Treaties – Stolen Land?

Stolen Land?
© January 21, 2015, John LaBatte

One of the worst methods of producing a product on the Dakota War of 1862 is to interview a group of people and then publish statements from the interviews. Many incorrect statements are made during these interviews. The producer edits and publishes what is said and takes no responsibility for the accuracy of what they publish.

Statements that suggest land was stolen from the Dakota Indians and never paid for are incorrect. Very few products mention that later payments were made to the Dakota and their descendants for land and annuities taken in 1863.

Incorrect Statements

I have reviewed more than 200 products related to the Dakota War of 1862. I found the following statements in these products to be incorrect. Many duplicates have been removed.

  • They [United States] never paid for it; never paid a cent for all the vast territory.
  • We never got the money that was owed to us for the land sales.
  • The U.S. abrogated all of its treaties with the Dakota and seized the remaining ten-mile wide strip of the Sioux Reservation. The Dakota got nothing for their land.
  • Minnesota citizens stole 54,000,000 acres from the Indians.
  • The U.S. committed massive land theft – about 54 million acres within the ancient homelands of the Dakota
  • In Minnesota, as in other parts of the country, white settlers stole the Indian people’s land, under the cover of laws.
  • The settlers cheated or swindled the Dakota People out of the land, or stole the land through treaties (some 24 million acres in southern Minnesota), which was legalized land theft.   
  • By 1862, the Dakota lost most of their land in Minnesota through treaties…
  • 1826 was the start of the treaty making period…where the U.S. used treaties to take land from the 2 tribes
  • The whites stole our land and it is time to pay. It is wrong to steal a country and deny it. And to not pay for it is criminal.
  • The U.S. would not pay the full amount promised by the treaties.
  • The Dakota got pennies for their land.
  • We received a pittance for the land a century later.   
  • The government never intended to pay us the full amount; they would pay us interest for 50 years.
  • The U.S. never intended to keep their promises.
  • The Land grab is just the tip of the iceberg…
  • The treaties were voided. Some of the money that was revoked was paid in reparations to the settlers.
  • The annuities due the Dakota under the treaties of 1851 were reallocated to the immigrant settler refugees thus depriving the Dakota of an important source of means for their maintaining their communities
  • Not only have settlers profited, but they have actively persecuted the native people. The citizens of Minnesota work and live on land that was swindled or forcible taken from American Indians.
  • Land was founded by forcefully depriving people of their freedom. If Minnesota wants to move a step forward, non-natives would have to be prepared to face the guilt. Settlers made a good living farming the land they took from Ojibwe and Dakota people and continue doing so today. Meanwhile, Native Americans were exiled and sent to barren reservations.
  • When one grasps the extent of the conspiracy to remove the Dakota from our beloved homeland – a design that would make some individuals wealthy, some powerful, and thousands of white settlers landowners – the blame and shame does not rest on the Dakota. It rests on the United States government. It rests on all those who became Minnesotans as it was heading towards statehood.
  • Minnesotans were willing to perpetrate the most heinous acts in human history to acquire Dakota homeland–and they were successful!
  • The broken treaties were yet another weapon used to take land and although the US signed over four hundred treaties and agreements with Indian tribes, not one was ever honored.
  • Treaty promises, however, were rarely kept by the government. Indigenous people have endured centuries of inconsistent and unfair policies.
  • The treaties are still valid – The U.S. needs to honor these treaties.
  • The U.S. is suffering because they made so many mistakes.

The Loss of Land

 I use the word Dakota to be the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton bands. I have normalized the various spellings of Dakota, Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton.

By treaties in 1805, 1825, 1830, 1837, 1851 and 1858, the Dakota Indians sold all of their land in northern Iowa, most of their land in Minnesota and some of their land in eastern Dakota Territory. By 1862, the Dakota owned two reservations along the south side of the Minnesota starting just west of New Ulm and extending upriver 139 land miles. The Sisseton and Wahpeton claimed additional land in Dakota Territory.

In 1862, 100-150 men of a Lower Dakota Soldiers’ Lodge declared war on the United States. Others joined them. Others were forced to join them. The majority did not want war.

As a result of the Dakota War of 1862, two Acts were passed in 1863:

“An Act for the Relief of Persons for Damages sustained by Reason of Depredations and Injuries by certain Bands of Sioux Indians” was passed on February 16. This later became known as the “Forfeiture Act.” All treaties between the United States and the Dakota Indians were abrogated. Any further benefits under these treaties were denied including the right to reservations in Minnesota.

“An Act for the Removal of the Sisseton, Wahpeton, Mdewakanton and Wahpekute Bands of Sioux or Dakota Indians and for the disposition of their Lands in Minnesota and Dakota” was passed on March 3. This later became known as the “Removal Act.” Most of the Dakota Indians were removed from the state of Minnesota. Eighty acres of land were to be provided for each member. The proceeds from the sale of their reservations should be invested for their benefit.

The Rest of the Story

Most narratives of this history end with these two acts and the subsequent actions by the United States in 1863. By not going beyond 1863, the conclusion is that the U.S. never paid for the land and annuities taken in 1863. Here is the rest of the story.

1868 Treaty at Fort Laramie, Wyoming

On April 29, the United States signed a treaty with delegates from 10 Sioux bands including the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute. The Sisseton and Wahpeton were not included. This treaty was the result of an act of Congress passed on July 20, 1867, entitled “An Act to Establish Peace with Certain Hostile Indian Tribes.” It was a civilization treaty as well as a peace treaty. No land was purchased. No annuities were paid.

The bands agreed to keep the peace. They were to stay quietly on a great reservation covering all present South Dakota west of the Missouri River. They were to stop all opposition to the building of railroads on the plains.

The United States agreed to supply provisions, clothing, cattle, farming implements, seeds, and some money; to employ an agent, a physician, blacksmiths, a carpenter, an engineer, a miller, and a farmer, schoolhouses and teachers. By 1917, the United States had dispensed about 60 million dollars including almost 2 million dollars to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute.

1891 Payment to the Scouts

By the Treaty at Traverse des Sioux on July 23, 1851, the Sisseton and Wahpeton were to receive annuity payments for 50 years. The Forfeiture Act of February 16, 1863, cancelled these annuities.

In 1891, Congress recognized the contributions of the Sisseton and Wahpeton scouts by paying them, or if deceased, their families, the amount by the Treaty at Traverse des Sioux, which they had been deprived of by the Forfeiture Act.

In 1891, the scouts made up 25% percent of the Sisseton and Wahpeton population. Money related to their annuities appropriated to the Sisseton and Wahpeton by the United States after the Forfeiture Act, was deducted from the award to the scouts on a pro rata basis. The net award was $342,778.37.

In addition, the United States restored the remainder of their annuity payments to July 1, 1901. In 1893, money was appropriated not only for the Sisseton and Wahpeton scouts but also for the Mdewakanton and Wahpeton scouts and their families. This included scouts and families who lived on and off the reservations. More money was appropriated in 1895, when the balance remaining was paid.

In 1906, it was determined that a total of $616,370.59 had been paid to the Sisseton and Wahpeton scouts and their families.

1901 Sisseton and Wahpeton versus United States

In 1901, the Sisseton and Wahpeton filed a petition against the United States for annuities taken by the Forfeiture Act in 1863. They claimed and provided testimony that they did not participate in the Dakota War of 1862. The decision was made on January 18, 1904: “A careful analysis of the whole evidence of the case, however, compels us to say that all of the responsible members of the bands in question at some time during the perpetration of the outrages in one way or another aided, abetted, assisted, or encouraged therein…if they did not actually participate therein.” The petition was dismissed.

1906 Decision

Although it failed, the 1901 Sisseton and Wahpeton claim was taken up by Congress in 1906. In 1906, the Indian appropriations bill included money for the relief of the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands. Congress members decided: “There had been an outbreak of Sioux Indians in which these bands as a whole had had no part. Only a few young men who had got beyond control of their loyal chiefs were guilty of deprecations. Nevertheless, Congress confiscated the whole unpaid annuities of the band.”

The total due was offset by $616,370.59 paid to the scouts and by other related moneys. In 1908, Congress ordered a judgment of $788,971.53 in favor of the Sisseton and Wahpeton.

1922 Decision

Those Mdewakanton and Wahpekute who moved to the Santee Reservation in Nebraska later became known as the Santee. In 1884, the Santee decided to seek payment of their annuities denied by the Forfeiture Act in 1863. Of the active participants in the Dakota War, 38 were hanged in Mankato and 300 imprisoned in Davenport and a large number fled to Canada.

Finally, in 1917, Congress conferred jurisdiction to the Court of Claims to hear, determine, and render final judgment for money due the Santee as if the Forfeiture Act of February 16, 1863 had not been passed.

On June 5, 1922, the Court of Claims decided that a total of $4,642,750 was due. Less offsets of $4,256,152.11. Net due was $386,597.89. Included in the offsets was $1,903,023.22 for benefits the Santee received from the April 29, 1868 Treaty at Fort Laramie up to 1917.

The payment was made during the winter of 1924 to about 2,700 claimants.

1946 U.S. Indian Claims Commission

Tribal claims for money damages had been filed in the Court of Claims for various reasons. By 1946, nearly 200 claims had been filed. The Court of Claims had awarded damages on only 29 of these claims.

The tribes and the federal government concluded that the great bulk of Indian claims had not been resolved. Hence, the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946, created the short-lived Indian Claims Commission to resolve tribal claims against the United States.

A total of 370 petitions and complaints were filed under the Indian Claims Commission Act. These were separated into 617 dockets. The last case was filed in October 2006. Any unresolved claims were transferred to the United States Court of Federal Claims.

Dakota Dockets

The Sisseton, Wahpeton, Mdewakanton and Wahpekute Bands began filing claims with the Indian Claims Commission in 1951. These claims were combined as Dockets 142 and 359-363. These dockets involved a combined acreage of an estimated 35,000,000 acres located mostly in Minnesota with some areas extending into Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota.

The Sisseton and Wahpeton included enrolled members of the Sisseton and Wahpeton Tribe of Sioux Indians of the Sisseton Reservation in South Dakota and the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe of Sioux Indians of the Fort Totten Reservation in North Dakota and non-enrolled lineal descendants.

The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute included enrolled members of the Santee Sioux Tribe of the Santee Reservation in Nebraska, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Lower Sioux Indian Community, Prairie Island Indian Community, Upper Sioux Indian Community and non-enrolled lineal descendants.

The Indian Claims Commission ruled that they were entitled to bring and maintain their claims under the provisions of the Indian Claims Commission Act.

On April 22, 1966, the commission provided the following description of its responsibilities in Dockets 142 and 359-363:

“The Indian Claims Commission Act has certainly afforded the Commission great latitude in searching the record in this respect. What’s more, we know that prior to the advent of this Commission it was nigh impossible to make judicial inquiry into such things as the motive and intent that controlled certain governmental actions in the consummating of treaty agreements. We can, of course, make such inquiry, and in so doing we can render moral judgments where such actions on the surface have all the earmarks of overreaching and unfair play. Thus, revision of agreements and treaties can be made under our Act on grounds of “fair and honorable dealing.”

And their opinion of the wording in the 1851 Dakota Treaties at Traverse des Sioux and Mendota:

“Keeping in mind, as we must, that the treaty dealing between the United States and its Indian wards were hardly that of equals negotiating at arms length, it is incumbent upon this Commission to scrutinize with care all facets of the 1851 treaty negotiation giving rise to the claims asserted herein…If the Government’s position is correct, then without a doubt the stipulated price for the cession as set forth in Article 4 of both [1851] treaties never was intended by the treaty makers to be the “further and full consideration of said cession.” Therefore, there is built in an obvious contradiction in terms bearing upon the treaty consideration, and in the present case this contradiction now works to the disadvantage of the Indian claimants. Under our Act the Commission is duty bound to resolve such contradiction in favor of the Indians. Furthermore, we think that the conflicting language was purposely written into the treaties. While this may be a rather harsh judgment to make against the treaty writers, what else can be concluded if we are to accept Governor Ramsey’s (the Treaty Commissioner) frank evaluation of his accomplishments in successfully concluding the two 1851 Sioux treaties…”

Docket 142

The Commission found that the Sisseton and Wahpeton had recognized title to the area ceded to the United States by the Treaty at Traverse des Sioux of July 23, 1851. The cession contained about 25,000,000 acres in southern Minnesota, northern Iowa, and a small portion in eastern South Dakota.

The principal claim was for the difference between the 1851 fair market value of the ceded area and the allegedly “unconscionable consideration” paid by the United States under the treaty of cession.

The Commission awarded $5,097,575.00 to the Sisseton and Wahpeton.

Docket 359

 The Commission found that the Treaty of August 19, 1925 granted the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton a recognized title to the land ceded under Article 3 of the Treaty of July 15, 1830. This tract contained about 2,000,000 acres.

The Commission awarded $776,464.50 to the Sisseton and Wahpeton and the same amount to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute.

Docket 360

The Commission found that the Mdewakanton had recognized title under Article 5 of the 1825 Prairie du Chien Treaty to land in east central Minnesota and west central Wisconsin except that portion lying east of a line beginning at the mouth of the Black River and terminating at that point described in Article 5 of the 1825 Prairie du Chien Treaty as “half a day’s march below the Falls of the Chippewa River.” This tract contained over 4,000,000 acres. This land was ceded by the Mdewakanton under the Treaty of September 29, 1837.

The Commission awarded $1,129,359 to the Mdewakanton.

Docket 361

The Commission found that the Mdewakanton Sioux had proven aboriginal title to all lands involved in the transactions known as “Pike’s Purchase”, on September 23, 1805. This cession included two tracts: A tract 9 miles square at the mouth of the St. Croix River and a tract 9 miles by 18 miles at the mouth of the Minnesota River. A total of 155,520 acres were involved.

The Commission awarded $64,680 to the Mdewakanton.

Docket 362

 The Commission found that by the 1825 Prairie du Chien Treaty, the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute had recognized title to the same land described in Docket 142 above at the time of the 1851 Treaties.

The Commission awarded $4,338,517 to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute.

Docket 363

 The Commission found that the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute had a “reservation title” to the land which was ceded by them to the United States under the Treaty of June 19, 1858. This contained about 320,000 acres on the north side of the Minnesota River in southwestern Minnesota.

The Commission awarded $66,940 to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute.

It appears that although they were entitled, that the Sisseton and Wahpeton filed their claim too late.

Dockets 142 and 359-363 Final Judgment

The final judgment on Dockets 142 and 359-363 was made in 1967. The Sisseton and Wahpeton were awarded a total of $5,874,039.50. The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute were awarded a total of $6,375,960.50.

In accepting this judgment, the four Dakota bands agreed to the following stipulation:

Entry of the final judgments as aforesaid in Docket Nos. 142, 359-363 “shall finally dispose of all rights, claims or demands, which the plaintiffs in those dockets…have asserted, or could have asserted, with respect to the subject matter of the cases and the plaintiffs in each of those dockets…shall be barred thereby from asserting any such rights, claims, or demands against the defendant in any other, or future, action or actions, except as to the general accounting claim in Docket No. 363, as identified in Paragraph No. 13 of this stipulation.”

My Opinion

In the decisions above, the Sisseton, Wahpeton, Mdewakanton and Wahpekute received more than $16,000,000 following the Forfeiture Act and the Removal Act in 1863. This money was in addition to money received prior to 1863 and other money received after 1863.

How can anyone say, “They [United States] never paid for it; never paid a cent for all the vast territory.”? And why would anyone publish comments like this?

The United States is made to be the villain in almost every product on the Dakota War. Why is this being done? The United States should be commended for recognizing their mistakes and taking corrective actions.


Folwell, William Watts, A History of Minnesota, Volume II, Appendixes (12) “Sisseton and Wahpeton Claims” and (13) “The Santee Claim”, St. Paul, Minnesota Historical Society, 1961.

Kappler, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Vol. I, Laws, (Compiled to December 1, 1902)Compiled and edited by Charles J. Kappler. Washington : Government Printing Office, 1904.

37th Congress, Senate Journal, Library of Congress

United States Department of Justice, “Lead up to the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946”

U.S. Indian Claims Commission Decisions, Oklahoma State, Native American Rights Fund, Inc.

Wilson, Raymond, “Forty Years to Judgment”, Minnesota History Magazine, Vol. 47, p. 285.

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