Artifact and Analysis

Indian Peace Medal

During the administration of George Washington, the United States government began a policy of presenting silver “peace medals” to American Indian leaders at treaty signings and other formal ceremonies. One of the first medals shows an Indian sharing a peace pipe with President Washington, the new “Great Father” on the continent. Every subsequent president from Jefferson to Benjamin Harrison (1889–1893) is represented on an Indian peace medal, with the exception of William Henry Harrison, who died less than a month after taking office.

This Millard Fillmore medal, dated 1850, was issued in 1851, the first year of Fillmore’s administration. One treaty signed that year, the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, had particularly disastrous results. Two bands of Dakota, or eastern Sioux, ceded all of their land in Minnesota Territory. At the end of the decade, the government had still not fulfilled its promises of compensation for the land. The Dakota began a war in which 500 Minnesota settlers were killed. Thirty-eight Dakota men were executed in Mankato, Minnesota, in 1862.