The Infamous “Traders’ Paper”

In 1851, the four bands of Dakota (Wahpekute, Mdwekanton, Sisseton, and Wahpeton) signed the Treaty of the Traverse des Sioux in which the Dakota Indians agreed to sell their land west of the Mississippi River and settle on a small reservation along the Minnesota River.  The Dakota also signed another document known as the “Trader’s Paper.”

“We, the undersigned, chiefs, soldiers, and braves . . . having this day concluded a treaty . . . and being desirous to pay to our traders and half-breeds the sum of money which we acknowledge to be justly due to them, do hereby obligate and bind ourselves, as the authorized representatives of the aforesaid bands, to pay to the individuals hereafter designated the sum of money set opposite to their respective names . . . and as it is specified that said sum shall be paid in such manner as requested by the chiefs in open council thereafter, we do hereby in open council request and desire that the said sums below specified shall be paid to the persons designated . . . and for this payment . . . we hereby solemnly pledge ourselves and the faith of our nation.”

The “Trader’s Paper” gave authority to the traders to collect debts from the Dakota directly from the annuity monies stipulated in the Treaty of the Traverse des Sioux.  However, the Dakota were coerced into signing this separate document.  As the Dakota stated, immediately after signing the treaty they were “Pulled by the Blanket” and handed a pen by the Indian Agent Joseph R. Brown.  None of the Dakota had been read nor explained what the paper had stated.  Furthermore, several of the white authorities were also oblivious.  Nathaniel McLean, Indian Agent for the Dakota, said he knew nothing of the paper and when he asked that it be explained, he was told it would cause a disturbance.  Finally, the Trader’s Paper did not indicate how much was owed or to who.  As a result, the traders used the document to take $210,000 in annuity payments from the Dakota.

Folwell, William Watts.  A History of Minnesota.  Vol. 1.  St. Paul:  The Minnesota Historical Society, 1956.