Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851: Summary & Overview

Instructor: Jason McCollom

Jason has a PhD.

In response to an influx of white gold seekers heading to California in the mid-19th century, the Sioux and American officials met at Fort Laramie to hash out a peace conference. Learn about the Treaty of Fort Laramie and its outcomes, and then test yourself.

The Powerful Sioux

In 1832, a band of Sioux hunters entered Fort Pierre on the upper Missouri River. They said they had some products they wanted to trade, and proceeded to dump 1,400 fresh buffalo tongues on the ground. This trade fetched the Sioux several gallons of whiskey, which they consumed on the spot.

By the mid-19th century, both American officials and other Indian tribes accepted that the Sioux dominated the northern plains. By cornering the buffalo market, the Sioux came to control the best hunting grounds, and they monopolized the trade in buffalo robes, buffalo pemmican, and buffalo tongues. Isolated American forts and settlements respected the power of the Sioux and appreciated the trade in buffalo products. Sioux lands incorporated a large territory--from the Minnesota River in the east to the head of the Yellowstone River in the west, and from the Missouri River in the north to the Republican River in the south. Essentially, they controlled large portions of the Dakotas, Nebraska, western Minnesota, and eastern Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

Sioux warriors

U.S. officials also recognized the power of the Sioux. A federal agent remarked, 'The day is not far off when the Sioux will possess the whole buffalo region, unless they are checked.' Soon this issue of Sioux power and American expansion came to a head.

The California Gold Rush and the Treaty of Fort Laramie

When gold was discovered in California in the late 1840s, thousands of white men traveled west with dollar signs in their eyes. These men hoped to strike it rich by panning for gold in shallow streams and river beds, or the easier approach of simply stumbling across large gold deposits. In their travels, however, they crossed through Sioux territory. This was the first time large numbers of Americans had encroached on Sioux land. As the Sioux disrupted this migration and attacked American settlements and wagon trains, U.S. officials knew they had to respond.

The California gold rush brought large numbers of Americans into Sioux territory for the first time
ca gold rush

The response came in the form of a peace conference at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, in 1851. This fort was built to protect migrants heading west along the Oregon Trail. The conference was a grand event, with dozens of Indian tribes represented, and about 10,000 Indian attendees in all. Their horses stripped the grass across miles in all directions. Both the American officials and the Indians understood the Sioux were the most powerful presence in the northern plains.

An artistic rendering of Indians arriving at Fort Laramie
ft laramie

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