1858 Treaties – Land

1858 Treaties – Land
© July 2, 2014, John LaBatte

 In 1858, there were two Dakota reservations on the upper Minnesota River. The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands were assigned to the lower reservation. The Sisseton and Wahpeton bands were assigned to the upper reservation. Each reservation was divided in half by the Minnesota River. In 1858, these Dakota bands signed 2 treaties with the U.S.: The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute signed one treaty. The Sisseton and Wahpeton signed another treaty. They were paid a second time for their reservation lands on the north side of the Minnesota River. This essay discusses the title held by these bands to this land, how many acres were involved, how much was paid per acre and the title held by these bands to their remaining reservations. 

Incorrect Statements

In my reviews, I found the following statements on these subjects to be incorrect. Duplicates have been removed.

  • In 1858, Dakota leaders on a diplomatic visit to Washington D.C. are told they did not own the reservation land.
  • In 1858, the Sisseton and Wahpeton signed a treaty that allotted their tribal lands on the Minnesota River.
  • Little Crow signed away the half of the reservation north of the Minnesota River in exchange for $25,000 to pay trader debts.
  • The 1858 Treaty took 328,000 acres north of the Minnesota River.
  • In 1857, the Dakota gave away all their land north of the Minnesota River.
  • [In 1858], in exchange for increased annuity payments, the Dakota ceded about half of their reservation land.
  • In 1858, Washington changed terms of the 1851 treaties and took half of the reservation back.
  • The northern half of the reservation was lost.
  • In 1858, the Dakota lost the north half of their reservations.
  • In 1858, this reservation was cut in half when the United States demanded and received cession of the five mile by 140 mile strip on the north shore of the river. 

1854 Congress Decision

The 1851 treaties set aside reservations for the Sisseton, Wahpeton, Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands. However, the Dakota were not given ownership of their reservations. The 1851 treaties provided funds for improvements. By 1854, Congress realized that if the Dakota were asked to leave their reservations, the money spent on improvements would be wasted. Congress passed a bill to give ownership of their reservations to these Dakota bands.[1]

What sort of title did the Dakota have to their reservation lands?

The President never signed the 1854 bill passed by Congress. In 1858, the Dakota did not own their reservations. They had no rights to this land. We cannot say they sold their land.

How many acres were involved?

In 1860, Charles Mix, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs, asked the General Land Office to compute the number of acres of the upper and lower reservations on the north side of the Minnesota River. The GLO estimated the lower reservation had 320,000 acres and the upper reservation had 569,600 acres for a total of 889,600 acres on the north side of the river.[2]

Using these figures we can determine the lengths of the reservations. There are 640 acres in a square mile. The reservations on the north side of the river were 10 miles wide. The length of the lower reservation was (320,000/640/10) 50 miles long. The length of the upper reservation was (569,600/640/10) 89 miles long. The length of the 2 reservation combined was 139 miles.

How much was paid per acre?

The 1858 treaties paid 30 cents per acre. The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute were paid (320,000 x 30 cents) $96,000. The Sisseton and Wahpeton were paid (569,600 x 30 cents) $170,880.[3]

Paid Twice!!

In the 1858 treaties, it was left for the U.S. Senate to decide: Did the Dakota Indians have title to their reservations and if they had title, how much should be paid to them. In June 1860, the Senate decided that the Dakota did possess “a just and valid right and title to said reservations and that they be allowed the sum of thirty cents per acre…” The Senate paid a total of $266,880 to the Dakota for land that the U.S. already owned. The justification for this was their decision in 1854 to give the Dakota ownership of their reservations and according to Minnesota Senator Wilkinson in 1860, “the adoption of these resolutions is absolutely necessary to the preservation of peace on the borders.”[4]

What sort of title did the Dakota have to their remaining reservations?

The Dakota were given ownership of their reservations on the south side of the Minnesota River. However, they still did not have clear title. They could only sell their land to the U.S.

My Opinion

There is a prevailing attitude today that the whites did not do any good for the Indians. Most products focus on what the whites did wrong. Very little is said on what the whites did right. I have reviewed more than 200 products related to the Dakota Indians. Not one product pointed out that the Dakota were paid twice for their reservation lands on the north side of the Minnesota River. $266,880 was a great sum of money to pay for land the U.S. already owned. Why isn’t this noteworthy?

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