A Half-Breed Tract was a segment of land designated in the western states by the United States government in the 19th century specifically for people of American Indian and European ancestry, known as mixed bloods. The government set aside such tracts in several U.S. states, including Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota,[1] and Wisconsin.[2]


In this context, mixed-blood people were the descendants of marriages or relationships between American Indian and white Europeans. Also known as "half-breeds" in the U.S. or métis in Canada, these people were often descended from American Indian women and French-Canadian, Scots and Orkney Island fathers, who dominated early fur trapping and trade. The men lived far from other Europeans. Others had fathers who were American trappers and traders.

Because of rules about membership and clans among Indian tribes, and European classification of the children as being more Indian than white (combined with the idea that the fathers were "outside" civilized society as mountain men), the children often were excluded from benefiting both from the laws governing Indians and the political rights of their fathers. Omaha and other tribal leaders advocated setting land aside for the mixed-blood descendants; usually the intent was to award land to male heads of families.[3]

The relationship between mixed-bloods and their ancestral tribes particularly affected the descendants when the tribes ceded communal lands to the U.S. government in exchange for payment. The rights of mixed-blood descendants to payments or a part in decision making were not usually acknowledged. In 1830 the federal government acknowledged this problem by the Treaty of Prairie du Chien, which effectively set aside a tract of land for mixed-blood people related to the Oto, Ioway, Omaha, Sac and Fox and Santee Sioux tribes. The treaty granted these "Half-Breed Tracts" as sections of land in a form similar to Indian reservations.[4]


Lee County Iowa Half-Breed Tract

The Lee County Half-Breed Tract, designated as 120 on the map.

A Half-Breed Tract was located in Lee County, Iowa, roughly near 40°31′N 91°28′W / 40.52, -91.47. An 1824 treaty between the Sacs, Foxes and the United States set aside a reservation for mixed-blood people related to the tribes. The land contained approximately 119,000 acres (482 km2) lying between the Mississippi River and Des Moines Rivers. Under the original treaty, the half-breed people had the right to occupy the soil, but individuals could not buy or sell it.

In 1834 Congress repealed the rule. Immediately afterward, claim jumpers claimed much of the land. The government gave away mixed-blood peoples' claims to the land, effectively ending this Half-Breed Tract by 1841.[5][6][7][8]

The Mormon Joseph Smith, Jr. purchased parts of the Half-Breed Tract, probably in 1837, from a land speculation company. Deeds to most of the land were faulty and could not be held. This left the church with only about 1,000 acres (4.0 km2), including a town called Commerce in Illinois. The Mormons moved to this Illinois site from Far West, Missouri, to escape the Mormon extermination order by Missouri Governor Boggs.[9]


Nemaha Half-Breed

The Nemaha Half-Breed Tract, designated as 154 and 155 on the map.

The Nemaha Half-Breed Reservation was established on July 15, 1830.[10] The tract's eastern border was the Missouri River, and the property extended inland for 10 miles. The north/south borders were between the Little Nemaha River to the north and the Great Nemaha River, near Falls City to the south.[11][12] Owners were never required to live on their property and many eventually sold their lands to whites.[13][14] Nebraska's Half-Breed Tract vanished as a legal entity by 1861.


Lake Pepin Half-Breed

The Minnesota Lake Pepin Half-Breed Tract (designated as 292 on the map).

The 1830 Treaty of Prairie du Chien specified the following boundaries of a Half-Breed Tract centered around Lake Pepin, as follows:

"The Sioux bands in council have earnestly solicited that they might have permission to bestow upon the half-breeds of their nation the tract of land within the following limits, to wit: Beginning at the place called the Barn, below and near the village of the Red Wing chief, and running back fifteen miles; thence, in a parallel line with Lake Pepin and the Mississippi, about 32 miles, to a point opposite the river aforesaid; the United States agree to suffer said half-breeds to occupy said tract of country; they holding by the same title, and in the same manner that other Indian titles are held."
This description includes a large part of what is now Wabasha County, Minnesota, and some part of Goodhue County, Minnesota.[15] Despite the petitions of several "half-breed" landowners, who had by then lived there for more than twelve years, the US government took the land in 1852 under the premise of serving as restitution against the Sioux for having violated the terms of an earlier treaty. The land reclamation followed explorers' identification of the area as a "mineral region" with the prospect that, "lead will be found there, and probably copper also."[16]


  1. ^ Neill, E.D. (1858) The History of Minnesota: From the Earliest French Explorations. J.B. Lippincott Company. p 400
  2. ^ "The history of Goodhue County", Goodhue County, MN, Retrieved 1/28/08.
  3. ^ "Our towns: Barada, Richardson County", University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Retrieved 1/28/08.
  4. ^ Neill, E.D. (1858) The History of Minnesota: From the Earliest French Explorations. J.B. Lippincott Company. p 400.
  5. ^ Croton, Iowa. Retrieved 1/28/08.
  6. ^ "The Half-Breed Tract", Lee County History. Retrieved 1/28/08.
  7. ^ "History of the Half-Breed Tract", Retrieved 1/28/08.
  8. ^ "Indian Land Cessions in the United States, 1784 to 1894". A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. Library of Congress American Memory. Retrieved 2009-05-09. 
  9. ^ More information on the Mormon connection to the Half-Breed Tract can be found in Navou, Kingdom on the Mississippi by Rick Flanders.
  10. ^ Wishart, D.J. (2007) Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Indians. University of Nebraska Press. p 77.
  11. ^ Wishart, D.J. (1995) An Unspeakable Sadness: The Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. University of Nebraska Press. p 60.
  12. ^ "Indian Land Cessions in the United States, 1784 to 1894". A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. Library of Congress American Memory. Retrieved 2009-05-09. 
  13. ^ "Half-Breed Tract", Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 1/28/08.
  14. ^ Foster, L.M. (1965) "The Nemaha Half-Breed Reservation, 1830-1860", Ioway Cultural Institute. Retrieved 1/28/08.
  15. ^ "History of Wabasha County, Minnesota: Chapter 3, Reign of the Indians". Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  16. ^ (1854) Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives Made during the first session of the thirty-third congress. The House of Representatives. Washington, DC: AOP Nelson, Printer. p. 10.

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