1833 Treaty of Chicago:  Indians Ceded Land to U.S. Government

Native Americans, primarily the Potawatomi, occupied this area along Lake Michigan’s western shore for centuries.  In 1833, the Potawatomi sold the last of their land in northern Illinois, and all land in southeastern Wisconsin to the United States at a treaty council in Chicago.  In exchange for signing the 1833 treaty, the Illinois and Wisconsin Potawatomi were given five million acres of land in Iowa, $100,000 in goods and provisions, $14,000 in cash every year for twenty years, $150,000 to set up grist mills and buy agricultural implements, and $70,000 for establishiing schools.  Additionally, the government paid off $250,0000 of debts the Potawatomi incurred with local fur traders.

(Source: “Potawotmi Treaties and Treat Rights, Milwaukee Public Museum website)

1836 Territory of Wisconsin Established

Michigan was admitted into the Union, January 1837.  As a result, the population in all the region outside of the boundaries would be left without a government, or, at least, it would be necessary to change the capital of the old Michigan Territory farther to the west; so it was thought best to erect a new territory, to be called Wisconsin (an Indian word signifying wild rushing water, or channel, so called from the principal easern tributary of the Mississippi within its borders) which was done by Act of Congress, approved April 20, 1836, to take effect from and after the third day of July following.  In 1836, Wisconsin was made a territory and President Jackson appointed Henry Dodge as the First Governor.

(Source:  History of dodge County, Wisconsin by Western Historical Co., Chicago, Illinois published 1880.)

1836 U.S. Land Survey Creates Land Parcels for Sale

After the 1833 Treaty of Chicago was signed, the U.S. Government conducted a land survey of this area which was completed in 1837.  The surveys served two purposes, both related to the sale of land.  First, the surveyed land was virtually an unknown wilderness and description was necessary to plat parcels into manageable pieces for sale to the growing number of Europeans who were eager to buy land and settle here.  People interested in buying land would go to the Milwaukee Federal Land Office where they would study the plat map and read the surveyor notes.  The map and notes would describe the property in detail: rivers, streams, marshes, swamps, prairie and oak savannahs, hills, shorelines, waterways, transportation routes, Indian trails, wagon roads, cabins, trading posts, streets, and general topography.  All this correlated to the land value.  If the land was purchased, a land Patent document was issued as proof of purchase.  These surveys triggered the opportunitity to own land and thus opened the floodgates for European immigration to the Wisconsin Territory.

1838 U.S. Government Land Sale Postponed to 1839

European settlers who arrived in the Wisconsin Territory before 1838 built cabins and started farming on land they did not own – technically squatters on Indian land.  As a consequence of the expected initial U.S. Government land sale, many needed to raise money, because through hardship and struggle to start a new life, they spent most of what they had on necessities such as a cabin, farm animals for work and food, and improvements to the land. The settlers had legitimate worries of someone else getting to the Land Office before them.  There are records that indicate scoundrels who deviously purchased a developed farm, outing the family who did not get to the Land Office first.  The new owner left the family with nothing after all their hardship and struggle.  Newspaper articles reported that anyone who did such a deed was ostracized by the community.  Sympathetic neighbors often pooled resources for the new immigrant settler by forfeiting a few acres and helping build a new cabin.