1837: A Treaty Made before
THAT SUMMER THE PROSPECT of a treaty drew many different people to St. Peter’s Agency, where the Minnesota River met the Mississippi. The official treaty party set out by steamboat from Dubuque to rendezvous with the Indians with the intent of buying the northern half of Wisconsin.1 The Ojibwa had been notified to arrive at the agency sometime between July 1 and 20. Taliaferro had sent runners with messages of invitation and small packets of tobacco to all the Ojibwa villages.
Lush, deep green virgin pine forests extended from Lake Superior through the Chippewa River Valley to the Mississippi.2 If the government could open those lands to lumbering, the river’s current would aid shipping to downstream customers throughout the entire central continental area. These, the only major forest lands within 500 miles, were claimed by the Ojibwa, who had already pushed the woodland Sioux farther west—as they themselves had been pushed from the Great Lakes by earlier waves of settlement and Indian removal.
Through its maneuvering the company had successfully seen to it that neither Taliaferro nor Colonel Davenport was named as commissioner. The two-person treaty party, which arrived aboard the Steamboat Irene,3 consisted of Territorial Governor Henry Dodge, who was a former dragoons officer, Indian fighter, lead miner, and now a frontier statesman, and Verplanck Van Antwerp, a New York lawyer who served as secretary of the commission. A third commissioner failed to arrive in time to catch the steamboat and it left without him.4
Less than a month before the treaty was scheduled to start, a subagent to the Ojibwa was finally appointed. However, when the subagent, Daniel Bushnell, arrived for the first time at his new post, none of the Indians with whom he was supposed to establish ties were around because they were out on the annual buffalo hunts.5 Bushnell could hardly obtain the Ojibwas’ views, let alone their confidence, in this short month before they were to make the most important treaty in their people’s history, signing away their interest in almost three million acres of land. Bushnell barely had time to wait for whoever showed up at his subagency