Early St. Louis



Its Debate in The Extra Globe & the Influence of Joshua Pilcher
A blog by P. Davidson-Peters

J.D. Doty by Mathew Brady
Few authors have written on the subject of the Doty Treaty of 1841.  Those who have, seemed intent on repeating the narrative of the first verbatim so that no other opinion has been introduced or offered. After scouring the available resources, I was also surprised to find very little reference to Joshua Pilcher on this subject despite the many articles which appeared in The Extra Globe newspaper during the course of its heated debate.

Upon close examination of Pilcher’s very detailed documents and letters, it seems obvious that the failure to ratify the treaty was influenced equally, if not more, by his expert knowledge of its legislation rather than the simple explanation given by previous authors, that the Democrats were merely voting along party lines to defeat a Whig proposal.

The year 1841 was fraught with political tension and there was conflicting views regarding the frontiers.  Major Joshua Pilcher, who had first established himself with the Missouri Fur Company in 1819 and was most recently the late Superintendent of Indiana Affairs, was well qualified to render an opinion on the treaty, lands, and tribes.  As a fur trader, he had ventured into lands of which few white men had entered.  He had made excursions into the Rocky Mountains, the British establishments on the Athabasca, the Saskatchewan, and Lake Winnipeg, and had explored and traded on the Columbia River.  He had been United States Indian Agent to the great bands of Sioux on the Missouri River, and in 1837 had made a treaty with the Ioway Indians.  His experience was unquestionable, his conduct fair and honorable, and his views were respected and valued by many.   He was characterized as being honest and outspoken in his opinion, the latter of which had put his position as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in jeopardy when he publicly endorsed President Van Buren for re-election and made it known he would not work for a Whig.  

As circumstances would have it, Harrison defeated President Van Buren, but died only a month after taking office.  Without precedent, Vice President Tyler stepped forth and took the oath of office.  He then proceeded to veto nearly every measure put forth by the very Whigs who had elected him and set into motion the resignation of one after another, of his Cabinet except Secretary of State, Daniel Webster.  During and throughout the course of the resignations and reassignments, Pilcher continued to perform the complex duties as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  One such task was a written consult to Secretary of War, Joel R. Poinsett, who had yet to resign.  Written on the 15th of February, it outlined - in six detailed steps - his opinion that without lawfully opening the area for white settlement, the vast fertile, wilderness would ultimately lead to British settlements in the northwest which would be difficult to control and might be ruinous to a vast frontier. 

Poinsett’s response to Pilcher was dated the 1st of March and instructed him to "hold treaties with these tribes for such a removal, and for the cession of their remaining lands in Iowa Territory." He then described the tract of land and how the appropriation might be spent.  “The amount should be computed upon principles of economy, and at the same time, of proper liberality towards the Indians, and its payment stipulated in the manner that will afford the greatest and most enduring benefit to them."  But before Joshua had been able to carry out the instructions, he received a letter from T. Hartley Crawford, on the orders of John Bell to suspend the payment of the annuity due the Sac and Fox Indians of the Desmoines.  He was also ordered to "suspend all action under the instructions of the 1st of March ins. by which you were authorized to negotiate with the Sacs and Foxes of the Mississippi, and the Winnebagoes, for cession of their lands in Iowa, for their emigration southwest of Missouri, and further procurement of land west for their residence from other tribes.  If it shall be determined by the Secretary of War to prosecute these negotiations upon the plan suggested in the instructions of the 1st inst., or upon any other, you will be advised thereof.”

Major Pilcher was not further advised.  Instead, he was dismissed from his position as he had thought likely and J.R. Poinsett, who had initially instructed Pilcher, had been replaced on the 5th of March by Tennessee Congressman John Bell.  Although Bell would be among those of Tyler’s Cabinet who resigned, he was acting in the capacity as Secretary of War when he wrote to Major Pilcher from the Office of Indian Affairs on the 25th of March revoking Poinsett’s earlier instructions to negotiate a treaty and move the Indians. 

While in Washington settling up the accounts of the office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Joshua had a front row seat to all the political squabbling, and rumors soon circulated his way that Doty had been employed in treating for land on the St. Peters.  Inaccurate information soon made its way through various newspapers regarding the treaty, and among those reporting on the affair was The Extra Globe, a weekly Washington newspaper published by editors Blair and Rives.  The article, “Doty’s Treaty” appeared the month of September and stated that, if ratified, it would cost the Treasury six to eight million dollars.  The topic instigated a series of editorials, the first being a controverted response came from "A Hawk-Eye" who resided in the Iowa Territory.  This was followed-up by the editors who included the Articles of the treaty, a recapitulation of the estimated cost of twenty-five million acres, and a clarification that the "twenty millions, or the thirty millions purchased, are not for the people of the United States, but for the Indians themselves so that the United States buy it with one hand, and give it away with the other."

Hawkeye immediately dismissed the figures and details as exaggerated and absurd.  Pilcher, who had most probably supplied the editors with the details of the treaty, weighed in, furnishing the editors with copies of the three letters aforementioned between himself, Poinsett, and Bell.  His primary intent was to show that the treaty itself was a violation of law and a perversion of appropriations, and after a brief introduction of his  qualifications on the matter, Pilcher wrote in part: "To relieve Iowa, and prepare her for becoming a State,  Mr. Poinsett was pleased to consult me, and obtained from me a written plan of operations; and being satisfied with it, he committed the execution of the plan to me.  His instruction to that effect were delivered to me; the small appropriation which was asked ($5,000) was granted by Congress; and the object, I believe, would have been accomplished before this time, and the Indians under engagements to leave Iowa, and cross to the west of the Missouri river, had it not been for the total change of the plan which Mr. Bell adopted, and which has led to the extraordinary movements now going on in the Northwest."

He provided the title to the legislative act regarding the appropriation, its contents, as well as that of the second section of the same bill which had been struck, amended, and then rejected by the House.  The debates of the Senate, he explained, "showed that it was both because they were opposed to establishing any Indian Territory at all, and especially at the place indicated, because it was too near the British line, and the great establishments of the Hudson Bay Fur Company.  There then remained in the act, so far as the subject was concerned, nothing but the authority to treat with the Sac and Fox, and Winnebago, and Sioux Indians, in Iowa, for their lands in that Territory, and to remove them across the Missouri river."

 “This cheap, easy, obvious and lawful plan was changed by Mr. Bell into the vast scheme of establishing an Indian Territory and Government, for the civilization and naturalization of Indians on the St. Peters river and Stone lake; the expediency, propriety, and practicability of which is now to be considered.”

In the successive column following Pilcher’s editors ran the following under the headline of: DOTY AND HIS TREATIES.  "The extraordinary powers with which this individual has been clothed in making Indians treaties, makes it proper to see what his neighbors say of him.  The following is from the Milwaukee Courier, and is the verdict of a public meeting called by sixty-five Whigs."  In the article, they found him guilty of wasteful extravagance, embezzling, bribery and corruption - and being party to a fraud on the United States Treasury, in aiding and procuring the allowance of a fraudulent land claim and proclaimed "James Duane Doty to be a public defaulter for a large sum of money, and under circumstances of the most aggravated guilt and moral turpitude.”

Hawkeye immediately responded to Pilcher’s accusations, intimating that Pilcher was only seeking personal revenge and that the “country designated by the rejected proposition, and that included within Doty's treaty, are totally and wholly distinct and separate."  

Naturally, Pilcher had plenty to say.  "I confined myself to the point of illegality in this latter undertaking, and showed, by exact references to the journals of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and of the act of Indian appropriations, that the illegality was double, being both in undertaking to establish an Indian Territory, and in perverting a specific appropriation from its express object to a purpose which Congress had refused to authorize.”  

Here Pilcher outlines Doty’s treaty and the formation of an Indian Territory explaining that Bell’s location would not relieve the frontiers of Missouri or Iowa of the Indians, and would place about 50,000 Indians (which included the remnants of fifteen tribes) within such a narrow space as to cause constant quarreling among them.  He further noted that to surround the whole of them on each side by white settlements would destroy them.  "The effect upon the Indians is obvious.  Instead of being civilized, they would be degraded and extirpated, and the benefits of the perpetual investments would go to a few cunning half-breeds, or their white assignees.  Such are some of the objections to the Indian Territory on the St. Peters.  Compared to Mr. Poinsett's location for them west of the Missouri river, how great is the difference!"

The treaty was tabled for review September 13, 1841.  Measures were then taken to modify the original documents and it was resubmitted the next spring.  It was again defeated on the Senate floor by a vote of two to twenty-six on August 29th, 1842.  It was, however, the predecessor of the second Travers de Sioux treaty which was signed in 1851 and officially opened the land to white settlement establishing what now amounts to approximately three hundred Indian reservations in the United States.


Bell, John - a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee, he served from 1827 until March of 1841, when he was then appointed U.S. Secretary of War, serving only briefly in this capacity before resigning in protest along with much of President Tyler's cabinet.

Crawford, Thomas H. - elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representative in 1833 and 1834 and appointed a commissioner to investigate alleged fraud regarding the 1832 treaty with the Creeks in1836.  In 1838 he was appointed by President Van Buren as Commissioner of Indian Affairs and served until 1845.

Doty, James - born in Salem, New York in 1799, moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1818 and was admitted to the bar as a lawyer the following year.  He was selected by Lewis Cass, then governor of the Michigan Territory, to serve as secretary on his expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. He was later appointed by President James Madison as Federal judge for the Michigan Territory, and was serving as Governor of the Wisconsin Territory when he conducted the 1841 treaty acting in the capacity as a speical commissioner.

The Extra Globe was published in Washington, D.C. from 1834 to 1841, and was a weekly publication devoted to 

The Hawkeye paper was founded by John G. Edwards, who in his early life had been a newspaper reporter in New York.  Published weekly from Burlington, Iowa, was self-scribed as "the only Whig paper in the territory" and after the delcine of that party continued to advocate the doctrines of the Republican party.

Pilcher, Joshua - born in Culpeper Co., Virginia in 1790, he removed as a child to Lexington, Kentucky where he learned the hatter trade under his brother-in-law, Hiram Shaw.  Upon the death of his father in 1810, he went to Nashville and two years later arrived in St. Louis. He became a partner in the Missouri Fur Company, and was later a sub-agent, agent, and Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  He died in 1843.

Poinsett, Joel R. - a Democrat from South Carolina, he served as Secretary of War under President Van Buren from March 1837 until March 5, 1841.  He later presided over the continuing removal of Indians west of the Mississippi and over the Seminole War.

Ramsey, Alexander -became 1st Territorial Governor of Minnesota in 1849, and shortly after taking office began urging his superiors to capitalize on what he represented as the Indians' eagerness to sell their lands. His suggestion met a favorable reception from Indian Commissioner Orlando Brown and from Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing, to whose charge Indian affairs had been transferred with the creation that year of the new Department of the Interior.

Taliaferro, Lawrence - former agent for the Sioux, denounced the treaties, believing them to be a plot for the traders to gain complete control over the Sioux.


  • Commision of Indian Affairs Annual Report (1841) p. 253
  • The Extra Globe Containing Political Discussions, Documentary Proofs, &c. for 1841, Blair and Rives editors, Washington, D.C., 1841. p.293; 305; 319; 321-329;334-336;338
  • Holcombe, Return Ira, Early history: Volume 2 of Minnesota in Three Centuries, 1655-1908, Publishing Society of Minnesota, Frank R. Holmes, 1908 p.285-289
  • Hubbell, Jeremy Wayne, Minneapolis: Urban-environmental Change in the Upper Mississippi, 1824--1924, a Dissertation, Stony Brook University, 2007. p.83-84
  • Hughes, Thomas, Minnesota Historical Society collections, Volume 10, Part 1, The Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux in 1851, under Governor Alexander Ramsey with Notes of the Former Treaty there, in 1841, Under Governor James D. Doty, of Wisconsin, The Society, 1905 p 101-102; p.119-126
  • Sunder, John E., Joshua Pilcher, Fur Trader and Indian Agent, University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.

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