Reservations – Surveys

Reservations – Surveys
© August 2, 2014, John LaBatte

 By 1859, there had been 3 U.S. surveys of the Minnesota Dakota reservations:

     1. Beginning in 1854, township lines
     2. Beginning in 1854, township interior lines and meanderings of the rivers
     3. In 1859, boundary lines of the reservations on the south side of the Minnesota River

Incorrect Statements

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

  • 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.
  • In 1858 surveyors marked out the boundaries of the reservation. When the surveyors drew the north-south boundary, the mouth of the Rock Creek was about 700 yards east of where it is today.
  • In Milford: They began to settle on the reservation and when the Indians complained, the federal government just redrew the boundary line without the consent of the Indians. 

1851 and 1858 Treaties

The 1851 Treaty with the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands established the upper Dakota reservation. The 1851 Treaty with the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands established the lower Dakota reservation. Each reservation was divided in half by the Minnesota River. The reservations were adjacent to each other. In the 1858 Treaties, these bands were asked to vacate their reservation lands on the north side of the Minnesota River. 

1854 U.S. Survey

Land was surveyed into townships, 6 miles square. Each township is identified by a township and range number. Each normal township has 36 1-mile-square sections. However, due to the curvature of the earth, some sections were not 1 mile wide. The mouth of the Little Rock River is located in a section that is 1 1/2 miles wide. 

By 1854, the U.S. began surveying the Dakota reservations and the public land around the reservations. Reservation land was surveyed in the same manner as public land. First the exterior lines of the townships were surveyed. Then the interior lines and meanderings of the rivers were surveyed. In some cases these two surveys were done the same year, while in other cases these two surveys were years apart. 

Refer to http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/ for information on the U.S. Government surveys.

The 1854 (and later) survey plats show the boundary lines of the lower and upper Dakota reservations on the south side of the Minnesota River. However, these boundary lines were not surveyed until 1859. They were then transposed to the earlier survey plats. 

Where are the boundaries of the reservations?

White settlers began to move into this area. They did not know where the boundaries of the reservations were. On January 18, 1855, Senator Henry Rice wrote to George Manypenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, “The whites are settling around it [reservation] very rapidly – and unless the lines are defined much difficulty may ensue.”[1]

 Where is the Little Rock River?

A map from Joseph Nicollet’s 1838 expedition shows a river identified as the Little Rock River. The 1851 Treaty with the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute used the Nicollet map to define the eastern boundary of the lower reservation: “…bounded…on the east by the Little Rock River and a line running due south from its mouth to the Waraju [Big Cottonwood] River…”[2]

But, the question was often asked, “Where is the Little Rock River?” Joseph LaFramboise, Sr., the lead scout for Nicollet’s 1838 expedition, had a fur trade post at Little Rock on the Minnesota River about 5 miles east of Fort Ridgely. LaFramboise insisted that the river by Fort Ridgely was the Little Rock River. On early Fort Ridgely military reservation maps, this river was called Rock Creek and Little Rock River. It is called Fort Ridgely Creek today.

A U.S. surveyor determined that the mouth of the Little Rock River was about 6 miles east of Fort Ridgely. It is uncertain when this was determined. It is uncertain when the flow of the Little Rock River was drawn in on the 1854 Survey plats. The mouth of the Little Rock River (Little Rock Creek today) on the 1854 Survey was about 800 yards to the east of where it is today.

In February 1859, Thomas A. Hendricks, Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office wrote to J. W. Denver, Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He enclosed a diagram and asked, “…which of the two lines…approach the nearest within the meaning…of the Treaties and thus protect the rights of the Reserves…” One line is drawn from the mouth of the Little Rock River, shown on the 1854 U.S. Survey, south 6 1/2 miles to the Big Cottonwood River. The 2nd line is drawn south from what appears to be the mouth of the Little Rock River today, 12 1/2 miles south to the Little Cottonwood River. This 2nd line may have represented the western boundary of present day Milford Township.[3]

On February 24, 1859, a letter from J. W. Denver, Commissioner of Indian Affairs was forwarded to the Surveyor General asking him to determine the flow of the Little Rock River.[4]

Water does not flow uphill

Refer to the 1854 survey of Minnesota Township 111, Range 31 on the General Land Office Website given above. If the flow of the Little Rock River as shown on this survey plat is plotted on a present day topography map, it can be seen that the Little Rock River would have to flow to a higher elevation of more than 100 feet to complete its course to the Minnesota River. The course of the Little Rock River was incorrectly drawn on the 1854 survey plat.

1859 U.S. Survey

In 1852, President Fillmore said the Dakota could stay on their reservations for 5 years. Reservation boundaries probably were not surveyed for this reason. The 1858 Treaties gave the Dakota ownership of their reservation lands on the south side of the Minnesota River.

In the spring of 1859, Francis Baasen, Minnesota Secretary of State, informed the public, “…we must therefore wait for the public surveying until the fact is determined which river is actually [Little] Rock River…the border of the reservation will not be moved more easterly than the creek on which the upper sawmill is located, but hopefully more westerly.”[5] The creek mentioned by Baasen is present day Milford Creek whose mouth is located nearly on the western township line of Milford Township.

In mid-summer, 1859, the U.S. surveyed the boundaries of the reservations on the south side of the Minnesota River. Charles Mix, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, gave instructions to surveyors Snow and Hutton for the eastern boundary of the lower reservation: “…commencing at the mouth of the Little Rock river; thence due South to the Little Waraju river…”[6]

The 1851 Treaties defined the southern and northern boundaries of the reservations as a line 10 miles out on each side of the Minnesota River. The U.S. used natural landmarks such as lakes and rivers to define turning points of the reservations. The Big Cottonwood River was 6 1/2 miles south of the mouth of the Little Rock River. Because the Big Cottonwood River turning point fell inside 10 miles, there was discussion to lower the turning point another 6 miles to the Little Cottonwood River. It is uncertain that this was ever approved by the U.S. Senate.

It is difficult to imagine what how settlers felt in mid-summer, 1859, when they saw surveyors mark the lower reservation eastern boundary line about 800 yards east of where Baasen said it would be. The settlers between the Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood Rivers faced the same problem. Their homes were now on the reservation.

A second survey of these boundaries lines was done in March 1860, to check the first survey. The Surveyor General approved the boundary lines on April 30, 1860.

My Opinion

Due to the incorrect course of the Little Rock River drawn on the 1854 U.S. Survey Plat, we cannot say where the mouth of the Little Rock River was. Secretary of State Bassen said the line would not fall east of present day Milford Creek. I believe that the mouth of Little Rock River in 1859 is the same as it is today. It is called Little Rock Creek on present day maps.

One rumor today states the U.S. shifted the eastern boundary of the lower reservation to the west in favor of settlers who had settled on the lower reservation. I cannot find the source of this statement nor can I find that the U.S. moved this line to the west.

In fact, the eastern boundary moved to the east about 6 miles from where Joseph LaFramboise said it was. In 1859, Charles Mix moved the southern point of the eastern line from the Big Cottonwood River south 6 miles to the Little Cottonwood River. It is unclear that Mix had the approval of the U.S. Senate to do this. I believe if not for the Civil War and Dakota War, there would have been more debate over this eastern Dakota reservation line.

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