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Making Treaties

A Wea woman leader joins treaty negotiations with the U.S. government.

The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and certain official papers and correspondence

Excerpts from Rufus Putnam, The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and certain official papers and correspondence (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1903). University of California Libraries, Archive.org.

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A Queen of the Weaughtenows rose, and shaking hands with General Putnam, apologized for her Sons’ not being here; saying: A Queen of the Weaughtenows stood up and shook hands with General Putnam. She apologized that her sons were not there and said:
They are wicked when they are drunk—They have done a great deal of Mischief—Yet she should say something for them. Their Older Brothers (meaning the Miamis & Indians) spurr’d them to do mischief—They were not therefore altogether to blame. They behave badly when they are drunk. They have caused a lot of trouble. But she wanted to explain that they were encouraged by the Miamis and other Indigenous people, so they are not the only ones to blame.
A Peorian Chief rose and shook hands in Ceremony: then said:
My Older Brother
Another chief rose and shook hands.
I wish men on more Sense than I am, would rise and speak; yet I will say something—The Olde Chiefs make me strong—Upon You I look as my Friend—I will stand by You—The old Chiefs will hear and make You an Answer—The white People have more sense that we, who have a Yellow Colour—They were made first, and they ought to be hearkened to. (retired) I wish more intelligent men would speak up, but I will say something. The old chiefs give me strength. I look at you as a friend and will stand by you, but the old chiefs will give you an answer. They must be listened to.
General Putnam then rose and addressed the Tribes thus:
Brothers! You are very right in postponing the Answer till to-morrow; and if You want more time, You shall have it. Now we will drink a Dram together, and retire for to day.
General Putnam agrees that they should wait to respond and that they can have as much time as they need. They will have a drink together and retire for the day.

Excerpts from Rufus Putnam, The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and certain official papers and correspondence (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1903). University of California Libraries, Archive.org.

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Summary

A Chief of the Weaughtenows rose, and said.
My Older Brother, (leading up the Queen of his nation)
A Wea chief stood up and presented the Queen of the Wea. He said:
I am to speak for this Queen. If I should say any wrong, I beg to be forgiven. I promised to the Commandant of this place, that when my father the American would come, I should come to speak to him of peace. This woman, who is my sister, wishes that this land may no more be stained with blood. She desires you to keep at a distance. He then presented for her four white strings. The Queen has asked me to speak for her. Forgive me if I say anything wrong. I promised I would come make peace when the U.S. representative came. This woman also wants peace. She wants you to stay off our lands. The man then gave the representative four white strings of wampum from the woman.
He next turned to the nations and desired them to take pity on their women and children. To respect peace, that they might live, as they formerly did; and he retired. Then he turned to the other Indigenous chiefs and told them to make peace so their women and children could live safely again. Then he sat down.

Excerpts from Rufus Putnam, The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and certain official papers and correspondence (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1903). University of California Libraries, Archive.org.

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Background

Throughout the Federal period, many U.S. citizens ignored treaties and settled on lands inhabited by Native nations. These invasions frequently caused wars.

The lands around the Wabash River in the Ohio Valley were a hotbed of conflict in the 1780s and 1790s. The United States claimed the area as part of the Northwest Territory. But the Indigenous communities who already lived there* opposed U.S. rule and the arrival of U.S. settlers. They worked together in an unprecedented alliance to fight for their lands. By 1792 the U.S. government was willing to make a new peace treaty.

* Mascouten, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, Piankeshaw, Peoria, Wea, and Miami nations united with one another and with neighboring peoples to resist U.S. rule of the Wabash River area and throughout the Ohio Valley.

About the Resources

In 1792, the U.S. government invited the united tribes of the Wabash River area to make a new treaty. Unlike their American counterparts, these allied tribes included women in major decisions about their communities. Hundreds of women attended the treaty negotiations. One woman participated directly in the negotiations as a representative for the Wea nation. The Native negotiators also took frequent breaks to discuss the proceedings with all of the gathered women. These excerpts from the journal of U.S. negotiator Rufus Putnam recount two times the Wea leader spoke directly to negotiators.

Vocabulary

  • Federal period: The early years of the United States, usually defined as 1790–1830.
  • Northwest Territory: Lands claimed by the United States after the American Revolution. It was the area west of Pennsylvania, east of the Mississippi, and north of the Ohio River.
  • Wabash River: A river that winds through the present-day state of Indiana and Illinios before connecting with the Ohio River.
  • wampum: Small beads made from quahog clam and whelk shells. Belts made from the beads had important symbolic significance in many Native communities.

Discussion Questions

  • What do these excerpts reveal about the difference between the United States and Wea styles of governing?
  • Why do you think the Wea representative had a man speak for her on the second day?
  • How do you imagine the U.S. representatives responded to the presence of women at the treaty negotiations?
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Themes

POWER AND POLITICS; AMERICA AND THE WORLD

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