Just north of St. Peter on U.S. Hwy. 169 is the Treaty Site History Center, the headquarters of the Nicollet County Historical Society.
The site’s exhibits explore the history of Nicollet County and Minnesota’s territorial expansion.
It also tells the story of the Dakota people, the first explorers, cartographers, traders, and Euro-American settlers.
Formerly a Minnesota state park, the site of the old settlement and river ford is now a State Historic Site and a Minnesota State Monument.
Named for the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux that was signed here in July of 1851, which ceded 24 million acres of Dakota land to the U.S. government and opened the land to new settlers and westward expansion.
The United States wanted the treaty to gain control of agricultural lands to profit from more European-American settlers.
By this treaty, the Sioux ceded land and agreed to move onto reservations.
In exchange, the United States promised payment of $1,665,000 in cash and annuities.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite what happened.
The Dakota agreed to sign the treaty but also requested a copy.
Upon signing the copy, they were asked to sign a third paper which they believed to be the third copy.
The Dakota were tricked into signing “trader’s papers”, as the interpreters had not accurately told them what the document was.
Traders’ papers were documents that said that traders were allowed to take inland currency of what may have been owed them out of the Dakotas’ treaty payments, paying $400,000 of the promised treaty annuity to financial claims against the tribes.
The U.S. paid the Dakota an annuity the equivalent of 7.5 cents an acre and charged settlers $1.25 an acre.
The Treaty Site includes a rock that marks the site of the signing.
The U.S. set aside two reservations for the Sioux along the Minnesota River; the Upper Sioux Agency was near Granite Falls and the Lower Sioux Agency near what became Redwood Falls.
Later the government declared these were intended to be temporary, in an effort to force the Sioux out of Minnesota.
The U.S. used the treaties to encourage the Sioux to convert to an agrarian lifestyle, offering them compensation in the transition.
The forced change in lifestyle and the much lower than expected payments from the federal government caused economic suffering and increased social tensions within the tribes.
This resulted in the Dakota War of 1862.
Once settlers began pouring into Nicollet County, fur trading was replaced by farming and soon villages became towns full of businesses.
The history center showcases the local agriculture, business, geology, and includes south-central Minnesota census records, maps, artifacts, photographs, and even information on the St. Peter State Hospital.
The trails around the Traverse des Sioux include a self-guided tour that has placards where you can learn about Dakota culture, the 1851 treaty, and its effects on people, transportation, the fur trade, and the town of Traverse des Sioux that sprouted as part of the treaty and western settlement.