Section 2: Treaties

The governor of Dakota Territory had the responsibility of representing the federal government as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the territory. Governor Newton Edmunds took a strong interest in peace treaties.

Governor Edmunds (1863-1866) served during a time of conflict. The Dakotas, or Sioux, had been attacked by the Army in 1863 and 1864. They tried to defend their homes and families by driving the newcomers out. Dakotas attacked Fort Rice and Fort Berthold in the northern part of the territory. They attacked settlers near Yankton and Elk Point. Many settlers felt they were not safe, and people who wanted to immigrate to Dakota wanted to be sure that they did not have to worry about Indian attacks.

Edmunds believed that people who disagreed could discuss their problems and come to a solution. He thought negotiations and treaties were better than war. He also knew that conflicts with American Indian tribes in Dakota Territory would prevent people from moving to the territory.

In 1863, Edmunds arranged for the Santee Dakotas (a part of the Great Sioux Nation) who had been imprisoned at Crow Creek after the Dakota War of 1862 to be moved to a reservation along the Niobrara River along the Nebraska border. While this was not ideal for the Santees who wanted to return to their homelands in Minnesota, it did give them a somewhat better situation than they had at Crow Creek. The treaty pleased settlers who wanted fewer Indians along the Missouri River.

Edmunds tried to negotiate treaties in 1865, but first he had to convince General John Pope that negotiations would work. Pope, who was in charge of all military operations in Dakota, believed that only military force would bring peace to the region. Edmunds finally convinced the Secretary of the Interior James Harlan to overrule General Pope and allow him to start negotiations.

Edmunds offered annuities (yearly payments of cash, food, and goods) in exchange for land and peaceful relationships between Dakota tribes and settlers. He believed that this was a fair exchange and that Indians would have to accept the fact that European American settlers were moving into Dakota and wanted to take Indian treaty lands. The Dakotas, mostly members of the Teton and Yanktonai bands, did not trust Edmunds because they knew he wanted to take their land. However, some members of Dakota bands signed the treaties in the summer of 1866.

The treaties of 1866 did not bring peace. The law required that treaties had to be signed by three-fourths of all adult males of the tribes. Edmunds’ treaties were signed by three-fourths of all the adult males present at the negotiations. Most of those present were already inclined toward peace. Several important leaders, including Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and their followers, did not attend the peace negotiations. The Senate never ratified Edmunds’ treaty. Senators preferred the terms in the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868 which was the most important treaty of that time. Edmunds’ mission to bring peace to Dakota failed.

Why is this important?  Though Edmunds failed to bring peace to Dakota Territory, these treaties did make steamboat traffic on the Missouri River and settlers’ villages safer. Edmunds also established some Indian agencies along the Missouri River where the tribes that signed the treaties could receive their annuities and talk with an agent. Treaty-making was the responsibility and privilege of the federal government. Even though Edmunds represented the federal government, he did not have the authority to make a treaty. Two years later, the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie guaranteed the Black Hills in western Dakota Territory to the Dakotas as well as the right to hunt on land west of the Missouri. It was an attempt to bring peace to Dakota Territory, but this treaty was bound to fail when gold was discovered in the Black Hills.

SHSND MSS 30076 and Governor’s Files