This Day In History: Indian Tribes Sign the Medicine Lodge Treaties (1867)

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On this day in history, a historic treaty was signed by Native American tribes and the Federal government. On this date in  1867, some  8,000 Southern Plains Indians assembled in Medicine Lodge Creek in Kansas to sign a historic agreement. At Medicine Lodge Creek their chiefs and leaders signed one of the most significant treaties in the history of American-Indian relations.

For many years the Great Plains had been seen by the majority of Americans as not suitable for settlement. The area was referred to as the Great American desert so inhospitable was the region. The area was let to the fierce Plains Indians and the buffalo, it was treated as one big reservation, where the Indian tribes could be sent to live away from white society. Many tribes were relocated to the area and this was a policy that was continued for many years.

However, the Great Plains were increasingly crossed by railways and roads during the 1860s and this brought white settlers into the region, especially into modern day Kansas. Increasingly, many more people were eager to move west into what was once the Great American Desert.

The Federal came under pressure to change their policy and they decided to negotiate with the Southern Plains Indians. Their goals were to either remove the Indians from the Southern Plains or civilize them.

In the fall,  the government began to negotiate with the Southern Plains Indians. The main tribes involved in the talks were the Commanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and  Arapaho. The Indians were willing to compromise, mainly because they did not fully understand the implications of the treaty negotiations. Furthermore, the US army was present with two Gatling guns and this was a deliberate policy to put pressure on the chiefs to sign the treaty.

After brief talks, the tribes signed treaties on October 21 and also on the 28th. The provisions of the treaty were that the Indians were to relocate to a defined area in the west of Oklahoma. If Indians strayed from this reservation they could be forcibly sent back. The treaty also contained a unique set of proposals, they stated that the children of the Indians had to be sent to white  schools and they were also expected to end their old way of life.  This was part of a policy of destroying Indian culture and making Native Americans ‘civilized’.

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Kiowa painting of the Battle of Buffalo Wallow (1874)

There was a problem as many Indian chiefs who signed the treaties did not speak for all their tribe. When they became aware of the implications of the treaty many tribes refused to accept them.  The treaty meant that they would lose their lands and their way of life. The Indians rejection of the treaty was to lead to years, of bloody conflict on the Southern Plains between the Native Americans and the US army.  In the years following the Treaty many Indians were sent to  Western Oklahoma Reservation. The majority of the tribes did not accept the treaty and engaged in raids and violence.   It took many years for the US Federal Government and the army to pacify the Southern Great Plains, but only after much fighting.

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