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The Horse Creek Treaty of 1851

Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, also known as the Horse Creek Treaty: the NPS study of Pony Express Stations mentions Cold Springs Ranch station as the site of the signing of this treaty, citing a letter from Paul Henderson to J.G. Masters, 17 April 1938. This disagrees with another NPS article, part of a web site on Scotts Bluff Monument. Here, the site is said to be where Horse Creek joins the North Platte River.
Leslie Wischmann’s article, “Separate lands for separate tribes: The Horse Creek Treaty of 1851” does a more precise job of locating the site of the treaty council. Tribal encampments were on the north bank of the North Platte River; traders and interpreters were on the west bank of Horse Creek; and, the meeting ground for the council was on the east side of Horse Creek.

In 1850 ,Congress authorized a conference for all the prairie tribes west and south of the Missouri River, and north of Texas. Its purpose was to provide compensation for depredations caused by the increasing numbers of emigrants, and to pay an annuity. The tribes were encouraged to attend with all their women and children, to be protected by a large force of soldiers. The government also intended to allocate divisions of the territory to the participating tribes.

Problems arose before the conference could begin: There was a case of cholera on the Missouri River steamboat bringing supplies and trade goods to the trading posts; the supply train of 27 wagons was stalled in what is today Kansas City, Missouri; Congress cut the funding for the conference by one half, down to $100,000 and demanded more concessions from the tribes; and, the military escort was reduced from 1,000 to 300 men.
The Indians introduced additional problems: The Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches had refused to attend. Shoshone arrived uninvited – they were not Plains Indians but from west of the Continental Divide, from the Great Basin. Additionally, Cheyenne killed two Shoshone warriors en route.

The planned meeting place, Fort Laramie, was deemed unsuitable; game and forage were inadequate, and a mere 300 soldiers could not guarantee protection. “After consulting with the assembled tribes, the commissioners decided to move the conference… to the mouth of Horse Creek on the North Platte River.”

The council began on Monday, September 8, 1851.

For the Whites: David Mitchell, conference co-commissioner; current superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis. Thomas Fitzpatrick, mountain man and first U.S. Agent for the High Plains Indians. Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, Jesuit Missionary of renown. Robert Campbell, St. Louis fur trader. And, Mrs. Elliott, wife of one of the officers who “...took a prominent seat to prove that the whites had come in peace.” Jim Bridger and John C. Fremont were also present.

Mitchell opened the council with: “We do not come to you as traders.” “We do not want your land, horses, robes, nor anything you have; but we come to advise with you, and make a treaty with you for your own good.”
Mitchell promised compensation for 50 years, in part for “the right of free passage for ...White Children.” And, to establish tribal boundaries. “Mitchell then asked each tribe to designate a single chief, along with one or two tribal members to be feted in Washington D.C.. Finally, he tried to explain his breach of etiquette in convening the conference without gifts.” The wagon train with supplies had yet to arrive.

That afternoon, the Cheyenne offered reparations for the dead Shoshone by “cover[ing] the bodies”—a ceremony of apology. After offering a feast and gifts to their former enemies the Shoshone, the Cheyenne returned the scalps of the fallen and swore they had not danced a scalp dance to celebrate the taking of the Shoshone scalps. The brothers of the Shoshone victims accepted the scalps, embraced the Cheyenne and distributed the Cheyenne gifts among the Shoshones. After more speeches from both sides, the Cheyenne and Shoshone joined together in song and dance.

That night, the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Assiniboine tribes arrived from the upper Missouri River. The arrival on September 10 of a contingent of the Crow tribe increased the number of natives to an estimated 10,000. “Though no drawings or illustrations of the treaty grounds have survived, it’s clear the tribes’ encampments stretched for miles along the north side of the North Platte, and their huge horse herds would have grazed in all directions.”

Signed on September 17, 1851. On behalf of the United States were David D. Mitchell and Thomas Fitzpatrick, both appointed and authorized by the President of the United States. Signing for the Indian nations were 21 chiefs, including: White Antelope (Cheyenne), Little Owl (Arapaho), Big Robber (Crow) and Conquering Bear (Sioux). Chiefs from the Assiniboin, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara also signed. The Shoshone, who had traveled over 400 miles, were not asked to sign, because they were not from the Plains.

The Indians agreed to the government’s right to “form roads and establish military posts” in Indian territory; terms for maintaining peace and for assigning reparations for losses on either side; indemnity for any prior destruction caused by the emigrants; $50,000 to each tribe for those damages; and $50,000 in annual payments per tribe for 50 years.

Saturday, September 20, the supply wagons arrived. “The next day, De Smet noted, “men, women and children, -- in great confusion, and in their gayest costume, daubed with paints of glaring hues and decorated with all the gewgaws” hurried to the council grounds to receive their gifts. Mitchell presented each chief with a military uniform and gilt sword before distributing the rest of the trinkets. Each band, “glad or satisfied, but always quiet,” accepted their gifts and dispersed. The remarkable 1851 Horse Creek Treaty Council was over.”

Following the conference, Congress unilaterally reduced the terms of the treaty from 50 years to 10. Fitzpatrick obtained the consent of some chiefs for this change. Meanwhile, emigrant traffic on the trails remained heavy, and commercial traffic steadily increased. Despite the terms of the treaty, friction between whites and Indians ensued.

With some notable exceptions, tribes along the trail remained relatively peaceful until the War of 1864. The white’s demands for land pushed the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho into warfare. Attempts by the U. S. Government to hold the tribes responsible for attacks on settlers became a major stumbling block in efforts to maintain peace. The Federal Government’s promise to protect Indian resources and tribal hunting grounds from depredations by white settlers was never kept, and, the U. S. made only one promised payment. The treaty was redone in 1868 as the “Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868”

Separate lands for separate tribes: The Horse Creek Treaty of 1851

Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 (Horse Creek Treaty)

DIVISION TWO: STATIONS BETWEEN FORT KEARNEY AND HORSESHOE CREEK (continued)

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