Gold, Glittering on the Soil...

During the negotiations of the Old Crossing Treaty of 1863, the U.S. commissioners under Alexander Ramsey continued to press the Red Lake chiefs for a treaty. The government wanted title to the Red River valley, on both sides of the river (an estimated 20,000 square miles), and was willing to pay $20,000 per year for twenty years. The Red Lakers appointed Little Rock to speak for them. After shaking hands with Commissioners Ramsey and Morrill, Little Rock spoke, according to a reporter, "with somewhat undue violence of vociferation, but with neither immoderate nor ungraceful energy of gesticulation." Paul Beaulieu interpreted for the chief, who said:


Whenever I look around I see and I suppose you see it also--I see gold glittering on the soil we inherit. The land belongs to us. We should be very sorry for you to set a value upon the land for us and make us an offer... before you have heard our offer.


I want to give you an answer to one thing you said yesterday--about the road which passes through here and the river. You told us they were not of much importance to us. The Master of Life gave us the river and the water thereof to drink, and the woods and the roads we depend on for subsistence, and you are mistaken if you think we derive no benefits from them. The Master of Life gave it to us for an inheritance, and gave us the animals for food and clothing....


About the road and that river which flows in that direction, which the Master of Life has given me--there is where I get my living. My independence is upon that prairie. The Master of Life has placed upon these prairies animals from which I live. Their meat is my food, and their skins are my clothing. It seems now that the white man is passing backward and forward and wresting these prairies from our hands, and taking this food from my mouth.


My friend, when we take anything which has been left upon the ground, even though it be of small value, we feel bad. We are afraid to look the owner in the face until we restore it. Now about committing depredations and stealing, we are well aware that the Great Spirit has given us the animals for our support. When your young men steal anything you make them pay for the depredations. That is the way we look upon those white men who drove away the animals and fish the Great Spirit has given us....


Do you suppose we are ignorant that the amount of money you offer us is a mere handful and would not go but a little way towards paying for what I think you alluded to (compensation for depredations).... We want you to distinctly understand that the proposition you made to us yesterday we don't accept. We do not think of it at all....


Despite the initial determination of the band to resist the sale, the commissioners eventually had their way and the treaty was signed by six of the seven Red Lake chiefs.


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Source: St. Paul Daily Press, October 23, 1863.

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