still very much involved in securing title to new lands in the West.
When the fighting between the whites ended, the United States simply resumed its avowed conquest of the western territories, with a side trip to renegotiate treaties with the nations that had signed on with the Confederacy. The United States extracted a heavy price from the nations that signed Confederate treaties, even though large factions within the tribes had repudiated them and had served in Union regiments.
In the Treaty with the Osage (1865), the Osage were forced to cede most of their large reservation and confine themselves to the Indian Territory. For the land cession, they were to receive the proceeds of the sale of their lands in Kansas and Missouri, from which the federal government established a fund to build boarding schools. Portions of Osage land were to be directly handed over in fee simple to several individuals. Certain chiefs and mixed-blood citizens of the Osage Nation were awarded direct payments of Osage funds and grants of land. The Osage put themselves under the protectorship of the United States and agreed to be removed from the ceded lands within a six-month period of time. The federal government also extracted railroad rights-of-way through Osage country. Finally, the Osage submitted to a new kind of treaty provision that stated, "Should the Senate reject or amend any of the above articles, such rejection or amendment shall not affect the other provisions of this treaty." The Senate, in other words, could change the treaty as it liked, whereas the Osage were bound to the agreement no matter what.
Abel, Annie Heloise. The American Indian in the Civil War, 1862–1865. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992; Fischer, LeRoy. The Civil War Era in Indian Territory. Los Angeles: Lorin L. Morrison, 1974; Josephy, Alvin M. The Civil War in the American West. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.