Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty

An attempt to bring a final settlement to the conflicts on the southern Great Plains, the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty required the members of five major tribes to go to reservations but did not end violent conflicts.

Summary of Event

For many years, the Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Southern Cheyenne, and Arapaho peoples roamed the vast area of the southern Great Plains, following huge buffalo herds. This region later made up parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. The Northern Cheyenne, Sioux, and other peoples also lived similar lives on the northern Great Plains. Warfare was a part of the daily life of these peoples, generally as a result of intertribal rivalries and disputes concerning control of certain sections of the plains. Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty (1867)
Black Kettle
Comanches;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Kiowas;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Kiowa-Apaches[Kiowa Apaches]
Cheyennes;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Arapahos;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Native American wars;Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty
Kansas;Native Americans
[kw]Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty (Oct. 21, 1867)
[kw]Lodge Creek Treaty, Medicine (Oct. 21, 1867)
[kw]Creek Treaty, Medicine Lodge (Oct. 21, 1867)
[kw]Treaty, Medicine Lodge Creek (Oct. 21, 1867)
Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty (1867)
Black Kettle
Comanches;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Kiowas;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Kiowa-Apaches[Kiowa Apaches]
Cheyennes;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Arapahos;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Native American wars;Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty
Kansas;Native Americans
[g]United States;Oct. 21, 1867: Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[4100]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Oct. 21, 1867: Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[4100]
[c]Indigenous people’s rights;Oct. 21, 1867: Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[4100]
Taylor, Nathaniel G.
Ten Bears

The traditional life styles of the Indians began to change when Europeans began arriving on the Great Plains during the sixteenth century. Until the early nineteenth century, however, the changes were limited to such things as the acquisition of horses, Horses;and Native Americans[Native Americans] steel knives, guns, and other products from European traders. The tribes soon became dependent on these items, but their day-to-day lives changed little.

The most dominant Indians in the region were the Comanches, who were known as the Lords of the Southern Plains. Joined by the Kiowas, with whom they established friendly relations around the year 1790, the Comanches controlled the smaller Kiowa-Apache tribe and the region south of the Arkansas River. Their chief rivals north of the Arkansas River were the Southern Cheyenne. In 1840, however, the Comanches and Cheyennes Comanches;and Cheyennes[Cheyennes]
Cheyennes;and Comanches[Comanches] established a fragile peace that also included the Arapahos, the less numerous allies of the Cheyennes. This peace came at the beginning of a decade that would change forever the face of the southern Great Plains.

In 1846, the United States annexed Texas. The end of the Mexican War in 1848 added New Mexico, Arizona, and other areas of the Southwest to the United States. Over the next half century, the fragile Native American peace of 1840 became a strong bond of brotherhood for the southern plains tribes as they fought to defend themselves and their land against the encroachments of Euro-American settlers, railroads, buffalo hunters, soldiers, and other intruders.

With the acquisition of Texas, the United States inherited a long and bloody conflict between Texans and Comanches, who were described by some observers as the best light cavalry in the world. The Comanches had long hunted between the Arkansas River and the Rio Grande Rio Grande . In 1821, the government of Mexico began giving land grants in west Texas Texas;Comanches to settlers from the United States who soon challenged the Comanches for control of the area.

The first attempt to confine the Comanches to reservations Comanches;reservations was a May, 1846, treaty that created two small reservations on the Brazos River. The few Comanches who settled on the reservations soon yearned for the free-spirited life on the vast plains. By 1850, discoveries of gold and silver Silver;in Nevada[Nevada]
Nevada;silver mining
Mining;in Nevada[Nevada] between the southern Rocky Mountains Rocky Mountains and California were drawing numerous wagon and pack trains through the southern plains. These were soon followed by stagecoach lines and later by railroads. The increase in traffic was paralleled by increased confrontations with the Indian tribes, who were accustomed to unhindered pursuit of the buffalo.

Scenes from the Medicine Lodge Creek treaty council published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

(Library of Congress)

Between 1846 and 1865, several treaties were signed between the Native Americans of the southern plains and the government of the United States. However, lack of mutual confidence, sarcasm, and open contempt on both sides doomed these treaties to failure. The frustration felt by the Native Americans increased when cholera Cholera;and Native Americans[Native Americans] and other diseases introduced by Europeans began devastating the native populations.

In March of 1863, a party of Native American chiefs from the southern plains went to Washington, D.C., and met with President Abraham Lincoln Lincoln, Abraham
[p]Lincoln, Abraham;and Native Americans[Native Americans] . Returning home loaded with gifts, these leaders believed that coexistence with Euro-Americans was possible. However, their confidence was hard to maintain after the bloody and unprovoked massacre Sand Creek Massacre (1864) of Cheyennes at Sand Creek, in Colorado, the following year. Nevertheless, Ten Bears of the Comanches, who had met President Lincoln, Black Kettle of the Cheyennes, who had escaped from Sand Creek, and other chiefs still believed that peace was their best protection and was possible to achieve.

The next effort toward a peace settlement was the Little Arkansas Treaty Little Arkansas Treaty (1865) in October, 1865. Representatives of the five southern plains tribes met with U.S. commissioners at the mouth of the Little Arkansas River near Wichita, Kansas. The government wanted to end Native American disruptions of movements in and through the plains. Little more than a stopgap measure, this treaty consigned the tribes to reservations—the Cheyennes and Arapahos in northern Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and the Comanches, Kiowas, and Kiowa-Apaches in western Texas and southwestern Indian Territory. These boundaries were impossible to enforce and did not end the violence, but the treaty set the stage for a more important meeting two years later.

In July, 1867, Congress created a peace commission to establish permanent settlements of grievances between Native Americans and Euro-Americans on the Great Plains. The commission was led by Commissioner of Indian Affairs Nathaniel G. Taylor Taylor, Nathaniel G. and included a U.S. senator and three Army generals. The group chose to meet Indian representatives on the banks of Medicine Lodge Creek in southwestern Kansas. Joining them there were more than four thousand Native Americans. These people represented all five tribes but not all the bands of the tribes. Noticeably absent were the Quahadi, members of a Comanche Comanches;Quahadi band that wanted no peace with the U.S. government.

The council opened on October 19, 1867, with Senator John B. Henderson Henderson, John B. delivering the opening remarks. Under a large brush arbor, he referred to reservation homes, rich farmland, livestock, churches, and schools for all Native Americans. Although most tribal leaders accepted the promises as positive, the idea of being restricted to reservations covering only a fraction of their beloved Great Plains was sickening to them. The Kiowa chief Satanta (White Bear) lamented, “I love to roam over the prairies. There I feel free and happy, but when we settle down we grow pale and die.” The Yamparika Comanche chief Ten Bears Ten Bears gave one of the most eloquent statements, declaring,

I was born where there were no inclosures and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there and not within walls. . . . when I see [soldiers cutting trees and killing buffalo] my heart feels like bursting with sorrow.

In spite of such emotional appeals, Ten Bears Ten Bears and other Comanche chiefs signed the Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek on October 21, 1867, thereby committing their people to life on the reservation. With the horrors of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre fresh on his mind, Black Kettle represented the Cheyennes at the council. He would not sign the treaty until other Cheyenne chiefs arrived on October 26. Although less happy with the treaty than the Comanche and Kiowa leaders, the Cheyenne chiefs also signed, primarily so they could get ammunition for firearms for their fall buffalo hunt. The Arapaho chiefs soon did likewise. At the end of the council meeting, Satank Satank rode alone to bid farewell to the federal Peace Commission. He expressed his desire for peace and declared that the Comanches and the Kiowas no longer wanted to shed the blood of the white man.


The Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek restricted the five southern plains tribes to reservations in the western half of Indian Territory. However, vague terminology and unwritten promises made the treaty impossible fully to understand or enforce. New violence soon erupted on the southern plains. One year after Medicine Lodge Creek, Black Kettle was killed in a confrontation similar to the Sand Creek Massacre, this time on the Washita Washita River Massacre (1868) River in Indian Territory. The violence escalated for several years, then dwindled to isolated incidents before ending at Wounded Knee in 1890.

A poignant illustration of the ultimate effect of the treaty occurred on June 8, 1871, when the seventy-year-old Satank—who along with Satanta Satanta and a young war chief named Big Tree Big Tree had been arrested for attacking a mule train carrying food that the ration-deprived Indians sorely needed—was being transported to Texas to stand trial for murder. Chewing his own wrists in order to slip out of his manacles, Satank then attacked a guard and was shot dead, fulfilling a prophecy that he had uttered only minutes before to fellow prisoners: “Tell them I am dead. . . . I shall never go beyond that tree.”

Further Reading

  • Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970. Impassioned history of Indian resistance to white encroachments that places the Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek in the full context of Native American history in the western United States.
  • Grinnell, George Bird. The Fighting Cheyennes. 1915. Reprint. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. An author who observed the Cheyennes at first hand presents their history up to 1890.
  • Hagan, William T. United States-Comanche Relations. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1976. The most complete coverage of the council and treaty at Medicine Lodge Creek.
  • Hatch, Thom. Black Kettle: The Cheyenne Chief Who Sought Peace but Found War. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. Biography of the chief who represented the Cheyennes at Medicine Lodge Creek.
  • Hoig, Stan. The Peace Chiefs of the Cheyennes. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980. Brief but well-illustrated study of the efforts of the Cheyennes to find peace, with particular attention to Black Kettle.
  • Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. Five Hundred Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. Well-illustrated history of North America from its original inhabitants’ viewpoint. Includes a brief section on the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty that contains direct quotations from Indian leaders.
  • Mooney, James. Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians. 1898. Reprint. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979. Provides a chronology of the Kiowa tribe.
  • Rollings, Willard H. The Comanche. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. Describes the change in Comanche life after the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty.
  • Williams, Jeanne. Trails of Tears: American Indians Driven from Their Lands. Dallas, Tex.: Hendrick-Long, 1992. Study of the forced removal to reservations of a variety of Native American tribes, including the Comanches and Cheyennes.

Apache and Navajo War

Long Walk of the Navajos

Sand Creek Massacre

Fetterman Massacre

Washita River Massacre

Great American Buffalo Slaughter

Grant Signs Indian Appropriation Act

Red River War

General Allotment Act Erodes Indian Tribal Unity

Wounded Knee Massacre

Related Article in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i><br />

Abraham Lincoln. Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty (1867)
Black Kettle
Comanches;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Kiowas;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Kiowa-Apaches[Kiowa Apaches]
Cheyennes;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Arapahos;and Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty[Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty]
Native American wars;Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty
Kansas;Native Americans