White Man's Paper Trail: Grand Councils and Treaty-Making on the Central Plains


White Man's Paper Trail presents a poignant history of the U.S. government's attempts to peacefully negotiate treaties with tribes in Arkansas, the Dakotas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming.
Stan Hoig shows how treaty-making - once considered a viable method of peaceably resolving conflicts - degenerated into a deeply flawed system sullied by political deceptions and broken promises.

White Man's Paper Trail illuminates the pivotal...

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White Man's Paper Trail presents a poignant history of the U.S. government's attempts to peacefully negotiate treaties with tribes in Arkansas, the Dakotas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming.
Stan Hoig shows how treaty-making - once considered a viable method of peaceably resolving conflicts - degenerated into a deeply flawed system sullied by political deceptions and broken promises.

White Man's Paper Trail illuminates the pivotal role of treaty negotiations in the buildup to the Plains Indian wars, in American Indians' loss of land and self-determination, and in Euro-American westward expansion.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Stan Hoig's extensive research spans about 40 years and is revealed in more than a dozen books on Indian history. This new effort is among his best. Hoig expertly takes the reader through the procedures of Indian treaties, peace negotiations, or lack of,

"For the reader interested in the history of how the United States treated American Indians from 1800-71, Hoig presents a clear picture of many of the events that led to the writing of treaties. . . . [An] essential research tool for students, historians,

"With his new publication, Stan Hoig proves once again that he is a master of his subject matter. Readers will feel confident that they are in the competent hands of a reliable scholar who avoids pedantry and polemics and who writes with a clear, eminentl

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780870819056
  • Publisher: University Press of Colorado
  • Publication date: 9/28/2008
  • Edition description: New
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Stan Hoig was professor emeritus at the University of Central Oklahoma, an award-winning journalist and author of more than twenty books.

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Read an Excerpt

White Man's Paper Trail

By Stan Hoig


Copyright © 2006 University Press of Colorado
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87081-905-6

Chapter One

U.S. Indian Treaties: An Essay

The winds of fifty-five winters have not blown my brains away. —CHIPPEWA CHIEF

The British system of making formal treaties with the Indian tribes became the model for Colonial America. Incapable of protecting their early settlements militarily, the British Crown and its colonial governments sought to work out agreements leading to peaceful relations and friendly trade. A cost was always involved for the tribal native: the land on which he resided and hunted. For nearly a century, U.S. administrative officials followed a similar approach of instigating pacts with Indian tribes, considering the tribes as independent nations that legally possessed certain defined territories. "The United States were clearly the stronger party in every such case," Indian commissioner Francis A. Walker noted, "but the Indians were, in the great body of instances, still so formidable, that to wrest their lands from them by pure, brutal violence would have required an exertion of strength which the government was ill-prepared to make." Gradually, as the military and economic strength of the United States grew, the benevolence of this concept came into question. Even church humanitarians began to challenge the accepted policy of treaty making. Bishop Henry B. Whipple wrote:

We recognize a wandering tribe as an independent and sovereign nation. We send ambassadors to make a treaty as with our equals, knowing that every provision of the treaty will be our own, that those with whom we make it cannot compel us to observe it, that they are to live within our territory, yet [are] not subject to our laws, that they have no government of their own, and are to receive none from us; in a word, we treat as an independent nation a people whom we will not permit to exercise one single element of that sovereign power which is necessary to a nation's existence.

Fellow churchman Felix Brunot concurred and concluded that often, when the United States entered into the intractable obligation of a treaty, "the fact of its non-performance becomes the occasion of disgraceful and expensive war to subdue their victims to the point of submission to another treaty. And so the tragedy of war and the farce of treaty have been enacted again and again, each time with increasing shame to the nation." In their Documents of American Indian Diplomacy, Vine Deloria Jr. and Raymond J. DeMallie explain how U.S. Indian treaties were developed:

In almost every instance in which treaties and agreements were made, Congress authorized a commission to be sent to a specific tribe or group of tribes to seek certain concessions and sales of particular lands, to establish peace on the frontiers, or even to settle intertribal quarrels. Sometimes the secretary of war (or later the secretary of the interior), the commissioner of Indian affairs, or federal territorial officials would request that the president ask Congress to authorize a treaty commission. Congress would respond and appropriate a fund that the president could use to support commissioners in their efforts to negotiate a treaty. Often specific limitations were placed on the kinds of expenditures that could be made.

Treaty councils conducted with the Indian tribes of the Plains involved a unique intermingling of disassociated cultures and personalities of widely varied backgrounds who were, for the moment, brought together under the call of peace. In truth, however, "peace" was largely a pseudo-cliché used to disguise other agendas. The government sought to extend U.S. influence and autonomy over tribal lands for right of passage, trade, and—as inevitably happened—white settlement. Tribal leaders saw the peace council in an opposite sense politically. To them, treaties offered a means of restricting outside influence over the lives of their people and, at the same time, a way to secure subsistence in an environment where the white man was threatening their traditional food supply.

For tribal members, the early treaty councils were often grand, colorful events much like county fairs. There the various bands could gather, meet old friends and even tribal enemies, sing and dance, flaunt themselves and their horses, conduct courtships, exchange presents, and—as was usually enticingly promised—receive gifts from the world of the white man. Foodstuff and other manufactured products constituted a potent magnet that drew tribal people forth from their native haunts and made them prey to other, often fallacious promises of protection and subsistence.

But as the tribes came to exercise less and less military and political power, as tribespeople became more and more starved (a word not used lightly), as their freedom of range constricted, and as their very tribal existence became direly threatened, the treaty council was much less celebratory. The hungry bands came to sign the white man's paper, collect their presents, and hurry back to their retreats.

Formal peace councils and treaty signings were vital elements of U.S. relations with the Indian tribes of America, bearing enormous effect upon both the course of the new nation and the lives of native people. In truth, the treaties created a backdrop for the drama of the Anglo-American advance across the North American continent, providing a legalistic and, by any consideration, moralistic screen against which the Indian wars were conducted. Few events of our Indian-related history—the opening of trade routes through Indian country, the establishment of forts and agencies, white settlement of Indian lands, the use of military force—can be rightly considered without reference to the treaty councils and the agreements thereupon entered into. These affairs, wherein U.S. peace commissioners persuaded chiefs of various tribes to sign formal pacts, bear directly upon the modern, breast-beating claim of "how the West was won."

Without exception, it was the United States that initiated treaties with the Indians, generally with ulterior motives that went well beyond mere peaceful relations. Most U.S. Indian treaties fall into one of four categories: (1) Military Support Treaties, initiated for the purpose of gaining fighting assistance in time of war; (2) Right of Passage Treaties, which sought acquiescence and protection from Indian tribes for white traders, explorers, immigrants, and others passing through Indian lands; (3) Assignment of Territory Treaties, effected generally to isolate Indian groups from the white population or to remove them to distant areas; and (4) Restriction of Territory Treaties that resulted as white citizens demanded areas to which the Indians had been reassigned.

After Congress curtailed formal treaty making in 1871, the United States turned to enacting legal contracts with the Indian tribes that were called "Agreements." The Railroad Right-of-Way Agreement gave access to railroad construction across Indian reservations and served as a principal instrument in fulfilling the concept of a national Manifest Destiny. Railroads, in fact, accelerated the spread of whites across the Plains far beyond the speed achieved by covered wagons, creating depots or stations that soon became white town sites surrounded by ranches and farms.

Confiscation of Territory Agreements sounded the death knell to traditional tribal life by inducing tribal members to accept individual land allotments that severely disrupted and often destroyed their normal methods of self-governance.

During the early years of its existence, the United States of America was concerned with the native tribes located within its original Atlantic seaboard states. Generally, the newly formed nation followed the British pattern of holding grand councils and distributing presents—usually beads and trinkets—to work out formal pacts with the tribes. The essential issues at first were Indian support for military action against England, development of commerce, and safe passage for white traders who entered Indian lands. As settlers pushed ever forward onto tribal domains, the primary concern became protection for frontier settlements. Ever present was the white man's desire to occupy more and more Indian land.

The idea of removing the eastern tribes to beyond the Mississippi River emerged at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Madison's secretary of war, James Barbour, looked to pledge in "most solemn faith that it [the Western lands] shall be theirs forever." Such was often promised either orally or by formal pact. Eventually, the United States sought treaty agreements to remove the Indians from white-invaded territory. Pacts were initiated whereby many northeastern tribes were removed to the Midwest and, eventually, on beyond the Mississippi River. Lands of the southern tribes—the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles—were reduced gradually by a series of treaties that followed military actions against them. Ultimately, these tribes were removed to the designated "Indian Territory" of present Oklahoma through the determined efforts of presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.

The original pattern of the Indian peace council involved a combination of English formality and native tradition. Representatives of the Crown sought to work out agreements and place them in writing with the validation of responsible signatories. In doing so, they found it convenient to utilize Indian protocol common to virtually all of the American tribes. This included the council circle, the ritual of smoking the calumet, exchange of gifts, oratory, and the presentation of peace symbols. A string or belt of white beads or shells known as "wampum" was commonly used by the eastern tribes. When a tribe gathered at an assigned locale, the chiefs and headmen would solemnly seat themselves cross-legged in a semicircle on the ground before the white representatives. A sacred calumet was passed around to all assembled to puff as a token of their willingness to meet in peace. The head commissioner would then address the gathering. On occasion a message would be delivered from the head of state, such as that from King George III read at a meeting with the Catawba Indians of Virginia in February 1756 to enlist their help against the French.

Our common father, the Great King of England, has been pleased to direct your Brother, the Governor of Virginia, to send Commissioners hither, to assure you of his Affection, and to present you with as many Goods in Token thereof as it was convenient to send so far, at this Season of the Year. It was his Pleasure to appoint us to that charge, and at the same Time, to direct us to deliver you a Speech in his Name, with a belt of Wampum, which we are now ready to do, and hope you will be attentive thereto.

The art of group discussion and debate was well developed among native peoples even before the influence of Europeans. The Cherokees maintained large council houses, some holding up to 500 people, and conducted regular sessions of governance. Moreover, they and other tribes traditionally designated a qualified person as their titled speaker. In 1785, Nancy Ward, the famous Cherokee war-woman and tribal leader, addressed U.S. peace commissioners (who had come to make peace—and obtain land) at Hopewell, South Carolina:

I am fond of hearing that there is a peace, and I hope you have now taken us by the hand in real friendship. I have a pipe and a little tobacco to give the commissioners to smoke in friendship. I look on you, and the red people as my children. Your having determined on peace is most pleasing to me, for I have seen much trouble during the late war. I am old, but I hope yet to bear children, who will grow up and people our nation, as we are now to be under the protection of Congress, and shall have no more disturbances. [She then presented a string, a little pipe, and some tobacco to the commissioners.] The talk I have given, is from the young warriors I have raised in my town, as well as myself. They rejoice that we have peace, and we hope the chain of friendship will never more be broke.

In dealing with Indian tribes, white commissioners generally initiated the talks by declaring the Indians' love of the "Great Father" and his people and their desire for peace and friendship. They would then outline their wishes or demands upon the tribe and the rewards that were promised in return.

Prominent chiefs responded in-kind with a welcoming talk. Many of their speeches as recorded by commission secretaries are heartfelt addresses drawing on symbols (often aped by white commissioners) from the natural world about them. In truth, many Indian leaders were great orators, an outstanding attribute of the American native revealing of his intellect. A Colonial journal, published in 1760, wrote of this communicative ability:

Here it is that their orators employ, and display those talents which distinguish them for eloquence and knowledge of public business, in both of which some of them are admirable.... The chief skill of these orators [lies] in giving an artful turn to affairs, and in expressing their thoughts in a bold figurative manner, much stronger than we could bear in this part of the world, and with gestures equally violent, but often extremely natural and expressive.

At the Treaty of Long Island, Tennessee, in 1877, wise old Cherokee chief Corn Tassel, an uncle of the renowned Sequoyah, lectured the commissioners on how the "great God of Nature" had placed the Indian and the white man in different situations:

He has endowed you with many superior advantages; but he has not created us to be your slaves. We are a separate people! He has given each their lands, under distinct considerations and circumstances; he has stocked yours with cows, ours with buffaloe; yours with hogs, ours with bear; yours with sheep, ours with deer. He has, indeed, given you an advantage in this, that your cattle are tame and domestic while ours are wild and demand not only a larger space for range, but art [skill] to hunt and kill them.... Indeed much has been advanced on the want of what you term civilization among the Indians; and many proposals have been made to us to adopt your laws, your religion, your manners and your customs. But, we confess that we do not yet see the propriety, or practicability of such a reformation, and should be better pleased with beholding the good effect of these doctrines in your own practices than with hearing you talk about them.

Following the opening formalities of a council, chiefs normally retired to consult among themselves on the issues raised by the commissioners. Their views and arguments would be presented in forthcoming meetings. When verbal agreements had been reached, a treaty document was read and interpreted before being laid out on a table. By importance of rank, each chief then stepped forward, took the prepared quill pen in hand, and made an "x" where a commission aide indicated the chief's name was to be. The document might list both the chief's tribal name (as interpreted) and the English translation of it, or only one or the other.

When the signing had been completed, the distribution of presents—purposely withheld pending acceptance of the treaty stipulations—occurred. For the often impoverished tribes, this was a much anticipated event. Once the goods had been divided, the women quickly loaded their take aboard packhorses and broke camp. The assemblage then dissolved, ending the treaty council. On many occasions, in returning home or to Washington, D.C., the commissioners took with them a delegation of chiefs or headmen and at times their wives, whom they wished to impress with the magnitude and power of the white people.

Such visits to the white man's cities—particularly Washington but sometimes Philadelphia, Boston, or New York City—were a significant part of official U.S. strategy in influencing tribal leaders and enhancing their treaty commitments. Tours of the U.S. Capitol, the White House, army posts, shipyards, and other government institutions were designed to awe them with the U.S. military might. Visits to museums, theaters, marketplaces, and residential areas revealed a higher civilization and manner of livelihood that, it was thought, would cause the chiefs to return home and convince their people to alter their modes of existence and be less resistive to U.S. interests. Indeed, the visiting delegations were impressed, even though they were inevitably discomforted by the long, painful journeys and by being removed from their natural habitat. A number of such Indian delegates, in fact, died while in Washington, D.C., and are buried in the Congressional Cemetery.


Excerpted from White Man's Paper Trail by Stan Hoig Copyright © 2006 by University Press of Colorado. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY PRESS OF COLORADO. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations....................ix
CHAPTER 1 U.S. Indian Treaties: An Essay....................1
CHAPTER 2 The Early Friendship Pacts....................14
CHAPTER 3 A Pathway to the Plains....................27
CHAPTER 4 Probing the Buffalo Prairie....................34
CHAPTER 5 Council on the Canadian....................47
CHAPTER 6 Sam Houston and the Indians....................57
CHAPTER 7 Expelling the Texas Tribes....................69
CHAPTER 8 Fort Laramie and the Road West....................85
CHAPTER 9 Protecting the Santa Fe Trade....................97
CHAPTER 10 For Colorado Gold....................106
CHAPTER 11 Redefining Indian Territory....................115
CHAPTER 12 The Cheyenne Resistance....................124
CHAPTER 13 War and Peace on the Platte....................133
CHAPTER 14 A "Manifest Falsehood"....................143
CHAPTER 15 Red Cloud's Demand....................154
CHAPTER 16 By a Sweep of the Sword....................164
CHAPTER 17 And the Stroke of a Pen....................172
CHAPTER 18 Conclusion: A Racial Parallel....................181
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