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What Wyoming School Children Learned of the Treaties

While stopping to eat in a small Wyoming town, we came across an old 1940s elementary school textbook sitting with some antiques. Below is an excerpt that gives some insights into what children learned then about Indians and about the treaties.

Movement Westward

From 1830 to 1840, or possibly even earlier, the appearance of white men in the west was for the most part made up of exploration parties and the fur trader whom we have already discussed. In 1841 migration to California and Oregon began and in the year 1848 one thousand emigrants worked their slow and dangerous way across the plains and mountains to the west coast, taking with them farm implements, furniture, horses, and cattle. From this time on the number increased each year, reaching a new peak following the discovery of gold in California in the year 1848. There is no way of accurately telling the exact number of people who passed through Wyoming in 1848 but the number has been estimated from 30,000 to as high as 100,000.

We can understand that with the thought of gold and riches in their minds or a desire to seek homes on the coast where, by their numbers, they would be protected from the Indian, these emigrants paid little attention to Wyoming except as a part of their trip made more difficult by mountains and hostile Indians. Few, if any, gave thought to the idea of stopping to make their homes in a land which seemed to present little or no opportunity.

The passage of thousands and thousands of wagons over the same route did two things; first, the horses or oxen used to haul these heavy wagons over the rough terrain became foot-sore and lame; second, as their number increased the available grass along the route became more scarce. With the realization that the mining boom in California was a fact, and not fancy, many new wagon trains were found on the trail, not only filled with emigrants but with freight, which business became immense before the coming of the railroad. In the year 1865 it is said that in forty-two days six thousand wagons passed Fort Kearney, Nebraska. All of this travel produced the possibility of profitable business, first, in supplying new horses or oxen along the route, taking in exchange the weary rundown animals of the emigrants and freighters; second, in supplying hay as the grass became scarce. From this beginning we had the appearance of the road ranches where wild hay was cut along streams, and in time some small amount of irrigation was done. As was natural, these ranches soon began to carry a small stock of powder and shot, as well as flour, sugar, and other articles which were in great demand, and they gradually developed into trading posts. Toll bridges were established across the more difficult streams and usually here, too, would be found a trading post.

The first trading post, established in Wyoming in 1834, was on the Platte River at the present location of the town of Fort Laramie. The second permanent trading post was erected in 1842 at Fort Bridger in what is now Uinta County. It was here just eleven years later in 1853 that the first attempted civilian community appeared when a group of fifty or sixty Mormon settlers established what they called Fort Supply, near Fort Bridger. However, five years later these settlers abandoned the place and moved farther west to Salt Lake.

With the coming of the railroad in 1869 the demand for the road ranches was gone and we found, at scattered intervals across Wyoming, settlers who now were required to find other means of livelihood. Prior to this time and for a number of years to follow, the Indian constituted a hazard that was difficult to deal with. When the early explorers and fur traders arrived in Wyoming they were not welcome. Some of them were able to establish friendly relations with smaller groups of Indians, but since this did not include all of the Indians, the white man, regardless of who he was, was in constant danger. With the increase in the numbers of whites, as western immigration developed, the Indians realized that this strange white man might take their hunting grounds. . . They descended in great numbers on the road ranches and burned them to the ground, and in every possible way make the white man's travel or settlement as dangerous as they could. In thinking of the dangers that the early emigrants faced, we must also think of the Indian and his side of the great historical story. Before the white man arrived, the Indian had made his living by hunting and fishing. This being the only life he knew, we cannot blame him in the least for wanting to resist anything that would force upon him a change in his way of living, particularly since he was quite content with life as he found it.

From the very beginning of the Indian troubles and continuing until the early sixties, the government was of little help to either the traveler or the settler. As for the traveler, the government assumed the attitude that the emigrant knew of the dangers, and if these dangers seemed too great, the emigrant should not start in the first place. In regard to the settler, the government seemed to have still less sympathy based upon the generally accepted view that most of the land in what is now Wyoming would never be of any great value to white men, and this was a logical place to let the Indian remain more or less unmolested.

Persistent complaints from both the settler and emigrant forced the problem to the attention of the government, and in 1851, a treaty was entered into between the Indian tribes and the government which roughly amounted to an agreement that the Indian would remain in the northern half of the state and allow the white man free and unmolested passage along the old emigrant trails. In turn the white man should not trespass upon the northern hunting grounds of the Indians, and the United States should pay a sum of fifty thousand dollars to the Indians. The result of this treaty was a failure all the way around. The Indian did not stay out of the south, the white man did not stay out of the north.
Indians continued to attack travelers, steal cattle and horses, and kill the white men, at the same time the white men went into the forbidden north to seek furs and gold. The report of the discovery of gold, no matter where, would bring large numbers of men willing to face any danger to get the possible riches.

A second attempt was made in 1868 with another treaty which provided that the Indian cede the southern half of the territory to the United States, and that in turn the government would respect the northern half as belonging to the Indian, and the whites were to leave this hunting ground entirely to the Indian. The second treaty was much like the first in both outline and results, in that neither party lived up to the agreement. The Indian continued to wander more or less at will over the forbidden southern half . . . The white man distinctly failed to keep the terms of the treaty by increased use of the Bozeman trail which went north from near the present location of Douglas.

— From Jack R. Gage, Geography of Wyoming: A Text Book for Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Graders, Sheridan, WY: The Mills Company, 1940, pages 78-81.

Commentary: At first you might find it refreshing to read that "we must also think of the Indian and his side of the great historical story". However, the text then falls short and casts the Indian in a much less favorable light than white intruders. Treaties were created by whites and enforced by them in brutal ways when the interest of settlers extended beyond the treaties. Indians did not break the treaties as the later paragraph states, but continued to defend their land. And, when the white man's greed is acknowledged in this excerpt, nothing is said about the atrocities committed against Indians and against their land.
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