1842 Copper Treaty

In 1837, the United States government negotiated a land cession treaty with the Mississippi and Lake Superior bands of Ojibwe.  Termed the “White Pine” or “Pine Tree” Treaty, the U.S. government did not seek title for the land for settlement, but rather for its rich timber resources.  Although the Ojibwe agreed to sell the land, they retained usufructuary rights to continue hunting, fishing, and gathering within the ceded territory.

Territory Ceded by the 1842 Treaty with the Ojibwe (Wikipedia)
Territory Ceded by the 1842 Treaty with the Ojibwe (Wikipedia)

Just five years later, in 1842, the U.S. government again sought to obtain rights to the valuable natural resources within the region the Ojibwe called home.  This treaty became known as the Copper Treaty because U.S. officials sought claim over the rich copper resources in the mines along the southern boundary of Lake Superior.  For many years the Lake Superior Ojibwe used the copper of the region in making arrowheads, fishhooks, knives, needles, and bracelets.  But, many Americans sought to profit from copper deposits and they put pressure on the government to negotiate a treaty.

A former agent of the American Fur Company, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Stuart was assigned the task of negotiating the 1842 treaty.  Being a former fur trader, Stuart saw the economic opportunities of the Lake Superior region.  Meeting the Indians at La Pointe, Stuart used heavy-handed tactics during the negotiations.  The Lake Superior Ojibwe were skeptical and many did not want to sell.  However, Stuart insisted on including the Mississippi Ojibwe who had everything to gain and nothing to lose by selling the eastern lands and therefore further influenced the sale.

“View of La Pointe” circa 1842 (Wisconsin Historical Society)

In order to induce the Lake Superior Ojibwe to agree to the terms of the treaty, Stuart assured the Ojibwe that they could remain living on the ceded land telling them that they would not be forced to remove for at least fifty years and possibly not for one hundred years.  The Ojibwe remained apprehensive and so Commissioner Stuart attempted to hurry the negotiations to a conclusion by further assuring that the Ojibwe would not be removed during their lifetime and reminded them that the government only sought their natural resources.  During the negotiations Stuart stated, “The principal benefit your Great Father expects from your lands at present is, the removal of the minerals which are said to be on them; and not that the whites intend to settle on the them at present…” (Satz, 166). And, according to LaPointe Subagent Alfred Brunson who was present during negotiations, Stuart went one step further by declaring that, “it was no difference whether they signed or not” because “the Government would take the land.” (Satz, 38).  This left the Ojibwe with little choice.

Upon signing the 1842 treaty, the Ojibwe were assured that they retained the right to hunt, fish, and gather on the ceded territory and that they would not be asked to remove for many generations.  However, by 1850, just eight years later, the President issued a Removal Act requesting that the Ojibwe of Lake Superior to remove from their homes.  This set the stage for the Sandy Lake Tragedy which resulted in the death of approximately 400 Ojibwe.

Read the Treaty with the Chippewa, 1842

Source:  Ronald N. Satz, Carl N. Haywood, editor, Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 79:1, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.WT199101.