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Pawnee at Fort Atkinson, 1824

In 1824 Mexican officials from Santa Fe were invited to come to the army post at Fort Atkinson to negotiate a peace treaty with the Pawnee. The delegation included fourteen Mexican nationals, twelve Indians, and James Baird, a former U.S. citizen, who served as the interpreter.

For years the Pawnee had been raiding Mexican communities east of Santa Fe. The Pawnee could not be taken lightly for the tribe had 2,050 fighting men or about one half the number of soldiers in the U.S. Army. Jose Antonio Vizcarra, the governor of New Mexico, hoped to raise an army of 1,500 men to rid his country of the Pawnee menace. The governor did not have the funds for such a large force so he turned to diplomacy. He sent a letter to the U.S. government complaining about the situation, which led to the meeting.

The war department than sent Indian Agent Benjamin O'Fallon to the Pawnee villages to warn them they must stop raiding. O'Fallon also arranged the meeting at Fort Atkinson, but he was given strict orders to exclude the Mexicans from participation in the proceedings except as observers. The war department was afraid a formal treaty might be used by Mexico in the future to weaken the American claim on the border regions between the two countries.

On September 6 the Pawnee, Mexican, and American delegates met at the fort. The Pawnee had not forgotten O'Fallon's warnings and were prepared for any emergency. Later the chiefs admitted they were armed and ready "to kill the Agent or any other person who might attempt to take any of them as hostages." Fortunately for all, these precautions were unnecessary.

After the negotiations were concluded newspapers reported that "this plundering warfare is no longer carried on," but some of the Pawnee chose to ignore the spirit of the meeting. Only a few months later a war party robbed a group of Mexican buffalo hunters west of Santa Fe. The Pawnee recognized one of the hunters as a participant in the meeting and in a patronizing gesture allowed this man to keep his gun.

(May 1997)



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