The Removal Order of 1849

March 12, 2016

By Amorin Mello

United States. Works Progress Administration:

Chippewa Indian Historical Project Records 1936-1942  

(Northland Micro 5; Micro 532)

12th President Zachary Taylor gave the 1849 Removal Order while he was still in office. The 1852 meeting in Washington, D.C. was with 13th President Millard Fillmore. ~ 1848 presidential campaign poster from the Library of Congress

12th President Zachary Taylor gave the 1849 Removal Order while he was still in office. During 1852, Chief Buffalo and his delegation met 13th President Millard Fillmore in Washington, D.C., to petition against this Removal Order.
~ 1848 presidential campaign poster from the Library of Congress

Reel 1; Envelop 1; Item 14.

The Removal Order of 1849

By Jerome Arbuckle

After the war of 1812 the westward advance of the people of the United States of was renewed with vigor.  These pioneers were imbued with the idea that the possessions of the Indian tribes, with whom they came in contact, were for their convenience and theirs for the taking.  Any attempt on the part of the aboriginal owners to defend their ancestral homes were a signal for a declaration of war, or a punitive expedition, which invariably resulted in the defeat of the Indians.

“Peace Treaties,” incorporating terms and stipulations suitable particularly to the white man’s government, were then negotiated, whereby the Indians ceded their lands, and the remnants of the dispossessed tribe moved westward.  The tribes to the south of the Great Lakes, along the Ohio Valley, were the greatest sufferers from this system of acquisition.

Another system used with equal, if less sanguinary success, was the “treaty system.”  Treaties of this type were actually little more than  receipt signed by the Indian, which acknowledged the cessions of huge tracts of land.  The language of the treaties, in some instances, is so plainly a scheme for the dispossession and removal of the Indians that it is doubtful if the signers for the Indians understood the true import of the document.  Possibly, and according to the statements handed down from the Indians of earlier days to the present, Indians who signed the treaties were duped and were the victims of treachery and collusion.

By the terms of the Treaties of 1837 and 1842, the Indians ceded to the Government all their territory lying east of the Mississippi embracing the St. Croix district and eastward to the Chocolate River.  The Indians, however, were ignorant of the fact that they had ceded these lands.  According to the terms, as understood by them, they were permitted to remain within these treaty boundaries and continue to enjoy the privileges of hunting, fishing, ricing and the making of maple sugar, provided they did not molest their white neighbors; but they clearly understood that the Government was to have the right to use the timber and minerals on these lands.

Entitled "Chief Buffalo's Petition to the President" by the Wisconsin Historical Society, this famous symbolic petition was made and delivered completely independently of Chief Buffalo from La Pointe. Or anyone else from the La Pointe Band for that matter. See Chequamegon History's original post for more information.

Entitled Chief Buffalo’s Petition to the President by the Wisconsin Historical Society, the story behind this now famous symbolic petition is actually unrelated to Chief Buffalo from La Pointe, and was created before the Sandy Lake Tragedy. It is a common error to mis-attribute this to Chief Buffalo’s trip to Washington D.C., which occurred after that Tragedy.  See Chequamegon History’s original post for more information.

Detail of Benjamin Armstrong from a photograph by Matthew Brady (Minnesota Historical Society)

Detail of Benjamin Armstrong from a photograph by Matthew Brady (Minnesota Historical Society).  See our Armstrong Engravings post for more information.

Their eyes were opened when the Removal Order of 1849 came like a bolt from the blue.  This order cancelled the Indians’ right to hunt and fish in the territory ceded, and gave notification for their removal westward.  According to Verwyst, the Franciscan Missionary, many left by reason of this order, and sought a refuge among the westernmost of their tribe who dwelt in Minnesota.

Many of the full bloods, who naturally had a deep attachment for their home soil, refused to budge.  The chiefs who signed the treaty were included in this action.  They then concluded that they were duped by the Treaty Commissioners and were given a faulty interpretation of the treaty passages.  Although the Chippewa realized the futility of armed resistance, those who chose to remain unanimously decided to fight it out.  A few white men who were true friends of the Indians, among these was Ben Armstrong, the adopted son of the Head Chief, Buffalo, and he cautioned the Indians against any show of hostility.

See our posts on Chief Buffalo Picture Search and Oshogay for more information about these legendary leaders of the Lake Superior Chippewa.

At a council, Armstrong prevailed upon the chiefs to make a trip to Washington.  Accordingly, preparations for the trip were made, a canoe of special make being constructed for the journey.  After cautioning the tribesmen to remain calm, pending their return, they set out for Washington in April, 1852.  The party was composed of Buffalo, the head Chief, and several sub-chiefs, one of whom was Oshoga, who later became a noted man among the Chippewa.  Armstrong was the interpreter and director of the party.  The delegation left La Pointe and proceeded by way of the Great Lakes as far as Buffalo, N. Y., and then by rail to Washington.  They stopped at the white settlements along the route and their leader, Mr. Armstrong, circulated a petition among the white people.  This petition, which was to be presented to the President, urged that the Chippewa be permitted to remain in their own country and the Removal Order reconsidered.  Many signatures were obtained, some of the signers being acquaintances of the President, whose signatures he later recognized.

Despite repeated attempts of arbitrary agents, who were employed by the government to administer Indian affairs, and who endeavored to return them back or discourage the trip, they resolutely persisted.  The party arrived at Buffalo, New York, practically penniless.  By disposing of some Indian trinkets, and by putting the chief on exhibition, they managed to acquire enough money to defray their expenses until they finally arrived at Washington.

Here it seemed their troubles were to begin.  They were refused an audience with those persons who might have been able to assist them.  Through the kind assistance of Senator Briggs of New York, they eventually managed to arrange for an interview with President Fillmore.

United States Representative George Briggs. ~ Library of Congress

United States Representative George Briggs was helpful in getting an audience with President Millard Fillmore.
~ Library of Congress

At the appointed time they assembled for the interview and after smoking the peace pipe offered by Chief Buffalo, the “Great White Father” listened to their story of conditions in the Northwest.  Their petition was presented and read and the meeting adjourned.  President Fillmore, deeply impressed by his visitors, directed that their expenses should be paid by the Government and that they should have the freedom of the city for a week.

Vincent Roy, Jr., portrait from "Short biographical sketch of Vincent Roy, [Jr.,]" in Life and Labors of Rt. Rev. Frederic Baraga, by Chrysostom Verwyst, 1900, pages 472-476.

Vincent Roy, Jr., was also on this famous trip to Washington, D.C.  For more information, see this excerpt from Vincent Roy Jr’s biography.

At a second interview the President assured them that their request was granted; that they might remain in the territory in question and that he would countermand the Removal Order.  He, furthermore, instructed them that on their return to their homes they should call an assembly of their people at Madeline Island, and prepare for a new treaty in September, 1854.

Their mission was accomplished and all were happy.  They had achieved what they sought.  An uprising of their people had been averted in which thousands of human lives might have been cruelly slaughtered; so with light hearts they prepared for their homeward trip.  Their fare was paid and they returned by rail by way of St. Paul, Minnesota, which was as near as they could get by rail to their homes.  From St. Paul they traveled overland, a distance of over two hundred miles, overland.  Along the route they frequently met with bands of Chippewa, whom they delighted with the information of the successes of their trip.  These groups they instructed to repair to Madeline Island for the treaty at the time stipulated.

Upon their arrival at their own homes, the successes of the delegation was hailed with joy.  Runners were dispatched to notify the entire Chippewa nation.  As a consequence, many who had left their homes in compliance with the Removal Order now returned.

When the time for the treaty drew near, the Chippewa began to arrive at the Island from all directions.  Finally, after careful deliberations, the treaty of 1854 was concluded.  This treaty provided for several reservations within the ceded territory.  These were Ontonagon and L’Anse, in the present state of Michigan, Lac du Flambeau, Bad River or La Pointe, Red Cliff, and Lac Courte Oreille, in Wisconsin, and Fond du Lac and Grand Portage in Minnesota.

It was at this time that the Chippewa mutually agreed to separate into two divisions, making the Mississippi the dividing line between the Mississippi Chippewa and the Lake Superior Chippewa, and allowing each division the right to deal separately with the Government.

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