Today's Stockbridge-Munsee tribe are descendants of Christian Indians who settled into a Christian farming community at Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1734.
They were largely drawn from the Mohican (or Mahican) people living in that area. During the American Revolution, the Stockbridge sides with the colonists. In the 1780s, the Stockbridge moved to New York to escape encroachment by White settlers in Massachusetts and live alongside the Oneida tribe. In 1794, the federal government entered into a treaty with the Oneida, Tuscarora, and Stockbridge to thank the tribes for their wartime services with a gift of $5000.
Land Appropriation Treaties
In the late 1700s, the Stockbridge and the Brothertown were living on Oneida lands in New York. By the 1800s, the Oneida had sold much of their land to New York State. Many members of the three tribes believed it would be best if they moved away from land-hungry White settlers in New York. A delegation of representatives from the three tribes went to Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1821 to purchase land from the Ho-Chunk and Menominee and the delegation received a cession of about 860,000 acres. The next year, another delegation negotiated a second treaty for an additional 6.72 million acres on the western shore of Lake Michigan.
The Menominee and Ho-Chunk immediately protested the two treaties because they said the New York Indians had deceived them. They believed the 1821 and 1822 treaties only allowed the Oneida, Stockbridge, and Brothertown to live on the lands, not to own them. The Menominee and Ho-Chunk raised so many objections to the two treaties that the United States Senate refused to ratify them. In the meantime, the Stockbridge began to move to Wisconsin and established a small settlement on the Fox River, near present-day Kaukauna. By 1831, about 100 Munsee Delaware who had previously been living in Canada joined them. Jointly, they became known as the Stockbridge-Munsee.
The United States government finally brokered a series of three treaties in 1831 and 1832 between the Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Oneida, Stockbridge-Munsee, and Brothertown. The Stockbridge-Munsee were signatories to the final treaty in 1832, which required them to move to a new reservation of 46,080 acres on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago, in present-day Calumet County. As compensation, the tribe received $25,000 for improvements they had made at their Fox River settlement.
Land Cession Treaties and Legislation
The United States supported the New York Indians' move to Wisconsin because, at first, settlers were not drawn towards Wisconsin, thus making it the perfect place for reservations. However, in the 1830s, settlers began to pour into the state. As a result, the federal government then wanted to remove all Wisconsin Indians farther west to make the land available for White settlers. Some officials wanted to remove the Stockbridge-Munsee to Missouri. About 170 Stockbridge-Munsee (approximately half of the tribe) agreed to this plan, and the United States signed a treaty with the tribe in 1839 to buy half of the reservation land at Lake Winnebago at a dollar an acre, totaling $23,040. Those emigrating to Missouri received $12,647.05 of this money, and those remaining in Wisconsin received $10,392.95. However, the Stockbridge-Munsee people remaining in Wisconsin did not immediately get their money. The treaty gave the government the right to invest $6,000 of the sum into public stocks with five percent interest. The Stockbridge-Munsee in Wisconsin received this interest annually to establish a school. The remaining $4,392.95 was paid directly to the tribe.
Many who went to Missouri found the conditions there difficult and later returned to Wisconsin. In 1843, Congress pronounced the Stockbridge-Munsee citizens of the United States. This action served to divide the remaining communal lands amongst individuals of the tribe, giving them title and the right to sell as they wished. The legislation also divided the tribe: Those in support of American citizenship formed the Citizen Party, and those who opposed citizenship created the Indian Party. The Indian Party felt citizenship sacrificed their tribal identity, and in 1846, they pressured Congress to pass an act to repeal their citizenship. By this time, many members of the Citizen Party had accepted title to their lands and refused to give up their American citizenship. The 1846 Act distributed the remaining tribal lands at Lake Winnebago to the Indian Party as communal property. Unfortunately, there was too little land for them to farm profitably.
This led to another treaty in 1848 between the Stockbridge-Munsee Indian Party and the United States. The treaty recognized the existence of the Citizen and Indian Parties, and the Indian Party sold their small parcel of land to the United States for $16,500. The government paid them another $14,504.85 for improvements they made on the lands, and placed the $16,500 into government stocks at five percent interest which the tribe would receive as annual interest. Leaders of the Indian Party received $3,000 as reimbursement for the work they had done for the tribe. A final supplement to the 1848 Treaty reimbursed the tribe $25,000 for expenses incurred in 1818 when it tried to purchase land in Indiana.
Land Restoration Treaty
The United States hoped to provide land in Minnesota for the Indian Party of the Stockbridge-Munsee, but it was unable to purchase land from the Santee Dakota. This led to a final treaty between the Stockbridge-Munsee and the United States in 1856, granting the Indian Party 44,000 acres of the Menominee reservation. The treaty also contributed $84,650 to cover moving expenses and re-establish farms.
The boundaries of the reservation established by the 1856 Treaty have led to a recent legal battle over the tribe's hunting and fishing rights which the state of Wisconsin refused to acknowledge due to the 1887 Dawes Act. This congressional legislation allotted communally held reservation lands to individual families as private property. In the case of the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation, the predominance of infertile lands brought about deep-rooted poverty for many tribal members, which many tried to alleviate by selling their lands to lumber companies.
Since the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, the tribe has managed to re-purchase much of its reservation, but the state of Wisconsin has long maintained that land sales dissolved the reservation and any associated rights. A tribal member was cited in the early 1990s for fishing at Gresham Pond without a license. In 1994, the state Appeals Court at Wausau overturned the man's conviction because he had been fishing within reservation boundaries. The decision in essence reinstated reservation status, thus the state of Wisconsin can no longer enforce its hunting and fishing laws within Stockbridge-Munsee reservation boundaries.