Q&A: What was the Traders’ Paper?

Q&A: What was the Traders’ Paper?

On July 23, 1851, the Upper Bands of Dakota Indians signed a treaty with the United States, ceding their lands west of the Mississippi River.  After signing the treaty, the chiefs and headmen were then called upon to sign a second document known as the Traders’ Paper.  According to the Traders’ Paper, the Dakota agreed to pay their debts to the traders directly out of their annuity funds that they were to receive as a part of the treaty.  However, the Dakota were unaware of what they were signing.  Instead, they were “pulled by the blanket” and lead to believe they were signing a third copy of the treaty itself.  When asked that the traders’ paper be read or explained, the trader Joseph Brown replied that the Indians already knew what it said and that reading the document would only create a disturbance.

Signing of the Treaty of the Traverse des Sioux, MNHS Collections

Although the Traders’ Paper was an acknowledgment by the Dakota to pay their debts, it can be argued that it violates an act of Congress that requires treaty monies to paid directly to the Indian heads of family unless directed otherwise in open council.  Since the document was not read or explained, it does not necessarily represent an agreement made in open council.  Rather, the traders coerced the Indians into signing away the majority of their funds which they required for removal to their new reservation and for other provisions.

This had a supremely negative affect upon the Dakota who were coerced and exploited through this and other dealings leading up to the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862.

Read the Traders’ Paper – see page 9, Exhibit A, Senate Executive Documents No. 61

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William Watts Folwell, A History of Minnesota, Vol. 1, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society, 1922), 282-284.


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