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Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty

Beginning shortly after the Civil War, westward expansion created friction between settlers and Central Plains tribes. There were numerous reports of Indian attacks on white settlers and the Hancock Expedition in the spring of 1867 was meant to quell the attacks by holding council with the tribes. The tribes agreed to meet, but backed out and ran from the military expedition, leaving everything behind. Hancock's men burned the village and pursued the Indians, but never reached them.

In response to this failed attempt at a peace treaty, a peace party was sent to engage in treaty talks with the tribes. In October 1867 the Peace Commission arrived in Kansas. Its personnel had been chosen from both military men and civilians. Generals Terry, Harney, Sanborn, and Auger, while Commissioner Taylor upheld the interests of the Indian Bureau (William T. Sherman had been assigned by the military to attend, but was called back to Washington by President Johnson. He was replaced by Auger). Senator Henderson, of Missouri, represented congress and Col. Samuel F. Tappan stood for the nation at large.

The treaty site was about 70 miles south of Fort Larned where Medicine Lodge and Elm Creeks joined. The tribes were encamped all around the area.  Estimates of the number of Indians present vary from 5,000 to 15,000. The tribes represented were the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache.

Two treaties were drawn up and signed. On October 21 the commissioners reached their final agreement with the Comanche, Kiowa and Apache tribes. The Cheyennes held off until a week later, when they and their Arapahoe allies came to terms. The two treaties were nearly identical. According to the final arrangement the Indians agreed to

(1) Withdraw all opposition to the construction of the Pacific railroads.
(2) Relinquish their claims lying between the Platte and Arkansas.
(3) Withdraw to reservations set apart for them.

In return the Indians received the following concessions:
(1) A large reservation and an enormous amount of supplies. The Comanches, Kiowas and Apaches were assigned to a reserve north of the Red river. The Cheyennes and Arapahoes were allotted about three million acres in the Cherokee outlet in Indian territory.
(2) The right to hunt south of the Arkansas river so long as the buffalo ranged there in such numbers as to justify the chase. No white settlements were to be allowed between the Arkansas river and the southern boundary of Kansas for a period of three years.

Contrary to a general impression which has grown up in the United States, the Medicine Lodge treaty did not bring peace to the frontier. After loading the Indians with guns and ammunition the Peace Commission promised to provide more for them the next spring. This mistaken policy on the part of the commissioners practically undid everything that had been accomplished by the treaty. It remained for the military authorities to bring about peace.

Kansas Historical Quarterly, August 1932 (Vol. 1, No. 4), pages 326 to 344.

Entry: Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: December 2015

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