1 Correspondence on the Emigration of Indians

From Senate Doc. 23-512 - between the 30th November, 1831, and 27th December, 1833

These letters represent the perspectives & goals of the federal government approaching the treaty negotiations. They are among members of the war department. During the so-called “removal period” that began circa 1832 & didn’t end for many decades afterward, relations between the federal government & Indigenous peoples often took place via the war department.

War Department,
Office Indian Affairs, April 6, 1833.

Sir: In reply to your letter of the 5th ultimo, I would observe, that concurrent representations from various persons, induce the belief that the Pottawatamies are inclined to exchange their lands in Illinois, and remove to the west of the Mississippi. Desirous of such an event, Congress, during the last session, made an appropriation for holding a treaty with the Pottawatamies, to extinguish their title to land in that State. A delegation of some of their chiefs, conducted by Colonel Pepper, has gone to the west to find land in that region suitable for the residence of their nation. If successful in their search, the nation will remove; and a favorable report of that delegation will accelerate the contemplated treaty.

No exertion will be spared by the department to conclude a treaty with them, being fully of opinion that their removal to the west is indispensable to their welfare, and the safety of our frontier citizens.

With great respect, &c.,


Col. T. J. V. Owen, Chicago, Illinois.

War Department, April 8, 1833.

Sir: I will thank you to direct the surveyors of the public lands to forward to Governor Porter, at Detroit, with as little delay as possible, a plan of the Pottawatamie reservations in that part of Michigan Territory east of Lake Michigan, and south of Grand River; also, a plan of the unceded country belonging to the Indians, bounded on the east by Lake Michigan, on the west by the tract ceded last fall to the United States by the Winnebagoes, on the north by the tract ceded to the United States by the Menomonies, and by the treaty ratified with them at the last cession of Congress, and on the south of the northern boundary of Illinois; also, a plan of the unceded Pottawatamie lands in the State of Illinois.

In preparing the plan last mentioned, the surveyor must advert to the “cession” made by the Pottawatamie in Indiana in October last.

Very respectfully, &c.,


Hon. Elijah Hayward,
Comm. Gen. Land Office.

War Department, April 8, 1833.

Gentlemen: An appropriation was made, during the last cession of Congress, of the sum of ten thousand dollars, for the purpose of holding a treaty to extinguish the title of the Pottawatamies to land in the State of Illinois. The President has appointed you commissioners jointly, or if circumstances should prevent a joint action, severally, to carry the above provision into effect. For this purpose you will select the time and place of holding the treaty, and will make such arrangements as are usual and proper for the occasion. Your expenditures will be guided by a well regulated economy and you will, in no event, exceed the sum appropriated. You can draw upon this department for such sums as you may require.

As an intimate relation exists between the several bands of the Pottawatamie tribe; and as it is desirable that all our proceedings with the Indians should not only be just, but satisfactory to them, it will be proper to convene all who can be considered interested in the section of country contemplated by law. The extent of their claims along the shore of Lake Michigan is unknown to me, and perhaps not very well defined. If the whole country south of the Menomonie cession, and east of that made last autumn by the Winnebagoes, could be purchased, it would be a very important arrangement, and conduce greatly to the security of that frontier, and, I have no doubt, to the permanent advantage of the Indians. I do not know where the Illinois boundary divides this tract, nor is it of consequence, as a division of it does not seem necessary. You are at full liberty to extend your operations to include all this region, if you can do so, and keep within the appropriation. Should you find it advisable to make this effort, you will take particular care to summon all the Indians who have any just claims to an interest in these lands. And as it is possible the Mel-wa-kee Indians may set up pretensions, interfering with some of the southern part of the Menomonie cession, I will thank you to investigate that subject, and quiet any just claim you may ascertain to exist. The Indians are so broken into separate bands, and the boundaries between them are so unsettled, that we may at times purchase from some what actually belongs to others. But when such a case is discovered, it becomes us, by a just consideration, to indemnify all parties. Should you succeed in this arrangement, it would relieve the whole country between lake Michigan and the Mississippi, and south of the Ouisconsin and Fox rivers of the Indians, an event equally desirable for us as for them; as it is not possible they can retain their present position much longer, pressed as they will be by our settlements, and exposed to all the evils which these produce.

“And as it is possible the Mel-wa-kee Indians may set up pretensions, interfering with some of the southern part of the Menomonie cession, I will thank you to investigate that subject, and quiet any just claim you may ascertain to exist.”

“The Melwakee Indians were a mixed band of Indians at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They were essentially Potawatomi in political identity although their constituency included individuals of Ottawa, Chippewa and Menominee origin.”

–United States, Indian Claims Commission, “Prairie Band of the Pottawatomi Tribe of Indians, et al., Plaintiffs, v. the United States of America, Defendant: Findings of Fact on Title” (1972-09-20). Indian Claims Commission Decisions ; Volume 28, Docket no. 015-C, 018-H, 029-A, 071.

There is likewise no objection to an arrangement with the Pottawatamie bands in Michigan east of the Lake, and south of Grand river, for the cession of their reservations, if they can be induced to attend to the treaty, and if the amount of the appropriation be not exceeded. Being all connected together, there can be no impropriety in convening them on this occasion.

It is important that all these Indians should be induced to migrate to the country west of the Mississippi. That step is essential to their prosperity, and even to their existence; and the sooner they resolve upon it, the better. To this object your efforts will be directed, nor will you abandon it till all hopes of success are exhausted. Decline, in the first instance, to grant any reservations either to the Indians or others, and endeavor to prevail upon them all to remove. Should you find this impracticable, and that granting some reservations will be unavoidable, that course may then be taken in the usual manner, and upon the usual conditions. But I am very anxious that individual reservations should be circumscribed within the narrowest possible limits. The whites and half-breeds press upon the Indians, and induce them to ask for these gratuities, to which they have no just pretensions; and for which neither the United States nor the Indians receive any real consideration. The practice, though it has long prevailed, is a bad one, and should be avoided as far as possible.

You may stipulate for the payment of annuities in the usual way, not exceeding, however, the term of twenty years; and they will be proportioned to the value of the cession, and to the other stipulations provided for the Indians. If these agree to remove, you can provide for the expenses of their journey, for a year’s subsistence after their arrival in their new country, and for such arrangements with relation to agricultural assistance to stock, to mills, schools, farming utensils, blacksmith shops, &c., as have been inserted in the treaties recently concluded with emigrating Indians, and as may be suitable to the condition of the Pottawatamies. The stipulation respecting a country had better be in the same form it was in the treaties with the Ohio Indians; that is, that a country sufficiently extensive and fertile should be assigned to them by the President. This arrangement would ensure them full justice.

In examining some of the treaties concluded last year, the expenditures were found unnecessarily large. Too many people, and with selfish objects, attend upon these occasions; and they either advise the Indians not to sell, or urge them to make some demand in which they have a direct interest. I would recommend to you to hold your treaty upon the Indian lands, so that you can exercise a sufficient and legal control over all persons attending, and prevent the introduction of spirits. Of this, however, you will judge. The commanding officer at Chicago will be directed to furnish a sufficient guard upon your requisition, and to place them under your orders. This will be necessary to the preservation of the proper police.

Your provisions you will procure upon the best terms; and should it be found that any can be spared to you from the stores at Chicago, it shall be done, and the necessary information immediately communicated. If not, you must purchase whatever you find necessary.

For all the articles procured by you, you will take regular bills of parcels, receipted by the parties, and you will show the disposition by proper certificates. The provisions will be issued upon regular returns, to be drawn by you daily, stating the number of Indians and the name of the principal man of each family. At the end of the treaty these returns will be consolidated into a regular abstract, exhibiting the quantity of each description of provisions daily issued. This will be certified by you and transmitted with your accounts. You will please to observe, that articles purchased by you must be accounted for.

You will be allowed eight dollars per day for every day engaged in this duty, and eight dollars for every twenty miles going to and returning from the place of holding the treaty, to be paid on your respective certificates upon honor. You can appoint a secretary, who will be allowed in like manner five dollars a day, and five dollars for every twenty miles of travel.

This letter is written in triplicate, one to each of you, and you will communicate with each other upon the subject committed to you.

As soon as the treaty is terminated, you will please to transmit your vouchers to the commissioner of Indian Affairs for settlement. The treaty, if effected, will be sent by mail, and not by a special messenger.

The Surveyor General of the United States, and the surveyor of public lands for Missouri and Illinois, will be requested to prepare and transmit to Governor Porter, plats of that portion of the country referred to in this letter within their respective districts, exhibiting the unextinguished Indian title.

Very respectfully, &c.,


{His excellency Geo. B. Porter,
Colonel Thos. J. V. Owen,
Colonel William Weatherford,} Commissioners, &c.

“S. Doc. 23-512 – Correspondence on the subject of the emigration of Indians : : between the 30th November, 1831, and 27th December, 1833, with abstracts of expenditures by disbursing agents, in the removal and subsistence of Indians, &c. &c. /” Congressional Committee Materials, Congressional Serial Set 246. Senate Document, S. Doc. 23-512, 1834, 23rd Congress, 1st Session. pp. 651-653.