ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Historical Society has acquired a rare copy
of a treaty document between the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota and
the federal government.
The 1868 Washington Treaty copy has taken a journey from its original home
in Washington, D.C. to St. Paul.
The treaty document, said to be in remarkable shape, is possibly one of two
or three that were copies of the original, which is secured, in the
National Archives. The document is 20 inches wide by 17 inches and 12
pages, all hand-written. The signature of President James Buchanan does not
appear on the document indicating it is a copy.
It is not known if this document originally belonged to the tribe. The
tribe does not have an original document.
The Minnesota Historical Society acquired the document through a local rare
book seller, who received it from an individual in Vancouver, B.C. The
$40,000 cost was raised through donations.
"The paper was unlined and the calligrapher made light pencil lines to
write on - a beautifully done document," said Patrick Coleman, acquisitions
librarian for the MHS.
"This extraordinary document is the rarest item I've come across in the
almost 30 years I've been with the historical society," he said.
The document will be on exhibit to the public through Feb. 14, 2005.
It is the only treaty document in the vast archives of the historical
society. It is somewhat frayed on the bottom edges, indicating it was
rolled up for years. Also some discoloration occurred in the middle where a
ribbon had been tied.
Coleman said restoration has cleared up much of the document and more than
99 percent of the text is legible.
The beauty of the piece is one thing, what it represents is quite another.
The irony of the find is that Minnesota's Gov. Tim Pawlenty is pressuring
the Minnesota tribes to contribute more of their gaming dollars to help the
state coffers. The nonprofit MHS does not get involved with political
issues, but the timing of the find is convenient.
The reality this treaty speaks is how the tribes were treated at the time
of the signing and how negotiations and the documents were sided in favor
of the government.
Coleman said reading the treaty will show the Yankton Sioux were in a
The treaty demanded the cessation of 11 million acres of land for a 430,000
acre reservation along the Missouri River in southeastern South Dakota. The
original Yankton land extended into the state of Minnesota and Minnesota
territory extended westward to nearly where the Yankton are today.
But with each article that allowed the Yankton to retain land or rights, or
articles that entitled the people to compensation, loopholes existed. The
president maintained the right to reduce or remove the $1.6 million that
was awarded to the Yankton over a 50-year period if the Yankton would "fail
to make reasonable and satisfactory efforts to advance and improve their
condition," the treaty stated.
Also, the president had the right to decide how much of the allotment was
to be in cash "and what proportions be expended for their benefit." It was
also written that a determination of the award would be made in the best
interest of the Yankton.
Darrell Drapeau, former tribal chairman, said the elders told him and
others the tribe had not received all the revenue it had coming. The
pipestone quarry, located in southwestern Minnesota was turned over to the
Yankton to manage; however, money that was to be received in compensation
has never been paid. The quarry is a national park.
"The control is on paper only. Efforts in the past to meet with park
service have failed. Talks fell through, nothing came about," Drapeau said.
He added that the treaty steering committee declared the 1858 treaty
illegal because of the coercion involved in the negotiations.
"We stand on 1851 treaty," Drapeau said.
Coleman agrees that there was coercion during the negotiations. Sixteen
tribal leaders were taken to the capital and kept there for five months
before the treaty was finally written.
"I'm trying to put myself in the place of these Yanktons who were in
Washington, D.C for five months," Coleman said.
"What were they doing and what was life like when they were there? It was
almost torturous, and they had this horrible decision to make - to decide
to agree to give up 11 million acres of land is to make a decision to
change your way of life, how horrible that decision would be to make.
"Nothing in my experience would allow me to understand how hard that was.
It is so moving to think about it," Coleman said.
Stories vary about the negotiations, according to the side relaying the
information. But it was known the tribal leaders didn't agree on some of
the bargaining details. It was Struck-by-the-Ree, a peacekeeper among the
Yankton, who brought peace among the signers.
Oral history among the Yankton tells of the government taking the signers
onto a riverboat and telling them to sign or they would be thrown overboard
and eaten by the sea monsters.
The government side of the story said Yankton leaders took one man, Smutty
Bear, who remained a holdout to the signing, out on the boat and threatened
him with a watery grave.
Historians claim they are more likely to believe the Yankton version of the
Another story claims that Smutty Bear was told he would have to walk home
if he didn't sign. He retorted that he had been walking all his life and
would be happy to walk home.
But on the reservation it was a harder sell to lose millions of acres and
be forced to live on 430,000 acres of land. Struck-by-the-Ree saw the
advancement of the non-Indian into his land and knew his people would have
"For the Indian community it is not a surprise the way it is worded. It is
so lopsided with out after out after out," Coleman said.
"One thing I am really excited about, it gives us such an opportunity to
talk about this, this history, and the relationship the Yankton had with
the U.S. government," Coleman said.
The treaty document is on exhibit in a gallery where the 1851 treaty story
of Traverse des Sioux that ceded land to the government for settlement by
the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota is located.
Drapeau said the MHS invited him and others to visit the exhibit and they
would be able to view the document outside of the protective cover.