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Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF)

Research Guide
About Search Download File Treaties​​ Signers

Treaties and Treaty signers 
Between 1778 and 1871, the US and Indigenous nations signed nearly 400 treaties. The federal government authorized commissioners to negotiate these treaties, who had the discretion to involve others in the treaty making process. The treaties bear nearly 4500 US signatures. 
Indigenous nations, generally more democratic than the US, provided more than 10,000 signatures. 

This website presents biographical information on the nearly 2300 men who signed treaties for the US. Their individual lives, however, are not the focus of this project. Instead, this project is a first attempt to examine the US treaty signers as a group, with special attention on the business and social networks that connected them. The men who attended treaties for the US represented economic and social interests that most directly drove US westward expansion, and therefore shaped US-Indian policy.

Through a separate portal, visitors can find a list of Indiginous treaty signatures. Information in this list is taken primarily from the treaties themselves, where Indigenous identities are recorded inconsistently. The Indigenous Signers Spredsheet is offered as an aid to researchers who want to examine the lives of these individuals and the political structures they represented.

Project Purpose

The treaties were events in which the resources of a continent were transferred to US control, and the US 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 treaties, this project provides a new, additional lens through which to view the US treaty making process.

The view through that lens directly challenges the American Myth that shrouds discussion about US 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 US acquisition of land. The lives of the treaty signers - for the US and for Indigenous nations - tell a different story.

The purpose of the US Treaty Signers Project is to 

  • challenge the mythology that surrounds US-Indian treaties by 
  • fostering reliable and accurate research and discussion about our history.

Downloadable Files
Most of the information on this website can be downloaded by any visitor for free. Information available for download includes the US Signer database, the US signature database, Sources database, Treaty database. These are described below and are accessable from main pages in the US signer portal and from the Indigenous signers page. Visitors can also download a spreadsheet containing information on every signature made by an Indigenous representative. This is available from the Indigenous Signer page.


Names v. Signatures

The 2,300 US treaty signers account for a total of 4,500 signatures on all of the official US-Indian treaties. Unfortunately, their names do not always correspond to the signatures. Many of the handwritten signatures are hard to read on the original documents, and have been incorrectly rendered in print versions of the treaties. Misspellings abound, especially in the most widely used source of the treaties, Charles Kappler’s Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, vol. II. Signer J. B. Sarpy, for instance, is listed on one treaty as J. B. Saipy, and on another as J. B. Farpy; the notorious J. M. Chivington is listed on a treaty as J. W. Croughton. This website includes a database that links every US signature with both the treaty on which it appears, and the actual name of the signer (where known).


Indigenous v. US Representation

On many treaties, the names of US signers are not distinguished from those of representatives of Indigenous nations. In some cases, determining the national identity of a signer can be difficult. These questions arise most often in the case of

1) interpreters who have one parent identified with an Indigenous nation and another parent identified with a colonialist nation

2) signers who may have been installed by the US as Indigenous representatives. These individuals may or may not have been recognized as citizens of Indigenous nations.

A spreadsheet listing these ambiguities is available on the Indigenous Signers page. Many of these questions may be resolved easily by tribal historians. This spreadsheet lists if an ambigous signer can be currenly found in the US or Indigenous Signer databases.

Kappler's selection of texts

The main source for Treaties in this project is Charles Kappler’s 1904 compilation Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Vol. II. This is a somewhat arbitrary collection of US-Indian treaties and other diplomatic documents called agreements. Kappler is used as a source for this project not because of its consistency or comprehensiveness, but because it is more widely used than any other source, and offers clear, though arbitrary, parameters for this project. One state-forged treaty, though not from Kappler, is included in this project because the Supreme Court elevated New York State and Oneida Indians to an official treaty status.


An official US-Indian treaty was signed by multiple parties including the federal government, ratified by the Senate (after the Senate was created) and proclaimed by the President. US-Indian relations were affected by many “unofficial” treaties as well. These include federal treaties that were not proclaimed or ratified and treaties forged by state governments, the Republic of Texas, and the Confederacy. Kappler inconsistently includes a number of unratified federal treaties.

Agreements were and remain a different category of diplomatic documents. Presidential proclamation, for instance, is not required for agreements. Kappler includes 12 agreements up to the year 1873, near the end of the treaty-making era. Agreements from Kappler beyond this date are not included in this project.

In creating his compilation, Kappler often selected from alternative versions of a single treaty. For a critique of the impact of this selection on a single treaty, see this offsite essay:

Bernholz, C. D. and Pytlik Zillig, B. L, “The Treaty of Fort Laramie with Sioux, etc., 1851: Revising the document found in
Kappler’s Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties.”

Assets: US Treaty Signers
Individual Signer Record

For every US signer of every treaty, an individual record sheet can be accessed. Each record presents biographical data on one signer (where available), with links to:

  • the treaties signed by that subject; 
  • narratives about any special-interest networks to which the signer belonged; and 
  • the sources of information in the record.

Currently more than 70% of all US signers (1650 out of 2300) have biographical information. These signers account for 85% (3800 out of 4475) of all US signatures on all treaties.

Signer Database
Much of the information in the Signer Records is drawn from an onsite Signer Database. Each signer has a line in this Database. The Information stored here may include: a signers’ names; dates and places of birth and death; life events; the number of treaties they signed; any networks to which they belong; and sources for biographical information.
Signature Database
The Signature Database holds a unique record for each of the 4,400 US treaty signatures. William Clark, for instance, signed 38 treaties, therefore 38 signature records are related to William Clark. Each of these simple records contains 1) the name of the signer from the signer database; 2) the signature, usually as it appears in Kappler’s Laws and Treaties, vol. 2 (which may be different than the actual name); and the treaty on which the signature is found. From this database, every signer is linked to every treaty he signed.
Sources Database
The sources of biographical information in the Signer Database are cited in the Sources Database. Each source is represented only once in the database, regardless of how many signers are mentioned in the source. (For instance, the Biographical Directory of the US Congress – a single entry in this database -- is a source of information for more than 150 signers.) A web address is provided for each source, so that users can access that source offsite.

Network Narratives
US treaty signers represented business, family and social networks at treaty signings – the very interests that most profoundly shaped the politics of treaty making. Short narratives written by Martin Case introduce some of the more significant networks that connected treaty signers to one another. The individual records of treaty signers are linked to narratives that explain how treaty making was shaped by:
  • Land speculation
  • Trade
  • Extraction
  • Transportation
  • Families
  • Social Connections

From each of these narratives, users can follow links to records of prominent members of that network group.     

Assets: US-Indian Treaties


Individual Treaty Record

For every treaty, an individual record sheet can be accessed. Each record presents dates of signing, ratification, and proclamation, where available; a summary of the treaty's clauses and the Indigenous nations that signed it, with links to:

  • the treaty text; 
  • the Signer Record for each US signature on the treaty;
  • narratives about the era in which the treaty was signed; and 
  • maps of land cessions
Treaty Database
Much of the information in the Treaty Records is drawn from an onsite Treaty Database. Each treaty has a line in this Database.
Signature Database
The Signature database holds a unique record for each of the 4,400 US treaty signatures. From this database, every treaty is linked to every US signer of that treaty.
Era Narratives
The economic interests that shaped US Treaty making changed over time. Short narratives written by Martin Case view the treaties through the lens of the men who signed them for the government to illustrate this evolution. The individual Treaty Records are linked to narratives that explain how signers shaped treaty making in the following Eras:
  • Before the War of 1812
  • War of 1812 Aftermath, 1814-1818
  • 1819 to Indian Removal Act (1830)
  • Removal Era (1830s)
  • Further US Expansion, 1840-1859
  • Civil War to End of Treaty Making

From each of these narratives, users can follow links to the treaties in that Era. 

Assets: Indigenous Signers
Indigenous Signers Database
ach of the 10,000+ signatures of Indigenous representatives is included in a database available from the Indigenous Signer page. the 15 fields in this spreadsheet contain information that will help researchers idintify individuals who made the signatures. The fields include Treaty identifiers that indicate on which treaty a signature can be found, Individual identifiers that present information from the treaties on signer names, relationships and titles, National identifiers that attempt to place the signer as a representative of a particular nation, as specifically as possible. More details about the spreadsheet contents can be found on the Indigenous Signer Page. 
Questions about National Identity
This spreadsheet lists individuals from among the US treaty signers and Indigenous treaty signers whose national identity is ambiguous. See "Issues," above, for more details.