Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Treaty of Medicine Lodge

The Treaty of Medicine Lodge was negotiated in three sessions with the largest American Indian nations of the southern plains—the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache—between October 21 and October 28, 1867. This treaty represented the last effort by the United States to solve its conflict with these nations in a diplomatic way. Extensive European American intrusion into the central and southern plains had culminated during the Colorado gold rush of 1859; the resulting uneasiness was expressed in reprisals on both sides during the 1860s. After the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 and the burning of another Cheyenne village at Pawnee Fork in 1867, Cheyenne war parties retaliated with raids. The treaty aimed not only at securing peace but also at confining the American Indians to reservations, where they would be assimilated. The treaty thus marked the beginning of the reservation period.

Indian agent Col. Jesse Leavenworth met with the pertinent Native leaders to negotiate a place for the signing of the treaty. The Medicine Lodge Creek site in Southern Kansas, 70 miles west-southwest of Wichita, was chosen as a compromise, allowing easy transportation of gifts from Fort Larned. The Native nations were hesitant to go farther north, where they risked attack or exposure to the outbreak of cholera along the Arkansas River.

The members of the U.S. Peace Commission were Gens. Alfred Terry, William Harney, John Sanborn, and Christopher Augur; Sen. John B. Henderson; Commissioner N. G. Taylor; and Col. Samuel Tappan. A number of newspaper correspondents were present. One of them, H. M. Stanley, reported that there were 150 lodges of the Kiowa, with their representatives Sitting Bear (Satank) and White Bear (Satanta); 100 lodges of the Comanche, with Ten Bears and Silver Brooch; 171 lodges of the Arapaho, with Little Raven and Yellow Bear; 85 lodges of the Kiowa-Apache, with Poor Bear; and 250 lodges of the peaceful fraction of the Cheyenne, with Black Kettle and Little Robe. The chiefs of the militant Cheyenne band Dog Soldiers, such as Tall Bull and Bull Bear, did not agree with the treaty at first. The Cheyenne came and signed only after they finished their ceremonies of Sacred Arrows Renewal, when Black Kettle persuaded them to do so.

The negotiations were conducted in three sessions; the result of each was a treaty between the Peace Commission and the Native American nations represented at each session. The Kiowa and Comanche signed on October 21, the Kiowa-Apache on the same day, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho on October 28, 1867. Because the terms of the treaties were nearly identical, and the three documents were a result of a single peace effort, the treaty is usually referred to as one single treaty.

The peace agreement guaranteed the right of European Americans to travel over emigrant roads through the southern and central plains, the safety of the railroads and their construction, and cession of the American Indian land. The Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache were assigned a reservation in southwestern Indian Territory between the Red River and the Washita River. The Cheyenne and Arapaho were granted a reservation in northeastern Indian Territory between the Arkansas River and the Cimarron River. All these nations were expected to adopt the European American pattern of civilization on their reservations. The Medicine Lodge treaty provided for the compulsory education of children between ages six and sixteen, a resident Indian agent, a physician, a farmer, and other permanent agency personnel. Any head of a family could select 320 acres of land within the reservation for private farming, whereas single adults would receive eight acres. Compensating for previous treaty agreements, the U.S. government bound itself to deliver clothing and to provide funds for the benefit of the Native American nations for a period of 30 years.

The treaty was successful in setting an example for a new period in the plains conflict, but it did not stop the frontier wars. Detainment of promised provisions, the activities of liquor peddlers, continuing intertribal warfare, and the impending breakdown of the buffalo economy—related to European American encroachment—created a dismal situation that led to more killing on both sides. Eventually, nearly two years after concluding the treaty, all the tribal nations settled down on their reservations. The treaty was a clear declaration of the further intentions of the United States. Up to this time, the Native nations had been just pushed aside from the settlement areas of the European Americans and allowed to live in their own ways. Now they would be forced to assimilate.

Antonie Dvorakova

Further Reading
Jones, Douglas C. The Treaty of Medicine Lodge: The Story of the Great Council as Told by Eyewitnesses. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966; Kappler, Charles Joseph, ed. Indian Treaties, 1778–1883. New York: Interland, 1972; Berthrong, Donald, J. The Southern Cheyennes. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963; Grinnell, George Bird. The Fighting Cheyennes. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

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