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The Signers​​

Who were the signers? Why did they sign?

Who Were The Signers

For official U.S.-Indian treaties, the federal government authorized commissioners to negotiate with Indigenous nations. Commissioners had the discretion to involve whomever they wanted in the treaty making process. Between 1778 and 1871, approximately 2,300 men signed Indian treaties as representatives of the United States.

Purpose of the Project

The treaties were events in which the resources of a continent were transferred to U.S. control. The U.S. signers were not there by accident, or merely to fill a bureaucratic function. In tracing the presence of powerful economic and political interests at the Treaty signings, this project provides a new, additional lens through which to view the U.S. treaty making process.

 

That view directly challenges the American Myth that shrouds discussion about U.S. expansion. The hero of the Myth is the “pioneer,” that intrepid individualist who through hard work became the driving force and direct beneficiary of the U.S. acquisition of land. The lives of the treaty signers – for the U.S. and for Indigenous nations – tell a different story.

 

The purpose of the U.S. Treaty Signers Project is to challenge the mythology that surrounds US-Indian treaties by fostering reliable and accurate research and discussion about our history.

Myths about the signers

Because so many settlers and pioneers benefited from the U.S. aquisition of Indigenous resources, the American Myth can sell the simple idea that the entire enterprise of westward expansion was undertaken just for them. In this spurious story, treaties were merely the paperwork that validated an unstoppable historical force. Men who signed the treaties, then, were only filling bureaucratic functions, chosen as if at random at the very moment when a major colonialist power acquired a continent’s natural resources.

For more background read “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native” (Patrick Wolfe,  Journal of Genocide Research,  December 2006) here.

Motivations for expansion

In fact, the men who signed treaties for the United States represented behind-the-scenes interests that drove westward expansion: land speculators, mining, timber and transportation companies, office holders and military officers, all of whom had a personal stake in the government’s acquisition of resources. Treaties were the moment when a continent’s natural resources became property and they were too important to leave unattended.

 

As a group, the treaty signers shaped U.S.-Indian policy, and benefited from it personally. They got in on the ground floor in an explosively expanding property system that continues to shape the continent today. By looking at their business networks and their social, political and family ties. we find a reliable picture of the assumptions, motivations and mechanisms that truly drove U.S. expansion.

 

CLICK HERE to visit the Indigenous Signers page to learn more about individuals who signed on behalf of Native nations.

 

CLICK HERE to visit the Signer Networks page to see how the signers were linked to each other.

Search the database

The dashboard offers an interactive view of the Treaty Signers database which is a compilation of the Treaties signed between the U.S. and Indigenous nations with information about the people who signed them and why. This tool makes it easy to visualize the impact of treaty signing at the national and global level and filter the database by treaty, individual signers, land cession numbers, states and data range. Click the ‘Get Started’ button to begin exploring.