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Pennsylvania Indian Land Cessions

 Native American Nations | Indian Land Cessions in the United States                    

The task of writing up in general terms the policy of Pennsylvania during its colonial history is a pleasant one, first, because it seldom varied, so far as it related to its lands, from that consistent with honor and justice; and, second, because it was so uniform that a comparatively brief statement will suffice to present all that is necessary to be said.

The Dutch claim of land on the Schuylkill purchased in 1633 by Arent Corsen of "Amettehooren Alibakinne, Sinques, sachems over the district of country called Armenveruis," may be dismissed as doubtful. Nevertheless, it is consistent with their general rule of basing claims to land on purchases from the Indians.

If the statement by Smith, given above (under New Jersey), that the Swedes in 1627 "purchased of some Indians the land from Cape Inlopen to the Falls of the Delaware" be correct, this is the first purchase of land in Pennsylvania. It is denied, however, that the Swedes made any settlements on the Delaware until after 1633, and the fact that the Dutch based their claim on the above mentioned purchase in 1633 would agree with the latter opinion. This, however, is a question of no importance in the present discussion.

In 1638 Minuet, who had gone over from the Dutch to the Swedes, landed with colonists near the mouth of Minquas creek, where, after having purchased the 'Land from the Indians, he erected a fort, or trading house, which he named Christina.

At the same time Minuet purchased from the Indians the whole western shore of the Delaware to the falls near the present site of Trenton. Acrelius, speaking of this transaction, says1 that immediately land was bought from the Indians, a deed was given, written in Low Dutch (as no Swede could yet interpret the Indian). By this agreement the Swedes obtained all the western land on the river from Cape Henlopen to the falls of Trenton, then called by the Indians Santican, and as much inward from it, in breadth, as they might want. It is more than probable that this is really the transaction referred o to by Smith,2 which has been antedated and made to include "both sides of the Delaware."

The following remarks, by George Smith,3 in reference to this purchase, are worthy of quotation:

It was the first effort of civilized man to extinguish the Indian title to the district of country that is to claim our particnlar attention. It will be seen that it embraced Swanendael, for which the Dutch had already acquired the Indian title, and also the lands about the Schuylkill to which, on account of prior purchase, they set up a rather doubtful claim. The lands within the limits of our county were free from any counter claim on this account; and it follows, that to the wise policy of the Swedes we are really indebted for the extinguishment of the Indian title to our lands, a policy first introduced y the Dutch as a matter of expediency, and subsequently adopted by William Penn on the score of strict justice to the natives.

But it cannot be contended, that in accordance with national law, this purchase from the natives, gave to the Swedish government any legal claim to the country. They had no legal right to make purchases from the Indians. To the Dutch, as discoverers of the river, .belonged the right of preemption, or if any doubt existed on this point, it would be in favor of the English. As against the Swedes, the Dutch claim rested not only on discovery, but the exercise of preemption and occupancy.

On the 25th day of September, 1646, the Dutch purchased some land which included a portion of the grounds now occupied by Philadelphia, "as it also certainly did some of the lands that had been purchased by the Swedes."

As the policy of the Dutch and the Swedes, in their dealings with the Indians regarding the lands of the latter, has been fully shown in the sections relating to New York and New Jersey, it is unnecessary to dwell further on it. It may, however, be repeated that throughout the disputes and contentions of these two parties, both in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, both recognized fully the possessory right of the natives, and considered no claim valid unless based on a purchase from them.

William Penn, having obtained from Charles II in 1681 a charter for the province, sent in advance his relative, Colonel William Markham, who was his secretary. He was accompanied by several commissioners, who were to confer with the Indians respecting their lands, and to endeavor to make with them a league of permanent peace. They were enjoined by Penn to treat them with all possible candor, justice, and humanity.4 However, it does not appear that these commissioners were associated with Markham in the single purchase he made of the Indians prior to Penn's arrival. This was the large purchase on the Delaware above Shackamaxon.

The deed, as given in the "Pennsylvania Archives)5 (though of somewhat doubtful authenticity), is as follows:

First Indian Deed to Wm. Penn, 1682

This INDENTURE, made the 15th day of July, in the year of or Lord, according to English Accompt, one Thousand Six Hundred Eighty Two, Between Idquahon, Ieanottowe, Idquoquequon, Sahoppe for himself and Okonikon, Merkekowon Orecton for Nannacussey, Shaurwawghon, Swanpisse, Nahoosey, Tomakhickon, Westkekitt & Tohawsis, Indyan Sachamakers of y, one pte, And William Penn, Esquire, Chief Proprietor of the Province of Pennsylvania of the other pte: Witnesseth that for and in Consideration of the sums and particulars of Goods, merchandises, and utensils herein after mentioned and expressed, (That is to say,) Three Hundred and fifty fathoms of Wampam, Twenty white Blankets, Twenty fathoms of Strawd waters, Sixty fathoms of Duffields, Twenty Kettles, flower whereof large, Twenty Guns, Twenty Coates, forty Shirts, forty pair of Stockings, forty Hoes, forty Axes, Two Barrels of Powder, Two Hundred Bars of Lead, Two Hundred Knives, Two Hundred small Glasses, Twelve pair of Shoes, forty Copper Boxes, forty Tobacco Tonngs, Two small Barrels of Pipes, forty pair of Scissors, forty Combs, Twenty flour pounds of Red Lead, one Hundred Aules, Two handfuls of fish-hooks, Two handfuls of needles, forty pounds of Shot, Ten Bundles of Beads, Ten small Saws, Twelve drawing knives, flower anthers of Tobacco, Two anthers of Rum, Two anthers of Syder, Two anthers of Beer, And Three Hundred Guilders, by the said William Penn, his Agents or Assigns, to the said Indyan Sachamakers, for the use of them and their People, at and before Sealing and delivery hereof in hand paid and delivered, whereof and wherewith they the said Sachemakers doe hereby acknowledge themselves fully satisfied Contented and paid. The said Indyan Sachamakers, (parties to these presents,) as well for and on the behalf of themselves as for and on the behalf of their Respective Indyans or People for whom they are concerned, Have Granted, Bargained, sold and delivered, And by these presents doe fully, clearly and absolutely Grant, bargain, sell and deliver veto the said William Penn, his Heirs and Assigns forever, All that or Those Tract or Tracts of Land lyeing and being in the Province of Pennsylvania aforesaid, Beginning at a certain white oak in the Land now in the tenure of John Wood, and by him called the Gray Stones over against the falls of Delaware River, And Soe from thence up by the River side to a corner marked Spruce Tree with the letter P at the foot of a mountain, And from the said corner marked Spruce Tree along y the Ledge or foot of the mountains west north west to a Corner white oak, marked with the letter P, standing by the Indyan path that Leads to an Indyan Towne called Playwicky, and near the head of a Creek called Towsissinck, And from thence westward to the Creek called Neshammonys Creek, And along by the said Neshammonyes Creek unto the River Delaware, alias Makeriskhickon; And so bounded by the said Mayne River to the said first mentioned white oak in John Wood's Land; And all those Islands called or known by the several names of Mattinicunk Island, Sepassincks Island, and Orecktons Island, lying or being in the said River Delaware, Together also with all and singular Isles, Islands, Rivers, Rivoletts, Creeks, Waters, Ponds, Lakes, Plaines, Hills, Monntaynes, Meadows, Marrishes, Swamps, Trees, Woods, Mines, minerals and Appurtennces whatsoever to the said Tract or Tracts of Land belonging or in any wise Appertaining; And the reversion and reversions, Remainder and Remainders. thereof, And all the Estate, Right, Tytle, Interest, use, property, Clayme and demand what so ever, as well of them the said Indyan Sackamakers (Ptyes to these presents) as of all and every other the Indians Concerned therein or in any pte. or Peel. thereof. To HAVE, AND TO HOLD the said Tract or Tracts of Land, Islands, and all and every other the said Granted premises, with their and every of their Appurtenances veto the said William Penn, his Heires and Assigns forever, To the only pper use & behoove of the sayd William Penn, his Heires and Assigns forevermore. And the said Indyan Sachamakers and their Heires and successors, and every of them, the said Tract or Tracts of Land, Islands, and all and every other the said Granted promises, with their and every of their Appurtenances unto the said William Penn, his Heires and Assigns forever, against them the sayd Indyan Sachamakers, their Heirs and successors, and against all and every Indyan and Indyans and their Heires and successors, Clayming or to Clayme, any Right, Tytle or Estate, into or out of the sayd Granted premises, or any pte. or prcel. thereof, shall and will warrant and forever defend by these presents; In witness whereof the said Parties to these present Indentures Interchangeably have sett their hands and seales.

The following supplementary article was signed August 1,1682:

WEE, whose names are underwritten, for our Selves and in name and behalf of the rest of the within mentioned Shaekamachers, in respect of a mistake in the first bargain betwixt us and the within named Wm: Penn, of the number of Ten guns more than are mentioned in the within deed when we should then have received, doe now acknowledge the receipt of the snide term guns from the said Wm. Penn; And whereas in the said deed there is certain mention made of three hundred and fifty fathom of Wampum, not expressing the quality thereof, We yrfore for our Selves, and in behalf also do declare the same to be one half white wampum and the other half black wampum; And we, Peperappamand, Pyterhay and Eytepamatpetts; Indian Shachamakers; who were the first owners of ye Land called Soepassincks, & of ye island of ye same name, and who did not formerly Sign and Seal ye within deed, nor were present when the same was done, doe now y signing and sealing hereof, Ratefie, approve and confirm ye within named deed and the ye partition of ye Lands within mentioned written and confirm thereof in all ye points, clauses, and articles of ye same, and doe declare our now sealing hereof to be as valid, effectual and sufficient for ye conveyance of ye whole Lands, and of here within named to ye sd. Wm. Penn, his heirs and assigns for evermore, as if we had their with the other within named Shachamakers signed and sealed in ye same.

As there was no change of policy in this respect during the colonial history of Pennsylvania, a brief reference to some of the more important purchases, and a few of the laws bearing on the subject, will suffice for the purpose at present in view.

As remarked by Smith in a note to his Collection of the Laws of Pennsylvania,6 "The early Indian deeds. are vague and undefined as to their boundaries and the stations can not be precisely ascertained at this day." This is true of the one given above, and is certainly true of some of those mentioned below. However, according to. the same authority, "the deed of September 17th 1718 seems to define pretty clearly, the extent and limits of the lands acquired by the several purchases to that period."

The lands granted by the deed of June 23, 1683, were those "lying betwixt Pemmapecka and Neshemineh creeks, and all along upon Neshemineh creek, and backward of the same, and to run two days journey with an horse up into the country, as the said river doth go." By another deed of the same date, two. sachems who had not joined in the first, released to Penn the same territory, omitting the "two day's journey.' "The extent of this purchase," says Smith, "would be considerable, and greatly beyond the limits of the subsequent deed of Sept. 1718."

Another deed by a single sachem, one Wingebone, dated June 25 of the same year, grants "all my lands lying on ye west side of ye Skolkill river beginning from ye first Falls of ye same all along upon ye sd river and backward of ye same as far as my right goeth."

July 14, 1683, two "Indian Shackamakers" claiming to be the right owners thereof, granted to Penn the lands lying between Manaiunk (Schuylkill) and Macopauackhan (Chester) rivers, "beginning on the West side of Manaiunk [obliteration] called Consohockhan [obliteration], and from thence by a westerly line to the said river Maeopanackhan."

On the same day four "Shackamakers and right owners of ye lands lying between Manaiunk als [alias] Schulkill and Pemmapecka creeks," granted all their rights to said lands as far as the hill called Consohockan on Manaiunk river, and from thence by a northwest line to Pemmapecka river. In his note on this purchase, Smith says, "What was the true situation of the Conshohockan hill can not, perhaps, be now ascertained. That it could not be very high up the Schuylkill is apparent; otherwise a (northwest line' from it, as mentioned in the deed last recited, would never strike Pennepack creek, nor would the line mentioned in deed of July, 1685, hereafter cited, touch the Chester and Pennepack creeks.'

September 10, 1683, grant from Kekelappan of Opasiskunk, for his half of all his land betwixt Susquehanna and Delaware, which lay on the Susquehanna side, with a promise to sell the remainder next spring.

October 181 1683, Machaloha, claiming to be owner of the lands from Delaware river to Chesapeake bay, and up to the falls of the Susquehanna, conveys his right to Penn.

June 3, 1684, deed from Manghougsin for all his land on Pahkehoma (now Perkioming).

June 7, 1684, Richard Mettamicont, calling himself owner of the land on both sides of Pemmapecka creek, on Delaware river, sells to Penn.

July 30, 1685; deed from four "Sakemakers" for lands between (Macopanackan (Chester) creek and Pemapecka (Dublin) creek; "Beginning at the hill called Conshohockin on the river Manaiunk or Skoolkill; from thence extends in a parallel line to the said Macopanackan als Chester creek by a southwesterly course, and from the said Conshohocken bill up to ye aforesaid Pemapecka, als Dublin creek, by ye said parallel line northeasterly, and so up along the sd Pemapecka creek so far as the creek extends, and so from thence northwesterly back into ye woods to make up two full days journey, as far as a man can go, in two days from the said station of ye sd parallel line at Pemapecka; also beginning at the sd parallel at Macopanackan (als Chester) creek, and so from thence up the sd creek as far as it extends; and from thence northwesterly back into the woods to make up two full days journey, as far as a man can go in two days from the sd station of the sd parallel line at ye sd Macopanackan (als Chester) creek."

As it may be desirable to know the consideration paid for some of these purchases, the items mentioned in this case are given here, to wit: 200 fathoms wampum; 30 fathoms duffels; 30 guns; 60 fathoms Stroud-waters; 30 kettles; 30 shirts; 20 gimlets; 12 pairs shoes; 30 pairs stockings; 30 pairs scissors; 30 combs; 30 axes; 30 knives; 31 tobacco tongs; 30 bars lead; 30 pounds powder; 30 awls; 30 glasses; 30 tobacco boxes; 3 papers beads; 44 pounds red lead; 30 pairs hawk bells; 6 drawing knives; 6 caps; 12 hoes.

October 2, 1685, a deed from twelve "Indian kings, shackamakers"7 to all the lands from Quing Quingus (or Duck) creek unto Upland (Chester) creek, all along by the west side of Delaware river, and so between said creeks backward as far as a man can ride in two days with a horse.

June 15, 1692, deed from four "kings" to the land "lying between Nesbamina and Poquessing" upon the Delaware and extending backward to the utmost bounds of the province.

In his note on this purchase, Smith remarks that "these limits on the Deleware, are precisely defined. The Poquessing, a name still retained (as is Neshaminey), is the original boundary between the counties of Philadelphia and Bucks, as ascertained in 1685."

July 5,1697, deed from the great sachem Taminy, his brother and sons, to the lands between Pemmopeck and Neshaminey creeks, extending in length from the Delaware "so far as a horse can travel in two summer days, and to carry its breadth according as the several courses of the said two creeks will admit. And when the said creeks do so branch that the main branches or bodies thereof cannot be discovered, then the tract of land hereby granted shall stretch forth unto a direct course on each side and so carry on the full breadth to the extent of the length thereof."

September 13,1700, deed from "Widaagh alias Orytyagh and An-daggy-junk-quagh kings or Sachems of the Susquehannagh Indians," for the Susquehanna river and all the islands therein, and all the lands on both sides thereof and "next adjoining to ye same, extending to the utmost confines of the lands which are, or formerly were the right of the people or nation called the Susquehannagh Indians, or by what name soever they were called or known thereof." As this embraced the same lands that Penn had purchased in 1696 of Colonel Dongan; who claimed to have purchased it of the Indians, a clause confirming that sale was added in the deed. Penn was very anxious to secure an undisputed right to Susquehanna river and the immediate lands along its course through the province, therefore no opportunity was lost to bring this title to the notice of the Indians in his dealings with them. The claim of the Five Nations was finally extinguished by the treaty at Philadelphia in 1736.

"About this period," says Smith, "the Indian purchases become more important, and the boundaries more certain and defined, and principles were established, and acquired the force of settled law, of deep interest to landholders; and which have been since uniformly recognized, and at this moment govern and control our judicial tribunals.'

By a deed of September 17, 1718, from sundry Delaware chiefs, all the lands between the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers from Duck creek to the mountains on this side of Lechay [Lehigh] were granted, and all former deeds for lands in these bounds were confirmed. By this agreement all the preceding deeds, westward "two days' journey," etc, which would extend far beyond the Lehigh hills, were restricted to those hills.

It is apparent from these deeds, which will suffice to show clearly the policy adopted by Penn, that, though just and humane, his method was somewhat peculiar. His chief object appears to have been to extinguish claims, and to give satisfaction to the natives for their possessory rights, rather than to fix definite and accurate boundaries of the lands purchased. It seems from the wording of the deeds and the bounds and extent indicated, that the intention was to cover all possible claims of those making the grants. Hence it was an item of little importance to the proprietor of the province that these deeds often overlapped and included areas obtained from other claimants.

As the policy adopted in this colony is clearly shown from what has been stated, it is unnecessary to refer to more than two or three of the general laws on the subject.

By the act of October 14, 1700, it was declared "that if any person presumed to buy any land of the natives within the limits of this Province and Territories, without leave from the Proprietary thereof, every such bargain or purchase shall be void and of no effect."

This, however, failing to prevent individuals from surreptitious efforts to obtain possession of Indian lands, an additional and more stringent act was passed October 14, 1729, as follows:

A supplementary Act to an Act of Assembly of this Province, entitled, An Act against buying Land of the Natives.

Whereas divers Laws have, from Time to Time, been acted in this Province, for preserving Peace, and cultivating a good understanding with the Indian Natives thereof: And whereas, notwithstanding the Provision made y the said former Act, against purchasing Land of the said Natives, without Leave from the Proprietary, the Peace of the Public has been and may further be endangered by the Proceedings of some persons, who, to elude the said Act now in Force against such Practices, do, contrary to the Intention thereof, pretend to take Land of the Natives, on Lease, or for Term of Years, or to bargain with the Indians for the Herbage, or for the Timber or Trees, Mines, or Waters thereof: and others, who, without any Authority, have settled upon and taken Possession of vacant Lands, as well to the manifest Contravention of the Royal Grant of the Soil of this Province from the Crown to the Proprietary and his Heirs, and the apparent Damage of such Persons who have Right to take up Lands heretofore granted to them within this Province, as to the laying a Foundation for Disputes, Misunderstandings and Breaches with the said Natives and others: For the Prevention whereof, Be it enacted by the Honorable Patrick Gordon, Esq; Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania, &c. y and with the Advice and Consent of the Representatives of the Freemen of the said Province, in General Assembly met, and by the Authority of the same, That no Person or Persons, Bodies Politic or Corporate whatsoever, shall at any Time hereafter, for any Cause or Consideration, or on any Pretence whatsoever, presume to purchase, bargain, contract, for, have or take, of or from any Indian, Native or Natives, by any Manner of Gift, Grant, Bargain or Sale, in Fee-simple, or for Life, Lives, Terms of Years, or any Estate whatsoever, any Lands, Tenements, or Hereditaments, within the Limits of this Province, or any Manner of Right, Title, Interest or Claim, in or to any such Lands, Tenements or Hereditaments, or in or to any Herbage, Trees, Fishings, Rivers, Waters, Mines, Minerals, Quarries, Rights, Liberties or Privileges, of or belonging unto any such Lands, Tenements or Hereditaments, without the Order or Direction of the Proprietary or Proprietaries of this Province, or of his or their Proprietary Commissioners or Deputies, authorized and appointed, or to be authorized and appointed for the Management of the Proprietary Affairs of this Province, for and in Behalf of the Proprietary or Proprietaries thereof for the Time being; and that every Gift, Grant, Bargain; Sale, written or verbal Contract or Agreement, and every pretended Conveyance, Lease, Demise, and every other Assurance made, or that shall be hereafter made, with any of the said Indian Natives, for any such Lands, Tenements or Hereditaments, Herbage, Trees, Rivers, Waters, Fishings, Mines, Minerals, Quarries, Rights, Liberties or Privileges whatsoever, within the Limits of this Province, without the Order and Direction of the Proprietary or his Commissioners. as aforesaid, shall be and is hereby declared and enacted. to be null, void, and of none effect, to all Intents, Constructions and Purposes in the Law whatsoever. And that as well the Grantee, Bargain, Lessee, Purchaser, or Person pretending to bargain, or to have bargained or agreed with any Indian Native as aforesaid, contrary to the the true Intent and Meaning of this Act, as all and every Person or Persons entering into and taking Possession of any Lands within the Province of Pennsylvania, not located or surveyed by some Warrant or Order from the Proprietary or Proprietaries, his or their Agents or Commissioners as aforesaid, to the Person or Persons possessing said Lands, or to some Person or Persons under whom they claim, and upon reasonable Notice and Request, refusing to remove, deliver up the Possession, or to make Satisfaction, for such Lands, shall and may be proceeded against in such Manner as is prescribed y the several Statue's of that Part of the Kingdom of Great Britain, called England, made against forcible Entries and Detainers; and that' no Length of Possession shall be a Plea against such Prosecution.8

In April, 1760, an act was passed "to prevent the hunting of deer and other wild beasts beyond the limits of the lands purchased of the Indians by the Proprietaries of this Province, and against killing deer out of season."

Trouble having been brought upon the colony by the encroachments on the Indians' lands, and war from other causes having been carried on against the western settlements of the. province by the. Delaware and Shawnees, soon after peace was restored the following law was passed, October 14, 1768:

AN ACT to prevent Persons from settling on the Lands, within the Boundaries of this Province,
not purchased of the Indians.

Whereas many disorderly Persons have presumed to settle upon Lands not purchased of the Indians, which has occasioned great Uneasiness and Dissatisfaction on the Part of the said Indians, and have been attended with dangerous Consequences to the Peace and Safety of this Province; For Remedy of which Mischief in future, Be it Enacted by the Honorable John Penn, Esq; Lieutenant Governor, under the Honorable Thomas Penn, and Richard Penn, Esquires, true and absolute Proprietors of the Province of Pennsylvania, and Counties of New Castle, Kent and Sussex upon Delaware, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Representatives of the Freemen of the said Province, in General Assembly met, and y the Authority of the same. That if any Person or Persons, after the Publication of this Act, either singly or in Companies, shall presume to settle upon any Lands, within the Boundaries of this Province, not purchased of the Indians, or shall make or cause any Survey to be made, of any Part thereof, or mark or cut down any Trees thereon, with Design to, settle or appropriate the same to his own, or the use of any other

Person or Persons whatsoever, every such Person or Persons so offending, being legally convicted thereof in any Court of Quarter Sessions of the County where such Offenders shall be apprehended (in which said Court the Offences are hereby made Cognizable) shall forfeit and pay, for every such Offence, the Sum of Five Hundred Pounds, and suffer Twelve Months Imprisonment, without Bail or Mainprize; and shall, moreover, find Surety for his good Behavior during the Space of Twelve Months from and after the Expiration of the Term of such Imprisonment; one Moiety of the said Sum of Money to the Prosecutor, and the other Moiety to the Overseers of the Poor of the City or Township where such Offender shall be apprehended, to the Use of the Poor thereof.

By the close of the eighteenth century, or at least before the year 1810, all the land within the bounds of Pennsylvania, including the addition forming Erie county, had been purchased from the Indians. There was other legislation relating to the subject, but as it is of the same tenor as that given it is unnecessary to quote it here.

That the policy of this colony, inaugurated by William Penn, was just and honorable must be conceded from the evidence given above, and that it was so considered by the Indians is a matter of history. The method pursued in making purchases from the Indians, however, was peculiar, as is apparent from the deeds which have been preserved, some of which have been noticed. The object, as remarked above, seems to have been to extinguish claims rather than to purchase definite bodies of land. The consequence was that the grants often overlapped one another and tracts had to be purchased twice or three times where there were conflicting claims, as in case of the valley of the Susquehanna. Part of the payment for the first deed, as will be seen by reference to the copy given above, consisted of rum. This, however, appears to have been the only one for which intoxicants formed part of the payment.


1 Pennsylvania Magazine, Hist. Soc. Penn., vol. iii, p. 280.
2 History of Now Jersey, p. 22.
3 History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, pp. 24-25. s
4 Clarkson, Memoirs of William-Penn (1827), p.112.
5 Vol. I, pp. 47, 48.
6 Vol, 11 (1810), pp. 106-124, footnote.
7 It is deemed unnecessary to give the names of these Indians.
8 Acts of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1775, pp. 157-158


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First annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1879-80

Indian Land Cessions in the United States

 

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