Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851)

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For the 1868 treaty, see Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868).
Fort Laramie National Historic Site - site with tents across Laramie River where the treaty of 1851 was negotiated

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was signed on September 17, 1851 between United States treaty commissioners and representatives of the Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Crow, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara nations. The treaty set forth traditional territorial claims of the tribes as among themselves.[1] The Native Americans guaranteed safe passage for settlers on the Oregon Trail and allowed roads and forts to be built in their territories in return for promises of an annuity in the amount of fifty thousand dollars for fifty years.

Background[edit]

Although many European and European-American migrants to western North America had previously passed through the Great Plains on the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails, the California gold rush beginning in 1848 greatly increased traffic. The United States government undertook negotiations with the Native American Plains tribes living between the Arkansas and Missouri rivers to ensure protected right-of-way for the migrants.[2]

Because the area around Fort Laramie lacked forage for the Indians' horses, the treaty was negotiated and signed 30 miles downriver from the fort at the mouth of Horse Creek. Many Indians have referred to the treaty as the Horse Creek Treaty. Representatives from the Lakota, Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, Shoshone, Crow, and Arapaho took part in the treaty discussions.[3]

The United States Senate ratified the treaty, adding Article 5, to adjust compensation from fifty to ten years, if the tribes accepted the changes. Acceptance from all tribes, with the exception of the Crow, was procured. Several tribes never received the commodities promised as payments.

The treaty produced a brief period of peace, but it was broken by the failure of the United States to prevent the mass emigration of miners and settlers into Colorado during the Pike's Peak Gold Rush. They took over Indian lands in order to mine them, "against the protests of the Indians,"[4] and founded towns, started farms, and improved roads. Before 1861 the Cheyenne and Arapahoe "had been driven from the mountain regions down upon the waters of the Arkansas."[4] Such emigrants competed with the tribal nations for game and water, straining limited resources and resulting in conflicts with the emigrants. The U.S. government did not enforce the treaty to keep out the emigrants.[4]

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