On the eve of the Civil War in 1861 the Five Tribes had well-established homes and tribal governments in Indian Territory (I.T.). These five republics were forced to respond to the crisis in the United States when U.S. troops were withdrawn from I.T., leaving them vulnerable to the Confederacy. The tribes had little choice but to enter into agreements with Albert Pike, representative of the Confederate government. The Choctaw and Chickasaw were united in their support of the Confederacy, but the other three tribes either had an almost equal number of troops fighting on both sides or had more on the side of the Union, as was the case of the Cherokee. As the United States drew up the Reconstruction Treaties at the conclusion of the Civil War, it disregarded the fact that some tribe members had supported the Union. With pressure from Kansas and other midwestern states, politicians were determined to retaliate for the tribes' support of the Confederacy.
Negotiations between the federal government and the Five Tribes began at the Fort Smith Council in September 1865. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Dennis N. Cooley told the American Indian delegates that new treaties had to be written. It was explained that they had forfeited their rights, annuities, and land claims under the old treaties when they joined the Confederacy. Cooley was joined by Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Superintendency Elijah Sells and Special Commissioner Ely S. Parker (a Seneca and future commissioner of Indian affairs under Pres. Ulysses S. Grant) in representing the federal government. Cooley insisted that each of the tribes abolish slavery, make homes for the freedmen, and give up part of their lands for the settlement of other American Indians. Because of the differing views and attitudes between the two sides and because some tribal delegates had no authority to accept treaty terms, the council adjourned, and negotiations were not taken up again until spring and summer 1866.
The definitive treaties were finalized in Washington, D.C. The Chickasaw and Choctaw signed a joint treaty on July 10, 1866. The Creek and Cherokee treaties were proclaimed on August 11 and the Seminole treaty on August 16. Generally, all the treaties contained amnesty for all crimes committed against the United States prior to the treaties and included specific provisions of peace and friendship toward the United States. The terms of these treaties were more favorable to the Five Tribes than the offerings at the Fort Smith Council.
At the Washington meeting Cooley, Sells, and Parker joined Secretary of the Interior James Harlan in representing the federal government. The Cherokees had two delegations: the Northern delegation directed by John Ross, who died shortly after the treaty was completed, and the Southern delegation led by former Confederate leaders Elias C. Boudinot and Stand Watie. The Creek and Seminole also had Northern and Southern delegations. The other two tribes had only one delegation each.
Concessions were made by all of the tribes. The first was to abolish slavery and give the freedmen tribal rights. The Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole treaties gave the freedmen unqualified rights, but the Choctaw and Chickasaw treaty gave them the choice of being adopted into their nations or being removed by the federal government and settled elsewhere. The second compromise was to establish an intertribal council. Each tribe would have one representative, with an additional representative for each one thousand tribal members. The superintendent of Indian affairs would serve as the council's chief executive. The third concession was the agreement that all the tribes would give up land in their various domains for rights-of-way for railroad construction through I.T.
The final compromise was that each tribe would give up a considerable amount of land as a penalty for having supported of Confederacy. The Cherokee gave up their "Neutral Lands" in southeastern Kansas and the Cherokee Strip, to be sold to the highest bidder for not less than $1.25 an acre. They also agreed to allow the federal government to settle other tribes in the Cherokee Outlet in exchange for payment made by the government to the Cherokee Nation.
Through their reconstruction treaty the Choctaw and Chickasaw ceded to the United States the Leased District in the western half of their domain for $300,000. A clause in this treaty (July 1866) referred to all the area of the Five Tribes as the "territory of Oklahoma." This was the first mention of the name Oklahoma in an official document of the United States and had been suggested by Allen Wright, member of the Choctaw delegation.
The Creek ceded the western half of their lands for $975,168. Some of the land was to be used for rebuilding, and the remainder was to be held in trust. The Seminole ceded all of their land to the federal government for fifteen cents an acre. They then had to purchase two hundred thousand acres for fifty cents an acre from the government. Ironically, the government had purchased it for thirty cents from the Creek.
As a result of this final concession, the Five Tribes lost the western half of present Oklahoma. These treaties had a tremendous impact on future relations between the federal government and the Five Tribes. The influx of whites moving into I.T. after the Civil War pressed for statehood during the 1890s and early 1900s. However, tribe members fought to retain their sovereignty based on the clause in the Reconstruction Treaties that stated that no federal legislation could interfere with or annul their tribal organization.
Annie H. Abel, The American Indian Under Reconstruction (Cleveland, Ohio: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1925).
Minnie Thomas Bailey, Reconstruction in Indian Territory: A Story of Avarice, Discrimination, and Opportunism (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1972).
Angie Debo, The Road to Disappearance (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941).
Charles J. Kappler, comp. and ed., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, 7 vols. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1904–1979).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
William D. Pennington, “Reconstruction Treaties,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=RE001.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.