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October 20: The Treaties of October 1865

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In 1854, white settlers were beginning to travel through present-day North Dakota. As a result, whites and Lakota Bands began clashing. Before then, the Lakota Nation was divided into many factions, but this conflict brought them together by the 1860s. They later divided again over internal conflicts.

Some of the Lakota thought they should seek peace, while others believed war was necessary. As a result, there were many treaties signed between various Lakota Bands and the U.S. government. However, the colonizing newcomers often violated the terms of the treaties, causing further conflict. For instance, the Yanktons signed a treaty in 1858 that promised a school, money, and a blacksmith shop. A group of white men called the Upper Missouri Doolittle Delegation went to the Yankton reservation seven years later and were met with a volley of complaints from Chief Struck-By-The-Ree. He said when the Yanktons receive anything from the whites, “it is given as you would throw it to a hog.” The commissioners acknowledged the Yanktons position, stating in their report that their condition was, “disgraceful to the government and ruinous to the material interests of this well-disposed band.” The report was so heinous it swung the pendulum of public opinion in favor of the Native Americans.

The commissioners created another treaty that they brought to other bands. It made the bands subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, meaning they must cease all hostilities and prevent other bands from doing so as well. In return, the government would provide $30 for every lodge on the reservation for 20 years. Once there were 20 lodges, they would receive an additional $25 per lodge for tools and farming supplies. At 100 lodges, the government would pay a farmer and blacksmith to teach their skills. On October 10th, 1865, the Miniconjou signed the treaty, and on this date, the San Arc, Sihasapa, and the Hunkpapa also signed. The Yankton signed on October 28.

Unfortunately, there are strong indications that they signed unwillingly. Written treaties were not part of Indigenous culture. It’s recorded that one Miniconjou man, Lame Deer, wondered why discussing the issues was not enough. Newspaper dispatches from Fort Sully describe the Native Americans signing with unease, and careful readings of transcripts indicate that many signed not because they agreed with the requirements, but as a testament to their own words.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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