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.
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
The Treaty of Fort Laramie set territories for plains tribes including the Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, and Crow. It guaranteed safe passage for travelers on the Oregon Trail and allowed roads and forts to be built in the region.
The government promised payment to the tribes in the form of goods, supplies, and livestock for 10 years, but many payments were never received. Settlers and miners broke the treaty during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859.
Treaty signers included John S. Smith, Cheyenne interpreter, John Pizelle, Arapaho interpreter, and A. B. Chambers, secretary.
Treaty of Fort Wise, Kansas Territory, 1861
The Treaty of Fort Wise was signed at the former Bent’s New Fort, renamed Fort Wise in 1861, and later Fort Lyon in 1862. Signers included Indian agent Albert G. Boone (grandson of Daniel Boone), and Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs including Black Kettle.
The former reserve between the Arkansas River and the North Platte River was greatly reduced to 1/13 of the Fort Laramie Treaty. Sand Creek was the new northern boundary.
Government payments were promised for agriculture, livestock, and schools. Many Indians felt cheated and opposed the treaty. Hostilities increased, resulting in the Third Colorado Cavalry attacking, killing, and mutilating peaceful Indians including women and children in 1864 in the Sand Creek Massacre. Chief Black Kettle escaped.
The treaty 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
The Treaty of the Little Arkansas River was signed in 1865. Land and other payments were made as reparation for the losses suffered by the Indians at the Sand Creek Massacre while flying the U.S. flag.
It was signed by Black Kettle and other chiefs seeking to live in peace. It relocated the southern Cheyenne tribe east to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.
Other signatures included commissioners Kit Carson and William Bent, and John S. Smith, U.S. interpreter. Personal seals are included after the signers’ marks and signatures.
Chief Black Kettle Legacy, Native Americans
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.
Native Americans Signing 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.
When 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.
On 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.
Interpreter Oath on Notarized Documents for Native Americans
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
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, Native American Language Interpreter
John 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.
[Last-Modified Date 2020-08-27] edited 3 treaty paragraphs from phrases to sentences