This week on A Northwoods Moment in History, local historian Gary Entz explains the Treaty of St. Peters and how it affects us in the Northwoods today.
During the early decades of the nineteenth century, Americans living in the new United States aggressively pushed westward, taking more and more land from the peoples of the First Nations. President Andrew Jackson’s Removal Policy, enacted into law in 1830, accelerated the process. As the population of settlers grew along the Ohio River valley and forests were slashed and burned to make room for agriculture, the demand for new sources of timber increased, particularly in growing cities like Chicago, St. Louis and Cleveland. This demand drew the attention of federal officials to the Northwoods region of the Wisconsin Territory.
In 1836, Andrew Jackson appointed Col. Henry Dodge, a veteran of the 1832 Black Hawk War, to be the Territorial Governor of Wisconsin. In 1837, after the inauguration of Martin Van Buren as President of the United States, Dodge was directed to negotiate a treaty with representatives from the Ojibwe bands living in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. The treaty, negotiated in late July at the village of St. Peters in Wisconsin Territory, which is today the town of Medota, Minnesota, was known as the Treaty of St. Peters, but today is more commonly called the Treaty of 1837. In the treaty the Ojibwe bands ceded a large swath of territory to the United States. The land stretched from the Mississippi River in the west to the Wisconsin River in the east. The northern boundary was the Lake Superior watershed, and the southern boundary was the Prairie du Chien line that set borders between the Ojibwe, Dakota, Ho Chunk, and Menominee peoples.
In exchange for this land cession, the Ojibwe bands retained usufructary rights to continue traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering on the ceded lands. In 1837 government officials did not foresee much future settlement beyond logging and mining camps in the Northwoods and had no issue in making this concession. The Ojibwe retained the same usufructary rights in the 1842 treaty that ceded the Lake Superior watershed to the United States. Treaties between sovereign nations are binding under both U.S. and international law, which is why to this day peoples of the Ojibwe Nation have the sovereign right to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice using traditional methods on the ceded territories of the Northwoods.
A Northwoods Moment in History is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.