Ratified Indian Treaties, 1722–1869. Microfilm publication M668, 16 rolls. General Records of the United States Government, 1778–2006, Record Group 11. The National Archives at Atlanta, Georgia.
This series of records reproduces ratified treaties that occurred between the United States government and American Indian tribes. Also included are related correspondence, a chronological list of the treaties, and indexes by both place and tribe. A few earlier treaties and agreements between the colonial governments and the Continental Congress and the Congress of the Confederation are included as these were later adopted under the U.S. government.
The treaties were basically a means by which the British government, and subsequently the United States government, acquired land from those already settled on it—the Indian tribes. Treaties with Indians in the United States have the same importance as treaties with foreign nations. The treaties with the Indians meant the recognition of the tribes as sovereign nations, and treaties were ratified by Congress. However, an Act of Congress, March 3, 1871 (16 Stat. 566), stated that the treaty era was to end. Treaties already ratified and in effect, however, were not revoked.
The treaties detailed the agreements and the commitments made by each side. A combination of factors was behind the impetus of treaties between the United States government and Indian tribes. Settlers moving westward wanted the land; fur traders, general store owners, and others had extended credit to Indians and wanted to be paid; and the government itself wanted land it could sell or grant. Out of this was born the treaty system.
The discussion, bargaining, and arguing about the points of the treaty were not always positive, calm discussions; nor were they accomplished quickly. Treaties were often works in progress for many months or years. Bargaining toward an end result added more stress and sometimes it only led back to the drawing board. Before any Congressional approval, the government and the Indians under consideration had to agree. However, it was not so simple. Many outside influences contributed to the length of the discussions. If a fur trader or general store owner thought it would not be beneficial to them, they would urge against it. If it included a way for them to receive monies, of course, they worked both sides to get an agreement.
Washington, D.C., Delegations
Representatives of a tribe, business owners, Indian agents, and state officials often traveled to Washington, D.C., by choice to meet with senators about treaty negotiations. Newspapers in the home state and in the nation’s capital often mentioned such delegations; occasionally pictures accompanied the story. Other tribal officials were enticed to Washington and kept there until they agreed to the offer made by the government.
Payment of Debts
Traders and store owners often extended credit to the Indians who needed seeds, cloth, weapons, blankets, food, and other provisions. Interest was usually added to that debt amount, and much of the time, the interest was at an exorbitant rate. As discussions regarding a treaty began, the debt holders often exaggerated the amounts they were owed or flat-out invented debts. Treaties in the Western Frontier were not always pushed by the settlers or the government; rather the area fur traders and other businesses may have done the pushing, hoping that the treaty would provide payment for the growing credit balances extended to the Indians. Of course, if the payback for Indian debts was in the treaty, the traders and store owners would help promote the treaty to the area Indians. Thus, treaties were not always about opening land for the new wave of settlers.
The Yield for the Tribes
Even today tribes are trying to enforce the terms of their treaties. The federal government has not always paid the monies or supplies due. If alternate land was provided by the government, it may have been far from usable water, very rocky, not good for farming, already stripped of trees, or without good fishing or hunting. Some commitments the government encouraged the Indians to agree to were not realistic.
Congress was generally not in favor of the debt repayment part of treaties. On the other hand, Congress made concessions when the local tradespeople helped by encouraging the tribal representatives to sign the treaty that gave their land to the government.
Note: NARA's descriptive pamphlet for this title can be viewed or downloaded here.
As with Congressional decisions today, the treaties included a signed proclamation by the president that affirmed the action of Congress.
Before there was a U.S. federal government, treaties were arranged between the British Crown, a colony, or a state government.
As negotiations evolved toward the final treaty, letters to and from tribes, senators, local tradesmen, other local residents, missionaries, and military officials grew. Much of this correspondence is included in this series. Researchers may find material that includes a non-Indian ancestor.
Treaty negotiation expenses
The non-Indians involved in the treaty negotiations were often paid well for their work. Invoices and expense reports are among the documents you may find.
Description by Paula Stuart Warren, courtesy of Fold3.com.