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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Fort Crawford
and the Frontier

Bruce E. Mahan

The State Historical Society of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa, 1926

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p89  VII
The Great Council of 1825

Prior to 1871 the United States government negotiated treaties with the Indians and, to impress the Indians with the importance of the agreements, proclaimed these treaties with solemn pomp and ceremony. Although the method of dealing with the Indians as independent nations was almost from the first practically a "legal fiction" it was continued until the act of March 3, 1871, abolished the practice.255

It was not an easy affair to negotiate a treaty, for a satisfactory place and an opportune time had to be selected, the Indians had to be fed while they were away from home, and furthermore they must be protected from lurking enemies. Moreover, if the treaty were to be satisfactory, all factions of a tribe had to be consulted and for this purpose braves were often assembled by the hundreds. In treaty making with the Indians of the Upper Mississippi Valley the military posts played an important part, and the presence of soldiers added an impressive feature.256

The first important treaty negotiated with the tribes of the Upper Northwest after the establishment of military posts at the strategic points recommended by Cass in 1815 was the Great Council of 1825 at Prairie du Chien.257

The Great Council of 1825 was an earnest effort on the part of the government to induce the Indians of the Upper Mississippi Valley to bury the tomahawk and to  p90 agree to confine their excursions in search of game within specified boundaries. The government desired especially to put an end to the bitter Sioux-Chippewa feuds and to the bloody clashes between the Sioux and the allied tribes of Sauk and Foxes in the Iowa country.258

In many respects this treaty council was one of the most imposing ever held with the red men. To this meeting there came not only the chiefs, principal men, and warriors of the tribes but their families as well.​259 And many a town in Iowa, as well as in other States of the Upper Mississippi Valley, bears the name of some Indian who affixed his mark to the Treaty of 1825 — Decorah, Tama, Keokuk, and Mahaska for example.

From the region about Fort Snelling came Indian Agent Lawrence Taliaferro with almost four hundred Sioux and Chippewa. From the distant Sault Ste. Marie, by way of Lake Michigan and the Fox‑Wisconsin waterway, the scholar­ly Henry Schoolcraft brought one hundred and fifty Chippewa, "the brothers of Hiawatha". Nicolas Boilvin, the faithful Indian agent at Prairie du Chien had gathered hundreds of his Winnebago from the Wisconsin country thereabouts. And from Rock Island came Thomas Forsyth, the capable agent of the Sauk and Foxes. Sub‑agents Robert Forsyth and W. B. Alexander were also included among the white ambassadors to the Indian tribes. Major Thomas Biddle came from St. Louis to act as secretary of the conference while General William Clark, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, with headquarters at St. Louis, and Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan Territory, the two United States commissioners, added distinction to the assemblage.​260 Captain R. A. McCabe, then in command at Fort Crawford, and nearly a hundred soldiers of the Fifth Infantry represented  p91 the army of the United States at this distant post.261

It was first proposed to hold the council near Fort Armstrong at Rock Island but the Indians preferred Prairie du Chien. This village and the surrounding prairie had long been a neutral spot where the tribesmen might assemble under a temporary truce, and this, the Indians said, was the proper place for a great council. The date of the meeting was placed later in the season, too, than was originally planned, for the Indians wished to wait until their summer hunt was ended.262

A keel-boat containing provisions and presents for the Indians left St. Louis on June 30, 1825, bound up stream for the conference. It contained rations valued at $6750 for an estimated crowd of two thousand Indians, and presents of tobacco, salt, sugar, guns, powder, lead, and liquor to the amount of $2000. Clark had further estimated that the pay of extra interpreters, expresses, transporting supplies, presents, and these men to Prairie du Chien would take $400 more. An additional $500 was allowed for subsistence and contingent expenses of Indian agents, interpreters, and other men employed during the time of the council — a total cost of $10,400. Even this amount Clark deemed inadequate, for the presence of Governor Cass as commissioner would probably increase the number of tribesmen for whom provision must be made. He assured the Secretary of War, however, that all possible economy would be used in the conduct of the council.263

Clark and Biddle left St. Louis on July 6th and caught up with the keel-boat at Clarksville three days later. Not for ten years had Clark visited the Upper Mississippi  p92 region, but few changes were encountered along the river. Eight days passed before the boat reached Fort Edwards. There Clark found White Cloud and several other principal men of the Ioway tribe who claimed that their sub‑agent had told them to meet the "Red Head Chief" at this place. Although much provoked at this unauthorized advice of their agent General Clark gave the Indians a barrel of pork and another of biscuits, and borrowed a canoe from the American Fur Company representative for their transportation to Prairie du Chien. The Indians also asked him to pay for a beef which had been killed for them while they were awaiting the arrival of the White Chief.264

The next day Clark stopped at the tent of the fur trader, Maurice Blondeau, on the Iowa side of the "Rapides des Moines". There he found another party of Ioway en route overland for the council. Before departing Clark gave White Cloud a rifle and some powder, together with a note to Agent Forsyth at Rock Island to furnish the Ioway some provisions. The "Red Head Chief", probably reluctantly, also paid twenty-five dollars to the owner of the beef killed for the Ioway loiterers at Fort Edwards.265

On to Rock Island, from which Colonel George Davenport shipped his furs to St. Louis and to which he brought twice a year a hundred thousand dollars' worth of goods for his trading post, Clark and his party proceeded. The Sauk and Foxes, he learned, were to leave for the Prairie in two days, and Agent Forsyth a day later.​266 Farther up the river the party passed the place where Julien Dubuque "lay in perpetual state on the hills". Toward sundown on the evening of July 30th, the General and his men reached the end of their journey.267

 p93  Prairie du Chien was agog with excitement. Governor Cass who had come by the Great Lakes and Fox‑Wisconsin route had been there for ten days. Agent Taliaferro with the Sioux and Chippewa from the Upper Mississippi, together with interpreters and assistants, had already arrived; and Schoolcraft was there with his Chippewa from Sault Ste. Marie. Taliaferro's delegation, Clark learned, had stopped at the Painted Rock above the Prairie and had "dressed for a solemn entry with as much care as an ambassador and his suite would have taken at the court of the Grand Monarque. When all was ready, the boats, arranged in columns, swept down with flags flying, drums beating, and guns firing, and rounded up at the levee at Fort Crawford in imposing array." Not only the village, but the entire banks of the river for miles above and below were covered with high-pointed buffalo tents. "Tall and warlike, Chippewas and Winnebagoes from Superior and the valley of St. Croix jostled Menomonees, Pottawattamies, and Ottawas" from Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Some of the chiefs, said Schoolcraft, "had the skin of skunks tied to their heels, to symbolize that they never ran".268

The Sioux Indians were a picturesque group. They carried war clubs and lances decorated with almost every imaginable device of paint. Their calumets of red pipestone from the famous Minnesota quarries were most elaborate. These pipes, curiously carved and fitted with flat wooden handles four feet long, were ornamented "with the scalps of red‑headed woodpecker and male duck, and tail feathers of birds artificially attached by strings and quill work, so as to hang in the figuring of a quadrant." Wanita, the Yankton chief, had a most magnificent robe of the buffalo "curiously worked with dyed  p94 porcupine's quills and sweet grass." Dyed porcupine quills arranged in a kind of mosaic added a colorful touch to the personal embellishment of other braves.269

The opening of the council was delayed until the Sauk, Foxes, and Ioway should arrive. On the fourth of August they were sighted approaching in a flotilla of some seventy canoes. They had stopped on an island down stream to array themselves in their finery, and in compact formation, singing their war songs, they swept up the river past the village and back again. At the landing they were greeted as brothers by the Chippewa, but the Sioux stood apart scowling.

As the prairie was already well filled with the teepees of the earlier arrivals, these tribes encamped on the large island in midstream and on the opposite shore — the present site of McGregor. "They came to the treaty ground", said Schoolcraft, "armed and dressed as a war party". Many of the warriors had "a long tuft of red‑horse hair tied at their elbows, and wore a necklace of grizzly bears' claws." Their head-dress consisted of red dyed horsehair, "tied in such a manner to the scalp lock as to present the shape of the decoration of a Roman helmet." Except for the scalp lock their heads were painted and shaved. They were practically naked. The print of a hand in white clay commonly marked the back or shoulders. Some carried long iron-shod lances in their hands; others were armed with clubs, guns, and knives. They looked the very spirit of defiance. Keokuk, their leader, stood as a prince "majestic and frowning."270

At last all was ready for the council. A bower of trees with a raised platform for the commissioners had been erected near Fort Crawford for the assemblage. At ten  p95 o'clock on the morning of August 5th the firing of a gun at the fort summoned the braves to the council. The members of the commission took their place on the raised platform. In a semi-circle in front of them sat the gray-clad chiefs and principal men of the tribes, back of them the braves, and on the fringe of the great concourse were the squaws and children. On long benches at one side of the circle of Indians sat the soldiers from the fort, resplendent in their high bell-crowned "tarbucket" hats with white pompons, tight-fitting blue jacket coats with white crossed breast belts, and white trousers. Behind them sat the wives of officers and other ladies of Prairie du Chien. Back of the assemblage Fort Crawford with its loop-holed walls and turret-crowned blockhouses reminded the savages of the long arm of the Great Father at Washington. It was a picture for an artist, and fortunately an artist — James O. Lewis — was present to catch and preserve the details of the scene.271

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from a painting by J. O. Lewis
reproduced in Quaife's Wisconsin Its History and Its People

The Great Council of 1825

"Friends and children", said General Clark to the assembled Indians, "we have been directed by your Great Father, your President of the United States, to meet you here in council at this time, and we are rejoiced that the Great Spirit has enabled you all to arrive here in peace and safety. He has given us a clear day and we hope he has opened your ears and will prepare your heart for the good work before us."​272

"Children", he continued, "your Great Father has not sent us here to ask anything from you. We want nothing, not the smallest piece of your land. Not a single article of your property. We have come a great way to meet you for your own good and not for our benefit. Your Great Father has been informed that war is carried on among his red children, the Socs, Foxes, and Chippewas  p96 and the Sioux on the other; and that the wars of some of you, began before any of you now living were born.

"Your Great Father thinks there is no cause for a continuation of war between you. There is land enough for you to live and hunt on and animals enough for your support, why instead of peacefully following the game and providing for your families do you send out war parties to destroy one another? The Great Spirit made you all of one colour and placed you all upon this land. Your ought to live in peace together as brothers of one great family. Your Great Father has heard of your war songs and war parties — they do not please him."

General Clark then explained that hostilities among the Indians had resulted mainly from the lack of definite boundaries for the hunting grounds. Intent upon the chase, braves had often followed game into the lands claimed by other tribes, and trouble had always followed. In conclusion Clark reminded the Indians that they had assembled under their Great Father, and cautioned them that blood must not be spilt. "Whoever injures either of you injures us", he said, "and we shall punish him as we would punish one of our own people." He ended his speech by saying, "Children", you can "take time to consider of those subjects and when you are prepared to give an answer we shall be ready to hear you."

The pipe was then smoked and after passing it around to each individual the ashes were thrown into the council fire. The council then adjourned until ten o'clock the next morning. Rations of beef, bread, corn, salt, sugar, tobacco, and a little liquor were distributed, and the Indians ate until not a scrap of food remained.273

 p97  At ten o'clock the next morning the council reassembled and the chiefs gave voice to their thoughts. Said one Fox chief, "My Fathers, I am glad to see all my relations these red skins assembled together. I was glad to hear what you said yesterday; how could it be otherwise when what you said were my own thoughts."274

Monga Zid from Fond du Lac spoke, "When I heard the voice of my Great Father coming up the Mississippi Valley calling me to this treaty, it seemed as a murmuring wind; I got up from my mat where I sat musing, and hastened to obey it. My pathway has been clear".275

Proud Keokuk declared, "My great wish is accomplished in meeting you all together." And he added that the idea of establishing boundaries was agreeable to the thoughts and wishes of his people.276

But Shinguaba W'Ossin, first chief of the Chippewa, sounded a discordant note. "My Fathers have taken a great deal of trouble to collect their red children and to keep them in peace", he said. "But I am afraid that it will not be good. The young men are bad and hard to govern." And the Wind, another Chippewa chief, exclaimed, "I wish to live in peace. But in running marks round our country or in giving it to our enemies it may make new disturbances and breed wars."277

Wabasha, the Sioux, spoke in a similar vein. "My Fathers, I am pleased at the prospect of peace, and was glad to smoke the pipe and throw the remains into the fire. When the peace is made I hope it is a lasting one."278

In the name of the commissioners, Governor Cass told the chiefs of the pleasure with which they had heard all that had been said except some of the remarks of the  p98 Chippewa. "We tell you again", he said, "your Great Father does not want your land. He wants to establish boundaries and peace among you." He had no disposition to hurry them, but added, "No more whisky will be issued until the business of this council is finished — at the conclusion of the business a great feast will be given to you all."279

The Council then adjourned until Monday when the chiefs began to describe the boundaries of their land. White Cloud, the Ioway chief, declared, "My Fathers, I claim no lands in particular. The land I live on is enough to furnish my women and children. I go upon the land of our friends the Socs and Foxes — we alternately go upon each others lands. . . . We have but one council fire and eat out of the same dish". It was for Keokuk, then, to bound the realm of the Sauk and Foxes. "We claim the Fork of the Calumet [Big Sioux] River", he said. "It is unnecessary to say by what title we claim it — you know we got it. This is the line for which my mouth has spoken so much."280

The debate grew animated as it was seen that the boundaries between the tribes crossed and recrossed. Days passed as the Indians disputed over conflicting claims. "These are the cause of all your troubles", said Clark. He insisted that it would be better for each to give up some disputed territory than to be forever fighting about it.281

For days the Sioux and the Sauk and Foxes argued as to what point on the Missouri River should be the western end of the boundary between them.​282 According to the treaty that was finally adopted, the line which was supposed to keep these warring tribes apart in the Iowa country was described as "Commencing at the mouth of  p99 the Upper Ioway River, on the west bank of the Mississippi, and ascending the said Ioway river, to its left fork; thence up that fork to its source; thence crossing the fork of Red Cedar River, in a direct line to the second or upper fork of the Desmoines river; and thence in a direct line to the lower fork of the Calumet river; and down that river to its juncture with the Missouri river."283

Negotiations between the Sioux and Chippewa resulted in the establishment of a dividing line between the lands claimed by them, a line which both tribes solemnly promised never to cross except on peaceful pursuits.284

At last all the various disputes seemed to be adjusted, and on August 19th, 1825, the celebrated treaty embodying these agreements was signed by all, the wampum belt was passed, and the calumet was smoked as a solemn pledge that the war tomahawk was buried "never to be raised as long as the trees grow, or the waters of this river continue to run."285

On the next day copies of the treaty of peace were delivered to each band of Indians, again the pipe of peace was passed, presents were exchanged, and a great feast concluded the ceremony.​286 The small amount of liquor that had been doled out during the council led to much grumbling on the part of the Indians and the expression of opinion that the white chiefs were stingy. To disabuse the red men of this idea several kettles were filled with liquor and, after suitable remarks, the contents of each kettle was spilled out on the ground — a loss ill relished by the waiting tribesmen.287

Group by group the Indians departed. Cass and Clark with their assistants took boat for home, and the soldiers of Fort Crawford returned to the routine of garrison duty. The Great Council at Prairie du Chien was over.288

The Author's Notes:

255 Hansen's Old Fort Snelling, p176; United States Statutes at Large, Vol. XVI, p566.

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256 For example note the treaties of 1825, 1829, and 1830 at Fort Crawford, the so‑called treaty of 1831, and treaty of 1832 at Fort Armstrong, and the treaty of 1837 at Fort Snelling.

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257 Materials on this treaty are rather abundant. The treaty itself is found in United States Statutes at Large, Vol. VII (Indian Treaties, 1778‑1842, pp272‑277. A contemporary account appears in Niles' Weekly Register, Vol. XXIX, pp84, 187‑192, while Schoolcraft in his Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers: with Brief Notices of Passing Events, Facts, and Opinions, A.D. 1812 to A.D. 1842, gives the impressions of a participant in the proceedings. The rare Lewis Portfolio contains pictures of the general  p306 council and of several of the Indian chiefs who participated, painted by J. O. Lewis on the spot. The journal kept by Major Thomas Biddle, secretary of the council, is another invaluable source of information. This document entitled "Journal of the proceedings under the Commission of Genl. Wm. Clark and Govr. Lewis Cass, To Treat with, and mediate between, sundry Indian tribes at Prairie du Chien in 1825" is found in the Indian Office Pension Court Files, Pension Building, Washington, D. C. A copy of this is in the library of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin at Madison from which a copy was made for the State Historical Society of Iowa. Hereafter this document will be referred to as Biddle's Journal and the pages refer to the typewritten pages of the latter copy. Dye's The Conquest contains a vivid description of the event.

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258 Niles' Weekly Register, Vol. XXIX, p84.

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259 Niles' Weekly Register, Vol. XXIX, pp84, 85.

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260 Biddle's Journal, pp6, 7.

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261 Post Returns, Fort Crawford, 1817‑1831, August, 1825, in the office of the Adjutant General, War Department, Washington, D. C.

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262 For correspondence in re the proposed council see the Indian Office Files for 1825.

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263 Biddle's Journal, pp2‑5.

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264 Biddle's Journal, pp4, 5.

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265 Biddle's Journal, pp5, 6.

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266 Biddle's Journal, p6. For an interesting account of this journey up the Mississippi see Dye's The Conquest, p410.

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267 Biddle's Journal, p6; Dye's The Conquest, p410.

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268 Biddle's Journal, p69; Schoolcraft's Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, pp214‑216; Folwell's A History of Minnesota, Vol. I, p146; Dye's The Conquest, p410.

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269 Schoolcraft's Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, pp214, 215.

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270 Biddle's Journal, p6, 7; Schoolcraft's Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, pp215, 216; Dye's The Conquest, p411.

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271 Biddle's Journal, pp7, 15. The description of the seating arrangement at this conference is based on the painting of the council by J. O. Lewis. The Lewis Portfolio in which this picture occurs is in the library of the State Historical Society at Madison, Wisconsin. For the description of the uniform of that day see Ganoe's The History of the United States Army, p160.

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272 Clark's speech appears in Biddle's Journal, pp12‑15; Dye's The Conquest, p411.

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273 Biddle's Journal, p15; Dye's The Conquest, pp411, 412.

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274 Biddle's Journal, p15.

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275 Schoolcraft's Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, p216.

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276 Biddle's Journal, p16.

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277 Biddle's Journal, pp16, 17.

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278 Biddle's Journal, p17.

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279 Biddle's Journal, p19.

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280 Biddle's Journal, pp19‑29.

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281 Biddle's Journal, pp29‑31; Dye's The Conquest, p213.

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282 Biddle's Journal, pp32‑35.

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283 United States Statutes at Large, Vol. VII (Indian Treaties, 1778‑1842), p272.

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284 United States Statutes at Large, Vol. VII (Indian Treaties, 1778‑1842), p273; Folwell's A History of Minnesota, Vol. I, p147.

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285 Biddle's Journal, p35; Niles' Weekly Register, Vol. XXIX, p192.

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286 Biddle's Journal, pp35‑37.

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287 Schoolcraft's Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, p217.

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288 Biddle's Journal, p38.

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