Notarized Documents of Native Americans, 1800s

Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle Native AmericansNotarized Documents of Native Americans, 1800s

Following the landing of Columbus in 1492, Spanish explorers in the Southwest, as early as the Coronado Expedition of 1540, met Native Americans.

While Spanish explorers searched for gold, French explorers were interested in hunting and trapping for the profitable fur trade.  The Pilgrims arrived in 1620, seeking religious freedom, and met northeast tribes of Native Americans.

Europeans brought their foreign languages, culture, and laws with them, including written documents and notaries.

Photo: Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle, Mo-ta-va-to or Moke-ta-ve-to

Oregon Trail and Santa Fe Trail

After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and the western expeditions of Zebulon Pike and Lewis and Clark, up to 3,000 mountain men and explorers traveled the American West, from 1810 to the 1840s.  They laid the Oregon Trail, from about 1811 to 1836, starting in Missouri,  first as a horse and pack trail, then as a wagon trail, through the 1880s.

Santa Fe Trail Map

The Santa Fe Trail ran from Missouri to Santa Fe, Mexico, from 1821, when Mexico won independence from Spain, until 1879, when the railroad came to Santa Fe.  Some mountain men traded with Native Americans, married Indian women, and learned Indian languages.

After gold was discovered in California in 1849, Colorado in 1858, the Civil War ended in 1865, and the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, migration to the West, and encounters with Indians, greatly increased.  At first, Native Americans tried to defend their homeland, but, they were outnumbered.  Treaties were made to move them to reservations.

Treaty of Fort Laramie, Indian Territory, 1851

set territories for plains tribes including Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Crow, guaranteed safe passage on the Oregon Trail, allowed roads and forts to be built, government promised payment in the form of goods, supplies, livestock for 10 years, many payments were never received, settlers and miners broke treaty during Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859, John S. Smith, Cheyenne interpreter, John Pizelle, Arapaho interpreter, A. B. Chambers, secretary

Map Cheyenne Arapaho ReservationTreaty of Fort Wise, Kansas Territory, 1861

signed at Bent’s New Fort, renamed Fort Wise in 1861, later Fort Lyon in 1862,  by Indian agent Albert G. Boone (grandson of Daniel Boone), Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs including Black Kettle, former reserve between the Arkansas River and North Platte River was greatly reduced to 1/13 of the Fort Laramie Treaty, Sand Creek as new northern boundary, government payments promised for agriculture, livestock, schools, many Indians felt cheated and opposed treaty, hostilities increased, resulted in Third Colorado Cavalry attacking, killing and mutilating peaceful Indians including women and children in 1864 in the Sand Creek Massacre, Black Kettle escaped, awarded half-breed interpreters John S. Smith and Robert Bent 640 acres each near the Arkansas River, John White was a witness and clerk to the Indian signatures

Treaty of Little Arkansas River, State of Kansas, 1865

land and other payments made as reparation for losses suffered by Indians at Sand Creek Massacre while flying the US flag, signed by Black Kettle and other chiefs seeking to live in peace, moved the southern Cheyenne east to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, other signatures included commissioners Kit Carson and William BentJohn S. Smith, United States interpreter, personal seals are included after signers marks and signatures

Black Kettle Legacy

In 1868, Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Later, were shot in the back during an attack on their camp on the Washita River, Oklahoma, by troops of the 7th Cavalry, led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.  The Black Kettle Museum commemorates the Cheyenne chief in present Cheyenne, Oklahoma.  Black Kettle was a recurring character, portrayed for 3 seasons, in the CBS TV series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Signing Indian Treaties With a Mark or Thumbprint

There were many treaties made with the Native American tribes.  Initially, Indian chiefs could not read, write or sign documents written in the English language.  Later, schools were built where Indians learned the English language and customs.

Chief Black Kettle X markWhen Indians were asked to sign English-language documents, interpreters were used who could speak English and native Indian languages. They interpreted the document for the Indian signers, then the Indian chiefs would make an X, mark or thumbprint, rather than a signature, next to their printed names.

Bureau of Indian Affairs sealOn notarized documents, the interpreter would sign a sworn statement, at the end of the document, stating that the Indian chiefs understood the document and had signed in the presence of the interpreter.

When the government established the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824, as part of the War Department, some interpreters worked for Indian agencies and were provided housing on reservations, along with the Indian agent.

Notarized Document with Indian Interpreter Oath

The components of a notarized document, using an Indian language interpreter:

Text of the Document
Indian signer name followed by X, mark or thumbprint
Sworn statement by interpreter
Interpreter Signature
Notary Signature
Notary Seal

After the Indian signer’s mark or thumbprint, a sworn statement was included:

I, [John S. Smith], swear that I understand the English and [Cheyenne] languages, and that I correctly interpreted the foregoing statement to [Chief Black Kettle], who understood the same and signed it in my presence.
/s/ [John S. Smith], Interpreter

Subscribed and sworn to before me this [day] at [location].
Notary Name, Notary Seal, My Commission Expires: [Date]

John S. Smith, Indian Language Interpreter

John Smith signatureJohn S. Smith was a hunter and trapper in the Rocky Mountains and learned the Cheyenne language.  His Cheyenne name was White Blanket.  He became a guide and interpreter for the military and an interpreter and special agent for the Upper Arkansas Indian Agency, under Samuel G. Colley, Indian Agent.

Smith was staying at the Indian village at Sand Creek, trading goods and ammunition for buffalo robes, when it was attacked by soldiers, led by Colonel John Chivington.  His half-breed son Jack was killed by the soldiers.  Smith was an eyewitness to the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 and was deposed before the U.S. Congress in 1865, during the investigation of the atrocities.  His sworn testimony is available online.

Visit our website for Colorado Springs Mobile Notary services or Colorado Notary Training classes.

[Last-Modified Date 2017-04-03] add new image

Notarized Documents of Native Americans, 1800s
  • Notarized Documents of Native Americans, 1800s
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