Treaty of Ruby Valley (1863)

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The Treaty of Ruby Valley was a treaty signed with the Western Shoshone in 1863, giving certain rights to the United States in the Nevada Territory. The Western Shoshone did not cede land under this treaty but agreed to allow the US the "right to traverse the area, maintain existing telegraph and stage lines, construct one railroad and engage in specified economic activities. The agreement allows the U.S. president to designate reservations, but does not tie this to land cessions."[1]

As late as December 1992, the Western Shoshone were still disputing the terms of this treaty with the federal government and President-Elect Clinton. As of 2006, most of the Western Shoshone tribal councils had refused to settle for a payment of $145 million to transfer 25 million acres (101,000 km²) of their traditional territory to the United States; this settlement was authorized by Congress in 2004. They feared that accepting payment would be considered to extinguish their land claims.


In the early 1860s some of the Western Shoshone people were conducting raids against European-American settlers who were traveling along the Humboldt River and the Overland Trail. The Federal government established Fort Ruby to provide security for the settlers against the Indians.

To protect gold sources in the West in order to prosecute the American Civil War, the US 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".[2] 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.[3] White men present at the treaty of 1863 were the first to refer to these several native bands by the name of "Western Shoshone." The peoples speak the Shoshone language, also known as Shoshoni, and are similar culturally, while operating independently.

The signatories agreed to cease hostilities. The chiefs would allow free passage for European Americans along the routes through Shoshone country, establishment of US 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 passing through their country from the Plains to the Pacific Ocean. 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.[3]

The treaty did not state that the Shoshone were to cede their lands. In a continuing dispute with the federal government over uses and management of much of these lands under various federal agencies, the tribes in the 20th century took their land claims to the Indian Claims Commission from the time it was established in 1946 until it was dissolved in 1978. As the treaty had not required the Western Shoshone to cede defined lands, their claims were complex. After the Claims Commission was dissolved, the Western Shoshone took their outstanding issues to federal courts.[2]

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, the Union needed gold from the West in order to finance its prosecution of the war against the Confederacy. The US entered into the Doty treaties with the Shoshone to gain access and free passage to their extensive territory. In 1863 the US signed the Treaty of Ruby Valley with the 12 Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation (18 Statute 689-692) and identified the boundaries of their 40,000 sq. mi. territory. The Union relied on this treaty to demonstrate to European governments and banks backing the Union that it could provide the gold needed for the war, announcing that "the treaty is in full force and effect."[1]

The Western Shoshone did not consent to the inclusion of their property into the boundaries or jurisdiction of any US state or territory. The Western Shoshone possess all the interests which the United States sought to purchase by the treaty for $5,000 per year for 20 years. The United States failed to make any but the first payment to the Shoshone, but exercised its rights of access, passage and taking of territory for the construction of railroads, and later of federal agency management, by such agencies as the Bureau of Land Management, of what it called federal public lands.

Because the tribe still legally controls the territory, the United States Department of Energy was unable to prove ownership of land for construction of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. It withdrew its license application for the facility. In 1979 Congress appropriated $26 million to settle the land claims, but the tribes refused payment. They 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 US v. Dann, the legal case brought by Western Shoshone sisters Carrie and Mary Dann challenging federal agency efforts to regulate their grazing of livestock on traditional lands, that the appropriation of funds by Congress and the acceptance of this action by the Secretary of the Interior constitutes "payment" and puts into effect Section 70 U of the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) Act, forever barring further claims. It ruled that Western Shoshone title is 'presumed to be extinguished.'

But the tribes of the Western Shoshone refused the settlement and have left the money with the government. In another effort to close a 1951 Indian Claims Commission 326-k case, which was transferred to federal court, Congress passed the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act of 2004, appropriating and authorizing payment of $160 million to the Great Basin tribe for the perceived acquisition of 39,000 square miles (100,000 km2). The Western Shoshone had filed the original 326-k claim for payment of $1.05 per acre for 26,000 million acres (which they had never received from the government), but they said that it did not constitute a transfer of rights, title and interest, since the Treaty of Ruby Valley is controlling.

The Western Shoshone have conducted protests related to a number of issues as they try to protect their territory. They have called for an end to nuclear testing within their country. They have also filed for court injunctions against the gold mining that would result in dewatering of Mount Tenabo, Nevada. The Western Shoshone have attempted to assert full sovereignty against the US to demonstrate that the US does not have jurisdiction within their territory.

Attempts at settlement[edit]

The United States Congress 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.[4] 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."[citation needed] 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."[citation needed] By 1998 the value of the settlement had increased to $100 million, and it continues to grow.

Congress passed the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act of 2004, which authorized payment of $145 million to the tribe for the transfer of 25 million acres (101,000 km²) of their traditional territory to the United States. Seven of the nine tribal councils within the Western Shoshone Nation passed resolutions opposing the legislation and refusing settlement payment.[5]

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." [6]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 that sought to quiet title to lands which boundaries were defined by the Treaty of Ruby Valley (See 415 F. Supp. 2d 1201).

Representation in other media[edit]

  • Broken Treaty at Battle Mountain (1975) is a documentary by Joel Freedman about US treatment of the Western Shoshone since the 1863 treaty was signed, showing violations by actions of the Bureau of Land Management, among other agencies that adversely affected conditions of their traditional territory.[1]
  • To Protect Mother Earth (1989) is a documentary by Freedman and produced by Robert Redford that addressed the Shoshone tribe's efforts to protect its lands and rights, at a time when the US was trying to settle the land claims case.[1]
  • American Outrage (2008) was a documentary film that explored these disputes over tribal land in litigation led by Mary Dann and Carrie Dann, two Western Shoshone sisters who challenged the US government over issues of land use, and the United Nation's recognition[2] of the Western Shoshone struggle. It was originally titled Our Land, Our Life, before being recut. It was directed by George Gage and Beth Gage, and written by Beth Gage.[7]
  • Land of the Brave,2016 Joel Freedman, continuing coverage of the Western Shoshone and their lands claims issues with Robert Redford.[1][8]


  1. ^ a b c d Stephanie Woodard, " 'They Are Still Here' - New Western Shoshone Documentary Underway", Indian Country Today, 7 November 2016; accessed 7 November 2016
  2. ^ a b D'Azevedo & Sturtevant 1986, p. 263.
  3. ^ a b United States Treaty.
  4. ^ To Protect Mother Earth: Broken Treaty II. Cinnamon Productions. 1989. Archived from the original on 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2012-12-03. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Chen 2007.
  6. ^ "UN committee on racial discrimination" (PDF). UN General Assembly Official Records Sixty-first session Supplement No 18 (A/61/18). August 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  7. ^ American Outrage, Bullfrog Films website, 2009; accessed 7 November 2016
  8. ^ "Land of the Brave – A Western Shoshone Documentary | Indian Law Resource Center". Retrieved 2019-10-30.


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