Between Fort Laramie and Fort Wise – A Tale of Two Treaties

Federally-recognized Arapaho and Cheyenne lands, 1851-1861. Map courtesy of the National Park Service.

Federally-recognized Arapaho and Cheyenne lands, 1851-1861.
Map courtesy of the National Park Service.

This article is part of a series by the National Park Service concerning the 150th Memorial of the Sand Creek Massacre.

Whether it was for California’s gold fields or Oregon’s verdant farmland, pioneer families traveled the Oregon Trail in the 1840s, moving across traditional Native American lands to new domains. Settlers and American Indians competed over scarce resources, increasing tensions.  The U.S. Army attempted to secure peace with treaty negotiations at Fort Laramie in 1851.

Negotiating with representatives from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, treaty commissioners granted lands to the tribes stretching from the North Platte River south to the Arkansas River.  This territory encompassed over 44 million acres. In return for allowing roads and travelers to pass freely, federal representatives guaranteed the Native Americans supplies along with protection from settlement.

However, discovery of gold near Pike’s Peak brought fifty thousand miners and traders to Colorado in 1859 alone, where they occupied the legal homeland of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Many Coloradans started advocating for a revocation of the 1851 treaty, asking the federal government to recognize mining claims rather than removing settlers.

Subsequent talks with a minority of the Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs produced the 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise. Under this treaty, tribal lands were reduced to an area between the Big Sandy Creek and the Arkansas. Tribal territory declined to less than 4 million acres. These reductions in tribal lands, along with continued incursions by settlers, set the foundation for conflicts over land, property, and survival.

To find out more about the 1851 Fort Laramie or the 1861 Fort Wise Treaties, go to or visit the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site outside of Eads, Colorado.


Eric Sainio, Park Guide
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

National Park Service
P.O. Box 249
Eads, CO 81036

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