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Precursor to Negotiaations

Although politicians in Washington generally thought of removal in terms of relocating Indian tribes to the vast expanses of land west of the Mississippi River where whites had not settled, parts of the Old Northwest Territory were also seen as potential Indian territories. As late as 1825 the Secretary of War suggested removing tribes in Ohio, New York, Indiana, and southern Michigan to land west of Lake Michigan and north of Illinois; today's Wisconsin and Michigan's upper peninsula. Because the Chippewa and Odawa lands were initially of little interest to white settlers, the government had did not waste energy seeking to relocate these two tribes. Rather, government relocation efforts focused on Michigan's Potawatomi. The Potawatomi occupied fertile agricultural land in southwestern Michigan that in the 1820s and 1830s had become sought after by whites for farms.

Efforts to remove the Potawatomi and other Great Lakes tribes were complicated. In particular the Great Lakes region posed difficult military problems because of the possibility that the Indians might ally themselves with a hostile European power. In the South there was no potential European ally to whom Indians could turn when the federal army ruthlessly assembled and removed them. In contrast, the Great Lakes tribes had easy access to British Canada. The Indians of the region had largely sided with the British both during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The British remembered and continued to cultivate this support. Well into the 1830s the British military annually presented "gifts" to their former Indian allies, both those living in Canada and those who lived in the United States. In the Great Lakes region, the American government had to consider the unsettling possibility that should an Indian war occur His Majesty's army might directly or indirectly support the Indians.

Further complicating removal in Michigan was the policy begun in 1817 of granting "reserves" to tribes as part of treaties they signed. In the many land cessation titles of the era a "reserve" was simply a relatively small tract of land within the tribe's historic area of occupation over which Indians continued to exercise control. Although the federal government quickly came to regret agreeing to reserves, tribal negotiators were adamant that they be included in all future treaties. So strong was the Indians sentiment that, despite President Jackson's wishes, in 1833 Secretary of War Lewis Cass (former territorial governor of Michigan) instructed the commissioners authorized to negotiate a removal treaty with the Potawatomi to grant reserves if essential to obtaining the treaty:


Decline, in the first instances, to grant any reservations either to the Indians or others, and endeavor to prevail upon them all to remove. Should you find this impracticable, and that granting some reservations will be unavoidable, that course may be taken in the usual manner, and upon the usual conditions."

By 1828 the Potawatomi had surrendered much of their land to the federal government. However, the tribe still held significant amounts of land in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. In 1832 the Potawatomi surrendered virtually all of their remaining claims in these four states. To obtain this concession, however, the federal government was forced to include in the treaties one hundred and twenty Potawatomi reserves. Because this large number of reserves was so obviously at odds with President Jackson's removal policy, the federal government called for a new treaty, to be negotiated in the fall of 1833 at Chicago.