Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Reconstruction Treaties With the Five Civilized Tribes

These agreements were made between the United States and the Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Cherokee nations between February and August 1866. All five Native groups had signed treaties of alliance with the Confederacy in 1861; as a result, the federal government declared that the tribes had lost all rights to annuities and land promised in former treaties.

The negotiations with the five nations began in September 1865 with a 12-day meeting at Fort Smith, Arkansas. During the conference, the federal government stated the seven basic stipulations required in each treaty. First, each nation had to enter into a treaty of peace and friendship with the United States, with other Native American nations, and between tribal factions. Second, they were to assist the federal government in pacifying the western Native peoples. Third, slavery had to be abolished, all slaves were to be unconditionally emancipated, and the freed slaves had to be incorporated into the tribes or other suitable provisions made for former slaves. Fourth, involuntary servitude could be tolerated only as punishment for a crime. Fifth, each nation holding land in Indian Territory had to set aside land for the settlement of Kansas Natives. Sixth, all tribes of Indian Territory were expected to prepare for the eventual consolidation of all Natives under one government. Finally, no white persons, except those connected with the military or assigned as Indian agents and employees of the government and of internal improvement agencies, were to be permitted to reside in Indian Territory unless they had been formally incorporated into the tribe. The Natives would have some ability to negotiate how much land each nation forfeited, the size of rights-of-way for railroads, and the status of former slaves.

The Seminole delegation was the first to arrive in Washington. The inexperienced and impoverished representatives were war weary and just wanted to go home; consequently, they put up little resistance to the demands of federal negotiators. In the Treaty with the Seminole (1866), they agreed to all the demands of the Fort Smith meeting, ceding their entire homeland for 15 cents an acre, and they agreed to purchase 200,000 acres from the Creek Nation at 50 cents an acre. Their treaty established rights-of-way for railroads, abolished slavery, and stated that all Seminole, freedmen, and adopted white people would have equal rights within the nation.

The harsh treaty with the Seminole was followed a few weeks later by the far more benevolent Treaty with the Choctaw and Chickasaw (1866). The two nations hired an attorney and worked closely together. Overall, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, and their attorneys proved to be very able negotiators, and the Choctaw and Chickasaw did not incur any liability or forfeiture of land as a result of their alignment with the Confederacy. They were not forced to grant citizenship to their former slaves. If the two nations did not pass legislation providing for the civil rights of their former slaves, the United States would use $300,000 of Choctaw and Chickasaw money to relocate the people of African descent elsewhere. Rights-of-way were established for railroads, and the Choctaw and Chickasaw made provisions to purchase stock in the company that built through their nation. They were to pay for the stock by selling to the railroad sections of land six miles wide on each side of the track.

The Creek Nation's negotiations in many ways mirrored the Seminole negotiations. The delegates did not resist federal demands, and they accepted all the Fort Smith demands. In the Treaty with the Creek (1866), they ceded the west half of the Creek domain, estimated to contain 3,250,560 acres; they adopted their freedmen, established rights-of-way for the railroads, and accepted provisions for the eventual consolidation of all Natives under one government.

The most contentious negations were with the Cherokee, who sent both Southern and Union representatives; federal officials played the two factions against each other. After months of bitter debate, federal negotiators dismissed the Loyal Cherokee delegation and concluded a treaty with the minority Southern representatives. This treaty was never recognized, and a few weeks later, the Loyal delegation was invited back. In the end, the Cherokee agreed to most of the Fort Smith provisions with the Treaty with the Cherokee (1866). Former slaves were granted citizenship and were to have equal rights with other Cherokee citizens. The nation was also forced to sell the Neutral Lands, but they refused to sell the Cherokee Strip. Fortunately, on the issue of land cession, the Loyal faction negotiated better terms than the other four nations did. The land was to be appraised by two disinterested parties and then to be sold to the highest bidder, and the Cherokee Nation was guaranteed at least $1.25 per acre.

The unique sovereign status of the five nations allowed Indian commissioners to make demands of the slave-owning Native Americans that were not made of former Confederate states. No former Confederate state was required to give up territory as war reparations, yet all five nations were required to cede or lease land so the federal government could concentrate all unwanted indigenous people in Indian Territory. Furthermore, although Southern slave owners simply had to free their slaves, Natives were required to give their freedmen land and, in some cases, tribal membership and a share of tribal funds. In effect, three nations lost the right to determine their own tribal membership.

Joyce Ann Kievit


Further Reading
Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989; Abel, Annie Heloise. The American Indian under Reconstruction. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark. Reprint, St. Clair Shores, MI: Scholarly Press, 1972; Foreman, Grant. The Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole. Norman. University of Oklahoma Press, 1934; Kappler, Charles J., ed. Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, vol. 2. New York: AMS Press, 1971.
 

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