3 Letter from Billy Caldwell to Thomas Owen (August 4, 1834)

From Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs (Chicago Agency)

This letter represents some of the negotiations that continued for almost a year after the treaty was signed in Chicago. Billy Caldwell or Saw-ka-nosh was a Potawatomi agent who helped represent the tribes at the treaty negotiations, & in this letter. He also appears in the last part of this digital reader (“Removal & Return”). Thomas Owen was an Indian agent & one of the federal commissioners of the treaty.
Billy Caldwell to Thomas Owen (Chicago Agency, 1824-1847: 1824-1834), item 430.
Billy Caldwell to Thomas Owen (Chicago Agency, 1824-1847: 1824-1834), item 430. (From the National Archives.)

Father, it is with feeling of the deepest regret that we learn from you, that the late Treaty between the United States Government and the United Nation, Ottawa, Pottouattamie and Chippewa Indians made and concluded at this place in the month of September, 1833, has not been ratified, in consequence of an unwillingness to give us the whole of the country granted by said Treaty.

The Treaty was not of our seeking; it was solicited on the part of the United States, and we acceded to the proposition that was made to use on the part of the Government by yourself, our late Father, Gov. Porter of Michigan and Col. Weatherford, and in doing so, we were influenced by no wish of our own to part with our country, nor to profit by the sale; but with a desire and a disposition to further the views of the Government, and to interpose no obstacles in the way of carrying into effect the policy of settling the Indians west of the Mississippi.

It would require but little foresight to see that in a few years we were to be surrounded by our white brethren, and their vicinity to us, experience has taught us to believe, is to result in no good to us. We were willing, therefore, to make every sacrifice to meet the views of our Great Father the President and of the Government, and to avoid collision with our white brethren; but it seems these are not satisfactory; other demands are made of us which we must comply with before this Treaty can be ratified, that is we must surrender to the United States a portion of the country ceded to us by the United States by the said Treaty, and that portion, too, which is admitted to be the best and most favorable for cultivation, and the most eligibly located for hunting, and to receive in lieu thereof an equal number of acres neither so well situated for agricultural purposes, nor yet so good for hunting, without an offer of any additional consideration as an equivalent for the difference in the value of the property proposed to be exchanged. This, Sir, we cannot and will not agree to, but we will propose as follows:

1st. We will surrender the piece of land desired and accept as an equivalent, for such surrender, four hundred sections (256,000 acres) of land to be selected by us within the boundaries of the country ceded by the late Treaty of Chicago:


2nd. We will surrender the country desired and accept that proposed to be given us by the United States, provided they will give us, Twenty cows and Calves, Thirty Yoke of good four year old oxen, Twelve ploughs with Chains and other suitable appurtenances thereto, Two four horse teams and six waggons with the necessary harness, Gearing & c. Also that they shall send with us Ten practical farmers for four years to aid and instruct us in cultivating the soil (the farmers to be paid by the United States) and also furnish us with such farming and other utensils, as well as carpenters’ tools, such as hoes, rakes, shovels, harrows, sickle, scythes, hammers and axes, and as will enable them to use the horses and oxen to advantage, and to keep the utensils in repair:

And provided further that the United States Government pay to Gholson Kercheval of Chicago for us, the sum of two thousand dollars in Cash. We feel indebted to Gholson Kercheval for his good conduct in our behalf and in behalf of our people, during the late war between the U.S. Government and the Sac and Fox Indians. He rescued to of our young men who had been taken prisoners, thus saving their lives at the hazard of his own life. He was foremost in the deputation to secure a peace for us and our people and we think the sum we require to be paid him is small enough for the services he has rendered us.

3rd. We wish and claim, that, if any reductions are made of the claims allowed by us to be due our white brethren, the amount of the same may be sent to you, father, that they may be disposed of by us as we shall direct and think proper.

The conclusion of these negotiations known as the “amended treaty” (October 1, 1834) appears at the end of the treaty introductory chapter.

We utterly disclaim any disposition as we before stated, to interpose any obstacle in the way of the Government of the United States in carrying into effect its views in relation to us, but aver that we are influenced by the same feelings and motives that induced us to enter into the late Treaty; but it does seem to us, with all due deference to the United States Government, that their interpretation of a Treaty, and ours, is very different.

It seems to us that it should have been ratified precisely as made, by both parties, or rejected in toto. It is incurring on our part great responsibility to alter in the least any of the stipulations of that Treaty, as it was made with the assent of our young men after much deliberation and reflection and it would be extremely difficult to get that assent again, without incurring an expense that we are by no means able to bear and which we are not called upon to incur by any sense of duty.

Billy Caldwell to Thomas Owen, August 4, 1834, included in Thomas Owen to Lewis Case, August 22, 1834. “Chicago Agency, 1824-1847: 1824-1834.” Record Group 75 Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs 1793 – 1999; M234 – Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881 (National Archives and Records Administration):