Treaty of Ruby Valley (1863)

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The Treaty of Ruby Valley was a treaty signed in 1863, giving certain rights to the United States in the Nevada Territory. As late as December 1992, Western Shoshone were still disputing the terms of this treaty with President-Elect Clinton.


In the early 1860s some of the Western Shoshone people were conducting raids against settlers who were travelling along the Humboldt River and the Overland Trail. The Federal government established Fort Ruby to provide security for the settlers against the Indians, and started to negotiate treaties with the Shoshone and other peoples of the Great Basin. On 1 October 1863 Governor James W. Nye of Nevada Territory and Governor James Duane Doty of the Utah Territory signed the Treaty of Ruby Valley. Twelve chiefs signed for the "Western Bands of the Shoshonee Nation of Indians".[1] All but one made a mark in place of a signature. The document was witnessed by J. B. Moore, lieutenant-colonel Third Infantry California Volunteers, Jacob T. Lockhart, Indian agent, Nevada Territory and Henry Butterfield, interpreter.[2]

The signatories agreed to cease hostilities. They would allow free passage along the routes through Shoshone country, establishment of military posts and rest stations for travelers and for mail and telegraph companies, continued operation of telegraph and stage lines and construction of a railway from the plains to the Pacific ocean passing through their country. They would also allow prospecting for gold, silver or other minerals, mining of any deposits found, formation of mining and agricultural settlements and ranches, erection of mills and logging of timber. When the President of the United States should "deem it expedient for them to abandon the roaming life", they agreed to become herdsmen or agriculturalists on reservations that would be assigned to them. In exchange, the Shoshone would receive twenty annual payments worth $5,000 each in the form of cattle and other goods.[2]

The treaty did not state that the Shoshone were to surrender their lands. This omission was to create a huge amount of work for the Indian Claims Commission from the time it was established in 1946 until it was dissolved in 1978 and outstanding issues transferred to the courts.[1]

The Western Shoshone have been engaged in legal battles with the federal government over rights to their land since the erroneous filing of a claim in 1951 for land presumed to have been taken. Most western states comprising the Great Basin were created by federal statutes that referenced that "no part of Indian country will be included into the boundaries or jurisdiction of any state or territory ...without the consent of the Indians". During the American Civil War 1861-1864, gold was needed from the west by the Union to prosecute the war against the south. The Doty treaties were entered into by the US with the Shoshone. In 1863 the Treaty of Ruby Valley was entered into with the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation (18 Statute 689-692) and identified the boundaries of their 40,000 sq. mi. territory. The Western Shoshone did not consent to the inclusion of their property into the boundaries or jurisdiction of any state or territory. The Western Shoshone possess all the interests the United States sought to purchase by the treaty for $5,000 per year for 20 years. The treaty was also used by the Union to demonstrate to European governments and banks backing the Union that it could do what it said and provide the gold needed for the war. "the treaty is in full force and effect"[1] The United States failed to make any, but the first payment. In an effort to close a 1951 Indian Claims Commission 326-k case, the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act of 2004 established by the United States to give the perception that the Indians have been served justice, made payment of $160 million to the Great Basin tribe for the perceived acquisition of 39,000 square miles (100,000 km2). The 326-k claim was $1.05 per acre for 26,000 million acres but did not in fact constitute a transfer of rights, title and interest since the Treaty of Ruby Valley is controlling. These facts are the basis for the failure of the United States Department of Energy to prove ownership to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and the withdrawal of the license application. In 1979 Congress appropriated $26 million to settle the land claims, but the tribes said they wanted the US to abide by the 1863 treaty and stop trespassing on their lands. In 1985 the US Supreme Court ruled in the US v. Dann that the appropriation of funds by Congress and the acceptance by the Secretary of the Interior constitutes "payment" and effects Section 70 U of the ICC Act and forever bars further claims and Western Shoshone title is 'presumed to be extinguished', but the tribes have left the money with the government. As recently as 2004, Congress has attempted to force the purchase of Western Shoshone land but this has been opposed by the majority of tribal leaders. Disputes over tribal land and the international recognition by the United Nations[2] of their struggle against the United States government is documented in the 2008 film American Outrage.Western Shoshone have demonstrated related to a number of issues as they try to protect their property; they have called for an end to nuclear testing within their country as well as filing injunctions against gold mining that would result in dewatering of Mount Tenabo, Nevada.The only option, the first and primary role of a sovereign nation of people is for the Western Shoshone to assert full sovereign immunity against the US demonstrating that the US does not have jurisdiction upon them within their territory.

Attempts at settlement[edit]

The United States Congress had attempted to settle the agreement in 1979, appropriating $26 million to purchase title to 24 million acres (97,000 km²) of tribal lands. In 1985, the US Supreme Court ruled that the settlement extinguished Shoshone claims to the land.

Chiefs Frank Temoke and Frank Brady adamantly refused the government payoff at Battle Mountain, Nevada on December 11, 1992.[3] Temoke was sure that the Shoshone would lose their claim to the lands if they accepted the funds. He said, "I did not sign any agreement for money. The actions of the federal government are unconstitutional, immoral, genocide and against international law." Brady urged his people to refuse the settlement also, saying, "The people need land, not money." They both faced immense pressure from their own people to sell out because many of the Shoshone wanted the money. Brady said, "Some say we've lost the land already and that may be so, but we still have a fighting chance if we don't take the government payment." By 1998 the value of the settlement had increased to $100 million and it continues to grow.

The United States Federal Government passed the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act of 2004, which authorized payment of $145 million for the transfer of 25 million acres (101,000 km²) to the United States. Seven of the nine tribal councils within the Western Shoshone Nation passed resolutions opposing the legislation.[4]

On March 10, 2006 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated "credible information alleging that the Western Shoshone indigenous people are being denied their traditional rights to land." On January 17, 2006, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Western Shoshone National Council against the United States of America that sought to quiet title to lands whose boundaries were defined by the Treaty of Ruby Valley (See 415 F. Supp. 2d 1201).



  1. ^ a b D'Azevedo & Sturtevant 1986, p. 263.
  2. ^ a b United States Treaty.
  3. ^ To Protect Mother Earth: Broken Treaty II. Cinnamon Productions. 1989. Retrieved 2012-12-03. 
  4. ^ Chen 2007.


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