March 2010


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By Martin W. Case – Indian Treaty Signers Project

Today, many people believe that Pike Island in the Mississippi River, and its entire vicinity (on which the Twin Cities now rest) became the property of the US at a treaty conducted by Zebulon Pike in 1805. This is not true, and it is typical of the misinformation that surrounds Pike’s conference with the Dakota.

On September 23, 1805, Zebulon Pike did meet with a party of about 150 Dakota people. He did request a land cession of 100,000 acres on which to build a fort, and cajoled two Dakota leaders into signing a piece of paper to that effect. Two examples of the ridiculous humbug that surrounds this event can be found at the Minnesota Historical Society website, and in an article by Italian scholar Marco Sioli.

This Day in Minnesota History: September 23, 1805

The Dakota, led by Little Crow (grandfather of the warrior of 1862) and Way Aga Enagee, sell two pieces of land, a total of 100,000 acres, to Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike for $2,000 and sixty gallons of whiskey. This agreement marks the first land cession by the Dakota and the first land purchase in what would become the state of Minnesota. Fort Snelling is built on one site, while the other is named Pike Island.

Greiner, Tony. Minnesota Book of Days. St.Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001. http://bit.ly/9RAVLX


The first treaty with the Sioux and the United States was signed, by which they ceded lands for “presents to the value of 200 dollars and 60 gallons of liquors.” “It was somewhat difficult to obtain their signature to the grant,” wrote Pike “as they conceived their word of honour sufficient.” (16-17)

Marco Sioli. When the Mississippi Was an Indian River. Revue française d’études américaines 4/2003 (no98), p. 9-19. http://bit.ly/a6d0Zy

According to Pike’s own journal, he dispensed $200 dollars worth of gifts during negotiations with the Dakota, and permittedthe traders who accompanied him to leave 60 gallons of whiskey on the island when his party left. Neither of these disbursals was intended as payment for the land. Years after the “treaty” signing, the US Senate unilaterally inserted the amount of $2,000 as a purchase price. The only dollar value mentioned in Pike’s journal is $200,000 (as MHS archivist Patrick Coleman points out in a brief article linked from the “Book of Days” piece) – ten times the amount eventually paid to the Dakota.

More importantly, however, the Pike Treaty never actually transferred any Dakota land to the US. In fact, the US government did not even know that Pike was travelling up the Mississippi. His expedition was personally authorized by General James Wilkinson, Governor of Louisiana Territory, who was less than forthright in his communication with his superiors. By 1805, he had been a paid spy of Spain for 15 years, was in the process of reporting to the Spanish regime on the progress of the Lewis and Clark Expedition which was underway at the time, and was involved in the Aaron Burr conspiracy to allegedly form an independent empire west of the Mississippi. Pike was not representing the US on Pike’s Island. He was representing Wilkinson.

The chiefs in the council were : Le Petit Corbeau, who signed the grant ; Le Fils de Pinchow, who also signed ; Le Grand Partisan ; Le Original Leve, war-chief ; gave him my father’s [General Wilkinson’s] tomahawk, etc.;

Pike, Zebulon. “September 23, 1805.” The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike to Headwaters of the Mississippi River. New York: Francis P. Harper, 1895.  http://bit.ly/dyRgC3

Perhaps for this reason, the Pike treaty of 1805 was never proclaimed by the President, and as a consequence was never an official act of the government. The failure of Pike to actually accomplish a real estate deal was emphasized in Senate testimony years later. Alexander Faribault’s parents purchased Pike Island from the Dakota decades after the Pike meeting, and asked to be reimbursed by the US when title to the island was taken by the federal government. In 1856 (!) the Military Affairs Committee of the Senate issued a report on that claim that stated:

It does appear that General Pike made an arrangement in 1805 with two Sioux Indians for the purchase of the lands of that tribe, including the Faribault island, but there is no evidence that this agreement, to which there is not even a witness, and in which no consideration was named, was ever considered binding upon the Indians, or that they ever yielded up the possession of their lands under it. Certain it is, that it was not ratified until three years afterwards, (in1808,) when the consideration of $2,000 was introduced into it, to which the other contracting parties never did assent; but it was never promulgated, nor can it be now found upon the statute books, like any other treaty—if indeed a treaty it may be called—nor were its stipulations ever complied with on the part of the United States.

MilitaryAffairs Committee Report #193 (Jean BaptisteFaribault and Pelagie Faribault). Reports of the Committees of the Senate of the United States for the First Session of the Thirty Fourth Congress, 1855 – ’56. Washington: A. O. P.Nicholson, 1856.  http://bit.ly/aByghy


written for the Bdote Memory Map by Martin W. Case, Director of the Indian Treaty Signers Project