Reservations – Land

Reservations – Land
© July 11, 2014, John LaBatte
Modified December 10, 2015

The Treaty of 1851 with the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands created the upper Dakota reservation. The Treaty of 1851 with the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands created the lower Dakota reservation. This essay discusses creation and modifications to these reservations.

Incorrect Statements

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

  • In exchange for most of their land…the Dakota are promised…a small area of land along the Minnesota River reserved for Dakota people only.
  • After the Dakota signed treaties…they had to move to reservations – small tracts of land they did not sell.
  • There was one 1851 treaty and one reservation.
  • In 1851…the land was ceded to the United States in return for two twenty-mile wide by seventy-mile long reservations
  • The [1851] treaty set aside a 10-mile wide strip of land on both sides of the Minnesota River as the permanent home of the Dakota.
  • [The Dakota] had been pushed into a narrow strip of reservation land…
  • The area to be set aside [in 1851] as a reservation included land from Yellow Medicine Creek to Lake Traverse.
  • [The reservation was] located on a narrow strip of land 140 miles long running ten miles wide with five miles of the width lying on each side of the Minnesota River.
  • The U. S. allowed the Dakota to keep a strip of land, ten miles on each side of the Minnesota River.
  • The U.S. moved their [Dakota] villages to a reservation – a 70-mile strip of land bordering the Minnesota River.
  • The reservation was 100 miles long and 20 miles wide.
  • The reservations were reduced to land 20 miles by 30 miles.
  • In 1858, they were confined to a narrow strip.
  • By 1861, the Dakota are forced to slivers of land along the banks of the Minnesota River
  • By 1862, the treaty and reservation system shrank the Dakota land base to a small tract of land along the Minnesota River.
  • The lower reservation eastern boundary started at Little Rock trading post.
  • The eastern boundary of this reservation was a north-south line from the Little Cottonwood River north and crossing the Minnesota River at the mouth of Little Rock Creek

Defining the reservations

The 1851 Treaty with the Sisseton and Wahpeton defined the upper reservation: “…that tract of country on either side of the Minnesota River, from the western boundary of the lands herein ceded, east, to the Tchay-tam-bay River on the north, and to Yellow Medicine River on the south side, to extend, on each side, a distance of not less than ten miles from the general course of said river; the boundaries of said tract to be marked out by as straight lines as practicable…”[1]

The 1851 Treaty with the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute defined the lower reservation: “…a tract of country of the average width of ten miles on either side of the Minnesota River, and bounded on the west by the Tchaytam-bay and Yellow Medicine Rivers, and on the east by the Little Rock River and a line running due south from its mouth to the Waraju [Big Cottonwood] River; the boundaries of said tract to be marked out by as straight lines as practicable.”[2]

The 1858 Treaty with the Sisseton and Wahpeton and the 1858 Treaty with the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute restated the 1851 definitions of the two reservations.[3]

Sizes of the reservations

In the 1858 Treaties, the U.S. paid the Dakota a second time for the parts of their reservations on the north side of the Minnesota River and asked the Dakota to vacate this land. The Office of Indian Affairs asked the General Land Office to calculate the number of acres in each reservation on the north side of the river. The General Land Office replied there were 320,000 acres in the lower reservation and 569,600 acres in the upper reservation. There are 640 acres in a square mile. These tracts of land were 10 miles wide. The lower reservation was (320,000/640/10) 50 miles long. The upper reservation was (569,600/640/10) was 89 miles long.[4]

Modifying the reservations

The upper and lower reservations defined by the 1851 Treaties were modified by the 1858 treaties when the Dakota were asked to vacate the land on the north side of the Minnesota River.

The 1851 Treaty with the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute defined the width of the lower reservation as 10 miles on either side of the Minnesota River. However, the distance to the Waraju River was only 6 1/2 miles.

In 1854, Congress discussed lowering this boundary line to the Little Cottonwood River, a total of 12 1/2 miles, but struck this from the bill. This bill was never signed by the President.[5]

In 1859, Charles Mix, Commissioner of Indians Affairs, gave instructions for the survey of the boundaries of the reservations. He lowered the eastern boundary of the lower reservation to the Little Cottonwood River. It is unclear whether or not he had the authority to make this change. This change caught a number of settlers between the Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood Rivers on the lower reservation.[6]

My Opinion

Several products give only the width of the reservations. For example: “The [1851] treaty set aside a 10-mile wide strip of land on both sides of the Minnesota River…” There were two treaties in 1851. Each treaty created a reservation. Saying the reservations were 20 miles wide and not giving the length is done intentionally to further victimize the Dakota.

The 1851 treaties created reservations that were 20 miles wide and combined 139 miles long. The 1858 treaties reduced the reservations to 10 miles wide and combined 139 miles long. These reservations were hardly “small areas of land” or “small tracts” or “narrow strips” or “slivers.” These terms are used intentionally to further victimize the Dakota.

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