Minnesota’s Forgotten Path: How the Doty Treaty Shaped the State

Minnesota’s Forgotten Path: How the Doty Treaty Shaped the State

“In short, it was designed to create of the Sioux country a second Indian Territory, into which to dump all the odds and ends of Indian tribes still left east of the Mississippi.”

– Thomas Hughes

Decades before Minnesota became the 32nd state of the Union, there was a push among Jacksonian-era U.S. policy makers to create an “all-Indian” territory in the northern region. Prior to large scale white settlement, it was believed that Minnesota’s winters were too long and its growing season too short to profitably sustain agriculture. The only other option to profit from the area was through Indian treaty and reservation system. 

The governor of Wisconsin Territory, James D. Doty, was the architect of a treaty that would create an “all-Indian” territory.

Although reformers had been advocating for an all-Indian territory for many years, it wasn’t until Thomas Hartley Crawford became the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1838 that major steps to implement the policy were made. Crawford stated that he wanted to buy land between Iowa and Minnesota to become “a region hemmed in by the laws of the United states, and guarded by virtuous agents, where abstinence from vice, and the practice of good morals, should find fit aboded in comfortable dwellings and cleared farms, and be nourished and fostered by all the associations of the hearthstone.” Crawford was supported in this notion by Secretary of War John Bell who wished to move some 50,000 Great Lakes Indians into the new territory. To accomplish this, Crawford and Bell enlisted the services of James D. Doty, governor of Wisconsin Territory at the time. Doty, in turn, enlisted the services of Henry H. Sibley, a fur trader with influential connections among the Dakota people. Sibley and the fur traders had a strong interest in creating an all-Indian territory as a sort of fur trade preserve. Additionally, the sale of land from a potential treaty would settle their debts, helping many fur traders stave off bankruptcy. 

Doty and Sibley immediately went to work putting together a treaty. According to the treaty, the U.S. government would purchase the lands east of the Mississippi, west of the Couteau des Prairie, north of the Neutral Ground, and south of the Crow Wing River. Then, this land would be used as a permanent settlement (the Dakotas were assured permanent exclusion of settlers from the proposed territory) for the northwest tribes where they would receive annuities and federal investment in schools, doctors, blacksmiths, livestock, seed, tools, roads, and other necessities for creating an agricultural society. Additionally, the treaty stipulated that the tribes within the territory were to have a constitutional form of government, with a legislative body elected by themselves and a governor appointed by the general government. Finally, it provided that those Indians who chose the farmer’s assimilationist path would become eligible for U.S. citizenship.

Called the Doty Treaty, it was signed at Traverse des Sioux by Sisseton, Wahpeton, and Wahpekute bands of Dakota on July 31, 1841, and at Mendota by the Mdewakanton on August 11, 1841. However, it should be noted that several of the major chiefs were absent from negotiations. Furthermore, tribes such as the Sac and Fox and Ho-Chunk, who were belatedly consulted, refused to remove to the new territory. 

It would not matter, however, whether or not the tribes agreed to remove to the new territory, because on August 29, 1842, the treaty failed confirmation in the Senate by a vote of 26 to 2. Opponents of the treaty, mostly Democrats and Whigs, feared the idea of an independent Indian state, especially one with the potential to grant citizenship to Native peoples. The treaty also went against the views of expansionists who believed that all land was set apart for the expansion of the United States and its white settler population. 

The rejection of the Doty Treaty played a huge role in the development of the United States and the creation of Minnesota as a state. Although the treaty failed, it set the stage for the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota ten years later. The fur traders, having lost out in 1841, were clamoring for a new treaty in 1851. And, once the land was ceded by the 1851 treaties, it opened the way for white settlement and eventually statehood in 1858. It also created the extremely detrimental conditions for the Dakota that would be a major cause of the U.S. – Dakota War. Ultimately, whether or not an all-Indian territory was created is probably beside the point. The U.S. was determined to subjugate and remove Native populations for the benefit of its white population. No matter what happened, the final results were always going to be the same, ensuring the benefits of some and detriment of others.  


Mary Lethert Wingerd, North Country: The Making of Minnesota, (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

Thomas Hughes, “The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851, Under Governor Alexander Ramsey, with Notes of the Former Treaty There, In 1841, Under Governor James D. Doty, of Wisconsin,” in Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. 10, Part 1 (St. Paul, Minn: Published by the Society, 1905), pages 101 – 129.

Jordon Scott Bergstrom, The Rise and Fall of the Minnesota Middle Ground: Henry Hastings Sibley and the Ethnic Cleansing of Minnesota, Master Theses, Spring 2015, Central Washington University, https://digitalcommons.cwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1157&context=etd

About the Author

Colin Mustful is an independent historian, author, and publisher. His work, which includes five historical novels, focuses on the tumultuous and complicated periods of settler-colonialism and Native displacement in American history. He has a Master of Arts degree in history and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. He is the founder and editor of History Through Fiction, an independent press that publishes compelling historical novels that are based on real events and people. As a traditional publisher, he works with authors who want to share important historical stories with the world. Mustful is an avid runner and soccer player who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He believes that learning history is vital to understanding our world today and finding just, long-lasting solutions for the future.

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