Potawatomi Treaties and Treaty Rights

Peace Treaty

The Potawatomi signed a peace treaty with the United States in 1825 at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Many tribes were signatories to this treaty, including the Ojibwe, Sauk and Fox, Santee Dakota (Sioux), Menominee, and Ho-chunk. This treaty included no land cessions; instead, the federal government assembled the tribes to establish boundaries and peace between them. Some of the Midwestern tribes had been at war for many years, and the United States hoped to establish boundaries between them to stem the tide of intertribal warfare. The Prairie du Chien Treaty simply reiterated the boundaries established for the Illinois River Potawatomi in the 1816 Treaty. The Wisconsin Potawatomi did not attend this council, but the treaty left them in control of the western shore of Lake Michigan.

Land Cession Treaties

The Potawatomi of Wisconsin and Illinois River signed their first land cession treaty with the United States in 1816. The Illinois River group resigned all claims to large, rich lands in Illinois between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers as well as some land near Chicago which had traditionally belonged to the Sauk and Fox. While the Illinois River Potawatomi had only slight claim to these lands, the Wisconsin Potawatomi had no claim at all because most lived in villages at Milwaukee, Manitowoc, and Sheboygan. Nonetheless, they were signatories to this treaty, and thus were entitled to part of the payment the United States made for these two cessions.

The Wisconsin and Illinois Potawatomi received goods such as cloth, tobacco, and guns when they made the treaty, plus a 12-year annuity of $1,000 worth of goods. Another provision gave the Illinois River and Wisconsin Potawatomi a strip of land from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin to Moline, Illinois, which was again part of Sauk and Fox traditional holdings. In the 1820s, rich lead mines were discovered in this region, and the United States wanted the lands back. In 1829, the Illinois River and Wisconsin Potawatomi agreed to a treaty selling what they felt never really belonged to them. However, incoming settlers had also badly affected local supplies of food and game. This, along with the Potawatomi’s growing poverty, forced the Illinois River Potawatomi to sell the United States more land around Chicago and in northern Illinois. In exchange for these cessions, the Illinois and Wisconsin Potawatomi received $12,000 in cash and 50 barrels of salt every year indefinitely. The Potawatomi also received $12,000 in gifts, and the government agreed to open a blacksmith shop at Chicago for their exclusive use.

By the early 1830s, it became evident to both the Wisconsin and Illinois Potawatomi that their lands were rapidly dwindling, but they hoped to stay in their homelands rather being removed from lands they had sold. To gain favor with the federal government and forestall removal, they fought alongside the United States and against the Sauk and Fox during the 1832 Black Hawk War. However, this strategy backfired, and the United States became even more determined to buy up the remaining Potawatomi lands.

In 1833, the Potawatomi sold the last of their land in northern Illinois and all land in southeastern Wisconsin to the United States at a treaty council in Chicago. It was the first and last time the Wisconsin Potawatomi made a treaty with the United States to sell their Wisconsin lands, including all land south of the Milwaukee River and Lake Winnebago. During the treaty council, the Potawatomi living north of Milwaukee at Manitowoc and Sheboygan protested that the Menominee had improperly sold Potawatomi lands to the United States in 1831. They argued that the Menominee had no rightful claim to the lands along Lake Michigan’s western shore. The United States treaty commissioners agreed and included a provision in the 1833 treaty promising to pay the Potawatomi for these lands as part of the overall treaty agreement.

In exchange for signing the 1833 Treaty, the Illinois and Wisconsin Potawatomi were given 5 million acres of land in Iowa, $100,000 in goods and provisions, $14,000 in cash every year for 20 years, $150,000 to set up grist mills and buy agricultural implements, and $70,000 for establishing schools. Additionally, the government paid off $250,000 of debts the Potawatomi incurred with local fur traders.

Land Restoration

According to the terms of the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, the Potawatomi had to leave Wisconsin by 1838. Many did so, and ultimately went to a reservation in Kansas. However, others moved into northern Wisconsin, specifically Forest County. For many years, the United States only paid the Kansas branch of the Potawatomi their annuities for their Midwestern land sales. The federal government rectified this practice in 1913 when it paid the Wisconsin Potawatomi $447,339. The tribe used $150,000 of this money to purchase their reservation in Forest County. Unlike the Menominee and Ojibwe, the Forest County reservation was not created by treaty, nor did the Potawatomi reserve any hunting, fishing, or gathering rights on the lands they sold to the United States via their treaties.