Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF)

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​The Delaware tribe of Indians, entertaining the belief that the value of their lands will be enhanced by     
having a railroad...  have expressed a desire that the said Leavenworth, Pawnee, and Western Railroad Company    
shall have the preference of purchasing the remainder of ther lands...      

Treaty with the Delawares, May 30, 1860        

​​I​​​n many treaties the US negotiated the right to build transportation routes and to navigate rivers that passed through Indigenous nations. Among the signers of these treaties were men who then built and owned the resulting transportation systems.

In the aftermath of treaties, US signers recieved contracts to blaze trails and build roads and turnpikes that traversed well-established Indigenous trade routes. And as the movement of minerals and timber increased, traders and speculators such as J. P. Arndt, Hercules Dousman, Henry Sibley, and the Chouteau family diversified their interests into steamboats.

With burgeoning westward migration, two great transportation ventures were begun and operated by treaty signers. Wagon train routes were established, supplied and protected by men who helped shape US-Indian relations. And the greatest transportation scheme of the treaty-making era, the railroad, was directed by a who's-who of treaty signers. The right to build railroads was negotiated by men who owned that means of transportaion, from local railways to the transcontinental railroad.

Detail: Great Seal of the State of Kansas

The success of land speculation depended on the ability to move customers west, and to move farm goods east to urban markets. Fur trade companies shipped pelts to the East Coast, Europe and China. And resource extraction required the transport of minerals and timber. Men who signed US-Indian treaties operated steamboats on all the major rivers west of the Appalachians, and owned the shipping lines that first opened international trade for the US.

Immigrants and goods were not the only cargo on these ships. In 1836 a Chouteau clerk named Jacob Halsey carried smallpox up the Missouri river on a Chouteau-owned boat. The resulting epidemic killed 40% of the population of the upper Missouri region.


Some of the US Treaty Signers with
interests in shipping:

Robert Morris
William Constable
Pierre Chouteau, Jr.​

Hercules Dousman
John H. Scranton
R. R. Thompson​​​


Trade and Immigration Routes
Aggressive US expansion in the west involved the incision of roads through Indigenous nations. Wagon routes carried emigrants to California gold fields and settlements in the Pacific Northwest. In the Southwest, the US developed new trade routes to capture markets in places such as Santa Fe. US treaty signers forged these routes, supplied the travelers for profit, and ran the "Southwest trade." 

The consequent resistence of Indigenous nations to this invasive activity resulted in increased military presence west of the Mississippi. Treaties that sought to protect white immigration, control Indigenous nations, and broker the ends to various conflicts were often negotiated by US military officers. Traders, fort sutlers, and territorial officials were often also on hand to witness the treaties.


Some of the US Treaty Signers involved in western transportation routes:

J. L. Collins
Thomas FitzPatrick
Seth Hayes

​Stephen Watts Kearny
Robert Newell
Gustavus Sohon

See a treaty focused on transportation:
Treaty with the Delawares 1860​​​


Men who signed Indian treaties often rose to local prominence in territorial and state legislatures. ​​Beginning in the 1850s, in a flurry of legislative acts from Michigan to Missouri, these treaty signers granted themselves the ownership of local railroad companies. Early railroads were often shell companies meant to attract eastern capital rather than lay rails, but over time significant railroads were built to transport more goods and a growing population.

As the US seized control of western territory, a conflict arose over who would control that land and the passage of white people through it: southern slaveholding interests or northern industrial interests. When the South seceded, the US passed a series of acts that transferred millions of acres to northern railroad companies. Treaty signers were among the owners of transcontinental railroads, surveyors of their routes, and developers of the many townsites that lined the rails.

Some of the US Treaty Signers who owned
or operated railroads:

Thomas Sykes
Charles Keith

Thomas Ewing, Jr.
Alexander Ramsey​

To learn about a treaty signer's role in developing a railroad on Indigenous land, read "Thomas Ewing, Jr. and the Origins of the Kansas Pacific Railway Company" (D. G. Taylor, Kansas Historical Society, 1976) here.