Treaty with the Cherokee, 1785 to Treaty with the Comanche, etc. 1835
(part one) (part two)

The Cherokee were not the first tribe to sign a treaty with the United States. Nor was that treaty the first signed by the tribe and a foreign power in the "New World"—they signed a treaty with the colony of South Carolina in 1721 and there is record of a possible treaty as far back as 1684. As with what followed, it did set the pattern for land cession that would continue through the treaties and the General Allotment Act ("Dawes Act") into the twentieth century. The pattern where peace and friendship are promised and then later rescinded (often arbitrarily) is also clear throughout.

While it is true that there are unique aspects pertaining to any treaties made between the US and American Indian bands or nations, the record of the interaction between (and against) the Cherokee can give an informative look at many of the typical ideas, methods, and coercions that went into the "treaty process" the US used in dealing with the "Indian problem."

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1785 (Treaty of Hopewell), 28 November 1785

First there is the promise to "give peace to all the Cherokees, and receive them into the favor and protection of the United States of America," then it was stated that the Indians return all "prisoners, citizens of the United States, or subjects of their allies, to their entire liberty" and all "negroes" and "all other property taken during the late war" (emphasis mine). A reciprocation on the part of the US was promised and the Cherokee had to "acknowledge" to be "under the protection of the United States of America, and of no other sovereign whosoever" placing them under American control.

Boundaries for land were set (while no cession is stated, given the way Indian land was "held," loss of territory is an obvious conclusion) for Cherokee "hunting grounds." The United States then promised not to allow white settlement within the boundary. Any prior settlement would have to be vacated within six months of ratification or the people would "forfeit the protection of the United States, and the Indians may punish him or not as they please" (there was a portion of the land exempt and left for Congress to determine a course of action which the Indians had to accept). A reciprocal agreement was promised wherein anyone (Indian or white) who committed a crime on the other's territory would be turned over to that territory for punishment. No innocents could be punished "in retaliation" unless there was a "manifest violation of this treaty."

Article IX speaks for itself: "For the benefit and comfort of the Indians, and for the prevention of injuries or oppressions on the part of the citizens or Indians, the United States in Congress assembled shall have the sole and exclusive right of regulating the trade with the Indians, and managing all their affairs in such manner as they think proper." Again, the government assumes its control over the Indians, not just in power and influence, but economically.

The Indians were allowed to send a "deputy" to Congress to "[repect] their interests" and had to promise to inform the United States of any other tribe with "designs...against the peace, trade or interest of the United States."

Finally, this "definitive treaty" stated that "the hatchet shall be forever buried, and the peace given by the United States, and friendship re-established between the said states on the one part, and all the Cherokees on the other, shall be universal; and the contracting parties shall use their utmost endeavors to maintain the peace given as aforesaid, and friendship re-established." As noted, this is the set pattern for what followed.

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1791 (Treaty of the Holston), 2 July 1791

As many subsequent treaties do, the second treaty reaffirmed the conditions of the first, then modified or added new ones. It opened with the usual mention of being "desirous of establishing permanent peace and friendship" and "to remove the causes of war, by ascertaining their limits and making other necessary, just and friendly arrangements." In other words, one of the important aspects would again revolve around the boundary issue.

This time "peace and friendship" would be "perpetual." It added that, besides being under US "protection," they could make no treaty with "any foreign power, individual state, or with individuals of any state." The prisoner issue and "informant" issue were reiterated and boundaries redrawn. In order to "extinguish forever all claims" to the land, the US promised to deliver "valuable goods" and a yearly sum of $1000 (increased to $1500 the following year). The sole control of trade was reaffirmed as was the settlement prohibition. It added that no citizen can "hunt or destroy game" on Cherokee land or any citizen travel there without a pass from the government (meaning that they can be allowed at the discretion of the "powers that be").

For the first time, the American desire for Indians to become farmers ("herdsmen and cultivators, instead of remaining in a state of hunters") as a means to attain "civilization" occurs. It promised to provide "useful implements of husbandry." The idea that if Indians could be made to "settle down" to an agricultural existence, they could be "civilized" and become part of the white world, was something of an unofficial (later official) policy that lasted into the twentieth century.

The US also promised to "solemnly guarantee to the Cherokee Nation, all their lands not hereby ceded" and that "all animosities for past grievances shall henceforth cease, and the contracting parties will carry the foregoing treaty into full execution with all good faith and sincerity."

Treaty with the Cherokee 1794 (Treaty of Philadelphia) , 26 June 1794

It claimed that the previous treaty was not fully executed due to "misunderstandings," stating that the treaty is in "full force and binding." This time, the previous boundaries would be marked. As compensation for "relinquishments of land" from the prior treaties, the US would provide the amount of $5000 annually to "furnish the Cherokee Indians with goods suitable for their use." A new provision appeared in an attempt to end horse-stealing (something that is "attended with the most pernicious consequences to the lives and peace of both parties") and every horse stolen and not returned within three months would cause $50 to be subtracted from the annuity.

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1798 (one of four treaties at Tellico), 2 October 1798

The marking of boundaries in the previous treaty did not take place until 1797. By then, settlement on Cherokee land had taken place. It was claimed they were removed—perhaps, but settler intrusion onto Indian land is well documented in the history and the United States could not take action in all cases (a look ahead to the Black Hills trespasses by miners—the US basically said they could tell them to leave and even remove some but there would be so many it would be better for the Lakota to lease or cede the land—is informative).

Peace and friendship was again claimed to be "perpetual" and prior treaties in force. Boundaries were to remain the same—except where they were changed in the present treaty where the Cherokee "in acknowledgment for the protection of the United States" were told of more land they must cede. This time, two commissioners (one American, one Cherokee) would make sure the boundaries are marked and mapped. "Paying" for this land, the government promised to provide "goods, wares and merchandise, to the amount of five thousand dollars, and shall cause to be delivered, annually, other goods to the amount of one thousand dollars, in addition to the annuity already provided for; and will continue the guarantee of the remainder of their country forever."

The US also claimed the right to build a road through Indian Territory and the Indians would have to allow free travel of American citizens (apparently the "pass" was no longer needed). In a bit of generosity, the government would allow hunting on the ceded land "until settlements shall make it improper." The horse-stealing penalty was raised by $10 and an agent who would receive land to reside in Cherokee Territory was provided for.

"And all animosities, aggressions, thefts and plunderings, prior to that day shall cease, and be no longer remembered or demanded on either side."

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1804 (one of four treaties at Tellico), 24 October 1804

A short and simple land cession treaty. The government promised to provide "useful goods, wares, and merchandise, to the amount of the five thousand dollars, or that sum in money, at the option (timely signified) of the Cherokees, and shall, also, cause to be delivered, annually, to them, other useful goods to the amount of one thousand dollars, or money to that amount, at the option of the Cherokees." This was in addition to the already stipulated annuity.

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1805 (one of four treaties at Tellico), 25 October 1805

More cession (more land than in the previous). The Cherokee were paid off rather handsomely (relatively speaking). Three thousand dollars in "valuable merchandise" (paid "immediately") and $11,000 within 90 days of ratification. Further, an annuity of $3000. On the other hand—again pushing agricultural pursuits—the US offered "useful articles of, and machines for, agriculture and manufactures" instead of all or part of the $11,000 at the option of the Indians. By then, more roads had been built on Indian land and the government insisted its citizens would have "free and unmolested use and enjoyment" of them.

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1805 (one of four treaties at Tellico), 27 October 1805

Since a parcel of Cherokee land was "desirable" for a site of the "assembly of the state of Tennessee to convene," the Indians "being possessed of a spirit of conciliation" (according to the treaty) were to cede that land to the government (feeling it justified because it was for "public purposes" instead of "individual advantages"). Another road which citizens could use "free and unmolested" was to be constructed, partly to facilitate transportation of the mail. Compensation would be $1600 or "useful merchandise" at the option of the tribe.

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1806 (Treaty of Washington, DC, one of six) 7 January 1806

Again, land was ceded and "paid" for. Two thousand dollars upon ratification and $2000 each year for four years (total of $10,000). Additionally, a grist mill and a machine for cleaning cotton would be built for the nation (more pressure to conform to the American definition of "civilized"). Also, an "old" chief named Black Fox would be paid $100 a year for life (I regret having no knowledge of him, but it is interesting that his name does not appear on the treaty—though it does on the "further agreement" proclamation from the following year). The US promised to use its "influence and best endeavors" to get the Chickasaw Indians to agree to the boundary—but only to "endeavor to prevail on the Chickasaw nation to consent to such a line." There was a discrepancy over territory that was claimed by both Cherokee and Chickasaw that required a further agreement the following year. For participation in it, the Cherokee received $2000 and hunting privileges on ceded land until settlement made it "improper."

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1816 (Treaty of Washington, DC, one of six) 22 March 1816

The state of South Carolina had made a petition for Cherokee land and the tribe, being "disposed to comply with the wishes of their brothers" was to give up the land (according to the treaty—what actually went into negotiations is never spelled out in the documents, but stories of poor or misleading interpreters and large amounts of alcohol are part of the historical record in at least some cases). For compensation, the state would pay the Cherokee or their agent $5000, as long as the Indians and the state agreed to the terms.

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1816 14 September 1816

The treaty (partly overseen by the hated Andrew Jackson) was intended to "perpetuate peace and friendship" between the two groups and "remove all future causes of dissension which may arise from indefinite territorial boundaries." These terms generally meant to make the Indians agree to cessions and new boundaries so that settlement could occur without the Indians getting angered by settler intrusion. The Cherokee gave up more land and in return received a $6000 annuity for ten years and $5000 within 60 days of ratification ("compensation for any improvements" made on the land). A council was planned where the Cherokee would approve or disapprove the articles of the treaty (if they did not show, it would be considered "tacit ratification").

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1817 8 July 1817

Because there were disagreements within the nation, a "dividing line" was proposed between what were referred to as the "upper" and "lower" towns (often referred to as the Eastern and Western bands, respectively). The upper towns wished to remain and "begin the establishment of fixed laws and a regular government" (which they did to great effect, as shown by the very "civilized" capitol of New Echota), while the lower towns wished to retain their "hunter" lifestyle and would "remove" (though the term was not yet in fashion) west of the Mississippi River (they went to land primarily in Arkansas and Texas).

At the time, this was desirable to the country, as it was deemed far away and/or unwanted by settlers. The band only needed to find area unsettled by other Indians (something not accommodated for when "official" Indian removal began). When they were established and accompanied by agents, the land would be theirs and annuities dealt out based on population. The land they left would become United States property.

A census was proposed to determine the proportion for annuity allotment. Compensation for the self-removers was to be "one rifle gun and ammunition, one blanket, and one brass kettle, or, in lieu of the brass kettle, a beaver trap, which is to be considered as a full compensation for the improvements which they may leave." Boats would also be furnished (though it sounds like a reasonable deal, the same sorts of things were promised and delivered—such as they were—during the Trail of Tears).

Those remaining east of the Mississippi, could cede lands and receive 640 acres of "reservation" for their "improvements," if they desired to become a citizen. This is an interesting development, as giving Indians even nominal citizenship was not "seriously" put into place until the days of the General Allotment Act ("Dawes Act") decades later (again, in order to get them to parcel up and give up land; that time reservation land). The treaty then promised to keep settlers from intruding into the ceded lands before ratification took place. Again.

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1819 (Treaty of Washington, DC, one of six) 27 February 1819

Largely a reaffirmation of the previous treaty, noting the majority chose not to "remove." It gave some cessions and boundaries for some of those taking the "640 acres" offer—people who were "persons of industry, and capable of managing their property with discretion" and who have made "considerable improvements on the tracts reserved." Some of the ceded land was to be held in trust for a "school fund" by the US and sold for that purpose. The money would be put in stock and used "in the manner which [is judged as] best calculated to diffuse the benefits of education." Intruders on the reserved land were to be removed and, to let those departing grow another crop, intruders onto ceded land would be kept off for a stipulated amount of time.

Treaty with the Cherokee, 1828 (Treaty of Washington, DC, one of six) 6 May 1828

The treaty set the boundaries for the Western band—in fact, it was to " them forever" the "seven millions of acres of land." Further: "in addition to the seven millions of acres thus provided for...the United States further guarantee to the Cherokee Nation a perpetual outlet...and a free and unmolested use of all the Country lying West of the Western boundary of the above described limits, and as far West as the sovereignty of the United States, and their right of soil extend." They would also remove any whites living or intruding on their side of the boundary who were "unacceptable" to the Indians so no presence "shall exist to annoy the Cherokees." Given this was two years before the passage of the Indian Removal Act, it is either exceedingly ignorant/naïve, misleading, or a convenient lie.

Additional help with removal was offered (for the "inconvenience and trouble"). $50,000, plus an annuity for $2000 for three years, meant to "[defray] the cost and trouble which may attend upon going after and recovering their stock which may stray into the Territory in quest of the pastures from which they may he driven" and "eight thousand seven hundred and sixty dollars, for spoliations committed on them, (the Cherokees)." Additional money was marked for one chief who had "losses sustained in his property" and for "personal suffering endured by him when confined as a prisoner, on a criminal, but false accusation." Five hundred dollars was to be given to George Guess (Sequoya) for his work the Cherokee syllabary and land given up. Two thousand dollars annually for ten years, $1000 for the purchase of a printing press and type to help "in the progress of education, and to benefit and enlighten them as a people, in their own, and our language" (this "enlightened" idea would not be considered a few years later when the state of Georgia shut down the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper and smashed the printing press of the Eastern band at New Echota).

If they chose, the US would help them by providing a "set of plain laws, suited to their condition" and surveyors, if they should wish to own their lands individually (along with farming, the idea of owning personal—rather than tribally owned—land was considered to be a "civilizing" matter). By giving them land that was mostly unwanted (at least at that time) and out of the way, plus stipends and "gifts," the country could avoid the "Indian problem" as well as any armed conflict it might involve. To further entice the Eastern Indians, the offer of "compensation" (as per 1817) was extended to them with the addition of five pounds of tobacco. Costs of emigration would be taken care of and provisions provided for twelve months after arrival, plus an additional $50.

A provision for a fort to be built on a tract of land there and allowances for a road rounded out the treaty (plus $500 for someone who lost a horse in the service of the United States).

Treaty with the Western Cherokee, 1833 (Treaty of Fort Gibson) 14 February 1833

It turned out that some of the land granted the Western Cherokee had already been chosen by the Creek Indians in a similar, earlier treaty and boundaries were redrawn—though still "seven millions of acres of land" were guaranteed "forever." The Cherokee also decided not to approve of the offer for the United States to draw up laws or offer surveyors for them as stated in the previous treaty (this was agreed to).

On the new "guaranteed" land, a provision was made for "four blacksmith shops, one wagon maker shop, one wheelwright shop, and necessary tools and implements furnished for the same; together with one ton of iron, and two hundred and fifty pounds of steel, for each of said blacksmith shops, to be worked up, for the benefit of the poorer class of red men." The US would provide blacksmiths, a wagon-maker, and a wheelwright as well as materials for as long as the president would "deem proper." Also, "eight patent railway corn mills" would be built instead of the mills agreed to in the previous treaty. Land was then set aside to create a "Cherokee Agency."

Treaty with the Comanche, etc. 1835 24 August 1835

Since the government was "removing" the various Eastern tribes to "Indian Territory" (in general: west of the Mississippi; more specifically: much of the area that later became Texas and Oklahoma and, at "this" time, Arkansas), it needed a way to "keep the peace." This treaty was the means to do so. It was noted as being a treaty with the "Comanche and Witchetaw [sic] Indians and their associated Bands" and was intended for "establishing and perpetuating peace and friendship" between the US and the two tribes as well as between the two and the Cherokee, "Muscogee" ("Muskogee": the Creek nation), Choctaw, Osage, Seneca, and Quapaw. The Osage lived near the intersection of present-day Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The Quapaw were native to Arkansas.

Again, "every injury or act of hostility" between any of the people (presumably, this means the United States, too) was to be "mutually forgiven and forever forgot." "Free and friendly intercourse" was to be practiced between the agreeing parties and US citizens granted free use of roads and allowed to travel through the territory to and from Mexico. The Indians would agree to pay full value for any goods or property of US citizens destroyed while "peacably" passing through.

The government would compensate for any horses or property stolen from the Indians—that is: "provided, that the property so stolen cannot be recovered, and that sufficient proof is produced that it was actually stolen by a citizen of the United States, and within the limits thereof." (No such burden of proof rests on accusation from US citizens.) And in one of those great governmental gestures of generosity, the Indians were to have "free permission to hunt and trap in the Great the western limits of the United States."

The Comanche and the Wichita would have to pay full value for any damage to property and for injury to any traders in the territory. Also, if visited by the other tribes, they would treat them with "kindness and friendship and do no injury to them in any way whatever." In any crime arising between nations (it mentions murder and the stealing of horses and cattle, plus leaves it open to further interpretation), "the other tribes shall interpose their good offices to remove such difficulties" and the US government "may take such measures as they may deem proper to effect the same object, and see that full justice is done to the injured party." Not only is trade still under some US regulation (as suggested above), so is the transmission of "justice." This seems to look forward to the Major Crimes Act of 1885, when certain "serious" crimes were to be given governmental jurisdiction (rather than the Court of Indian Offenses which took care of reservation crime).

The US also promised the Comanche and Wichita, for their cooperation, "presents immediately after signing, as a donation from the United States." Unlike most of the treaties, whatever these gifts were to be is not spelled out. Further, the treaty was not meant to alter or affect either tribes' relations with Mexico (an earlier treaty, of course, prohibits the Cherokee from making any treaty with a foreign power). Finally, the treaty mentioned the US government's "desire for a perfect peace" among those involved.

(Part two: Treaties with the Cherokee 1835-1868)

(Sources: primary source and source for all treaty quotes was the indispensable,, and extensive reading on the subject—for additional sources refer to my previous work on the subject of the American Indian)

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