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

In the spring of 1868 a conference was held at Fort Laramie, in present day Wyoming, that resulted in the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868).Concluded on April 29, 1868, this treaty was to bring peace between the whites and the Sioux who agreed to settle within the Black Hills reservation in the Dakota Territory.

The United States Indian Peace Commission, comprising military officers, ministers, and civilian reformers, formed in 1867 to end hostilities and accelerate the "concentration" and "domestication" of Native Americans on reservations through a reborn civilization program. The Peace Commission first negotiated treaties with Native American nations of the southern Plains before turning its attention to those of the northern Plains, in particular the Sioux, who remained intent on defending their territory against settlers on the Bozeman Trail and against hordes of white hunters who slaughtered buffalo herds from railroad cars. In late April 1868, after agreeing to the demands of the great Sioux leader Red Cloud that the United States abandon its forts on the Bozeman Trail, the Peace Commission gathered with Red Cloud and other Sioux chiefs to negotiate a major treaty at Fort Laramie in an effort to end the so-called Red Cloud War.

Under the terms of this treaty, war was to cease, peace was to be kept, and offenders against the tribe or against whites were to be arrested and punished. Damages were to be decided by the commissioner of Indian affairs. Other concerns of the treaty were reservation boundaries, persons allowed to enter or reside thereon, land selection, additional land for farming, surveys, patents and citizenship, and certificates issued and recorded in the Sioux Land-Book. Additionally, right-of-way was granted for the building of roads, railroads, and military posts. The United States was to supply an agent's residence and office, a schoolhouse, teachers, seeds, agricultural implements, farming instruction, a second blacksmith, a physician, and a farmer. Delivery of goods in lieu of money or other annuities was allowed. An annual census was to be taken each year, and appropriations were to continue for thirty years. An army officer was to attest to all delivery of goods. The reservation was to be a permanent home of the tribes, and no treaty for cession of reservation land would be valid unless three-fourths of all adult males of the tribe agreed. The United States agreed that the country north of the North Platte River and east of the summits of the Bighorn Mountains would be unceded Indian territory and agreed that no white person or persons would be allowed to settle upon or occupy any portion of that land without permission of the tribes. This treaty released the United States from obligations made in previous treaties to furnish money, goods, or land.

The most important of these provisions confirmed that the United States would abandon its forts in Sioux territory, granted to the Sioux the "Great Sioux Reservation" in present-day South Dakota, and guaranteed access to and hunting rights in "unceded Indian territory" adjacent to the reservation, which included the Black Hills. In addition, the annuities to the Sioux were for the purpose of expanding the civilization program and remaking the Sioux in the image of the Christian yeoman farmer. For example, Article 7 read as follows: "In order to insure the civilization of the Indians . . ., the necessity of education is admitted . . ., and [the Sioux] therefore pledge themselves to compel their children, male and female . . . to attend school." Thus, the treaty laid the foundation of a program of coercive assimilation that would cause great social and cultural trauma for the Sioux, even as it sowed the seeds of future military conflict over the status of the Black Hills, considered sacred ground to the Sioux. The treaty, in short, failed to produce peace. And the United States failed to uphold its honor to maintain it.

The treaty was signed by Commissioners William T. Sherman, William S. Harney, Alfred H. Terry, C. C. Augur, J. B. Henderson, Nathaniel G. Taylor, John B. Sanborn, and Samuel F. Tappan for the United States; by 25 chiefs and headmen of the Brule, Oglala, Miniconjou, Yanktonai, Hunkpapa, Blackfeet, Cuthead, Two-Kettle, Sans Arcs, and Santee bands of the Sioux Nation; and by 26 representatives of the Arapaho Nation.

John P. Bowes

Further Reading
Nadeau, Remi. Fort Laramie and the Sioux. Santa Barbara, CA: Crest, 1997; Ostler, Jeffrey. The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism from Lewis and Clark to Wounded Knee. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004; Robinson, W. Stitt. Early American Indian Documents: Treaties and Laws, 1607–1789. Vol. 5, Virginia Treaties, 1723–1775. Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1987.

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