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Wind River Treaty Documents



shoshone-map-1825-1900The Eastern Shoshones, who live on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, have a long history of treaties and agreements with the United States government. In this section, you will learn about the history of treaties and agreements between Indian people and the Europeans who settled in North America., It is important to learn about the history of treaties and agreements to understand the treaties and agreements between the Eastern Shoshones and the U. S. government.

Even before the creation of the United States in 1776, European settlers/colonists in North America found themselves in need of trading partners and allies with American Indians. The colonists realized that the Indians vastly outnumbered them.  In order to survive in a land that was the New World to the Europeans and an Old World to the Indians, the Europeans needed partners.  They also wanted land if they were to establish their own communities. Even though all of the land in North America belonged to its original inhabitants, often Europeans did not understand this and European monarchs and governments made proclamations granting land to colonists.  To resolve the issue of the land ownership, there were many negotiated agreements, or treaties, between colonial and Indian leaders.  For example, in 1621 the leaders of Plymouth Colony (the colonial home of  the Pilgrims and founded in 1620) agreed to live in peace with the local Wampanoag Indians.  The Indians agreed to allow the Pilgrims to reside on former Indian lands.  As they did with each other, European countries acknowledged Indian nations as sovereign nations and negotiated treaties with the Indian nations as sovereign nations. This is a very important facet in understanding treaties between Indians and colonists, and later, between Indians and the United States.

Over the next two centuries of European colonial expansion in North America, French, English, Swedish, Dutch, and other European colonies forged a variety of pacts with Indians.  These pacts, or treaties as they are better known, generally established trade, friendship, and land transfer policies between the newcomers and the Indians.  In more than a few cases, these treaties successfully established relatively long-lasting good relations between Indians and the settlers.  Some treaties were long lasting. The treaty of 1621 between the Wampanoag Indians and the Plymouth Colony stood in place over 40 years and helped maintain peace.  William Penn’s treaties with the Delaware Indians helped keep good relations intact from the 1680s through the 1720s.

Of course, not all treaties were effective. ¬†As colonial immigration increased throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, many settlers ignored the treaties signed by their colonial leaders. ¬†They trespassed on Indian land‚ÄĒestablishing farms and villages in territory reserved by the treaties for the specific use of Indians. ¬†Sometimes young Indian warriors ignored their tribal leaders and elders attacking these colonial farms and settlements. ¬†Overall, there are more cases of conflicts and warfare between Indians and settlers than mutual respect for land boundaries, open trade, and strong alliances.

Despite the relatively bleak experience of using treaties to maintain peaceful and beneficial relations, after its formation, the United States continued to try to forge treaties with Indian people.  In some cases treaties emerged following warfare and conquest; in others, negotiation took place in order to prevent outbreaks of violence.  Beginning with the Treaty of Greenville (Ohio) in 1795, most treaties accepted by the U.S. government contained the following:  (1) The establishment of boundaries designating Indian land that was off-limits for settler expansion; (2) Trade agreements that said manufactured goods would be delivered by authorized dealers (often know as factors or traders) as a sign of friendship with Indians; (3) Mutual defense pacts, or alliances, to guard against hostile Indians or European nations; and (4) Laws to deal with criminal offenses committed by both Indians against U.S. citizens or citizens against Indians.  Not every treaty contained all of these specific provisions, but most included at least two or three of them.

During the 1800s, land boundaries took on new meanings in treaties. ¬†In previous centuries, treaties acknowledged Indian ownership of lands that countries wanted to buy for their immigrant populations. ¬†In the 1800s, however, the United States instituted two new interpretations of land boundaries and ownership. ¬†First, from 1810 through the 1840s, the U.S. forced Indians to sell lands desired by its citizens and required Indians to move to other areas. ¬†The most famous examples of this policy were the treaties made with Indians of the southeastern areas of the United States where Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles gave up their lands under threat of force and moved to what is now Oklahoma‚ÄĒthe infamous ‚ÄúTrail of Tears‚ÄĚ in the 1830s.

The second policy shift regarding land boundaries emerged in the 1850s. This is when the U.S. used treaties to set up specified land reserved for Indians‚ÄĒthe reservation system. ¬†These boundaries restricted Indians to their allotted geographical space, banned settlers from moving on to Indian lands, and set up new terms for trade and commerce. At the same time, the treaties tried to create corridors for westward migration of citizens, first by claiming the right of travel along the Overland Trail to Oregon and California, and later for the construction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads.

It is very important to remember that the initial need for treaties was because the Indians outnumbered settlers in many parts of North America.  This was also true even when the United States expanded to become a continental nation in the 1850s and 1860s.  Although the U.S. claimed territories spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, Indians still outnumbered settlers in many parts of the country, especially in the Great Plains located between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.  The U.S. meet with little success with treaties that attempted to regulate or restrict Indian movements and confine tribes to specific regions. For years, well into the 1870s and 1880s, many Indian people of the Great Plains continued to try to live their lives without interference from the U.S.

But a flurry of treaties signed in 1855 with most of the tribes of Oregon and Washington set the stage for reservation creation.  They also led to further negotiation over the next decade with Indians of Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and the other lands abutting the Great Plains. In each of these treaties, no matter how restrictive they were for Indian peoples, the principle of sovereignty and government-to-government relations remained in the treaty language.

In 1872, the United States ended the practice of making treaties with Indians.  What followed was known as agreements. For the most part, the agreements dealt with land cessions, or sales.  Essentially, Indians sold much of their land in return for governmental support.  Trade deals gave way to bargains struck for long-term promises for goods and services as well as for food.  The U.S. was to provide Indians with cloth, farm implements, schools and teachers, and foodstuffs like beef, flour, and coffee.  Sometimes the promises were kept; more often, they were not.


The treaties and agreements on this site are some of the most important documents in Eastern Shoshone history, and clearly establish the tribe as a sovereign entity.  The first treaty of Fort Bridger, in 1863, created this legal status in terms of United States law, while the second, in 1868, clarified the terms of sovereignty.  In 1878, the U.S. federal government violated Eastern Shoshone sovereignty when officials placed the Northern Arapahos on the Wind River Reservation, promising that it was to be temporary when it was not, and without compensating the Shoshones under the terms of the 1868 treaty.  In two subsequent land cession agreements, in 1896 and again in 1904, the government illegally included the Arapahos in the negotiations.  Finally, in 1937, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. federal government owed compensation to the Shoshones for the lands occupied by the Arapahos that re-established the sovereignty of the Eastern Shoshones.

Here are some questions to think about as you read the legal language of each treaty or agreement. Take the time to think about what is actually said.

  • Are there specified land boundaries or areas designated as Shoshone land?
  • Are there words suggesting peace?
  • What did the U.S. promise to do in each of the documents?
  • What promises did the Shoshones make?
  • How long were these promises in effect?

Resources for Teachers

Indian Land Tenure Foundation.  Lessons of Our Land:  Native American Pre-K through 12 Curriculum. 2015. Found online at

Jeneau, Denise. ¬†Social Studies Model Lessons: The Treaty Period — American Indian Perspectives. Montana Office of Public Instruction, n.d., found online at

National Museum of the American Indian. Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations. Exhibition September 21, 2014‚ÄďFall 2018, Washington, DC. ¬†Found online at

Oklahoma State University Library.  Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Compiled and edited by Charles K. Kappler.  Found online at

A United League Of Indigenous Nations Treaty ‚Äď Draft. Found online at


  • Treaty with the Eastern Shoshoni
    Treaty of 1863 Commentary by Hank Stamm
    The 1863 Fort Bridger Treaty with the Eastern Shoshones represented part of a process to clear a corridor for safe travel for whites emigrating to the west and for railway and communication routes. This treaty came on the heels of two important events: first, the Homestead Act of 1862 created a mechanism to encourage white settlement in the western territories of the United States. Second, and more important to the Shoshones, the Bear River Massacre in early 1863 made it quite clear that the United States was prepared to go to great lengths to compel Shoshones west of Wyoming to comply with demands for passage.Nearly 400 Shoshones lost their lives at this encounter, including some members of the bands that adhered to the leadership of Chief Washakie. The treaty essentially sets the boundaries of the Eastern Shoshones to reflect their traditional base since the early 1800s, namely from the upper Snake River on the north, east to the Wind River Mountains, South into northern Colorado and Utah, and no further west than Salt Lake. It did not include the present-day boundaries of the Wind River Reservation, which lie east of the Wind River Mountains. The ratified 1863 treaty added one article and one amendment to the original document, as well as a new preamble. The additions are noted with brackets.

    View/Download the Treaty of 1863 in PDF format (14K)

  • Treaty with the Shoshone and Bannacks
    Treaty of 1868 Commentary by Hank Stamm
    Above all political documents, this one is the most important for the Eastern Shoshones. The Treaty of Fort Bridger, 1868, established the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation and guaranteed to the tribe a lasting relationship with the United States. Unlike the earlier Treaty of Fort Bridger, 1863, which merely described the outline of Shoshone Country, a territory that lay west of the Wind River Mountains, the 1868 Treaty gave the tribe the right to occupy what had been their hunting grounds and winter camps, but never their home. In effect, this document denied any claims to the Wind River valley made by competing tribes such as the Arapahos, Crow, or Oglala Sioux. There are a few interesting mistakes in spelling in this treaty, most notably the clerk recorded the words ‚ÄúCamas Prairie‚ÄĚ as ‚ÄúKansas Prairie‚ÄĚ and agent Luther Mann gets recorded as Luther Manpa. Like most treaties with Indian peoples, this 1868 document clearly makes the point that the government wants the Indians to give up any sort of tribal allegiance and transform themselves into independent citizen farmers. Almost all the articles of the treaty are written with this objective in mind.

    View/Download the Treaty of 1868 in PDF Format (18K)

  • The Brunot Cession Agreement
    Brunot Land Cession of 1874
    In part, due to the onset of the severe nation-wide depression of the Panic of 1873, it took the Congress of the United States over two years to ratify the cession agreement reached by Felix Brunot and the Shoshones. The agreement diminished the original reservation by nearly one-third and opened the ceded southern portion to white settlement. The delays in implementation, however, led to confusion concerning the delivery of the stock cattle over the specified five-year period, and of course, the government did very little to honor its part to prevent settlers from moving onto the ceded lands. Note that Chief Washakie was a direct beneficiary of this agreement, but in the context of Shoshone customs, it provided him a discretionary fund that allowed him to meet his obligations as a headman.CHAP. 2‚ÄĒAn act to confirm and agreement made with the Shoshone Indians (eastern band for the purchase of the south part of their reservation in Wyoming Territory.Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the agreement entered into on the twenty-sixth day of September, in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and seventy-two, between Felix R. Brunot, commissioner on the part of the United States and the chief, head-men, and men of the eastern band of Shoshone Indians, in the words and figures following, be, and the same is hereby, confirmed, satisfied, and approved by the Congress and President of the United States; Provided; That the cattle furnished under this agreement shall be good, young American cattle, suitable for breeding purposes.Articles of a convention made and concluded at the Shoshone and Bannock Indian agency in Wyoming Territory, this twenty-sixth day of September, in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and seventy-two, by and between Felix R. Brunot, commissioner on the part of the United States, and the chief, head-men, and men of the eastern band of Shoshone Indians, constituting a majority of all the adult male Indians of said band on tribe of Indians, and duly authorized to act on the premises, witnesseth:That whereas by article eleven of a treaty with the Shoshone (eastern band) and Bannock tribes of Indians, made the third day of July, eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, at Fort Bridger, Utah Territory, a reservation was set apart for the use and occupancy of said tribes of Indians in the following words: ‚ÄúThe United States further agrees that the following district of country, to wit, ‚Äėcommencing at the mouth of the Owl Creek and running, due south, to the crest of the divided between the Sweetwater and the Papo-Agie Rivers; thence along the crest of said divide and the summit of Wind River Mountains to the longitude of North Fork of Wind River; thence due north, to mouth of said North Fork, and up its channel to a point twenty miles above its mouth; thence in a straight line to head-waters of Owl Creek, and, along middle of channel of Owl Creek, to place of beginning,‚Äô shall be, and the same is, set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Shoshone Indians herein named;‚ÄĚAnd whereas, previous to and since the date of said treaty, mines have been discovered, and citizens of the United States have made improvements within the limits of said reservation, and it deemed advisable for the settlement of all difficulty between the parties, arising in consequence of said occupancy, to change the southern limit of said reservation:

    I. The Shoshone band or tribe of Indians (eastern band) hereby cede to the United States of America that portion of their reservation in Wyoming Territory which is situated south of a line beginning at a point on the eastern boundary of the Shoshone and Bannock reservation, due east to the mouth of the Little Papo-Agie, at its junction with the Papo-Agie, and running from said point west to the mouth of the Little Papo-Agie; thence up the Papo-Agie to the North Fork, and up the North Fork to the mouth of the canyon; thence west to the western boundary of the reservation.

    II. The United States agree to pay to the Shoshone (eastern band) or tribe the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars; said sum to be expended under the direction of the President for the benefit and use by said Indians in the following manner, viz: On or before the tenth day of August of each year, for the term of five years after the ratification of this agreement, five thousand dollars shall be expended for the purchase of stock-cattle, and said cattle delivered to the Shoshones on their reservation. Second. The salary of five hundred dollars per annum shall be paid by the United States for the term of five years to Wash-a-kie, chief of the Shoshones.

    III. Within the term of six months, and as soon as practicable after the ratification of this agreement, the United States shall cause the southern line of the Shoshone reservation, as herein designated, to be surveyed, and marked at suitable points on the ground, and until said line has been so surveyed and marked, the United States binds itself not to permit the intrusion of any white persons upon any of the agricultural or other lands within the limit of the district proposed to be ceded.

    IV. This convention or agreement is made subject to the approval of the President and the ratification or rejection of the Congress of the United States.

    Approved, December 15, 1874.

    View/Download the Brunot Cession Agreement in PDF Format (12K)

  • 1896 Big Horn Hot Springs Land Cession
    Land Cession of 1896 Commentary by Hank Stamm
    The 1890s saw three separate efforts to reduce the size of the Wind River Reservation. The only successful agreement was reached in 1896, when the United States acquired a section of land that contained the Big Horn Hot Springs, a series of naturally occurring springs of geothermal waters, at the northeast corner of the reservation. The total amount of land ceded was an area of 10 miles square (100 square miles). In 1897, the agreement was ratified, with an amendment that ceded 1 square mile immediately surrounding the springs to the State of Wyoming. The basis for this land transfer ostensibly came about from the efforts to control the development around the springs, which were rapidly attracting a tourist clientele.The Shoshones and Northern Arapahos were willing to concede the land primarily because the prime buffalo hunting grounds in the Big Horn Basin (north of the springs and west of the Big Horn Mountains) had been destroyed by a huge influx of cattle and sheep ranches beginning in 1879. Thus, they no longer travelled off-reservation to hunt in the Big Horn Basin. The most important feature of the agreement, however, is that the government made the Arapahos equal partners to the Shoshones in the rights to claim the reservation.The Arapahos originally were moved to the reservation in 1878, but only with the consent of the Shoshones, and up until the 1896, agreement they were never considered partners with the Shoshones concerning reservation ownership. This all changed because of this agreement. In the 1930s, the Shoshones eventually reached a settlement with the United States that compensated them for the loss of lands that were, in essence, given to the Arapahos. The negotiations over the 1896 agreement took an interesting twist, in that the government was forced to make concessions independently to both tribes in order to win their acceptance, as detailed in Article III. The record of the negotiations is found in the National Archives in Washington, DC.

    View/Download the Land Cession of 1896 Agreement in PDF Format (12K)

  • Land Cession of 1904
    Land Cessation of 1904 Commentary by Hank Stamm
    In 1904, local interests around the Wind River Reservation succeeded in getting what they had tried to do for years, beginning as early as the Brunot cession of 1872: to cut significantly the size of the reservation. Throughout the 1890s, first in 1891 and 1893, commissions met with the Shoshones and Arapahos and tried to convince them to slice the reservation in half. However, even when agreements were reached, for some reason the Senate did not approve them, so the deals collapsed. In 1897, a 10-mile square area had been lopped off the northeast corner to create the boundaries of the Big Horn Hot Springs, but the 1904 agreement literally cut the reservation in two, with a boundary line that ran roughly from the former northwest corner to the southeast corner. This was a hotly debated agreement among both the Indian tribes, and later, the principal signer for the Shoshones, George Terry, was murdered.The agreement was terribly lopsided it its provisions. Rather than paying the tribes outright for the cession, the United States planned on selling the ceded lands under the existing homestead, town-site, coal, and mineral laws, then compensating the tribes from the funds so derived from these sales. Moreover, the tribes had no control over the use of this fund: proceeds were to be used to build a reservation irrigation system, to fund a one-time only $50 per capita cash payment, to build and maintain various bridges, to build schools (thus shirking the responsibilities called for under the terms of the Treat of Fort Bridger, 1868), and to provide for a reservation welfare system.The agreement took place against a backdrop of renewed efforts to carry out the plans of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (the Dawes Act), which intended to place every Indian on individual plots of land. Then the unassigned portions could be freed from tribal control and opened up to white settlement. To a large extent, this is what happened, and within a few years, the towns of Riverton and Shoshoni emerged, especially when the U.S. government poured huge sums of money to create the Boysen Reservoir and the irrigation system that was necessary to allow farming in the arid lands of the Wind River Valley. Eventually, however, after non-Indian settlers claimed all the best land near the irrigable area, the tribes were able to re-claim most of the acreage lost in the 1904 cession.

    View/Download the Land Cession of 1904 Agreement in PDF Format (22K)